Review of Matthew Sanderson’s Call of Cthulhu scenario Dissociation, from Fear’s Sharp Little Needles.

Dissociation Review – Call of Cthulhu (Fear’s Sharp Little Needles)

Review of the Call of Cthulhu scenario Dissociation, written by Matthew Sanderson for Stygian Fox’s Fears Sharp Little Needles. Text review on  Fear’s Sharp Little Needles on DriveThruRPG:–26-Modern-Day-Call-of-Cthulhu-Scenario?affiliate_id=3534349 Thank you to Cryochamber for use of their album, Cthulhu. 

In-Short: A disturbing ride of a scenario that works best for experienced players with expectations to subvert, rather than new players who will likely just be confused.

Spoiler-lite for Players and Keepers:

Dissociation is extremely difficult to give any details about without delving into spoilers. The title by itself gives away something of the scenario’s intentions, so I don’t think of it being too revealing to say that the scenario seems to be specifically designed to confound players. In a good way, of course.

Physically, the scenario is short and sweet like all the entries in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles, though the shortness does mean the Keeper is faced with extra prep-work. It covers only five pages, including some stats and a handout, leaving under four pages of actual scenario text. As with all its companion scenarios in the book, Dissociation comes with no investigator sheets – more on that in the spoiler section. The actual scene descriptions are broad, leaving the Keeper free (or obligated, depending on your temperament) to plan and play the scenes out as they wish. This also leaves the run time extremely variable, but for our group we took a about three hours, with me pushing hard to end on time. A more relaxed four-to-five-hour play time might be preferable, though a breakneck speed does help to keep the players even more off balance.

Most Call of Cthulhu scenarios have the theme of ‘there’s more than meets the eye,’ and Dissociation takes that idea and runs with it. For this reason, it works best with players that already have a good amount of roleplaying, or Call of Cthulhu gaming in particular, under their belts. New players coming without expectations or a firm idea of how Call of Cthulhu works in general, likely won’t find the scenario’s twists and turns all that exciting, rather just mechanically confusing.

If you do have a good group of CoC players, and they’re on board for something weird and potentially uncomfortable, and the Keeper is ready for some extra prep work and improvisation, then Dissociation is a wild ride. Saying more would be spoil the wild, but both players and Keepers won’t forget the session any time soon.

Dissociation can be found in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles, available on DriveThruRPG in digital and print on demand.

Before you go, maybe you would be interested in some of the below reviews or replays?
MJRRPG scenarios, Chaosium-released scenarios, Miskatonic Repository scenarios, Japanese scenarios

Spoilers Call of Cthulhu




Dissociation is not a simple scenario to run. It unavoidably requires preparation and improvisation. Preparation can be somewhat alleviated thanks to the internet and material made by other gamers, while the improvisation is something you will just need to accept and be ready for. Aspects of the ending might also need some polishing, depending on your reading of it.

While sounding complicated, the actual structure of the scenario is very simple, hiding the lack of overall player agency by making that in itself part of story, though still giving players full control throughout individual scenes.

The investigators start on an airplane but are quickly whisked away through a sudden, seemingly fatal, crash. The investigators find themselves in darkness, giving the players some time to speak with each other and form some idea of what is happening. Then, once again, the scene changes. There’s a body on the floor of a cabin, they’re all covered in blood and half naked, and weirdest, no longer themselves. Different bodies, different voices. And, most mechanically weird, different stats. This happens two more times.

This is where the preparation comes in. With no included investigator sheets, the Keeper doesn’t only have to worry about pregens, but alternate sheets as well. Unless the players are coming in with existing investigators (which they really shouldn’t, unless you’ve all decided this is your last session, or the players aren’t overly attached to their characters), the Keeper is looking at making 4 sheets per player. Writing pregens is something I really enjoy – rolling their stats is something I do not. At all. Thankfully Seth Skorkowsky comes to the rescue, as he is so wont to do, with four sets of investigator sheets. His video review/walkthrough is all you really need anyways, which if you’ve read or listened far enough into this review to get to this point, oops looks like you should have just watched that instead.

What’s actually happening is that the investigators were abducted by Mi-Go, had their brains removed, and are now being put through experiments where they remotely control other test subject bodies. There are three experiments in total. The first two are straight forward, basically ending whenever the Keeper decides the scene has played out long enough. After the experiment plays out, the remote-controlled body is terminated, and the investigators’ consciousnesses returned to a black void.

The final experiment does not have a cut off though. First they have to fight a formless spawn, and while this isn’t particularly difficult as the investigators are kitted out with rifles, knives, and flares, it would be a disappointing place in the scenario to die. A dead investigator would be returned to the void, but alone, as after dealing with the alien, the other investigators are left to their own devices with the remote-controlled bodies.

Following one awkward clue, they are able to find the Mi-Go’s lair.  There they can find their brains and discover what is actually going on, along with a bomb about to explode, and a Mi-Go scientist escaping through a portal. It seems a bit odd that the Mi-Go wouldn’t also terminate the final remote-controlled bodies just in case while also only thinking of escaping once they found the lair. To alleviate this awkwardness, I consider this all part of the final experiment – the Mi-Go want to see what the investigators do with the final test bodies, and if they find the lair, whether they pursue the sacrificial Mi-Go, go for the bomb, or try to escape. Side-note: a single Mi-Go isn’t a particularly dangerous foe, especially when its busy and the investigators have hunting rifles – either be ready for it to die immediately, or give it some powerful spells or devices if you want it to be a threat.

Should the investigators stop the bomb, this is where you could stretch out the run time, or lead into a second freeform session, if so inclined. The investigators have their brains but are stuck in these new bodies. They can’t stray too far from the brains, so they’d need to drag those around while trying to start a new life, or assume the identity of their stolen bodies (another sidenote: there isn’t any indication of the range limit until they go beyond the range of their remote controls though – I’d suggest just telling them this fact somehow, otherwise they’ll likely all ‘die’ after trying to fly away).

It’s a lovely ending, leaving the players with that pit in their stomach feeling that the best scenarios give you. They might have ‘won,’ but their characters have lost their old lives and the villains are still off doing whatever they do. Dissociation is worthy of a longer page count, but as it stands, even with the extra work it takes to get rolling, it’s one of the best scenarios for messing with more experienced players who might seem like their getting too comfortable with Call of Cthulhu’s tropes and patterns.

Dissociation can be found in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles, available on DriveThruRPG in digital and print on demand.

Before you go, maybe you would be interested in some of the below reviews or replays?
MJRRPG scenarios, Chaosium-released scenarios, Miskatonic Repository scenarios, Japanese scenarios

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