The Call of Cthulhu scenario series, Seeds of Terror by Type 40, released throughout 2020.
The Seeds of Terror series bills itself as short, minimal prep scenarios tailored to players of any experience level, especially beginners. They most certainly fit this description. Nearly all can be easily completed within three hours, if not under two hours, though as fitting a ‘seed,’ most can be expanded by a creative Keeper or enterprising players. The series is also admirably varied. I ran them all back to back over a little under half a year, and no two felt the same.
A common pacing and ‘game-feel’ runs through the series, with most of them being location-restricted ticking-clock one-shots, and all reliant on their pregen investigators with little way to play them as part of a running campaign. I take that as a massive positive though. These are very much meant to function as a single session, able to be plopped into an impromptu game session with little preparation.
While all are well-suited to inexperienced players, they could be difficult for a completely new Keeper. Unlike the Gateway to Terror scenarios, there is little Keeper guidance. The scenario text is kept to a minimum, all well under 10 pages. They expect the Keeper to know how to play the game, and be comfortable improvising and adjusting situations to fit their groups. And while overall well polished and and no doubt well-play tested, there are a few scenarios that would run into speed bumps if run completely as-written. None are difficult to alter though, and most of them can be easily run after a single read through.
I enjoyed all of the Seeds and would happily re-run any of them, and already have returned to a few of my favourites. They are great to keep in your pocket in case a gaming opportunity opens up, and the simpler of them can be run by memory if need be. Seeds of Terror is a great series, and one I would love to have a bound collection in print some day (and a dream version with cover art for each scenario!).
Following are short reviews and recommendations, in ascending order to my favourite of the bunch. I do recommend all of them though, and the order is entirely down to my own enjoyment of them, and I very much enjoyed all of them. I am slowly writing full reviews and replays for each of them, and when available you can find the links below.
12. The Plague of the Pharaohs
The most traditional of any Seed, being a literal straight-shot dungeon crawl. On its face it appears extremely similar to Gateways to Terror’s The Necropolis, both of which take place in an Egyptian Tomb. In practice, they do share elements beyond just the setting, but The Plague of the Pharaohs has enough special bits to make it stand out. It’s a very investigation-heavy scenario, though there is a one of my absolute favourite threats in it. Also a neat tie in to another Seed, putting a pretty bow-tie on the series end.
Quite simple compared to other Seeds, it best fits dungeon-crawler newcomers to CoC, or as a palate cleanser after playing through other more esoteric Seeds.
11. Tickets Please
Airship! Pulpy, action-packed adventure in the skies, with a touch of weird-science. The pregen investigator cast is varied and colourful, connecting with the setting in ways that allow some creative role-playing. Like the first three Seeds, Mummy of Pemberley Grange, Endless Light, and One Less Grave, Tickets Please is a single location (albeit a larger, flying location!) with a ticking clock, but with more solutions. While full of plentiful opportunities for horror and fast-paced excitement, if run straight as written it risks turning into a excessive dice-rolling fest and combat slog.
A great scenario for pulpy excitement in the skies, well suited to players wanting investigation, social interaction, and action, but with some extra work for the Keeper compared to other Seeds.
It is also available in Polish.
10. Hand of Glory
An Ennie award-winning dark fairy tale-like blend of something straight from Grimm with a familiar Mythos threat. On paper it reads very straight-forward and in some ways less involved than most CoC scenarios, including its peer Seeds, but it also shines as being something very different. Players are given plenty of opportunities for role-playing, character development, and inter-party arguments over how to proceed.
More than any other Seed, Hand of Glory best suits a group entirely unfamiliar with pen & paper RPGs, much less Call of Cthulhu, being very light on rule keeping and leaning heavily on a familiar fairy-tail trope made weird by Mythos spookiness.
It is also available in Polish.
9. Mummy of Pemberley Grange
The most compact of the lot, with a single mansion location, limited characters, and one problem front and centre. It could be run in a tight hour if need be, or given room to breath with an extra thirty minutes or hour. The threat comes hard and fast, and while the solution may read as simple (and pretty fun), with the tension ratcheted up and tools for the Keeper to keep pressing on the players, it’s harder to solve than it looks.
Perfect for new players, and easy to run with little to no prep after a first run, and easy to rerun on the spot.
This is also currently the only Seeds scenario with a Japanese translation.
8. Scream of the Mandrake
One of the few Seeds focused largely on social interaction, with the majority of the scenario taking place at a soiree. The cast of NPCs is fun, and combined with fleshed-out pregen investigators, players should find no problems getting into character and doing some fun role-playing. The ticking clock element is subdued compared to other Seeds, but the payoff is among the best in its weirdness. Definitely a threat no other CoC scenario uses, much less could come up with.
A nice change of pace compared to other Seeds with an emphasis on social investigation, and so well suited to players that prefer talking over searching or fighting. Pineapples!
7. Children of Chaac
A refreshing and well used setting, taking place entirely at the Chichen Itza complex in Yucatan, Mexico, and just a few years after the revolution. There’s also more investigation and over a larger area than many other Seeds scenarios, giving the first half of the scenario a classic CoC feel, but it feels fresh thanks to the new backdrop rather than 1920s New England. A wonderful finale tops everything off, and while I don’t want to give it away here, it’s a rare way to split a party.
An overall very well rounded scenario in an exciting place and time with a classic CoC feel, making it especially well suited to experienced CoC groups looking for a quick game that feels both new and familiar.
One of the few Seeds with a large play area, this time set across the real-world town of Rockport, Massachusetts. Its also quite different from how other Seeds work in how it uses its ticking clock and Mythos threat in relation to the players and NPCs. Its also something of a mini-sandbox and ripe for expansion if a group wants a longer play time. Without giving anything away, I can say it has a wonderfully weird interpretation of a common creature as well that pairs nicely with the Cthulhu Mythos as well.
A scenario that feels bigger than its tight word-count suggests, offering players freedom across a town in crisis, and fits well with a group that is somewhat familiar with CoC or with other Seeds.
It is also available in Polish.
5. Flute of the Gods
The most experimental of the Seeds, and by far the most role-play intensive. It also requires the most buy-in from the players. If they come into the scenario wanting to solve it like any CoC mystery, rather than play as their characters would, the scenario will not work. But if they do play along, it becomes one of the most memorable of the lot. There’s admittedly not as much actual ‘gameplay,’ with little investigation to be done, but as a short exercise in role-playing, its a unique experience.
Another scenario that could fit groups with absolutely no experience with role-playing games, and so come in with no preconceptions, or conversely experienced players that love acting in character above all else.
4. One Less Grave
A wonderfully bizarre yet simple little scenario. One well-rendered location with maps and ample room for extra set-dressing, a clear and present (and decidedly weird and rarely-used) danger looming over the group, and a straight forward solution delivered in a unique way, with a built-in moral dilemma sure to stir up some fun discussion among the players. If played in a rigidly by-the-books, gird-locked battle map sort of fashion it can grind on, but run loose and fast as befits most Seeds of Terror, it has a smooth rising tension into a frantic race to the end. I’m also a big fan of this group of pregen investigators – fun folk.
Groups looking for more in-depth investigation and social interaction with NPCs may want to look else where, but for a, quick and weird survival-horror scenario perfect for an impromptu Halloween session, One Less Grave is among the best. You can read or listen to my full review of One Less Grave here, or the replay here.
3. A Stone’s Throw From Atlantis
Rare scenario set in Spain, and with a very unique twist on the common ritual trope in CoC. I’ve run this one more than any other Seed, and I absolutely love watching the moment when players realise what is going on, and that happens twice in this scenario. Like other seeds, its very well paced with an eerie beginning ramping up into a break-neck race to solve the puzzle before a ticking -clock blows up in the party’s face. But there is also a sense of wonder as things progress and the scope massively expands. It could be my favourite Seed, but the solution to the puzzle is oddly obtuse. Some small tweaking makes it perfectly serviceable, but it is an oddity.
A wild and intensely memorable scenario, perfect for any group, with a great take on a well-trodden trope, but in a new setting and with a one-of-a-kind progression.
2. Fish in a Barrel
One of the finest scenarios in the series. Multiple locations and great use of the 20s time-period (speakeasy and gangsters!), plenty of investigation and social interaction, great pacing with spikes of terror and lulls for investigation and planning, ramping into a frantic finale, and an intriguing twist on a Mythos threat through the ticking-clock. The pregen investigators are also among the most fleshed out of the Seeds, allowing any player easy opportunities to get in character. The final scene may require a bit of planning from the Keeper to ensure it flows smoothly without getting bogged down in combat rules, but it’s nothing too difficult, and is a great scene in any case.
A fantastic vertical-slice of everything good about Call of Cthulhu in a tight package, well recommended for any player group, whether experienced Call of Cthulhu investigators, TTRPG players coming from other systems, or entirely fresh-faced non-gamers.
1. Endless Light
An excellent one location scenario that manages to feel much bigger than its setting and word count would suggest. Has a very neat take on some Mythos threats that players might have seen before, but not in this way. The atmosphere of the island and smooth rise in tension until reaching breakneck speed up until a conclusion make for an extremely ‘cinematic’ scenario. There are plenty of tools for the Keeper to push the players out of any bad habits they may have, ensuring the game doesn’t turn into a dungeon crawl (unless that’s what everyone wants).
An absolute banger of a scenario, great for any and all experience levels, and easy to run with little prep, and could be rerun without the text if need be.
It is also available in Polish.
As far as the bundles go, I’d recommend them in the following order, or for the following reasons:
Endless Light and Fish in a Barrel are my two favourites of the whole bunch, the former being a near perfect single-location ticking-clock bottle episode, and the latter cramming everything great about a classic 1920s New England CoC scenario into a exciting bite-sized package, and Tickets Please rounds them out with a nice variety of settings.
Besides forming a sort of mini-campaign without shared characters but with a shared object, the scenarios themselves are some of the more unique among the Seeds, with Children of Chaac and Crushed being the largest in scope, and a Stone’s Throw From Atlantis being something wholly different from the rest.
The most varied of the bundles, with One Less Grave, Hand of Glory, and Scream of the Mandrake being completely different kinds of scenarios, with the only through line being how fondly weird they all are. One Less grave is a frantic survival-horror, Hand of Glory a sort of moral lesson fairy-tail, and Scream of the Mandrake being social investigation and pineapples.
Not at all a bad bundle, and indeed those looking for two straight-forward, easy to run scenarios will find that in Mummy of Pemberley Grange and The Plague of the Pharaohs, with both being great for both new Keepers and new players (and forming a neat little two-parter). Flute of the Gods is entirely different, but a lovely bonus.
Again, I heartily recommend any and all of the Seeds of Terror. If you have the time and cash, this is one of the best ways to load up on convention-ready or impromptu gaming session one-shots.
Before you go, though, maybe you would be interested in reading some other scenario reviews?
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Bibliothek 13: A Cup of Horror