Review of the Call of Cthulhu scenario Swamp Song, written by David “Keeper Doc” Melville.

Swamp Song Review – Call of Cthulhu

Review of the Call of Cthulhu scenario Swamp Song, written by David “Keeper Doc” Melville. Written review available on   Swamp Song can be purchased on DriveThruRPG individually, or as part of the Bayou bundle with other New Orleans/Louisiana. Individual: Bundle:  And credit to CryoChamber for use of their album ‘Cthulhu.’

In-Short: A investigation-heavy single-session scenario that makes full use of its setting and ambience and is well suited to ongoing or one-shot play, though it may benefit from having its teeth sharpened a bit.

Spoiler-lite for Players and Keepers:

Swamp Song is classic-style scenario set in the 1920s French Quarter of New Orleans during a massive summer storm, and tasks the investigators with hunting down a missing friend. The search should take only a single session without embellishments and takes the form of an almost The Hangover-esque caper as the party retraces their friend’s escapades of the night before. It is very investigation-focused, letting the players work their way freeform style through locations and social interactions.

The scenario makes full use of its setting. Every character and location is seeped in the French Quarter, letting investigators visit places from smoky absinthe clubs to subterranean canals used for prohibition-skirting smuggling, and meet colourful NPCs like an eccentric faux-French occultist bookstore owner or top-of-their-game jazz pianists. There are lots of asides and information boxes that explain the eccentricities of 1920s Near Orleans for added context. Add in the document itself having a thematic production style with plentiful period images, and Keepers shouldn’t have any problem getting into the right groove.

The downloadable file is 44 pages, with the main text taking up 22 pages, 3 pages for stats/tomes/spells, 4 pages of handouts, 11 pages for 5 pregenerated investigators, and the remaining 5 for front/back covers and copyright information. The layout and production is fantastic, courtesy of the Miskatonic Repository’s resident design polymath Alex Guillotte with every page being just a delight to look at and easy to read thanks to clean and varied formatting. Character art for NPCs and pregens by Giacomo Mascellani is stylised and cartoony without being silly, and the accentuated character traits give players easy references to remember (I would have also liked to have a few more character portraits, for instance, of the Count’s daughter, who ended up hanging around for a good portion of my run). The handouts are all functional text documents of some sort containing actionable information, but are still prettied up with aging effects and fancy design to place them in the setting.

(An aside here: having ‘actionable information’ in a handout sounds like it should be obvious, but I emphasise it to differentiate these handouts from ‘ooh pretty’ handouts. Those are still great to have, letting players visualise something in the scenario, but are not the same as a handout that contains a clue or information the players themselves need to parse.)

Plenty of background information, along with more of Mascellani’s portraits, make the pregenerated investigators stand out and give players an easy springboard for roleplaying their characters, and their backgrounds and stats are varied, letting each cover different bases both mechanically and socially. The scenario itself presents plenty of different challenges both skill roll-wise and character-wise, further making sure each investigator has some time to shine.

Without getting into spoilers, the scenario structure is also neatly laid out. With freeform investigations it can be difficult for the Keeper to keep everything in their head with regards to location relationships and where characters and clues are found. Swamp Song helpfully gives each location in the freeform investigation act a ‘Links’ box that points out which clues and locations are found in the location, and the .pdf goes a step further with hyperlinking. This is a slimmer version of what The Maw does with its full page ‘Setting & Key Information” summaries for each location, and the slimmer version works well here in Swamp Song with the lighter page count. I love this trend and highly encourage it in any scenario of this type.

Swamp Song makes great use of its New Orleans setting to tell a classic Call of Cthulhu tale that gives players freedom in their investigations, and thanks to well-considered writing and layout is smooth read and run for Keepers. Well recommended to any players or Keepers looking for a unique 1920s setting or just want a solid investigative scenario.

Swamp Song can be found DriveThruRPG individually or as part of the Bayou Bundle along with other New Orleans/Louisiana based scenarios.

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Spoilers Call of Cthulhu




Swamp Song is fairly easy to run thanks to plenty of Keeper advice and a well-structured layout linking locations together. The bulk of the scenario is freeform investigation leading to a final confrontation, so for most of the session the Keeper should mostly be content with giving players information then sitting back and letting them work out where to go next. The final confrontation is all but guaranteed to involve combat, and this is the one part of the scenario that may need some tweaking to work for certain groups.

The scenario opens with the party arriving in New Orleans on the invitation of The Author to a symposium the following day. The Author’s identity is left up to the Keeper, though the text leans heavily towards The Author being Jackson Elias of Masks of Nyarlathotep fame. But the party finds both The Author, and their supposed host, The Count, missing. They learn that the two attended an odd operetta the day before but haven’t been seen since.

And we’re off to the races.

The party tracks down their missing friend and host through the French Quarter through a series of connected locations and individuals. Not all are strictly necessary to find the final location, and in particular my group did not pursue a lead with a certain occultic bookstore owner, though they were constantly planning to go visit her next right up until they stumbled into an ending. If they had pursued that lead, would have found a Mythos tome that may have helped in the final confrontation.

There aren’t any dead ends, with each location and character giving pointers another, but even if players do get stumped, there are plenty of ways to get them back on track. The cast of NPCs are all largely willing to help out, clues can be shifted around to appear in front of the group, the growing storm can physically funnel them towards the next location, the Author himself could appear having escaped his predicament to enlist the help of the party, or a good old fashioned Idea roll is always available.

After tracking down the missing Author to a graveyard, they discover their friend trapped and possibly unconscious along with a dozen other audience members of the previous night’s operetta. And soon enough, the conductor of the operetta, possessed by a horrific entity, awakens to feast on his victims and the party. The entity, called The Lord of Worms and Dirt, has multiple attacks thanks to a growing number of oozing tentacles that can also consume their victims. Once the worm-lord deals enough damage, it transforms into a cloud of nastiness and burrows into the earth.

The wormy-boy is on its face a difficult opponent with his multiple attacks, 2 points of armour, and a essentially a ticking clock as it eats the sleeping victims. Its actual stats though leave it very vulnerable due to a low HP pool and a low attack skill. In a one shot setting that allows Luck Spending, it will struggle to hit its opponents (and most of the pregenerated investigators have competitive Dodge skills), and in a campaign game it would likely be facing armed opponents. Even with just the pregens, one is armed with a pistol capable of three shots a turn at D8 damage. This means that the player could potentially kill our worm friend in a single round if they roll well or spend luck for an impale or two. Against a determined party, with the worm-man having a lower DEX than any of the pregens, there is a very good chance it will be dead before it gets to its turn.

There are suggestions in the text for upping the action for Pulp Cthulhu games, but even for a classic session, I think it would be worth buffing the Worm Lord a bit. I would go with a much higher DEX so it will act before some or all of the investigators so they get a chance to see what it can do (and there isn’t too much risk, as none of its attacks have much risk of killing an investigator in a single turn), doubling its HP and/or armour, and giving at least an extra 10% to its attack skill. Besides beefing up the Worm Lord, there is plenty of advice and suggestions for tweaking the finale to suit your group.

Overall, Swamp Song makes great use of its setting to enrich its classic freeform investigation. Well suited to any group looking for a colourful session, either as part of an ongoing campaign or as a one-shot/convention scenario.

 Again, Swamp Song can be found DriveThruRPG individually or as part of the Bayou Bundle along with other New Orleans/Louisiana based scenarios.

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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