Review of the Call of Cthulhu (but run through Kult: Divinity Lost) scenario Unland, written by Scott Dorward for Stygian Fox’s Fear’s Sharp Little Needles.

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

Review of the Call of Cthulhu (but run through Kult: Divinity Lost) scenario Unland, written by Scott Dorward for Stygian Fox’s Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. Text review on   Fear’s Sharp Little Needles on DriveThruRPG:–26-Modern-Day-Call-of-Cthulhu-Scenario?affiliate_id=3534349 Sue Savage’s Character Sheets: Sue Savage’s blog, Savage Spiel:  Thank you to Cryochamber for use of their album, Cthulhu.

In Short:

A compact but versatile scenario with an excellent atmospheric setting that can be elevated to a true nightmarish classic depending on the player characters.

Spoiler-lite for Players and Keepers:

The Fear’s Sharp Little Needles scenarios are all extremely short, lacking pregen investigators, and largely of a sort of sandbox or role-playing seed structure, giving the Keeper the pieces and prompts to make the scenario their own.

Unland largely follows this mould by laying out the location, interactions, a handful of NPCs, and potential end points, but with no point-by-point progression and, crucially, no pregenerated investigators. Much more on that point later in both spoiler-lite and spoiler sections.

The scenario takes place in an abandoned fairground. Can’t say any more than that without spoilers, but you can rest assured that Scott Dorward has prepared some pleasantly unsettling scenes and ideas for your group to suffer through. Despite the page-limit only taking up four pages of text, with one being stats, plus a full-page map and another cover illustration, the park receives just enough description to make it wonderfully creepy. With pictures of nature-reclaimed theme parks littering the internet most Keepers should find it easy to flesh out some of the more barebones descriptions of attractions.

There isn’t much more that can be said about Unland without spoilers, but it should be noted that the scenario can only truly shine when the players give substantial roleplaying effort. If treated as a simpler mystery scenario to poke around an environment, avoid some dangers, and find the source of weirdness to deal with, in the vein of many classic Call of Cthulhu scenarios, Unland will still be an enjoyable little romp through a creepy amusement park, but the real meat on the horror-bone will be left untouched.

One note is I both played and ran this scenario in Kult: Divinity Lost, rather than Call of Cthulhu. I first joined a session ran by Sue Savage, and it fit the Kult system perfectly and made me immediately want to run it for my home group. Unland is undoubtedly changed by using Kult though, in a way not every group may enjoy. With Kult, the focus is placed much more on the characters rather than the environment, the opposite of a skill-based system like Call of Cthulhu where nearly every roll is a way for the players to interact with the world, while in Kult almost every roll in some way is turned back in on the characters. Given Unland’s themes this fits like a glove, but it undoubtedly makes for a slower (though I would say spookier) pace.

The pregens made by Sue are absolutely fantastic, to the point I think of them as semi-official. No matter if running the scenario in Call of Cthulhu or Kult (or whatever system), I highly suggest a Keeper at least look at the pregens for inspiration, if not use them by default. Link and more details in the spoiler section.

The very tight page-length does come with a couple drawbacks. Most notably the lack of pregens, or example character backgrounds, but also no background on a key NPC, and the attraction and general park descriptions could easily be doubled while still feeling a bit anemic in places. I would also never complain about simple character portraits, and the small handful of NPCs could have benefited from them.

No matter the system though, I can’t recommend Unland enough. I’m big fan of a low page-count scenarios, and Unland is a perfect example of how much quality can be crammed into a small package, and how heady themes and deeper, personal horror can be brought about in an ‘organic’ way without pages upon pages of NPC backstories or monologues. It requires some work on the part of the Keeper, and certainly on the players as well, but in the best way.

Fear’s Sharp Little Needles can be bought on DriveThruRPG in pdf or 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




Unland is a single location / escape scenario, but notably with no sort of ticking clock, and no direct threat of the characters dying unless they bring something down on themselves. In fact, no one can die in Unland, as all physical wounds regenerate quickly over time. As a largely sandbox scenario, it’s not really possible to give a point-by-point walkthrough of the game. It’s also very versatile – for examples, the below actual plays are considerably different, and my own runs of the scenario were nothing like either of them.

Ain’t Slayed Nobody (featuring both Scott Dorward as Keeper, and some of the How We Roll crew as players)

Apocalypse Players (who managed to make a four page scenario run for 8 hours, and feature some very different player characters)

The player characters find their way to the abandoned ‘Funland,’ and from there wander about the fog-choked park, soon discovering they can no longer locate the gate. How the party comes to the park is entirely up to the Keeper, though a few suggestions are given. There are three ways to escape the park, along with a couple ways to become stuck forever, and there is also a viable option for a player to decide their character willingly stays in the park indefinitely.

Unland’s premise and main ‘puzzle’ is that the park is in a pocket dimension of the Phantom of Truth, with those that enter unable to escape until they leave behind a ‘Remnant,’ a bit of themselves made of some lie (or conversely a deep uncomfortable truth they won’t admit). The park, or ‘temple,’ is cared for by the park’s old PR manager, Ina Matthews, who is now an insane priestess of the Phantom of Truth and fully believes she is helping people. Escaping the park requires either leaving a Remnant (and therefore leaving part of their very being behind), destroying an icon of the Phantom of Truth than binds the park to the pocket dimension, or somehow convincing Ina to lead them out.

Of the three ways out, leaving behind the Remnant is by far the most interesting, and given that it takes up the most text, I’d imagine it is the intended method. I can’t help but feel the ‘destroy the idol’ method, or the associated convincing (aka threatening) Ina to let them out method, sidestep the scenario’s most interesting theme and horrific scenes. Destroying the idol is not easy by any means, requiring either a few turns and a Hard Mechanical Repair roll, or doing significant damage, all the while making continuous POW rolls to avoid increasingly difficult SAN rolls. Most investigators would succumb to madness well before succeeding with brute force, and I doubt many investigators will come with Mechanical Repair unless the Keeper wills it.

This is entirely dependant on the group and Keeper, of course, but I personally don’t much like there being a violent solution to this scenario (or one that requires such a barrage of dice rolls). Threatening Ina Matthews with destruction of the idol is also a simple way to get her to lead the party out of the park, once again bypassing more interesting decisions and dilemmas. Here are two changes I would make to the idol and Ina:

  1. Destroying the idol does not simply release Funland from the pocket dimension, but also immediately releases every Remnant left behind by other victims. Ina would desperately explain this as the party destroys the idol, and if she wasn’t present, every nearby mirror would begin cracking, the Remnants pounding harder and harder on the mirrors and beginning to worm their way out. Anything to make it clear what will happen if the investigators continue destroying the idol. And indeed, they might still destroy the idol, deciding that destroying Unland is necessary to stop anymore more future victims, despite knowing that every Remnant will be released, who will no doubt immediately swarm the investigators, driving them completely insane with the deluge of dozens, if not hundreds, of people’s most horrible acts and lies.
  2. Ina cannot lead the characters out of the park, as she herself is trapped until she leaves behind a Remnant. Her past could be made up whole scratch, but the easiest way would be to tie it to the park’s dark background. It was closed due to a park employee committing serial murder, and perhaps Ina had known about the murders but had not done anything to reveal or stop them, wanting to protect the park’s reputation. Or maybe worse, she was involved in the murders directly, but had the employee take the fall. Ina now sees serving the Phantom of Truth as her penance for what she’d done, and doesn’t believe she can just leave it all behind like Unland’s other victims. Convincing her to reveal her past and leave a Remnant would require some tough interpersonal rolls, and probably psychology or something similar to realise she’s lying about not being trapped. And even if convinced, once Ina creates a Remnant from her lies, only she can leave the park, leaving the characters behind until they leave behind their own lies, and that still doesn’t end Unland, though without Ina around fewer victims will be lured in.

The scenario is also extremely dependant on the player characters’ backgrounds. They absolutely must have some dark secret, otherwise the crux of the game, creating a Remnant and losing a piece of your self, has no impact. Again, Unland would work fine as a traditional ‘explore a spooky place’ type scenario, but what will make it memorable is its themes of lying, truth, and if forgetting or losing those parts of ourselves is a good or terrible thing.

I think Unland is best served by the Keeper preparing characters for the players beforehand with tailor made dark secrets, ideally involving one another. If the players are making their own characters, the Keeper should work with them to create backgrounds, keeping them secret from one another to amplify the impact once revealed. Bringing in existing characters would be difficult. Unless they already had secret backgrounds, or had done things during the course of a campaign they were ashamed of, it would be hard to make creating a Remnant be as life-changing as it is for a purpose-made character. There are also a few good chances for characters to become eternally lost in Unland, a horrific end for a pregen character, but may be a disappointing end for a long-term character.

As mentioned early, I both played and ran Unland using Kult: Divinity Lost, both times using characters and advice from Sue Savage. At this point, I find it hard to think of Unland as anything but a Kult scenario, and the four characters Sue created feel intricately tied to story. Sue has generously shared the character sheets, and even if not running the scenario in Kult, I’d highly suggest still using the character background when preparing your own characters, or at least looking at them for inspiration. The characters’ dark secrets all directly impact another, and both times I’ve played or ran this, the revealing scene has been intensely uncomfortable in the best of ways.

If using Kult not much has to be changed. There will be less rolls in general, but those that are made will inevitably have a greater impact on the characters. The main change that would need to be made would be to the Phantom of Truth, and once again, this is all from Sue Savage. The Phantom of Truth can be simply replaced a servant of Malkuth, an angel for the Ishim Choir. Sue suggested Phanuel, the Angel of Truth (not anywhere in the Kult rulebook, but google and Wikipedia will get you there).

Nothing more necessarily needs to be changed, but I like to reskin the idol a bit. In this case, the manikins are still there, but tied to a spiderweb of wires. A ‘See Through the Veil’ roll reveals a great figure in the centre of the room, far taller and wider than any human. Porcelain-white skin and great feathered wings, arms and legs splayed open, with hundreds, if not thousands, of wires dug through its skin and wrapped around its bones (these wires are the lattice of struts/marionette strings that surround Unland). It stares with large black eyes that hold deep sadness – its mouth is sewn shut. Destroying the idol then means not physically smashing the manikins, but instead ripping the wires out of the angel, a far more gruesome task. It does not resist, but the process would require repeated Keep It Together rolls, as the character feels the angel’s compassion and sadness, and realises that the angel will both perish and release the Remnants.

The short length of Unland is mostly a strength, but it does mean it suffers from a lack of descriptions, with many attractions only getting a sentence or two at most, and other locations nothing at all. Again, an abandoned theme park is easy to imagine, so most Keepers can make up sensory narration on their own, but it is still extra work.

The larger issue though is with one NPC not having any background at all. With only three NPCs present, it’s a bit disappointing to not know why the young women who hanged herself is in the park, and what her dark secret is. I would have also liked a table of lies that Remnants may hold in them, in case they are freed and ‘infect’ a player character.

Besides those small nitpicks, Unland is one of my favourite short scenarios, as evidence by this review being about ¾ the length of the scenario itself. Treat yourself and your table, whether in Call of Cthulhu or Kult. As long as you’re willing to put in some extra work and your players are ready for a likely uncomfortable time, you won’t be disappointed.

Unland can be found in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles, available on DriveThruRPG as a pdf or print on demand (it’s a good-sized book to have on the shelf, but the pdf is nice and navigable if you can’t shell out for today’s crazy shipping costs).

Kult Character Sheets

Sue Savage blog: Savage Spiel


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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