by Lee Valentine
Murder of Crows
Published by Super Genius Games (under license from Chaosium)
written by Stan!
34 b&w pages
$4.99 (PDF)/$12.00 (Print)
A variety of third party publishers, including Green Ronin and Pelgrane Press,
are producing Cthulhu Mythos-related gaming materials using their own
house systems. Among the list of publishers producing licensed gaming
products for Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu system is small press
publisher Super Genius Games. Murder of Crows is a late 2008 product
from Super Genius Games' co-founder Stan!. You can read OgreCave's
interview with Stan! here.
Murder of Crows is a 1920s Call of Cthulhu adventure set
in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Bethlehem was formerly a logging town that
supplied lumber throughout the region, but competition from more modern out-of-state
companies has driven Bethlehem to the brink of
extinction. In recent years, Bethlehem has changed to survive - it has
become a tourist town visited by young New England socialites for leaf
watching during autumn. Most recently, after a madman came raving into a
local establishment, warning outsiders to stay out of the woods, a
murder of thousands of crows has all but painted the autumn leaves black
with their presence. The crows have already shown a willingness to bear
down on trespassers in the woods with murderous ferocity. Now the crows
have started to perch on rooftops within Bethlehem. Is it just a matter
of time before the crows start attacking the townsfolk in the streets of
Bethlehem, or will they be content to continue defending the woods near
the town? Why the crows have come to the woods of Bethlehem and what can
be done about them is the subject of the investigation in this module.
This adventure also includes some brief notes on how to modify it both
for use in a Cthluhu by Gaslight campaign or a
modern day Cthulhu game. There are also notes on transplanting the
adventure to somewhere other than Lovecraft's backyard of New England.
These notes are not particularly thorough, but what is there is
thoughtful and appreciated.
Also included in the module are four pre-generated Investigator
characters for GMs who want to run Murder of Crows as a one- or
two-night adventure for a gaming group which doesn't regularly play
Call of Cthulhu. I thought this was a nice touch for an adventure
from a small publisher.
Almost more than the mystery of the crows itself, the heart and blood of
Murder of Crows is its cast of non-player characters (NPCs). As such,
much of my review will focus on what's right and what's wrong with the
way NPCs are handled in this adventure.
There is a long list of NPCs who may eventually come to interact with
the Investigators. The relationships that some of these NPCs have with
others is sometimes handled in loving detail. Indeed, the
adventure's author seems quite interested in painting a picture
of family lines who settled the town, rather than revealing the township
of Bethlehem as a place populated by individuals. While this would add
tone to a short story, when Investigators are shopping around the town
for an answer to the mystery of the crows, I'm not entirely certain the
players will be able to distinguish one NPC from another, since most of
the details of interest are historical in nature, psychological, or
"internal monologue" elements.
Most of the module's NPCs each have a list of potential opinions about
what's going on around town. The Keeper can weave these opinions into
conversations between a given NPC and the Investigators. Details are
provided as to many NPCs' backgrounds and overall personality bents.
However, there is no artwork of most of the NPCs, there are no detailed
physical descriptions of them, and no lists of personal quirks or
traits. Adding a couple of dozen sentences of such descriptions would
have added little to the overall length, but would have gone a long way
toward making the NPCs more individual and more memorable without so
much work from the end consumer. As it stands, they seem more like stops
along the investigation train that players will likely feel obliged to
visit rather than memorable characters.
Further, the adventure spends a lot of textual space describing people
and locations which are unimportant to solving the central mystery of
the Investigation. That would normally be fine if they were part of
carefully thought out "red herrings" or if the town of
Bethlehem was more thoroughly fleshed out, sourcebook-style. Neither is
the case, and the Keeper running this adventure is largely left to
his own devices as to how to use these characters and locales.
There are around 15 different NPCs with whom the Investigators are
encouraged to interact. Each NPC is associated with a specific locale
in the game where the Investigators will first encounter him or her.
Unfortunately, without individual pictures or character sheets for these
NPCs, they blur together. I wish that a chart, cheat sheet, or
managment tool of some kind had been presented to help me keep the NPCs,
their details, and their associated locations all clear in my head.
Tying Up Loose Ends
The Epilogue section of this adventure does a nice job of talking about
how to work a few of the elements responsible for the horrors of
Bethlehem into an ongoing campaign. Thus, while the module is intended
as a one-shot, it has potential as an ongoing Investigation in a
Call of Cthulhu campaign. Super Genius Games has released another
game adventure, Doom from Below, which takes place just outside
of Bethlehem. That adventure is designed to integrate smoothly into a
campaign where the events of Murder of Crows have just been
Editing & Appearance
This adventure has, in spots, some sub-standard editing. Some words are
missing, and others are misspelled, but none of the editing mistakes
significantly impair the readability of the text, and no key
information is missing.
The art ranges from very good (in the case of portraits for
pre-generated characters) to merely mediocre for the one map included in
the product. The illustrations in the body of the adventure are sparse,
but the ones that are there are appropriate to the adventure. There are
a few additional pieces of artwork in the reference section, however
most of these are pictures of the four pre-generated characters provided
with the adventure. There are also a number of sidebar elements
and other inserts that keep the body of the text relatively interesting
to look at and easy on the eyes.
The front cover features a frightening image of a crow with a
bloody beak. Behind this avian terror, the top two-thirds of the cover
features a bleak copse of trees blanketed by flying crows, while the
bottom third of the front cover features pentacles and symbols of magic
(apparently from European sorcery, alchemy, or astrology). These latter
symbols are somewhat misleading as to the source behind the crows, but
since Murder of Crows is a mystery of sorts, I didn't mind the
Murder of Crows has a lot going for it. I almost wished that the
module's author, Stan!, had added to the overall length of the product
substantially and tried to turn this into a real campaign setting for
further adventuring. Certainly, he was well on the way toward achieving
just that goal. As an adventure module, however, this is one that just
doesn't have enough detail to really run itself in a memorable fashion.
The NPCs are names attached to factoids rather than characters. These
factoids are quite interesting to read as the Keeper, learning about
Bethlehem, but will likely not be conveyed in a timely fashion to the
Investigators solving this mystery. This leads me to the conclusion that
there are lots of details, but not always the right ones for a one-shot
In the hands of an experienced Keeper, Murder of Crows will
shine, but I wouldn't recommend it to a novice Keeper, as it requires
tracking many details, some which are triggered by the actions of the
By design, Murder of Crows is intended to be used as a one-shot
introduction to Call of Cthulhu. It's overall vibe is solidly
scary. However, Murder of Crows represents a work more of
supernatural horror than of traditional Mythos threats. Its terrors are
much more overtly manifest in public view than in most Mythos stories.
I liked Murder of Crows, and I recommend it, particularly as a
PDF product. It's the kind of adventure that the GM will want to take
notes about while he's running, and the edges of laser printed pages
will probably be easier psychologically to put to that use as compared
to a store-bought module. If Keepers need film-based inspiration when
running this adventure, I recommend Hitchcock's The Birds and the
1972 schlockfest Frogs (the latter more for related themes than
for quality, which is wholly lacking in that film).
In closing, I think it's noteworthy that while Call of Cthulhu
game-related statistics are provided in Murder of Crows, most of
them will go unused. As a result, this adventure is so driven by its
non-rules text that it should be easily adaptable to other systems. This
adventure would be quite appropriate for Pelgrane Press' Fear
Itself or The Esoterrorists modern horror product lines. (See my review of Fear Itself here.) As both Stan! and R. Hyrum
Savage are involved with Super Genius Games, I will be looking out for
more quality products from that company.
While I did this review only after receiving an unrequested
complementary copy of the module, I had seen the module's cover in
stores some week's earlier. I found the cover compelling enough that I
was considering asking for a review copy of it, even though I don't
regularly review materials for the Call of Cthulhu game line. If
you want to move the printed version of this module in your
stores, put it next to your other Call of Cthulhu materials and
display it face out. This product's cover could result in a
couple of impulse buyers picking up this small press product.
Appearance: B+ (acceptable internal illustrations with a striking cover)
Adventure Quality: B
Retailer Salability: B-