by Andy Vetromile
Terrors from Beyond
Published by Chaosium, Inc.
Written by Brian Courtemanche, Brian Sammons, David Conyers, John Almack, Glyn White, and Gary Sumpter
Art by Rick Sardinha, David Lee Ingersoll, and David Grilla
208-page b&w softbound
Terrors from Beyond . . . well, this is Call of Cthulhu,
so where else would they come from? Inside the 208-page volume are six
adventures meant to make the keeper's job easier (or to facilitate
tournament play). Each story has four or six pregenerated characters
with built-in links to the plot so everyone starts with a vested
interest in the action (and the "You all meet as students at Miskatonic
University" cliché can be skipped).
Since it's a series of adventures that only the keeper should read,
players might want to skip from this point down to the last three
paragraphs lest they spoil something for themselves.
All the adventures are pretty good from a writing viewpoint. Brian
Courtemanche's Grave Secrets is the standout in this respect. A
family in an isolated farming town sees its children dying one by one,
but the question isn't why such a bizarre thing should occur. The
citizens only wonder why it would happen to this stalwart clan. The
style is seamless, and while the piece is a little overwritten (the
narrative would overwhelm the story elements if the keeper let it), its
lyricism of language makes it an absolute pleasure to absorb.
Brian Sammons' The Dig and David Conyers The Burning Stars
start strong on plot but fall short at the end. The former is a good
murder mystery wherein people disappear or die during a school-sponsored
archaeological excavation (okay, yes, that one uses the "You all meet as
students at Miskatonic University" gimmick), but it shoots itself in the
foot with its expectations of the heroes. A lot is made throughout of
how unfortunate the characters' chances are of surviving any given
encounter, but by the climax little has changed. The investigators face
the same threats (most of them now congregated) and their arsenal isn't
much bigger or wider, but suddenly those tools are supposed to be
sufficient here where earlier they were not. The Burning Stars,
with some truly clever roleplaying challenges for the team, pits them
against voodoo in Haiti. They cannot recall the last week of their
lives, and worse, they keep blacking out (even more so than in your
usual Cthulhu adventure). Hopefully(?) on the trail of a
murderous cult, they soon find answers to their questions - answers they
really didn't want to find. That gets said about every Lovecraftian
story, but this time it's painfully true. While the narrative surprises
in this one are innovative and fun, the ending is almost preordained, so
even as these kinds of stories go this one's pretty bleak and may leave
the players feeling ill-used.
Death by Misadventure is the coroner's verdict in a gentleman's
untimely demise, but this being a Cthulhu tale and all, the likelihood
of that is pretty slim. Charles Stanhope found out some secrets about
his property and its former occupants, and to make matters worse the
previous owners aren't done unearthing its secrets yet, either. While
author Glyn White's drawing-room murder is a compact affair, it comes
with its own brand of confusion. There are a lot of keeper characters
and quite a bit of geography to keep track of in its brief pages. Its
use of the Mythos is a bit more blunt than some of the pieces found in
this volume but not egregiously so, making this one for the twisted
The setup to A Method to Madness is one we've seen or used
before, yet you cannot help but admire John Almack's take on the asylum
bit. The investigators have all come (or been sent) here for their own
reasons, but they're united in thinking there's something fishy going on
behind the scenes (other than the cute little in-jokes in the character
names). Of course, they may not be able to trust their own addled
senses, but patients and doctors are changing or disappearing without
explanation. It's quick, it's succinct, and it's formidable, creepy
adventuring. Paired with Ghost Light, these form the two most
playable one-night adventures in the collection. A relief team has come
to check on the inhabitants of a forlorn lighthouse, but there's no one
there to greet them. There are plenty of clues, but no people. Gary
Sumpter has clearly done his historical homework here so it all has a
realistic feel, but he does this to the exclusion of real instructions
for the keeper; the referee has to organize events and put them in
motion on his own, but the story is pretty freeform anyway and it's
otherwise a solid entry.
It's good to see original artwork in a book - not everyone does that
these days - and what we have here shows honest effort. A couple of the
pieces lean a little to the caricature side, but they match the story.
Too bad there aren't more of them, but Chaosium is generous with its
maps, diagrams, and player aids so there's a lot of graphical decoration
to break up the text. As an aside, a few handouts in the main body of
the adventure are numbered out of order, and when the text claims a
particular player aid is "nearby" (rather than giving a helpful,
specific page number), that turns out to be an ill-defined term of no
use to the keeper.
Worse, they don't limit these handouts to the text of the adventures,
they collect it all at the back of the book. Almost 20% of the page
count is duplicate material. Having a map or letter on a page all its
own would make photocopying easier, but since some pages print multiple
handouts, keepers still have to clip some apart with scissors. It's
really no alternative to copying the material straight from the
adventure itself and snipping away anything the players shouldn't see.
The pages at the back aren't perforated for easy removal, either. The
other area in which Terrors from Beyond comes up short is the
editing. For such literate work, it's surprising how slack the proofing
is. It doesn't render it unreadable, but barely a page goes by without
at least one simple oversight.
Terrors from Beyond absolutely delivers on its promises.
The pregenerated characters fit in well with the storylines, the prep
work is minimal, and the opportunities for play are something special.
That can be important in a world as esoteric and atmospheric as Call
of Cthulhu, where brainstorming a decent idea is like pulling teeth
from one's own brain. The various lengths mean many entries can be
finished in a single evening, but there are a couple of longer pieces
for the more ambitious keepers. Even when using familiar settings, the
adventures manage to steer clear of many clichés of the genre.
The book proves to be a useful kit for the keeper with a tight budget of
time or money - but a better execution would have benefited everyone
involved even further.