Great Games You May Have Missed #2 - Nocturnum
Nocturnum is a product published by Fantasy Flight Games for use with the d20 Call of Cthulhu rules system. Weighing in at 270 pages of content, not counting credits, ads and handouts, Nocturnum truly is an epic campaign. Fans of Call of Cthulhu, both d20 and Chaosium, will not be disappointed by this masterwork.
Nocturnum is a product published by Fantasy Flight Games for use with the d20 Call of Cthulhu rules system (see my previous column). Weighing in at 270 pages of content, not counting credits, ads and handouts, Nocturnum truly is an epic campaign. Fans of Call of Cthulhu, both d20 and Chaosium, will not be disappointed by this masterwork.
I have read several Call of Cthulhu adventures and campaigns and have often been very disappointed in what they had to offer. They claimed "epic scale" and sure looked the part, what with massive page counts, but once read I soon discovered that they were not what they appeared to be. On the rare occasion that I found one which truly was epic, and packed the pages with relevant information, I was disappointed by the flow of the campaign.
I must admit I was afraid the same thing would be true of Nocturnum. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, however, because I've been pleased with Fantasy Flight's other products and the cover price proved reasonable. Once I got to devour the text in earnest, I was not disappointed: Nocturnum offers a straightforward and linear story progression based on the path the characters choose to take, with quite a bit of material for the GM to use as they see fit. This allows for the characters and the GM to dictate the pace and style of play and not be limited by the adventures. Additionally, this proliferation of information allows GMs to explore the conspiracy that is presented and go well beyond the provided material.
if you want to make an omelet, you've got to break a few eggs
The campaign is based around a race of beings known as the Shk'ryth, born of a fleeting thought from the god Azathoth. The Shk'ryth have labored for millennia to return to the formless chaos that spawned them and their plans are nearing fruition. They are harvesting psychically active humans to power a great underground machine that is, in turn, pulling a comet from the depths of space on a collision course with Earth. The impact of this comet will open the gateway that allows them to return home. However, the impact will also destroy the planet, but if you want to make an omelet, you've got to break a few eggs.
The book is divided into four sections. The first is general information about all of the major players in Nocturnum and how they fit into the campaign. This section is the part that freeform GMs will love. It provides the threats and some suggestions on how to use them in the game. The threats are all very well fleshed out along with plots and statistics for agents and leaders and such.
Next is the first group of adventures called "Long Shades". These three adventures are designed to be a springboard to the rest of the campaign. They are all self contained and only remotely connected to the meat of the campaign, designed to be dropped into an existing game as stand alone adventures. Now, some GMs really like this method of introducing a larger campaign, but I find it a clumsy approach. I prefer adventures and campaigns to be entirely self contained so that I can choose what to introduce based on an encounter by encounter basis.
The next group of adventures is titled "Hollow Winds" and is the meat of the campaign. These adventures are designed to be played together, unlike those from "Long Shades". Also included in "Hollow Winds" are some encounters and situations that may or may not occur based on the character's actions and are, I think, inaccurately called adventures.
The fourth and final section is the climax of the campaign called "Deep Secrets". These adventures run in a very linear fashion from one to the next as the characters move from one plot point and location to another. The final climax of the campaign requires not a great skill of combat but, rather, the use of the player's brains. The whole work ends well in the final stages.
Included is some amazingly well written fiction.
Packed in with the adventures and source information is some amazingly well written fiction. When I ran this campaign, I read several of these to my players to give them a different look at things. The fiction sections do not give anything away if read aloud, but they do give a great mood for the adventure as they follow the path of an important NPC that the characters do not meet until very late in the campaign.
On a visual side, Nocturnum has some truly amazing artwork. Many of the images are very Lovecraftian and are great to give even more mood to the game. However, at times the artwork breached mediocre and even delves into pretty crappy. While I do not purchase these types of books for the artwork, I do feel that it is a big plus when they have some appreciable pieces.
Fans of d20 Call of Cthulhu will not be disappointed by this product. As well, fans of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu can easily play and enjoy this campaign with virtually no conversion work. Monster and NPC stats are all contained so they can easily be swapped out with those of a different rules system. While Nocturnum is based in the modern-day, people who prefer other time periods can easily play this campaign with virtually no change. The only portion that would require a bit more thought is one adventure that takes place on an oil drilling platform, but it is flexible enough to be placed elsewhere.
Nocturnum is an entirely self contained campaign and requires no supplementary material, besides the obvious core rulebook, to play. This allows for time crunched GMs to grab it and go. Because of this self contained nature, it need not even be used with Call of Cthulhu - the story stands on its own strongly and is written in a very non-Mythos manner. Nocturnum could be run using any d20 rules system (Spycraft works particularly well, as does d20 Modern)... for the crafty GM, Nocturnum could fit into any non-d20 modern-esque game with only the creation of appropriate monster and NPC statistics.
On the whole, I was very pleased with Nocturnum, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys good horror role playing. The end of this product eludes to more to the story and that future products were planned. However, with the discontinuation of Call of Cthulhu d20 I fear that this may never happen. For more, visit Fantasy Flight Game's official Nocturnum website.