Considering my interest in Lovecraft Country scenarios, I was an easy sell for Chaosium’s release last week of Canis Mysterium, a scenario set in Arkham and Coldwater Falls.
I should note that this review is based on reading the PDF and not an examination of the print version. I shall spoil the scenario, so if you want to be surprised, do not read on.
Coming in at 32 pages and $10.95 ($6.02 the PDF) Canis Mysterium has the investigators contacted by the authorities in Coldwater Falls, a small (pop c.900) factory town on the Miskatonic between Dean’s Corners and Dunwich (about more see later), asking for their help dealing with a madman captured by said authorities who, it appears, have murdered and partially eaten a young girl. The scenario recommends the investigators have some connection to the psychology dept. at Miskatonic, but I did not see this as essential If you have ever read a Call of Cthulhu scenario (or taken a look at the cover) you can correctly guess that indeed there are ghouls involved, though not immediately. Once the madman is examined, he leads the investigators to a disgruntled local handyman, his scheme to destroy Coldwater Falls for the town’s imagined slights, and his (drumroll) ghoul ally.
Overall, Canis Mysterium is not a great scenario, serviceable perhaps, but certainly not exceptional. Ghouls are passe in scenarios, and while the ghoul in this one is not at the fore of the scenario, simply having one after so much hints of ghouls is a disappointment. The true villain of the piece – the cemetery caretaker with a score to settle – is a rather one-note villain. He hates the town and the town hates him, apparently with good reason. I was particularly surprised that the scenario made no allowance for the investigators being in town should the caretaker’s scheme comes to fruition, instead leaving that for a handout – a handout which rather blithely glosses over a catastrophe that would attract national attention.
From the point of view of the guy editing the Arkham Gazette, there are a few elements of the scenario that frustrated me. While I understand the geography of Lovecraft Country is intentionally vague, even a cursory review would tell you that between Deans’ Corners and Dunwich is sparsely inhabited hills and farmlands; Lovecraft himself described the trip between the two, should you miss your turn on the Aylesbury Pike. Speaking of the Pike, it is described as a rutted dirt road, which certainly does not jibe with the source material or RPG products (or historically, unless it had been abandoned). Coldwater Falls itself is very roughly sketched – there is no map – and isn’t particularly distinguished or vivid a setting though i suspect with some work it might make a reasonable addition to the secondary locations of Lovecraft Country.
(A minor point but I feel obliged to raise it- the author frequently refers to The Compact Arkham Unveiled for readers to refer to with questions about Arkham. I’m surprised Chaosium didn’t update that reference to their most recent printing of Arkham, HP Lovecraft’s Arkham (2003). I don’t know what that suggests about the editing process…)
Finally I must confess that I found most of the artwork to be amateurish and unappealing. I suspect that the artist might have been aiming for something in the style of woodblock illustration, but the overall effect does not impress. The cover is adequate but not inspiring and gives away a bit of background plot and further hits one over the head that there are ghouls in the offing.
Considering the price, the generally pedestrian scenario, and the off-putting artwork, I say that this one is for the completists only. There has a been a large output of great Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian RPG material this year that you will likely enjoy more.
DieHardGameFan has posted a dissenting review.