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Subject: It was free, but was it worth the price of admission? rss

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Chad Bowser
United States
North Carolina
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This is a review of a scenario for the Call of Cthulhu game. I will do my best to use the spoiler tags to preserve the sanctity of the adventure. One or two might leak through however. You’ve been warned!

The physical product:

Abominations of the Amazon (AotA) is a 24-page, black and white scenario for Goodman Game’s Age of Cthulhu line written by Mike Ferguson and illustrated by Bradley K. McDevitt. This saddle-stapled pamphlet, printed on light weight paper was given away during Free RPG Day 2010. It is worth noting that the front and back covers are printed on the same paper as the interior. This is not a sturdy book to be tossed around.

Of those 24 pages, 16.5 are the scenario. Another 1.5 pages are pre-generated investigators. There is 1 page of handouts, as well as 1 page of maps. To round out the pamphlet, there are 4 pages of advertisements, each of which highlights a game in the Age of Cthulhu line. In other words, Goodman hopes the reader likes this short teaser scenario enough to buy other books in the line.

Counting the cover, there are 5 black and white illustrations. All are well executed and set a very pulpy tone. It’s not hard to imagine one or two of these gracing the cover of Weird Tales or, more likely, Argosy. The pre-generated characters are presented in the common abbreviated stat block format found in many Call of Cthulhu scenarios. There are no character portraits. They are not full page character sheets, which is the norm for the other Age of Cthulhu books. Since Goodman is paying to have the book produced and then giving it away for free, the quality of the pamphlet is better than expected. It’s not glossy like WotC’s Bloodsand Arena, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s what’s between the covers that matters, and does AotA have what it takes?

The contents:

AotA, like many Call of Cthulhu scenarios, deals with the investigation into the disappearance of a friend. In this case, the friend is an archaeologist who claims to have found a missing treasure. Unfortunately, he went missing shortly after making that claim. Like all the Age of Cthulhu products, AotA is set in the 1920s.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
The archaeologist and his team did find a legendary treasure, but managed to release a host of serpent men in the process. The surviving members of the expedition are now prisoners of the serpent men. Those serpent men ruled over the Chavin culture during the first millennia BCE. When the Chavin rose against the despots and chased them into the jungles. The serpent men took refuge in their temple and entered hibernation. The Chavin culture fell and was eventually replaced by the Incans. When Pizarro attacked the Incas, the natives hid their treasures in the same temple. When the archaeologist and his crew open the temple, they woke the monsters within.

Keepers looking to jump right in will find five pre-generated investigators. Between the five pre-gens, the necessary skills for this scenario are all present. As a nice touch, the pre-generated investigators are given reasons for heading into the Peruvian Amazon to find the missing professor. Essentially, some are concerned about their missing friend. Others are eager to get their hands on the treasure. This two-fold drive can serve to create tension between the party members. Do they push on to find their friend or do they cut and run at the first sign of treasure?

Despite the claim in the Introduction that "Abominations of the Amazon is designed as a free-form investigation where the player characters can take several paths," it is actually very linear. I believe the free-form text was lifted directly from an earlier release, Shadows Over Leningrad.

Regardless, the scenario consists of three scenes, each comprised of two or more sub-scenes. During scene one, the investigators go to Peru, meet a guide who was on the original expedition, and sail up the Amazon. Scene two has the intrepid heroes hike to the last known location of the archaeologist. Along the way they find a few clues and encounter a very nasty denizen of the jungle. The third and final scene takes place at a secret location deep in the jungle.

As a very nice touch, the author summarizes each scene before going into detail about it. This allows the Keeper to refresh his memory regarding the events at a quick glance. At the end of each scene, the author summarizes the important clues and information the investigators should have found. More publishers should incorporate this format.

The party knows where the archaeologist was because he was kind enough to send them a hand drawn map. The text makes mention of marginalia on the map to clue the investigators into some of the dangers that are ahead, but the otherwise well drawn map is lacking those notes. It shouldn’t be hard for Keeper to add some, in effect create a map with two distinct sets of hand writing. Having a map where somebody hastily scrawled danger! hopefully causes more dread and apprehension for the investigators.

To prevent spoilers, I won’t go into detail about each scene. Instead, I'll describe the overall effect the scenes have on the scenario. Each scene builds upon the last, guiding the investigators to the conclusion. However, the pacing of the scenario feels rushed. If the action pushes the investigators along, like it does in scene one, that’s a good thing. However, it seems like some of the sub-scenes, such as 2-2, have too little for the investigators to do, so the author just pushes them along to the next one.

Keeping true to the pulp nature of the Age of Cthulhu line, this scenario is full of chases and combat.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The boat chase on the Amazon is a favorite of mine. If only the author included piranhas.
. It should be mentioned that there’s an encounter in the mid-way point of that could result in a TPK for an unsuspecting Keeper.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
A massive lizard/insect hybrid emerges from a temple to combat the investigators. In true Ray Harryhausen fashion, it chews the scenery before it chews the heroes. It is powerful enough to take out an investigator each round and there is no warning.

On the other hand, there is little investigation. Each scene has a clue or two designed specifically to move the investigators to the next scene. Again, being two-fisted pulp that isn’t a problem. Suffice it to say, the Swim, Climb, Jump, and Combat checks outnumber the Spot Hidden checks by a good 3:1 ratio. For a pulp scenario, this is how it should be. Keepers looking for a deep scientific exploration of the Amazon will need to look elsewhere. Instead, this scenario alternately screamed
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The Valley of Gwangi
. The action is definitely there. If only there were a rope bridge swinging precariously over a volcano.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Other inspirations look to be Bad Moon Rising from The Great Old Ones and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

The final scene of the scenario, if the investigators don’t opt for the "When Things Go Boom" ending could confuse the players immensely. Especially when the Keeper calls for a
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Computer Use
roll. The author provides several ways around this stumbling block, though. It struck me as a little hokey as well, but that’s part of the fun of pulp adventures.

The proofreading of the manuscript was solid. I found two typos. One was a missing word and the other was "as" substituted for "at." The editing, on the other hand, could have been a little tighter. Overall, the editing very good, but there are some instances of passive language, an overabundance of adverbs, and hedging on the author’s part that could confuse players and Keepers.

AotA is a solid one-shot or convention scenario. For a short campaign, it would take little effort to combine AotA with Pagan’s Final Flight.


Goodman Games’s Age of Cthulhu line started out shaky, but with each release has become stronger. Aota doesn’t set the line back. Despite the lower production values, which are eminently excusable since this was a free product; this is a good addition to the Age of Cthulhu line. While not as deep as the previous release, Shadows Over Leningrad, the author didn’t have the space to devote to a deep free-form investigative scenario.

If you missed out on your chance to pick this up, don’t worry. The author mentioned on a forum that AotA is being compiled with several other scenarios for release next year.
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