Big Cthulhu campaigns from Chaosium aren’t that common, but they tend to be pretty damn good when they do appear. “Horror on the Orient Express”, “Beyond the Mountains of Madness” and “Masks of Nyarlathotep” are all rightfully considered to be classics. Tatters of the King by Tim Wiseman is the latest entry in this category (though being written in 2006 it’s not exactly brand-new anymore), and I’m glad to report it continues the tradition of excellence. While it reads like it’s a bit tricky to both run and play, the depth of plot and detail is fantastic, and the plot twists are quite inventive. In true Cthulhu fashion, the end game can be a grim affair.
It begins in October 1928 with a prelude concerning a play named “The King in Yellow”, written by one Talbot Estus and opening in a London theater. It’s probably not a spoiler to say that the opening night has… complications. From there the PCs are launched into the plot proper, which involves a certain patient in a mental hospital, dark magic, numerous cultists with different and at times conflicting agendas, weird monoliths on the Scottish moors, a possible trip to the strange meta-City of Carcosa, ancient British fertility cults… and finally, if the PCs are clever enough, a trip abroad to a very grim and alien destination. I don’t want to detail the plot too much, since it’s quite clever and some parts are prone to spoilers.
The story features a lot of detailed NPCs, which does present some challenges to both players and the GM: there are quite a few important people to keep track of, and the clues are quite subtle at times. The GM will need to do quite a bit of improvisation if (and when) the PCs walk off track, especially since many parts of this are quite freeform, with the PCs being free to investigate things at their own pace, using whatever methods they deem best. This is a good thing as far as structure goes, but it also means that it’s possible for the plot to get bogged down. There were a couple of leaps of faith at places concerning what the PCs were likely to do next, so some prodding and extra hints here and there may be needed.
So it’s complicated. It’s also pretty deadly in places; while no meatgrinder like Masks, there are still places where a wrong decision can prove disastrous. The end is particularly deadly, but I guess that’s fitting. Beyond the complicated nature of the plot and the possible need for some extra help to keep the adventure “on track”, I cannot find much bad to say about this book. Yes, it will probably be a bit more work for the GM than a more straightforward campaign, but I suspect the rewards will be worth it. Most of the book does take place in Britain, though, so players looking for a globetrotting adventure in the fashion of some of the other big campaigns will probably be a bit disappointed.
I really liked this book. It’s intricately plotted while still keeping the different NPC motivations quite clear. The book gets extra points for not depicting evil cultists as doing what they do “just because they are evil cultists”. They all have their agendas, which are quite believable and in some cases even sympathetic. In some notable cases, some may even turn into allies-of-convenience for the PCs. I also loved the Carcosa section, it reads like it should be a blast to play or run. To cap things off, the ending is quite fantastic, if deadly.
This campaign easily holds its own against the “classic” big Cthulhu campaigns in my opinion, and even surpasses them in places. Excellent stuff.