Retro Reviews: Escape From Innsmouth

Escape From InnsmouthOccasionally, I will be posting old reviews I did for The Gamer (print only) magazine back in the 1990s, and consolidating them here.  You can also find these reviews on rpg.net.

Another in the line of Lovecraft Country supplements, Escape From Innsmouth details the decaying seacoast town infamous for its ‘fishy’ inhabitants.  The cover–a young man hiding behind a wall as the shadows of strange, webbed things pass by in the night–is excellent, and joins the fine art Chaosium is doing for the Call of Cthulhu game these days.  The interior pencils are nearly as good, and the layout in general is sharp.  At 157 pages, the treatment of the town is an exhaustive one, although not altogether satisfying.

The supplement begins with an accepted history of Innsmouth, followed by details of the town’s more sinister and secret side, finishing with the current (as of 1928) state of the town.  The background information is thorough, giving a nice cross section of the town, while explaining how Innsmouth’s more nefarious dwellers interact with legitimate society.  Anyone who has read H.P. Lovecraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth” will know Innsmouth’s secret, but the supplement takes the story a step further by giving details of Innsmouth’s inhabitants and how the town’s “curse” has affected them.

The first half is rounded out with “A Guidebook to Innsmouth & Environs,” which describes important personalities within the town as well as major landmarks.  Plenty of adventure hooks are here for the Keeper who enjoys creating his own scenarios.  I was somewhat disappointed, however, by the surface descriptions written for many of the townspeople.  Many of the NPCs have typical actions or personality traits listed, but Chaosium is better known for providing in-depth character motivation.  Many of the non-player characters seemed two-dimensional.

Two scenarios comprise the second half of the supplement. “Escape From Innsmouth” is a short adventure which can be used to introduce investigators to the city and its dark secrets, and “The Raid” is a large, five part adventure that amplifies the government raid briefly mentioned in Lovecraft’s short story. “Sinister Seeds,” a collection of short outlines and scenario hooks for the Keeper to develop, complete the book.

The bulk of the “Escape From Innsmouth” scenario is not especially engaging, relying on pretty standard-fare Cthulhu mystery to get the job done.  It does, however, allow the Keeper lots of leeway for side-adventure and chances for exploring the town.  This, along with a white-knuckle car chase at the climax, redeems it.

The feature presentation of the supplement, however, is “The Raid.”  The adventure has a unique approach to conducting a scenario: five teams are used, each headed by an investigator in the “starring” role; other players play “supporting characters,” with statistics and personalities given in the supplement.  Each of the five missions are split into three sections, and once a section is completed, the Keeper switches over to another mission.  This gives the adventure the feel of a movie, wherein several stories run simultaneously but break from scene to scene, each ending with a cliffhanger.

Whether or not you like “The Raid” will depend on what you like in a Call of Cthulhu scenario.  This has to be the closest to hack and slash gaming that I’ve seen in a supplement, analogous to the second Alien movie.  I found myself getting a little bored with the numerous combat scenes, but I also enjoyed the staging of them as well.  Government involvement with the mythos was interesting and done in such a way that keeps things relatively under wraps after the adventure is over.  Even so, the supplement suggests that Keepers wait to run “The Raid” until after they’ve explored Innsmouth’s more subtle secrets, and I agree.  The adventure will change the environ dramatically, and Keepers may want to use the scenario as a culmination to a longer campaign.

Escape From Innsmouth is a good supplement and has much to recommend it–there are plenty of interesting encounters, horrifying scenes, and harrowing escapes to keep investigators occupied and happy.  It fails, however, to do what Chaosium usually does best–breathe life and character into a setting. The pumped-up combat and two-dimensional character descriptions add up to a supplement that lacks heart.  That is something of a shame, as it represents one of Lovecraft’s best stories.

Grade: B+
Escape From Innsmouth
Published 1992 by Chaosium, Inc.
Written by Kevin A. Ross, Fred Behrendt, Mike Symanski, Scott Aniolowski, Mark Morrison and Keith Herber
$21.95

Reviewed by Gilbert Pili
The Gamer magazine #8
June, 1993

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