Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/01/tabletop-review-age-of-cthulhu-8-starfall-over-the-plateau-of-leng-call-of-cthulhu/
Age of Cthulhu 8 was another successful Kickstarter project by Goodman Games. In this case the goal was to fund a hardcover adventure for this Call of Cthulhu line of products. The goal was met and then surpassed, allowing for a few extra bells in whistles in the release, along with some bonus mini-adventures like Transatlantic Terror. It is worth nothing that out of Goodman Games’ six Kickstarters, Age of Cthulhu 9 raised the least amount of money and “only” 341 backers as compared to double that for their Dungeon Crawl Classics Kickstarters. I can only surmise why but I think $25 for a single adventure is a bit hard for some CoC players to take, especially when the $7 tier got you a PDF version AND a free previous Age of Cthulhu release. That tier was such a great deal it probably ended up cannibalizing the sales of the hardcover edition. Anyway, let’s take a look at Age of Cthulhu 8 and if it is worth picking up once it becomes available to the general public. Remember that Age of Cthulhu releases are for Call of Cthulhu Fifth and/or Sixth Edition, so you will have to do some tweaking if you plan to use the adventure with Chaosium’s upcoming 7e core rulebooks.
Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is an adventure that takes place mostly in the Dreamlands. I’ve always found Dreamlands adventures tend to be less popular than “regular” CoC adventures, but I think it’s because this aspect of Lovecraftia gets so little coverage and attention that when a Dreamlands piece comes up it throws both Keepers and players off their game. The whole Dreaming and Dream Lore skills or how reality is someone but not entirely different. Personally I enjoy them but like Cthulhu Invictus, it’s very easy to write a terrible adventure for the setting. Thankfully Age of Cthulhu 8 is not terrible. It’s actually very fun, although this is because it’s a more or less straight forward set of dungeons crawls with branching paths. In fact, one such path lets you bypass the majority of the adventure – but only if players and their Investigators are clever enough to discover that option. In this regard the adventure is really well done.
Now that’s not to say it is perfect. Azathoth is not written as the blind idiot god, but as something actively malevolent, which may annoy some purists. As well, ghouls are portrayed as more or less mindless human eaters. While they aren’t the kindest race towards humanity in the real world, Lovecraft wrote ghouls in the Dreamlands as intelligent and even quite willing to talk or even befriend humans. Look at how Pickman and his pack aided Randolph Carter in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath for example. At the same time, Hastur’s machinations come up and this is actually well done. The author does a great job of portraying Hastur and his cultists as less evil than a lot of other Great Old Ones, and you get a very Chambers/Bierce-esque vibe in the writing. This is wonderful compared to a lot of other authors who make the King in Yellow or Hastur some outright black hat wearing evil doer when he was originally written as one of the more benevolent Great Old Ones. The High Priest Not to Be Described revels in the destruction of all reality that is Azathoth’s plan…but he also helps the PCs to prevent it. This is the kind of weirdness that Hastur needs to be portrayed at – machinations that seem contradictory and bizarre to mortal minds. So some portrayals are really off the mark, while others are extremely good. It’s all in an author’s interpretation of the Mythos after all, but just a head’s up that purists or more anal retentive Mythos fans may quibble with some of the core events in this piece.
The adventure itself takes players from Arkham, Ma to Eureka Springs, AR (it’s a real place with supposedly a very nice big cat refuge) and then on to the Dreamlands. The adventure assumes Investigators are either veterans or recent additions to the “International Historical & Archaeology Society,” which is essentially the Age of Cthulhu‘s rendition of SAVE from Chill. It’s an organization dedicated to understand and subduing Mythos related thingies. Again, some people might take issue with this concept or shoehorning characters into an organization for a single adventure, but don’t worry. The adventure gives ways to get around being members of IHAS, as well as pregenerated characters to use if you don’t want to muddy up your regular characters with the organization.
It seems that a young artist on the stipend of the IHAS has been having nightmares growing in frequency and intensity. It’s also showing up in her paintings. Because of this the IHAS has sent her down to a mental health clinic specializing in…let’s say dream analysis…to help her get better. Unfortunately the artist in question has not been heard of in some time. Nor can the IHAS raise the clinic’s owner/director. The Investigators are then hired/chosen to go down to Arkansas and check things out. Once in Eureka Springs, the Investigators discover that they are in way over their head. Not only will they discover a way to enter the Dreamlands, but they will also have to foil a nefarious scheme bent on destroying that plane of reality and our own as well! No pressure here, am I right? From there the adventure is more or less a straightforward trek (also with branching paths, as previously mentioned). It’s simple in form and format, but still highly enjoyable to play. The end scene is especially memorable and will be worth experiencing even if you normally aren’t a fan of dungeon (or in this case Dreamlands) crawling.
The adventure is a lot of fun, and aside from occasionally requiring use of the Dream Lore and Dreaming skills (which most characters won’t have and some players might not even know about!), this would be a great introduction to the Dreamlands as you’ll see a lot of different things without having to get too in-depth. From there, if players liked the Dreamlands, they could move on to something like The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man or something similar.
Anyway, Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is a fine addition to the Age of Cthulhu line. There are several ways a character can meet instant death/insanity, but for the most part the adventure is one of atmosphere and exploration rather than combat. There are a lot of really interesting locations and encounters in this piece and I want to give special attention to the various maps in the adventure, as they were really well done – especially the Plateau of Leng and Eureka Springs maps. Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is another excellent addition to the Age of Cthulhu series and if you’re a fan of Dreamlands based adventures, or have been mildly curious about experience one, Age of Cthulhu 8 is a fine choice indeed.