Publisher: Chaosium Inc
Author: Lynne Hardy
Artists: Caleb Cleveland, Kristina Carroll, Caleb Cleveland, Mariusz Gandzel, Doruk Golcu, Katy Grierson, Sija Hong, Victor Leza, Pat Loboyko, Magda Mieszczak, and Mali Ware
Genre: Epic Mythos horror adventure for Call of Cthulhu
Pages: 414 pages
Price: $26.99 in PDF at DriveThruRPG
If the call of Cthulhu is ultimately the call to madness, Lynne Hardy has truly answered it, producing a vibrant, extensively researched campaign that is epic in both scope and execution.
The Children of Fear pits players against the Tokabhaya, a cult seeking to open the Gates of Agartha thereby clearing the way for the King of Fear. Investigators begin in Peking in 1923, but soon find themselves in a desperate race across Asia. In order to preserve the twist and turns of the campaign, this will be a plot spoiler-free review, though setting details will be freely discussed.
Hardy’s set up is thorough and lavishly described. Understanding that many players will be unfamiliar with the region’s history or the vibrant cultural milieu of the time period, she opts for a detailed introduction, explaining how characters of various nationalities and professions may have come to find themselves in Peking with relatively little finagling. While the campaign does include six pre-generated investigators, there is more than enough information at hand for players to completely create their own. Callout boxes provide relevant historical clarification and potential ties into other Mythos elements.
Hardy also affords Keepers particular latitude in how they approach the framing of the campaign. While it can easily be played as written, alternatives are also provided, ranging from alternate dimensions to Azathoth to an absence of the Mythos altogether. While this could muddy things in the hands of a less skilled writer, it works well here, allowing ambitious Keepers the option to even fold The Children of Fear into an ongoing campaign.
In a similar vein, Hardy has also made efforts to ensure the campaign is easily converted to the Pulp Cthulhu ruleset, ensuring NPCs have both pulp talents and Luck scores. The only real conversion work left for Keepers is the matter of adjusting the difficulty curve of the encounter for Pulp’s more action-oriented approach.
Children of Fear offers some interesting rules additions that may be of use even beyond its parameters, particularly its framework for acquiring new skills during “off-screen” travel time. Investigators can learn not only from purchased or otherwise acquired materials and NPCs, but from each other as well. Whether learning a new skill or seeking to improve an existing one, players may attempt a POW roll, as a metric of willpower and dedication to the effort. This softens the blow for investigators who may have found themselves at a disadvantage due to a dearth in some particular skill and offers a fun opportunity for some in-character relationship building.
The specter hanging over this campaign is, of course, the risk of accidentally tipping into the most lurid kinds of orientalism. Historically, American conceptions of Asia at this time were —and, in many ways, still are— already mixed, veering anywhere from the idealized to the deeply racist. When approaching this campaign, there were no small number of pitfalls to avoid, particularly as the Tokabhaya practice a corrupted form of Vajrayana Buddhism, including human sacrifices and ritualistic cannibalism — neither element on its own being off-brand for Call of Cthulhu. Being a white westerner, it’s not for me to ultimately say whether or not the book manages to perfectly avoid these potential issues, but the obvious efforts to provide historical fact, context, and clarification, as well as the ample opportunity for players to create non-western Investigators in positions of power and prestige do seem to have kept the campaign nicely on track.
This title is massive, clocking in at over 400 pages. While the PDF has a hotlinked table of contents and is fully searchable, it may not be the ideal way to consume the campaign. Interior layout is standard for seventh edition Call of Cthulhu products, keeping it easy to read. Its cover art is striking and its interior artwork helps support the overall feel of the world.
The Children of Fear is a fantastic campaign, full of twists and more than a few gut punches. Hardy has struck a fine balance between crafting an experience ready to play as written and allowing Keepers the chance to storycraft to their own tastes. The campaign’s more disturbing elements are written to be handled tastefully, with the fade-to-black being an explicit option. The end product is obviously the result of care, consideration, and research. This is an obvious choice for fans of Call of Cthulhu or other Lovecraft-oriented titles, especially those who enjoyed the epic scope of Masks of Nyarlathotep.