The Black Drop, by Jason Morningstar, is an adventure for the Trail of Cthulhu RPG. It’s available as a 40-page PDF or in the Out of Time compilation of adventures. In either format, it consists of a three-column, gray-scale layout with some nice artwork and a very usable layout although the multiple columns make it difficult to use the PDF efficiently on a tablet.
The Black Drop pays homage to horror stories set in cold, remote places – Beyond the Mountains of Madness and even John Carpenter’s The Thing spring to mind – without really being derivative of any of them. The adventure is set in the Kerguelen archipelago in the southern region of the Indian Ocean. Its locations and history are based in reality – this includes the names of several notable NPCs on the islands. However, unlike real history, things in the Kerguelen Islands will take a much more horrific turn as the investigation opens.
The premise for the adventure has the investigators aboard a freighter steaming into Port Couvreux in the Kerguelen Islands. The French government has decided to abandon its failed settlement in the remote islands, and the ship’s crew and passengers have been sent to either aid in the colony’s abandonment or are taking advantage of the situation to visit the islands one last time. Meanwhile, further down the coast, a mysterious German-funded expedition has arrived, likely for no good purpose (the adventure is set in the 1930s so we’re talking about Nazi Germany). As expected, the investigators quickly find themselves wrapped up in a sinister plot involving an ancient evil about to rise again, cultists, Nazis, and a battle to save humanity.
The investigation itself is fairly straight forward, with a variety of clues that ultimately will lead the group (hopefully) to the climactic finish. To its credit, the investigation has a very flexible structure that will let players head in a variety of directions rather than being forced down a very specific path to the end. There’s also quite a bit for the Keeper to define and flesh out in order to make the adventure their own, tailoring it to the style and tastes of the group. That said, there is more than enough detail for a novice to run straight out of the book.
Similarly, the pregenerated characters that are included are a good fit for the adventure, but are left undefined enough for players to make them their own. However, unlike some other Trail of Cthulhu adventures, the pregenerated characters aren’t quite as tightly integrated in to the story and therefore The Black Drop is easier to fit into an ongoing campaign, using player-generated characters. All that’s really needed is a good reason for the investigators to be headed to the islands and the rest of the connections can easily be improvised at the table.
I really like The Black Drop: it’s a dark, bleak adventure with the potential for a mixture of investigation and action. As written, it ends in a potentially climactic battle that will leave groups who like Pulp-style action thoroughly satisfied. While personally I’m more of a fan of the more Purist-style ToC adventures, that’s more of a matter of taste and The Black Drop can easily be adapted for that style with a minimal amount of effort given the quality of the writing and the nature of the story. As such, The Black Drop is well worth investigating.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the PDF from Pelgrane Press.