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Reviews - Death in Luxor
by Demian Katz

Death in Luxor coverDeath in Luxor
Published by Goodman Games
Written by Harley Stroh
Edited by Aeryn "Blackdirge" Rudel
Cover Art by Eddie Sharam
Interior Art by Tom Martin and Bradley K. McDevitt
48-page saddle-stitched softback

Death in Luxor is the first in Goodman Games' Age of Cthulhu line, a series of adventures for Call of Cthulhu set in the 1920s but featuring globe-spanning settings in place of the more traditional New England. If this first adventure is any indication, it also appears that the line will share some of the old-school mentality of Goodman Games' long-running Dungeon Crawl Classics series. This is a very traditional Cthulhu adventure, and something that could easily have been published in the early days of the game, though it's better-organized and more user-friendly than many adventures actually printed in that era. As such, it's an excellent introduction to the genre, though it might seem like old hat to players who prefer a more modern and experimental approach to the game.

Into Egypt
The adventure is cleverly built around actual history: Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III really did battle with mysterious "Sea Peoples," whose identity historians still debate. If you put this bit of history through a Lovecraftian prism, the answer becomes fairly obvious. By the time players reach Luxor in the game, this secret has been discovered, minds have been snapped, evil has been unleashed, and it's only a matter of time before the reign of humanity is at an end... unless the hapless, inexperienced investigators can somehow manage to save the world. It's possible, but not easy.

The author has done a good job of organizing the adventure. There are six major scenes covering a lot of the staples of a good Call of Cthulhu adventure: a gruesome crime scene to investigate, a prison to escape from, some shady spots to meet NPCs in, and of course, eldritch sites to explore. These scenes can be accessed in many different orders, and each clearly states possible entry and exit points so that a Keeper can easily maintain the flow of the adventure. NPC encounters are also handled well, with adequate notes on personality traits and a helpful "question and answer" format that makes it easy to keep track of key information that should be presented to the players. No adventure runs itself, and a Keeper will still need to do some work to prepare this game, but the job has been made a lot easier here than is often the case.

The book's traditional content and good organization would be enough to make this a recommended purchase for starting players, but it's made even better by the inclusion of five diverse pregenerated characters (with tantalizing backgrounds that still leave plenty of room for players to add their own stamp). A further bonus is the fact that this adventure is completely capable of standing alone as a one-off, but it also sets up the beginnings of a story arc that will be continued in future Age of Cthulhu adventures. No threads are left hanging at the end of the adventure, but it is made clear that some characters will be seen again.

The books biggest failings (apart from its traditional nature, which is only a failing if you dislike tradition) come from its visual presentation. Although there are a couple of atmospheric pieces, I wasn't impressed with most of the artwork, which is a little too cartoony and sometimes fails to match with the text. For example, one bit of flavor text describes "stairs falling and wrapping in upon themselves in some maddening optical trick." This is accompanied by a drawing of two guys walking down a very mundane-looking flight of thirteen stone steps. Not a particularly big deal, but there is room for improvement here. More frustrating are the maps and player handouts, which are simply too dark. The whole book is printed in dark brown ink, and the maps and handouts are very dark and low-contrast - they're hard to read, and even though permission is granted to produce photocopies, getting readable copies may take a few attempts (not to mention wasting a lot of toner). I would have preferred more thought to function over form here... or at least a downloadable PDF to make the task of reproduction a little easier. It also nearly goes without saying, but another round of copy editing would have been appreciated; there are no game-breaking flaws, but there are enough typos and missing words to be annoying. This seems to be par for the course in the gaming industry, though, and this is no worse than usual.

Slightly flawed presentation aside, this adventure gets my recommendation if you're looking to take a first step into Call of Cthulhu or kick off an old-school campaign. Though it doesn't break a lot of new ground, it provides all the tools necessary to get a game running quickly and painlessly, and it serves as a "best of" showcase of many of the things that make Call of Cthulhu a uniquely satisfying game: creepy horror, an emphasis on exploration and planning over mindless combat, and the opportunity to save the world or die heroically trying. Not a bad start, and I look forward to seeing what else Age of Cthulhu has to offer.

See OgreCave's Random Encounter with Harley Stroh for more on the Age of Cthulhu line.

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