Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: The Burning Stars

Yes I know I said I'd post this yesterday but it was a very busy day so I didn't have time. Review is probably too formal a term for these things, but here we go:



The Burning Stars is set in Haiti in 1930 at the height of the occupation. The party awaken in a military hospital with no memory of the last week since they arrived on the island, but strange compulsions to find out what happened. They are apparently here looking for one of the investigators sons who hasn't been heard from in a while. Investigations based on leads from their hotel room draw them through town, with the locals looking suspiciously at them all the while. They become familiar with voodoo and local rebel forces, all the while being taunted by an ephemeral force who leaves mysterious tarot cards in their path. Eventually they find out about an esoteric sect's plans to bring about the destruction of Haiti, find their base of operations and set out to confront them and recover the missing son. However, on the way there are flashbacks aplenty and gradually it dawns on the investigators that the last time they were here, they all died and are mere specters tied to the remaining investigator's broken mind. This discovered, the final confrontation occurs and they attempt to save Haiti unaware that they are doomed to almost certain death, either at the tentacles of the mythos or the hands of the rebels.

So, as you can see above, the big twist in The Burning Stars is that the players (bar one) are all dead from the start of the game. That might sound like a very dead-end sort of scenario, but it is handled well, albeit bleakly by the written scenario. Enough clues are thrown around that the players will look back on the game and think' OOOHH! Why didn't I realise before?!' (and one REALLY obvious clue that I ended up leaving out). This scenario also ties really well into the flavour of the voodoo practices in Haiti and several of the locals exhibit wonderful little behaviours such as hammering nails into the footsteps of the investigator to trap the ghosts they sense following him. This sort of thing goes a long way towards convincing the players at the end, and explicating how pervasive voodoo was at the time. These sorts of interactions provide plenty of scope for roleplaying, indeed there is almost no need for combat until the very end of the scenario (where granted it is all but inevitable) which is a huge plus in my book.

The ending of the scenario is in my opinion a bit harsh. While obviously the flavour for a CoC game is bleak and doomed to failure, my players were a little disappointed to learn there was practically nothing they could do that let them survive and divert the big summoning at the end. This is though a huge matter of personal judgement and player tastes so I shall leave it to your opinions as to whether this is a plus point or not.

Highlights for my group:
- Pregen characters run right off the shelf and are varied enough to be interesting, with motivations and  quirks provided.
- The whole hallucination thing went over really well, they all accepted it and thought it was a nice little twist.
- They avoided any combat till the very end, again a subjective plus for me.
- Very prop friendly scenario: Tarot cards in particular make a number of appearances in the scenario, and I love using props anyway!
- Nice and memorable characters, a gruff rebel leader, a matronly voodoo priestess.
- Loads of roleplaying encounters.

Negatives for my group:
- No-win. This wasn't a great selling point to my players but as I said above, is very subjective.
- Very easy to miss a lot, especially the local festivals and other flavoury goodness.
- No real reason to wait, the scenario assumes the investigators will wait for three days before attempting find the final location but they don't really have any reason to, and it's a lot easier (relatively, they'll probably still not survive) if they do approach earlier, which again can leadd to missing things.

Overall, a very enjoyable scenario both for me as GM because of a HUGE wealth of background information included with the scenario; and for roleplaying centric players who will have a ball with the flavoursome setting and characters to the point where the journey is much more important than the (doomed) destination!.

General Guidance Thread on YSDC: http://www.yog-sothoth.com/threads/17064-The-Burning-Stars-Questions-SPOILERS?highlight=burning+stars

Some nicely redesigned handouts, YSDC again: http://www.yog-sothoth.com/local_links.php?catid=7&linkid=633

Terrors From Beyond, the containing book: http://catalog.chaosium.com/product_info.php?products_id=3732

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