The Angel of the Abyss is flying high

Here you can read an interview with Matthew Sanderson, the author of The Angel of the Abyss.

World War Cthulhu has enjoyed no small popularity since the very announcement of its pending publication. This Call of Cthulhu setting can boast some  truly amazing projects, many of which are still in development. It is hard to predict how far and in what direction will the line expand in the future.

For now, let us take a look at the first scenario book for World War Cthulhu, Europe Ablaze and, more specifically, at the adventure which enabled it to launch with a considerable degree of success: The Angel of the Abyss by Matthew Sanderson, offered as a free sample to mark the pre-release of the supplement itself.

Europe Ablaze comprises six complete adventures set in the Second World War. All of them are firmly rooted in the reality of war some taking inspiration from actual historical events and operations.  The Angel of the Abyss is one of the latter, being based around Operation Harling, a major sabotage act by British Special Operations Executive carried out in cooperation with the Greek Resistance Movement.

It must be mentioned that in its entirety World War Cthulhu appears to have side-stepped the obvious approach that one might take when mixing Cthulhu Mythos and World War II, unlike the concurrent Cthulhu expansion Achtung! Cthulhu. In doing so, it has remained highly respectful towards its historical background. Taking into account the relative recency of the events in question as well as their socio-cultural impact, it surely seems to be the most appropriate approach. Furthermore, some players tend to experience trouble when faced with Mythos-imbued Nazi forces. That is why World War Cthulhu makes an effort not to merge the all too real human evil with supernatural threats. The whole issue is handled with great delicacy and resolved by supporting plots that are dual in nature: the official mission given to the Investigators tends to be wholly anchored in the political and military spheres while the supernatural is relegated to a secondary underlying plot layer.

Such is the case with The Angel of the Abyss. The Investigators are given a mission to support two disparate resistance groups on the eve of the attack on the Gorgopotamos Bridge. It is worth to mention that the author chose to adhere to historical determinism – it seems that whatever the players do, the attack will succeed. Such an approach enhances the realism of the adventure and affirms the feeling of the scale and scope of the setting.

One cannot help but admire the sheer amount of research that must have gone into the scenario, especially when it comes to creating a complete picture of the area. Although, it must be said that not all of the facts provided within the scenario will necessarily come into use. It appears to depend on the level of interest and capability for absorbing information exhibited by the individual groups of players. Still, based on a trial run conducted for the purposes of this review, historically-minded Secret Keepers will truly enjoy the multitude of details included in the adventure.

Despite its obvious quality, it is not the research that constitutes the main value of the scenario. The real strength of The Angel of the Abyss lies within the creation of non-player characters. Make no mistake – most Secret Keepers will be hard pressed to do justice to the vibrant images of the Greek Resistance fighters and certainly none will manage without sufficient preparation. Simply memorising all the fighters is already a challenge.

Fortunately, the author provides tips for playing each of the non-player characters, which relieves the Secret Keeper of having to come up with so many acting styles. At the same time, those Secret Keepers who normally do not rely on acting all that much will feel obliged to at least try. And that is truly a good thing, for one must admit that showing the conflict between ELAS and EDES – two politically divergent Greek Resistance movements – makes for the most engaging scenes and ones that seems to be greatly appreciated by the players.

The text of the adventure proper is organized chronologically, which is at least partly due to the non-negotiable timeline determined by historical events. The significance of the passage of time generates additional tension and furtherly provides the game with realism. The text is generously embedded with clear instructions as to how to use the game mechanics in order to move to plot forward. It is much appreciated as some of the rolls will be made for actions rarely seen in other Cthulhu settings.

The secondary layer of the plot ties itself seamlessly into the primary one and there is little that could be improved when it comes to the latter. The only quibble is the way that the sermon plays out like a cutscene. True, since the Investigators act under orders which require them to preserve their cover, they should not react. However it all depends on how much any given player understands the setting. For example, some character-driven players will claim that their Investigators would not stand and look helplessly at a priest being beaten, special training or no. But such occurrences are in no way a fault of the scenario itself.

The Angel of the Abyss is a great adventure for showing all the intensity and gritty realism that may be achieved within the given setting. Moreover, it shows perfectly how should the duality of the plot inherent to SOE-centric missions play out. Yet at the same time its entry threshold is not low. I daresay that it is much higher for the players as Secret Keepers capable of processing the amount of information provided within the scenario will be unable to help but buy into its atmosphere. Players, on the other hand, will need to either be already familiar with World War Cthulhu, have some basic historical knowledge or be thoroughly briefed in advance. In a nutshell, The Angel of the Abyss is a highly playable scenario which fulfills its role admirably.

Many thanks are owed to my players: Natalia Białopiotrowicz, Sylwia ‘Nefariel’ Bogdańska, Ewa Kieferling and Anna ‘Merrik’ Kwapiszewska, who graciously came and played what proved to be a very enjoyable RPG session indeed.

Author: Urszula Chmielewska