Bill White's roleplaying game design blog, with emphasis on narrativist or story-heavy games.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Castle Bravo

The adventure I pitched to Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press after Gencon last year is finally available as a PDF! I'm very pleased with how it turned out, and I hope people run it and tell me how it went, for good or ill.

Here's the premise: It's 1954, and you're a sailor or scientist aboard the USS Bairoko, an "escort carrier" detailed to support secret nuclear bomb tests in the Marshall Islands. The bomb goes off in the Bikini atoll, the ship gets a light dusting of radioactive fallout, and now the crew is acting crazy, distress calls are coming in from monitoring stations around the blast site, and strange blips are showing up on the radar screens. What do you do?

The art is by Jerome Huguenin and is creepy and evocative, as I hope the example at left shows. Jerome also did the layout of the PDF, and it looks great.

I give Pelgrane Press high marks for its playtesting process; I got a huge number of detailed reports from GMs and players telling me what they liked and disliked about the adventure, and I was able to use many of their suggestions to make running it easier for the Keeper, and to improve the storyline. I revised the playtest draft extensively after running it at Dreamation in February 2010. If you played a previous version, you will not recognize the adventure; it's much more coherent as a narrative, more tightly focused as a design, and creepier as an experience while still preserving the central Lovecraftian conceit.

I think of Castle Bravo as Lovecraft meets atomic horror. I forget where I saw this--maybe the Illuminatus trilogy--but somewhere it's been pointed out that some of Lovecraft's monsters can be read as prefiguring horrors of modernity. When Azathoth is described as a "seething nuclear chaos," in other words, what else can we picture but a roiling mushroom cloud rising over ground zero? One of Castle Bravo's playtesters, a fellow named Sam Zeitlin, made a similar point. "Maybe," he said, "the real horror is the atomic bomb."

The adventure in its final form takes advantage of that insight, and I think the adventure is satisfying as a result, albeit dense. I'll run Castle Bravo at Dexcon 2010 so that anyone who is thinking about running it can see how to manage all of its moving parts; I'll record the game and make the audio available on-line as well.

Simon says he's looking for other adventures set outside the typical 1930s Trail of Cthulhu setting, so I'm working on another 1950s adventure, putting a Mythos spin on the 1952 death of occultist rocket scientist Jack Parsons. I think Cthulhu gaming is crying out for this adventure; the story is just too bizarre. A first draft should be ready for Dexcon as well, and I'm scheduled to run it at Gencon.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Woo! Go Bill!

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A communication Ph.D., I teach public speaking and media-related courses in the middle of PA. I do research on scholarly/scientific communication, and I write & play roleplaying games.