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Review: Trail of Cthulhu – Soldiers of Pen and Ink

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What is Soldiers of Pen and Ink?

Soldiers of Pen and Ink is one of the newest products from Pelgrane Press and their impressive Trail of Cthulhu line of products. If you’re not familiar with Trail of Cthulhu, it is a Lovecraftian investigative RPG which uses the GUMSHOE system to simplify the investigation elements present in Call of Cthulhu. Although it is a divergent product, it is very clearly a love letter to Call of Cthulhu.

Pelgrane Press has consistently put out incredibly high quality supplements for the game, which keeps me coming back despite my play group’s general preference for Call over Trail. A frequent hallmark of Pelgrane supplements, aside from production value, is the historicity of their products. Soldiers of Pen and Ink, by Adam Gauntlett, is set during the Spanish Civil War of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The premise of the adventure is simple. A friend of the investigators, Ramon, has gone missing in beseiged Madrid, and you must investigate his disappearance. The reality is that Hastur has been spreading his usual business throughout Madrid, and you will run afoul of his Agents of Disaffection who are looking to realize Carcosa on Earth, as per usual. Notably, one of the Agents is Ernest Hemingway, who will beat you senseless if he suspects you are a Fifth Columnist.

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Hastur is presented as he sometime is, as a mneme rather that a tentacled beast or ragged King in Yellow. He infects your thoughts. I know that I’ve seen this idea before, but it is cleverly presented here and the Disaffection versus Hope mechanic adds an interesting spin to the proceedings.

There are a handful of main agents of Hastur, each representing a different medium through which his message is conveyed. The sections with these “bosses” reminded me a bit of Bioshock’s bosses. The twisted Lieutenants of a horrifying fantasy world, meditations on specific themes.

It is interesting to combine Fifth Column paranoia with the Hastur Mythos. The idea that it is possible to fight the King in Yellow’s influence by believing strongly in anything is also interesting philosophically – one interpretation is that the Mask is lies we tell ourselves, and under it lies the truth, the Face of Hastur.

Is it good?

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I haven’t had a chance to run or play Soldiers of Pen and Ink yet. My suspicion is that it is a longer one-shot, possibly best spread out over two sessions. I also think that despite the wartime setting, this is more appropriate for a group that favors “Purist” play, and passing knowledge of the setting, despite not being necessary, would be helpful. This is also probably not a “beginning” Trail of Cthulhu scenario. For that, I recommend one of Graham Walmsley, the Dance in the Blood or The Watchers in the Sky.

The production values in my PDF are excellent (y’know, for a PDF) and includes 6 pre-filled character sheets for ease of startup, as well as several fun propaganda leaflets from Carcosa.

You can purchase it from Pelgrane Press.

Let me know in the comments, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ if you’ve had the chance to play Soldiers of Pen and Ink yet and what you thought of it.