Full Fathom Five – Review & Con Runs

 

“Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.” 

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, Scene II

WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW

Review:

The title for Paul Fricker’s Miskatonic Repository scenario is drawn from a portion of the song that Ariel sings to lure the shipwrecked Ferdinand to the play’s sorcerer protagonist Prospero. The final stanza explicitly seeks to tempt Ferdinand whose father drowned in the deep. In Full Fathom Five, Fricker skillfully weaves literature, history, and Cthulhu Mythos into a delightfully deadly and dreadful compact scenario set on a mid-19th century whaling vessel. The ship’s crew led by Captain Chappell finds themselves as unwilling sacrifices in a plot to rediscover a secret location hidden beneath the Pacific Ocean. The text draws overt inspiration (and quotes) from Moby Dick with accurate and painstakingly researched depictions of life aboard a whaling vessel. To facilitate immersion, Fricker provides a top-down and lengthwise cross-sectional map of the doomed vessel, The Barclay, as well as a glossary of terms and a location guide. 

“They think me mad – Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened!”

-Captain Ahab, Moby Dick

Building upon the unique premise, the scenario allows the players to select any member of the crew to play as their investigator. With these departures from convention, Fricker provides a wealth of useful information for Keeper’s planning to run the scenario, including suggested starting investigators depending on group size. The module includes complete single-page pre-generated characters for the entire crew of the Barclay with fantastically evocative portraits by Lucy Fricker. In addition, there is a complete crew roster organized by quarters, which features the above portraits. With such an extensive roster, Fricker provides a Keeper reference table of useful stats for all the characters. The layout by Matt Sanderson is well-executed, and Sumrow’s cover and interior art dynamically capture the essence of some truly standout scenes, including the insanely chaotic climax. 

 “The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run.” 

-Captain Ahab, Moby Dick

The plot of the scenario revolves around a conspiracy by Captain Chappell and three confidantes, who arrange a sacrificial pact with Mother Hydra in exchange for the ship’s delivery to R’lyeh. A different motivation drives each conspirator, and by the time the scenario is underway, the bargain has been immutably struck, and three crew members must die as sacrifices. Consequently, the events proceed in a very linear fashion with three scripted player character deaths. Investigation takes place between the death scenes, but Fricker suggests clearly telegraphing the conspiracy to the players as the unavoidable events steer the scenario headlong to its climax. The escalating threats and revelations successfully create a sense of mounting dread as good sailors weigh the unthinkable act of violent mutiny. Overall, Fricker succeeds in crafting a constrained, but very memorable plot with an explosive conclusion and an equally delightful epilogue. 

Running for Conventions:

“There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.” 

– Ishmael, Moby Dick

Upon initial reading, Full Fathom Five stood out as a great convention scenario. With a well-contained location, unique historical setting, and wild conclusion, we felt players would walk away with a memorable, entertaining experience. The scenario starts in medias res and fits perfectly in a four-hour time slot, while the baked-in high death rate satisfies the blood thirst of Call of Cthulhu convention gamers. Running as a convention one-shot capitalizes on the relative shortcomings of the scenario. Despite the relative lack of agency and deep investigation, the events provide excellent fodder for role-playing, stakes, and tension. The linear plot and location allow the Keeper to keep events on the rails to build towards a well-paced conclusion. 

Some reviews have commented on the challenge of players switching between investigators, helpless victims, and NPCs within the game; we addressed this in our prep work for our game. First, we reviewed the scenario and set aside the six crew members identified as ideal for a six-person game. We then selected an additional six crew members. Since the characters fit on a single sheet, we provided each player with two crew members labeled as “Start” and “Back-Up.” We then set aside some characters with discrete roles in the scenario, including Aurangi the harpooneer, the cabin boy, Captain Chappell, and Henry Joy, as well as a specific NPC identified to commit the second murder. Following this, we selected two additional crew members and two conspirators for additional backups. This allowed us to bring 16 out of 23 characters to the table and set aside some NPCs for specific actions. This limits player choice in their character but streamlines the selection process and allows them to jump seamlessly into their new character during play. We provided our players with a copy of the illustrated roster so that they could cross off crew members as they died. Groups took immense pleasure in this morbid record keeping. 

Full Fathom Five at Origins Game Fair in progress.

Once our players selected their characters, we followed Paul’s lead and set expectations for the scenario by warning them of the unavoidable lethality, intermittent loss of agency for story, and differences from a typical Call of Cthulhu game, including diminished Luck. In our second playthrough at Origins, we felt conscientious of the all-male cast as three female teenagers sat down at the table. They laughed off our apology and proceeded to absolutely captivate the table. In preparation for convention play, I ran the scenario for a home group and advised them that the linear plot differed from our standard style of play. After our playthrough, they acknowledged the rails and appreciated the disclaimer, as it allowed them to settle in and enjoy the content to its conclusion. 

“There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.”

-Ishmael, Moby Dick

While the events of the scenario follow a clear script, the climax allows for a riotous outburst of player agency. Once the third death takes place, we allowed our players to run wildly amok on board the ship. When appropriate, as the casualties began to mount, we offered the conspirators up as characters to face the consequences of their actions. To further instill a sense of agency in the scenario, we prompted our players to select their preferred duties and recreation, as well as determine who would stand watch at night. We encouraged sneaking about the ship but required appropriate skill checks with consequences for failures.

We hewed close to the scenario as written but made a few small tweaks. We embarrassed Isaac Chase (one of the suggested starting six) by evicting him from steerage to the forecastle due to his rampant bed bug infestation, which allows him to be present for the first murder. Although we intended to randomly select players for death, we ultimately opted for choices best suited to the narrative. The significance of Aurangi’s idol expanded in our session, and Bond confiscated the figure for his dark schemes. With this connection established, the harpooneer served as a friendly NPC and source of foreshadowing clues. We specifically selected Nickerson, the cooper, to commit the second murder. We pointedly mentioned the presence of hatchets, lances, and harpoons in the whaling boats during the opening scene and involved at least one player in sharpening those tools as part of their duties. 

In total, we ran this scenario three times, and we found each session to be refreshingly different and exciting. While we don’t think this is the perfect scenario for new Keepers, we highly recommend this interesting departure from the norm for play with your regular Call of Cthulhu group or as a convention experience. 

This scenario is available here on DriveThru RPG in PDF and print-on-demand softcover format.

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