Friday, October 09, 2009

A More Intimate Horror: Our Ladies Of Sorrow

Our Ladies of Sorrow, written by Kevin Ross, published by Miskatonic River Press, 2009. 152 pages. $34.95 print. Review PDF provided.

Call of Cthulhu is, for good reason, a classic horror RPG, and long the standard by which others are measured. While the concept of investigating the strange and alien backgrounds of the Cthulhu Mythos is classic, on back to Lovecraft's tales and even before, Miskatonic River Press' Our Ladies of Sorrow reminds us it truly is a common element of a lot of horror tales, even the more personal ones presented within. Within the introduction, we see the tropes of such Japanese imports and adaptions as The Ring (Ringu) and The Grudge (Ju-On) set into far more familiar territory, and the Call of Cthulhu mechanics fit them like the layers of slime on a Deep One.

Like these stories, Our Ladies of Sorrow presents a trio of malevolent spirits, often equated with other mythical trios like the Fates, Furies, or Gorgons; we find at their core the Three Sisters, with their focus on the insane, outcast, and mournful. They are also connected to Hecate, or for a full Mythos injection the text even mentions Nyarlathotep, but even this isn't entirely necessary for the story to work, and this series (since, much as the text recommends, this works better interspersed with other stories than run concurrently as a campaign in and of itself) of modern-day horror tales is entirely self contained. Apart from a few possible uses of Mythos knowledge to help move things along in the adventures, the only other solid connection with mainline Call of Cthulhu is some commentary about using these scenarios with Delta Green. With that, we dive into the world of the Three Sisters, wherein we find not just the realm of the supernatural, but touches of our own modern mythologies.

In "House of Shadows," the investigators, in a small college town (left mostly open in the text, but the description of which reminded me very much of Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of my own alma mater -- all it took to fit was changing names and a few other facts), witness the death of an old man in the street. Connecting this to an old woman speaking to him right before the event, clues lead to his home, an old apartment building with a tragic past and an alarming number of "Night Hag" attacks among its population. That which drove the man to death has its grip on others around him, and maybe even an investigator or two before it's over. This scenario not only deals in its own mystery, but sets up the investigators to be pulled into future events.

"Desert of Sighs" places the action firmly in northwestern Arizona, where a group of college students are missing in a stretch of the Mojave Desert known for attracting those seeking spiritual fulfillment, and also for disappearances of those who have entered. Brought to the area to help in the search, the investigators find themselves confronted with the reappearance of the one they went to find, but his friends still lost in the mazes and formations of the Desert of Sighs. With a definite tinge of "otherness" about it, this scenario demands the most pushing by the Keeper to get the group to the meat of the story, but does its best to provide those means from a number of directions.

"River of Tears" takes place in a small river town (the fictional Baleford, Illinois in the text, but any smallish midwestern river town with a sizable Hispanic population will work) haunted by the ghostly child-killer La Llorona. Called in by a contact from a prior scenario, and specifically called out by the ghost itself, the investigators must face this threat to themselves and the children of the town, amid the heightened tension of impending storm and flood.

"The Final Cut" is an epilogue, where the investigators learn more about the background of the Sisters, and come to face a horrific choice.

Each scenario sets the scene, describes the players, and points to an act structure, leaving the Keeper to shape the specifics depending on investigator action and other needs. Connections abound in the adventures, with dreams and events pointing to aspects of future scenarios and the epilogue, and the subsequent scenarios calling back to that old apartment building where the investigators first came to the Sisters' attention. Keepers might struggle a little with the small details, making sure the clues find their way into the investigators' paths, but this allows for the more direct attention the vengeful ghost genre demands, and this series benefits immensely from that kind of careful work.

Additional materials include two new spells, six pages of the handouts expected of a Call of Cthulhu adventure, suggested reading and other media, and a story that inspired (and is mentioned within) this adventure series, Thomas De Quincey's "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow."

Our Ladies of Sorrow presents a nice break from the cosmically indifferent entities of more classical tales, and for the Keeper of Arcane Lore looking for something with a slightly different flavor, its intimately creepy series of modern Cthulhu stories is well worth checking out.

Want to learn more about Our Ladies of Sorrow? Read

Drop by Miskatonic River Press today!

1 comment:

Matt N said...

Very nice!
Your review is very different than mine over at GnomeStew, but I think your take is 100% acurrate. It's always interesting to see how two people focus on totally different aspects of a product. Reading yours now I think "Doh! why didn't I write something about that?"