Nightmare in the Moonlight Review
Phaedra's Short Game Summary (spoilers!)
Suggestions for Keepers (spoilers!)
Here is its DriveThruRPG description:
“SOMETHING IS TERRIBLY WRONG IN PROVIDENCE
When a psychiatrist finds a note written by an illiterate man, he hopes to do something about it, but he can’t bring himself to investigate the address listed in the missive. His only hope is a friend who might be brave enough to see what terrible thing lies in the house. But in the bustling metropolis of Providence, Rhode Island, what true terror could there possibly be when the street is only a few yards away?
Nightmare in the Moonlight is the adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft and J. Chapman Miske’s The Thing in the Moonlight. Based primarily upon a dream Lovecraft wrote of in one of his letters, Miske’s framing story and the original nightmare are detailed within.
Nightmare in the Moonlight was originally written as a campaign scenario but can also be used for convention play. The Call of Cthulhu scenario is set in November, 1927, just after Thanksgiving of that year. Now someone’s life may depend upon a note written by a man who cannot read or write and a group of people who are looking into the occurrence. Can they solve the strange case in time?
Nightmare in the Moonlight includes:
- A 22-page fully-illustrated scenario set in Providence, Rhode Island, in November of 1927, including notes on H.P. Lovecraft’s last known residence.
- A 24-page Modest Gazetteer of Providence, including the city’s history, neighborhoods, locations of interest, scenario locations, and towns nearby. Additionally, mythos stories and Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in the city are discussed, and a timeline of Lovecraft’s habitations are included. Finally, Joseph Curwen and Charles Dexter Ward are both discussed with a timeline of those men as well.
- Ten fleshed-out Non-Player Characters as well as stats for the Thing in the Moonlight.
- Information on the Thing in the Moonlight.
- Maps of Providence, Rhode Island.
- A map of College Street and the house thereon, as well as maps of the place Howard Phillips finds himself and the vehicle there.
- Three handouts.
- NPC and investigator portraits to share with the players.
- Six Pregenerated investigators.”
Nightmare in the Moonlight is a prime example of a scenario faithful and representative of the life and works of HP Lovecraft himself in a way unlike most other adventures I’ve seen (it even includes an NPC heavily modelled after the man himself!). The scenario PDF contains a fun, fast-paced and Sanity-driven adventure, but is also an encyclopaedia of information on Providence and Lovecraft’s life and work taking place there. It includes timelines, maps, photographs and illustrations to make any game you set in Providence come to life!
I ran this game with three players with minimal experience of Call of Cthulhu and it took almost three hours to complete. With more experienced players, or those with an inclination for role-play, it would probably take longer.
What Makes This Scenario Great:
This is one of the most thoroughly researched and full of historical-information-packed Miskatonic Repository scenarios I’ve seen. In it you can find information on Providence and its neighbourhoods and landmarks in it, Lovecraft himself, other relevant NPCs and historical figures not within the scenario and even a fully laid out bibliography!
Included are lots of beginner advice, as well as a rundown of how the author’s playtest went, which is fun to read and offered some insight as to what might happen at my table.
Sanity loss is prioritised over health loss. It overrides a mechanic that limits Sanity loss, so it has one of the highest chances of significant Sanity drain I’ve seen over just a few hours of gameplay. There are some wonderfully creepy descriptions of horrors in the book, which truly make them come to life.
A couple of NPCs have a unique role that I’ve never seen in a scenario before, and I think should be done more often.** (A bit more on these characters in the spoiler section.)
Pronunciation help is provided for foreign names, as well as some history of Chinatown and the community’s persecution by white people, which is welcome education.
Suggestions for Improvement:
The amount of information can be overwhelming for a new Keeper especially, or someone who struggles to absorb a lot of historical information and tries to read it cover to cover. The scenario didn’t require all that knowledge to be enjoyed, and perhaps it should be clarified that the information is for reference in the beginning, so that those who would rather skip to the fun are able to. This PDF could easily be published as two works: one scenario and one supplement for this scenario and others set in Providence.
There is a specific skill that can make or break the end game of this scenario. It might be beneficial to make sure that players and Keepers know from the beginning that at least one character should have some points in it, unless they want to play in even harder mode.
The connection of the pre-gens with the quest-giving NPC and their suitability to complete this mission are not as strong or clear as they could be. The author included characters from the original playtest who likely had more history in investigation, but it could be worth adding some more info with each sheet about why Dr. Conner would have asked them for help and why they would have said yes.
An inclusivity concern is the use of an Asian stereotype, more specifically the “mysterious, dangerous Chinaman” trope. Words like ‘exotic’ and ‘oriental’ also used in descriptions—not only NPC dialogue—and NPCs within that category require role-playing, and perhaps could benefit from some more indications and reminders to not fall into those stereotypes when role-playing either.
The Pre-generated investigators were mostly men, and the women were found to be a bit uninteresting in terms of background compared to the men. A 50/50 split and a bit more diversity would be very welcome!
Phaedra’s Short Game Summary:
Investigators (all Pre-gens):
Edward Lincoln, 30, the train-obsessed Mechanic
Zacharaiah Knight, 36, the paranoid Big Game Hunter
Eve White, 27, the protective big sis’ Photojournalist
It’s the 26th of November 1927. A psychiatrist, Dr Conner, approaches the investigators with a bizarre occurrence: a patient of his, one who can’t write and barely speaks, has written a letter seemingly by a man trapped in a dream on 66 College Street. Without hesitation, the group visit the house.
After meeting a surprisingly pleasant but not very helpful neighbour, they discover a set of keys under the rug and enter the house: within they find a letter from a friend, a strange empty bottle with a foul smell coming from it, and a strangely warm spot on the man’s bed, but no human in sight. Reading the note, they connect whatever might be happening to the infusion in the bottle, and find out the friend purchased it for the missing man - Howard Philips - from a cordial shop nearby.
They search the area and find something that fits the bill. They only send Eve, the charming photojournalist, to try and acquire some more of the strange infusion and find out more about what it is. Pretending to be struggling with insomnia, she convinces the shopkeep to give her some. In the meantime, the rest of the party are noticed by two older men who invite them for some mahjong and food. They seem to know about the dreams, the dangerous man in the shop, as well as what might have happened to the man at 66 College Street. One of them, an oneirologist (researcher of dreams) offers to help them use the cordial to find the missing man within the dream itself, and save him, for he is in mortal danger. Without hesitation, the group bravely returns to the house and they become hypnotised.
Finding themselves in a strange dream, they all start panicking, starting with our sweet Mechanic. They jump into a terrifying maelstrom and find themselves in a dark marsh near a cliff. They follow the description of the dream to find a trolley, as well as Howard Philips, whose sanity is hanging by a thread. Then, the Things in the Moonlight follow, driving the investigators to the brink of madness. Zachariah grows paranoid, Edward becomes obsessed with the train, and Eve develops protective feelings for the men around them, who she confuses as her brothers. It doesn’t take them long to fix the train and move forward into the unknown, after shooting a thing with a rifle.
The ride is long, and they witness the strange creatures anew several times, losing more and more of their sanity, fighting each other, screaming, and almost sabotaging the ride, only to make it a vertical fall they were not expecting. As the trolley comfortably rides into the darkness, they see a strange and terrifying man, who plucks the moon from the sky, and threatens them that they will meet again, before they wake up, successfully having completed their mission, and return to their old lives (after asking Dr Conner to treat them for some time), proud to have saved Howard Philips from his nightmare.
Suggestions for Keepers:
Some initial work on the relationships between the investigators as well as them and Dr. Conner would make the hook much stronger, so I recommend adding that in the beginning or before your game. Also making sure at least one investigator has Mechanical Repair as a skill would make the finale of the scenario flow much smoother.
I recommend keeping a mindset of using Bouts of Madness to move the action forward. Because there are so many of them during the end of the dream sequence, it can be easy to get lost in them and prolong the game in a chaotic fashion. For example, having someone break the trolley would be a bad idea as it would potentially end the scenario anticlimactically, depending on how close they are to dying.
The scenario can feel a bit 'railroady', especially in the ‘dream’ zone, so try to emphasise the right information and make them feel like the players have agency over where to go next and what to do, even if it’s not very efficient.
My players asked to read the books on ‘dreaming’ in Howard Phillips’ study, so it might be helpful to prepare something to give them as a summary on what might be in those books, or even replace one with a fun tome!
** The characters mentioned are basically old semi-retired Call of Cthulhu investigators that have dealt with the same - or adjacent - threat, and can help out and give advice on how to progress. I love the idea of meeting past 'investigators' just like the Player Characters and would very much enjoy seeing it used more in scenarios.
If you'd like your own Miskatonic Repository Scenario reviewed on Phaedra Keeps an Eye, contact me through Stars Are Right, or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.