Trail of Cthulhu: The Final Revelation – The Rending Box

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In an antiques shop in North London, there is a box. Inside the box is an ancient creature, seeping through into the world. It will show the Investigators the universe as it really is. The Rending Box is the final Purist adventure for Trail of Cthulhu. The previous scenarios, The Dying of St Margaret’s, The Watchers in the Sky and The Dance In The Blood have hinted about an immense, fecund creature, spawning beneath the soil of the Lake District. In The Rending Box, the Investigators see that creature. Indeed, they may discover everything: the patterns behind the universe, the monsters older than time, the secrets that break your mind. And all they need to do is open a box.

This is the fourth and final installment of the Final Revelation. Can the secrets learned by the Friday Group find the source of the upcoming apocalypse and stop it? What is the Final Revelation? Find out in the campaign finale!

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18 Comments

  1. and so our Radio Players donned their fiction suits for the last time; being old hands at this, they were sure to double check the Narrative Radiation levels were within limits and that the strange loop story-within-a-storyTM devices were working…

    and they leapt…

    some times, you can still hear their cries, from a random book at a dusty, used bookstore, the kind that are sadly disappearing in this age of silicon and global spying…

  2. “Time Shifts, uh, you’re all suddenly in a car, and you don’t know how you got there. It’s quite perplexing. Everyone make a stability roll.”
    “No.”
    “Lose one ’cause I hate you.”

    Best railroading ever. It has the weight of narrative support.

    I’m going to adapt this Stokesian device to my other games: Because I know the fifth edition DMG includes madness rules, I will make PCs lose san every time they refuse to engage with the initial plot hook or dither for more than ten minutes. In FATE, characters take mental stress. In Eclipse Phase, characters have sudden continuity loss. Join in, everyone! Let us make a deathtrap of poor player behavior as much as poor dice rolls.

  3. So, a barrister and a solicitor are two different kinds of lawyers, not the same thing.

    Not really a criticism; it’s the sort of inaccuracy that really fits the “self-aware and ironic use of British stereotypes” style of RPPR games.

  4. So that was pretty god damn amazing. Only episode I didn’t fancy was the Watchers. The other three were creepy as hell and worked for me. I think I liked St. Margarets the most. I’ll try to get my players to let me run this.

    In other news, I played my first ever CoC-scenario this weekend and fled from a horrible monster only to be run over by another PCs panicked butler. Good times.

  5. I really enjoyed listening to this campaign. It’s an interesting set of scenarios, and a very cool exploration of the full severity of the Mythos vision (like all truly bleak horror scenarios, it reminds me more of Thomas Ligotti than Lovecraft. There’s sometimes more of a mood of sadness than terror)

    I think Ross’s comment at the end is pretty sharp. What problems the campaign has aren’t due to the nihilistic theme, but due to problems with restricted player agency. It’s very possible to have both a severely hopeless scenario, and still have good player agency. You do that by having the players’ choices affect their experience of the events, even if they can’t really affect the outcome of the plot much.

    I think that Caleb’s scenarios in No Security are actually great examples of how to do it right.

    (SPOILERS, maybe)

    In The Fall Without End, for example, there’s very little chance of all the players surviving, and really no way for them to threaten the Mythos factor. But the choices they make, about climbing routes and how to react to monster attacks, strongly affect which events they experience. That gives the players fun choices to make, even though they eventually all end up at basically the same plot climax.

  6. I enjoyed these. Dance in the Blood was my favorite. I also wanted to mention that the whole ‘framing story in which PCs find short stories of other people exposed to the mythos and going nuts’ reminds me of Eternal Darkness, if anyone has played that game.

    It all wraps up nicely into the theme of infinite, futile cycles of effort. Existential dread turned up to 11.

    Are you going to do a post mortem of this? Was there anything the PCs missed? Could the outcome of the campaign changed at all, or any of the details leading up to it change, depending on their actions?

  7. think Ross said it best, that it’s an interesting experience but kind of questionable as a game. I expected to like these more than I did. Caleb totally ran them well, they’re just sorta…not really games, more like disconnected short stories you walk through. doesn’t make them bad, just makes them…dunno, it’s hard to form an opinion. I don’t feel the need to listen to them again any time soon, which is unusual, as I’ve been known to loop this shit when my verbal centers aren’t otherwise occupied and I haven’t got an audiobook worth listening to.

    my favorite moment of the campaign was Ross noticing that it was always the same day in the frame story and Caleb trolling him on it. making their own signs was a nice touch, too. lot of good moments, just sort of “huh” taken as a whole.

    is there gonna be a full-on postmortem episode for this, or was it too concise?

  8. Message to myself: Ignorance is more then bliss, it is the tissue thin bulwark that holds back the cold tide of whats outside. Within this bubble one might create manors and kingdoms and live in comfort. You are already doomed and have been Sense birth.

    :spoiler and my ramblings:

    The idea that you are able to call out to yourself or change the past before the events of the Friday Group dose not necessitates that it is before the apocalypses happened. So trying to tell yourself anything at all pierces the boundary of ignorance and lets the mythos filter into your perception and compromises your own perception of reality. As the Friday group relived the stories there perception of the world changed so the world itself changed to reflect there perceptions. So the warnings are just self destructive vanity that you can influence the mythos and have the lie that is agency over your future. In this world of perception only the blind are king.

  9. I love the idea of the game itself and in defense of the purists; what would player agency do to actually change the scenario itself. The Rending box is set up as close a emulation of PC logic it can get with the truck/car full of gas and explosives. Even if you blow thing to hell and back your merely dealing with a hair folical of something so massive your mind cant comprehend it. so what can you do to change the outcome beside avoiding the scenario entirely?

    Message to myself: Ignorance is more then bliss, it is the tissue thin bulwark that holds back the cold tide of whats outside. Within this bubble one might create manors and kingdoms and live in comfort. You are already doomed and have been Sense birth.

    :spoiler and my ramblings:

    The idea that you are able to call out to yourself or change the past before the events of the Friday Group dose not necessitates that it is before the apocalypses happened. So trying to tell yourself anything at all pierces the boundary of ignorance and lets the mythos filter into your perception and compromises your own perception of reality. As the Friday group relived the stories there perception of the world changed so the world itself changed to reflect there perceptions. So the warnings are just self destructive vanity that you can influence the mythos and have the lie that is agency over your future. In this world of perception only the blind are king.

  10. Bonus literary reference points should be awarded to Caleb for his T.S. Eliot’s ‘Waste Land’ quote as well as Ross for Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. I knew that bachelors degree would pay off.

  11. I will agree with those wishing to hear a post-mortem of the campaign, so we can hear both Caleb and the player’s thoughts about the campaign in a more in depth manner. I’d be especially interested in a discussion about player agency vs. futility in CoC scenarios.

    As for the scenarios themselves, I liked St. Margarets and The Dance in the Blood, but I didn’t think the rest were all that great. Cool as a story, sure; but not the sort of thing that would be fun to play in.

    This last scenario in particular I found pretty dull. The Final Revelation framing story was pretty interesting, but The Rending Box as a standalone scenario felt like ‘things happen and you have no control over it’. The only real choice players made was killing the decaying woman and letting Ross become the sacrifice, and those really didn’t make any difference anyways. It was pretty short too, the whole podcast episode taking just a little bit over two hours.

  12. As a frequent gamemaster but only occasional player, I feel like “The Final Revelation” isn’t as much of a railroad as it seems, relative to other scenarios.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a huge difference between how railroaded players are and how railroaded players think they are. Presented with a problem that has dozens of solutions, players will go with the first one they can think of and assume that it’s the only way, or fail to come up with a solution and complain later that they felt “there was nothing we could do” or “we just had to sit around waiting for the next thing to happen”. When presented with a problem that only has a single solution, and given heavy hints by NPCs, players have a blast and congratulate each other on how awesome they were for figuring things out. When player actions affect the resolution, they say that they felt like they only really had one choice, but when I manipulate events so there’s only one possible ending, it’s high-fives all around for being clever enough to get the best ending.

    There’s also the question of what parts of a world really matter. Let’s say we’re playing a battle in Twilight 2000 vs Better Angels. In Twilight 2000, players get crucial choices about positioning, movement, firing modes, using military equipment, and other aspects of physical, tactical combat. You can say that your character is greedy 0r cruel, but you don’t have to clarify that sort of thing, and it’s only significant if you let it affect your tactical choices. Making tactical choices for the players would rob them of agency, but assigning their characters personal motivations would not. In Better Angels, the opposite is true – the number of bullets in your gun, the difference between heavy and light cover, or whether you move 5 or 6 meters to the left don’t matter. They’re basically aesthetic choices, and the GM can describe them however he feels, but motivations and emotional relationships are the crucial element that players have agency over.

    “The Dying of St. Margaret’s” is the only one of the Final Revelation scenarios that I’ve read, but it actually gives investigators several ways to figure out what happened and get between scenes. And the ending, at least in terms of the lives of the PCs, isn’t a foregone conclusion – the scenario just makes it feel like all possible endings are equally meaningless. It sounded similar in the other scenarios – characters actually had a lot of choices on how they could solve problems and how the game would end, but the bleak atmosphere affects perception, and it doesn’t seem that way. The removal of the most popular goal, “kill everything and win,” also makes it seem like things don’t matter.

    For instance, at the end of “The Dance in the Blood”, someone could have sacrificed his sanity to kill the human wife, kidnap the two monster girls, and burn them to death (I’m guessing in a way involving wood, rope, and gasoline), before giving in to the reality of wormhood. Or, the PCs could have made a suicide pact, and carried it out or failed to in a number of ways. Or they could turn on each other (as they sort of did). Or someone could just leave and live in denial. Or someone could break the other way and decide that the immortal nobility below was better than that above. Or someone could set out on a quest around the world to find a “cure”. Sure, ultimately the only options are die or eventually become a worm, but when you look at it that way, that’s one more option than most people get.

    It seems to me that it was established from the start that the agency the game was focusing on wasn’t the ability to change the grand scheme of things, but the way that each particular mind would break or soldier on when confronted with existential dread. And within that decision, there are an infinite number of ways to go crazy and quite a few to shamble on in a state of semi-sanity. When it comes to that, I feel like “The Final Revelation” could come close to a total sandbox.

  13. I enjoyed the hell out of these linked scenarios(and the framing device that bound them) -some scenarios more than others- and they did all have much different experiences and story when compared to the rest.

    So many instances between all scenarios that made me squirm, mentally.

    I, too, am wondering if there will be a postmortem for this mini- campaign, or if enough has already been said in each episode.

  14. This campaign I didn’t enjoy in terms of content. It was a little too nihilistic for me. The rp carried it though, gm & players were always spot on with it.

    This last episode I alternately envisioned Caleb hanging himself over what the players were doing vs bludgeoning them to death with dice bags.

  15. I’m curious whether the scenario book actually takes into account the only arguably ‘good’ choice at the end, which no-one took (surprising me at the time, since I thought it the most intriguing option). It is certainly something the doomed characters has agency over, and could lead to an increase in stability and happiness for their past self: To leave their memories of more sensible times alone.

    If they did, their past self would have had no reason to go to the Friday club. They would be able to live for weeks, months or years longer without knowing of or suffering the depredations of the mythos. They would never meet the other past investigators, who would as such have to react in a different (though equally meaningless perhaps) manner to all that went on.

    So, by choosing to accept the moral of the three scenarios and acknowledge that everything you do against the mythos is ultimately pointless and will never lead to change in the big picture, you’ve significantly changed the small one, perhaps for the better.

    It’s a seemingly inconsequential decision that ends up carrying just enough meaning and repercussion to make it feel like a ‘win’, despite the hopeless setup.

  16. Yeah, the original write up of dance and dying really empisised that the agency was in how the pcs choose to meet their doom. I think that is kind of an interesting thing to explore.

  17. Funnily enough, I think the much-maligned-in-these-parts Watchers scenario was probably my favorite, or at a minimum, second favorite. None of these scenarios really made the players powerful, active forces, and they were all pretty much about discovering and being destroyed by cosmic horror. But St. Margaret’s and the Rending Box use (admittedly strong takes on) conventional Cthulhu Mythos entities. That’s not bad, exactly, but it’s not as interesting or scary as the completely alien, unexplained entities in Watchers because of the relative familiarity Call/Trail of Cthulhu players will have with the standard Mythos. Same goes for the worm creatures of Dance to some degree, although there the really scary part isn’t how weird and unknowable they are (not -that- weird or unknowable, really), but rather the idea that you’ve actually been the monsters all along.

    Still, I enjoyed all four, and the framing scenario besides.

  18. Having finally made it through all 4, guess I’m going to have to read them as they all seem to be quite dark & fun though many spots of what felt like the writers of the scenarios oh sitting metaphorically on the moon & using a cannon to shoot stuff at the earth either completely blindsiding the players or while they are walking out to get the paper before the scenario starts to find a few moments later to see a giant smoking crater where the investigator was. Though I wouldn’t do player death in collapse if trying these scenarios in Dread, it would be quite a mess when it does fall down but to keep the plot going, save the death option until the end.

    Did love the smaller side scenario moments & thought that it was brilliant design whomever came up with it where the RPPR crew were playing some odd nurses, or just giving them a break from the grind with the normal characters to play first hand witness than just get a handout of what someone saw. Hopefully you will do more of this in the future as it’s a great way to cover some time periods in smaller episodes. Great work everyone & looking forward to the next stuff that comes up on the AP side of RPPR.

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