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Shadows of Leningrad is the third in the Age of Cthulhu series of scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, by Goodman Games. As the name suggests, it is set in 1920s Soviet Russia. The book is 48 pages long, with a stapled binding and a glossy colour cover. Mike Ferguson is the author of the book, with cover art by Eddie Sharam, and interior illustrations by Bradley K. McDevitt while our very own Chad Bowser provided Editorial Assistance. The goal of the series is to create Pulp-style adventures set around real-world places and events. This sounds like it might lead to a potential conflict, so how well does Shadows of Leningrad succeed?

PRESENTATION:

The cover illustration is a striking image of a Soviet Commissar holding his pistol over the dead body of a Yeti at a train station. The interior illustrations and text are in sepia on white. There are eight images, of which half are usable to show to the players at the appropriate time...


Welcome to Leningrad!

There are six maps, all but one at the same scale. The maps are clear and nicely detailed in a photo realistic style. Each of the pre-generated characters has a portrait. There are only incidental portraits of the NPCs, but they do have distinctive descriptions. Pages are displayed with two columns of text with a border of writhing tentacles top and bottom. The font is clear and readable. The use of chapter and section headings is very good, and important information and clues are easy to find. An index is not so necessary for a scenario book, and the small table of contents just breaks down the book into 12 sections.

CONTENTS:

Shaodws of Leningrad is split into six scenes, three appendices and separate introductions for the investigators and the keeper. The introductions give a number of reasons why an existing group of players should travel to Leningrad - a personal connection with a dead artist or her family or an interest in her paintings or rumours of a powerful and dangerous mythos text. They arrive in time for a memorial service to the artist and receive plenty of information and a few useful items that will allow them to plot their own way forwards.

Each of the first three scenes can be tackled in any order, the clues then leading onto two further scenes in Leningrad. Finally, there is a climatic scene in the frozen temple where a fearful summoning must be stopped at all costs. The six scenes are well interlinked, and many alternatives are given to cover different players’ actions. All NPCs and creatures have full stats blocks, so no other reference is required except for the main Call of Cthulhu rules. 5 pre-generated characters are included, along with notes about the types of skills and characters required if you wish to use your own characters. All the pre-generated characters have an Other Language (Russian) skill of at least 37%.

The handouts are good quality and provide plenty of useful information. First, the investigators receive a telegram and a newspaper clipping of the artist’s death in Russia. Autopsy notes, a child’s drawings, a map and some cultist’s notes complete the handouts. One of the maps is for the Keeper’s eyes only, due to secret information shown on it. Although these maps are fairly simple to draw for the players this is a shame. The secret detail could have been left off and emphasised in the room description, as the actual position is not that important.

VERDICT:

Does Shadows of Leningrad achieve its goal of presenting a pulp adventure in a realistic (though exotic) location and time? I would say, yes it does. From the opening scenes at the Leningrad Railway station and at the memorial service, the investigators should get a strong feeling of the atmosphere of Stalinist Russia. They should meet their own OGPU shadow and realise that although most people are friendly on the surface, the authorities would like to see any mystery quickly solved and disturbing paintings sold off as quickly as possible. While there is a fair bit of detail in many of the scenes, the important parts are highlighted and should be able to be got across to the players quickly. A Purist game could see the completion of this adventure with no gunplay at all, while there are plenty of creatures and cultists for a Pulp group to tangle with. The authorities can be helpful, antagonistic or neutral as your group and play demand.

So Shadows of Leningrad is an intriguing adventure in a novel setting, that has been well designed to allow for many different styles of play and players.

The great strength of this scenario is the openness of the various encounters, and the notes that support the Keeper running scenes in many different orders. A whole range of the characters motivations and actions can be amended as the Keeper sees fit - I know this is very useful if the players guess at a plot point too early or if you have run a similar story recently.

There are not many downsides I can think of. The adventure is pretty gothic and bloody, but no worse than the majority of Call of Cthulhu adventures. The combat encounters could get very bloody very quickly, making an early TPK a possibility for unwary players. This is a potential problem with most Cthulhu games, and a good Keeper should be able to bring in NPCs to save the investigators. I personally think creating all the pre-generated characters with Russian language skills is a bit blatant, though it does mean that any one character can find out information from NPCs. This is easy for the Keeper to amend as he desires. There are no leads for further adventures in the area - it’s up to the Keeper to build from this scenario as they see fit.

All in all a very successful product. Highly recommended for Pulp Cthulhu groups, but even purist Call of Cthulhu Keepers should look at Shadows of Leningrad. Don’t be put off by the cover - this is a serious and memorable adventure with a lot of flexibility in style and approach.
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Chad Bowser
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I do like how each of Goodman's Age of Cthulhu scenarios has improved over the last one. It's nice to see the authors grow and learn as feedback pours in.
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Eric Dodd
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cjbowser wrote:
I do like how each of Goodman's Age of Cthulhu scenarios has improved over the last one. It's nice to see the authors grow and learn as feedback pours in.


I'd rank this adventure higher than the next one, Age of Cthulhu IV: Horrors From Yuggoth, but that is also a fine adventure - just with a bit less going on and in a more raw setting.
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Chad Bowser
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Red Wine Pie wrote:

I'd rank this adventure higher than the next one, Age of Cthulhu IV: Horrors From Yuggoth, but that is also a fine adventure - just with a bit less going on and in a more raw setting.


I haven't read that one yet.
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Shannon M
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Thanks for the review. This is on my list b/c of a Goodman Kickstarter which lets you invest in their latest and then get a previous one for $7 total (2 PDFs).

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1409961192/age-of-cthul...
 
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