Quick Look: Have You Found It? Act 1: The Jitters
Designer: Matt Corley, Mark Hart, Cat Evans, Sandy Petersen
Publisher: Petersen Games
Year Published: 2021
Find more info on https://petersengames.com/the-games-shop/subscription-hyfi-act-1/
From the Publisher:
A cursed play from an infamous playwright sows disaster wherever it appears. It has surfaced in the ancient city of Tiarazan to spread its malignant influence like the plague. Enemies seen and unseen oppose the characters and seek to forever change Tiarazan.
This adventure path for 4 to 5 characters starts at 1st level and ends at 4th and includes a unique game mechanic designed to ramp up the excitement and tension of every scene. The adventures stand on their own or can be played as part of an epic, four-part Mythos-based campaign titled Have You Found It?
It begins with a murder of high-profile individuals. But as with all good adventures, it does not end there. The investigation becomes surrounded by cultic activity, assassins, political intrigue, and the reoccurring presence of words and symbols that you don’t quite understand.
The set up for Have You Found It? brings the players into a culturally rich city under mysterious circumstances. The feeling is at every corner that they are being watched, and it does not take long to figure out that they are not simply investigating a murder. There is something else going on in the City of a Thousand Whispers.
In this adventure, the players set off through the city of Tiarazan, brought in to investigate the murders. It is the first part of four, and these are currently being offered in a subscription model that will deliver both a PDF version and hardcover monthly.
As an adventure it will take your players from level 1 and will end with a promotion to level 4, and can be enjoyed on its own but primarily acts as the first chapter in a larger tale of the King in Yellow and the cursed play that threatens to drive the city insane.
For this review I was provided a copy of Have You Found It? Act 1: The Jitters.
A note on the system
As a preface, this adventure takes place within the great setting of Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos. Sandy Petersen is a long time game designer and was the primary author of the original Call of Cthulhu. His company has more recently taken that Cthulhu mythos into Dungeons & Dragons with his Cthulhu Mythos system. The adventure makes several references to this campaign setting book.
I do not believe owning Cthulhu Mythos is strictly necessary to play this game, provided the DM does just a little advance work on some systems and monsters. That being said, if this is the sort of game you are interested in – a blend of fantasy adventure and supernatural horror, it would probably be worth getting. I for one do believe that D&D, as versatile as it is, is far from the best system for a horror game, and Call of Cthulhu isn’t strong in fantasy settings. This book is a welcome bridge between the genres to help create a good Lovecraftian horror adventure in a fantastic land.
The adventure takes place in Tiarazan, a riverside trade city. This independent city-state is walled and crowded, and its personality is evident throughout the adventure. And I don’t mean this as a slight to the adventure itself when I say that the setting steals the show here. It is a blend of the fantastic and exotic. It has a history and tradition of its own, and you feel that in the descriptions and art work. And as a suggestion to the DMs reading this – encourage that feel of the city in your game. So much of this adventure happens in common areas – markets and streets – that there is a good opportunity to let the city stand out in its own right and become part of the story.
The politics of the city play a real role in the game in setting expectations and tradition, but doesn’t overwhelm the adventure with minutia. It is part of the backdrop, a backdrop that creates tone and expectation without turning this overwhelmingly into political intrigue.
This is the part of the game I enjoyed the most – the feel of the streets and winding through them to a destination. The movement inside the place. And because of that some of the events that happen in the markets and streets are all the more startling when the DM takes care with the location previously.
The art of the book goes a long way in this. Not only is the art exceptional, but its tone is consistent and therefore paints a picture (pun intended) of the city and the people in it. It’s not merely a lot of random images of different characters, but of characters in a common place and culture. Art is always a draw for me in role playing books, but these images contribute to the story in a larger way than normal, even more than being great works in and of themselves. Another encouragement to the DMs – show your players these images. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and the City of Ten Thousand Whispers will only become more real to the players getting a glimpse of the people and settings within.
Four people have been murdered, and your party has been asked to figure out who did it. Two of the victims are particularly important, both the eldest child in respective influential houses.
Since this is Cthulhu, we can guess that the solution to the problem is more than it first appears, and your party will quickly encounter evidence of something greater going on, and something more dangerous. It is important to note that this is the first book of three that will contain the full adventure, and yet this particular section of the greater story will bring your characters from level 1 to level 3 for the final confrontation (with a promotion to level 4 immediately thereafter) and will likely take about 3 sessions to play out. Also important to note is that this story will come to a conclusion at its end, even though there will obviously be questions unanswered to take us into part two.
The players will navigate the city, questioning witnesses, listening to rumors (one of my favorite parts of the book itself is the random rumor table, filled with true, partially true, or outright false rumors), and fending off assassins. There is a mix of investigation, strange supernatural experiences, and good old fashion fighting here.
There is also an element that is fairly common in Cthulhu stories of the danger of learning too much. It is a definite wild card that might get played against the players as they go deeper into the mysteries of the cult. Without spoiling the details, I love this element of the game. It is a reminder to the players that they are dealing with forces well beyond them and should tread with caution.
Horror / adventure balance
So ultimately the only thing here that I would change as a dungeon master is something that is very easily fixable. The game pulls in a couple of different directions as written – fantasy adventure and supernatural mystery, and normally balances those elements rather well. The only real place that it doesn’t is in some of the encounters as written, which seem to happen about once for every new area the players enter. To that point, the adventure starts with a fight before the goal of the adventure is even known.
And the solution here is for the DM to figure out how much the campaign should lean in one direction or another and play it like that. For myself, the thing that intrigues me about Cthulhu Mythos as a whole are those Calls of Cthulhu-esque plots and mysteries set in a fantasy universe, but not necessarily the D&D-style battling. I want the atmosphere of mystery, mysticism, and danger. So in my games I tend to remove battles that are not advancing the plot and lean more on role play.
But my players are not like all players and my style of DMing is not like that of all DMs. If your players want a regular diet of battle in their games, the battles are there, and you as the DM can bring the focus less on the story and more on that very easily. As long as you remember what you and your players really enjoy about these games, the adventure is able to bend in that direction.
Act 1: The Jitters is a satisfying set up for the Have You Found It? campaign. The city itself is a really interesting environment, the characters and factions compelling. Beyond that these sorts of adventures really highlight what Cthulhu Mythos does well – building that bridge between fantasy adventure and horror mystery that is often difficult to balance. If that style is what your players are looking for, I think this particular adventure will prove to be worthwhile for you.
TechnoFunkBoy is a podcaster, musician, and author. Both he and his music can be heard on the actual play podcasts Dice & Dreary, Order of Podcasters, and Tales from the Rusty Speeder. His music is available on Bandcamp, Amazon, Apple, and Spotify, and ranges from electronic video game covers to soundtracks. His latest album is called The Wolves and is an energetic collection of synthwave instrumentals.