The Mummy of Pemberley Grange by Type40 is a tight, four-page scenario for the Call of Cthulhu RPG set in the 1920s and is terrific to play in a single session. I’ll offer thoughts in this brief review to help Keepers decide if this scenario is right for them to run — but in my opinion, it is! I think it would be excellent to run standalone, as a side adventure in a campaign where you can make it fit, or just as an episode in a bottle to take a break from a long campaign. I’ve run the scenario only twice, but had rip-roaring fun both times. I think my players did, too, if you can judge by their faces at all by this picture!
Here’s the Not Spoilery part of the review and it’s probably okay to read even if you’re a player.
There are a lot of elements to like about this scenario and the way it’s packaged.
- There are just enough details and NPCs to get the scenario rolling, but there’s not so much setup to bog it down with lots of necessary interrogation or conversation. Prep is quick if you don’t go overboard. (I am guilty of doing that.)
- There’s a compelling and urgent threat.
- The confined terrain, the manor of Pemberley Grange, helps concentrate investigator activities.
- The couple of handouts that are included of a map and some relevant objects are nicely detailed.
For absolute clarity: I recommend this scenario.
Here’s the Spoilery part, and so this is really only for Keepers, or, I suppose, for players who are ready to have their fun ruined. You’ve been warned.
- There three great moments of sanity rolls built into the adventure — the unwrapping, the sacrifice, and finding Mason in the kitchen. There are opportunities for at least a couple more sanity rolls: it’s a test of sanity to eat the organs or to see the mummy, for example. So I suggest adding those. If Keepers are worried that’s too much of a loss, consider increasing SAN rewards a little to compensate at the end.
- Players might think about smashing the canopic jars before they have all the information they need. This almost happened in my scenarios and would have complicated things.
- Not knowing where the mummy is seems to be just as terrifying as knowing where the mummy is — and that’s good for Keepers!
The Mummy of Pemberley Grange was a good foundation for my own embellishments, and I also had some challenges and needed to make small modifications to make the adventure my own.
- I wanted my regular players to use their existing characters rather than pregens. However, they needed motivation to attend the unwrapping party. This was easily solved. Most of them happen to be in a secret society. I made Jessica Pemberley’s father an emeritus member who had just passed away and my players came as a delegation from her father’s “amateur antiquarian association.”
- I wanted to give my players the chance to snoop around a little before the unwrapping party, so I changed the structure a little. I gave them a short window very early to poke around the house or to chat with any individuals in the household for their individual fact-finding. Then they had dinner and some social time with both Jessica Pemberley and Professor Jonathan Hewitt.
- Due to location and other factors, my players and I have trouble getting together in person. However, repurposing the floor plan of Pemberley Grange as a page and map in Roll20 works well. The only downside was that the players spent so much time moving their tokens on the floor plan that a couple were able to observe the secret passages and then asked about them. Since knowing that the passages are there is more terrifying than not knowing, this was fine.
- I wanted to keep Mason alive to help guide the players in two important ways. I didn’t want them to try to fight the mummy early following the unwrapping, so when all hell breaks loose, I had him do two important things: 1) He picked up the fainting Jessica Pemberley to carry her to the library, leading the investigators that way and 2) at the same time, yelled at the investigators, “Run you fools! Lock that thing in while I see to Miss Pemberley!” In one session I had a doctor in the player party and it wouldn’t make sense for Mason to run off for smelling salts and subsequently get attacked by the mummy.
- Enter a new NPC, the cook and housekeeper, Zenobia. I introduced her early but she remained in the kitchen … but of course, there’s a secret passage between the reception room and the scullery and it’s not too hard to imagine that the mummy might easily attack her and the players ultimately find her body in the kitchen.
- I added a family pet, a German Shepherd named Seth (after the Egyptian god, although the Skorkowsky connection occurred to me much later). I like the idea of adding a dog because I think it makes players worry: What’s going to happen with this dog?
- I was concerned that the players would have trouble translating the Arabic on the canopic jars and in the letter from H.C., so I put an Arabic to English grammar volume in the library to discover.
- I felt strongly that the players should be confined to the house and should not be able to escape or take shortcuts outside to try to circumvent their antagonist. How did I solve that? Cultists! Other hooded members of the Children of Renpet appear when needed to keep the investigators in. The goal is not to hurt them, but to keep the prey of the Priestess penned in. They depart in disappointment if the players resolve the scenario.
And my discoveries:
- Players hate to lose POW. Really. So that’s a great penalty that’s woven into the scenario.
- There are limited opportunities for physical injury unless players really make serious errors, so the focus is on the mental tolls — willpower and sanity — which are terrifying.
- The moments of unmasking the mummy, Hewitt’s sacrifice, the siphoning of player POW, traversing the path from the library to the kitchen, and consuming the organs were fraught with tension and should be milked for all they’re worth.
To get in the proper mood as you prepare to run this scenario, I recommend (re)watching The Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff. The mix of ancient flashbacks, Egyptian excavations, and supernatural peril arising and wreaking havoc in “modern” times (back then) set a tone that’s close to what you’ll want for The Mummy of Pemberley Grange. The Ancient High Priestess of the Cult of Renpet will give Imhotep … a run for his mummy. (Sorry!)
Posted by an intermittent Call of Cthulhu Keeper of Arcane Lore and a lurker in various Lovecraftian forums on the internet. He sleeps well when he has both entertained and terrified his friends.