The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel
The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel written by Daniel Robichaud is a pulp, Lovecraftian, horror adventure for the Macabre Tales system from Spectrum Games.
By Cape Rust
The year is 1931. A package shows up at your door, sure the postmark is a bit smudged, but no biggie right? You open it to discover a brown leather satchel stuffed with papers that contain some coded entries….
The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel is a 15-page long adventure that includes 2 handouts suitable for reproduction. The adventure is designed for a single protagonist, but can be adjusted to accommodate a few more. The adventure is broken down into three acts as prescribed in the Macabre Tales core rulebook.
This is a well-thought out, intricate adventure that is a solid first adventure for Macabre Tales. This adventure offers plenty of interesting plot twists that will keep the most seasoned gamer guessing. Lovecraftian tales always contain more elements than meet the eye and the twists and turns that this tale takes will challenge both player and Narrator.
Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
Spectrum Games has a good sense of what pulp looks like and how to reproduce it. The cover by Scott Shepard is stylistic and must be viewed that way. The Byakhee depicted on the front looks good but the color green used is almost too bright. Because the background is all black it almost looks like it would be well suited for a velvet, day-glow tapestry. The interior art is really great; there is a wonderful picture of an elder sign that looks like it was carved out of the page it is on and the picture by Jiri Dvorsky is a real mood setter. Like the Macabre Tales rulebook, all of the interior pages look like crumpled parchment and really add to the pulp feel. While it might seem like a small matter, I was disappointed that the Spectrum Games icon on the title page was not in color. I understand that the adventure is in pulp and black but when you have a game company called Spectrum Games and your icon has lots of colors, you should break the rules a little.
Mechanics: 10/8 out of 10
The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel is a mechanics-light adventure. Macabre Tales eschews the use of dice. Now wait, it isn’t a dice-less system it uses dominoes to resolve conflicts. I won’t re-cap how the system works but character creation and conflict resolution are not difficult, making this adventure easy to pickup and play. This adventure is designed with one protagonist in mind so trying to figure out who in the party goes first is not an issue. The 8 out of the 10/8 comes when you add additional players – this is where the mechanics become more convoluted. The Macabre Tales rule book covers these situations, however the adventure does not. The addition of more players to The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel adds an ever greater burden to the Narrator and I feel like it would detract from the story.
Desire to Play: 10 out of 10
Anyone who has attempted to run a horror game or any type of game dealing with the works of H.P. Lovecraft knows just how difficult it is to create those sanity reducing adventures that we all love to shudder with revulsion to. The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel, while designed for Macabre Tales, could work for most horror settings. The story and background are well-thought out and well-articulated. The only requirements for the story are that it is set in a city that is near a rural area. There are no gender requirements for the main character; in fact I would be interested to see a female PC go through this adventure; that would be interesting!
Overall: 9 out of 10
Spectrum Games is not a new company, but Macabre Tales is a new game system. I really enjoyed the story behind this adventure, but I could tell that Ms. Miller and the folks at Spectrum still have a few minor kinks to iron out before they start getting all 10s. Black and white icon aside a few things just didn’t sit right. The total lack of suggestions for additional players puts the Narrator at a disadvantage. The game is designed for a primary protagonist, but even the core rulebook addresses the issue. The NPC write-ups should have all been included when the characters appeared. The write-ups are at the end of the adventure, but as a Narrator I like to see the stats as I read what actions the NPC is trying to take. If not the complete character write up then at least their stat block for reference. In my review of the Macabre Tales core rulebook, I mentioned that this game requires lots of preparation by the Narrator and the ability to think on one’s feet. The Secret of the Dead Man’s Satchel upholds that assessment. This is a good system and a great adventure for it, check them both out as you won’t be disappointed! Hold on… someone is at my door, oh look a package, I wonder who it is from???