The bulk of this information was provided by Peter Devlin, with whom I have sadly lost contact, and was originally posted on the strange aeons mailing group.

Editing, and text displayed like this, is by Mike Lay. It is a (long) discussion of the "Horror On The Orient Express" campaign and how it might be improved. Any comments, criticisms and plaudits should be directed Mike Lay. If you do use this page, please tell me how it pans out!

Spoiler warning. IF you are intending to play an investigator entering the world of the Orient Express, read no further.

"Horror" is one of the largest campaigns produced by Chaosium for their "Call of Cthulhu" game. It is based around the famed "Orient Express" railway service that transports passengers from Paris to Constantinople in opulence and avoids minor details like having to deal with border guards. Given the nature of the background, it comes as no surprise that the plot is in places quite "rail roaded" (grin!). This can be a benefit - the Keeper knows where his players are going next, and this reduces the amount of preparation required for a session. The downside to this is that, without some forethought, the players can completely derail the story by refusing to toe the line and use the train. Hopefully, between us, Peter and I will help keepers survive the actions of their players.....

Personal background. My group of 9 experienced players took this scenario on in one long stretch and even after a rewrite they didn't rate it against 'Masks of Nyarlathotep' or even 'Fungi From Yuggoth'. How well this scenario works is dependent upon your group and their stamina. It took us the best part of 6 months to play out the entire scenario. Good value for money but it would seem that in this case size doesn't matter.

The Orient Express is not a regular CoC campaign, it relies heavily on the weird European feel to make it different from other campaigns. It is also too linear and has too few red herrings. Nothing that cannot be fixed, however...

My group consisted of five players, all quite experienced. In general they rated "Horror" as one of the best campaigns they had played - not the best, but one of the best...

The biggest problem is that sooner or later your players will ask "why?" Most players are willing to suspend their disbelief to a level that the slightly passé opening concerning the plight of an old friend can be passed off. The problems arise when they start to ask "why are we collecting all the pieces of this stupidly powerful artefact when they can only be used when assembled." My players realised that they had a couple of bits, so why not sink them into the Marianas Trench or get something to fire them into the heart of the sun? The answer can be any combination of:

  • Can you really dispose of them in a manner which will preclude their retrieval?
  • Suggest to the players that their possession of only one bit has tainted them (essentially advance the curse of the simulacrum).
  • Occult bloody mindedeness; the items return no matter how disposed of. Why? Nyarlathotep wishes it to torment the characters. Or possibly the players.

Incidentally, don't mistake this page for pointless criticism. I like "Horror" - I have run it twice, and I think it is a classy campaign. I would not bother otherwise...


Update 2015

2015 has seen the release of a new and updated version of HOTOE, incorporating some of the changes suggested here. There are also some intersting back-story scenarios which flesh out some of the detail. Rather than try to re-work these pages, I have updated and commented slightly, but mostly left the ideas in place. Enjoy.