Squandered Settings – Shadows of the Old Subway

December 30, 2023

At Gen Con this year, I played Night Mother’s Moon, a modern Call of Cthulhu scenario which sends the investigators on the hunt for a crazed man who is hiding from occult-obsessed gang members. While I had some problems with the adventure, there was an an exciting section where we had to plunge into abandoned subway tunnels of New York, looking for our target.

As we headed into the darkness, I imagined all kinds of weird mysteries. Broken, century-old technologies hampering our path, deserted stations (undoubtedly used for Lovecraftian rituals over the decades), or even strange denizens who lived down there for years.

An actual abandoned subway station…

Unfortunately, the adventure handled the encounter in a much more straightforward way. Other than the occasional train running past, the encounter could have easily taken place in an alley, basement, or rooftop.

Squandered Settings

It occurred to me that while the author of Night Mother’s Moon picked a cool set piece location, it wasn’t really used to its full extent. That made me think of times I had made the same mistake — set an encounter in an exotic location, only not to use that location to its full gaming potential.

If you’re going to set an encounter in an exotic location, try to think of at least one or two elements that makes the place feel different from an empty room. This can be a mechanical effect or a narrative one.

For example, let’s say you set a confrontation high up in the Alps. Mechanical effects could include:

  • Low visibility due to swirling winds, or even snow blindness for people who horrible fail a health check
  • Reduced accuracy for people not wearing winter gear — it’s freezing!
  • A iced-over lake that could break if you step across it
  • An opportunity for athletic players to ski into the confrontation! (perfect for not just a James Bond-type adventure, but also for gritty WWII battles in Finland…)

And narrative effects could include:

  • A lone creature, perhaps a yeti, watches the encounter from a nearby cliff. Is he an ally? Or a foe waiting to spring into the battle on the side of your foes?
  • A helicopter flies overhead, preparing to land and drop off a group of tourists or photographers. This surely complicates a tense encounter…
  • The enemies are taking advantage of the low visibility to set up decoys… there are far fewer of them than the players think

These are just some examples, but hopefully give you an idea on how to make sure your set piece locations aren’t squandred.

Shadows of the Old Subway – A Solo Adventure

This month, with that abandoned subway tunnel still in my head, I wrote a solo horror adventure, Shadows of the Old Subway. Set in 1918, while the New York City subway system was still under construction, the adventure sends a lone engineer into the tunnels to inspect the source of a strange series of electrical fires. Of course, what they find is far more sinister than a mere mechanical failure…

I think solo adventures are a great way to introduce new players to the hobby, and it was fun adding a more modern one to the others that I’ve published on this site. You can download it for Call of Cthulhu and GURPS Horror here:

Download Shadows of the Old Subway for FREE!

Related: A fantasy solo adventure

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    1. Loved playing this although I got killed early so will have to try again. The Sculptor hasn’t been updated to version 7 so I had to do some conversions.

  1. Hello, thalcos! Thanks for interesting adventure.
    I’ve found couple of small issues.
    1. #66 doesn’t specify whether this is the end (although it’s kinda implied through description)
    2. There are no references that will lead to #70, so this entry is isolated.

    1. Hmmm… I’m going to have to dig up my hand-drawn labyrinth of madness (i.e., where I mapped the entire adventure out) to see where #70 went. Probably got sucked into the Dreamlands though.

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