Cold Harvest: Roleplaying during the Great Purges

From: Chaosium, Inc.

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Cold Harvest: Roleplaying during the Great Purges is a new RPG Sourcebook/Adventure from Chaosium, Inc..

I have seen a lot of different historical approaches to Call of Cthulhu.  Throughout man’s history, there are some pretty horrific periods.  But few periods are more unique than the horrific period of the Soviet Great Purges.  I was surprised and a little intrigued when the author handed me this booklet.  I would even guess that this part of history is not really taught all that much, at least on the pre-college level.  But if you dig deep into the terrible rise of communism in Russia, you will not only be shocked at the cruelty but perhaps inspired like Chad was when he wrote this.

From the back cover: “All is not well at Krasivyi Oktbyr-3, a collective farm hidden away in the wilds of central Russia.

The book itself is primarily a single adventure during the Great Purges of the 1930s in Soviet Russia.  However, it is a good sampling on how to role play in such a dark time in history.  At the heart of the adventure is a dark and ancient secret hidden underneath an obscure farm village or sovkhoz.  If the Keeper is running this as a one shot and not part of a campaign, the investigators are agents from the Soviet NKVD – the ministry of the Soviet government responsible for security and law enforcement.  This is one of the primary arms of Soviet oppression across the country.

Unlike many typical Call of Cthulhu adventures, this adventure focuses strongly on role play and storytelling.  I am not saying the typical CoC adventure does not have role play but there is also a strong element of pulp action or creature fighting in a typical CoC adventure.  This adventure is very low key and much of the horror in the game is man-made.  There is also mythos element in the adventure but it is not intended by the writer for the players to come face to face with it.  Instead, the players are faced with a dark and difficult decision in the end.

In an effort to help the Keeper focus on role play and portray each NPC uniquely, the writer adds notes on how to portray each important NPC in the story.  With the adventure primarily focused on role play and story, there is only one way to get that story and role play out – through non players characters (NPCs).  And there are quite a few of them.  The Keeper needs to help the players discern between each one.  I like the fact that the writer added this.  It is very difficult at times for a Keeper to portray the NPCs distinct enough that the player can tell who they are dealing with just by the Keeper’s role play.  I recommend, however, that they Keeper come up with short names for each because stumbling over the Russian names is going to make things difficult.

From the back cover: “A fall-off in production has come to the attention of the Soviet authorities and communications are down.

The writer put a lot of work into the historical aspects of the book, to help the Keeper and players immerse themselves into the setting.  He goes to considerable length to describe the world of an NKVD agent without making it a history lesson on the Great Purge.  This is essential to help stimulate the role play and story in an otherwise obscure setting that most players may not be familiar with. My favorite part is a few paragraphs explaining the rivalry between the NKVD and the GRU (foreign intelligence agency).  Nothing produces more role play than internal conflict amongst the group.  Placing a GRU undercover agent would almost be a requirement when I run this.

The adventure itself is well written and free flowing.  The investigators arrive at the scene and then the rest is up to them.  Only a few things have to happen but the rest is up to them.  The Keeper is left in charge of the ancient evil, opening up all kinds of possibilities.  The investigation pulls the players not only into a dark mythos story but also the politics and intrigue of a small farm town trying to be an asset to the State.  This is where a bulk of the NPCs are presented and the importance of good role play for the Keeper comes in.  At many points throughout the adventure, the investigators are faced with NKVD-relevant situations and are forced to make hard decisions.

It should be noted that this adventure is written for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, however, there are conversion notes to previous editions in the appendices.  You can see my review of CoC 7e here.

In conclusion,  while very subdued and subtle, the adventure is a great opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes that is completely foreign and unique to most players.  It creates some very uncomfortable and morally challenging situations and makes for a great story.  And in the end, if the players are successful, they can save a town for certain death by sending them off to a labor camp, if they so choose.  I think this adventure works best as a one shot and it even supplies pre-generated characters for the purpose.  I am nto sure if the adventure would fit in a normal 4 hour slot but I am definitely going to find out.

The irony of this adventure is the general mythos plot of the whole thing can be placed anywhere.  What makes it unique and fun is the setting and the type of role play that can come out of it.  It is the simplest of mythos plots, but because of when and where it is, it makes for a great gaming experience.

For more details on Chaosium, Inc. and their new RPG Sourcebook/Adventure Cold Harvest: Roleplaying during the Great Purges check them out at their website, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Cold Harvest: Roleplaying during the Great Purges

From: Chaosium, Inc.

Type of Game: RPG Sourcebook/Adventure

Written by: Chad J Bowser

Contributing Authors: Mike Mason

Cover Art by: Fifa Finnadottir

Additional Art by:  Fifa Finnadottir

Number of Pages: 64

Game Components Included: Adventure Booklet

Game Components Not Included: Core RPG rulebook


Reviewed by: Ron McClung