About Alone Against the Static
As a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. In many ways they were my introduction to pen-and-paper gaming, so it’s great to re-experience something like that again decades later.
Chaosium’s latest single-player Call of Cthulhu adventure, Alone Against The Static (written by Australian author BW Holland) is unusual in that it’s set in the 1990s, rather than the usual 1920s/1930s setting of Call of Cthulhu.
The book uses the same engine (Basic Roleplaying; BRP) as the regular Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition TTRPG (and indeed Chaosium’s other games) so if you’re familiar with it, you can jump right in – all you need is a copy of the adventure (either in print or .pdf), a pen and paper, and some dice. You can actually do pretty much everything on a tablet nowadays, too – even Google has a free dice roller you can use.
The great thing is that even if you don’t own the Call of Cthulhu Investigator’s Handbook or Keeper Handbook (the equivalents of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide), you can still play Alone Against The Static via the free “quick start” rules for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition available from Chaosium’s website.
Alone Against the Static Gameplay
The basic idea is the same as Chaosium’s other “Alone Against…” titles; in that there are numbered paragraphs (371, in this case) and as you progress through the story, you’re asked to proceed to a different paragraph depending on your choices or the outcome of skill rolls.
This will be familiar to anyone who ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book back in the day, and some of the paragraphs even suggest you make a note of them “in case you need to return here” indicate the author was also well aware of people’s tendency to go “Nope, that’s a bad outcome, let’s go back and try again” with these sorts of adventures too.
The story does a great job of taking its inspiration from 1990s low-budget horror films; genre staples such as The Isolated Cabin In The Woods, the Suddenly Failing Power Supply, and Creepy VHS Tape feature prominently throughout Alone Against The Static.
Unlike most of these sorts of adventures, you’ve actually got the choice of two characters – Alex and Charlie – who are in a relationship that’s going through a rough patch, and have decided a weekend away at a friend’s cabin in the woods might be just the thing to help save said relationship.
Spoiler alert: It is not.
Alone Against the Static: The Review
It’s a surprisingly involved adventure, which can be played out separately from both Alex or Charlie’s perspective, although from a story perspective there’s no real difference between the two (there are, however, some notable differences from a stats point of view that will affect how certain skill rolls might turn out).
One innovation I really liked was the addition of a “Log Sheet” (included with the adventure) which keeps track of various elements of the story which might have an impact later on in the proceedings.
For example, you might find a torch, and the book will tell you to make a note of that on the log sheet, and later on in the adventure you might find a paragraph that says if you have ticked the relevant box on the log sheet, then you have an additional decision option available.
The writing is very good and atmospheric; it certainly captured the unsettling vibe of being alone in the woods at night very well.
A playthrough will generally take about 90 minutes or so, but there’s a lot of ways the adventure can end (a lot of which involve going insane and/or dying a horrible death), so there’s about 4-5 hours in here as a solo player, and more if you wanted to use it as a basis for a more traditional Call of Cthulhu session. As a bonus, the information and stats for a new Mythos creature are included in the book, and can be used in a “traditional” Call of Cthulhu adventure.
How clear the actual mystery of Alone Against The Static is to you will also depend on some of the choices you make (or how the dice roll) – on my first playthrough, between decisions and dice rolls, I ended up not really encountering a lot of the “supernatural” side of things until right at the end and found it a bit confusing; and ended up almost completely missing the entire “spooky found footage” aspect which is supposed to be an important part of the adventure.
However, subsequent playthroughs (with some different decisions and dice rolls) where the weird stuff happened more clearly as a result proved a more rewarding experience; but I was still left with some unanswered questions at the end and ultimately it didn’t quite come together for me as a result.
Alone Against The Static is unsettling (in a good way) and really captured that Blair Witch Project/American Horror Story: Roanoke-style “lost in the woods” horror vibe; if anything I would have liked it to be longer to explore some of the plot elements it raises.
If you’re a fan of ‘90s horror or a Call of Cthulhu completionist you’ll want to add this one to your shelf – especially since there’s so little modern-day setting Call of Cthulhu 7e stuff out there.
Alone Against The Static is available from Chaosium in Hardcover (with complimentary .pdf version) for AUD$44.75 plus shipping, or as a .pdf alone for AUD$22.34
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