The betrayal of the body is one of the most basic of horror tropes. The fact that our physical forms are inevitably going to decay and fail us is one of the most creeping and unavoidable terrors that mankind knows. And it is one that only increases with age. People in the real world go to amazing lengths to delay this inevitable slide into oblivion. Can there be any question of the terrible things they would do in a universe like the one in Call of Cthulhu with all its dark possibilities? Legacies of the Renaissance pits a group of investigators against a man facing just such a fate who has the resources, both monetary and magical to trample others to get what he wants.
The adventure begins in London with the death of a museum curator and the subsequent disappearance of an article of jewelry in his possession which happens to be a centuries old artifact created by a famous alchemist. The party gets involved at the request of a friend and is asked to help him save his fiancé, who is also the dead curator’s daughter.
This fiancé proves to be much more capable of taking care of herself than first suggested and proves a great help to the party, though she also plays the role of damsel in distress. And the party needs all the help it can get. Their opponent quickly proves exceptionally intelligent, powerful and ruthless as evidenced by the brutal way he sends messages to the party to warn them off.
The story lingers in London for quite some time and a number of useful, interesting places are sketched out in the adventure there. Assuming any of the characters make it through the adventure with their bodies and sanities intact, the Storyteller could easily spin these locations out into additional adventures.
Eventually, though, the adventure moves out into the English countryside, namely to the village with the exceptionally British name Hucknall Torkard. The church in this village is home to the remains of a rather famous Englishmen and the real world holder of the fictional relic that everyone is chasing after. In fact, Lord Byron’s historical rapid descent into death occurs in the fiction due to a mistake he makes with the relic because of his ignorance of its value.
Only in a Call of Cthulu game is it not the least unexpected or out of character for the heroes to attend the exhumation of a corpse and potentially participate in a bit of minor grave robbing. Yet, without the former, they are incapable of continuing the plot and their chances of triumphing greatly increase if they perform the latter.
Byron is not the only historic figure in the game, though. The alchemist who created the artifact is the famous John Dee, though he did so with inspiration from a mythos being, of course.
At some point in this section of the adventure, the party will become cursed by the machinations of their opponent. While this will do little to impede their ability to complete the adventure (and is, in fact, an important part of it) the curse does have the capacity to truly harm them in the long term.
The tracks left by their opponent lead back to London where the party is notified by their adversary in a very gory, savage way that their female ally has been captured. But, given that they don’t know exactly who their adversary is, they have little choice but to follow the clues in hopes of finding both him and the heroine of the story.
The curse will afflict them as they continue to follow their clues to a ride on perhaps the most famous train in history, the Orient Express. While nothing of particular interest is written into the adventure on this trip, a suggestion for another published adventure for the ride is made. Storytellers could thus easily run an adventure within this adventure.
The party ends this trip in Venice but then must find their way to their final destination for this leg of their trip, a small island that has been transformed into a leper colony. The betrayal of the body theme is only reinforced while the party explores this island of people who are being eaten alive by their disease and seek out the item at the center of their quest. They briefly interact with the diseased but mundane inhabitants of the island as well as a supernatural mythos creature that protects what they seek.
Then, there is the return trip which should be quite boring since it is simply retracing their steps but ends up having at least one very interesting encounter.
Back in jolly old England, the party quickly find themselves approaching the final confrontation as they discover the lair of their enemy. Of course, attacking said enemy in said lair is as dangerous as it sounds.
But, assuming that they don’t get themselves massacred, they discover the dark secret behind the man who has been dogging their steps from the beginning and, if they are lucky or clever enough can hoist him on his own mythos inspired petard.
The damsel remains in distress until the very end, though and, unless the party is very careful, she could easily meet a grisly end. It is quite likely that she will end up being abducted again and the party will have to follow her new captor and rescue her from him.
Legacies of the Renaissance is quite a dense adventure. A lot goes on in the story and it is quite possible that the players will not recognize all the nuances that go on in it. Fortunately, they can enjoy participating in the adventure even without knowing everything. It is exceptionally grisly at some points and, in fact, is far more grisly than is strictly necessary. On more than one occasion, the adventure very explicitly shows something that would have been better left unseen. Nonetheless, it is a good, interesting story.