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Friday, 4 September 2015

An Arkham Asset #0

Originally conceived by the late, great Keith Herber, The Arkham Gazette is a magazine devoted to Lovecraft Country, that mouldering corner of New England home to old money, old prejudices, and ancient evils. It is now being published by Sentinel Hill Press, the small press outlet for Bret Kramer, best known as the author of the scenario, Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37, and as the editor of The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion. To date there have been three issues—if you count the prototype ‘issue #0’—with an actual third issue to appear following a successful KickstarterThe Arkham Gazette #0 began life as a proof of concept for the late, lamented Miskatonic River Press, before being developed into a prototype issue and accorded a connecting theme.

Written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition, the theme for this  inaugural edition of The Arkham Gazette is the ‘Aylesbury Pike’, the road that runs from Arkham to Aylesbury with a forks leading off to Dean’s Corners and Dunwich. With such a focus, the issue begins in mundane fashion, with ‘The Amos-Goodrich Cemetery’ and ‘New England’s Interstate Roads’. The first is an examination of a near roadside cemetery with a slightly odd reputation that lies alongside the pike, whilst the latter is a short introduction to the history of the north-east’s road system in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Both are accompanied with scenario ideas and Keeper’s options, but these are little more than ideas. ‘New England’s Interstate Roads’ is actually a companion piece to the longer, more in-depth ‘The Aylesbury Pike’, an article devoted to the most famous route running through Lovecraft Country. It details its history and its route, enabling the Keeper to add flavour and verisimilitude to those long journeys between Aylesbury and Arkham that are likely should the investigators begin to explore the secrets of Lovecraft Country.

‘Curtis Sloan, Encyclopedia Salesman’ describes a new NPC, pleasingly ordinary, if slightly unnerving. Perhaps his description could have been expanded to give a thoroughly mundane explanation for his behaviour as well as his Mythos connections. That and perhaps a scenario hook or two would have rounded this entry out… Nevertheless, Curtis Sloan is well suited to the region given the influence and presence of certain Mythos entities. 

The longest article in The Arkham Gazette #0 is ‘New England’s Petroglyphs’, an examination and discussion of the famous rock carvings and inscriptions to be found throughout the region—including hoaxes. A little dry in places, this does have Mythos relevance given the number of Mythos species that have made New England their home over countless millennia, the author highlighting the sites where such carvings can be found in Lovecraft Country, referencing various supplements, notably Escape from Innsmouth and Return to Dunwich. This is a nicely researched piece, including sources both fictional and nonfictional, perhaps only let down by the underwritten scenario and campaign options.

Better developed though in terms of options is the encounter, ‘Mr. Pickett Goes a Huntin’’, which comes ready to be dropped into a game in almost any rural location.  Whether the farmer is a simple huntsman, looking for trespassers, or something more, is up for the Keeper to decide, though the options are there for all of these. 

The scenario in The Arkham Gazette #0 is ‘The Chapochaug Tunnel Haunting’ which concerns an abandoned railway tunnel with a reputation for being haunted and a history of fatalities. A student botanist has gone missing nearby, or perhaps a pair of young lovers on a secret assignation, or perhaps the investigators are curious about the tunnel’s dark history, but the exact plot of this lengthy scenario is again up to the Keeper to decide. In comparison with earlier entries in the magazine, this scenario does feel a little as if the author is throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, so the Keeper will need to be careful in deciding exactly what is going on in the tunnel. Nevertheless, this has pleasing potential aplenty for an atmospheric single session or so and is supported with some solid handouts.

Rounding The Arkham Gazette #0 is an annotated bibliography of scenarios set along or near the Aylesbury Pike. A nice touch is that each of articles in The Arkham Gazette #0 is neatly categorised. So for example, ‘New England’s Interstate Roads’ is listed under ‘From the History Books’ whilst ‘The Aylesbury Pike’ is categorised under ‘Deep Background’. Hopefully this will be continued in the proper issues.

Physically, The Arkham Gazette #0 is a gentlemanly looking affair. Originally released in August, 2013 and revised in November, 2014, issue #0 of The Arkham Gazette does need another edit.’ That aside, it It should be noted that the look of The Arkham Gazette #0 apes that of the Lovecraft Country line, the series of classic Call of Cthulhu releases published during the RPG’s heyday. This includes the use of Cristoforo, Thomas Phinney’s expanded version of the Columbus font which does much to add authenticity to The Arkham Gazette #0

To be fair, much of The Arkham Gazette #0 may not appeal to the reader unless he is student of Call of Cthulhu, of Lovecraft Country, or of Lovecraftian lore. Several articles—and arguably—the issue’s ‘Aylesbury Pike’ theme are mundane, even prosaic, but that may be exactly what brings those students to this issue—that and the fact that it is free. Whilst several of the other entries do feel underdeveloped in terms of their application, the highlight of this inaugural issue  is of course the scenario, ‘The Chapochaug Tunnel Haunting’, but ‘Mr. Pickett Goes a Huntin’’ is also good. Overall, this is a nicely written guide to the byways of Lovecraft Country.