Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 24 March 2013

Sin & Sanity

Before you get to the review you need to know something. I am listed in the credits in the book that I am reviewing and I am an editor for its publisher, Sixtystone Press. I tell you this because I do not want you to think I am being unprofessional in reviewing a book that in some small way I worked on. You see, I originally wrote the review after I was asked to simply read through the manuscript and give my opinion on it. At that time, there was no point in my publishing the review as the book was a long way from publication. That was in August, 2011 and the best part of a year before Sixtystone Press asked me to be its editor. In the meantime, very little of the book has been changed from what I originally saw, and what has been changed amounts to just little things. For example, a weapon was changed from one make and model to another – and that on the basis of my being part of the peer review group and then editor on another Sixtystone Press title, Investigator Weapons, Volume Two, but at its heart, this is the review that I wrote in August, 2011.


Published by Sixtystone Press, Nameless Cults Volume One: Lost in the Lights – A Call of Cthulhu sourcebook of cult horror is a scenario and sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu set in the modern day. It is the first volume in the publisher’s ‘Neue Unaussprechliche Kulte’, a series detailing modern day cults that are ready to run for any Keeper of Arcane Lore. As a contemporary set scenario and sourcebook, it is not written for use with Chaosium’s Cthulhu Now, as that book is at best obsolete, but it does include notes so that it be can run as part of a Delta Green campaign using the sourcebooks from Pagan Publishing.

What strikes you first about Lost in the Lights is its use of colour. It is surprising to note that in over thirty years of published Call of Cthulhu titles that not one of them has ever been published in full colour. Now there have been titles which include colour plates and titles that used spot colour, but none have used full colour. At least not for Call of Cthulhu books published in English, until now that is. Lost in the Lights makes use of full colour, in particular in its very modern hand outs which include a mobile telephone screen and television screen shots, but for the most part it employs spot colour and does so with a vibrant pink and an equally vivacious purple throughout the book. The effect is startling and certainly gives it feel that matches the contents of Lost in the Lights.

The reason why that vibrancy matches the contents of Lost in the Lights is because its scenario, “Invisible Sun”, is set in Las Vegas and a literary Las Vegas at that. The scenario presents a very contemporary investigation into a cult that is also fully described in the pages of Lost in the Lights, as well as “A Brief Discussion of Other Las Vegas Weirdness.” This is a mere introduction to the setting rather than a full guide to Sin City and its environs, but it is more than enough to intrigue the Keeper. The cult described in Lost in the Lights is the Keepers of the Primal Song, whose members worship the Lesser Outer God, of Shabbith-Ka. First appearing in “What Goes Around, Comes Around,” in Issue #8/9 of PaganPublishing’s The Unspeakable Oath (later reprinted in Pagan Publishing’s The Resurrected Vol. 3: Out of the Vault), the cult here is expanded to present its goals, origins, and practices from antiquity until the here and now. What marks the Keepers of the Primal Song as a cult of singular note – held for a very long time – is the fact that the cult is wholly insular, wholly introverted, and has no plans on world domination. This makes for a very different cult, one that possesses a horrible machismo in the way in which its members worship Shabbith-ka – such that you have to feel sorry for any investigators exposed to it – and as seen in “Invisible Sun,” also makes for a very different threat and a very different type of investigation.

“Invisible Sun” is a lengthy scenario that draws heavily from contemporary pop culture. The scenario and the investigation begins with a missing girl – Angelique Adams who ran away to be star. She never made it, not did she make it home from Las Vegas, sending a text message in which she said she had been trying to escape from some “cult wackos”! Now her father wants the investigators to find her and bring her home, or if that proves impossible, bring anyone responsible for harming her to justice.

The investigation plunges the investigators into the strange and seedy world of Las Vegas and beyond. It throws them up against a horribly modern environmental hazard as well as into a facedown with the ultimate sinner in Sin City. He is a late sixties teeny-bopper heartthrob who just happens to own a casino, and as a casino owner, is very respectable and law abiding. Which throws up a very interesting challenge for the investigators – doing anything that investigators, or indeed player characters, would normally do in a Call of Cthulhu scenarios, will bring them to the attention of the casino security and thus to the LVPD. Therefore, the investigators will need to be a whole lot more circumspect than normal if they go looking for ways to get into limited access areas, carrying concealed firearms, questioning staff members, and so on. Which makes getting anywhere with the investigation in “Invisible Sun” much more of a challenge than is the norm. The author discusses numerous means of the investigators circumventing, though his inclination, and that of the scenario and literary Las Vegas, is to run this as a caper, even a heist movie. Various options cover the type of caper that the players might come up with for their investigators, the simplest of them being quite technical, the easiest being the most kitsch and perhaps the most fun to roleplay. Preferably with the investigators dressed as Elvis…

“Invisible Sun” then, is a very kitsch affair. It is also veers into the psychedelic for a potentially very nasty encounter that draws from one of H.P. Lovecraft’s better filmed short stories. If there is an issue with “Invisible Sun”, then it is this kitschy nature. Some of it is unavoidable. The scenario is set in Las Vegas after all, a town hardly known for its austerity. The easiest means of conducting the investigation is for both Keeper and players alike is to embrace the kitsch and the camp, and use it to their best advantage. Further, for all of the gaudy extravagance of Sin City, the Las Vegas of “Invisible Sun” is a filmic or televisual one, the author suggesting further kitsch elements that can be drawn from both mediums.

Once past the kitsch, Lost in the Lights is perhaps one of the most challenging scenarios to be published in some years. Challenging because it sets the normal mode of investigation in a Call of Cthulhu scenario very up against the modern world, its technologies and in particular, its approach to security, post-September 11th, 2001. This requires careful handling by the Keeper and careful detective work on the part of the players and their investigators.

Lost in the Lights is rounded out with four appendices. The first of these covers recommended viewing, listening, and reading, the movies listed certainly being useful given how central a role that the caper that plays in “Invisible Sun;” while the second lists all of the character write-ups, maps, and hand outs. The third provides a guide to weird Las Vegas, covering everything from Area 51 and the Atomic Testing Range to the Liberace Museum and urban legends of the area. It is not extensive, but it does give a good starting point for further research. This being a modern-set scenario, the first question that many a Call of Cthulhu Keeper will ask, “Can I use ‘Invisible Sun’ with Delta Green?” Pleasingly, the last of the volume’s appendices deals with this very question, addressing it scene by scene.

Behind its gaudy cover – which actually makes sense once you have read the book, but might put the initial viewer off – Lost in the Lights is an eye-catching book. In addition to its use of colour, the layout is clean and thoughtful, and the maps all well done. The hand outs are all well-chosen and designed, with a Wikipedia entry in particular giving the book a pleasingly contemporary touch.

It has been no little wait for this book to be released, just as it has been no little wait for the author, Jeffrey Moeller to deliver on the promise he gave us with the Monograph, The Primal State. I wait to see what he creates next with great interest… In the meantime, what he and Sixtystone Press present us with in Nameless Cults Volume One: Lost in the Lights – A Call of Cthulhu sourcebook of cult horror is a consistently challenging scenario for Keeper and players alike. It combines an interesting cult and an entertaining scenario that focuses on interaction and investigation in a highly contemporary setting