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Friday 26 June 2020

Leagues of Gammerstangs

As the title suggests, Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is a supplement for use with both Leagues of Cthulhu, the supplement of Lovecraftian horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and its expansion, Leagues of Gothic Horror. Published by Triple Ace Games, it presents a guide and a gazetteer to the English county of Cumbria in the Late Victorian Era, not just the history and the geography, but the Mythos and the folklore, and more. Although it is not a comprehensive guide—being relatively short at just thirty-two pages—it presents more than enough information to bring a campaign to England’s North-West, whether a supernatural campaign for Leagues of Adventure or a Lovecraftian investigative horror campaign for Leagues of Cthulhu. In addition, what few stats there are for use with the Ubiquity system are easy to interpret and adapt to the system of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is Cthulhu by Gaslight for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, Trail of Cthulhu, or even Liminal.

(Note: ‘Gammerstang’ means awkward person in the local dialect.)

Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria details an area of the north of England, bordering Scotland, which is best known as the Lake District—for the lakes Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater, Buttermere, Grasmere, and many others, and as the home of the ‘Lake Poet School’ whose members included William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Since the Victorian period it has been primarily been seen as a tourist destination, but prior to that, it was a source of worked-flint, a frontier of the Roman Empire, a frontier region between England and Scotland, a rural backwater, and more recently, with the coming of the railways, an industrial centre. Yet in ages past, races of the Mythos like the Elder Things and the Fungi from the Yuggoth operated in the region, whilst with the coming of mankind, the Deep Ones migrate to the Cumbrian coast and begin interacting with them. The Celts brought worship of the Shub-Niggurath and avatars of Nyarlathotep to the region, whilst the Romans also imported the worship of dark gods from the far edges of their empire.

Now despite its title of Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria, the supplement actually describes not the county of Cumbria as it is today—which only dates from 1974—but rather Cumberland, Furness, and Westmoreland. (For ease of play, the supplement simply uses Cumbria.) It covers the region in three chapters. The first of these introduces the area and gives its history, geography, a guide to getting there and what to find when you do, the latter including cuisine, entertainment, policing, and so on. The inclusion of a guide to toponyms—Cumbrian place names, the local dialect, folk remedies, and general superstitions all add a pleasing degree of verisimilitude. In game terms, it suggests various Leagues of Adventure faculties to be found in the region, for example, the Anglers’ Club, Bath Club, Mariners’, and Society of Aquanauts share a clubhouse in Bowness-on-Windemere. (The presence of the latter a knowing nod—backed up by an even more of a nod in an adventure seed to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.)

The second chapter is the gazetteer and forms the heart of the supplement. It covers ancient sites, natural features, Roman sites, and settlements, many of which are accompanied by adventure seeds. Thus, the Castlerigg Stone Circle outside of Keswik, whose number of stones is said to be uncountable and at the centre of which is a firepit which when unearthed was a blob of “some dark unctuous sort of earth.” The adventure seed for this suggests that this was the remains of a Black Spawn of Tsathoggua. The natural features include the region’s various caves and lakes, the Roman sites of two major forts in the area, whilst the settlements cover its towns and villages, from Ashness Bridge and Aspatria to Whitehaven and Workington. It describes the Dacre family, a prominent Cumbrian family which in the past was split between its worship of Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath, and supports this with a new Bloodline for Leagues of Cthulhu. Tying back to the Lakeland poets and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a notable narcotic ‘Kendal Black Drop’ of the period, better enables users to enter the Dreamlands or simply opens them to the thoughts of the Great Old Ones…

The third chapter presents denizens of the region. They include lists of dignitaries—aristocrats, bureaucrats, clergymen, and Members of Parliament—all names which Game Masters and Keepers will want to research before bringing into their campaigns. The only famous person fully detailed is the bon vivant Earl Lonsdale, known as the ‘Yellow Earl’ for his favourite colour. This may or may not signify something… Lastly, the supplement details a cult, the Brotherhood of the Maimed King. Linked to Arthurian myth, this is horridly both fecund and bucolic and is the content in the book which is probably the easiest for the Game Master and the Keeper to develop into a scenario. 

Physically, Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is a plain affair. It is simply laid out, there are no illustrations, and there are no maps. The latter is more of an issue than the former, forcing even the most casual of readers to do some research to give context to places and features described in the text. That said, any good Game Master or Keeper will probably do more research if she is going to run a scenario or take her campaign to Cumbria, so maps are not as much of an issue as they could be. Still, it would have been nice if there had been one included.

Anyone coming to Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria expecting the Mythos to be running wild across the rolling hills, up and down the fells, along the long the deep valleys of the region, conspiracies of worshippers working to bring about some grand plan to end the world, will be disappointed. Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is not that supplement. It is broader in its over overview of the region, encompassing the supernatural as well as the Mythos, but layering it under folklore and myth and superstition. What manifestations of the Mythos there are in Cumbria are holdouts, relics from the ancient past, perhaps best left to linger and die off rather than arise again due to some meddling from all-too inquisitive Globetrotters or investigators. Anything in Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria will need some development upon the part of the Game Master or Keeper to turn into a full mystery, but is still worth keeping on the shelf as reference or just in case the Globetrotters or investigators feel like a holiday in Wordsworth country.

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