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Sunday 15 November 2020

A Frustrating First

As a country, Spain is rarely visited by roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror—and when they do, it is primarily during periods of great conflict or turbulence, such as the Spanish Inquisition of the fifteenth and sixteenth century or the Spanish Civil War of the nineteen thirties. Examples of the latter include ‘No Pasaran!’ from the Miskatonic University Library Association monograph Shadows of War: Four Scenarios Set In and Around the Second World War published by Chaosium, Inc. for Call of Cthulhu and Soldiers of Pen and Ink, a scenario for Pelgrane Press’ RPG of clue orientated Lovecraftian investigative horror, Trail of Cthulhu, whilst ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ in Strange Aeons from Chaosium, Inc. and ‘Fires of Hatred Defile the Sky’ in Red Eye of Azathoth: Unspeakable Adventures Straddling a Millennium by Open Design, LLC, are examples of the former. There is not even a Call of Cthulhu campaign supplement for Spain in any period, so it was pleasing to see to see the publication of Campo De Mitos: A Campaign Setting of Lovecraftian Mythology Based in El Campo De Gibraltar, despite the fact that it is not a Call of Cthulhu campaign supplement for Spain. Rather, it is a campaign supplement for part of southern Spain, the ‘El Campo De Gibraltar’ of the subtitle, focusing in particular upon the town of Algeciras. Also pleasingly, it is written by a native, Paco García Jaén, and it is systemless, which means that its contents can be adapted for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, Trail of Cthulhu, or the roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror of your choice. However, Campo De Mitos is also the first book from a new publisher, Mindscape Publishing, and that is not without its consequences.

Presenting a fictionalised rather than a historical version of the town and region, specifically in 1924, Campo De Mitos is designed as a sort of sandbox, the Investigators able to go anywhere and encounter anyone in the region, but particularly in the town of Algeciras. Primarily the sandbox is built around numerous NPCs and their places of work, whether that is Manolo the ‘Ice Cream Man’, a street vendor who sells ice cream, sweets, and treats all year round from his cart in the Plaza Alta in the centre of the town, or Anselmo Arrubal, the quiet and fastidious, but also misogynist owner of Santos Bookstore, who worked with Aleister Crowley to open up access to a seemly infinite library behind the counter of the bookshop. Being a systemless book, none of the NPCs have any stats, but what they do have is a set of three profiles—friendly, neutral, and antagonist, each of which sets their attitude towards not just the Investigators, but also other NPCs, who in turn will also have their own attitudes towards the Investigators and other NPCs. This is a nice, simple gauge that helps the Game Master roleplay each NPC when the Investigators interact with them.

The various locations in Algeciras are all outwardly ordinary, ranging from La Alicantina Pastry Shop to the Post and Telegraph Office. Some are, of course, inherently Spanish, such as the Convent Of San José, the Bullring La Perseverancia, and the White Cross Monastery, and their inclusion go towards emphasising the atmosphere and feel of the town and region—which are obviously different to that of locations typically seen in Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying. All of the locations and NPCs have their secrets, many of them weird or odd, or connected to the Mythos. Some of them are perhaps in terms of Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying prosaic, but others are inventive and engaging. For example, the Juan Moya Barbershop whose owner is renowned for the ointments, balms, and other concoctions he has on his shelves, many of which repulse women as much as they attract men. Juan Moya mixes them from the plants he harvests from the Dreamlands, not by going into the Dreamlands himself, but by reaching into the Dreamlands via a portal he is able to open in the basement of his shop.

Throughout the book, boxed sections add adventure seeds and little snippets of background material, typically where they relate to a location or establishment being described, such as the box discussing female bullfighters next to the description of the Bullring La Perseverancia. Beyond Algeciras, there are entries on a handful of nearby towns and villages, including the surprisingly nearby Rock of Gibraltar, which has been in British possession for over two centuries. A Bestiary also describes a number of creatures and beings. They include a Cyäegha Tick, a rare parasite which feeds on its host’s brain energy and amplifies it in psionic attacks, as well as turning the host into a tentacles ending stingers, eyes, and tweezer-like claws; the sea-dwelling, mermaid-like Gnorri which have asymmetrical arms and long tails and little regard for humanity; and Meigas, beings of the Dreamlands which appear as women when on Earth, and which come in various types. For example, the Feiticeira, or Sorceress, is ancient and lives near rivers or streams and uses its hypnotically beautiful voice to attract children, and then drown and devour them, or the Vedoira, slender and pleasant diviners, who for a price, can contact someone in the afterlife and determine whether he is enjoying eternity in Heaven or is still in Purgatory. Many of these are drawn from Spanish folklore, but others will be familiar from other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. It would have been nice to have seen some of these used in the supplement’s setting content, but the Game Master will have to do that herself.

Physically, Campo De Mitos is a handsome book and the publisher has put a great deal of thought into the choice of period appropriate photographs and had it illustrated with some delightful artwork that looks great in greyscale, but really makes you wish that the book was in colour. However, the book lacks any usable map of any kind, either of Spain, the region of El Campo De Gibraltar, or indeed, of Algeciras. Which hinders the supplement’s intended use as a sandbox. That though, is not the real issue with Campo De Mitos. Nor is the fact that entries in the index refer to the wrong pages. The real issue with Campo De Mitos is that it has not been professionally edited and as a consequence, it reads poorly, it is obvious that English is not the author’s first language, and it lacks the development necessary to make it an accessible, easily referenced, and easily utilised sourcebook for the region it sets out to describe. To be clear, the English is not necessarily bad English—the author’s English is infinitely superior to the reviewer’s Spanish, but to a native speaker it simply does not read sufficiently natural. Thus, Campo De Mitos needs editing, needs localising, and needs developing—and the latter would probably have solved the supplement’s other issues and pushed the supplement towards what author and publisher intended it to be.

As a supplement dealing with Spain—or at least a part of a region of Spain—in 1924, it does not pull back enough to introduce to the country as a whole. There is no idea of its politics, its religions, its culture, and so on, or how to get there during the Jazz Age. From a roleplaying point of view, it does not address what type of Investigators might be found there or ask if there are any careers that they might have which are common or native to the setting. There are mentions of historical events, but which are completely left unexplored. For example, the Rif War is mentioned, but no explanation of who, what, and why it is, is given. As a consequence, Campo De Mitos lacks context and feels disconnected from the rest of the world, let alone the rest of Spain.

In terms of its descriptions, Algeciras fluctuates in size—from village to city, and back again; numerous details are added, often suggesting mysteries, but very rarely with any explanation and simply left as unknown; and too many of the NPCs in Campo De Mitos share traits in common, such as having perfect recall as to their clients and what they purchased or reasons for coming to the region and Algeciras, and that they keep secret—from both their fellow townsfolk and the Game Master! Also, so many of them possess strange devices whose origins and workings are left up to the Game Master to determine. For example, a pair of needles which ease the creation of fine ladies’ hats, the hats when worn imparting a sense of euphoria to the wearer and the needles when inserted into the spine, travelling up into the brain to take possession of the victim’s consciousness—to unpredictable effects. The effects are left up to the reader or Game Master to decide, as are the origins of the needles, just as the secrets of too many NPCs are left to the Game Master to decide and develop.

In terms of the Mythos, Campo De Mitos again suffers from inconsistency. For example, for all that Algeciras is a port town and that the Deep Ones have played a role in the region, they are barely mentioned, whereas Ghouls have strong ties to the town’s cemeteries and authorities. However, the Ghouls themselves are left unexplored—and the same can be said of the Mi-go, who also have had a presence in the region. As to other entities and races of the Mythos, there is no mention. Of course, there are limitations upon what such elements from Lovecraft’s fiction can be used, but Campo De Mitos does not sufficiently develop the ones it does use—or at least mention. And whilst the supplement does provide an overview of the Mythos in the region, it is again underwritten and underdeveloped.

Campo De Mitos is not without its charm, which shows in its artwork, its atmosphere and feel for small town life in Southern Spain, and some of its ideas. Yet the fundamental failure to either edit or develop the supplement sufficiently leaves a prospective Game Master with too much to decide or create on her own. For the publisher, Campo De Mitos: A Campaign Setting of Lovecraftian Mythology Based in El Campo De Gibraltar can be described as a flawed, but not unworthy first effort, and definitely something to learn from. In the meantime, Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying awaits the publication of a good supplement dealing with Spain.


  1. Mindscape publishing has other book published in spain, always innominated works, the editor has run away from spain becouse of the community...Paco has no autocritic of its own work.

  2. There is a Call of Cthulhu's expansion named "La piel de toro" about 1920's Spain.

    Take a look: http://www.sectarios.org/wiki/index.php?title=La_Piel_de_Toro_%28Joc_Internacional%29