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Saturday, 22 May 2021

A Cthulhu Collectanea III

As its title suggests Bayt al Azif – A magazine for Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games is a magazine dedicated to roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. Published by Bayt al Azif it includes content for both Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition from Chaosium, Inc. and Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press, which means that its content can also be used with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Published in November, 2020, Bayt al Azif Issue #03 does not include any content for use with the latter two roleplaying games, but instead specifically includes three scenarios—stated for both Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition and Trail of Cthulhu (and therefore would actually work with The Fall of DELTA GREEN if the Keeper made the adjustments necessary), discussion of various aspects of Lovecraftian investigative horror, interviews, an introduction to Call of Cthulhu in Japan, a review of a recently-rereleased classic campaign for Call of Cthulhu,an overview of Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying in 2019, and more. All of which, once again, comes packaged in a solid, full colour, Print On Demand book.

Bayt al Azif Issue #03 opens with editorial, ‘Houses of the Unholy’, which discusses how the Mythos was and is never one thing, but quite mutable and what we make it, and that in order to do that we should run it and play it, before diving into ‘Sacrifices’, the letters pages. The inclusion of a letters pages lifts Bayt al Azif above being just a supplement, and whilst the letters are most congratulatory, they marks the start of another role for the magazine. Which is to help build a community. The more fulsome content gets underway with ‘Cthulhu in 2019: A Retrospective’. Witten by Dean Engelhardt of CthulhuReborn.com—publisher of Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia and The Apocthulhu Roleplaying Game, this covers the releases, major and minor, through the year, from each of the various publishers, beginning with Chaosium, Inc., before moving on to Stygian Fox, Golden Goblin Press, and Sons of the Singularity. Amateur publications and magazines are not ignored, including Bayt al Azif, and the author also covers Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press and Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game from Arc Dream Publishing, plus numerous other Cthulhu horror-themed roleplaying games, such as Sandy Petersen Games’ Ghoul Island series and the Weird Frontiers RPG (previously known and identified here as Dark Trails: A Weird West RPG) from Stiff Whiskers Press. Notably, it touches upon just a handful of the entries available on the Miskatonic Repository, which in future is likely to become too unwieldy to cover effectively as the number of titles grow and grow. Lastly there is an examination of titles currently awaiting fulfilment on Kickstarter. Each of the various is accompanied by a thumbnail description, enough detail to spur the reader’s interest, but not really a review—although the author does offer an opinion in places. This update dispenses with the references to individual reviews on Reviews from R’lyeh included in previous entries in the series, which to be fair saves spaces as more and more titles are covered. As in previous issues, this is an extensive overview, which again nicely chronicles the year keeps us abreast of anything that the reader may have missed or forgotten.

Bayt al Azif Issue #03 continues the Germanic feel of Bayt al Azif Issue 02. This is because it reprints—in English—content drawn from the German Cthulhu magazine, Cthulhus Rus, which began with ‘False Friends’, a 1920s scenario set in the university town of Göttingen by Philipp Christophel and Ralf Sandfuchs. Its sequel, ‘The Murders of Mr. S’ moves the action to 1925 and Berlin, making it even more suitable to be run using Berlin: The Wicked City – Unveiling the Mythos in Weimar BerlinWhen a number of scientists at a pharmaceutical plant in Berlin are inexplicably murdered and the letter ‘S’ written in their blood beside them, the lurid newspaper reporting dubs the killer ‘Mr. S’, the Investigators are hired by one of its owners (who previously hired them in ‘False Friends’) to find out who is responsible and whether there is an ongoing threat to his business. The scenario takes the investigators into Berlin’s industrial district, so has a different feel to it. Although given permission by their employer to investigate events at the plant, the Investigators will be received with a certain reluctance by his partner and a certain disregard by the victims’ fellow Bulgarian scientists, all three of whom are reluctant to talk about their research. With echoes of Fritz Lang’s M‘The Murders of Mr. S’ is a decent investigative story, but the Keeper may need to work that little bit harder to make sure that the players and their Investigators make connections with some of the NPCs and so push the scenario to a conclusion.

The second scenario in Bayt al Azif Issue #03 is ‘In the House of Glass’. Written by Gail Clendenin, this is a modern survival horror scenario, a ‘locked room’ one-shot set during the hours of daylight at an arts event. And it does not involve the Yellow King. The Pierce Botanical Conservatory is about to hold a stunning art exhibit by famed glassblowing artist Galen Tisselly, and whether connected to the conservatory staff, donors to the conservatory, or fellow artists, the Investigators are invited there to be present during the installation a few days before the exhibit opens. Played out over three different biomes—mountain, desert, and tropical—after they discover one of the staff dead, the Investigators’ visit quickly turns weird as glass sculptures seem to come to life and stalk them and the great sheets of glass that form the conservatory walls warp and show strange visions. The Investigators will need to avoid the strange things hunting them and locate their source if they are to bring their nightmare to an end. ‘In the House of Glass’ is an enjoyably inventive scenario which takes its inspiration—a pair of historical greenhouses—and combines it with the artwork of Dale Chihuly. The scenario is well written with decent staging advice and good handouts, and should deliver a weird and creepy session of roleplaying.

The third and final scenario in the issue is ‘Operation Ice Dragon: 1960s scenario’ by Rich McKee. This is a Cold War scenario set in a remote military base in the Artic in 1960. Part of United States’ Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line system intended to warn of imminent Soviet nuclear attack,  Ice Dragon Station has recently been subject to a series of strange signals which have interfered with the station’s radios. The government has already sent a team led by a radio expert, Doctor Kreuger, to the source of the signals, but when the Investigators arrive shortly after, the signals intensify and begin driving the staff at the base crazy. They quickly find themselves going after the Doctor and his team, but not before some scary moments in the base. Essentially, Ice Station Zebra meets the Mythos, this is nicely atmospheric piece with certain Pulp sensibilities that make it suitable for use with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and The Fall of DELTA GREEN.

In the Designers & Dragons series, Shannon Appelcline delivered a five-part history of the roleplaying industry. Of course, that history is ongoing, and as he charts further aspects of it at RPG.net, he continues to update previous histories. As the title suggests, ‘Designers & Dragons Next – Chaosium: 1997-Present’ updates the previous history begun in the series, bringing Chaosium up-to-date, examining its ups and downs of the last two decades or so, essentially spanning  the period between founder Greg Stafford leaving the company in 1997 to his returning and sad passing away in 2018. The history is tumultuous and difficult and most fans of Lovecraftian investigative horror will be aware of much it, but nevertheless, the article is informative and explains the reasons behind Chaosium’s actions over the years.

Although Call of Cthulhu has been published in numerous languages, little consideration is given to how it is played or perceived outside of the English language, so it was a surprise to learn that the roleplaying game is very popular in Japan. ‘Kuturufu No Yobi-Goe: How New Media and Indie Pirate Culture Elevated Call of Cthulhu to the Most Popular RPG in Japan’ by Andy Kitkowski, we get to see how and why. This is a fascinating look at the roleplaying culture in Japan and just how its fans play the game, organise events, and more. It highlights how the Japanese roleplaying hobby enjoy replays of adventures—both in the form of transcriptions and YouTube videos, how many women are playing, and how the Japanese understand H.P. Lovecraft’s racism. This is most interesting article in Bayt al Azif Issue #03, enabling the reader to look at the hobby from a very different perspective and way of playing.

In ‘The Mythos and Technology’ Tyler Omichinski explores how the Mythos might interest with modern technology, suggesting that to properly combine the two, a Keeper would need to research her ideas and be consistent. The author also gives a real-world example, that of the Necronomicon, published by Avon Books in 1977 and asks what would happen if it were actually a scanned version of the Necronomicon. The article is short and really does not do the subject justice, but the addition of a real-world example gives it a little more heft.

Sanity and losing it is a fundamental part of Call of Cthulhu, but it can be difficult to handle and roleplaying. Jared Smith, editor of Bayt al Azif suggests ways of handling the set-up, the roleplay, and the mechanics of Sanity in ‘The Best People Usually Are: Sanity in RPGs’. Paired with ‘Sanity Point Costs: Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition’, it offers good advice and is worth reading no matter how long you have been running Call of Cthulhu

Jared Smith offers just the single interview in this third issue, but it is with the most important person in the history of Call of Cthulhu in ‘Something Never Seen Before: An Interview with Sandy Petersen’. This is with the creator of the roleplaying game, Sandy Petersen, and covers his introduction to gaming, his creation and first playthroughs of Call of Cthulhu, creating for his own company and designing for the video games industry, and more. Like the interviews in the previous issues, is interesting and informative, and is likely one that all fans of Lovecraftian investigative horror would want to read. Evan Johnston continues his enjoyable comic strip, ‘Grave Spirits’, and Jason Smith contributes another entry in the ‘Sites of Antiquity’ series, this time ‘Cappadocia’ and suggests how this series of cave complexes in Turkey could be used with the Mythos.

Physically, with the third issue, Bayt al Azif keeps getting better and better in terms of production values and look. It is clean and tidy, and though it might need an edit in places, the main issue is that some of the artwork veers toward being cartoon-like.

Bayt al Azif Issue #03 is another decent issue of the magazine. It follows on from Bayt al Azif Issue #02 in containing longer articles and a more diverse range of voices. Again, the content from Cthulhus Rus opens up an aspect of the Call of Cthulhu community which would otherwise be inaccessible to the predominately English-speaking community, and of course, the scenarios are not only well done, but they also highlight Bayt al Azif as a vehicle for scenarios that whilst good, are not necessarily commercial enough to be published by Chaosium, Inc., Pelgrane Press, or a licensee.  In particular, ‘In the House of Glass’ and ‘Operation Ice Dragon: 1960s scenario’ stand out here. The former as a creepy, weird, craft-based one-shot, the latter as atmospheric, almost high adventure, but definitely peril on the ice mystery and chase that verges on the Pulp. The highlight though, is Andy Kitkowski’s ‘Kuturufu No Yobi-Goe: How New Media and Indie Pirate Culture Elevated Call of Cthulhu to the Most Popular RPG in Japan’, which is simply fascinating. 

Overall, Bayt al Azif Issue #03 provides solid support for, and about, Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying. With a good mix of decent scenarios and interesting articles, what more could you ask for?

2 comments:

  1. my pods 1-3 got a slight amount of water and print ran and they warped badly. I think they waste lots of full colour printing and layouts not so great. The submarine adventure is amazing but most of it falls well short. Did find text small and then they wasted some space. Unsure if I will continue to buy unseen. Lots of good bits and snippets but lots seem dated by time i got them (i had most content mentioned as coming or reviewed)

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  2. Just picked up my copy (at my local game store!), and quite enjoying it. The only "oversight" for my on the Cthulhu product round-up would be GKG's "Tiny Cthulhu", which started landing a few weeks ago. Given publishing cycles, some stuff slips by. Overall, solid article and issue.

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