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Sunday, 7 November 2021

Leagues of Mythos Miscellanea

Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil 
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 expands greatly upon the information and details of the Cthulhu Mythos given in the previous supplements. It describes new bloodline Talents and Leagues, a wide array of rituals, tomes, locations, and dread horrors, expanded advice for the Game Master running a Leagues of Cthulhu campaign, and more. In fact, that more is a detailed exploration of the mystical Dreamlands, including rules for dreamers and altering the landscape of the Dreamlands, rituals and tomes unique to that fabled land, a complete gazetteer, and a bestiary of its notable human and inhuman denizens. This is a first for Leagues of Cthulhu, but in effect, the section on the Dreamlands is a supplement all of its very own. Literally, because its chapter numbering starts anew! 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 EditionTrail of Cthulhu, or Victoriana.

In the main, the Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is for the Game Master, but there are a handful of elements for the player too. These include the new Hobby Skill, which can include things like Cartography, Fossil Collecting, or Numismatics, and new Bloodlines and new Leagues. The new Bloodlines include LeBlanc, which provides political Contacts, and Northam, which provides Status, as well as dire effects detailed later in the book. The new Leagues include the Elder Club whose members possess sufficient status to keep the truth of the Mythos from society at large and the Elder Race Society, which holds that Human history is far longer than is normally accepted. Various Mythos languages are discussed, such as Aklo and Yithian, and there is a list of Manias to have the Globetrotters suffer, and glorious new Flaws like Blabber Mouth, Fainter, and Screamer!

The content for the Game Master begins with ‘Magic & Manuscripts’ and provides several new Rituals. With Drain Life a caster can inflict lethal damage upon a target to heal his nonlethal wounds (or downgrade a lethal wound to the nonlethal); with Mark of Madness he can inflict Sanity loss upon a victim; and even gain protection against the fell beasts which hunt down along the angles with Sign of Tindalos. The forty or so Eldritch Books—or Mythos Tomes—are all new and are nicely detailed such that the Game Master can draw inspiration from and further, ties into further content elsewhere in the supplement. For example, The Assassin’s Creed: An Expose of the True Hashshashin is a diary of conversations between a crusader and a fellow prisoner about the true nature of the Old Man of the Mountain and details the links between both the fabled and feared assassins. It is not a little tongue in cheek, but does tie into the extensive entry on the Templars, the possible nature of the order’s actual treasure, and the description of what they do in the modern day of the Purple Decade given in the lengthy ‘Gods, Monsters, & Cultists’ chapter. As you would expect, each Eldritch Book description includes its language, author, date of publication, Complexity, Horror, and Mythos values, and contents in terms of spells. This is accompanied by a decent description as to the origins and history of the volume, plus what it actually describes. For example, The Serpent Through History is in English, was written by Sir Reginald Grosvenor and published in 1818, has Complexity 2, Horror 2, and Mythos 1, and contains the spells Commune Yig, Summon Child of Yig, and Summon Serpent Men. It is an examination of snake cults throughout history, including the Voodoo loa Damballa, cults in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, and Mesoamerica, plus numerous snake spirits known to American Indians and the nagas known in Indo-China. Grosvenor makes it clear that the presence of so many snake cults is no coincidence, that they are linked to an ancient race of serpent people and that behind it is a universal cult—or at least a cult which set the pattern for those to come—dedicated to an entity that he names as Father of Serpents.

The Eldritch Relics are given a similar treatment, such as Aladdin’s Lamp, which unlike the late addition to the Arabian Nights tells, was discovered in Iram of the Pillars and does not contain a genie. Instead, greatly enhances—almost automatically—the user’s ability to summon a Flying Polyp! Woe betide any daring Globetrotter who decides to give it a rub in case of three wishes… One or two of the items here are not new, such as Liao, which when injected grants the user the capacity to understand the mathematics of traveling through time if not the means, plus items such as the Fungi Brain Cylinder and the Gnoph-Keh Horn Dagger. Or rather, they are not necessarily new to Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying, but new to Leagues of Cthulhu. Which still leaves a lot which is new to both.

The trend of the mix of the new to Leagues of Cthulhu, but not new to Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying continues with the gazetteer. Thus as it guides us around the five main continents—and beyond, it takes us to such well-known places as the original Dunwich, Kingsport, Ponape, and Roanoke Colony, along with innumerable lesser-known locales. All are quite lengthy descriptions, especially the counties of Somerset and Cumbria in the United Kingdom, which is no surprise that they have been previously explored in the supplements Avalon – The County of Somerset and Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria and thus in more detail. The principality of Wales receives some attention too, whether it is the dark history of Anglesey—also known as Yns Dywyll or the ‘Dark isle’, the sparse are of the Cambrian Mountains identified as the ‘Desert of Wales’, or St. Brides Bay with its sea-caves with tunnels which are said to run deep under the sea, bulbous-eyed, wattle-necked inhabitants, and the ancient, inscribed menhir that it is said the locals dance and cavort around. What this highlights is that Call of Cthullhu—or at least Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying—deserves its own supplement devoted to Wales. This section is a good start though. Further, all of these locations are accompanied by an adventure seed that the Game Master can develop.

Perhaps the longest chapter in Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is devoted to ‘Gods, Monsters, and Cultists’, a collection of new creatures and entities of the Mythos, such as the Beast of K’n-Yan and Courtier of Azathoth, alongside the old like the Serpent Man and the Tcho-Tcho, all joined by the Giant Albino Penguin. However, these are minor additions in the face of the nineteen cults described in the book, all of them accompanied with write-ups of two NPCs, one a typical NPC cultist, one a named member. For example, the Order of the Fisher-God is a quasi-Christian cult which began as a secret society on the Society Islands before adopting Christian beliefs, whose practice of child sacrifice led it to be driven from the islands and forced to adapt in distant lands. Members seek ascent to a higher plane, which includes transformation to forms better suited to life under the sea, and so their cultists preach those parts of the Bible involving the sea. Thus, the sample NPC, Pastor Andrew, is a popular figure and preacher along the docks. Also included is a discussion of Scaninavian cults as they relate to Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Shub-Niggaurath. Here perhaps Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil may diverge from how some Keepers view the Mythos, whether they necessarily equate certain entities of the Mythos with real world gods—Azathoth as Odin for example, or even Nyarlathotep as Loki (although actually, that would not be wholly inappropriate). Of course, such an interpretation is up to the Keeper to include or ignore, and it is only one of multiple cults presented in the supplement. Other cults include a new take upon the Thuggee—complete with an entertaining nod to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the aforementioned Templars, and The Universal Hive, a bee cult with some decidedly fungal infestations… Rounding out the chapter are descriptions of various notables from Lovecraft’s stories, many of them, like John Raymond Legrasse, appearing in earlier incarnations than their appearances later in the fiction. All useful should the Game Master want them in her Leagues of Cthulhu set in the 1890s.

In addition, boxes throughout Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil add further detail and flavour. This includes trapped tomes and self-activating spells, the exact meaning of Nephren-Ka’s name, the nature of genies in the Mythos—Flying Polyps or Fungi from Yuggoth?, and Sherlock Holmes and the Mythos. This provides some of Holmes’ cases which might be developed into Mythos mysteries, rather than suggesting how the great detective might become involved in confronting the Mythos.

Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil sort of ends at this point, yet there is more in the volume. ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’ starts the numbering of the chapters again and presents a four-chapter exploration of the Dreamlands for Leagues of Cthulhu. As well as suggesting the stories which the Game Master should read as inspiration, it provides new Globetrotter options, details the means of entering the realm of sleep, and gives a gazetteer that covers the places, peoples, and monsters of the Dreamlands. It includes the Dreamlands Lore skill, the Adept Dreamer Talent and the Dreamlands Persona Talent—the latter enabling a player to create a second character specific to the Dreamlands, and Leagues such as the Feline Club whose members might just follow the cats into the Dreamlands and the Morpheus Club, whose members learn to shape dreams. Archetypes like the Addicted Artist, Friend to Cats, and Seeker of Justice provide ready-to-play Globetrotters (or NPCs if necessary), whilst the gazetteer takes the reader from the entryway that is the Cavern of Flame and the magnificent port of Celephaïs to the Plateau of Leng and the port of Dylath-Leen with its thin basalt towers and berths to the much feared, black-sailed galleys whose crews are never seen. Gods include Bast and Nodens, the creatures Ghasts, Ghouls, and Gugs, and of course, Zoogs, and the NPCs, Kuranes, mysterious king of Celephaïs, and both Nasht and Kaman-Thah, guardians of the Cavern of Flame. 

‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’ does feel out of place in Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil. Not just the fact of the separate numbering, but really an abrupt and unexpected switch in subject matter. This is not to say that the material is neither good nor informative—it is. More so at the time of publication when there is limited information available for the Dreamlands for Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying, whether for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition or other roleplaying games. So then it may perhaps be seen as an unexpected bonus, but still, at almost a third of the length of the Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil, ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’ does feel as if it should have been a Leagues of Cthulhu: The Dreamlands supplement of its very own (perhaps with the addition of an adventure or two).

Physically, Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is well written and presented, although there are few illustrations to break up the text, so it is fairly dense. It does lack an index—for both parts—and so that density is not ameliorated.

Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil contains a huge amount of lore and ideas, along with cults and monsters and items of the even weirder science found in Leagues of Cthulhu, adventure seeds, NPCs, and more. It could be argued that this one volume is the equivalent of both The Keeper’s Companion vol. 1 and The Keeper’s Companion vol. 2, such is the richness of its content. Even discounting ‘The Realms of Morpheus: The Dreamlands’—which is a bonus, Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil is a cornucopia of Cthulhoid content, containing a wealth of material for Leagues of Cthulhu that will provide the Game Master of any roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror with support and ideas until almost the stars come right...

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