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Monday, 27 June 2022

Mythos Manuals I

From Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Revelations of Gla’aki, De Vermis Mysteriis to the dread Necronomicon, the Mythos and its fiction is replete with awful tomes of all too inhuman, alien knowledge, spells or formulae whose invocation all too lead to the summoning of or contact with things and beings beyond understanding, and the ravings of madmen. Their treatment in Call of Cthulhu and other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror has varied over the years. At worst they have been treated as treasures to be plundered from cultists as in some of the very early scenarios, but in more recent times they have been properly treated as horribly insidious works of true knowledge, with even their possession having a subtle effect upon the fragility of man, whether his mind or his very being. Perhaps their first expansive exploration in Call of Cthulhu would have been in The Keeper’s Companion Vol. 1 and The Keeper’s Companion Vol. 2, and the evocative exploration and presentation would have been in the almost mythical Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion. It is strange that given their place within the fiction and their use to both impart knowledge of the Mythos and enforce its corruptive influence, that there has never been a Call of Cthulhu supplement dedicated to just these great works within the fiction.

Tomes of Cthulhu, published by Azukail Games, is not that supplement, but it points towards such a supplement even if cannot be that supplement itself—primarily for copyright reasons, of course. It is instead a generic supplement for roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror which describes some twenty different tomes and their reprints inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Each entry follows a standard format. This includes both the name of the work and its author, a description of its format and its contents, plus size and weight, number of pages, primary language it is written in, the amount of knowledge it contains about the Mythos and the effect upon the reader once the book is read, and a suggested period of study time. This is followed by notes and perhaps discussion of copies or reprints. All of which apes the descriptions and formatting of details about the Mythos tomes in Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but Tomes of Cthulhu shies away from supplying the Game Master with actual numbers. Thus, the suggested amount of knowledge it contains about the Mythos and the effect upon the reader once the book is read runs from Least through Lesser, Moderate, and Greater to Greatest, equating to much as 2% for the Least category to as much as 15% for the Greatest. Take any of the entries in Tomes of Cthulhu and the Game Master should be able to adapt them to the Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying game of her choice.

The entries range from ancient stone tablets to typed reports. A Translation and Interpretation of the Pre-Minoan Tablets Found in the Aegean is an example of the latter, supposedly written in a language belonging to a pre-Minoan civilisation and discovered by adventurer Jonathan Smedlock during a dive off the coast of Crete. The tablets were regarded as fakes and his claims ridiculed, and the tablets were either lost or are in a museum, and Smedlock was last seen in Africa. The translations in Smedlock’s own cheap hardback are based on several other works, none of them on the Minoan languages, and the Game Master is free to insert whichever Mythos she wants in here. An example of the latter is A Report of the Investigation into the Events in the Punjabi Himalayan Region in 1873 by Captain James Sutton is the typed report based on The Journal of Captain James Sutton, a soldier sent to investigate strange goings on in the Punjab in the shadow of Himalayas. The diary records weird, unearthly colours, and draining, grey effect that killed man, beast, plant, and the ground itself. The official report, not wholly written by Sutton, and since mimeographed, gives poisoning as the cause. Most of the other entries in Tomes of Cthulhu are books or reports, but Giants in the Earth by Private Tommy Atkins is a volume of horrifically grim poetry published after the Great War under an obvious pseudonym, the author consequently being confined to Bedlam where he committed suicide. The second, expurgated edition was published in 1959, its often lurid and disturbing replaced with more mundane depictions of the Western Front. The second edition is thus not of interest to book collectors or Mythos scholars, but either version reveals something about the Ghouls that prowled the Western Front.

Several famous figures are given as authors of Mythos tomes. Sir Isaac Newton wrote Philosophiæ Alchimia Principia Mathematica following a possible breakdown, a treatise on mathematics, the occult, alchemy, and chemistry which describes the true nature of the universe, particularly as they relate to time, space, or dimensional travel, even as far out as the Dreamlands. Suggested entities and races covered in the volume, which is written in Latin, include Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Great Race of Yith. Notes on an Expedition to the Antarctic by Charles Darwin is perhaps the most obvious entry in its inspiration. In 1831, during the second voyage of HMS Beagle, the expedition was given maps of a southern continent, and the book describes how it sailed south and discovered a cave entrance on the frozen land. Inside there were found pieces of green soapstone worked into rounded, five-pointed stars; carvings and murals on the walls, many damaged, depicted strange creatures and maps, perhaps of the Earth; and the strange, fossilised figure of barrel-shaped creature beyond understanding. Then there was the strange piping voice which shouted, “Tekeli-li!”. It is of course, all very At the Mountains of Madness.

Tomes of Cthulhu is relatively underwritten in terms of its ideas, because primarily, it is overwritten, repetitious, and very much in need of an edit. It also suffers from being for roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror rather than for a roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror, and so is not specific enough, which is not unexpected given the fact that the author must tiptoe around the facts that he cannot supply such numbers and he must be careful of what he can and cannot include. In combination though, the result is that any attempt to extract the information from this supplement is not as easy it should or could be. There are some potentially interesting tomes and titles which the Game Master or Keeper could extract from Tomes of Cthulhu, but it is perhaps best used to inspire the creation her own, as that might be easier.

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