WARNING! Contains spoilers!
Earlier this morning I plunked down my hard earned piastres and got the brand new version of Masks of Nyarlahotep. When I heard that this classic was coming out in a new version for 7th edition Call of Cthulhu, I knew that I had to get it.
You see, we have been playing the Complete MoN version of the campaign for almost two years now. Starting out on the 11th of September in 2016, we have played 21 sessions and the investigators have negotiated both the New York and London chapters and are now in Egypt, so for me, getting this book was a no-brainer. In our campaign, I also use the MoN Companion and have added extra side-plots and quests from other Call of Cthulhu books to spice things up a bit. If you’re interested to read of our group’s adventures, check out my game recap blog here (just search for Masks and you’ll get those specific posts).
Over a few cups of coffee, I have glanced over the PDF Omnibus version of the book(s), and here are some initial thoughts and info.
What you get
For just under 60 USD you get (all in PDF):
- The Masks of Nyarlahotep (MoN) adventure book (Omnibus, 666 pages)
- MoN Keeper Screen (6 pages)
- NPC Portraits Pack (12 pages, 105 portraits)
- Keeper Reference Booklet (85 pages)
- Handout Booklet (96 pages)
- Pre-generated characters (10 of them, with character and background sheets)
- Hi-res images of the cover art
As usual, the money spent on the PDF will be deducted from the price if you buy the print version later this year, which is pretty neat if you ask me.
I have speed-read the chapters that we have already played or are playing (i.e. New York, London and Cairo/Egypt, and of course, the new Prologue chapter set in Peru.
First of all, the form factor keeps up to current day Chaosium standards, i.e. full color, pretty layout and awesome new art. The handouts are also much improved since the old version, looking more realistic. The printed version is going to be in two separate volumes in a slipcase, which sounds promising (and probably expensive).
Content-wise, there is much to be recognized. The basic plot is the same, but some things have been changed. Above all, new NPCs have been added and some of the old hands have been changed (more on that later).
Much work has been put into making the new version easier for the Keeper. For example, there’s a nice flow-chart at the beginning of each chapter, plotting out the various NPCs, places, and events and how they interconnect. There are also lots of advice for the Keeper on how to run the various parts of the adventure and it also provides Keeper advice on alternative events and how to run them. There are also new clues included, probably meant to tie together parts of the campaign that previously weren’t that obvious.
There are also optional things (rules, stats and so on) provided if you should want to run the campaign using the Pulp Cthulhu rules instead. Very neat, as this campaign already has a very strong pulp vibe.
Differences from the old editions
For you old Call of Cthulhu Keepers, is worth mentioning that some elements have been changed from previous editions. For example, good old Jackson Elias (who used to be a Caucasian man, if you judge by the illustrations in the old materials), is now an African American gentleman. And London Brotherhood High Priest Tewfik al-Sayed is now portrayed as Zahra Shafik, High Priestess. Another example is the new sub-plot inserted in the New York chapter where the PCs might get involved in the case of Hilton Adams, an innocent man, accused of several of the previous Harlem cult killings. And in England, there’s an added sub-plot regarding Henson Manufacturing (in Derby, so near Lesser Edale), where parts for the gate-opening rocket are built by Gavigan. And I’m sure that there are plenty more of these little changes from the original – these are the ones that struck me today.
For new Keepers and those that haven’t run the campaign before, this is of course of little concern, but for me, who had contemplated a switch/conversion from our current 6th edition Call of Cthulhu game to the new campaign as well as the newest 7th edition rules, this does create some problems, as my players have already interacted extensively with these NPCs. If I were to switch to the new game and campaign, it would include some serious retconning or that I just ignore some of the stuff in the new book.
The new chapter
The new Prologue scenario, Peru, takes place circa 4 years before the events in MoN, and is meant to introduce the PCs to Jackson Elias, thus establishing their friendship in play. The approach was first introduced in the MoN Companion as The God of Mitnal (in Mexico I believe) but where I felt that that scenario was rather weak, the new Peru chapter is very cool, and I will definitely play this as a prequel (inserted in our ongoing campaign when I feel the stars are right). I think that it will be a perfect introduction and testbench for the 7th edition rules for my group, and they will be able to either convert their current characters to 7th edition or make new ones just for that scenario. These characters might then come in handy as backup characters if (or should I say when) their current characters go insane or perish at the hands of Mythos creatures or cultists.
Old Keeper grumbles
OK. With the risk of sounding like a grumpy old fart (which my kids say that I am at times) I must comment on the page bloat that seems to be the thing du jour these days with many RPG publishers.
The old MoN was 224 pages long. The new is 666 pages. That’s about three times the page number, and I imagine that the physical books will weigh a ton.
The old Introduction chapter was 17 pages long, while the new is 40 pages.
The new Peru chapter is 36 pages, so even if we factor in a new chapter and a longer introduction, all elements of the campaign have been extended. A lot.
Same thing with the rulebooks:
- CoC 6th ed: 320 pages vs CoC 7th ed: 444 pages
- CoC 6th ed Player’s Companion: 126 pages vs CoC 7th ed Investigator’s Handbook: 284 pages
So, carrying the rulebooks and the campaign using 6th edition I end up at 670 pages in total.
With the new rulebooks and campaign, I end up with a whopping 1394 pages!
That’s some serious page bloat, even if we have a new 36-page chapter. The layout in the new books are much lighter, i.e. there’s much less text per page and there are more illustrations and so on, but that still doesn’t account for all the page bloat. My conclusion is that the authors seem to write much less to the point than in previous years. As a Game Master, that means that I have to plow through much more text in order to get to the point. Also, there’s the risk of “not seeing the trees because of the woods”, as the story gets lost in a too frivolous text mass, thereby obscuring the story. I think that Chaosium still has a very high standard here compared to others (I’m looking at you, 5th edition D&D), but would still encourage RPG authors and publishers to think about this.
I also think that the new campaign, while more friendly to beginning Keepers, might be harder to mod for old Keepers like myself. The old campaign is much looser in its structure and it seems easier to invent and insert stuff on a whim. I may be wrong here, but as I read the new campaign it just feels more pre-chewed and less adaptable. For me, a looser framework with just the most important stuff written down fires up my Keeper creativity. If too much is detailed, it usually tends to have the opposite effect.
After that “ye olde farte” rant, I would like to conclude this brief post with a big thank you to Chaosium for publishing this new edition of an RPG classic. This is a very, very nice version of Masks of Nyarlahotep and one that I would love to GM for a new group. However, we’re in the middle of the old campaign and I will probably continue that path using the 6th edition rules, and use parts of the new campaign along with the MoN Companion. For those who have no experience with Masks of Nyarlahotep, I just say that it is the most fun campaign that I have ever Game Mastered and judging by my players, they like it a lot as well.
Where to get it