One topic I’ve been meaning to address for quite a while now is the peculiar approach I took to Mythos tomes in the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion. When I ran the campaign many moons ago, one of the problems I had arose when the players got a hold of a copy of the Pnakotic Manuscript and, quite understandably asked “What is it about?” I had no idea. The campaign doesn’t say and the rulebook (I had 4th edition) didn’t add much. This was in the mid-1990s so, while I had some limited internet resources (hello Mosaic!), I certainly didn’t have an effective search engine. Nor did I have Dan Harms excellent Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia (Plug! Now available as an eBook!) So I fumbled and muttered something about nightmarish text of blasphemy and asked for Sanity rolls. Later, as I was preparing for the next session, I mustered my limited resources and wrote up a short summary of the book as well as somewhat longer notes for once he finished reading it… in 46 weeks or so. As the campaign progressed, I did the same thing for some of the other books they recovered. Those notes, along with all my other material went into a binder, that went into a box, that then sat for quite a while, periodically moved by my girlfriend, then later my finance, then later my wife (I had a far away summer job you see and she was stuck moving us three times. Sorry honey!)
When the idea for the Companion oozed into my mind, one of the things I wanted to include was expanded versions of my tome notes from my own campaign… now greatly supplemented by the sudden wealth of knowledge at my fingertips thanks to the internet, great books like Dan’s Encyclopedia and the previously praised Ex Libris Miskatonici, the two Keeper’s Companions, a much expanded CoC collection on my part, and the fevered brains of the members of Yog-Sothoth.com.
The entries for each book, which I dubbed ‘write-ups’ for some reason, are based on the CoC rule structure in large part- there is a discussion of the contents as understood by someone skimming the book and a fuller one for those who take the time to study it. Additionally we provide what information investigators might learn when they try to research the tome, as well as often about its author or the publication history. To pique player interest we also include an expanded physical description of the book, which I found particularly interesting to research and imagine, as it allowed me to construct a sort of biography for that particular tome… when was it published? Who owned it? How has it been treated? This adds a whole new layer of clues for canny investigators. Finally, and most importantly, we tried to highlight the contents of each tome as they might connect to the Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign itself. Does the tome reveal some secret of the campaign, like Life as a God, or is it tangential to things, like True Magick.
I think that Mythos tomes should be far more than simply a collection of spells, Sanity costs, and skill point gains. While it is impossible to fully replicate the sanity blasting power of Mythos tomes, I think that when richly described, tomes can be both useful props. setting mood and tone, as well as key sources of clues. When you treat a tome with the same depth and degree of detail your might provide for a villain or a cult, you enrich the play experience for everyone.
After my work on the Companion I had the good fortune of being asked by Dan Harms (who I’d consulted with a few questions about the more obscure texts from the campaign) to create similar write-ups for some of the tomes in his (still in progress) campaign Fury of Yig. Dan suggested we also include notes about the availability of the tome in question, which was a very good idea. Hopefully some day we might see some of this work, both for the Companion and for Fury of Yig, in print?
In the mean time, you can see this approach in action in my Notes on the Turner Codex and in my article Saucer Attack 1928: The Dunwich ‘Horror’ in issue 21 of the Unspeakable Oath.
Next Time: More on Tomes? This time, reading them!