By Avery Abernethy, 24 October 2018
Masks of Nyarlathotep was first published way back in 1984 as one of the first adventures for the then new RPG Call of Cthulhu. It is a huge adventure with the investigators attempting to stop a world-wide conspiracy to bring chaos and destruction to the world. Masks has been reprinted many times and with the advent of the internet will probably always be available for sale online in pdf form. But Masks has remained so popular that its publisher has regularly released a new print edition every decade or so.
Much to my horror (real horror and not Cthulhu horror), I discovered that I could not reread my copy of Masks of Nyarlathotep due to the natural aging of thirty-four year old paper interacting with my allergies. I purchased a new pdf edition of Masks of Nyarlahotep from www.rpgnow.com and also purchased the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion from www.chaosium.com My review is based on a cover to cover rereading of masks and a reading of Companion.
Masks of Nyarlathotep is a campaign for Call of Cthulhu which starts in New York with the murder of Jackson Elias, a writer specializing in death cults and occult groups. Your investigators start to discover and then attempt to stop a world-wide conspiracy of multiple cult groups that are attempting to end the world. Masks may eventually lead your party to six different major encounter areas spread across five of the seven continents.
Masks has a reputation in the Call of Cthulhu community for multiple things. First, the campaign is very interesting mystery which spreads across the entire world. The campaign is full of exotic locales and the keeper is provided a large amount of background information as well as direct information about each part of the plot.
Second, the campaign is very long. From my experience and talking with other players at Conventions, Masks could easily take a group playing in once a week sessions more than three months to complete. Masks runs a hefty 251 pages long including a comprehensive place and person index.
Third, Masks is an unusually deadly campaign even for Call of Cthulhu. The potential for a “total party kill” is very high at multiple points during the campaign. Players and keepers need to prepare multiple backup characters and some means of transmitting information from a total party kill situation to a follow-up group.
At the Origins 2017 convention, the Rogue Cthulhu GMs ran back to back sessions attempting to cover the entire campaign over the five days of the convention. Having read the campaign, my belief is that the GM must have truncated some of the encounters or situations to cover even the highlights of the full campaign.
Running Masks of Nyarlathotep takes a major commitment from both the GM and the players to complete. It is so long, so detailed, and so darn deadly that it is often started but seldom completed by the same group of players. Still, upon a fresh rereading more than thirty years after I first read the campaign, it is still one of the best RPG campaigns ever written for any game system. Masks has provided inspiration for literally scores of published Call of Cthulhu scenarios and countless individual plots or campaigns by game masters throughout the world.
Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion was birthed as a Kickstarter campaign run in 2014 which reached all of the stretch goals. This resulted in a whopping 763 page supplement to a 251 page original campaign. The net profit of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion went to yog-sothoth.com, one of the best online collections of Call of Cthulhu supplements, information, and original works.
Companion has a host of additional characters which can be used when the originals (or the substitutes for the substitutes of the originals) die or go insane
Companion includes multiple supplemental side-adventures as well as a wealth of detail about each of the major encounter areas. There is also considerable information on transportation, importation of esoteric texts and firearms into each major encounter area. Last, Companion has a host of additional characters which can be used when the originals (or the substitutes for the substitutes of the originals) die or go insane.
Companion also has a lot of subtle information on how to run Masks. This includes more background information on the exotic locales and additional paths the investigators can follow that are either more useful, more playable, and sometimes more deadly than the original adventure.
A pdf copy of Masks of Nyarlathotep runs $17.50 when not on sale at www.rpgnow.com The pdf of Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion runs $47.50 for the pdf from www.chaosium.com with the net profits from the pdf continuing to go to support upkeep of the yog-sothoth.com website.
I originally purchased Companion partly to support yog-sothoth.com which is just a fantastic website of Call of Cthulhu scenarios and information. I had a very good year financially and have been purchasing and reading a huge amount of rpg material to prepare for my retirement. I also enjoy reading Call of Cthulhu material in general because it is like reading a horror mystery which is usually set in the past.
Having reread Masks and having read Companions I can attest to the following. Both are outstanding products. Even if you never end up running Masks, reading the pdf can give you great inspiration for your own campaigns or how to run a better Call of Cthulhu scenario. It is worth $18 to simply read. If played the cost will seem trivial compared to all of the gaming goodness (or quality Cthulhu death and insanity) that players will gain.
If you don’t plan to actually run a campaign, then buying the Companion is probably overkill. I’m guessing that most people are unwilling to make the time investment to read nearly 1000 pages of material even for the best RPG campaign if they don’t intend to play it.
But if your gaming group decides to take the plunge and attempt to play the entire Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign, I think the $47.50 purchase of the Companion edition is well worth the money. There are a host of GM tips, background information and other things which would make playing the campaign an even greater joy. There are also a host of hints of how to handle insanity, going broke, and keeping the campaign going even after a total party kill. Simply put, if I was making the time investment to run Masks of Nyarlathotep I would not do so without purchasing and using the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion to keep the adventure on-track, playable, and frankly enable continuity if all or most of the party dies or goes insane.