One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Friday, April 29, 2011

Zothique, Ghouls, And Other Daemonic Strangeness

Finishing out this weeks theme of Call of Cthulhu I discuss My introduction to Clark Ashton Smith, and another kick ass campaign from Pagan Publishing.

A long while back I was kicking it in the store that I used to buy all my gaming stuff. I noticed this new book on the shelf that while looked interesting probably wouldn’t have moved me to pick it up if I hadn’t noticed the Call of Cthulhu logo on the botom of it. This was The Realm of Shadows campaign book, published by Pagan Publishing in 1997, and written by John H. Crowe III, and beautifully illustrated by Blair Reynolds. This book weighs in at a 204 pages and kicks ass and takes names. Heres the blurb from the back:

1940. Europe is burning…But a greater threat dwells in the shadows.

Dr. Franklin Quigley has a delicate problem: his wife has lost her mind and fled with their strangely deformed young daughter.

His innocent request: find them and bring them back.

But when the cemetery earth churns with the blood of the dead and the ground reverberates with the cries of feasting, innocence begets only corruption.
The Realm of Shadows is a major new Call of Cthulhu campaign from the author of Walker in the Wastes and Coming Full Circle. Inside you’ll find source material on ghouls, the cult of the Charnel God, and the notorious Cultes des Goules, as well as four adventures that take the investigators through Massachusetts, the Dreamlands, and the rain forests of French Guiana. Featuring extensive investigations, numerous player aids, and terrifying opponents, The Realm of Shadows is a feast of horror.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, so what’s so great about his book Zombiecowboy? Well I’m glad you asked. No really, I am! The first thing you need to understand is that the author does his freaking research. Not just a little bit, but a lot. And it really shows in this book. Not only that but he does it consistently. Unfortunately Crowe doesn’t write very much Cthulhu material and from what I understand his last output in the field was a part of the writing in Pagan’s Mysteries of Mesoamerica.

One of the sources that Crowe used and highly recommends that the Keeper get his tentacles on is Clark Ashton Smith’s venerable Tales of Zothique. At the time Tales of Zothique was being published by the small Necronomicon Press, but I’m pretty sure that the stories have been collected into a newer hardcover edition by Night Shade Books, of which I have the first four volumes. More on this in a bit.

In addition to just being a well written and researched book, it’s also a beautiful looking inside and out. The art is amazing. The layout is wonderful, and extremely well indexed with multiple table of contents and bibliography. The four adventures are fun and exciting, and interestingly, take place in the 1940s. This is that sort of no mans land of a time period that strays from the classical roaring twenties and dirty thirties period that most CoC adventures fall into. But I honestly feel that it’s a time period that has a lot to offer Keepers, as this book just goes to show. With World War II raging, and the steady rise of the United States as a super power, it’s an exciting time to face off against the lurking Mythos threat. In fact it would be fun to run a Delta Green campaign while the organization itself was just coming into it’s own and still sanctioned by the government. And of course wasting Nazi’s is always good fun right?

Another unique feature of this campaign is that part of it takes place in the Dreamlands. Unfortunately, Crowe took some liberties here, and even admits to as much in the book. He felt that Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique fit nicely in the alien fantasy world that is Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. And really it's hard to argue with that kind of logic. In fact I feel that Zothique is in many ways just a lot more interesting the Lovecraft's Dreamlands. During the last adventure in the campaign the Investigator’s have a chance to visit the grim city of Zul-Bha-Sair, home to the great ghoul-god Mordiggian. It’s at this point that things can quickly turn into something more akin to a fantasy romp al-la D&D style, as the Investigators explore the city and perhaps even invade the Temple of Mordiggian itself.

As I said earlier this was my first real introduction to the writing of Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve read very little of his non-Zothique stories, which is strange since I really enjoyed the little that I hvae read. It’s doubley weird since as I said before, I do own what I would consider to be a rather complete collection of his work. Even though I had heard of CAS before this point, and I knew that he had been a part of the Lovecraft Circle, somehow I just was never able to really find any of his writing to pick up and read.

Perhaps what I really dig about CoC in general is that interconnection between the fiction and the RPG. It’s the way both elements are able to weave into one another, and create a richer tapestry greater than the sum of it's indivuvial parts. That, and I really love how CoC warps history in a way that says this may be what people believed happened, but here’s the horrific truth. It’s the way that the fantasy, science, and the weird elements all combined to create something so much better than a Reese’s peanut butter cup….Mmmm peanut butter cup….

Anyway, you get my point. The bottom line is this: Not only was this a great book and campaign, but it also opened up a lot of other doors for me that, had I passed it by, might not have ever opened for me. So if you ever get the chance to pick this sucker up, or be a player in it, do it! It would be well worth your time and money.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I could see that approach (moving Zothique to the Dreamlands)--particularly because that preserves the future as mysterious...but, given how much Lovecraft tells us about the future, I'd say a awful lot of it is predetermined in the CoC world anyway.