Unmasking Masks of Nyarlathotep
  • Unmasking Masks of Nyarlathotep


    The twisted horrors and blood-crazed cultists of Masks of Nyarlathotep helped define the feel of Lovecraftian roleplaying more than three decades ago, and while this sprawling update weighs heavily on both the wallet and the bookshelf it does an excellent job of adapting the classic campaign for more modern tastes.




    If you havenít encountered it before, however, you may be wondering why Masks has managed to become so iconic, as a quick glance over the outline doesnít really suggest anything particularly out of the ordinary. Sure, there are dark forces committing diabolical murders in the name of ancient alien beings, but surely thatís fairly standard fare for games that take place within reach of Cthulhu's slimy tentacles?

    While this is true, anyone who has encountered the earlier editions of the campaign will know exactly what makes it stand out. For one thing, Masks was instrumental in setting up so many of those tropes that still echo throughout the entire genre of Lovecraftian horror. For another, very few campaigns out there have operated on the same titanic scale that it does, and even fewer have managed it so well.

    Itís almost impossible to overstate quite how sprawling the adventure really is. What starts off as a murder investigation on the bustling streets of 1920ís New York soon turns into a battle to save reality itself from being torn asunder, taking in everything from ancient Egyptian tombs to seedy Shanghai alleyways along the way.

    Each of the six major chapters covers a different location, and every single one has enough material and plot threads bubbling below the surface that they could probably suffice as decent mini-campaigns on their own. The prospect of running a campaign that's so long and detailed can be intimidating, and there's no getting around the fact that successfully guiding a group through Masks is a real commitment.

    Still, itís clear that many of the changes made in this remastering were aimed at helping groups to manage the daunting challenge that lay before them. The most obvious of there is the introduction of a brief prologue chapter that helps introduce the investigators to the world and to the Call of Cthulhu ruleset, rather than just dropping them in at the deep end.

    While this is probably the biggest addition to the adventure thereís no doubt that Chaosium went into the project with the aim of comprehensively updating the original. The finished product sits somewhere between the regular new-edition overhauls and a complete rewrite, and though the heart of campaign is the same as it ever was every single section has been tweaked and expanded.

    In some cases this means adding in new plot threads, such as giving players the chance to clear the name of a man framed for murders committed by an evil cult, while in others it manifests as a sidebar explaining how to adapt the game for Pulp Cthulhu and other systems. Among these welcome changes is the effort made to avoid some of the uncomfortable reliance on racial stereotypes that cropped up in the original adventure.

    While the new information and options in this latest version of Masks are generally great additions, they have helped to expand what was already a fairly meaty slab of text into a true titan. Even though everything is well-sorted and laid out sensibly, the sheer amount of information, handouts and characters that fill the near-700 pages can make it hard to pluck out vital facts in a hurry, putting even greater pressure on GMís to be at the very top of their game.

    Printing all those beautiful pages doesnít come cheap either. A copy of the omnibus edition will make a sizable dent in your wallet, with even the PDF version selling for US$60.

    For many groups, however, that is a price well worth paying. Masks of Nyarlathotep has always been one of the greatest campaigns out there, and this latest version looks set to ensure itíll stay that way for many years to come.

    This article was contributed by Richard Jansen-Parkes (Winghorn) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      Looking forward to thisÖÖ.but hopefully not for much longer! Have the PDF, the physical product is going to be spectacular - especially if you also buy the props.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      We played through this in a previous edition (well, we didn't finish - I think we only got half way) a couple of years ago. It took us 18 months to get as far as we did! I lost three characters.
    1. Obvious_Ninja's Avatar
      Obvious_Ninja -
      Didn't realize they were doing this... Very happy to hear. Definitely going to pick this up.
    1. TerraDave's Avatar
      TerraDave -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      We played through this in a previous edition (well, we didn't finish - I think we only got half way) a couple of years ago. It took us 18 months to get as far as we did! I lost three characters.
      It looks awesome if you want to make a multi-year commitment. Including not just character turnover--which happens in CoC, but also player turnover--which happens in RL.
    1. VengerSatanis -
      I've played through half of it 20 years ago, and have run it 3 times over the last 14 years. For those afraid of such a commitment, it can be run in a shorter time-frame. 3 months and 10-12 sessions is probably the shortest I would attempt

      VS
    1. Inchoroi's Avatar
      Inchoroi -
      I'm super curious about this...but my players would hate going through characters so quickly; that's why they won't let me run B/X or S&W. I might end up getting the PDF and stealing the plot for a D&D game, where they'll get to punch Nyarlethotep in the head.
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      The first time I experienced this as a player, we finished it in the spring term of 1989 - so about 14 weeks of once/week sessions with the original 5 locations (no Australia chapter). We had a group of about 8 experienced players so we'd hit a city, fan out, and run down clues. We really did get a lot done. And in the end, we all went through an average of 2 PCs each.
    1. Winghorn's Avatar
      Winghorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
      The first time I experienced this as a player, we finished it in the spring term of 1989 - so about 14 weeks of once/week sessions with the original 5 locations (no Australia chapter). We had a group of about 8 experienced players so we'd hit a city, fan out, and run down clues. We really did get a lot done. And in the end, we all went through an average of 2 PCs each.
      Unless they were 12 hours long apiece, just 14 sessions is a pretty stellar pace for rocking through MoN, even the original version.
    1. Vexorg's Avatar
      Vexorg -
      Quote Originally Posted by Inchoroi View Post
      I'm super curious about this...but my players would hate going through characters so quickly; that's why they won't let me run B/X or S&W. I might end up getting the PDF and stealing the plot for a D&D game, where they'll get to punch Nyarlethotep in the head.
      From the synopsis its sounds like the Zeitgeist campaign was inspired by this. It starts with a murder investigation and leads to a globe-trotting race to save reality itself. I'm preparing to run to run Zeitgeist right now. I'm reading all 1000+ pages so I will know what I can trim off without affecting the plot.
    1. Nebulous's Avatar
      Nebulous -
      I ran a group through the Complete Masks (with the Australia chapter) over 10 years ago. It took us about 36, 4 hour sessions and 2 years to complete it. And it still ranks as one of the most fun adventures I've ever done. I ran it pulp action though so it was more akin to Indiana Jones and the Masks of Nyarlathotep, but it was still bonkers fun. I would consider buying the hardback but I doubt I would run the game again, it is such a massive commitment.
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