Masks of Nyarlathotep: A Call of Cthulhu Campaign

A generation ago a friend gave me the complete Masks adventure book for the Lovecraft inspired horror role playing game with the caveat that I must run it. He should have been more specific. Last night, after some two years of monthly or so game sessions, I and a group of intrepid adventurers (Cory, Davf, Drace, Jon, and Kym) finished the deadly, world encompassing, adventure, and foiled the plans of the dark god who would usher in the end of human life. Well, foiled for now. The game is quite intense, taking the investigators to different continents to discover various cults that all worship distinct aspects of the same evil that is Nyarlathotep. The campaign is very good at killing characters and/or driving them insane, perhaps more than is necessary. Players uncover and oppose demented cultists, shady characters, supposed upstanding citizens, and horrific monsters from this and other realities and times (all the while learning about different cultures!). The investigators attempt to unravel the events surrounding the fate of the Carlyle expedition that disappeared in the jungles of Africa some 6 years (game time) earlier, how it is related to the repulsive murder of a friend, why it ties to seemingly unrelated events/places/people throughout the world, and how it might lead to the destruction of humanity itself--and what the players might do to stop the unstoppable. There are issues I had with the adventure as there are a number of typos and missing illustrations/maps that would have helped, plus the pictures/descriptions do not always match the statistical information about the characters. In other words, a rewrite would have done wonders. Still, for an epic campaign it was impressive and well designed.

As for the actual playing, I had two newbies, who did remarkably well (perhaps due to a lack of RPG preconceptions/bagage), but only having 5 players meant allowing them 2 characters each to deal with split activities and injuries. There were bizarre happenings with the game as my group tended to over-think events to the point of paralysis or blindly jumping into fire (sometimes literally). It was enjoyable to watch as they did things completely unexpectedly, for example following adventures paths in illogical order ("we have all this evidence linked to Egypt and it's right next door, so let's go to China since we have only one rumor about it"), or completely missing huge events (they managed to by-pass 80% of the encounters in Egypt), or undermining incredible dangerous encounters by using a stumbled upon magic item ("instead of dealing with the possibility of an ambush, let's use X to assassinate the possible cult leader from 200 miles away"). I had linked the Masks with two other adventures from the original Call of Cthulhu source book and I think it added to the experience, but in any event I think the campaign was interesting and exciting all on it's own.

I must admit that the final session (which took us three sessions to do) did end somewhat anti-climatically, although it oddly added realism. After all, you have a group of investigators that managed to (temporarily) defeat the forces of evil and what do they have to show for it? A death toll of characters and associates that numbered in the hundreds (seriously, with over a dozen dead player characters alone!) and nothing to show for it except insanity, poverty, permanent injuries, criminal records, and a story no one will believe. Ending at 2 am with two dozen empty soda cans skattered about, the actual player's exhaustion mirrored their character's.