Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984)

Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984) was my introduction to Call of Cthulhu. I had read Lovecraft by then, but I was surprised by how dark his themes seemed in the context of an RPG. All the murder, insanity and human sacrifice in Masks, much of which was visited upon players, seemed almost cruel. Introducing an interesting character not just to kill him, but to use his murder to fuel the entire game? Jeezus. It’s a horror game after all, though, and because of that, for me, Masks finally fulfilled what the air of transgression that surrounded early D&D books promised.

Masks is a pulpy mystery, written by Chaosium mainstay Lynn Willis and Larry DiTillio (who, at the time – 1984 – was also writing all the episodes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe). It’s a pulpy, world-spanning mystery, one of Call of Cthulhu’s best and certainly the high water mark for the time. The game benefits greatly from Call of Cthulhu’s love of physical handouts – there are a ton of them and the writers’ investment in them compelling is obvious. They’re lovingly detailed, with fake newspaper stories having real old newspaper stories on the back. There’s even a fold up matchbox! All that adds a layer of verisimilitude to the game.

The box mainly consists of booklets for the game’ five locations – New York, London, Cairo, Kenya and Shanghai. A sixth chapter, set in Australia, was cut for space (it eventually showed up in a modified form in Terror Australis, and was restored to Masks of Nyarlathotep in recent editions)

Of course, being 12 and having only played D&D up to that point, we played Masks like D&D and it wasn’t the greatest. I’ve been attempting to correct that error over the last year and a half, which explains why you’re not seeing a ton on interior art – my players all follow this account and I wouldn’t want to give anything away. To make it up to you, though, I’ve included a photo of our investigation board, which gives a good sense of the amount of information the group needs to handle in order to effectively investigate the game’s central conspiracy.

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