miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2013

Reviewing: Cthulhu by Gaslight

Go get it! End of the review. No, really, if you are going to spend 30 bucks this year on Chaosium I think this is it (even when “House of R’lyeh” seems promising…).  Now, lets get serious and try to explain why I think this is such a good book.

First of all, you might need to know a little bit of my personal background. I find Victorian England a fascinating period of history; “Dreadnought” from Robert K. Maisse is the best History book I have ever read (true, I have not read that many) and Sherlock Holmes is the hero of my youth. If you add that there has never been a Spanish edition of “Gaslight” (even when “Dark Designs” was actually translated) you can probably understand why I was so excited when I saw that Chaosium was going to reedit this sourcebook.

Since I do not have any of the previous two editions, I cannot compare them with the new one, but from what I have read, they have rewritten it substantially, meaning that it might be a good purchase even if you do have one of the older versions. Visually it is an excellent book (again, the people from Aventuras enla Marca del Este have a very good photo-review of this book), proving that it is still possible to edit a fine black and white book, now that it seems almost mandatory to publish in color (another question is if whether or not you should get a color book for 30 bucks). Pictures are usually really good, no matter whether they imitate pictures from the era or not, watermarks are beautiful yet it is easy to read the text over it and the titles are written in a very attractive way (nothing to do with those of “Atomic-Age Cthulhu”). But if we wanted just nice art we would have got a different kind of book, so what is in “Cthulhu by Gaslight?”

“Part I: Victorian Characters” (23 pages) teaches us how to create investigators for this particular era. It includes professions, skills, weapons and other equipment, aside from a vocabulary of Victorian slang. It also includes traits that we can use to add some flavor to our investigators, but for me the most interesting part of this section is how social class affects the interaction between PCs and NPCs, so think it twice before creating a Marxist trade unionist ;)

“Part II: The Victorian World” (48 pages) fills the reader with interesting and useful information about 1890’s England: The Empire, the Army, London…I particularly enjoyed the Bibliography section, which gives a paragraph about several important individuals of the time such as Conan Doyle, Gladstone or Wilde, but there are also sections about transport, media, crime, the British government (very useful for those of us who are not from there), clubs or universities. It is an excellent section, truly a brief “how was life in Victorian England” that will help players and Keepers alike to run proper Victorian stories without throwing themselves into hours of research.

“Part III, Strange Britain” (36 pages) starts explaining some of the main occult groups from the era: The Theosophical Society, the Freemasons, The Golden Dawn, Spiritualists, and The Society for Psychical Research. After reading this, it looks to me that the occult during the Victorian era was more mainstream that underground and if you wanted to be someone in the world, you had to be a member of one of these societies (remember the biographies from Part II? well, many of them are part of the occult world). If nothing else, you can always make the investigators members of these societies and use the latter as backups, sources of information… The section continues with a gazetteer of strange places of the British Isles. In my option, there is too little information about each place to be actually useful but I tend to be the lazy kind of Keeper.  There are also a few pages on the Mythos entities of Britain, a compendium of NPCs and a few ideas on how to run Victorian scenarios. Aside from the aforementioned occult societies description, I think one of the best parts of this section are the biographies about fictional characters from the era, from Sherlock Holmes to the Martians from “The War of the Worlds”. Sure it is a delicate aspect and it might end up giving a very pulp feeling to your adventures (can you say pulp referring to the Victorian era?), but if you are brave enough, it can lead to memorable scenarios.

“Part IV Gaslight Adventures” (49 pages) gives us two scenarios “The Night of the Jackals” and “The Burnt Man”. Both of them are very good stories with two very distinct environments. Without getting into too much detail (in order to avoid spoilers), the first one it is a classic investigation in misty London, with veterans of the Sudan Campaign that were not as honorable as expected while the second one takes place in a manor house in Dartmoor (the same sparsely populated area where “The Hound of the Baskerville” takes place), curse included.

The book finishes with a very useful appendix of suggested books (fiction, non fiction, mythos, non mythos, RPGs) and movies, aside from the mandatory handouts for the two adventures.

In summary, an excellent sourcebook that should have a place in even the smallest “Call of Cthulhu” bookshelf. I am sure it is possible to run a good Victorian adventure without this book, but I can also guarantee that even if you are not planning to run any such adventure, you will still find this book a fine reading.

$28.95 (softcover)/ $18.12 pdf

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