The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep
The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep is fantastic. It is quite simply the best adventure supplement for any game I have come across for a long, long time. In fact, it might even be the best ever.
Complete Masks is an adventure of absolutely epic proportions. In fact, it is probably better to think of it as an entire campaign. As with other CoC adventure supplements, the PC's are investigators and the adventure supplies them both with something to investigate and a motive for doing so. It begins fairly simply; the players have a few leads about an expedition to Africa that went missing, and the murdered body of a friend. As the leads are followed up, the investigation becomes much, much larger than it looked at first and the characters must travel to almost every continent in the world in their search. New York, London, Cairo, Sydney and Shanghai are all among the destinations. When the truth of the investigation finally emerges (if the characters get that far) is something truly horrific. The climax of the adventure is something to look forward to with electric anticipation. And believe me, if the players get there, that's how they'll feel.
As can be seen, the story that the Complete Masks sets out to involve the characters in is very ambitious. It is complex, and involves all manner of places and people. I have seen supplements that attempt to be too ambitious before. There is always the danger that they will try to do too much and get swamped under all the information. More importantly, something with this complicated a plot can leave the GM with so much to remember that it gets too much and important details are lost. Not so with the Complete Masks.
As well as the world-sweeping story-line, the book itself is set out to be as close to a Keeper's paradise as you can get with this sort of thing. The chapters are arranged by geographical location, thus the Keeper can easily turn to the New York or the London chapter, depending on where his players are. Each chapter is then constructed around the investigation's leads. At the beginning of each chapter there is a chart which details the leads which are found in the chapter as well as to where, and to whom, they will eventually lead the players (assuming they get it right). This makes bookkeeping for the Keeper a breeze. A few glances at conveniently located charts will show him immediately where any particular NPC or location might lead the players; and by reading the chart backwards he can quickly tell who or what it was that led the PC's to their current location. At worst, this serves as a memory-jog to forgetful Keepers. At best, it allows Keepers the time and brainpower to present and detail every NPC and encounter with the depth they deserve, without constantly having to make his own notes or to search through the book for long periods.
As well as the quick-reference material the chapters contain a lot of detailed information which the Keeper will need. This is written in a basic, down-to-earth fashion that delivers the information that the Keeper needs without delving into pretentious tracts of narrative.
All this mention of the factual nature of the adventure material may lead some to believe that the Complete Masks falls into the trap of sacrificing style and atmosphere in favour of an abundance of sterile tables, charts and prose. It is too often the case with published adventures (though usually not CoC supplements) that only the required information is given to the GM, leaving him to flesh out the story himself. This is not the case with The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep.
In actual fact, it is in this area that the adventure really excels. Firstly, the book is absolutely packed full of player handouts. These always lend a certain feel and atmosphere and Chaosium doesn't miss the opportunity. They vary from matchboxes to transcripts to diaries to photographs. The quality of these is okay, although Keepers will have to photocopy them to really use them. They are included both when they appear in the various chapters and also in a big section at the back for easy photocopying. Secondly, the quality of presentation of the NPCs is excellent. Each one comes with an accompanying picture (making finding them by flicking through the book very easy). The pictures are simple line drawings that serve as good guides to the personality of each one. A description comes with each, as well as information on what they can tell the characters, under what circumstances they will reveal this information, and where it will lead the players.
And don't think these people are without their own little agendas and plans which an enthusiastic Keeper can use to throw the PCs awry. Lastly there is some excellent information on each of the locations to which the characters travel. This information serves to give the Keeper the information needed to make each location varied and different from the last. The people behave differently, and the players must react to this to survive.
These three factors, handouts, good NPC's and geographical information, mean that when running through the adventure the PCs always feel that they are interacting with a varied and exciting world. They are kept guessing and the great feel of the 1920s that is so well handled in CoC is maintained.
I feel something must be said about the adventure itself. As is expected with CoC supplements, the PCs are up against some seriously deadly adversaries. There are cultists, Mythos beasts, dark ceremonies, evil sorcerers and malevolent but influential individuals. The PCs will have to use every trick, dodge and guile to escape their evil clutches and emerge victorious. As always, expect PC casualties. A great feature of the adventure is that is may not progress in a linear fashion. Depending on how the PCs act, they will get different leads and go to different places. In the end, however, they should wind up at all the important locations.
In conclusion, The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep is without doubt a masterpiece of design and production. The presentation is good, the adventure is immersing and every effort has been made to make Keeper and player alike enjoy the running of it. However, it does require preparation on the part of the Keeper. He needs to familiarise himself with the whole story before he begins, and each chapter should be re-read immediately before running it. The handouts also need photocopying. This is not something that can be picked up and played. It is also massive. It is really more of a campaign consisting of many adventures tied together with a common purpose. After personal experience I think you should reckon on 70 or more hours to do this justice.
Any effort involved, however, is worth every second. There isn't really a lot to do compared to the scale of the final product. My final opinion? If you like Call of Cthulhu, you will LOVE this book. Buy it.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)