The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep
The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep Playtest Review by Erick Bouchard on 18/04/01
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 1 (I Wasted My Money)
Dungeon crawl and four colour characterization at its best.
Product: The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep
Author: Larry DiTillio, Lynn Willis, et al.
Line: Call of Cthulhu
Page count: 224
Playtest Review by Erick Bouchard on 18/04/01
Genre tags: Horror
After reading so many positive comments about the Masks of Nyarlathotep, I bought the book for my wife who happens to be our "Cthulhu" GM for quite a while, having notably mastered the best homemade Call of Cthulhu campaign our group ever had (with consensus from all players). Great and profound disappointment was the result.
Though it is true the quality of most RPG campaigns and adventures is low, the Masks did appear to me much more of a dungeon crawl or a Paranoia shoot-out than anything else. You start with a very classical beginning (a friend of yours has dissapeared) before setting on a ever-repeating routine of "find the witness"->"grab and menace the witness"->"follow the over-evident clues"->"shoot the cultists", before learning more material to find more cults and shoot more cultists and monsters. As linear as a DOS program, and being drowned by game aids or choosing "which country to go first" does not help build up flexibility. We felt all along like retarded chilren playing a story decided in advance where "Freedom of choice" was but a ketchup trademark. Our archeologists were soon replaced by PC marines, more adapted to the cognitive requirements of the game.
Compared to most Kult adventures, for example, where most of the horror is psychological and progressively unveiled, the Masks assault you with scores of two-dimensional NPCS, illogical motives (take for example the dancing girl Yalesha, who'se behaviour is so illogical we lost at least three seances trying to figure what she was up to - why would an unclad woman seek help from total strangers found in a bar, risking her life for noughts?) and excessive violence. Passing through an episode without massive shoot-outs (shoot the zombie, shoot the shantaks, etc.) is quite impossible. After three painful episodes of the most linear sort trying to find where ANOTHER cult was hidden by ANOTHER vile member of a stereotypical ethnic groups (this book suffering both from extreme cultural reductionnism and scores of the "little nigger servant" colonial syndrome), we decided it was too much after stepping into a strange pyramid where any simpleton could conjure Nyarlathotep (with a so kitsch dialogue, you'd believe yourself in "The Mummy II") with a simple ligthting of a candle.
Sad thing to say, but the reputation of the Masks is far above what it is really: an interminable dungeon crawl with an evident storyline, a plot so shallow it doesn't stand deductive analysis and a profound lack of depth in characters animated by illogical or contradictory motives. Perhaps we, as a group, were too old or too educated (we're all Ph.D. or M.Sc. students or so) to appreciate this, but compared to many other rpg campaigns (such as Nephilim's or even some of TSR's classic D&D, such as Castle Ambreville or The Masked Sect), the Masks just don't stand the road. It was the first time ever in our gaming group that the players decided unanimously to drop the adventure at mid-time.
Aside from its length, I simply cannot give any positive feedback on it - except as a good game for target practice. With more work, there would have been the basis for a campaign, though the Masks lack a few important things: 1) a plot line; 2) believable and logical characters; 3) intellectual challgenges for players having 12 years of "Call of Cthulhu" and roleplaying experience. The overall feeling is that the campaign was never intented as a publication, but as notes for a game master already knowning his/her story. (The global disorganization and lack of index seems concordant with this.) Sad thing we lost both our time and our GM's motivation as she was trying to sort out something out of this - we could have played something more interesting meanwhile.