Review of Secrets of Los Angeles

Review Summary
Comped Capsule Review
Written Review

September 22, 2008

by: Christopher W. Richeson

Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

An excellent setting book for those interested in really exploring L.A. as it was in the 1920s, but with things lurking in the darkness.

Christopher W. Richeson has written 252 reviews, with average style of 3.75 and average substance of 3.74 The reviewer's previous review was of Call of Cthulhu Sixth Edition.

This review has been read 5504 times.

Product Summary
Name: Secrets of Los Angeles
Publisher: Chaosium
Line: Call of Cthulhu: 1920s
Author: Peter Aperlo
Category: RPG

Cost: $24.95
Pages: 192
Year: 2007

SKU: 23111
ISBN: 978-1-56882-213-6

Review of Secrets of Los Angeles

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In Short

Secrets of Los Angeles seeks to merge the historical 1920s Los Angeles with a good amount of Mythos lore to create a setting filled with vice, corruption, and horrors beyond humanityís understanding. Two well written adventures, a history of the area, an enormous number of locations complete with people and places of interest, and plenty of period photographs come together to provide an excellent campaign resource for any Keeper interested in 1920s investigation.

The Good: Thereís a lot of material here to play with, far more than a Keeper could even take in with just one reading. For sandbox play, that is play where characters interact with the world without a set plot being presented, this product is fantastic because just by living in and interacting with the city characters are likely to stumble upon bizarre happenings, interesting historical figures, and situations ripe for drama. The writing is surprisingly engaging even when presenting some of the dryer subject matter.

The Bad: There may not be enough Mythos specific content here to please some readers. The Mythos is integrated into Los Angeles in a subtle way, and a Keeper making use of this product is probably expected to either include non-Mythos plots or to add their own touch to the historical setting. Just keep in mind that this book is as much about the history of Los Angeles as it is about investigators adventuring there, and that the goal is to create a vivid setting while showing how Mythos entities lurk in the shadows.

The Physical Thing

This 192 page black and white softcover showcases fantastic production values for its $24.95 price tag. Period photos are used extensively to show off important people and places, which works very well to set the mood of the product and to keep the readerís mindset firmly in the 1920s. Period specific maps directly tied to the many place locations really assist in providing the reader with a sense of the city as a whole. Good editing and formatting aid in creating an excellent product.

Under the Cover

Secrets of Los Angeles broadly includes three types of supporting information. First is a history that extends back millions of years to about 1930. Second is an enormous number of people and places split up geographically across the city. Finally, the book includes two short adventures for the city ready to be run right out the gate. Letís examine each of these in turn.

History - 22 pages.

The Yith and Serpent People receive the most attention in the history, which provides just enough detail for Keepers to get a sense of what was going on in the area in the distant past. The main focus, though, is on recent events and the modern day. Travel, Climate, Geography, Politics, Cops and Robbers, and similar information is all included and itís easy to read. Politics and Cops and Robbers start paving the way for lots of intrigue and drama that can easily be added to any game. Just add a supernatural twist and off you go.

A nice mixture of Keeper support begins here and continues throughout the book. Useful sidebars like a history of the police chiefs, the naming convention for L.A. streets, and a pronunciation guide to help you talk like a local are all worthwhile additions. Side profiles, taking up about a third of a page, of important people in the time period begin here as well. A large number of celebrities end up being profiled before the end of the book, and while they have no connection to the Mythos the profiles do serve the Keeper by giving them insight into the life of the times and assisting in introducing these people into adventures.

Places and People - 114 pages.

A truly enormous number of people and locations are given short overviews here, complete with plot hooks and stats. While the focus does tend towards the historical, many subtle and hidden horrors are worked in as well. Consider one of my favorites, a talent agent who preys on young people looking for fame and fortune. They make tasty meals, and since the people often fail to leave a forwarding address to the folk back home the crime is easy to get away with. This is a sort of floating plot hook, something the Keeper might remember when she wants to throw out a new story hook or just for when the characters happen to meet with a talent agent.

I know Iíve been mentioning it, but I want to stress that Secrets of Los Angeles is going to appeal the most to folk who are excited about running a game set in L.A. in the 20s or early 30s. Thereís very little material you can mine for other games, and if you only want an overview of the city and a bunch of supernatural baddies then this isnít the product for you. Those who enjoy history and really diving into the setting, however, will love the dedication to detail included here.

This portion of the book really works to provide Keepers with almost all of the campaign preparation they need. With so many major and minor NPCs along with maps and photos itís easy to throw in a few unique hooks and play from there.

Adventures and Support - 30 pages.

By support Iím referring to the smattering of spells and critters included here. Three unique creatures, a few pages of tomes and spells, local avatars, and similar information occupy a small portion at the end of the book. The best thing about all of this is that it does have a California / South American feel to it, and much of it has that beautiful combination of being bizarre, horrific, and intriguing that Iíve come to love in the Mythos. On the whole itís solid support for the setting, and I especially like the fact that it isnít clearly integrated into the material covering L.A. This makes it ripe for Keepers who want to throw in bizarre events of their own creation that also build on the regions occult traditions.

The adventures feature a deep one plot and a yithian mystery, respectively, and I think they would both be enjoyable to run. The one focusing on the deep ones does seem a little difficult, however, especially given the fact that killing or explosives seems to be one of the best ways to resolve the scenario. This may strongly cut against the feel of play some Keepers strive for, but then again L.A. is a pretty rough town and several characters should probably be able to get tough when they have to.

The yithian mystery focuses more on the fun of unraveling the mystery and discovering some of the hidden truths of the world. On the whole I enjoyed it a lot more and am much more likely to run it, especially for a group that prefers mystery and theatrical acting.

My Take

This is an absolutely top notch setting book, but only if youíre sold on the idea of 1920s action and investigation in crime filled L.A. If youíre looking for something to mine ideas from or to use only partially then itís probably worth giving Secrets of Los Angeles a pass.

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