Tabletop Review: The Arkham Gazette, Issue 2: Innsmouth (Call of Cthulhu)

The Arkham Gazette, Issue 2: Innsmouth
Publisher: Sentinel Hill Press
Cost: FREE
Page Count: 83
Release Date: 05/08/2014
Get it Here: Sentinel Hill Press

Back in November of 2013, I stumbled across a new Call of Cthulhu gaming periodical entitled The Arkham Gazette. Not only was it free, but it was one of the best gaming magazines I’ve seen in a very long time. The second issue was originally scheduled for Feburary of 2014, but like most gaming publications these days, it missed the mark by a few month. Don’t feel bad though. I can’t remember the last gaming magazine to get more than two or three issues out in a year. Gygax Magazine hasn’t gotten an issue out this entire calendar year, for example.

This second issue of The Arkham Gazette focuses heavily on Innsmouth (although some content is Kingsporr oriented) and it is of the same high quality of the first issue. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take late but great over on time, but mediocre and pricey. This issue includes twelve articles and each one is pretty fantastic. Now obviously this is pure Call of Cthulhu, so if you’re not interested in Chaosium’s venerable old system or its many spin-offs, you probably find much use for this publication. If however, you are like me and have a bookcase full of long out of print sourcebooks and adventures for this system, you’re going to love this magazine. It’s very in-depth and talks about all sort of little overlooked pieces in such detail that Lovecraft himself would probably find great joy in it. You can’t ask for better than that. Here’s a look at what you’ll find in this issue:

Article 1: From the History Books – Shadows of Polynesia. This article tries to gives a culture and back story to the nameless island Obed Marsh first encountered “east of Othaheite.” While it doesn’t attempt to pinpoint the exact longitude and latitude of the island, it does attempt to bring its people in line with other Polynesia cultures in terms of tools, objects, rituals, and weapons. I loved the section on Innsmouth Chowder and I especially loved seeing a bibliography to this piece. This is a fun article and even though the chance of your Investigators ever encountering first generation “Kanaks” is slim to none, it only makes sense that the inhabitants of Innsmouth would takes bits of the Polynesian culture back with them the same way they took…interesting mates.

Article 2: Deep Background – Greater Innsmouth Locations. This article fleshes out some places in the fictional town of Innsmouth for use in your game. You’ve got the Skivern Rock Lighthouse and the Rawston Memorial Company. It’s a short but detail packed piece that gives you two places for your Investigators to explore and possibly meet a gruesome end in.

Article 3: New item – The Hymnal of the E.O.D. This is an article about a new tome players can find to help them learn about the seamy underbelly of Innsmouth along with the prevailing religion of choice amongst the townsfolk. Now this isn’t a Necronomicon or some ancient grimoire that will give a character a dump truck full of Cthulhu Mythos Points. No, it’s just a very creepy hymnbook talking about the glory of Dagon and the need to horribly murder its enemies. It’s very well done and the entry also includes two possible scenario hooks for an enterprising Keeper.

Article 4: Arcane Etymology – Notes on the Name “Dagon.” This is a great article and something very similar to a piece I wrote back in the mid to late 90s. Great minds think alike, I guess. This piece talks about the origins of the historical Dagon and how it has changed from being a Mespotamian grain god to a Judeo-Christian accidental fish-god to the lord of Deep Ones we now know it as. Great work here. It could have used a bibliography but that’s my only complaint.

Article 5: Deep Background – Innsmouth’s Cemeteries. This is seven pages on various cemeteries to be found within Innsmouth’s borders. Each is a different state of disarray and it was really interesting to read about each of them. Some are just there as colorful backdrops, while others contain potentially important plot points (no pun intended) such as the grave of Ephraim Waite to the tomb of Obed Marsh himself. There’s also a fun sidebar about burial records for Innsmouth as well as 19th century practices for much of New England. Great stuff. I’d have liked it to be next to the other “Deep Background” article for a better flow, but that’s a minor quibble at best.

Article 6: The Biblio-File: The Ponape Scripture. Another Deep One related book. In this case, the Ponape Scripture is meant to be a translation of a text made by some South Seas tribe worship strange aquatic hybrids. I’ll give you three guess who they are. There are many different versions of the Ponape Scripture included here, ranging from the original which is a collection of palm leaves with glyphs down to the various translations made over the years, starting with that of one Captain Hoag. This is a very long and informative article. If you’re like me and are more of a non-fiction than a fiction reader, you’ll love all ten pages devoted to the faux history of an tome that will only exist in your Call of Cthulhu game. Some of you might read it and wonder why someone would go to all this trouble for a book that might be used in an adventure once by a fraction of the small audience that knows about The Arkham Gazette. To that I say, because the writer had fun creative such an exhaustive piece and any Keeper that uses the Ponape Scripture now has a ton of content and possible adventure seeds to use. This was one of my favorite articles in the collection by far.

Article 7: Deep Background – “The Maine Abyss Just Beyond Devil Reef.” Now this is the type of article I love to see. It’s imaginative and yet completely grounded in reality. It takes Lovecraft’s creation of Y’ha-nthlei, which is supposedly in a marine abyss right outside of Innsmouth with the harsh reality that the deepest area around the southern Gulf of Maine is at most, a few dozen fathoms deep (maybe more with global warming getting worse?). What to do, especially if you have one of those gaming troupes who has a player that nitpicks everything? Well, you move the land of the Deep Ones to a more believable location that is still close by Innsmouth. This article names three possible sites for Y’ha-ntheli. Such a fun and awesome idea. Great job!

Article 8: From the History Books – Edward S. Morse, Zoologist and Orientalist. This is an article about converting a real life historical figure into Call of Cthulhu or Cthulhu by Gaslight form. He could be a major or minor NPC or just a bit of flavor providing a cameo or a finger that points the Investigators in the right direction.

Article 9: Curious New England – The Feejee Mermaid. Ah the Feejee Mermaid. People will never get tired about reading about or seeing this little guy. As an avid fan of sideshow history, this was a fun inclusion in this issue, even if it’s really not Innsmouth related. The article turns the Feejee Mermaid from a P.T. Barnum scam into an actual creature based on Japanese folklore. I guess that would make this a Yokai of sorts. Of course, this is only one possibility. The text also gives you a whopping six story hooks, all of which seem like they would be a lot of fun to turn into a full fledged adventure.

Article 10: Deep Background – Innsmouth Gold. This is a wonderful article. If you haven’t actually read The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the whole reason Obed Marsh strikes a deal with the nameless island and the Deep Ones is due to his lust for Gold. Marsh and Innsmouth get gold and the Deep Ones get women. However, most articles, stories and adventures about the town tend to lack the copious amounts of gold the town should have? Why? Where is it? What happened to it? Well, this article tries to answer that question! “Innsmouth Gold” gives you locations where you can find some Deep One bullion around Lovecraft Country, like the Newburyport Historical Society and Miskatonic University. This eleven page article also gives examples of more exotic locations to find traces of the Deep One’s side of the pact, reasons why gold isn’t very common in New England, and how the Marsh family sells and stores their gold without being noticed or robbed. There are a lot of story opportunities here, I’ll tell you that! Finally, you get a look at some effects that Deep One gold can have on those bearing the taint and some other unusual properties is may contain if the Keeper feels like it. This is another exceptional article and it’s something I think most CoC fans will enjoy. Such a great change from the usual generic rigmarole article we see for CoC these days.

Article 11: Scenario – Drawn From the Water. This is a full length scenario for your CoC game. Although the adventure doesn’t take place in Innsmouth at all, there are some red herrings that can cause players to show up there and go completely off rails. There aren’t any Deep Ones either, so this is an interesting choice for an “Innsmouth” themed issue. Eh. Things don’t have to be 100% thematic, right? Anyway, this adventure takes place primarily in Kingsport and features a Yugg, who is a servant of Zoth-Ommog (The Great Old One, not the record label…although that might make an awesome Cthulhu Now adventure.). The Yugg is bonded with a young artist whose works are fueled by their connection even as it drives him further into insanity’s clutches. There’s a really nice false finish here and while a bit pat in some ways, it’s great to see Kingsport get some attention (between this and the new Cthulhu: Hastur La Vista Babya game, it’s getting the spotlight back!) and the adventure is a lot of fun. It’s better than some “for pay” adventures I’ve had to look at in the past few years, so by all means, download The Arkham Gazette, Issue 2 just for this!

Article 12: Annotated Bibliography – Innsmouth and Deep Ones Scenarios. Much like the one that awas done for Arkham in the previous issue, this thing is amazing and a bit frightening when you think of the sheer amount of work that had to go into its creation. This bibliography lists every adventure featuring Innsmouth as a location and/or Deep One as a potential antagonist for the Call of Cthulhu system. No, I say every, but I don’t know for sure. That’s a pretty hard thing to prove/pin down, but as it runs five pages, I’m going to assume it is close. Right off the bad I do notice it is missing the truly awful Arkham Case Files: Deep Morgue, so there are gaps…although in this case, that might be a blessing. I do love this thing though and these bibliographies are a Keeper’s dream come true and the main reason I look forward to these magazines whenever they come out. They’re so well done and they can lead you to a book or adventure you might not know exists!

Anyway, we’ve run out of articles to cover and I’ve been pretty exhaustive with my praise for this piece. I really hope we can get a second issue of The Arkham Gazette out this year as two issues in, it’s already the best CoC magazine I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been playing this game for twenty five years). If more people could get behind The Arkham Gazette and supply it with the same high quality articles it currently has, this could be a real game changes – not just for Call of Cthulhu, but the standard we hold other gaming magazines to in this day and age. Just go out and download this already, why don’t you?

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