The Arkham Gazette, Issue 1
Publisher: Sentinel Hill Press
Page Count: 58
Release Date: 11/11/2013
Get it Here: Sentinel Hill Press
I love gaming magazines. It’s a silly concept in this day and age of everything being online, but I grew up with White Wolf Magazine, subscriptions to Dungeon and Dragon and I even flipped through an Inquest here and there. That’s why I’m happy to see a renaissance of gaming magazine as of late. Sure we lost Kobold Quarterly but with The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine still in physical form, this side of the industry is far from dead. There are also wonderful free gaming magazines devoted to a single tabletop brand. Pathways for Pathfinder, The Savage Insider for Savage Worlds and so on. Now Call of Cthulhu gets its own free magazine in The Arkham Gazette. It’s only available digitally, so don’t bother looking for a dead tree edition. It’s also FREE as I have stated which means if you’re a fan of Call of Cthulhu in the slightest you should download this because it’s nearly six pages of FREE content. Have I mentioned that The Arkham Gazette is free? Because it’s free.
There are eight articles in this first issue of The Arkham Gazette, as well as an introduction from Bret Kramer, the brains behind the publication. I should also point out that instead of using new commissioned art, The Arkham Gazette uses photographs and fair use art from way, way back. It also uses the Elder Sign from Simon’s version of The Necromonicon. The articles vary from adventures to in-depth looks at locations around Lovecraft’s famous fictional city. There’s even a listing of every (!) adventure ever published for Call of Cthulhu that uses Arkham as a backdrop. Finally, before I get into a review of each article, I should also point out that The Arkham Gazette uses the Cristoforo font, a nod to both the classic Call of Cthulhu publications from the 1980s and a successful Kickstarter campaign..
Our first article is “Locations in Greater Arkham” which looks at six locations left out of the Arkham Unveiled book, mainly because these places came about after the release of that aforementioned campaign setting by Chaosium. Each location is given several paragraphs (usually half a page) of information and also a location number for use with Arkham Unveiled. I really loved this piece as Arkham Unveiled originally came out in 1990 and the most recent release was in 2002, so a update to this book was needed in the same way we’re on the fifth edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep. My favorite of the six was the Aylesbury Hill Graveyard, but all the locations are a wonderful read. I printed off these pages and tucked them into my first edition Arkham Unveiled.
Our next article is “The Gladding School” and it’s a new location rife with potential story seeds, both supernatural and mundane – but horrific on some level. The school is for children with genetic based mental ailments – retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome, extra or missing chromosome based disorders, you get the picture. Unfortunately there are some perfect healthy children whose parents or guardians simply didn’t want them have been shipped to the school. As well, teenage girls who have had children outside of wedlock can be found here. So it’s not necessarily the nicest place in Arkham. To make matters worse, the previous director was doing….let’s just say unethical things to some of the children and the Keeper who uses this location gets to decide WHAT exactly went on. “The Gladding School” is a wonderful look at how a location that could easily exist in the real world can still provide moments of horror and disgust, all without having a single dimensional shambler or Deep One rearing their ugly head. Very well done.
Next up is, “The Thaumaturgical Prodigies of the New England Canaan,” which is a look at a decently known Mythos book (Still fictional though people). This history of the book tries to rectify and explain the differences between the version as described by Lovecraft and the version described by August Derleth. I’m glad they did this because some people are Lovecraftian purists and don’t want any extra content, be it by Derleth, Chambers, or some other Mythos author to tarnish the original Mythos vision. Still others prefer the other Mythos authors to Lovecraft and this way both versions of the book, both the 1697 and the 1801 versions, can co-exist peacefully in your CoC campaign. You’re given a rich history of the book and its author along with stats for three different editions of the book to throw at your Investigators. Nicely done.
Article number four is “Arkham’s Boundary Markers,” which plays off of the idea that many old New England towns have boundary stones to mark the original borders of the location. Arkham, of course, would be no different. The article then gives four potential story hooks to bring the boundary stones into play with your Investigators. They can be the focal point of an adventure or just some nice fleshing out of Arkham for your players. This is just a well written article that isn’t a game changer for CoC by any stretch of the imagination, but shows some nice outside the box thinking.
Our feature scenario seed is “The Case of the Missing Manhole Covers,” which gives you the basic plot (summed up by the adventure title) and three possible culprits behind the disturbance and their reasons for doing so. I personally prefer the mundane, non supernatural choice and I’m glad that three of the potential adventures here offer that option. I love throwing a “Scooby-Doo” ending at players (our vernacular for non supernatural endings to an adventure) because it throws even experienced CoC gamers off. After all, if every adventure has players defeating an ancient indescribable alien evil, then these horrors cease to be frightening or creepy and you might as well be fighting orcs in D&D. This option is only a page long but it’s a lot of fun and definitely something to turn into a one-shot adventure.
“Documentary Evidence –Report of Delusions of an Invisible Monster” is the next article and while three of these four pages are EXCEPTIONALLY DRY and almost dull, they are purposely written that way, making it a wonderful emulation of an actual research paper or piece intended for printing in a medical journal. These first three pages not only act as a story seed, but as a handout for players to read. The fourth page is Keeper based information to help them form the potential adventure. Another nice article.
“The Bosworth House” is our penultimate article and it’s also the feature adventure for this issue ofThe Arkham Gazette. I absolutely loved this adventure and it’s one of my favorite Call of Cthulhu releases of the year. Why? Because this FREE adventure actually captures a level of confusion and horror so many published pieces we pay money for completely screw up on. Too many adventures are “Investigators vs Antagonist” and ends with either a Total Party Kill or the Investigators saving the day. Reread your Lovecraft. Sometimes there wasn’t an antagonist. Very rarely was there a troupe of characters out to foil a furious plot. Often times the endings were obscure and only hinted at what was going on. Sometimes the story left you with more questions than answers. “The Bosworth House” is just such an adventure. It’s “unwinnable” in that there isn’t an end game or a big boss. Is it creepy, potentially horrific and even a bit melancholic? Yes. Are the players ever going to understand 100% of what is going on? Nope. The adventure even gives a sidebar disclaimer saying that if your players try to “win” scenarios or pidgeonhole adventures into a 1920s dungeon crawl, they are NOT going to be happy with this one. If however, they want something more reminiscent of a Robert Chambers story, this is a great one. Extra props for the homages to “The Yellow Wallpaper” which I’ve subtly used in a few of my CoC adventures as well.
“The Bosworth House” can be run as mundane or supernatural as you want it to be. The goal of the adventure is for Investigators to figure out why a woman killed her husband. What drove her into madness and thus gave her reason to commit such an act? Maybe it was post-mortem induced depression or perhaps the house is a quasi gateway to Hali with the inhabitants of Carcosa making subtle and unintended influences on those that dwell within this building. Again, I would personally go the mundane route with this adventure to fix things up, but throw in a few potential supernatural occurrences explained away by the slowly eroding sanity of the Investigators. After all, once you realize there are fiendish thingies out their lurking on the edges of man’s domain, it’s not hard to start jumping at shadows.
Finally we have “Arkham Scenarios,” which gives us a list of every adventure for Call of Cthulhu ever published that takes place in 1920s Arkham, even if for only a short piece of the scenario. This article takes up a whopping fifteen pages and lists sixty different adventures, even in alphabetical order. Sixty adventures actually seemed like a very low number to me. I would have figured after thirty years, there would be at least 100 adventures set in Arkham during the 1920s for Call of Cthulhu, but apparently not. While the article does not contain adventures set in a different time period, such as those found in Arkham Now or even ones in the 1910 or 1930s, it is exceptionally up to date, even including releases as late as October 2013 like Canis Mysterium and The Island of Ignorance. I was exceedingly impressed by this piece of research and this alone is well worth picking up The Arkham Gazette, Issue 1 because it is so exceedingly useful. I’m still shocked there are so little adventures set in Arkham during the 1920s. I think I have more Ravenloft adventures for 2e AD&D than that! Do I smell a potential monograph brewing?
Overall, this is the first gaming magazine in a long time where I can conclusively say that I enjoyed every article in an issue. Usually there are a few stinkers because with so many writers and so many short pieces, it’s hard to universally enjoy everything in a magazine. The first issue of The Arkham Gazette pulled off this incredible feat and so the authors behind it deserve a heaping amount of praise for what they’ve put together. Of course, the question that then comes up is whether or not they can make two issues in a row of this quality. Again, this magazine is a freebie, so now that you’ve read my four pages of blather on it, go over to Sentinel Hill’s website (link provided at the top of the review) and download this already!