Miskatonic Country: A buyer’s guide (pt. 1)Leave a comment
December 2, 2020 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
The Arkham Gazette, our Journal of all things ‘Miskatonic Country’, expands upon a series of now three-decades-old releases from Chaosium, the Lovecraft Country series of books. While we go into a lot of detail about the books that make up this series in our latest release Miskatonic Country Scenarios: A Keeper’s Guide (BUY IT NOW), I wanted to offer a quick guide here on the Sentinel Hill Press blog dedicated to helping new Keepers who want to dive into Miskatonic Country but are unsure of where to start, focusing on what books are readily available without turning to secondary markets.
I know at this point a certain segments of readers are wondering to themselves “why not just get these books on some pirate site?” Speaking as a book consumer, I know that it is frustrating to not be able to find a specific book or scenario or to find them priced so exorbitantly that you can’t justify their purchase. I’ve never come across a pirate site that only deals in old and rare out of print RPG books though. We can argue the economics of piracy’s ultimate impact on sales, but at a fundamental level it is disrespectful to the creators who made a book to steal it.
With that out of the way, let’s look at what Miskatonic Country materials are out there…
the Core Books
At the heart of Miskatonic Country are the four source books for the main towns – Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. Two of these books are available for download (links are in the item header):
This is the proverbially grand-daddy of the series is this extensive guide to Lovecraft’s most famous creation. I posted the cover of the 1990 version because it is my favorite – the version available for purchase is the 2003 update H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham, which includes game information for the d20 Call of Cthulhu rules. This version of the book contains 4 scenarios:
- The Books of Uncle Silas
- The Condemned
- The Dead of Night
- The Hills Rise Wild
Of these three scenarios, the first three are set exclusively in Arkham while the last one is mostly set in Dunwich.
The bulk of the book is taken up with a description of the town of Arkham as well as the surrounding environs (some of which was covered in later works, such as Kingsport Head). The level of detail and historical accuracy is impressive, with more than 200 numbered locations in Arkham covering everything from Ace Alarms and Lock-Safes to the World-Wide Clipping Service (sorry, no X-Y-Z businesses). As far as I can tell, Keith Herber included every detail of Arkham as mentioned by Lovecraft (augmented, pardon the pun, by selected items from August Derleth and a few other sources), though many of the elements that have become ubiquitous in future Arkham scenarios, such as the criminal element, were wholly his own invention.
There is more than enough here to run your own Arkham-centered campaign, though if you’re making use of Miskatonic University there are some other works (see below) that offer even greater detail. One issue that contemporary Keepers should consider is that while the setting materials do not wholly ignore minority people and issues of ethnicity – Irish, Italian, and French-Canadians neighborhoods and NPC appear – people of color are almost wholly absent. Hopefully an future update corrects this.
The other core location book still available is the guide to Dunwich – in fact, Chaosium’s US warehouse still has a small number of print copies available for a very reasonable price.
This book covers Dunwich and the shunned hill-country that surrounds it, with more than 100 entries. Like Arkham it incorporates all the details one can extract from Lovecraft’s writings – if someone is mentioned by name in “The Dunwich Horror” they appear in this book. August Derleth’s Dunwich stories are mostly ignored – sorry fan of “The Horror from the Middle Span” – but a few ideas are gleaned from Robert Bloch and (especially) Clark Ashton Smith that greatly enrich the setting.
Unlike in Arkham, the locations described are almost always farmers and other inhabitants of the region rather than businesses (of which Dunwich effectively has one) driving a very interpersonal sort of play – investigators must work out which locals are helpful rather than distrustful, dangerous, or even insane.
There are no scenarios in the book in a traditional sense, though there is one lengthy encounter (“Earth, Sun, Sky”) and the other (“Return to Dunwich”) is more of a long scenario/campaign outline. It would be more of a challenge to set a campaign wholly in Dunwich but Keeper are very well supported in creating scenarios set there, providing a stark contrast to urban, “civilized” Arkham.
Two books share the name Miskatonic University. The first, published in 1995 has the full name of Miskatonic University: the University Guide Book. The 2003 version is Miskatonic University: Dire Secrets & Campus Life.
Each edition of this book built on previous work – 1995 expanded Keith Herber’s (heavily drawn from Lovecraft) portrait of the school while adding in general information about how a university operated in the 1920s, filling out the roster of the staff, and otherwise making it possible to set a campaign there.
The 2003 version took Sandy Antunes work and added in details from other published RPG sources and adding several underlying plot threads throughout campus, offering Keepers several potential foundational elements for a campaign. Reviewers were somewhat unimpressed by the focus on non-Mythos elements but there isn’t anything structurally wrong here that Keepers cannot adjust to make MU their own.
The revised guide also included one scenario – “A Little Knowledge”, which had previously appeared in Arkham Unveiled.
In 2009 Chaosium published Arkham Now, a modern-day interpretation of Arkham. The response of readers was at best mixed; from conversations with the authors (both of whom are Massachusetts natives) it seems there were productions troubles on the publisher’s end so the finished product was not what they would have liked. For Keepers running a classic-era campaign there isn’t much worthwhile new information about Arkham within save perhaps the trio of scenarios, some of which can be reworked to be run in eras other than the modern day.
Three scenarios are:
- Lost in a Book
- I Did What the Virgin Asked
- Lonely Hearts (Taste Great)
Coming up – part two in which we look at available Miskatonic Country scenario collections…