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Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Bumper Book of Mythos Magic

It is surprising that after over thirty-five years of publishing history, there has just been the two supplements dedicated to the subject of magic in Lovecraftian investigative horror. One of these is for Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition, a Miskatonic University Library Association called Mythos Magic, which in 2007 provided “An Optional Magic System for Call of Cthulhu and Basic Roleplaying”. The other is Rough Magicks, a supplement for Trail of Cthulhu. Both are different treatments of the subject matter, but both left room for a supplement specifically and officially for Call of Cthulhu. That said, the publication of Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition in 2015 was a chance for the designers to re-examine how magic worked in the uncaring universe in which the Cthulhu Mythos is a reality. Now there is a third supplement, specifically for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, one which not only examines magic in the context of the Mythos, but also collates and updates over five hundred and fifty spells drawn for the last three decades and more of the roleplaying game.

It opens with sections concerning both magic and spells and this casting. This examines a caster’s state of mind, the nature of the sacrifice required to cast the spell, and whether or not the stars are right, the latter listing the spell associations and notes for days of the week, phases of the Moon, and notable pagan festivals, plus other astronomical events of note (comets, conjunctions, et cetera). Unless specifically given in the spell descriptions, it is left up to the Keeper to decide whether such requirements are pertinent to a spell’s casting (or if a Mythos sorcerer simply thinks they are). Further notes examine the importance of spell names, how they should be evocative and descriptive rather than matter of fact; deeper magic, essentially greater knowledge of how a particular spell works as known by the insane and as introduced in the Call of Cthulhu Keeper Rulebook; spellcasting difficulties and flawed spells; and spell components and magical tools, these last two supported by tables of suggestions that the Keeper can use to add flavour and detail the casting of spell should it warrant it.

The primary focus in The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic is of course upon the magic of the Mythos, but it does look at other traditions too—or at least traditions which fall on the outer remit of Mythos magic. One is folk magic, known by the wise woman, the witch, the shaman, and so on, though the Keeper is advised that such spells as Healing or Charm Animal may feel better suited to epic fantasy roleplaying games and so may not have a place in his Call of Cthulhu game. The other is Dreamlands magic, which is more a manifestation of the dream reality and again more akin to the magic of fantasy roleplaying games. The Keeper is given suggestions as to make them darker if he so desires.

Besides the desired effect of any spell, it is possible that there will be other side effects. One of these is to leave magical residue after a casting, after effects that linger as a certain wrongness perhaps making spells easier to cast or weakening the veil between the dimensions, allowing entities to slip in and out of our world. Alternative sites—perhaps connected by Ley Lines—lend themselves to similar confluences and perhaps similar side effects despite being of a more mortal tradition.

The content of the book devoted to the casting and the nature of spells runs only to a few pages and in fact, some eighty percent and more of The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic is simply concerned with listing the very many spells that have appeared in Call of Cthulhu over the years. Each entry lists the spell’s name, cost in terms of both Magic Points and Sanity points to cast, casting time, and alternative names, if any. A full description of the spell details what a spell does, its effects, possible consequences, and so on. Although the spells are listed alphabetically, some space is dedicated to their categorisation. There are some seventeen categories, from Banishment or Control, Bringing Forth Monsters and Gods, and Combat to Relating to Time, Transformation, and Travel and Transportation. This enables the Keeper to refer to spells by type as well as by name and helps him select spells more easily.

Also included in the book are the descriptions and write-ups of three sorcerers, all residents of Lovecraft Country. They include a witch who is a friend to a great many cults and who is looking to create a ‘great work’, a New England historian with a fascination with the dead, and a sorcerer blind to the dangers of pursuing magical knowledge at any cost. These are fully written up and illustrated and serve as sample, experienced practitioners of Mythos magic. As well as ready to play NPCs, they also lend themselves to the suggestion that a volume devoted to such individuals and their nefarious plans might not be unwarranted. 

It is difficult to point towards any omission in this book. Perhaps it would have been nice if the sources—the supplement, scenario, or campaign where they first appeared—of the more obscure spells might have been included with their entries, especially since the authors had to track them down anyway. This would certainly be of interest to the Call of Cthulhu scholar and collector (of which one of this book’s co-authors certainly is). The other is that the Keeper may need to refer to the Malleus Monstrorum for what exactly a spellcaster is contacting or summoning with some of the spells.

Physically, The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic is not as engaging as other more recent Call of Cthulhu supplements. It is still a full colour hardback, but it is lightly illustrated, which means that there is little to break up the book’s brown tones. Nevertheless, the book is not a bad looking affair, the artwork is decent, and the writing clear.

Fundamentally—and almost unlike any other roleplaying game where player characters run around casting spells willy nilly—The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic is not a book for the players of Call of Cthulhu. Given the dangers and difficulties of learning Mythos magic, let alone of those of casting it, most investigators will know little or nothing in the way of spells, so really their players will have little cause to consult this volume. That said, were a Keeper running a campaign of spell-slinging, Mythos monster summoning horror, then everyone’s need to crack open The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic would be another matter. As would a Pulp Cthulhu campaign were an investigator to possess the Arcane Insight talent which makes learning and casting spells a lot easier.

If not aimed at the players and their investigators, then The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic is very much a volume for the Keeper. It is a reference guide first and foremost, presenting an easy source to consult for all spells in the game, obviously for any Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition campaign or scenario, but also for campaigns or scenarios for previous editions of the game to update them to the current edition and make them easier to run under the current edition. It is also a source from which a Keeper can arm and equip the antagonists and other NPCs in his own campaigns and scenarios. For either purpose, The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic is an indispensable reference guide to the magic of the Mythos.