Review of 'Unduying Leaders', which I wrote 2 years ago but never got round to posting.
â€˜Undying Leadersâ€™ is a book of two parts: the initial section covers the essentials of succesfully incorporating Lovecraftian sorcerers in a CoC roleplaying campaign; the latter section provides a campaign centred around the undying leaders of Tibet.
Plenty of background information is provided in the first 14 pages, covering all the important aspects necessary to flesh out an immortal wizardâ€™s life and extend it into the past with information on medieval literacy centres, secret societies and mythos races â€“ all of potential interest to a wizard bent on acquiring secret knowledge and gaining personal power. This section wouldnâ€™t be out of place as rulebook or keeperâ€™s sourcebook material, although parts of it that refer to possible relations of undying leaders and mythos races are quite derivative of the CoC rulebook.
*warning: from this point on, review contains spoilers for the campaign part of the book, please read on only if you are a Keeper*
The second part is 60 pages long and contains the campaign, consisting of three scenarios. It is much more hit and miss â€“ the campaign kicks off from an interesting quote about undying leaders of the Cthulhu cult in the mountains of China taken from the â€˜Call of Cthulhuâ€™ story, which I thought was a great inspiration. However the campaign develops into a story with a very uneven flow and a lot of internal inconsistencies and illogical twists. For example, the author states accurately in the introductory section that the Mi-Go no longer seek conquest; but then in the first scenario, he introduces their plan to breed to such proportions as to overrun the whole of north Vermont. Similarly, in the second section, there is an incident with an undercover agent following the characters who then animates the mummy in order to discretely (?!) dispose of them. Unmotivated events such as these make suspension of disbelief somewhat hard to achieve. I also had a problem with the fact that the author seemed to want to include as many mythos races and creatures as possible: Mi-Gos, Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign (with tcho-tcho agents and agents with yellow-sign tatoos), byakhees, an animated mummy and a ghoul, together with the focal Cult of Cthulhu. The style of the campaign is very firmly rule-based, with plenty of game mechanics included, e.g. generating random encounters while travelling through Tibet. I do not particularly enjoy such style and would have preferred if the text included just a list of possible events that the author found atmospheric. Thereâ€™s also a great deal of railroading.
On the positive side, the author excels is in incorporating a lot of local detail into the background story â€“ for example, thereâ€™s fascinating information about Tibet scattered through the campaign. The same author wrote the â€˜Mysteries of Tibetâ€™ monograph, and it would be nice seeing him possibly getting together with some co-authors and hammering out a nice â€˜Secrets of Tibetâ€™-like volume containing the best of both of these books. More local mythos elements could be added and the central adventure in Tibet fleshed out. Iâ€™m thinking about Leng and Sung plateaus, Nikolas Roerichâ€™s Tibetan visions, Mme Blavatskyâ€™s ramblings about dugpas, nazi explorers with secret mythos agendas, or any of the ideas introduced in the excellent â€˜Secrets of Japanâ€™ which would be relevant to Tibet, such as the Brotherhood of the Black Lotus: worshippers of mythos entities with headquarters in Shamballah. Other creatures with Tibetan tie-ins would be the Emerald llama, feared by the sherpas, and his dark tome of the Forbidden Sutra. Tscho-tschos and their own Mythos-worshiping exploits could also make an appearance if necessary. Any of those would bring the much needed mythos juiciness to the story without seeming out of context and devoid of local flavour. Finally, a magnificent palace of the undying leaders could be described at the end â€“ I certainly wouldnâ€™t be spending my time sitting perpetually in a damp cave in the Himalayas if I was an immortal omniscient wizard. Even if thatâ€™s where he receives his audiences for maximal effect, there must be a somewhat more wholesome place to withdraw to at the end of the day.
Overall, my impression of the monograph is more positive than negative, as Chaosium monographs are supposed to be a series of books akin to rough diamonds. With additional work and some diligent editing, â€˜Undying leadersâ€™ could become an excellent campaign and a part of a wonderful CoC book on Tibet, a mysterious area of the world with extensive mythos connotations. I hope the author will find time to improve the book and look forward to reading this second edition.