Tabletop RPG Review: Bayt Al Azif Issue 2

The second issue of Bayt Al Azif, the contemporary Lovecraftian roleplaying magazine, features more excellent work.  Like the first issue, it has several articles, including a sort of annual retrospective of Mythos-related gaming releases from 2018, and three adventures set in various times.  As with the first issue, and I suppose with anything like this, some will be useful, some interesting, and some might just result in a quick skim.  Your experience may vary.

Funny enough, the 2018 retrospective mentions that not a lot of stuff came out from the big Mythos RPG producers, yet ends up covering a ton of material.  Granted, there’s a lot about zines and such from small and garage presses.  2018 was about the point where I was finally starting to shake off my decade plus lapse in gaming and making my first plans to try my hand at running some games again, which would finally come to fruition in 2019…only to be derailed by a global pandemic…sigh. It also seems to be about the time when Chaosium, a company near and dear to my heart, really started to rejuvenate in earnest with the new Masks of Nyarlathotep and the Starter Set coming out (after a big shake-up at the company).

There’s an interview with Lynne Hardy, a major figure in Lovecraftian gaming, who has become a major player in Chaosium.  There’s also an interview with some folks who ran a German magazine devoted to Lovecraftian gaming.  Another entry in the Sites of Antiquity series gives some inspiration for a keeper.

An article I found both fascinating and a bit frustrating was Adapting a Scenario (Our Ladies of Sorrow) by Lisa Padol.  I don’t think there is one “right” way to play RPGs or to be a game master/keeper/etc.  I don’t think it’s virtuous to only run material that you’ve created from scratch.  However, for whatever reason, I’ve run games from scratch almost exclusively until recent years.  In fact, before running some Dungeon Crawl Classics modules a couple years ago, the only pre-written thing I’d used was the venerable Call of Cthulhu scenario The Haunting, which I’d altered to the point that someone who’d played it before only recognized it when the climax hit.  Yet, I’ve often found myself wanting to run published scenarios.  Heck, I very much want to run Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express (as well as Children of Fear and some others) at some point.  However, adapting and modifying a short, simple little thing like The Haunting, is not the same as tackling a larger project.  And you might ask, why would you?  With this article, Padol tackles making major changes to a published scenario.  Not only with specifics about changes that were made, but also reasons.  From shifting the scenario out of the Call of Cthulhu rules set over to Trail of Cthulhu, there were a few challenges.  Not too much, really, but they were present.  Changing the era was a bit bigger.  Padol’s ongoing game apparently had reached the 1960s and was set in New York City.  So that required a lot of surface alterations.  From there, the author talked about improving hooks to get the PCs involved and to interweave the story with their characters.  I think this is all very important stuff.  It’s important to let keepers (and players) know that it’s your game.  Once you’ve paid the money and have the books, they’re yours to do with what you will.  Nobody is going to be showing up at your door to police how you’re running Call of Cthulhu.  What kept me from using modules for a long time was that I’d often read through them and say to myself, “this doesn’t fit with the characters in my game.”  I didn’t think, “if I change X, Y, and Z and I turn A into B and B into Green, then this would actually work really well with my group.  It’s a different way of thinking about stuff, and I think it’s important to know about.  Where the article falls down for me is in the specifics.  I don’t mean what Lisa Padol did to alter the scenario, but the specifics of what, how, and why.  If this had been about a classic, frequently played, and easily available scenario like The Haunting, I’d probably have been fine.  I know it pretty well and I have a couple different editions of the scenario that I could consult to see what the original said and what the changes would mean.  However, I’d never even heard of Our Ladies of Sorrow and it appears to be very out of print.  Thus, throughout the article, there’s a lot of talk about changes made, but I didn’t really understand exactly what was being changed.  Maybe the lack is in me, but I felt like I wasn’t getting nearly enough nitty gritty, practical advice on how I might modify a published scenario to fit my own game.  The only way I could see the article having just what I need would be to use extensive quotes from the original, that would probably double the length of the article, which is no doubt impractical.  I realize I have just spent an awful lot of space on what probably comes off as a big ol’ negative complaint, but I actually found the article very interesting.  However, it left me frustrated because it didn’t go deep in the places I really wanted.  I wish that I could sit down with the author and have a conversation about all this.  I wanted to ask follow-up questions in almost every paragraph.  Anyway, I think this is a very worthy subject that could be talked about at length.  I’d love to see it explored more and in more depth (and with more practical advice).  

On a total tangent to my previous rant, Padol’s article also made me feel oddly nostalgic about my old days of gaming back in the early 90s.  Something about the group’s make up and dynamic, as well as what is clearly a long and developed history for the characters and their relationships reminds me of a type of gaming I haven’t really been involved with in decades.  I miss having a really committed group of players sitting around a table every week for a few hours, making some magic and memories that last a lifetime.

As far as the adventures go, the first, False Friends, is set in the Weimar Republic.  I haven’t read Berlin: The Wicked City, but I’m assuming this would fit right in with that work.  It does seem like a rich time and place to draw from for some Mythos madness.  The scenario seems fairly simple, and I know it can be used to lead into another scenario that appears in the following issue of the magazine (I’ll read that at some point).

Nighted is set in the late 1800s and is rather odd.  I think there’s a lot of potential here, but also a lot of potential for it to go off the rails.  I think it could be fun to fiddle with this a bit and link it to either a King in Yellow themed campaign or as some kind of prequel/flashback to a Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign.  I’m not really sure how I’d do that, but it might be worth the effort of exploring.

The third scenario is Beasts of Gévaudan.  This one has a lot of cool potential for connections if you were so inclined.  Taking place 22 years (not 12 as it says in a sidebar) before the French Revolution, it might be interesting to have younger characters from this come back in Reign of Terror.  Sadly, I have also not read Reign of Terror yet, but I understand that it can be used as a prequel/flashback for Horror on the Orient Express.  I really love the idea of connecting these scenarios back to various points in history.
While I mentioned that the three scenarios could be linked into other products and campaigns, they are written to be run as stand-alones, so it’s not like you need to figure out how to weave them into a longer game.

This review has turned out to be a bit longer than I’d anticipated.  I’ll sum up by saying if you’re into Mythos related RPGs, then you should definitely pick this up.  It reminds me of the glory days of early The Unspeakable Oath.  Folks who have spent a lot of time thinking about various things, putting it out there for you to read, absorb, and maybe use.  Scenarios are a handy thing to have in your pocket.  If, like me, you’re trying to embrace published scenarios, but you’re unable to leave them be as written, then the article about adapting scenarios is at least a good place to start.  (Darn it, I want to have a much longer conversation about that!).  This is good stuff and you should support it.

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