In many ways, North Africa seems tailor-made for the concept of mixing World War 2 action with the Cthulhu Mythos... after all, it's got Egypt in it! But as this book reveals there is a lot more to be found than the secrets of ancient Egypt, although they do come in handy in the fight against the Things That Should Not Be.
After an introduction that tells of the wartime exploits of the lead author's father (somewhat similar to tales told by my dad!), Chapter 1: Welcome to North Africa sets the scene and provides a time-line from 1869 (the opening of the Suez Canal) right up to 1945, although as far as actual combat is concerned, things went quiet after the middle of 1943. There's still plenty of scope for espionage, archaeological investigations and more, however.
Chaptet 2: A Sea of Sand and Stone then talks about the desert and more, starting with a gazetteer of the countries along the Mediterranean coast from Egypt in the east, including notes on those all-important places, oases. Water is vital when travelling in these parts, of course. The notes provide brief yet vivid pen-sketches of many places most have heard of in passing, such as El Alamein or Tangiers. This is followed by a discussion on the war in East Africa, down the east coast of the continent and involving countries such as Sudan, Somaliland and Kenya; many of which were drawn into the conflict due to being colonies of various European powers. The chapter ends with a detailed look at Cairo, the capital of Egypt and seat of much intrigue although untouched by actual combat. It's a melting pot of a city and an excellent setting for many an adventure.
Next, Chapter 3: Secrets and Lies discusses the tremendous amount of espionage and other secret operations that were rife in the region during the war. Plenty of scope here for plots, be it the activities of the British Special Operations Executive (and you thought they spent their time parachuting into France, didn't you? Nope, they spread their net far and wide...) or even the antics of the world's press, sniffing out stories despite censorship and military needs for secrecy. The Americans and the Germans were not far behind with their own clandestine affairs.
Then Chapter 4: The Shifting Sands of War provides game mechanical resources for creating and playing area-appropriate Investigators, complete with both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rules. Fancy being an archaeologist or even a Bedouin tribesman? Or perhaps the Kepi Blanc as a member of the French Foreign Legion is more your style? Details of how to set up characters in these and other suitable occupations are provided. Naturally the Long Range Desert Group and the newly-fledged SAS are there too; and there is scope to play Australians, South Africans and New Zelanders as well.
Characters generated, you will need some equipment and Chapter 5: Coffee Pots and Jerry Cans should meet your needs. The uniforms worn by various armies and specialist groups is covered with special note to footwear (a soldier's best friends are his feet and they need to be taken care of!)... whilst apparently every Italian soldier has his own personal expresso coffee pot. There is an array of weapons and some rather more esoteric items as well.
Next Chapter 6: Ships of the Desert covers the whole range of issues about travelling in the desert, it's not only about camels (although my favourite riding animal is included, of course). Here we read about getting to North Africa in the first place, and getting around by various vehicles on land and in the air, not to mention the perils of navigation when landmarks are few and far between. Once you have your means of transportation the next chapter (Chapter 7: Just Deserts) covers survival and the dangers that the environment poses to the unwary and unprepared.
Chapter 8: A Most Dangerous Game then explores the occult forces at play in the region and with ancient Egypt there's plenty to be had! The Germans have been investigating here since the mid-1930s under the auspices of the Ahnenerbe and more conventional archaeologists have found more than they bargained for as well. Here is told the origins of the Necronomicon, possibly the most infamous text in Mythos lore. Locations for investigations abound, if you can but hang on to your sanity long enough to explore them. There are mysterious societies and cults to join, infiltrate or combat, and plenty of mysterious and powerful people to provide opposition and others who may prove to be friends or allies. This chapter is definitely one for the GM or Keeper alone!
Chapter 9: Of Magic and Magicians goes further into the murky depths, detailing arcane treasures and strange magical knowledge that go only to fuel the region's reputation as an exotic, romantic and mysterious place. There are several tomes that belong in very secure libraries and a handful of new spells to cast... if you dare.
The next two chapters - Chapter 10: Beasts, Real and Imaginary and Chapter 11: Friend and Foe - provide a host of creatures and people to interact with and to fight against, including known personalities of the time as well as generic examples. Finally, there are adventure seeds and suggestions for sources of inspiration in the final two chapters to set you up for some memorable adventures, campaigning in North Africa.
Everything is presented in the by-now familiar 'bunch of papers' style, with atmospheric pictures, scribbled notes and sidebars with snippets of information, all skilfully blending history, Mythos and more. Where's my camel?
[5 of 5 Stars!]