Whilst I know a lot of die-hards who will insist that the 1920’s is the only time to play Cthulhu, I must only respectfully disagree, but forward this book as clear evidence. ‘Cthulhu by Gaslight’ sets the machinations of the tentacle one (and others who cannot be named) against the backdrop of Victorian England, amid the slums and factories, the gentlemans’ clubs and secret societies and weaves the fog and darkness through the stories. In every way, this is a perfect fit, made more so by the attention to detail shown by the authors (who do build upon two previous editions of this book).
Divided into four parts, the book gives attention to
- the specifics of creating Victorian-era characters and in usual Chaosium style, the reader will find everything from Occupations and skill alterations to a glossary and prices indexed for the time period;
- a gazetteer-style section outlining the British Empire, and London in particular leading to;
- a section entitled ‘Strange Britain which is by far the most interesting section of the book. In here you’ll find occult societies such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Masons (no surprises regarding their inclusion), real world occult and ‘strange’ sites in Britain (which could be expanded into a book all by itself), how the Cthulhu Mythos fits into Britain uniquely. This third section is then rounded off with a look at fictional characters; so if you’ve ever wanted Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes or even the Martians for a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/Cthulhu cross-over, you’ll have all the tools you need. Overall, this is the stand-out section of the book.
- and lastly two fully-kitted-out adventures (at about twenty pages each). In both adventures the writing is extremely well-delivered and the concepts in both uniquely Victorian.
What is clear is that the developers wanted a product which not only provided the factual and mechanical information for playing in this time period, but also wanted to prove themselves capable of implementing these concepts. In reading through this book, one feels that a conceptual journey has been undertaken, first gathering all the necessary information required for a game, and then seeing it all put into practice.
The book is rounded off with Appendices full of inspirational media and a collection of great maps.
I’ve always been impressed with Chaosium’s ability to present a book which is so completely situated in the time period, right down to the choice of fonts and typeset to the illustrations, commentary and maps. It provides the reader with a wholly immersive experience and this attention to detail may not always be explicitly appreciated – but it is subliminally present.
This is a must for all Cthulhu Keepers and it is a pleasure to see this book updated and back in print (in a manner of speaking). Just remember that knife-wielding murderers in Whitechapel are the least of your concerns in this game...
[5 of 5 Stars!]