REVIEW: Secrets of New York

There have been several waves of Call of Cthulhu setting books, often coinciding with the release of a new edition. Seventh edition has stuff like the Weimar and Harlem books, fifth edition had the Guidebook series and the sixth edition had the Secrets books. I must admit that while I have been buying Cthulhu setting books for almost as long as I have been running Call of Cthulhu, I have never actually bothered to sit down and read any of them. This reluctance is partly a result of my long-standing preference for setting games in my local area and partly a result of spending loads of money on AD&D setting books as a teenager only to discover that they were nothing more than lists of taverns bookended by the occasional stat block.

Despite habitually buying the bloody things, I have never been clear on what purpose these books are intended to serve… Contemporary authors may lavish attention on their fictional worlds but Lovecraft appeared to have little interest in place. Generations of scholars and game designers have tried to stitch HPL’s fictional towns and counties into some sort of cohesive setting but the results are always thin, contradictory and little more substantial than pointing at some random place on a map and adding some made up names. With a few notable exceptions, Lovecraft’s narratives tended to be rooted in people rather than places to the point where they could easily be transplanted to any time and place where upper middle-class people are forced to contend with an Unspeakable Other. I mean… I can understand not wanting to run a Lord of the Rings RPG without an atlas to Middle Earth but I can’t imagine anyone thinking that the only thing preventing them from writing a Call of Cthulhu adventure was the lack of a 150-page book chiefly comprising paragraph-long descriptions of 1920s New York neighbourhoods.

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