Review of The Compact Arkham Unveiled

Chaosium, 1995

By Keith Herber

If there was one sourcebook written on a town that Chaosium couldn’t blow, it would be the one on Arkham. Dunwich, Kingsport, or even Innsmouth....these towns, while playing significant roles in a few stories, pale in importance to Arkham. This is the city where the world of Cthulhu spirals out of. Fortunately, I’m happy to say that Chaosium has done yet another bang up job with this particular sourcebook.

Arkham Unveiled starts off with its first chapter, “Orientation”, which reads like a guide to first time visitors to the town of Arkham. Giving such details as to where it is in relation to the surrounding towns, its weather and climate, hours of business, where to find a place to live or get a loan, this one chapter alone is almost worth the book. Reasons on the reasons of being reputable (a nifty little lesson on the value of Credit Rating), a brief overview of Arkham University (which gets covered MUCH more in-depth later in the book), and articles on local government, the police and crime are detailed here.

The next chapter, a rather short one, deals with the history of Arkham, and contains an excellent chronology- not surprisingly, one who knows any Lovecraft stories can instantly pick up little tidbits that the writers have included from actual stories by H.P.

Chapter three is where the real meat of the book lies; this is where the town itself is detailed. First broken down into districts, or neighborhoods (9 in all), such as Northside, Downtown, the Merchant district, Campus, Lower Southside, and so on. Within each district all important buildings and locations are given write ups, and assigned numbers, which appear on the corresponding neighborhood map. Every location has relevance in some way, whether it’s a store or business that the characters might frequent, or someone of prominence within the Mythos lives there, or for whatever mysterious or sinister other reason.

For example, the first three entries of the Northside neighborhood detail Arkham’s Pump House and Water Tower, including how it functions and its appearance; Potter’s Field, where Herbert West conducted some of his reanimation experiments; and the home of Bartholemew Appley IV, a local dilettante who throws parties at every opportunity. Likewise, the first three entries of the East Town district discuss The Prisoner of the Attic, a large decaying house that is home to two sisters, Ellen and Beatrice Crawford, the latter of whom has gone quite mad...; Pickering House, which has a history going back to 1828; and the First Unitarian Church of Arkham, which happens to house a copy of the Book of Dzyan.

And so on. There are more locales in this book than this article could possibly do justice for, but suffice it to say, there’s a wealth of information here for a keeper to make this a living, breathing town. Within are numerous little adventure hooks and seeds, just waiting to be planted by the keeper. All residents are given stats and pictures; government officials, ghosts, ghouls, gang members, and others (sorry for the alliteration there) help flesh out Arkham, and are all given equal weight. Naturally, there is a comprehensive write up on Miskatonic University, though Keepers are advised to hunt down the out of print Miskatonic University supplement if they want information on that subject. Rumor has is it that a hardbound edition of the Miskatonic U. guide will be released this summer, but you shouldn’t count on it.

Also included with the book is a large fold out map of Arkham (not full color, but still nice enough to mount on a wall), and even a four-page copy of the Arkham Advertiser. Besides it giving a great snapshot of a day in the life of the town, I was very happy to discover that the official mascot of the Miskatonic University football team are the badgers.

The Compact Arkham Unveiled would be a great addition to any Keeper’s collection, and should be considered a necessity for any Keeper even thinking about running a campaign in Arkham.

Rating: 9 Sanity Points