Review of The Keeper's Companion vol. 1

Chaosium, 2000

By Herber, Dietze, Sammons, Willis, Carrick, Geier, and others

Given the release of the 1920's Investigator's Companion, it figured that it was only a matter of time before a book like the Keeper's Companion was released. But could a book like this do a Keeper any good, when the Call of Cthulhu rule book already covered so much?

This hefty volume weighs in at just over 200 pages, and it's cover contains a stunning portrait of the Great Cthulhu by Paul Carrick. This art alone is almost worth picking the book up for. Inside, after the usual introduction and chapter lists, we start out with an article called "Good Cthulhu Hunting", which offers to investigators the Ten Commandments of investigation. While a Keeper might read this and mutter, "Well, duh..." under their breath, any Keeper who's been around a while has seen a player break one or more of these Commandments with stupefying ease. This chapter should be required reading for investigators.

Next up is a similar chapter dedicated to Keepers, entitled "Suggestions for Keepers". Again, a lot of it is pretty common sense, but then, i've played with a few gamemasters who just didn't have a clue as to how to effectively run a game, and keep all the players happy. But even more experienced Keepers will find some of these tips helpful, i think. If nothing else, pay attention to the suggestions "Set The Mood" and "Ending the Adventure". Good little tidbits in those two.

After this, we're given "A Brief History of the Written Word" (and that's exactly what it is), followed by a chapter on Occult Books. It's not stated outright, but i believe that these are actual Occult Books, and how they would pertain to a Call of Cthulhu setting. The chapter is broken down into sections, defined by their original publication date, and overviews (including Sanity Loss, Skills, and Spell stats) given to the more important works. Herein you'll find information on The Book of Revelation, Grimoirium Verum, On Alchemy, The Encylcopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, and so on.

Following a quick chapter on languages and scripts (including R'lyeh glyphs and others), we return to more tomes in the "Forbidden Books" chapter, whic expands on many of the tomes that were discussed in Call of Cthulhu rulebook 5.5, stuff like "The Celaeno Fragments", "Cultes Des Goules", and many, many others. This section is extremely detailed, even going so far as to detailing all the different printings of a particular title. While of great referencial value, i have to admit it was a bit difficult to get through.

One of the more fun sections of the Companion is the "Arcane Antiquities" chapter, wherein various artifacts and items from different various Mythos stories. Complete write ups are given for each object, and any creatures or beings connected with said object. A good example is an artifact called the Crystallizers of Dreams, a vaguely egg-shaped device that can transport the consciousness of a being to the Dreamlands (as well as other locations). Associated with these Crystallizers are Guardians, and they also get a full write up. What's nice is that each artifact comes with the book in which it originated, giving a keeper the opportunity to read the story from which the object in question appeared.

Next up is a comprehensive chapter on the many cults that have appeared in various Chaosium supplements, as well as Mythos novels. Indeed, some real life cults are included, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This section has a great number of hooks that can be used by a creative keeper to use in generating scenarios or even entire campaigns.

One of my favorite chapters is Forensic Medicine. In fact, i think this chapter, long as it is, should be required reading for any serious investigator (weak stomachs need not apply), for any PI or Homicide detective worth their salt should know the information contained in this section. First, we're given an overview of the powers of the Coroner's office, followed by how to go about determining the cause and manner of death. Autopsy procedeures are discribed in great detail; a fascinating, if gruesome read. Next, a long and detailed section on the different types of trauma, blunt, sharp, gunshot, etc., that a body can experience, are listed in detail. This is followed up by a lovely essay on body decomposition.

Rounding out this chapter is an extensive look at forensic science, and how it has progressed through the century, from the development of fingerprint analysis to firearms comparison, from Serology (blood typing) to DNA. Lastly, a law enforcement timeline is presented.

The next two chapters deal with alien races, such as Deep Ones, Ghouls, Mi-Go, and so on; and mysterious places, like R'lyeh, Irem, and Atlantis.

The last chapter, and another one that i feel should be read by every Cthulhu player is Skills Revisited, which not only gives us a nice section on "How Good am I?", which gives examples, with percentiles, of how much of an expert a player is in a given skill, but also has a run down of every CoC skill available, and how they are represented in the game. This is invaluable in helping a player or keeper role play usage of a skill.

Giving a score to this book is difficult. On the one hand, there are several chapters that i feel are indespensible to both player and keeper alike. On the other, there are a few sections that are completely optional. In addition, some chapters are rather dry in reading...this is definitely not a book i would attempt to read in one sitting.

One major bone i have to pick with this book is the art bordering the outsides of each page. While the art itself is good, it's repeated on *every single page*. This feels cheap, like Chaosium took an easy way out to increase the page size. Other than that, however, the production value meets the typical high standards we're used to seeing from Chaosium.

Perhaps not an absolute necessity for the keeper, this book nonetheless contains a wealth of information that most keepers will find useful, or at least entertaining...

Rating: 7.5 Sanity Points