Friday, July 20, 2012

Ep.35 The Occult Guide to London Review

This episode I review the Occult Guide to London by Paula Dempsey and published by Pelgrane Press.

Show Audio


The Occult Guide to London is a very unique supplement to a Trail of Cthulhu or any Cthulhu-themed game. It is a modern book, but it harkens back to the historic tone we love in Lovecraftian games with it's other moniker: Liber Fumo de Frater Vigilo (The Book of the Smoke) by Augustus Darcy, Deceased. With a name like that it's straight out of the forbidden books collection at Miskatonic. Let's start with the highlights:

Revelations into the Mysteries
  • A singularly unique tome, in which one can find more juicy hooks to suck would-be explorers of the Square Mile into the dark mutterings of your occult campaign in depression-era London.
  • The product does double-duty, both as a GM resource and as a prop. To these two ends it would work quite well in a game outside the setting, either re-purposing a bit of plot in a different setting, or containing clues that the Investigators desperately need.
  • The writing feels quite authentic to era, and the genuineness continues right down to the era map and faux publisher's imprint. It's an enjoyable read on its own, and an excellent setting inspiration for a GM planning a session.
Cautionary Tales
  • This is a specific product for a pretty specific place, if you are not running Bookhounds of London, either from the setting pitch in Trail of Cthulhu or the fully-fledged setting, your mileage may be limited.
  • The occult guide is a product meant to be savored and explored, as such your quick and dirty gaming types may not get as much out of it as either GM or player.
  • This book is also non-typical in that it is meant to be able to be read by PCs. As such it is not a campaign plan, the incautious purchaser might miss this.

It's no secret that I am huge Lovecraft fan (just check out our back-catalog), and I've thoroughly enjoyed the Trail of Cthulhu line of products both for their content and their loyalty to the source material (both Call of Cthulhu and H.P.L.). The Occult Guide is first-and-foremost a companion to a setting, the Bookhounds of London. This began first as a Campaign Frame, a short setting pitch in the back of the Trail of Cthulhu book, and was then expanded to a full treatment in the setting book of the same name.

The basic idea is that the PCs (Investigators) are slightly less than scrupulous booksellers, out to make a killing by reselling rare and occult books garnered on the cheap from estate sales and backroom deals.

How appropriate is it then to make a book on the occult happenings in London, which might fall into the hands of Bookhounds? For this purpose, I think the book really shines. What better way to run a sandbox game in this setting than to hand the PCs a book of leads to follow that evoke the tone of the game? It helps even more that this is a bound book, all of the art is period or period-esque, and the narrative never breaks character. I can think of at least two players that would love to poke through the anecdotes of Augustus Darcy, who reached a most unfortunate demise.

Obviously not all groups might take that prop bait, but as a GM you can bridge the inevitable writer's block by flipping to a page of the Occult Guide and start building the truth behind it. If you have the full Bookhounds of London, this is even easier, as the truths behind the rumors presented unfold in horrifying layers. Even if you don't use it literally, it can be great inspiration. I find that often with published settings I quickly depart from a plot-line as the world becomes owned by myself and the players.
This book is very modular, as is its companion campaign, which means if you tend to homebrew even published settings, this product is likely to help far more than hinder.

So what limits this product? Well the rub of all that evocative and well-written prose is that it ends up having a very specific focus. You can pull stories out and re-purpose them for other games, but they would certainly lose some charm taken out of their context. If you want to run any type of Lovecraftian campaign in London, and especially if you plan to run Bookhounds of London, I can't recommend picking up the Occult Guide more. If you're running a meandering world-spanning campaign it might be helpful too, but if you are not headed to the Smoke it's mostly a well-written collection of historic rumors to flip through.


  1. Nice review. I've been using the book in one-shots, handing it to the characters to choose something to investigate.

  2. Yup, very versatile stuff, it's definitely put running Bookhounds on my radar, the dovetailing is awesome.