Those of you who might have read my last two gaming reviews might be wondering if I’ve turned into a curmudgeon. This review of Bookhounds of London will be no indication one way or another, at least for those who pick up Kenneth Hite’s latest work for the Trail of Cthulhu game from Pelgrane Press and realize how good it is. But first, a musical interlude:
Good. We’ve got that out of the way again.
Bookhounds is a sourcebook for campaigns in Thirties London. Drawing from the works of Lovecraft, Alan Moore’s From Hell, and The Club Dumas (acknowledged as the source of the movie The Ninth Gate by everyone but Simon), it takes us to the world of grimy bookstores and equally shady deals. Characters are all individuals associated with a given store, possibly as an owner, buyer, or regular patron, becoming involved in a shadowy world of forbidden tomes, despicable collectors and sordid cults. Whether engaging in psychological one-upmanship at a secret auction, or fleeing from a monster created from the dust of crumbled tomes, the bookhounds are pushed to the limits of their abilities and morals to bring home their prizes.
The book begins with a list of new occupations and abilities for a campaign based around bookselling. Players and GMs will also build their own bookstore, which provides additional resources for the players and a framing device for the campaign. Hite then moves on to the bookselling world, providing comprehensive rules for auctions, library descriptions, characteristics of the books themselves, and examples of occult and Mythos tomes.
London of the Thirties is the backdrop for all of this wheeling and dealing, and we are taken into all corners of the city, exploring their important locations, mystical sites, and local characters. Given the scope of the topic, the book can only deal with it in a sketchy manner, covering the City, Westminster, and one section on the boroughs in a given section. This is the one chapter in which the coverage seems rushed and incomplete – indeed, it could constitute a whole book in itself. In fact, it will – the back of Bookhounds includes sample pages from The Book of the Smoke, which is likely the guide to occult London of which Simon Rogers has dropped hints. At any rate, I can’t be too disappointed in a book that includes scenario seeds based around John Denley and Frederick Hockley. We then move to a discussion of the Mythos, with a selection of new Londonian monsters and various Mythos tomes, along with the megalopisomancy skill from Fritz Leiber’s classic novel “Our Lady of Darkness,” which you should really read.
Next, we have advice on assembling a Bookhounds campaign. To the usual Trail mix of Pulp vanilla and Purist chocolate, we now get rainbow sherbert Arabesque, rocky road sordid, and disgustingly neon Technicolor. As Bookhounds is truly a character-based setting, we get examples of a wide variety of characters who can have various elements chosen to make them unique individuals for a particular game.
The scenario in the book, “Whitechapel Black-Letter,” follows the bookhounds as they attempt to track down a sixteenth-century Latin work for a shadowy patron. This causes them to cross paths with a variety of unsavory and questionable characters while working for or against vast cosmic entities, the identities of some of which will be surprising to Mythos fans. As can be expected from the title, we have a link to the infamous Ripper, but it leaves a great deal open to interpretation and does not by any means overpower the scenario. It’s certainly a hundred times more tasteful than the unfinished “minotaur and samurai track down Jack the ogre mage” tale I wrote in college.
Bookhounds is rounded out with a bibliography, some sample bookstores, rare book prices, and an index.
I should point out that this book has one glaring flaw, which is that it’s half as long as it should be. Really, covering Thirties London, bibliographic wrongdoing, contemporary occultism, and the Cthulhu Mythos, along with a scenario on top of all of it, is far too much for the present format to contain. We can only hope that Pelgrane provides more support for this line so as to give us more of what is otherwise an impressive and inspirational book.