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Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke Review

Posted on September 7, 2012 by spikexan

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    The Book of the Smoke is an oddity. The intentional use would be as an in-game prop for any setting where an occult London would be researched; however, it is best suited for Trail of Cthulhu, particularly the Bookhounds of London (a great read, by the way).

    My initial impression of the book was lackluster. The cover is not eye-catching and doesn’t look right for a book from the intended era. The artwork, maps, and photography inside do seem to belong with such a tome though. The layout (single column) strikes the look of a journal. While the end result is fitting, it still proves dull upon examination.

    The text itself is a look at London’s occult scene. It is separated by places and persons. The majority of the book deals with places for investigators to, well, investigate. This is the genius of the book.

    This book works like Engine Publishing’s Eureka to a degree. With a style similar to one found in a folklore journal, the author lays out rumored locales of high strangeness. These places, seeds really, are left wide open for clever keepers to nurture into something else. The best part: After an investigation check, the Keeper can hand a tattered page or two from the book as a clue for the players to take in. They can make what they will of the academic, somewhat biased text. Since it’s a text clue, the Keeper can save his poker face for bigger moments in the game.

    And it keeps in flavor with the game.

    The section on persons works like a GURPS Who’s Who or Masks (Engine Publishing again). Some figures are well-known (Aleister Crowley, for example); others are not. The author does well making the read sound authentic. It’s “written” by a contemporary of the occult movers and shakers and it reads like it.

    Overall, The Book of the Smoke feels like an extremely focused product, which is a disservice to it. There is a great deal that can be mined from this book, but it’s not as readily available (or advertised) as that. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, take the time to check out this read. It’s system neutral, but tied to the late 1800s and 1900s (some times vary, but the majority fall there).

    My scores for The Book of the Smoke are:

    Artwork: 3 out of 5 Dice (the interior feels like a journal, which is great. The cover
    doesn’t fit and doesn’t look attractive either)
    Writing: 4 out of 5 Dice (somewhat dry, but oh so useful)
    Overall: 3 out of 5 Dice (It’s a book of great locales and personalities, but most readers
    won’t want to dig this much)

    Review by Todd Cash

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