I’m Lanz, a new-ish Keeper of Arcane Lore. I’ve been running Call of Cthulhu games for only two and a half years, so the perspective you’ll see in this review is from a new Keeper’s point of view. I saw this book posted on Chaosium’s website a while ago, and I immediately assumed that the King in Yellow would be involved because of the artwork and glimpses shown there. I knew I had to have it, but being from the Philippines, shipping can be a nightmare. When the book showed up at my local gaming store who doesn’t really carry a lot of Call of Cthulhu books, I knew it was a (yellow) sign.
I’ve been collecting Call of Cthulhu campaign books since I started, and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one with a mature tag. Much like an investigator in the game, the warning only served to fuel my curiosity, and I dove into the book with much gusto.
The first three chapters paint a vivid picture of Weimar Republic Era Berlin. It gives an overview of daily life, places of interest, and the people your investigators might cross paths with. There are sections on what type of food your investigators might be served in different restaurants, and even a brief overview of the train schedules. There are also sections regarding crime, punishment, criminal rings, and about the current status of the economy. I personally don’t bother with the economy when I run games, but I found it useful in this setting because it added to the atmosphere of despair and anger that threatened to bubble over in the city. One of the most useful things you’ll come across in the book as a Keeper is the section about the city’s topology. They divide the city into zones based on local character and regional resources in order to help the Keeper develop each area. The scenarios really utilize the city so becoming familiar with it is a must. Coming from someone who’s never been to Berlin nor picked up any book about the city prior to this, it was a huge help. The book further zooms in and offers details you’ll need about the city—from libraries, to museums, institutions, neighborhood and street details, organizations, etc.
The Mythos in Berlin
The book gives one the feeling that you don’t need to look that hard to see the terrible decay of the Mythos behind Berlin’s veil of licentiousness. Cults, covens, and other creatures dwelling among the blissfully ignorant come as a shock to the players, but nothing like the shock they receive when the bigger threats come to light. This section of the book discusses different organizations and story seed that you can use to enhance and extend your player’s stay in Berlin.
Sadly, the book doesn’t involve the King in Yellow, despite depictions of him in the art. Like most of Call of Cthulhu scenarios, the ones in this book are quite deadly and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through it. The book has three exciting scenarios, and in each scenario, the author notes the theme, which gives the Keeper a general idea of how the overall feel should be. It also offers notes on music pieces you can play to enhance your gaming experience. I enjoyed how the writers used real people and places from history—you can easily find photos of the people and places involved to supplement your game with.
I run a lot of public newbie games, and due to the maturity level involved in the scenarios, I personally wouldn’t run them for first timers. Don’t get me wrong, I think the scenarios are wonderful, but I would personally like to know my players a bit more before I run the game, just so I can be careful about certain topics that will come up in the game.
I’ve run all three scenarios for three different groups, and while the mature themes didn’t bother my players, each group went down a different path that touched on a wide variety of topics that can come as off-putting to players. A session 0 is a must if you’re running this for newbies.
I was glad to find a list of inspirational media. I find it useful to look into the writers’ inspiration for their books, so I could understand the mood they intended for their games. Not that all Keepers should rigorously stick to what the writers intended, but it’s a tip I swear by when it comes to my games.
Finally, the last part of the book is the handouts. I love the little handouts and they just make my life as a Keeper a lot easier. Just print them out and have them by your side while running to avoid frantic page flipping when you need to look at an NPC’s stats.
And that is Berlin, The Wicked City from a new Keeper’s point of view. Ten stars, two thumbs up—and everything else that ranks this as a great book. The writers did such a good job that it raised the bar for me and my expectations. I hope this helped you make a decision about whether or not to pick up the book for yourself.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Berlin the Wicked City, you can get the beautiful hardcover from the Chaosium website HERE, or the PDF HERE.
If you’re collecting from DriveThruRPG, you can also find the PDF for sale HERE