Call of Cthulu Parapsychologist’s Handbook

Call of Cthulu is invariably about a search into the unknown. As often as not, the characters get involved in this search purely by accident or are questers who never imagined just how large the unknown world they’re curious about is. Parapsychologists are just the kind of people who delve into this unknown, though they fit into the category of people who have no idea just how dark and dangerous the supernatural world can be. The Parapsychologist’s Handbook explains how these individuals fit into the Call of Cthulu mythos and how such research and characters can add to any game.
Most Call of Cthulu games occur in a world very like our own, simply with another layer on top of (or beneath, or permeating throughout) it. Because of this similarity to the real world, at least the descriptive portions of Call of Cthulu sourcebooks outlining things that exist in the real world can be very detailed and true to the subject matter. This is true of the Parapsychologist’s handbook, as well and it could as easily serve as a real world guide to the world of paranormal investigation as it does to the world of Call of Cthulu. Anyone with even a passing interest in the world of parapsychology would find valuable information in the Parapsychologist’s Handbook.
The descriptions of the methodology of parapsychological field and lab research as well as the different equipment that can prove useful to this research and investigation are quite thorough. There is also an in depth discussion of many of the fields of parapsychological research. This ranges from ghosts and poltergeists to spiritualists, mediums and psychics. Again, there is a great deal of real world research into these areas and the writer, being an actual parapsychologist not only has a firm grasp on the topic, but also possesses an excellent ability to explain it to newcomers to the field.
That’s not to say that there isn’t ample game material in the book as well, though the player’s portion is relatively light on rules. That’s in keeping with the feel of the genre, though. Breaking down something to its pure mechanics takes a great deal of the mystery and potential horror out of any subject and giving the game master the tools but keeping them out of the hands of the players helps add to the feel of the game. Players are free to attempt anything, but without being able to look at the rules, they have no idea whether or not what they’re trying is going to work or the probability of it working. Part of this game material includes equivalent rules for the d20 game system in addition to the rules for Chaosium’s version of the rules.
Call of Cthulu already has one or more mysteries inherent in the world that characters will be researching before, or in addition to the topics that parapsychologists normally look into. There is an extensive Mythos inherent in the setting and it is important to vital for any group to determine how the topics explored in this book fit into this larger world. Rather than simply stating how these two similar but divergent topics fit together, the author gives a number of options that each game master can pick and choose from. Adding to the mystery of the game for the players is the fact that the game master is encouraged to keep the paradigms that drive parapsychological phenomenon in the game world a secret. Players and characters will have their own beliefs about what is causing any particular phenomenon and should behave as though it were true. The game master can shape the results so that those beliefs are reinforced whether it is correct or not. After all, the entities in Call of Cthulu delight in deceiving and destroying foolish mortals and they enjoy it even more when mortals delude themselves.
No matter what paradigm the game master chooses, games that include these rules end as all Call of Cthulu games inevitably end: the characters either go insane or die and each envies the other his fate. Whether the character has his mind torn apart and devoured by a Great Old One, gets dragged to Hell by a demon, or simply ends up insane because he delved into things that were simply not meant for humans to know hardly matters to the character.
One of the other bits of game information in the book includes NPC’s from the early two eras common to Call of Cthulu stories. The 1890’s and 1920’s were two of the strongest times for parapsychological research so there are all too many personalities from history that the player characters can run into. Some of these historical individuals are known only to people interested in this sort of research while others are household names such as Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While these characters are not given game statistics, their general personalities, beliefs about the topics discussed in the book and their history in the time specified are all provided and give plenty of information for a game master to run with.
There is also a discussion of the historic groups that dedicated themselves to this type of research in all the eras of play. Many of the characters given were prominent members of these various societies. These organizations could easily serve as foils, allies or simply sources of information to any group that was interested in parapsychological research and some of the politicking that went on within them could easily add another layer of conflict to any adventure.
In addition to the mechanics provided throughout the book and the historical characters provided, game masters are also given a small group of adventure seeds to serve as inspiration. In addition, a quick history and timeline of each of the fields of research of interest to parapsychologists is provided. Between these two sources, even game masters who are not familiar with the source material should have an easy time creating appropriate adventures.
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the TAPS team found themselves in Innsmouth or if Gozer the Gozerian had taken the form of a Thing That Should Not Be instead of the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man, the Parapsychologist’s Handbook is just what you need to find out.

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