The Five and a Half Minute Servant’s Corridor – Regency Cthulhu

Regency Cthulhu

Author: Andrew Peregrine and Lynn Hardy
Publisher: Chaosium
Page Count: 226
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $22.99
Print – $44.99

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

~ Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

I was introduced to Jane Austen by my wife. She was a big fan of the Colin Firth-starring Pride & Prejudice miniseries and later the movie starring Keira Knightley. Though the genre is not quite my favorite, I love the period—being a big fan of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, I found Pride and Prejudice to be great supplemental reading. Indeed, the novel Post Captain firmly brings to mind the works of Jane Austen, with much of it focused on a brief period of peace, with balls, courting, and duels.

So when Chaosium offered us a review copy of Regency Cthulhu, I was eager to participate.

Note: Chaosium provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. Please visit our Product Review Request page if you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review.

Regency Cthulhu is a 256-page sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, focused, unsurprisingly, around the Regency Period of England, officially running from 1811 to 1820 when George, Prince of Wales, became regent, owing to his father, King George III’s physical and mental illnesses. While I do not feel the Great Old Ones should be used as an explanation for historical events, I was hoping this supplement would prove an exception—the madness of King George III seems ripe for Mythos explanations… Not that a Keeper couldn’t do just that were they to be so predisposed.

The book itself is full-color and filled with period-appropriate artwork and diagrams. Like most Cthulhu setting books, Regency Cthulhu combines both details of the setting and a series of adventures for the setting.

The Setting

Introduction

Though brief, the introductory chapter for Regency Cthulhu is packed with information and tone. It introduces us to the Regency Era and the England that Jane Austen lived in. Much of this deals with the division between the wealthy and the poor. Investigators are generally assumed to be part of the gentry, a group between the working class and the aristocracy. They are landowners and don’t need to work but tend to lack noble titles.

Given the subject matter of Jane Austen’s works,  Regency Cthulhu discusses concepts such as courtship, romance, and consent. Matters such as race and LGBTQIA+ characters in Regency England are discussed. Throughout the book, there are examples of non-white, non-cisgender, non-straight characters, reflecting the reality that people of color and LGBTQIA+ did not suddenly materialize in the 21st century.

The Introduction also presents a brief overview of transportation, weapons, and technology of the early 19th century. It closes with a timeline of the overall Georgian Era, 1714 to 1837.

Chapter 1 – Creating a Regency Investigator

For the most part, Regency-era investigators are generated the same way as any others. There is a general assumption that characters are members of the gentry, but this is not required.

In addition to most of the classic occupations being appropriate, characters can also be gentlemen, gentlewomen, nouveau riche, or servants. Most characters will technically be gentlemen or gentlewomen, but several professions are described as being possible “hobby” professions—for example, a gentleman may have as a hobby librarian. He would choose his skills as a librarian but his social status as a gentleman.

Most skills exist unchanged, though there is a new Etiquette skill that governs who you’re able to talk to and how you address them.

There is also an optional Reputation system for investigators based off of a character’s Credit Rating and Etiquette. If used, Reputation provides bonuses and penalties for various interactions as well as functioning like a social sanity or hit points score.

Simple rules are provided for generating possible estates for the landed gentry.

Chapter 2 – Tarryford

The town of Tarryford is presented as a possible hometown. It is located in Wiltshire, home of Stonehenge, which makes me realize it would seem to be in the same area as the default setting for Chaosium’s Pendragon RPG.

Tarryford is a small town of around 800. Various locations and inhabitants are detailed, from the working class to the gentry. I found myself rather fond of the characters—some nasty, some harboring secrets, some with dreams, some who just want to drink all day. I suspect you could do a Mythos-free period drama using all these characters. Competing churches. A middle-aged widower who has deferred much of the running of his family to his 24-year-old “old maid” of a daughter. An estate of zealotry.

It’s worth noting that Tarryford is presented as a mundane community—the Mythos elements of the area are developed in the two sample scenarios.

Scenarios

Regency Cthulhu has a pair of scenarios and pre-generated characters that can be used with both of them. Both these scenarios take place in Tarryford and greatly expand upon the setting—especially the Mythos aspects. I liked how both of these scenarios very much make use of the Regency setting—sure, you could adapt them for other eras, but you’d have to do some tweaking to extract them from their native period. For example, a move to the Victorian Age might not be that much of a lift, while a move to, say, the Middle Ages would be a bit more work.

Chapter 3 – The Long Corridor

Some twenty years ago, I read a bizarre book entitled House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. It featured a hallway that was just too long to fit in its house, just by a few inches. But maddeningly, consistently so.

The Northlake Hall has a similar problem, with two parallel corridors, one intended for servants. And one of those corridors, though they have the same starting and ending points, is longer than the other corridor. And growing.

The investigators will find themselves addressing this mystery as they become involved with the Northlake family, starting with a ball at their estate. They will dive into the history of that family, including deals made in the past that gave them their fortunes—deals that will soon be coming due, even if none of the current generations of Northlakes are aware of this.

This is the shorter of the two scenarios, likely one or two gaming sessions. It provides a great introduction to the Regency era and its society.

Chapter 4 – The Emptiness Within

“The Emptiness Within” is a much longer and more open-ended scenario. While the previous scenario dealt with some forgotten family history tied in with the Mythos, this scenario introduces a family that learns about the Mythos—and thinks it is the greatest thing ever and their path to UNLIMITED POWER!!!

Like “The Long Corridor,” “The Emptiness Within” takes place in Tarryford about one year later. Sleeping sickness has begun to break out among the town’s inhabitants, pulling the investigators into the scenario. Throughout the scenario, the investigators will learn of an ancient evil in the town which has begun to reemerge. If left unchecked, it will destroy the town, and neighboring towns until possibly the entire planet is consumed. And why stop there? It’s a big cosmos to destroy.

Getting to the bottom of this will take the investigators to ancient temples and in search of ancient artifacts found at different points in the town. And will therefore also expose them to many different residents of the town, all of whom might have their own opinions about these gentry investigators poking around.

In the background of all of this is a family that doesn’t view this ancient power as something to be stopped but something to be harnessed.

Appendices

The first appendix provides for sample investigators. Even if your group makes its own investigators, I found this very handy to give an idea of what a Regency investigator might look like.

The second appendix is dedicated to “equipment, tables, and miscellanea.” What can a household afford with a given income? What makes a frock coat different from a waistcoat? How much damage does that funky dueling pistol do?

The third appendix details Tarryford a hundred years in the future, 1913. If you’re looking for a chance to do something like the early seasons of Downton Abbey, this is your chance. I rather like the pre-Great War period of Call of Cthulhu, having run campaigns in Boston during this period, so I found this an interesting “across the pond” reference. It also brings to mind the possibility of doing a generational campaign, like Downton Abbey or Pendragon.

The fourth appendix consists of a lot of maps and handouts (also available as separate files in the PDF version of this).

Finally, the fifth appendix details inspirations—a Jane Austen bibliography, books about the era, films and television shows, and inspirational websites.

Closing Thoughts

I liked Regency Cthulhu a lot. Not that I’ve seen a “plain” Chaosium book in like a decade. It is a gorgeous book that is very evocative of its period and source material. The sample scenarios are very much a part of the culture of Regency England.

Given HP Lovecraft’s less-than-enlightened attitudes toward various social issues, I’m pleased that Chaosium is continuing to bring attention to all the people of its settings, not just the traditionally represented ones. Yes, this means there are LGBTQIA+ and non-white characters, so if a “woke” book is going to bother you, you should probably go elsewhere.

If I were to have one complaint, I’d like to have seen a bit more focus on the Napoleonic Wars, which dominated the period until 1815. Two of Austen’s brothers were very successful in the Royal Navy. Austen clearly mined her brothers’ experiences in works like Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Details on naval battles would probably be out of place in this book, but I’d have liked a bit more on the place of Britain’s armed forces in society.

Unless, of course, Chaosium’s next campaign is a sequel to Reign of Terror, detailing the Napoleonic Wars…

~ Daniel Stack

Check out Daniel’s LinkTree
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