Miskatonic University by Sam Johnson is a role playing game supplement published by Chaosium Inc. for the Call of Cthulhu horror role playing game based upon the works of H. P. Lovecraft. It covers Miskatonic University in Arkham, New England, which is mentioned several times in Lovecraft's works. This supplement expands upon the information on the university that was originally written in Arkham Unveiled, and there are a number of references to H. P. Lovecraft's Arkham, the updated version of that book, as well as to the Miskatonic University Guidebook.
This supplement is intended to complement the other supplements in the Arkham Country range, whether the original editions or the updated versions, although the assumed timeline is slightly different from that in earlier works, so that certain events have not yet happened.
There are references to the Keeper's Compendium as well as to the works of other Mythos authors; the background material used to write this was not limited to Call of Cthulhu role playing game supplements. One major non-game supplement used is the Encyclopaedia Cthulhiana by Daniel Harms (later editions are known as The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopaedia).
The version reviewed is the 260 page watermarked PDF from RPGNow, although it is also available as a black and white softcover print on demand book from RPGNow, and the printed version is still available too. In the PDF version, two pages are the front and back covers, four pages are front matter, one page is General Contents, two pages are Clear Credit, three pages are the Index Maleficarum, eleven pages are various printouts, such as study worksheets for investigators who are studying at the university and graduation certificates and one final page is decorative rear matter. The PDF version costs $16.95, the print on demand book $29.95 and the two combined cost $33.95.
The Introduction covers using the supplement and the timeline, with regards to the events of Lovecraft's stories. There is a list of recommended reading to get a feel for the university, both fiction and role playing game supplements. The latter include Arkham Country supplements, either the updated volume, where one exists, or original, and the Keeper's Compendium. The Compendium has since been replaced by The Keeper's Companion Volume 1, which includes the material from the earlier work.
How the university can be integrated into a campaign is also considered. It can be used as a base, for players who are students or professors at it, as a resource to be utilised by those who aren't, and as more of a background presence. How source material was used, and how closely keepers decide to stick to the canon are also considered.
Miskatonic University covers the university itself. There are maps of the campus and selected buildings, such as the Orne Library and the Exhibit Museum, which could play major roles in a campaign. Details of the various university buildings are provided, including some that are off-campus, as well as a history of the university. Some legends of the university are covered, and there are details on many Mythos books and artefacts that can be found on campus, and a description of a new type of non-Mythos magic, Hermetic.
People on Campus does not just cover non player characters. Aspects of university life, for both students and professors, in the 1920s are covered, including costs of studying and living, as well as salaries for staff, and how the university will react to insanity - better for tenured professors than for students.
There is a directory of staff and faculty, with varying levels of detail given for the NPCs, as well as the various schools and colleges that can be studied at and notable NPCs from these. A variety of different organisations, from student to faculty to secret are also detailed, as is social life for students.
Getting an Education covers, as it sounds, getting an education at Miskatonic University. This chapter is suitable for players who are playing students studying at the university. Increasing skills through education, and the effects that investigations against the Mythos will have on a player's grades are also covered, and there are some new or altered skills.
Miskatonic Secrets covers in more detail various Mythos-related secrets that have been mentioned in earlier chapters. There are new monsters and potentially deadly threats, as well as some possible allies. Not everything needs to be used, and some topics have staggered levels of threat, depending on what the keeper decides.
A Little Knowledge is an adventure, based around Lovecraft's story, Herbert West: Reanimator, with a student having discovered West's notes.
The Appendices have ruled on flawed spells and many new spells, including Hermetic, as well as using and learning from Mythos tomes, including for reference and spells. There is a list of useful items that could be found on campus, on learning prehuman languages and existing scenarios that could be adapted for the University. The final part of the appendices are blank diplomas and degree plan worksheets, the latter to be used with the Getting an Education chapter, where the players are studying at the university.
Miskatonic University in Review
The PDF unfortunately completely lacks bookmarks, but the contents and the index are, however, both decent. Apart from the covers, the supplement has black and white illustrations and maps, with the most common being NPC portraits. The supplement is set in the late 1920s, and adjusting it to other time periods, beyond the 1930s, will not be easy, especially as a primary factor in the university is the NPCs, who will, as time passes, either retire or die. How the university functions as an educational institution will also change, as world knowledge does. Some details are given on the university in the future, but this supplement is really only useful for a 1920s campaign, possibly running into the 30s. It also is less suitable for other settings, although it could possibly be used in another, similar world without too many changes.
The sole scenario, A Little Knowledge, provided in this supplement is unfortunately not a new one. Instead, it has been copied straight from Arkham Unveiled.
There are quite a number of new or optional rules related to a campaign where players are students at the university. Being students, player characters lack the experience that would be seen with older, and consequently don't have the same range of skills. The chapter on Getting an Education provides useful information on running a Mythos and university campaign that includes studying, whilst other useful material on campus life can be got from other chapters.
As mentioned, some of what is in this book has been covered in a, usually lower, level of detail in previous supplements. In Arkham Unveiled, and in the revised version, H. P. Lovecraft's Arkham, although they covered the university, the supplement detailed the entire town, so the university never received the level of coverage that it has in this supplement. Miskatonic University therefore provides a useful expansion of the Arkham Country setting, even if for a very specific area.
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