The Alexandrian

The Masks of NyarlathotepI somehow managed to get through my entire essay on the Three Clue Rule without mentioning the adventure that first made me codify it: The Masks of Nyarlathotep.

Originally published in 1984, The Masks of Nyarlathotep is quite possibly the best-structured RPG campaign ever published. It chronicles the PCs’ attempts to crush the many cults of Nyarlathotep, beginning in 1920s New York and then carrying them through London, Cairo, Kenya, Australia, and Shanghai.

But not necessarily in that order. Or any order at all, for that matter.

What makes the campaign memorable is not just the epic globetrotting, but the fact that the PCs were left entirely in control of their own destiny: Every location had a plethora of clues which could lead the PCs to any of the other locations, giving them free reign to pursue their investigations in any way that they chose.

In 1984, this structure was completely revolutionary. It still remains virtually unduplicated in its scope and flexibility.

I’ve never gotten a chance to actually run The Masks of Nyarlathotep. (Some day!) But the nascent promise of its design made a deep impression on me and continues to fundamentally shape the way I plan my campaigns.

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One Response to “The Masks of Nyarlathotep”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    The Masks of Nyarlathotep. Probably one of the best, if not THE absolute best campaign ever published, for precisely the reasons outlined here: the different locations, the scope, and the multiplicity of clues, plots and sub-plots that let the PCs be in charge of their investigation. That is really a wonderful achievement of game design, when I think about it. It’s too rare in the RPG hobby nowadays. Nearly thirty years later… we should know better by now.
    Saturday, January 08, 2011, 11:56:24 AM

    Justin Alexander
    That could be a lot of fun!

    At the moment things are pretty crazy in my life and I don’t know when I’d have the time to try to put together something like this. But when my schedule starts clearing up a little bit — which I hope will happen sooner rather than later — this is an idea I’ll need to come back to.

    We’ll see what happens.
    Monday, July 14, 2008, 1:19:49 PM

    Id love to play in it if you would like to run it, I have access to vent, maptools etc. I think many people who read your stuff would love to play in one of your campaigns, why not run it for us?
    Saturday, July 05, 2008, 1:42:05 AM

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