The pantheon of Mythos deities includes a wide range of horrors threatening the weak hold we humans attempt to maintain on the already flimsy fabric of reality. For example, take Azathoth, the Daemon Sultan, a sprawling, ineffable cosmic monstrosity spiraling in the outer void. Sure he’s old, beyond scale, and probably a malign black hole that will eventually consume the universe, but he’s also pretty dumb and, like we said, way way out there pretending to be Sagittarius A* for some reason. Then we’ve got the great Cthulhu, who instantly melts brains worldwide when he wakes up from his long sleep to make a trip to the bathroom, but he spends most of his time snuggled up in R’lyeh on the ocean floor hitting snooze.
Then we have our man, the Black Pharaoh, the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep, an alien messenger with all manner of Masks to wear while spreading the good word about his kinda lazy superiors. While the Outer Gods rest on their laurels, our campaign antagonist gets things done – building his contact list, actively manipulating mortals, and just sowing general discord across the universe. Never one to settle on a single plan, Nyarlahotep works as many angles (pun intended) as he possibly can, pitting his own bosses and minions alike against one another. He merrily tempts the weak-willed with tantalizing inducements, including power, wealth, and secret knowledge. He’s a cosmic-horror version of Starscream passing out monkey paws like candy.
Through his chaotic machinations, Nyarlathotep strives to bring about the great cosmic apocalypse, the End, the Opening of the Way for the return of the Old Ones. He has many plans, some at cross-purposes, but he knows intuitively in his dark heart that one of them will stick eventually. In Masks of Nyarlathotep, your puny mortal Investigators will face off against this wily foe, who will mock and tease their efforts while throwing an army of cultists from all continents at them. A worthy adversary indeed, but (apparently) not unstoppable, for Nyarlathotep relies on other humans, weaker-willed. To advance his dark designs, he pulls strings from the shadows, exploiting his minions to remove Elder seals and enchantments in his stead while. Your Players will serve as the opposing team of imperfect and accidental agents to counter the nefarious deeds and prevent humanity’s destruction…this time.
The progression of the campaign reveals the Many Masks of Nyarlathotep, varied in both appearance and character. At turns, he will serve as an NPC, a rampaging monster, a lurking horror, or an evocative set piece. In some forms, he could spell complete death and destruction for your Investigators. In others, he may caustically drop hints and foreshadowing. While his name need not be mentioned directly, he will be referenced constantly throughout sessions.
Establishing visual imagery that you can refer to throughout the campaign will remind your players of the Crawling Chaos lurking beneath every cultist encounter. Larkin’s tattoo and inky blood, the Bloody Tongue symbol and terrible headgear, the Brotherhood’s inverted ankh and Black Pharaoh motifs (we liked to use haunting cultist masks and hoods), and The Bloated Woman’s Black fan and Chinese character tattoo. Consider ascribing dark power to the cultist markings, similar to Larkin’s tattoo, which may evoke Nyarlathotep’s infectious influence. The large cultist gathering in Kenya for the Ritual of the Birth allows you to showcase a mixture of cultist appearances, potentially foreshadowing a future Chapter location.
Your Investigators’ haunted and tortured dreams may also offer a rich source for Nyarlathotep references. You may either recall horrific encounters, such as fevered visions of the unseen Father of Maggots, a traitorous, possessed version of the mutilated Jackson Elias, or the many-faced Chakota, which prominently features the visage of the Black Pharaoh or a central bloody tongue. Nocturnal visions can also foreshadow future encounters, including glimpses of the terrifying rites described in the campaign books, visitations from one of Nyarlathotep’s masks, or the impending apocalypse and the dark world that follows. You could even imagine a possible death for your Investigator to drive up their fear and paranoia. Naturally, you may wish to inflict Sanity loss as a result of these terrible recurrent nightmares and premonitions.
The Black Messenger presents himself to his servants and victims in 1,000 forms. While the campaign book provides several Masks for the Keeper to work with and develop, do not feel restricted by the confines of the text. If you plan on running additional sessions before New York consider integrating some of Nyarlathotep’s additional avatars, such as the Small Crawler (India), Shugoran (Southeast Asia), Aku-Shin Kage (Japan), the Tick-Tock Man (technology), the Kruschyta Equation (math), the Green Man (Celtic Folklore), or simply, the Dark Man. If you feel that MoN does not already offer enough world locations and cults, you can consider adding a site(s) based on one of these avatars or add them to existing chapters. For example, the Tick-Tock Man may be used as an alternative cultist influence among those constructing Penhew’s rocket. In a similar vein, the global conspiracy may have harnessed a team of brilliant mathematicians corrupted by solving the Kruschyta Equation. Infinite Masks present limitless possibilities.
One final question to ponder in considering Nyarlathotep’s influence on this massive, world-spanning plot is what is the true aim of the Crawling Chaos? In reflecting on this question, we would like to turn to some potential additional Masks based on world religions, which can include Kokopelli (Hopi – American Southwest), Loki (Norse mythology), Anansi the Spider (West Africa), Whiskey Jack (Cree & Algonquin folklore), and Eris (Greek mythology). These trickster gods could be relatively more benign manifestations of this typically malevolent cosmic terror or Nyarlathotep may have subverted the form of the actual god in pursuit of his own goals. All of these deities revel in sowing discord among humans often simply for their amusement. Does Nyarlathotep in this campaign expect the cult’s plan to work or will this plot simply further advance his unknowable machinations? Are your PCs his adversaries or unknowing pawns? Can the consequences of their success lead to a greater evil, such as the dissemination of destructive technology and nuclear proliferation? Was Jackson Elias a wonderful friend and victim of the cult or is he simply a malignant trojan horse avatar that your unwitting Investigators serve? As Keeper, you need not answer these questions or pose them directly to your players, but you may like to subtly inject uncertainty amongst them. Nyarlathotep, in any form, may tempt them with promises of power or the ability to defeat their wicked adversaries. He may appear to them an ally in tomes or dreams, and provide them with useful spells or clues.
This adversary, the dark Faceless God, a favorite in Mythos-inspired fiction and art, offers unlimited possibilities that you can tailor to your game while building on the rich material presented in the campaign books. His many forms and obscure malevolence provide both a compelling opponent and enthralling background for your stalwart Investigators.