CAMPAIGN SPOILERS BELOW
In taking on the incredible task of leading your players through the Masks of Nyarlathotep, you will be joined at its outset by a charming, worldly fellow, one Jackson Elias. Aside from the titular villain, no other character in the campaign can come close to the legendary fame and importance of the daring author. You will lean heavily on your faithful companion to put your players on the path to investigate the Carlyle expedition and unearth the cultists’ dire schemes. Through Jackson’s interactions and revelations, you will stimulate your player’s intrigue. And through his untimely demise, you will provide them with personal motivation to take up the investigative mantle while seeking vengeance. This will prove valuable to players looking for roleplaying motivation to abandon their lives and jobs in pursuit of a long-lost expedition and murderous fiends. Devoting extra care to introducing and integrating Jackson into your campaign will recurrently yield dividends throughout each progressive chapter as your players rediscover their drive to push onward into peril.
First, as we discussed here, the Peru Prologue offers an outstanding introduction for Jackson. You may also choose to introduce Jackson, either as himself or under a pseudonym (such as Jesse Hughes), in preceding sessions. You could introduce Jackson through helpful consulting correspondence with your players in prior sessions by using a pen name, which he may later reveal at the Bar Cordano meet-up. Perhaps your players could have referenced Jackson’s earlier published works to solve other death cult encounters, which may have been published under a nom de plume. The association with these works can immediately establish credibility among cautious Investigators. Alternatively, a simple (or hard) Occult or Library Use roll could confirm the existence and authority of this niche writer.
Advanced collaboration and conspiring with players could allow you to plant knowledge from which to grow their relationships. Before Peru, you could familiarize each one of your players with a particular work or heroic deed by Jackson, which may or may not have affected them directly. To further fuel intrigue, you provide secret, individual communication with each of them from Jackson revealing his incognito status and requesting them to play along with his ruse during the Larkin introduction. Another option would be to recruit a convincing ringer player for just the Peru campaign, inform them fully of Jackson’s background and fate, and then sheathe them in plot armor to perform as a heroic companion. After Peru, the player could relinquish Jackson, either departing from the campaign or returning as a player character at some point.
Whether or not you present Jackson as an NPC or through a player proxy, the campaign book provides useful suggestions to present him as a competent party asset. In short, when in doubt, portray Jackson as an amiable, but cool expert always willing to lend a hand, particularly in filling knowledge gaps, translating, and protecting PCs in dire spots. I do not hesitate to fudge rolls so that Jackson can be presented with an opportunity to leap in and offer solid backup. A kharisiri pinning a player in a dangerous position calls for the patented “Flying Elias” tackle with limited damage, which can set up a knock-out blow by the PCs. Jackson should freely dish out alley-oops to your PCs while avoiding the spotlight.
He can also offer to watch their back when going into dangerous situations and showing up at the most opportune moment. In our latest campaign, he stood guard at the tunnel entrance during the climax and popped in just after Lucia patched the protective ward to point out the kharisiri treasure they had initially overlooked. Shortly afterward, he interrupted Larkin-Nyarlathotep’s spell-casting long enough for Irina and Lucia to strike.
Aside from being a highly competent team player, Keepers should make a special effort to emphasize Jackson’s punctuality. This will likely become important in New York when Jackson delays his meetings, fails to show, or makes frantic, hurried phone calls. The Jackson your players should know will be the fellow that knocks on their hotel room door before an early departure, rises early to make coffee for the party, and abhors tardiness. He may frequently remind them, “My publisher knows, I always meet my deadlines!” If only they could all be like you, Jackson.
While he may make his living investigating sensational death cults, Jackson pursues his work with the skeptical eye of an academic. While fans of the weird and occult may gravitate towards his works, we consider the writer to be a self-taught social anthropologist with a natural ear for languages and an unquenchable thirst for excitement and world travel. We like to them of him as a low-key savant with a focused career agenda. Our latest campaign’s conception of Jackson Elias crossed Indiana Jones with Star Trek: Discovery’s Michael Burnham (or alternative historical inspiration, W.E.B. DuBois); he’s a swashbuckling social scientist with off-the-scale charm. He navigates dangerous cults for the thrill and knowledge not because he gives their beliefs any credence. If the PCs express disbelief at what they witness in Peru, Jackson will echo their incredulity. If not, he will offer plausible explanations for what they witness but continued exposure to the horrors of the kharisiri, and a potential Nyarlathotep manifestation, will leave him seeking answers. By demonstrating Jackson’s eroding skepticism at the end of the chapter, the Keeper can set up his subsequent eager pursuit of Larkin’s origin, which he may communicate via writing or telegram with Investigators. This leads him to the suspicious fate of the Carlyle Expedition and his obsessive inquiry. By the time of Jackson’s death he will have undergone a documented transformation from the curious skeptic to an addled believer, and, by conveying this to your players, you will have piqued their curiosity.
If you choose to lay additional groundwork outside of the Prologue, you may incorporate Jackson in additional scenarios across the globe, starting in South America (see below for a list of suggested published scenarios). Since several of my Investigators originated from Europe or traveled extensively, I considered modifying The Derbyshire Horror to include Jackson, introduce Mickey Mahoney, and foreshadow the Henson Manufacturing operation. This sidetrack scenario can be easily introduced by Jackson discovering the same article in The Scoop while writing up the Hungry Dead in London, and inviting his friends to investigate. Using the sidetrack here allows you to experience this session without interrupting the meandering London Chapter.
For the sake of expediency, we decided to move directly to New York after Peru, but between the sessions, our group exchanged a series of telegrams (emails) between Jackson and the Investigators. Through his cables, the traveling author hinted at his activities and destinations. Perhaps he reached out to an Investigator with a cryptic question or request. Maybe he promised another telegram from a specific location or on a particular date but instead disappeared only to suddenly resurface again requesting a reunion in New York. And acting unusually. Once your group arrives in Manhattan, they will be eager to discover what new adventure Jackson has uncovered.
Capitalizing on this intrigue, as well as the desire to get to the bottom of Jackson’s murder, will power your Investigators through the several days which elapse between Jackson’s death (January 15) and the prescribed date for the reading of his will (January 19). Jackson will continue to hook them from beyond the grave with his scattered clues, as well as revelations by Ramsey and Kensington; however, the will provides the clear-cut moment when Jackson unequivocally bestows his unfinished quest upon the Investigators. By forming strong bonds between PCs and their quest-giver, the players will possess a propulsive impetus to pursue the Carlyle Expedition across the earth.
A special thanks to Paul Fricker and the Good Friends of Jackson Elias for generously sharing the artwork from their fanzine, The Blasphemous Tome. We happily support their work for the community on Patreon.
Some Additional Suggested Jackson Scenarios:
- Dead Man’s Stomp – CoC: Starter Set
- Edge of Darkness – Coc: Starter Set
- The Haunting – Free Quickstart Rules
- Idol of Thoth
- Mr. Corbitt – Mansions of Madness
- The Sanatorium – Mansions of Madness
- Genius Loci – Doors to Darkness
Did you use other methods to establish Jackson Elias for your campaign? Who inspired your depiction of Jackson?