Roger Carlyle’s Books – A Player Project

 

Roger’s dangerous collection hides in a safe behind innocuous reference books.

The rare tomes hiding in Roger Carlyle’s library present tantalizing treasure for Investigators to hunt in the New York chapter. The quest for these hidden books can help further stimulate player interest in Roger and his ill-fated expedition during the hectic aftermath of Jackson Elias’ death. Your group will likely first learn of the books in Jackson’s bewildering note reticently provided by Jonah Kensington (Carlyle Papers, America #13), and Erica Carlyle may help lead them to Roger’s stash. It may be helpful to add additional clues pointing to these valuable tomes throughout the chapter. Once your players learn of the books, they may pursue several different paths to obtain them, and you may want to introduce some additional complications or competitors to stimulate further excitement and conflict. 

Learning About Roger’s Books

When considering additional paths to introduce Roger’s books, we like to employ the three-clue rule. The campaign book provides two clues (or revelations) leading to the hidden collection through Jackson and Erica. We offer some additional clues you may wish to consider, particularly if the Investigators fail to win over Roger’s sister.

We felt that both Miriam Atwright and Professor Anthony Cowles deserved some added depth and value to offer our players, so we decided to attach clues to them to punch up their interactions. Given Professor Cowles’ background, it’s very plausible he may have tracked a copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts to Roger Carlyle. It may also be possible that Roger reached out to him at some point about potentially translating the strange language in the text or seeking more information regarding the location of the City of the Great Race. As for Miriam Atwright, she may have had direct contact with Carlyle or heard rumors from a fellow librarian at Yale University that the wealthy ex-student had shown a real academic interest before his expedition seeking strange, rare books. You may feel free to tease the existence of future tomes, such as the R’lyeh Text Commentaries or the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan.

Alternatively, you may add a note to Huston’s session records for Roger that references the books. Maybe, Roger ranted about his arcane studies or lent Huston Amongst the Stones. We doubt these additional clues will be necessary for your Investigators to find the books, but they do help to interlock the puzzle pieces and heighten player interest in Carlyle. 

Recovering the Collection – The Easy Way

Once your players begin their pursuit of the tomes, it helps to have a variety of potential options at your disposal to select from based upon their approach and interests. If your Investigators gracefully win over Erica Carlyle she may reveal the safe and hand the books over directly; however, this seems rather devoid of conflict and drama for such a valuable collection. Instead, she may choose to surrender them with conditions. Maybe the Investigators have to review the tomes on the estate grounds or return them after a certain duration. Perhaps she requires a task of them in exchange, which could include providing her updates on their investigation into the Carlyle Expedition. 

The Carlyle Library provides an elegant backdrop for negotiation, investigation, or criminal activity. Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Recovering the Collection – The Auction

We particularly like the scenario offered in the Masks Companion where the books become available through a bidding war. This reveals the existence of the books but places a complication in front of the players. In the Companion they describe an innocent middle man working for an anonymous buyer, who happens to be another wealthy degenerate seduced by the Cult of the Bloody Tongue. You may choose to portray him as a cultist, as offered in the Companion, which sets up a potentially violent encounter with the gentleman and his brethren in the shocking squalor of his luxury apartment. Alternatively, you may depict him as another unwitting victim of M’Weru’s beguiling dark charms, who may be potentially rescued from her enchantments. Your players may wish to leverage their credit rating, work the middle man, or confront the buyer to secure the tomes.

If you wish to insert an additional bidder or an alternative to the Bloody Tongue cult, you could introduce an incognito sorcerer, who may be a potential ally or an additional threat. Options for your arcane practitioner could include a university professor, a wealthy inventor or foreign noble, perhaps Gavigan, or a descendant of Gaspar du Nord himself. If you intend to link your campaign to Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, the bidder may be associated with the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight, such as John Scott or even Carl Stanford, himself, who later appears in Shanghai. No matter the outcome, you can assume M’Dari will be eager to continue pursuing the books and punishing anyone that interferes with his plans. 

Recovering the Collection – Thievery

If your Investigators have fumbled attempts to gain access to the tomes thanks to uncooperative dice or their ham-fisted tactics in dealing with the potentially prickly Erica, additional opportunities to retrieve the books should remain at their disposal. The campaign book suggests a heist, which may be conducted by a hired team of criminals or the Investigators themselves. We love the suggestion that players assume the roles of the hirelings in retrieving the books. This option presents a fantastic opportunity to roll up some potential backup player characters with a strong tie to your main group, as well as maintaining player agency. In preparing to run a heist for your players, we highly recommend Seth Skorkowsky’s excellent discussion of the topic. If this does not sound like a good fit for your group, the burglars could request a favor in exchange for their thievery, such as casing a respectable location, distracting a potential mark, or smoothing over a misunderstanding with New York gangsters. 

Opening the Safe

In attempting to retrieve the books from the safe, we would like to return to the Three Clue Rule. The campaign book suggests a Luck roll every 20 minutes to allow the players to find the combination. You may choose to include this as one of your three clues, but we would like to offer these alternatives:

  1. Roger’s library work desk contains a combination scribbled on pad used for expedition notes
  2. Point out a conspicuous cabinet at the North end of the library between the shelves, which contains the thick volume of Poe’s works (p. 134)
  3. Place a reference to Poe or the combination in another clue related to Carlyle, such as Dr. Huston’s notes.
  4. Bradley Grey, or another Carlyle Estate servant, may offhandedly mention Roger’s apparent passion for Poe.

Our Campaign Experience

During our recent New York Chapter, the Investigators ingratiated themselves to Erica Carlyle, and she pointed out the cabinet but did not disclose the presence of the safe or the existence of the combination in the Poe volume. This allowed the Investigators to interact with the cabinet, discover the button, open the secret panel, overlook the combination and attempt to crack the safe themselves. We permitted a Science (Engineering) roll by Lucia, which came up with an impressive Extreme success. This proved to be an incredibly satisfying encounter for the group, and if the safecracking roll failed, they still held the combination in hand, as well as another clue waiting in Roger’s work desk. Little did the Investigators realize at the time that Erica knew of the books, and had played a canny game to assess their actions and motives.  She later revealed this via a written letter to Lucia where she also confided her hope that Roger may yet live.

Our group’s mechanical savant, Lucia, made short work of Roger’s safe.

Contingency Plans for the Collection

Should a heist fail spectacularly or the Investigators overlook Roger’s books entirely, you may keep the collection in play through a successful break-in orchestrated by M’Dari and the Bloody Tongue Cultists. This may occur in climactic fashion during a large social event at the Carlyle Estate, such as the Eclipse Party or under the cover of darkness with the aid of arcane sorcery. Your Investigators could discover the theft in progress, read about it, or be contacted directly by Bradley Grey depending on the relationship with Erica Carlyle. Every option should insinuate the importance of the books and their tie to the greater campaign struggle.  

Rewarding their Efforts

After recovering the treasure, your Investigators deserve to reap some rewards from Roger’s works. Unless they have already successfully raided the Ju-Ju House, Carlyle’s tomes provide the first taste of campaign loot. For players new to Call of Cthulhu, this victory provides an occasion to discuss the use and value of tomes in the setting. In our campaign, we like to present tomes as potential clue sources, as well as mechanisms for Mythos skill advancement and spell acquisition.

Upon leaving the Carlyle Estate, our Investigators immediately set to poring over the works and searching for useful information. In Call of Cthulhu, knowledge may be considered the most important treasure, and my players instinctively acted as such looking for connections to their ongoing investigations. You may find it useful to offer some additional clues and links to the main campaign via recovered tomes. By providing meaningful campaign clues in Roger’s books, you can further cement Carlyle’s importance moving forward, and encourage your Investigators to turn to tomes as informational resources. With this in mind, we will be providing you with expanded references for each of the tomes available to your Investigators in MoN, so that you may provide intriguing details and supplemental leads in exchange for their thrilling accomplishments and continued interest. 

How did your players get hold of Roger Carlyle’s Books? What did they expect from the tomes they recovered?

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