The Three Mysteries in Masks of Nyarlathotep


At its dark heart, the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign runs upon investigative fuel to carry your players from one continent to the next. The New York Chapter quickly fills the tank to the sloshing brim for your Investigators starting with an enticing telegram from Jackson Elias followed by his bloody death. A series of rapid-fire revelations following this shocking murder hint at a dark conspiracy. In short order, the campaign serves up the following three discrete mysteries, which should intrigue and motivate the Investigators: the murder of Jackson Elias, the fate of the lost Carlyle Expedition, and the dire global conspiracy. Once in motion, the campaign will continue to propel your group forward, and by providing a balanced mixture of fuel drawn from each original mystery, you can keep your players invested and attentive throughout the journey.

The Assassination of Jackson Elias

Most Keepers will devote sessions before the main campaign, including the Peru prologue to establish relationships with Jackson Elias, which ostensibly feed motivation to seek vengeance for his murder and follow his investigative trail. The murder of Jackson Elias himself does not pose a mystery, though, as the killers will often be caught red-handed (bloody-tongued?) at the scene of the crime; however, deeper machinations of this assassination can be carried through the entire campaign. By connecting additional Chapter villains to Jackson’s slaying, you can draw vengeful Investigators to dramatic encounters with key cult leaders. 

The campaign already includes correspondence to discover between Penhew and Gavigan at Misr House concerning the elimination of Elias. We built on this foundation with a more expansive telegram chain connecting the conspirators. We felt that Penhew should not solely enjoy the luxury of a pulpy pseudonym, so we invented the following for the principal conspirators:

  • Gavigan – White Jackal
  • Huston – Redback Spider
  • M’Dari – Spotted Hyena
  • M’Weru – Green Mamba

Using these cryptic monikers, you can plant brief written clues concerning the importance of eliminating Jackson in key locations for your Investigators. In our campaign, The White Jackal sent a note requesting the immediate termination of “the writer’s contract” to the Spotted Hyena, which we planted among the pages of Africa’s Dark Sects. We added a telegram at the Penhew Foundation from the Redback Spider reporting no local sightings of a meddling author, as well as progress of ambiguous “excavations”. My players continue to puzzle over the origin of this telegram. 

You can easily modify these brief communications depending on your campaign progression to continue reminding Investigators that this global organization plotted the murder of their dear friend. You can easily pin ultimate responsibility on the final villain if you choose. Alternatively, a note could be found at the crime scene or on a cultist indicating a direct order from “Our Dark Mistress,” which could allude to either China or Kenya. In our campaign, we continue to hold M’Dari in reserve as a potential opportunity to exact vengeance during an epilogue, as needed. 

The Fate of the Carlyle Expedition (or Where’s Roger?)

The main campaign begins by delivering a pile of information about the Carlyle Expedition to the players in the form of News Articles. The ensuing New York Chapter then sets a frantic tone with numerous clues and contacts related to the expedition principals; however, in many campaigns, the external threat of the cult can quickly usurp concerns about the lost expedition. In many respects, the members of the expedition can serve simply as plot vehicles and chapter villains, and somewhere along the way, dear old Roger gets lost in the shuffle, languishing in pitiful anonymity in the Hong Kong asylum. 

We used the New York Chapter as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for persistent dedication to the mystery of Carlyle and his fellows throughout our campaign. Meeting Roger’s sister, Erica, frequently requires great effort, and, in exchange, we offered the promise of great reward to our Investigators. Although Erica remained confident in the facts uncovered by her expedition to Kenya, she expressed an interest in recovering Roger’s remains and finally laying to rest any rumors regarding her brother. In our campaign, she developed a close relationship with Lucia and revealed by letter that she had begun to experience recurrent disturbing dreams about Roger. This initiated an ongoing exchange of letters about their findings and kept at least one group member focused on Roger at all times. Depending on your players the location of a hidden off-shore account, another secret library, or a lost artifact could be tied to Roger.  

Upon discovering the shattered man in the Hong Kong asylum, the characters may hope to extract useful information from him. Sadly, after serving his purpose, he seems to be an empty husk; however, Nyarlahotep’s cultists would not yet have realized this either. Perhaps the Investigators have been shadowed in Hong Kong, and the cult manages to kidnap Roger intended to use him as a vessel or sacrifice during the Gate Opening. If China occurs early in the campaign, Roger could function as an unreliable guide in Egypt or gate opening sites. 

While Sir Aubrey Penhew has long served as a minion of the Black Pharaoh, as your players may learn, but Dr. Huston and Ms. Masters came under his spell in Egypt. Early on in the campaign, you may attempt to paint them as sympathetic figures. We used Hypatia’s lover, Raoul, to achieve this effect, and he became another source of regular correspondence with our players. 

Aside from his introduction in New York and fully invested cult-mode in Australia, Investigators receive limited information about Huston. They may learn that he joined the expedition to avoid exposure regarding his patient/lover’s suicide with some effort. Along the way to Pnakotus, he became an unbridled megalomaniac, and we felt that arc deserved more development by revealing his frequent personality clashes with Penhew during their travels. You may choose to potentially develop Huston as a possible rival for Sir Aubrey encouraging players to engineer conflict between the two. After all, why does Penhew get to play the Big Bad? Or does he? You may develop a trail for your players revealing that each of these men served as M’Weru’s pawns from the very beginning. 

The Great Plot

Here we arrive at the meat of the campaign and the real focus of the campaign books. From Carlton Ramsey’s office to the final chapter, the Great Plot investigation will drive the action of the campaign. The first destination following the New York Chapter can substantially impact the flow of information about the global scheme to open the gate. In particular, England and China may offer the most substantial challenges.

Most groups will first land in England as they begin their great adventure. This sprawling chapter continues to introduce leads further pointing to a variety of destinations. You can think of England as New York – Part 2, as both chapters serve as clue-dispensers and tone-setters rather than climax points. In our campaign, the local intrigue involving the London Brotherhood overshadowed the broader narrative, so we strove to tie events in our chapter climax tightly to the inner workings of the Great Plot.

For our Investigators, we rooted our portrayal of the Gavigan-Shafik power struggle in Zahra’s perception that Gavigan and his cronies aim to destroy the earth, while she and al-Shakti will create a dark utopia overseen by the resurrection of their “Great Queen.” Throughout the chapter, Shafik tempted the Investigators with allusions to her benevolent plan. During our Misr House climax, she attempted to rally cultists to her by revealing Gavigan’s apocalyptic intentions, effectively bringing the Great Plot clearly into focus. All these references to Nitocris and the Great Plan remained incredibly vague and superficial, serving only to foreshadow and tease, rather than reveal. By the Chapter’s end, our Investigators expressed intense fervor to move onto Egypt and continue an assault on the wider Brotherhood’s schemes.

China, on the other hand, presents a completely different challenge. As the 4th edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep states – “Jack Brady is the key.” Once your players have acquired access to Brady in Shanghai, he can provide detailed exposition clarifying the disappearance of the Carlyle Expedition and identifying the means to disrupt the Gate Opening. While much work remains for the Investigators, a great deal of the mystery will evaporate. You can choose to tackle this in several ways. 

First, you can withhold Jack Brady, by sending him elsewhere at the time of their arrival. He could have left for Egypt in search of the other half of the broken ward believing it important, or he may be tracking down rocket technology in England or Australia. The Investigators may encounter him there or the trail may lead back to Shanghai for the final encounter on Gray Dragon Island. 

If you choose not to withhold Brady, you can center the campaign on unlocking the secrets required to cast the Eye of Light and Darkness and blocking the other gate points, which could direct players to Egypt and Kenya followed by Australia. You could even direct the campaign climax to England, as Gavigan assumes control and begins hastily constructing his own modified rocket on the Misr House grounds. On the other hand, you could delay the encounter at Gray Dragon Island and require an eventual return to China for the campaign’s conclusion.

The mystery of the Great Plot can unfold in a more measured fashion in the remaining campaign chapters as presented in the campaign book. The latest edition presents excellent suggestions for crafting climaxes at each of these locations. 

Appealing to All Players

Not every Investigator will have the same motivation. You want to be able to nourish each player equally. Understanding your players and the goals for their Investigators will guarantee investment in this lengthy campaign. Throughout MoN you should strive to maintain player interest in each campaign mystery track by appealing to their interests. The investigation into Jackson’s assassination allows your Investigators to seek retribution, while the Carlyle Expedition offers an intriguing mystery and potential financial rewards. Meanwhile, exposing and interrupting the Great Plot supplies the incredible heroic action and Mythos exploration that serves as the foundation of this classic campaign. By generously mixing these three combined pursuits throughout your campaign, your players can continually tap a rich vein of motivation to drive their dangerous mission. 

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