Masks of Harlem Unbound – Part 1

This post is brought to you by Steve Reynolds and Jose Manuel Caballero as an abridged excerpt from their ongoing herculean work The Unpleasant Complement to Masks: New York

Warning: Contains Harlem Unbound Spoilers

Harlem Unbound is Chris Spivey’s wonderful supplement for Call of Cthulhu, currently in its second edition. In addition to incredible historical detail and game tools, this outstanding sourcebook contains brilliant and often heart-wrenching scenarios. If you have the time and inclination to include them in your MoN campaign, you can expect these adventures to enrich everyone’s experience and bring 1920s Harlem into the well-deserved spotlight. This is the first of several excerpts from the Unpleasant Complement to Masks: New York, in which we provide some options for incorporating Harlem Unbound’s scenarios into the New York Chapter. 

Regarding SAN rewards and development phases from the completion of an integrated scenario, we think the SAN reward should be applied since you are putting the mental health of the investigators at risk with more going on. You might consider a mini-development phase, where the players could roll to develop one or two skills, but this is, of course, at the Keeper’s discretion. 


Jack Johnson and Jack “Brass” Brady shaking hands at an Expedition fundraiser.

“The Contender” is a tragic scenario—one of the most beautiful and devastating the Chaosium catalog offers up. It easily serves as an interlude between Peru and New York. Alternatively, if you have motivated investigators, it adds depth to preliminary investigations into the Carlyle Expedition following the receipt of Jackson’s telegram, but preceding the ill-fated reunion at the Chelsea Hotel. 

Plot Hooks:  If running this scenario as part of a probe into the Carlyle expedition, the investigators learn through news articles (see Handout below) or media contacts that Jack Johnson was on the verge of joining Carlyle’s team in 1919. Before revealing any information to the investigators, Johnson hints at some unusual elements and strange characters but requests their help before he’s willing to say anything more. 

Supplemental Handout

Scenario Modifications: None, it can be run as written with the modified plot hook. 

Information Gained & Rewards: If the investigators complete their task to Johnson’s satisfaction, he provides information on the Carlyle principals, and pointedly mentions Nichonka Bunay as the reason he declined to participate (“For some reason, that woman just scared me.”). Completing this scenario as an interlude before the arrival of Jackson’s telegram means there is no reason to ask yet, but later research or NPC interactions lead back to Johnson, who willingly offers this information:

  • During a private after-hours party for the expedition at the Cotton Club, Johnson caught Carlyle and Bunay, a mysterious African woman, being “indecent” in the men’s room. As he walked in he heard Carlyle passionately moaning “M’Weru, my goddess!…” When the woman spotted him in the bathroom mirror, they locked eyes as her face transformed into the most maliciously wicked look he’s ever seen.
    • Downstream consequences of this clue: Africa’s Dark Sects contains handwritten notations in two styles (M’Weru and M’Dari) defacing the book’s margins. In addition to correcting incorrect ritual chants, listing expiration dates for ingredients and providing local substitutes,  M’Dari crosses out a note by M’Weru and criticizes her by name making the earlier encounter a clear link between Nichonka Bunay and the Bloody Tongue. 
  • If running  “An Ode for the Lost”, Johnson can help supply a hook by referring the investigators to Langston Hughes to potentially learn more about Bunay. Whether this yields any useful information is up to the Keeper’s discretion. 
  • If asked further about the woman, he recalls her as an alleged poet and cultural liaison, who participated in promotional events for the expedition. Even though she was always at Carlyle’s side, Johnson never saw her mentioned in any articles, and she always declined to pose for photographs.
  • He’s certain he saw her just once in Harlem without Carlyle. He immediately recognized that same wicked look in the moonlight as she beckoned him to join her and a real tough-looking African fellow as they turned into a dark alley. After that, he was done with the Carlyle Expedition. 
  • About other members, Johnson regards them as a bunch of self-absorbed muckety-mucks, except Brady—“He was a stand-up guy, a big-six. Loyal to a fault.”  The two even arranged a promotional boxing match during which Johnson noticed “a hard, solid surface, like metal” resting on Brady’s chest as they lightly sparred. 
  • Optionally, Keepers may provide an additional comment from Johnson about Erica Carlyle. He recalls brief, aloof encounters with the Carlyle heiress, which dripped with condescension. But her chilly treatment of him paled in comparison to her extreme disgust for Bunay. Depending on his relationship with the investigators, he potentially identifies her as “another wealthy bigot.”


This Dreamlands scenario features a direct tie to the MoN campaign through its guest appearance by the deceased Jackson Elias. It’s also thematically appropriate as the key Mythos artifact is a literal mask, and the Dreamlands is a preferred playground for Nyarlathotep. Despite these meaningful connections, it still requires a bit of tweaking to fit nicely. Thanks to the Dreamlands setting, it provides an opportunity for no-holds-barred deadly action; however, according to the rules of the realm, only a single dream-death is allowed before the Dreamer is prohibited from returning. If strictly adhering to these guidelines, any investigator previously killed in a Dreamlands scenario is out, and they may need to sit this adventure out or inhabit a backup or appropriate  NPC.

Plot Hooks: 

Poet Langston Hughes and associates on a Harlem rooftop in 1924.
  • Langston Hughes invites the investigators to Dr. Locke’s talk in Harlem. Potential opportunities to encounter Hughes include: 
    • Jackson Elias’ funeral
    • At the Lafayette Theater where they meet Millie Adams
    • Through a referral by Jack Johnson (see above)
    • During an evening at the Dark Tower (more on this later).
  • Alternatively, the scenario could be adjusted to include the Dreamlands portion only. Potential opportunities include:
    • A séance in England (or New York) attempting to contact Elias’ spirit. To integrate this hook assume Dr. Locke is coincidentally using the mask at the same time as the seance allowing introductions with events proceeding per the published scenario. 
    • During a quest in the Dreamlands to reach Dr. Robert Huston.

Scenario modifications:

  • Alter the scenario timeline to accommodate the campaign by moving Locke’s discovery of the mask to mid-late 1924.
  • While a visit with Jackson after the events of MoN provides poignant nostalgia, moving this scenario into the active investigation of MoN requires careful handling of the murdered author. Ideally, by including Jackson the aim is to build intrigue and mystery rather than dispense vital clues. Some options for Jackson in the Dreamlands are:
    • He is a husk, a puppet for Nyarlathotep, there to tease and mislead the PCs
      • This version might discourage their efforts, needle the investigators, or attempt to provoke underlying madness.
      • Provide useful, but dangerous clues—such as encouraging them to open the Chakota pit, study dangerous tomes, direct them to large cult gatherings, or send them to isolated locations, like Mount Morris Park for an ambush by a hunting horror.
    • He can only recall events leading up to his closest earthly encounter with Nyarlathotep, in the guise of the Father of Maggots. He recalls their adventures and provides disturbing details about the alien god beneath the Peruvian pyramid, but nothing beyond it.  
    • He is incapable of coherently answering questions relevant to the plans and schemes of Nyarlathotep, every attempt to do results in a pained attempt followed by a horrendous reaction. Perhaps his face flashes to one of Nyarlathotep’s many guises, his tongue melts, or he vomits a vile substance. Too many questions and he might even attack the party…keep it up and he could permanently transform into some hideous thing that wants to feed.
      • If an investigator dies from an attack by whatever Jackson turned into they should receive a vision similar to those from the Golden Mirror.
      • Before his sudden transformations, Jackson could struggle to blurt out a few cryptic words obliquely relevant to the question asked or otherwise connected to the plot; “…winged demons flying off the Mountain” or “the many eating faces..!” or emphasize an overlooked aspect of the plot that the players failed to recognize as important (“the solar timetable!”). Keepers are encouraged to prepare something contextually appropriate to their campaign.

Information Gained & Rewards:

  • The gratitude of Langston Hughes and Dr. Locke. This potentially negates any racial tension modifiers or other social penalties in Harlem (see Harlem Unbound, page 92)  and opens avenues of investigation throughout the neighborhood.
  • Potential clues (or misdirection) offered by Jackson.
  • An alliance with the Cats of Ulthar, which may prove useful in future Dreamlands adventures or later chapters, such as negotiations in Egypt’s “The Black Cat.”