Masks of Harlem Unbound – Part 2

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

This is the second installment from the Unpleasant Complement to Masks: New York providing suggestions and options for incorporating Harlem Unbound’s scenarios into the New York Chapter. For an introduction and information about “The Contender” and “An Ode for the Lost” see Part 1


What vile curse does Peter Stuyvesant throw as he prepares to surrender New Amsterdam?

This historical scenario set in Dutch Haarlem brings the investigators into contact with the Black Man avatar of Nyarlathotep. This journey back to 1680 provides early direct contact with the campaign’s titular antagonist. It offers an opportunity for the manipulative Outer God to corrupt the investigators, increasing their vulnerability to his manipulations during the main campaign. Alternatively, the experience hints at the wide-reaching power of the Crawling Chaos and encourages investigators to prepare themselves for trickery. What’s more, there is Mythos knowledge to be gained and the possibility of recovering useful artifacts.

Plot Hooks: 

  • If planning to run this scenario as an interlude before the main campaign, Keepers must decide how to involve the investigators. Possibilities include a shared Dream, a drug-induced trip, or the temporal ripples entry point described in the written scenario (page 273). In our campaign, we opt to have the consciousness (or spirit) of each investigator inhabit Haarlem residents rather than being physically transported back in time. This works particularly well since the scenario provides well-crafted pre-generated characters. 
  • Another similar option is for Nyarlathotep to harness the power of the 1925 New York Eclipse to cast the investigators’ minds into the bodies of Haarlem inhabitants. This entire scenario plays out during the few minutes of the total eclipse. This action relies on Nyarlathotep’s awareness of the investigators since their intervention in Peru and serves to develop an interesting cat-and-mouse game with the Crawling Chaos.
  • If you boldly expand your campaign to include scenarios from Secrets of New York, the adventure “The Half Moon” provides a potential trigger for this scenario in Ambrose Mogens’ facilities. Perhaps a Mi-Go control panel has been moved to one of Mogens’ labs. Activating it transports all in the room to the panel’s location in the tunnels back in 1680. The reverse trip cannot occur until the panel has recharged—a time period convenient to the Keeper and unknown to the investigators.
  • Of course, a fumbled Gate spell is another fun way to send investigators on unexpected adventures in spacetime.

Scenario modifications: 

  • Given the danger of the heavy-hitting shoggoths in China, revealing one here may lessen the impact. Perhaps the trap is empty, or the shoggoth’s presence is merely hinted at with horrendously powerful blows against the containment device.
  • Ancestors of NPCs with African or Dutch ancestry may be found here, enriching the flavor and connections of the story.  Considerations include Jan Willem Van Heuvelen (from Egypt’s “The Black Cat” sidetrack), Harlem Hellfighters, and Carlton Ramsey, among others. 
  • If Mogens and/or “The Half Moon” scenario are integrated, Mogens is alive and already engaged in schemes around New York at the time. He may have been involved in creating the Revenant (page 276).

Information Gained & Rewards: 

  • The location of the tunnels and the containment chamber, if located on a modern map, would put it directly adjacent to the Ju-Ju House basement. Breaking down an intervening wall could provide access or an escape route for investigators. If running Secrets of New York concurrently, are the Mi-Go control panels still hidden in the tunnels, irrevocably damaged by water, or replaced with leads pointing back to Mogens’ labs?
  • Depending on success and circumstances, investigators may encounter NPC descendants of individuals they interacted with during present-day investigations. This could include contemporary Harlem inhabitants or other denizens of New York. It could even extend to those with knowledge of historical events in Haarlem (librarians, historians, Mordechai Lemming).  These connections may smooth social situations, unlock clues, or provide access to certain locations. Similarly, if the Revenant was not destroyed, it may still be seeking the investigators. 
  • While some players may quickly identify the Black Man as a Nyarlathotep avatar, this information should only be revealed in-game with a successful Cthulhu Mythos. Perhaps, the Black Man aspect pursues a different agenda than the God of the Bloody Tongue or hopes to sow greater chaos by enlisting the investigators. He could present himself as a dangerous ally, only to betray them later. He provides appealing Monkey’s Paw offers of knowledge as an enticement to sign the book, and the investigators may come away with more knowledge of the Plan, or even visions of the future if the Plan is successful. He could even reappear in later chapters to provide risky advice and cryptic clues. He could encourage the study of dangerous tomes and point out useful, but high-cost spells. Adding a cunning and manipulative avatar to the campaign directly involves Nyarlathotep and provides a nice counterpart to the overtly deadly and powerful aspects encountered elsewhere. 
  • Secrets of New York: if including Ambrose Mogens, then his (alleged) ancestor is revealed as a nefarious servant of the Black Man. 


Millionaire A’Lelia Walker, patron of the arts and hostess at the influential Dark Tower. 

This scenario is a historical name-dropping delight and provides a possibility of mob connections to the elite of organized crime in New York—useful if you survive the encounter and a very unconventional way to save Hilton Adams, or dare we say, even Jackson Elias. The Dark Tower is such an interesting focal point of the Harlem Renaissance it seems a shame not to work it into a MoN campaign. Our larger work, Unpleasant Complement to Masks: New York, has a number of connections to the Dark Tower, so it is natural for us to look at integrating this story.

Please note that in doing so we wantonly sacrifice historical accuracy on the altar of fun.

The scenario is distinctly weird and deadly. Due to this, it fits nicely follows the weirdness of the Solar Eclipse and best including after the group has done enough investigating to be aware of Adams, and perhaps of the Ju-Ju house, itself. 

Plot Hooks: 

  • Dr. Lemming (or even Erica Carlyle) points to the Dark Tower as a suspicious place, but also somewhere to find answers or people. Lemming sources some of his art from there—adding an additional investigative Harlem point of interest beyond the Ju-Ju House. 
  • If searching for leads about African Death Cults in Harlem, these investigations may lead to discussions about whose interests this sensational topic serves. Harlem’s ideological intelligentsia with strong opinions is likely to be found debating this and other intriguing matters at the Dark Tower. 
  • If the investigators earn Jack Johnson’s trust in “The Contender,” he may ask them to tag along to the Dark Tower. If they have turned up relevant news articles, a search for Johnson potentially leads to the tower.
  • Harlem locals or police may direct investigators to the Dark Tower as a potent rumor mill.

Scenario Modifications: 

  • The scenario shifts 3 years backward to 1925 with the ages of historical figures adjusted accordingly. Internal time shifts and returning to the ‘current’ year are also appropriately adjusted. Handouts that are dated will also need to be altered to suit.
  • The main alteration is to the visions that investigators witness, which we immediately dive into below.

A Change is Gonna Come

A portal opens. Original photo by L Geoffroy.

At the scenario’s end, the investigators and their companions must choose one of three portals opened by The Baron in Blues to conclude the adventure. Portal One depicts a world where a change (or several) has occurred. Stepping through it, they enter the new reality. This works well for integrating this adventure into the greater campaign, and Keepers may choose to exchange the remaining two portals for additional Portal One outcomes the group must select from to force a campaign-related selection. Regardless of the options provided, none should make a live, fully cognizant Jackson available to investigators in New York, as this would likely render the investigators’ primary responsibility obsolete by revealing too much of the campaign plot. In all of the options below, the investigators remain aware of their “old” timeline. Any clues they have on their person are unaffected, but clues left in the outside world will have changed to suit the new reality. Here are a selection of optional visions and associated tricks:

  • Adams was never arrested and convicted: Millie and Hilton are happy and together in present-day 1925, but now Robson is looking for one or more of the investigators to pin all the murders on instead. In this world, the Bloody Tongue’s actions are unaffected, aside from the murder of Linda Cooper. Adams was not present, and the police failed to catch the assailant who fled the scene of the crime.
  • The Ju-Ju house is just an African curio shop: the trapdoor leads to a simple basement rarely used since Silas is old and ladders are dangerous. Mukunga is just another migrant dock worker. In this world, Hilton Adams IS the guilty party. Driven mad by his war experiences and corrupting forces, he has slain numerous people around Harlem. In this version of New York, Jackson Elias died in a street (tram) car accident, and the Bloody Tongue Cult no longer operates in New York after M’Weru’s departure. The players still gain the end-game benefit of defeating the chapter in New York, and the SAN rewards for “neutralizing” Mukunga and eliminating the cultists remain unaltered. However, Hilton Adams will be executed and the investigators suffer the resultant SAN loss. 
  • No murder occurred in Room 410. The investigators see Elias reading and taking notes in the cabin of a ship at sea. There is NO indication of his destination. In this reality, Elias did not return to New York, it was simply a ruse constructed by this less insane Jackson to throw off the Brotherhood. Instead, he has taken passage to Australia. Jonah Kensington still received useful notes, but never sent a telegram to the investigators requesting help. Any relationships developed from the New York’s NPCs as a result of the telegram or the events in room 410 are gone, none of it happened. Finding Elias becomes a trail for the investigators to pursue. To facilitate this provide investigators with information from Kensington or Ramsay about the ship Elias arrived on and the alias he used before introducing “Whispers in Harlem.” If they track down the ship, they learn Elias was never on it. Continued pursuit provides evidence in London/Southampton that Elias booked passage on a route including Egypt, India, and Australia. The options opened by this alteration are many. The Keeper may wish to keep Elias at arm’s length as an elusive trailblazer, a captive to rescue, or meet a horrible end as a dramatic reveal. Perhaps he is captured by Huston, who uses his mind control device to turn Elias into an enemy. He may simply leave a bread-crumb trail of useful clues when the investigators get off-track. Note that the Bloody Tongue is still operating in New York, and should not be left to continue its work. 

Information Gained & Rewards: 

  • If the investigators rescue Agathe Bruyn, they have a powerful NPC as an ally. Whether she stays with the investigators or goes her own way depends on the circumstances during play.
  • The gratitude of many influential people with some suggested effects like political pressure to lean on the State Governor on Hilton Adams’ behalf, reduced Racial Tension modifiers (or forgiveness for misdeeds in Harlem), access to another rare copy of Africa’s Dark Sects from a personal library.
  • Some guests even have influence overseas and this might be called upon later to gain assistance in a tough diplomatic spot or if the investigators need somewhere to stay or hide.
  • Carlyle Expedition information available in the city not already uncovered elsewhere, such as clandestine access to Huston’s medical records or society rumors about Nichonka Bunay/M’Weru or Hypatia Masters.