Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s Masks of Nyarlathotep – A Review

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Masks of Nyarlathotep is one of the best scenarios for a role-playing game ever written. First released in 1984, Masks has been revised and rereleased multiple times. Masks is so well known there is a published 763-page supplement (Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion) to the 251page original campaign. Recently Dark Adventure Radio Theater released a dramatization of the Masks of Nyarlathotep RPG Campaign.

Masks of Nyarlathotep begins with the murder of occult book writer Justin Elias in New York City. The investigators unravel a complicated plot with action potentially taking place in six major locations across five continents. I don’t want to spoil the Masks RPG supplement or the radio dramatization which necessitates a cautious review. Masks is broken up into six episodes each being approximately an hour and ten minutes long. Total program length is approximately seven hours.

The Dramatization uses a cliff hanger approach. Tension builds, something very bad is about to happen, and they break for a very short “commercial.” There are commercials for multiple, fictitious brands all with subtle comedy. No commercials are repeated. Let me provide two examples. The first is a tag line: “Bubble-Pep – the delicious beverage which improves mental health. The “L” stands for Lithium.” A second ad warned listeners of danger that your child’s toy caught fire and burned the tyke. The solution? A teddy bear made of soft asbestos, the miracle mineral that keeps your child’s toys safe from fire! Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s use of the commercials improves the “cliff hanger” feel of the production, and all commercial interruptions are brief.

Initially, all Masks Investigators have some connection to Justin Elias. As the investigation progresses some of the original characters die or go insane. New companions are recruited and some of them die or go insane – or go insane and then die. Nyarlathotep is a tough opponent. The story line is complex with a host of characters. Because every character has their own voice actor it is far easier to follow the story compared to audio productions where a single narrator or a small cast voices multiple characters.

Dark Adventure Radio Theater is a true dramatization. There is a huge cast of voice actors. High quality sound effects accompany the script. There is even an original musical score. Masks would favorably compare to the highest quality radio dramatizations from the Golden Age of Radio in the 1920s – 1950s. If you have ever listened to H.G. Wells War of the Worlds broadcast, Masks is a step up in voice acting and production quality.

I’ve listened to Masks of Nyarlahotep twice. My first listen was in the car and working out at the gym. The second listen was on two long car trips with my wife. I’ve read multiple versions of Masks of Nyarlathotep and have also read the companion volume. I’ve GMed Call of Cthulhu many times and have written multiple scenarios. My wife played Call of Cthulhu a couple of times decades ago, has never read Masks, and has never designed a scenario. Both of us enjoyed this production. My wife was followed and enjoyed the complex story line with no background knowledge of Masks and little knowledge of the Call of Cthulhu game.

Masks of Nyarlathotep has reasonable interpretations of the RPG scenario. Many blanks had to be filled in. Things were added and some things from the scenario were omitted. As someone with an extraordinary knowledge of the scenario, only one change bugged me. The way Bast was handled in Cairo made no sense and that part either should have edited out or further elaborated. Still, that was at most seven minutes of story in a 75-minute program segment.

Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s production of Masks of Nyarlathotep extends their dramatizations of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. They have previously released dramatizations of multiple H.P. Lovecraft short stories and novellas from the Cthulhu Mythos. All are styled after classic 1930s radio dramas. Most of their work is available on Audible. The dramatizations can be purchased on CD or as digital downloads.
Masks can also be purchased with a large variety of props from the story at a substantially higher price. The props are not needed to enjoy the audio production.

Honestly, the props are only helpful if you are game mastering Masks of Nyarlathotep as a Call of Cthulhu game for a group of players. It is the longest Call of Cthulhu segment out there and it takes a huge time commitment by both GM and players to finish. I would only purchase the props if: a] you have a group committed to playing Masks, b] you as GM are committed to running Masks, and c] you think that the props add enough value to your game experience to merit the hefty cost. If this is true, by all means purchase the deluxe package. But most interested in listening to Masks of Nyarlathotep will not benefit much from the prop package.

I’m a huge consumer of audio books and own at least a hundred. I’ve regularly listened to audiobooks for decades. Originally, I listened to audiobooks when I had to make occasional long drives or as background when doing something mind numbing – like painting walls. Then my wife gave me an Audible membership to encourage me to stop listening to the news on my car radio when I had a very stressful job. Today, I listen to audiobooks most of the time in my car, even on short trips. I also listen to audiobooks when I’m at the gym by myself. I complete an audio book about every two weeks.

Masks of Nyarlathotep is an excellent, but somewhat short (seven hour) audiobook experience. It is fabulous if you are familiar with the RPG scenario and the Call of Cthulhu game. If you understand the Cthulhu mythos but have no familiarity with the RPG scenario, Masks is also an excellent listen (according to my wife). It is a little pricey at $35 compared to other audio books. But the price will probably fall somewhat as the years pass. I do not recommend buying the prop package version which runs $70 unless you have a strong commitment to running Masks as an RPG.

If you want a prop set to run Masks, the $129 prop package also sold by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is much better. The props with the CD pale in comparison to that prop package.  If you have a group committed to playing Masks and you want to GM it – this will probably take six months or more of game sessions for people who work for a living. The prop package is a reasonable purchase if you spend that amount of time. A good unboxing video of all of the props can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=480&v=WEjxwI3nWzw

Purchase information and product details are found at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society http://www.hplhs.org/ on their store page. Masks is not currently available at Audible, but Audible sells most other Dark Adventure Radio Theater productions.

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