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Reviews - Secrets of Los Angeles
 
by Steve Kani


Secrets of Los Angeles coverSecrets of Los Angeles
Published by Chaosium
Written by Peter Aperlo with Paul Carrick and Mislet Michel
Cover by Paul Carrick
Illustrated by Mislet Michel
192-page b&w perfect bound softback
$24.95

Secrets of Los Angeles is part of a series of city sourcebooks for Call of Cthulhu set in the 1920's. Like the other books in this series, Secrets of Los Angeles is meant to give the Keeper enough information about the major people, places and events of the area and era. The City of Angels - with it's rich history, diverse culture, and it's ties to the world of show business - makes an ideal backdrop for many an adventure.

Production Value
Overall, the book's production value is uninspired, but not bad. There is not much in the way of actual artwork, save for a handful of drawings. The cover is a sepia colored painting of a tentacled horror devouring what appears to be the atmospheric generator from the movie Aliens (actually, it's probably Graumann's Chinese Theater). The rest of the interior images are photos, maps and floor plans. Many of the maps are actually from the 1920's and really add a nice authentic flavor to the book. Considering the availability of inexpensive and yet surprisingly sophisticated home interior planning software, the book's floor plans are rather crude. The layout is also uninspired but readable, and the editing is significantly better than other Chaosium products I've seen.

Organization
The book contains seven chapters and two short scenarios. The first chapter describes the real history of the Los Angeles basin. The authors provide some useful details here for the Keeper, offering a general overview of what Los Angeles was like during the 1920's. The sidebars in this section are pretty useful as well, though I found the Los Angeles street name generator a little odd.

The next three chapters contain information on the various regions of Los Angeles. Each chapter has a street map of the location and descriptions of key locations and people. It's a lot of stuff, and finding a specific location on the fly is difficult at best. It took me fifteen minutes to find UCLA, and I knew where to look. The fifth chapter covers various outlying areas within easy driving distance of Los Angeles. The sixth chapter gives an overview of the film industry including terminology, technology and scandals.

Beneath the Glitz and Glamour
The last chapter covers Californian myths, sample spells, evil tomes and creatures. There are two short scenarios: "The Shadow Over Hollywood" and "The Blackness Beneath".

Los Angeles has a diverse culture and colorful history. Each chapter is full of locations and landmarks, colorful characters both real and fictional, and enough history to bring Tinseltown to life in any campaign. Ultimately, everything comes back to show business and the movie industry - a wonderfully rich subject on which to base any number of Call of Cthulhu games. Thoughtfully included are numerous scandalous people and events to stimulate the imagination. In addition, a number of Mythos themes have been inserted into the rich pastiche of the city.

(Beware of a few spoilers in the following paragraph)

From Tcho-tchos serving human meat in a restaurant in Chinatown, to a Yithian city under Signal Hill, several amusing seeds are presented as springboards for adventure. The Tsathoggua worshipping Indian tribe in the San Gabriel Mountains may possibly be viewed as slightly offensive by some - particularly those of Native American descent. Many of the Mythos related items seemed a bit haphazard to me. Deep ones living in the waters of the coast of California made some sense to me, as the island of Ponape was alleged to have been discovered in the western Pacific. The seventeen foot statue of Shub Niggurath buried in a lagoon near Malibu seemed a bit random. In nearly every Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, it seems there is one or more individuals of Chinese descent that know a little more about the Mythos than everyone else - and Secrets of Los Angeles is no exception! Not only does the book feature the obligatory elderly Chinese sage, but an evil sorcerer as well.

Conclusions
For many of us, imagining what it was like to live anywhere in the 1920's is a bit difficult. Secrets of Los Angeles, despite it's shortcomings, can help - there is plenty of worthwhile information to help build a game with the proper tone and atmosphere. How much does it cost to ride a trolley? Where can I stay the night? Who is the police chief? Where the heck are we? These are questions that a Keeper might have to answer, and while it may take some digging around in the book for a few minutes, the answers are frequently there. However, the book is far from comprehensive, and I would recommend that anyone wanting to use this setting go out and purchase a complete road map of the Los Angeles area, or hunt for some era-appropriate maps online.

In order to run a satisfactory adventure or campaign in the City of Angels, it's almost imperative that the Keeper be thoroughly familiar with Secrets of Los Angeles. While not perfect, the book makes a good effort and delivers a lot of solid information for the price.

 
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