The Parapsychologist’s Handbook doesn’t start out promising. The introduction reads “Not just the Mythos…” If this were a catchphrase on a separate line it might have made more sense, but as an introduction it seems like a sentence fragment. The real introduction begins immediately thereafter: “Have you ever wondered just how frightening a ghost or poltergeist might be in Call of Cthulhu?” The question is an important one, as the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game often features characters that are clueless about the supernatural – to know too much is to go mad – and yet there were most certainly specialists who investigated such things, harkening back to the 1800s. This monograph seeks to fill in the gaps.
Unfortunately, the very next sentence conflates “its” and “it’s.” The last paragraph of the introduction reads like a review of the product, explaining how frustrating it must be for players to not read the Keeper’s section. “If however if you wish to read these as well, perhaps because you Keeper and play at different times, there is no real problem if you do, though you may wish to check with your Keeper.” Ugh. At times the author refers to himself as “I” and at times as “the author.” This is not a well-edited monograph.
Speaking of the author, he is apparently an accomplished researcher of the paranormal, having investigated “three mediums, three haunting and two poltergeists as well as an out of the body experience.” This helps ground much of the first chapter, peppering advice for investigators with real life examples. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR), a real organization, is frequently cited as a reference. The first chapter covers the basics paranormal investigation, including equipment and observation. Throughout, Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear is quoted seven times, often with two quotes to a page. The Handbook provides rules for both the Basic Roleplaying and d20, an important selling point.
The second chapter is a short rules-free section that explains tests of parapsychology in controlled conditions. The third chapter provides templates and careers for BRP but not d20. Chapter four deals with the operating supernatural paradigm of the game universe, be it an actual spiritual cosmology or physics beyond human comprehension. It uses examples from previous scenarios to help flesh out which might be best for a Keeper’s campaign. Chapter five identifies the different types of ghosts and provides a history of hauntings. Chapter six is similarly structured, focusing on poltergeists. Chapter seven covers spiritualism, mediumship, and techniques in investigating both. Chapter eight delves into the history of psychical research from around the world and profiles of famous real-life ghosthunters.
In chapter ten is a Keeper resource — the “frustrating” part of the monograph for those of us who aren’t Keepers. The subsequent installments mimic the earlier player-oriented chapters, covering investigation, parapsychology in the lab, rules on running ghosts, poltergeists, mediumship, and psychics. Chapter fourteen details how psychics are vulnerable to the Mythos.
Appendix A adds new psychic feats for d20 Cthulhu games, and another Appendix A has a list of adventure seeds. Appendix B treats the proceedings of the SPR as Mythos tomes, providing an opportunity to increase skills. Appendix C contains Zener card props.
Overall, the Parapsychologist’s Handbook is a long overdue look at the world of the unknown through the eyes of fringe science. The d20 rules are a welcome addition. The author’s knowledge of both real-life paranormal investigations and of the various Chaosium supplements is invaluable. Unfortunately, typos, formatting and grammatical errors make it a difficult read.
For more info: You can purchase this product from RPGNow.com. Errata can be found at Yog-Sothoth.