Being one of the most popular TRPGs in Japan, Call of Cthulhu has a plethora of official and unofficial supplements. Given its popularity, it’s about time we take a look at one of them. Entitled Our Lady of Kanzashi (かんざしの聖母【マリア】) it is a scenario book for Call of Cthulhu.
Containing three scenarios ranging between 1924 and 1950, its cover channels the Taisho and early Showa era aesthetic. Kanzashi, which the girl on the right is holding and involves the third scenario, is an ornate hairpin that comes in a variety of styles.
We’ll take a brief detour and discuss the aesthetic of the cover and the period it references. The first scenario takes place in 1924, two years before the end of Taisho, and the last scenario in 1928, two years after the end.
Regardless of genre, the Taisho Era is an ever popular period. There’s a term Taisho Romanticism (大正ロマン) that is used to describe the period and places that embody its ambiance. Taisho was a period of prosperity and cultural exchange− a mix of east and west, with people in Japanese and Western clothes mingling in the street.
There’s a sense of an artistic renaissance, with many famous artists and writers, such as the poet Yosano Akiko, working during this period. Asking friends about the era and why it is popular for scenarios, they said it’s because of the possibilities that a mix of everything, new and old, east and west, provides. In terms of style, a lot of the fashion wouldn’t be out of place if worn today. Showing the cover to my wife, she remarked that it appears to be a homage to Yumeji Takehisa (竹久夢二).
The book is the commonly used JIS B5 (182mm × 257mm) in size, and twenty-eight pages long. Its beautiful cover wraps a black and white interior that contains a few maps and drawings, but is mainly text. The main font is easy to read, with a wavy version used for speech.
Each scenario begins with a summary at the top of the page, followed by an introduction. NPCs and then scenes follow that. I haven’t run any CoC scenarios, so it may in fact be common, but I found the focus on characters and background interesting. While it could be a lack of experience with pre-made scenarios, it feels like other systems place the story structure before details on the NPC backgrounds.
The summary block for the third scenario:
Expected play time: 3~4 hours Expected number of PCs: 1-5 Difficulty: Simple Time Period: 1928 (Showa 2) Scenario Type: Information gathering Recommended Skills: Lock-picking PC Creation Advice: Think about their relation with Isoji Kirishima, one of the NPCs.
The scenarios themselves do have a chronological order, but can be played standalone. The titular scenario comes last in the book, and was an interesting read, taking place at a school built upon storied land. The writing itself is clear, but I found a number of words I wasn’t familiar with that were used to create a certain atmosphere.
The first scenario begins in Asakusa in 1924 where the scars of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake still linger. A request from a young woman Saeko Kikushima to save her sister, “Please, bring my sister home from the clutches of that repugnant man. My sweet and gentle, only sister.” She hasn’t heard from her sister, who moved to northern Ibaraki, since the earthquake, and there are also rumors afloat of young people disappearing. What follows is a race against the clock investigation of the village Senjoumura.
The second scenario also begins in Asakusa, but this time in 1950. In the squalid alleys of Asakusa lies a small sign the reads “Caspian Detective Agency.” Run by Haruhito Sakuragawa, who is friends with Saeko Kikushima’s (from the first scenario) nephew. Close in age, he sees Saeko’s nephew as a younger brother and is aware of the occult. A knock on the door brings a case that breaks the monotony of missing animal cases and investigating cheating partners. A teacher from Senjou Girl’s School has come to seek help searching for a missing student. “I’ve heard that this agency will investigate anything. Am I mistaken?”
The final scenario goes back to 1928 and this time begins with a relative of the Kikushima family. While drinking with Isoji Kirishima, they hear of a white kanzashi and a statue of Maria. They are soon drawn into its tale when he suddenly shouts out and goes catatonic, his soul drawn from his body.
Without giving away too much, all three scenarios involve the Cthulhu mythos in one way or another. Re-reading led to a lot of connections between the scenarios that I at first missed, and I enjoyed the setting.
The group Ikanodan published this collection and has several other publications to their name. Additionally, they have live and recorded streams of various games, including Kamigakari, NoviNovi TRPG, and Call of Cthulhu. Of the videos I watched, the camera was always on the table, not the players. Check it out if you’re interested in listening to TRPGs in Japanese.
I picked up my copy at Tokyo Game Market, but Kanzashi Maria is available at Yellow Submarine.