edited by Paolo Greco, with contributions by Charlie Ferguson-Avery, Evoro, The Furtive Goblin, Isaak Hill, John Gregory, Rowan A., Paolo Greco, and Jack Shear
Published by Lost Pages
This is not a review of a creepy spellbook-supplement-thing: I lack the familiarity with modern occult horror games, especially those which inhabit the more obscure corners of old-school gaming, to write a proper one. While The Book of Gaub uses “OSR” style statistics, it is for all intents and purposes outside the scope of D&D-inspired gaming as most of us understand it: therefore, the following post will be more recommendation than proper criticism. Essentially, The Book of Gaub is a grimoire of stuff for horror games set in the 20th century, accompanied by several “micro-fictions”, or small pieces of flavour text. The tone and content mainly recall the antiquarian horror stories of M. R. James (although with more blood and guts), the grotesques of Franz Kafka, and some of the more recent horror writers; it avoids associations with the Mythos, although you could use it as a basis for a good Call of Cthulhu campaign to replace tiresome Old Squidface.
Who is the mysterious Gaub? Not even this book tells us; we only get to know him by way of a creepy hand with seven spindly, crooked fingers (including one that “does not, will not, and has not existed. Ever”). These charmingly named fingers (“The Finger Under the Floorboards”, “The Finger Gnawed to the Bone”, etc.) are associated with 49 spells, a handful of creatures, occult items, and magical phenomena. Mr. Gaub has certainly been around, and you can find his handywork in many unwholesome events. The setting around the hand of Gaub is a modern world of gloom, of deformities and medical horrors, of abandoned houses and sickening, miasmatic urban environments, of sadistic authority figures and reclusive malformities.
Most spells in The
Book of Gaub are specific enough and weird enough to carry the premise of a
whole adventure; and since each is accompanied by a small vignette of a story, many
of them come with a basic idea sufficient for an adventure hook or at least
element. Herein, we find spells such as “Perdivagrant” (all of them have
strange, fanciful names), a spell that leads a lost company back to a known
starting point, while travelling through strange and unsettling landscapes; “Pamphagous”,
which evokes an insatiable hunger in the target that will probably lead to horrible
consequences; “Orgiophant”, which results in a terrible proliferation of extra
limbs on the hapless victim; or “Lichoscope”, a reanimation spell that only preserves
the animated corpse while the caster keeps looking at it (much to the horror of
the intellect now once again inhabiting it). As seen above, the spells become useful
in specific situations you often need to set up carefully beforehand (not
unlike the magic of Helvéczia), and many of them are closer to plot
devices than direct utility magic. But on their own, they are creepy and highly
imaginative. (Props to the authors and the editor for the consistent tone and
unity of vision.)
No Pain, No Gain
The book is more than a simple grimoire. Each of the different fingers have associated occult paraphernalia: “a doll made of hundreds of burnt matches bound together” (will snuff out fires, but requires the owner to start fires or it will go and make one of its own); “a dull stethoscope that does not work” (but it will scream if used on an injured or diseased area); or “a ring of 2d6 skeleton keys” which will cause doors locked with them to disappear and leave behind a barren wall. There is a table for 100 magical catastrophes (which might result in the stars taking an unpleasant interest in the caster, a being of luminous beauty visiting during his or her next rest, or a premonition of being followed by something).
I was particularly impressed by the imaginative selection of monsters: the Corner Beast (whose glimpse you might just catch out of the corner of your eye, and whose presence is not registered by careless bystanders even if it kills), the Squeak (an enormous conglomerate of dead rodents resembling a rat king, eager to devour everyone in a house and identified by “too many mouse holes”), or the Dear Reader (this book-shaped monster not only reads YOU, it trades secrets in exchange for other secrets and blood). The monsters come with minimal stats, but useful descriptions describing not only their abilities, but their wants, the omens that betray their presence, and their use in occult stuff (for example, the Squeak can be fashioned into a handkerchief which can imbue liquids it is dipped into with potent, deadly rat poison). Finally, a collection of adventure hooks is also offered – maybe a bit hit or miss, but where they hit, they hit.
The Book of Gaub looks the part of an occult folio you might find in the seedier kind of bookstore, bound in sickening lilac cloth depicting The Hand as a creepy white impression, and supplemented with a bookmark. The paper is nice and the layout is quite elegant, a deliberate echo of the Arts & Crafts movement. Things are indexed and easy to reference. There are numerous illustrations of sickly and scurrying things, many of them reminiscent of Scrap Princess’ better work (although without the nightmarish intensity). Not only is the book pleasant to carry and read, but you can also use it as a prop of… itself. If I am allowed a parting shot: handy!