The Facts:66 pages, six of which are consumed by the cover, a frontispiece, the OGL, an ad, and the back cover.
Written by Dan Proctor and Michael Curtis
Art by Sean Aaberg and Mark Allen (spoiler alert: the art is awesome)
The pdf cost me a very reasonable $4.95
The Conjecture:The introductory chapter "Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy" is a well considered essay on the major (or at least most game-able) themes of HPL's mythos. It's hardly exhaustive, but Proctor clearly understands the material. Anyone seeking a deeper insight into the material should check out Hite's Tales out of Lovecraft, Houellebecq's Against the World, Against Life, and Joshi's HP Lovecraft: A Life. Proctor is clearly presenting the work as it relates to fantasy adventure games, and this is a good thing. (More on this at the end).
Next we get PC writeups for some monstrous races, including Innsmouth types, Subhumans, White Apes, and White Ape hybrids. None of these did much for me. I think the idea was to provide alternatives to the standard fantasy races (which are thematic kryptonite to mythos-inspired games). There's nothing wrong with any of these guys, I just didn't find them particularly inspiring. I'd probably play a Subhuman based on the name alone though. I am complete agreement with Blair that there really should've been a Ghoul race. Duh.
Next: New Magic, which provides ten new alchemical formulae (including things like the Drug of Zakarion, Satampra Zeiros's Powder of Ziephor, and Herbert West's secret formula). I dug every one of them. I also liked the majority of the fourteen new spells provided (Hideous Graft, Initiate Familiar, Mind Transference, and Walk Among Angles being especially gnarly).
The next twenty pages are monsters. All the usual suspects are here (though the lack of Gugs is nearly as unforgivable as the lack of Ghoul PCs). A number of these guys are less impossible to kill than I'd imagine.
Three pages of Eldritch Artifacts follow, none of which are surprising or mind-blowing.
The next three pages are devoted to Psionics. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by them, meaning that this chapter fits right in with every other bit of D&D Psionics I've ever read. Why no one (myself included) can write a creepy, flavorful set of rules that lets my PCs head explode Scanners style is beyond me. None of the material is usable by PCs, which is a bummer. On the other hand, Proctor admits that this stuff doesn't appear much in the source material, so my complaints in this regard might be misplaced.
Appendix 1 is the first of two contributions by Michael "Dungeon Alphabet" Curtis, and it's here that Realms of Crawling Chaos came alive for me. Reading Eldritch Tomes includes a really simple system for researching forbidden books, and does a good job of modeling the dangers inherent in such activities. Maybe you learn a new spell, maybe your bones turn into jelly. I loved this system.
Appendix 2: Random Artifacts (also by Curtis) alone is worth the five bucks I paid for this thing. 100 weird powers + 100 objects to house them + 100 strange properties associated with their use = Infinite Awesome. The first two artifacts I created were an extremely magnetic cube which allows a severed head to speak, and a candle which makes the bearer a friend to all cats, and which also happens to have a discernible heartbeat! (full write ups forthcoming).
Two more Appendices include a conversion chart for Mutant Future and the literary source that each monster, object, and spell are taken from.
In the end, this book is a fun, game-able take on take on HPL's mythos. While I fall into the camp that believes things like Great Old Ones probably shouldn't be represented with game stats, I also accept that any D&D game in which Cthulhu appears is probably going to end with someone trying to stab him in the face. If you're looking to play a deep game of cosmic nihilism and existential dread, D&D is not that game. That game is known as Call and/or Trail of Cthulhu, and it's also very good. If, on the other hand, what you really want out of a game is to slaughter Deep Ones with an Atlantean Sword, or try and mind-control your great, great grandson into letting you bang his girlfriend, this book is for you.
Overall, I give Realms of Crawling Chaos mostly high marks. The new magic and the two chapters by Curtis are what really make this book sing (or, if you prefer, whisper sibilantly). Nothing contained in this book is anything that an HPL diehard couldn't produce themselves, but the two HPL diehards who did produce it did a really good job. My overall hatred of Lulu will prevent my getting a print copy any time soon, but as a five dollar PDF it's a no brainer.
Still pissed off about the Ghouls & Gugs though.
DUDE: "Ghouls & Gugs: the Roleplaying Game". THAT WOULD BE FUCKING SICK!