I'm a Lovecraft snob. I hate plush Cthulhus. I think Pokéthulhu is an abomination. And I'm not looking forward to release of whatever the heck that comedy film about Cthulhu is called. You'll be hard pressed to find someone more annoyed by the way that the Great Old Ones have become, well, domesticated and turned into meaningless geek totems rather than being used as symbols of Lovecraft's cosmic horror.
Consequently, I tend to be very critical of most gaming treatments of HPL's work. Even Call of Cthulhu, which I consider one of the finest RPGs ever written and indeed a model for others to emulate, is not immune to my withering gaze of disdain from time to time. So, when I first learned that Dan Proctor was turning his attention to Yog-Sothothery for a supplement to Labyrinth Lord, I wasn't sure what to think. I'm naturally inclined to trust Dan Proctor, given his authorship not just of Labyrinth Lord but, more importantly, of Original Edition Characters and the Advanced Edition Companion, both of which have aided me immeasurably in the running of my Dwimmermount campaign. Even so, Lovecraft's creations are difficult to translate into game form, particularly when the game in question is Dungeons & Dragons. Despite the legendary status that the lost "Cthulhu Mythos" chapter of Deities & Demigods has among old schoolers, I'm of the (possibly minority) opinion that it's only Erol Otus's near-perfect artwork that gives it any worth.
It's worth noting that Realm of Crawling Chaos (hereafter RoCC) has a subtitle -- "Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy" -- that Proctor uses as the subject of a 4-page introduction that lays out his approach to the book's subject matter. In short, RoCC is an attempt to merge D&D's swords-and-sorcery with Lovecraft's horror to create "dark fantasy." The introduction then goes on to explicate the features of Lovecraft's horror, such as "the insignificance of man," "the vastness of the universe," "science as a double edged sword," and so on. Each feature of Lovecraft's worldview is treated briefly but clearly, undiluted by that of his pasticheurs (although a handful of works by Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith have been added to the mix). The result is, I think, a very "pure" vision of cosmic horror that sets it apart from that of many other RPGs treatments of the same subject matter.
RoCC first presents a number of new Lovecraftian races for use with Labyrinth Lord, in both race-as-class and "advanced" formats. These races are sea bloods (human-deep one hybrids), subhumans (human-voormis hybrids), white apes, and white ape hybrids. A number of new spells and formulae -- complex spells dependent on rare material components -- are described afterward, all of them drawn from Lovecraftian tales. The bulk of the book (20 of its 64 pages) are taken up by descriptions of the monsters, races, and beings of the Mythos, including such heavy hitters as Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep. Eldritch artifacts, which is to say, Lovecraftian magic items are treated too, along with an extensive system for randomly creating new ones. Rounding out the book is an excellent psionics system and a clever way to handle tome -- unfortunately misspelled as "tombs" in several places in the text -- in Labyrinth Lord.
Taken together, RoCC provides all the building blocks a referee needs to introduce as little or as much Lovecraftian material into his campaign as he wishes. I think, ultimately, that's the real genius of this book and the reason why I find it so appealing, despite my little quibbles and criticisms of Proctor's interpretations of Lovecraft in places. This is a toolbox, a word that tends to get overused in my experience, but in this case is very apt. Beyond the introduction, Proctor offers no philosophizing, no advice, no campaign setting -- only stuff to use with your Labyrinth Lord campaign. How that stuff is used is up to each referee to decide and he's free to pick and choose what he wants without being expected to take anything else. Want to add the deep ones to your campaign? Here's the stats for them and there's no expectation you'll also include Father Dagon, Mother Hydra, or Cthulhu, though he can, since there's stats for them too -- along with almost everything else you can find in Lovecraft's writings.
Realms of Crawling Chaos is a great book for do-it-yourself referees, who like to have a bunch of resources available to them from which they can borrow liberally. It's not "ready to play," though, since, beyond its introduction, it offers no guidance on how to use its material, trusting each referee to use it in whatever way he deems best for the type of campaign he runs. Personally, I wish more supplements adopted this approach and hope that the release of this product encourages others to release others in its vein.
Realms of Crawling Chaos is available as a PDF for $4.95 or as a softcover print book for $17.95. The book uses a simple, two-column format and is, except for the aforementioned confusion of "tome" with "tomb" in several places, reads well. The interior artwork is by Sean Aaberg and Mark Allen and includes several quite striking pieces, particularly by Allen, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite artists of the old school renaissance.
Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 8 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for a smorgasbord of Lovecraftian races, monsters, spells, and artifacts for use in your old school fantasy campaign.
Don't Buy This If: You don't have any interest in introducing Lovecraftian elements into your fantasy campaign.