It’s all too easy to write off the Dark Ages as a time of superstition and ignorance. It is much harder to try to get into the mindset of the people of that time and try to understand why they believed what they believed. While things like bleeding people to rebalance their humors seem the height of stupidity these days, there are no doubt beliefs we have now that will seem just as silly to people in another 500 years. The task of understanding the people of this era is made all the harder by the fact that we live in a time when freedom, independence and the thirst for knowledge are lauded whereas the people of that era were expected to know their place and stay in it. The life of most people in the Dark Ages was a span of unremitting drudgery generally ended by a painful death. The religions of the era, while sometimes giving hope, were often nothing more than another method for people with power to oppress the general populace. Can it be any surprise then that this time provides an almost perfect backdrop for the lurking terror, horrifying unknown and slow insanity that is part and parcel of a Call of Cthulu game?
The Abbey is a game supplement for this very game and setting. It revolves around a remote monastery dedicated to the Order of St. Jerome. This monastery is no doubt like countless others, including having a relic that is the last physical remnant of a saint. In this case, this relic is a piece of skin from the saint that is covered in words written with his own blood. While this is disturbing enough, it is even more disturbing that the writing was done voluntarily by the saint himself. Of course, given the predilection of various churches and monasteries for keeping severed fingers, eyes and other, less savory, body parts this is not exceptionally out of the norm.
What is written on the skin is more important, and in the end, more disturbing than the material itself. Driven by a need to warn humanity the saint committed arcane, forbidden knowledge to the only parchment he had with the only ink he could procure which hinted at a darker, unknowable world. This world, of course, is the world of the Great Old Ones.
Of course, the idea that there are such enormously powerful entities that do not fit into the black and white world of Heaven and Hell makes the text blasphemous in the eyes of the Church. Nonetheless, they cannot ignore the very real threat. Thus, the monastery is a sort of necessary evil and one that is balanced on shaky ground with the rest of the Church. They have been tasked with finding other documents and texts which deal with this subject and destroy most of them, keeping only one of each text aside in hiding as a sort of research library into the nature of these eternal evils to help the faithful fight them.
The group set with this task is known as the Sword of St. Jerome. The monks (and nuns) who have dedicated themselves to this organization have developed a number of special skills specifically for the purpose of hunting down these dangerous texts and relics. It’s also the group that the characters are expected to be a part of.
While this duty is something of an honor, it is also a curse. After all, it falls on these individuals to face things that should not be and risk their sanity in keeping the faithful, and humanity in general, safe from them.
The history provided in the supplement for both the monastery and the order are rich without being overly complex. In addition to the usual political machinations common to the area and the time, there are moments of insanity driven by the touch of Mythos entities.
Like many products designed for Call of Cthulu, the book is an excellent reference on the subject matter involved beyond the game and story information. Call of Cthulu games always take place in a close facsimile of our own world so all the data about the time and place given are thorough, interesting and factual. Anyone simply interested in France in the Dark Ages would find a plethora of useful information. Of course, France in the Dark Ages bore little resemblance to the France of today, and The Abbey does a good job of conveying these differences to help players more accurately portray characters from the era.
A broad cast of NPC characters is also provided for the Storyteller to work with. Each major player at the monastery is profiled demonstrating that there is some politicking even in a unified group of religious characters.
Additionally, to help the GM, there are two sections of plot hooks, one revolving around the village and the monastery itself and another that deals specifically with the threats and dangers that the order of monks seeks out as part of their holy task.
There is even a set of encounters presented to reflect the dangers inherent in travelling in this time. Only a fraction of these encounters have anything to do with threats from the Mythos and that serves as a good reminder of why most people in this time never travelled more than a few miles away from their home and the general ignorance of events in the world. People often had little idea of what was going on in the next village over, let alone the nation or the world. In a time of super highways and air travel it is hard for us to imagine that a trip of 10 or 20 miles could be fraught with both human and natural dangers.
The Abbey, though relatively short, provides enough detail and history to form a nice campaign in the Cthulu Dark Ages setting. It would be quite easy to put together a group of monks and nuns who were involved in the order and who were assigned the task of investigating forbidden texts. This campaign could easily run from the usual threats in a Call of Cthullu game which revolves around encounters with the Mythos to more mundane threats that were common to the time. Even political machinations from other sections of the Church could provide interesting stories.