Produced under the auspices of the effectively-identical 5th and 6th Editions of Call of Cthulhu, the two Keeper’s Companion volumes consist of a grab-bag of essays, resources, ideas and concepts which offer a useful pick-and-mix for Call of Cthulhu Keepers seeking inspiration. The first Companion bills itself on the front as “A Core Book for Keepers”; this feels like mild hucksterism on the part of the Krank-led Chaosium that published it in 2000s, since by my reckoning a genuinely “core” book for a game line is one which provides information essential to making the game happen, and the stuff you get here is nothing of the sort. (Call of Cthulhu has always been very good at providing an extremely complete game in its single core rulebook.)
That doesn’t mean it isn’t very, very useful! You get an extensive list of real-world occult texts to pepper your investigations with, deeper details on a range of significant tomes and alien races which help invest them with more character than the rather brief rundowns in the core book offer, a delicious range of Mythos artifacts, cults, and locales to get inspiration from, extended commentary on the skill list offering further pointers on how skills can be used, and a really useful essay on forensic medicine, how coroners in the US operate, and how law enforcement bodies interact with coroners and use forensic medicine in their own right, which can be great if you want to add a deeper sense of verisimilitude in terms of what the authorities are getting up to. (The Companion also helpfully notes that it contains more or less all the material from the earlier Keeper’s Compendium, so there’s no need to go hunting that unless you are a collector or completist.)
The Keeper’s Companion 2 from 2002 no longer bills itself as a core book on the front cover, though it does on the inside title page – and if anything, the description is even more tenuous when applied to this book. Again, it’s a mixture of essays and compiled lists; the latter includes detailed breakdowns of firearms for those who want that, a random selection of books, spells and creatures not previously collected in one place, and a mass of technological devices invented by humans and others featuring in a range of published Call of Cthulhu adventures and supplements over the years, gathered together in one place for convenience. There’s also a “list of lists”, providing an index of various subjects – characters, creatures, tomes and locales – dealt with in published Call of Cthulhu material, which I guess is useful if you want pointers on where you can go find an adventure which uses one of the things in question.
Aside from a bundle of material on Deep Ones at the back of the book, the two significant essays here consist of one brief snippet and one big monster. The brief one is LaVey, Satanism, and the Big Squid, a quick overview of how some wings of occultism ended up performing rites to Cthulhu in real life. Revised by J. Gordon Olmstead-Dean from an internet posting of his, it’s decent when it comes to covering the LaVey angle – particularly when it comes to illustrating how most LaVeyans are basically atheistic sorts who dress up a might-makes-right libertarian philosophy in Satanic trappings – but doesn’t offer enough details on other aspects which I think would be of interest to readers.
For instance, Olmstead-Dean notes that a certain wing of occultists teach that you can use Cthulhu in occult workings because they regard any such figure as being a basically arbitrary representation of appropriate themes, ideas and associations – so if Cthulhu is more mythologically resonant with you than Poseidon or Superman seems more meaningful to you than Horus, you can perfectly happy use them instead. He does not, however, explicitly make the connection to chaos magic, the field which this idea comes from, or give suitable pointers to find out more about the subject.
In addition, he completely fails to mention Kenneth Grant or his “Typhonian” splinter sect of the OTO – a bit of an oversight considering that Grant was one of the first occultists to pay any significant attention to Lovecraft. In his Nightside of Eden, Grant advocated (with every sign of complete sincerity) the idea that Lovecraft had some subconscious appreciation of hidden occult truths, to the point where the deities of the Mythos had an actual reality to them and that Lovecraft’s writing, influenced as it was by his dreams, reflected that reality. (Subsequent books would see Grant doubling down on this, in the face of a backlash by more “traditionalist” Thelemites, by trying to tie in UFOlogy with the whole business.) Brushing past this without even a reference is a huge omission – it’s not that Grant is necessarily especially respected in occult circles, but he’s certainly infamous within them precisely because of the Lovecraft connection.
The major essay offered up here is a detailed breakdown of Prohibition by Adam Gauntlett – how it arouse, how it died, and how things were in between. Whilst this is, of course, a subject any of us could research for ourselves given time, I find the presentation here very useful – it’s substantially longer than, say, a typical Wikipedia article on the subject, shorter and pitched at an easier level than a more scholarly treatment of the subject, and hones in usefully on potentially interesting subjects for gaming – whether the players are producing, smuggling, selling, or buying suppressed liquor or trying to stop the above. Most usefully, it provides enough detail to help the Keeper feel like they can get across how Prohibition and its evasion functions during the era without getting bogged down in trivia.
The two Companions are, I would say, companions for between game sessions, not for the gaming table itself. Flipping about within their pages for details at the session is undesirable – but digging into them to mine ideas for preparing for your next session can be very profitable. As such, even in this 7th Edition era, I think there is still a place for them.