Last Days of the Castaigne Reign

As I type these words, there is about 66 hours left on Pelgrane’s behemoth of a Kickstarter for its Yellow King Roleplaying Game. The success of this fundraiser has been quite impressive — some 35 stretch goals have been smashed through, and the current funding is around £142,000 (which, for comparison purposes is about US $185,000). Even at this level, this campaign is up there with the highest-performing Lovecraftian RPG-related Kickstarters ever run, far surpassing Pelgrane’s previous runaway hit, the Dracula Dossier (approx £88,000) and approaching the territory of Chaosium’s mega-campaign for Horror on the Orient Express, 2nd Edition (US $207,000).

Despite having met a whole stack of stretch goals, the campaign still has more up its sleeve … and the very next one is something near and dear to our hearts. To quote the campaign page itself:

£143,000: Perfectly Normal Handouts  

A band logo that incorporates the Yellow Sign. A disturbing infographic ripped from a corporate prospectus. A handbill for a club where the soultakers prowl. If we hit this stretch goal, document artiste extraordinaire Dean Engelhardt will take a break from his work on Absinthe in Carcosa to create 6 pages of modern handouts for This is Normal Now. NOTE TO ALL CAT TOBINS READING THIS: these will all appear in the book, and GMs will print them out from their PDFs, no actual physical document creation or tea-staining required.

This goal is only a few hundred pounds from being met, so hopefully with a few days still to go it will safely be surpassed … and then the fun can really begin.

[As an aside: in case anyone is wondering, the “note to all Cat Tobins” is a sly reference to the gruelling task of creating physical versions of our Hawkins Paper props, part of the previous Pelgrane KS. While digitally creating a bunch of aged documents is easy for us, making a few hundred packs of physical versions was (shall we say) quite a bit of effort. Most of this was done by the hard-working Cat Tobin, co-publisher of Pelgrane and document tea-staining expert par excellence.]

One of the other great things about this Kickstarter is that quite a substantial amount of Robin Laws’ text for all four books already exists — and backers get access to this “early draft” as soon as they back. If you signed up and haven’t grabbed your copy of these PDFs, check out this update for the link (after you’ve logged in to KS of course). Having now had a chance to read through these hundreds of pages of goodness I can really get a good appreciation of exactly how ambitious Robin’s vision of the game truly is. In some ways its more like four games in one, with each of the four settings re-imagining or expanding on the original ideas of Chambers and others in weird, compelling, and strangely quirky kinds of ways. Even if you have absolutely no intention of ever running a Gumshoe-based game, the concepts and settings that are outlined in this volumes would make amazing fuel for a creative and uniquely refreshing gaming experience in any system you’d care to run. I was particularly impressed by the odd tweaks of “modern day” that make up the last two books — if you’re looking for a oddly-disturbing yet subtle twist on the real-world of 2017, you could do a lot worse than mining these settings for ideas!

Speaking of Kickstarters that are much bigger on the inside, I have also recently found time to look through the quickstart “Cthulhu Dark Zero” that Graham Walmsley released almost immediately after his recent Cthulhu Dark KS closed. Given that the rules to Cthulhu Dark are incredibly lean (the basic rules take up only 2 pages, and even the “extended” version is only a handful) most of the book is occupied by general — and very insightful — advice on how to go about making cool and evocative mystery-based scenarios. Pretty much *all* of this great material would be helpful to gamemasters regardless of whatever system they are running. Looking for helpful tips on avoiding common structural errors in mystery-based scenarios? It’s here. Looking for some cool suggestions for making things feel authentically Lovecraftian? That’s here too. If you’ve ever read Graham’s previous (system agnostic) book, Stealing Cthulhu, you’ll already know how deeply he has delved into the structure of what makes HPL’s tales tick — that deep knowledge goes a long way towards making the advice in Cthulhu Dark Zero just that much more … helpful. Highly recommended for folks who like to roll-their-own Lovecraftian RPG scenarios.


ENnies, ENnies, Everywhere

It’s that time of year again when the tabletop RPG world goes into a frenzy as voting opens for the annual ENnie awards.

While Cthulhu Reborn doesn’t have any of its own products up for illustrious prizes, pieces of our work are scattered through quite a number of different (at least 5) books which are up for awards. Because these come from several different publishers, it probably not appropriate for us to suggest, dear reader, that you vote for one book over the other … however I would especially single out the book The Things We Leave Behind by newcomer small publisher Stygian Fox. The team behind that volume are a bunch of small-scale fan-friendly folks (like us), and the book of modern-day scenarios they created is IMHO perhaps the best new book published for Call of Cthulhu in the past year. Plus they are currently selling it at a 25% discount during the ENnies voting period!

Regardless of who you vote for … I would strongly urge you to consider casting your vote. The poll is open until 21 July, you can get there by following this link.

Pulp in any Language is … Pulp

One of the several Lovecraftian books that is up for an ENnie is Chaosium’s Pulp Cthulhu (nominated for Best Supplement). Recently we were approached by a Call of Cthulhu gamer in Poland and asked whether we’d be willing to translate the official Pulp Cthulhu character sheet design into his native language. Well, he offered to do the translation part — which is just as well, since our knowledge of the fine Polish language is sadly lacking. But, we were more than happy to re-typeset the sheet so that it works for Polish gamers.

Just in case there are other readers of Cthulhu Reborn who would also like to have a Polish Pulp sheet … here’s the front and back. Click on the thumbnails to download full-sized images.


Making the Modern, More Modern

Hot on the heels of our announcement yesterday about the future direction of Cthulhu Reborn, we are delighted to announce the release of the first of our free “fan material” PDF supplements for Call of Cthulhu: “The Stars Are Right!” Scenario Upgrade Pack. It’s available as a free download right here on Cthulhu Reborn.

As many readers would be aware, ever since the 1990s Call of Cthulhu has (notionally at least) supported games set not just in the default 1920s setting, but also those in modern day. Chaosium haven’t released a huge number of scenarios set in the modern day, but the best of those they have released are probably those in the anthology titled “The Stars Are Right!” This book was first released in 1992 as CHA2337, featuring seven scenarios written by some of the best writers that were writing for the game at that time. This included some classic material by Richard Watts (perhaps one of his all-time greatest scenarios), Kevin Ross, John Scott Tynes, Gary Sumpter, Fred Behrendt, Steve Hatherley, and André Bishop. A second edition of the book was released in 2004 (as CHA23100) which includes a few minor tweaks to the original scenarios but also adds two new adventures, one by David Conyers and one by William Jones.

While “The Stars Are Right!” is doubtless a classic book — and probably one that is sitting on the shelf of every Call of Cthulhu Keeper who has ever thought of running modern-day games … its scenarios are mostly now almost 25 years old. In those two decades, quite a number of things have changed — particularly in the way that technology has altered everyday life. If you were born after 1992, take it from us: some things really were different back then. Because the text of the scenarios in “The Stars Are Right!” haven’t really been updated much since the time of their first publication, some of their plot elements feel kind of … dated, or anachronistic.

This is where our “Scenario Upgrade Pack” comes in — we’ve long thought that one easy way of modernising these classic scenarios would be to refurbish them with all-knew prop-quality handouts which better reflect the way in which modern day investigators might hunt down clues. So, for example, converting the numerous “newspaper clipping” clues into articles formatted like online news sites or mobile phone feeds. Or converting a clue hidden in someones (physical) address book into the same information squirreled away in their iPhone’s “Contacts” list. While these changes are largely cosmetic, they do go a long way towards covering over some of the things that do feel a bit “old-fashioned” about the scenarios.

Of course, not everything can be fixed with nifty props. So, for several of the scenarios we have also suggested some plot tweaks that might help to replace some anachronistic references (mostly to technology) with things that are more 2017-appropriate. For most of the scenarios, little or no major “surgery” is required — but there is one exception to this rule. Steve Hatherley’s rather intriguing scenario “Fractal Gods” has as its core backstory the notion of a electronic “zine” which is sent to subscribers via floppy disks sent through the mail. That feels more like a 1990s thing than anything that would happen in the 21st Century — so we’ve suggested an alternative backstory and plotline that hopefully feels a bit more contemporary.

Finally, because most Call of Cthulhu gamers seem to now be using the current (7th) edition of the game, we have included some game statistics for each of the scenarios which brings them in line with that edition. Mostly the conversion between editions is super easy, but we thought it might save some time-poor Keepers a few minutes of mental arithmetic.

If you’re not sure if it’s for you, check out the montage of handouts above– just a fraction of the 48 handouts we’ve included in the pack. BTW, because some of the scenarios in “The Stars Are Right!” are pretty light-on for handouts, we have invented a few additional pieces here and there inspired by textual descriptions in the scenarios themselves. Hopefully these capture the intentions of the original scenario writers.

We hope that Cthulhu Reborn readers will find these resources helpful. “The Stars Are Right!” is still a title that seems to be in print on the Chaosium site, and is also available as a PDF. If you’re looking for a set of modern day horror scenarios you could do a lot worse — particularly if you can supplement the Chaosium book with the sleek new handouts in our pack. Of course if you already own “The Stars Are Right!” in either first or second edition, you can always brush off the cobwebs and give the scenarios a fresh spin with our suggested tweaks — maybe breathing some new life into those classic tales of “modern” dread.

“The Stars Are Right!” Scenario Upgrade Pack is a 67 page free PDF, and weighs in at something like 15MB.

 


Horror: it’s venturing into the darkness, alone

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Cthulhu Reborn. In the wake of our recent call for readers to give us their thoughts on the future direction of our (humble) publishing efforts, we have been inundated with insightful and useful comments. We have also had some lengthy conversations with Chaosium, to better understand their new policies and practices around commercial licensees for Call of Cthulhu.  Because a few people have asked us what, if anything, we’ve decided  based on all this information I feel it’s only fair to explain a bit about the path we’ve chosen and some of the reasoning behind it.

The short version is: although Cthulhu Reborn has been offered a commercial license by Chaosium to produce Call of Cthulhu products, we have decided NOT to take up that offer and instead to continue producing independent Lovecraft-related (and d100-related) games and supplements.

“Padlock in Despair” by jpnavarro@DeviantArt

The reasons behind this decision are complicated, and in some ways unique to the particular (community-oriented) focus we have always intended for Cthulhu Reborn. Our core values of openness, sharing, and not-for-profit publication are not especially compatible with Chaosium’s new licensing arrangement. In particular, Chaosium’s position on Intellectual Property and their practices of centrally “orchestrating” the types of products/settings which licensees are allowed to produce, don’t mesh well with those values. For us, signing up to a commercial Chaosium license (or even their “small publisher” license) would mean a move away from our independence and community focus … and we firmly believe those two things are what have allowed us to create cool and interesting products. As such we’d rather stay “outsiders” and retain the freedom to make the things our readers love.

“St Scarecrow” by Mattbarley@DeviantArt

Obviously, this decision will have some impacts on the way in which we produce Lovecraftian gaming materials. We will be posting more in the coming weeks about specific plans (including the future direction of Convicts & Cthulhu, which we are keen to continue and grow). But, essentially our strategy moving forward will be to divide our efforts into creating two types of product:

  1. Smaller, free PDF titles which can be published under Chaosium’s “fan material policy”. These smaller PDFs can include game statistics for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition but realistically most won’t be much larger than our free Ticket of Leave PDFs.
  2. Larger print titles and PDF books which provide resources for Lovecraftian RPGs but don’t include explicit Call of Cthulhu content — these may be either generic (systemless) books, or make use of openly licensed Lovecraftian RPG systems (e.g., Cthulhu Dark, or the d100-compatible Renaissance system from the wonderful Cakebread & Walton).

Wherever it is feasible for us to link products of these two different types together we will do so, since we believe that each can enhance and support the other.

We realise that changes to the way we publish Lovecraftian material might not be to every Cthulhu Reborn reader’s tastes … and we apologise in advance to anyone who feels that our chosen direction has made our future titles less relevant to their game, or harder to use. Overall, we think that this will be a positive move for Cthulhu Reborn since it will open up a lot of opportunities to pursue interesting and quirky Mythos ideas that have been rattling around in our heads for a long time but never had an avenue to escape into the world.

“Strangers” by Aticum@DeviantArt

Finally, we would like to offer sincere thanks to Chaosium who have been very generous in spending time explaining their licensing arrangements to us. Despite not ultimately signing up to their commercial offer, Cthulhu Reborn certainly appreciate their generosity and professionalism. We remain huge fans of Chaosium as a company, and fans of the Call of Cthulhu game. We strongly encourage Cthulhu Reborn readers to continue to support Chaosium by purchasing their fine products wherever they can. We hope that you’ll also continue to support us by picking up some of our free (and eventually commercial) future products as well.

Watch the Skies! Watch the Seas! Great Cthulhu is rising!


The King is Yellow. Long Live The King.

We are very VERY excited by the launch yesterday of the Kickstarter campaign for Pelgrane Press’ brand new Lovecraftian game, Yellow King RPG. This game sounds amazingly cool — not only is it written by Robin D. Laws, one of the most accomplished game designers in the tabletop RPG industry, but it draws upon one of the most intriguing and enigmatic corners of the Mythos. Comprising four main game books — one set in 1890s decadent Paris, one in an alternative reality WW2, one in an alternative reality 2017, and the last in a weird twist on OUR version of 2017.

But the thing that excites us MOST about the campaign is that we get to be a part of it — in addition to the four core books of Yellow King RPG, the campaign will also provide backers with a novel (written by Robin) and a sourcebook called “Absinthe in Carcosa”. This last volume will be made up of a bunch of pages designed to serve as weird inspirations and starting seeds for uncanny stories … and formatted as a kind of huge in-game prop, comprising replicas of pages from the personal notebook of an unfortunate 1890s artist whose encounters lead him on the slippery slope to truth, madness, and the horrible revelations of the Yellow King. And it is in the creation of these paste-up pages of rambling doom that we have been asked to help out. You can see, above and below, a couple of initial mockup pages we have made — based partly on the hideous imaginings of Robin — to demonstrate how the final sourcebook will appear.

We are really excited by the opportunity to work with Pelgrane again — they are a great company (and fantastic, friendly people too). We hope that their Kickstarter goes gangbusters. At the moment I write this, it’s already funded 300% and has crashed through five stretch goals … so it really does seem that there are many folks out there who really DO want to see the Yellow Sign. If you think you might be one of them … please consider backing Pelgrane’s campaign! The King will remember it when the time comes right.


Kickstarters of Note

We don’t usually use the Cthulhu Reborn blog as a vehicle to advertise people’s Kickstarters … but there are two pretty remarkable campaign happening now-ish that we’re willing to make an exception for.

The first is the already-massively-funded Kickstarter for Graham Walmsley’s super-light rule system Cthulhu Dark. As I write this the campaign is something like 850% funded with about four days still to go. Whether or not you’re interested in funding the KS, it’s still worth visiting the page just to watch the cool campaign video — I swear these things are getting more and more professional. Long-time readers of Cthulhu Reborn might remember that we interviewed Graham a few years back (with a short addendum), during which he spoke a lot about the realities of being a small-scale publisher. We are really thrilled to see his Kickstarter doing so well … and really do hope that the last few days keep the momentum moving quick enough to get to some of those enticing final stretch goals.

The second Kickstarter that I want to mention is … still some days away from launching (so I will need to be deliberately vague). All I will say at this stage is that recently I received a link to THIS strange twitter video. Make of it what you will 🙂 And watch that space.


From the Audient Void

Last week I posted here on Cthulhu Reborn, asking readers what they thought about some of the challenges and options facing small-scale publishers of Lovecraftian RPG material. Since then I have received rather a lot of feedback from a variety of different corners — it’s actually been quite insightful.

Because some of the same issues likely affect other small publishers — and people who are contemplating taking a future step into the world of publishing — I thought it might be useful to summarize some of the key points that readers have been mentioning in their feedback.

The Importance of Independence

Perhaps the most common piece of feedback we received was that readers place a huge amount of value on the fact that Cthulhu Reborn is an independent (albeit very small-scale) voice in the tapestry of Lovecraftian RPG publishing. Anything that moves us away from that position of independence, would risk Cthulhu Reborn becoming irrelevant to readers.

I guess this is not too surprising given that most players of Lovecraftian RPGs are well aware that there are several different publishers and products, each of which has its own distinctive take on “gamifying” the works of HPL, and in most cases a fairly healthy catalogue of published titles. If Cthulhu Reborn were publishing material that was exactly like any one of those existing publishers, people would naturally ask the question “why should I download your books when I could the same kind of thing from a well-established, large-scale publisher?” To be useful, we need to be doing something a little bit different — perhaps filling a slightly different niche.

This becomes more relevant in relation to fears voiced by a number of readers that hitching our wagon too much to Chaosium (e.g., by formally becoming a commercial licensee) might threaten that independence. I don’t honestly know whether it *would*, but there are certainly some people who are concerned that it might.

“Unearthed” by khantheripper (deviantart)

The Importance of Game Systems

One of the things I was most interested to get feedback about was how wedded our readers are to the Call of Cthulhu system, the game which we have (more-or-less) exclusively focussed to date. One thing I’m sure every game publisher fears is that a decision to support a slightly different system, or indeed release systemless material, might alienate their audience, leaving a lot of people behind.

I’ll be honest: I was half expecting the overwhelming response from readers to be “our group only plays Call of Cthulhu; if you shifted to other systems your material would be useless to us.” But that wasn’t what most people said. Instead what the vast majority of folks told us was that, for Lovecraftian games, they viewed the system as the *least* important part of the final product. If a scenario or setting is well-written, evocative, and has the requisite atmosphere, tone, and number of scares — people seem to be saying that they would be more than willing to do a bit of system conversion to use it with whatever game they ran for their group. I think that’s an interesting trend, and while not universal (there actually *were* a few people that told us they wouldn’t be able to use anything that didn’t have CoC statistics) it suggests to us that the choice of which system(s) to support is perhaps not as significant as we first thought.

“Nuclear” by Schistad (deviantart)

In terms of specific systems that people suggested we *could* consider if we were to (partially-or-fully) move away from Call of Cthulhu, there wasn’t a clear standout recommendation. Each of the following had some supporters:

  • Gumshoe / Trail of Cthulhu
  • The new Delta Green RPG (Arc Dream)
  • Savage World (“Realms of Cthulhu”)
  • Cthulhu Dark (whose glossy hardback edition is being Kickstarted right now)
  • The forthcoming “King in Yellow” RPG (Pelgrane)
  • Cakebread & Walton’s “Rennaisance” system (based on BRP)
  • GORE
  • Greg Stolze’s “Nemesis” system (based on Godlike)
  • Cthulhu d100 (currently only available in Spanish)
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess

A few folks (perhaps cheekily) suggested we could make our *own* system … but with all those to choose from, I’m not sure why we would want to go to that amount of trouble.

A World Beyond Systems

Interestingly, several people directed us to a handful of previous efforts that have been made to create systemless supplements for Lovecraftian games. While I was already aware of one (Gary Sumpter’s book “Tainted Legacies”) I wasn’t aware of other similar efforts which have more explicitly targetted multiple game systems via systems of more generic notations which can be easily translated into different systems. One of these is the “Dark Symbols” created by Brennen Reece and Graham Walmsley (and used for the generic scenario “Sukakpak” by Jason Morningstar, published in The Unspeakable Oath #21).

So, What Next?

We are still sifting through all the mountains of intriguing ideas and options that you, our faithful body of readers, have provided us. Some of the points that have come out of this exercise have already proven very insightful to us — and have changed our perception about what folks *want* from a small-scale publisher like Cthulhu Reborn.

There’s still some amount of pondering (not to mention reading up on various different licensing approaches used for different systems) to be done before we have a clear way forward … but, once we have a clear direction we will certainly share it with you. In the meantime, if you have any *further* insightful feedback — feel free to use the form below. I do feel, however, that you guys have already been extraordinarily generous with the feedback you’ve given us (so, thank you for that!)

 


%d bloggers like this: