APOCTHULHU-Speak

Recently, Jo Kreil and I sat down to chat with the fantastic folks from the Miskatonic University Podcast to speak about all things end-of-the-world … including APOCTHULHU. The recording of this lengthy eschatological rumination just came out today … listen to us here!

And in other news … we have now fixed a date for the PDF release of the core APOCTHULHU rulebook. Barring any unforeseen calamities (like that could happen in 2020!), it will hit the virtual shelves on August 20.


APOCTHULHU Quickstart in Print!

Quite a number of people have asked us about softcover print editions of the APOCTHULHU Quickstart — so we have created such a beast. In fact we’ve created two versions — a glossy full-colour interior softcover book and a sparser (“old school”) B&W interior version. The former is for folks who like lots of colour and graphics; the latter is for old curmudgeonly Cthulhu gamers who like the classic-era look to their books.

The two different versions are available via different platforms:

The best way to appreciate the difference between the two editions is to show an interior view of the same page in both:

We hope that folks who’ve been tempted by the PWYW PDF version of the Quickstart and found it of value might consider buying it in print. If you are one of the folks who very generously paid a generous PWYW fee for the PDF, we may be able to arrange a discount on the print version to reward your kindness (drop me an email: feedback<at> cthulhureborn.com).

Unrelated to the Quickstart, we’re still pushing ahead at full speed to finish up the full version of the APOCTHULHU core rules — which will be a 332 page tome — with a view towards releasing it in PDF next month. Fingers crossed.


Inching Towards the Apocalypse

There’s a lot of mad scurrying happening here at Cthulhu Reborn HQ. It’s the sound of much last-minute preparations being done on the APOCTHULHU core rulebook. A massive amount of work has gone into this project — by a talented group of writers and illustrators — and it’s fantastic to see everything coming together into a book that’s both beautiful and well-written. I can’t take credit for the latter … except maybe in selecting people far more talented than me to do the writing. The visual design, though, is on me.

Recently the Core rulebook hit a big milestone, completing its first-pass layout — that’s the process of turning a bunch of randomly organized text into a carefully page-designed layout with holes left in places where artwork needs to go. Because this process sets the whole ‘shape’ of the book, its completion gives us a pretty good idea of exactly how big this beast will be. It will be about 332 pages.

What’s in the APOCTHULHU Core Rulebook?

The contents of the rulebook is broken down roughly as follows:

  1. A dozen or so pages of frontmatter and inspirational fiction (the full text of HPL’s “Nyarlathotep” and the story “Till A’ The Seas” by Robert Barlow and HPL)
  2. About 80 pages of core rules — character generation, skills, basic mechanics, combat, sanity rules, downtime between adventures
  3. About 30 pages of advice for GMs about creating Post-Apocalypse settings with a HPL vibe, including some GM-facing rules about resource scarcity, mythos tomes, rituals, and ideas for converting material from other games
  4. About 30 pages covering eight sample Post-Apocalypse settings in brief. This includes the three “sneak peek” samples we leaked here on the blog in February
  5. Kevin Ross’s amazing 42-page sourcebook describing “The Night Land”, an dark futuristic setting inspired by the William Hope Hodgson novel of the same name
  6. Jeff Moeller’s scenario “Kick the Can” (46 pages)
  7. Jo Kreil’s alternate Victorian era scenario “A Yellow and Unpleasant Land” (48 pages)
  8. Some 30-ish pages of Appendices.

The core APOCTHULHU book also now has a cover design:

Finally, one of the items we thought would be cool to share for free is the “Further Reading and Viewing” section from the Appendix. Ever since the DMG it’s been obligatory for a core rulebook to have one of these … but our authors for APOCTHULHU really went to town when it came to pulling together a list of very diverse and weird stories, novels, comics, films, TV shows, etc which present depictions of the Apocalypse which are skewed towards Lovecraft’s nihilistic philosophy (in one way or another).

If you ever find yourself looking for sources to pillage for making your OWN Lovecraftian Apocalyptic world — whether you use our game or any other game — diving into this reading/viewing list gives you many rewarding places to go hunting for ideas. Or just pillaging plotlines (it’s ok, we do it too).

The APOCTHULHU Further Reading/Viewing List (9 pages, 3.6MB)

As I mentioned, there’s a huge range of stuff in the list, all the way from high art to … well … Zardoz. But each has its own unique charms and potential as a springboard for Lovecraftian Apocalyptic stories.

Onwards and Downwards

The question on everyone’s lips is … when will the full APOCTHULHU core rules be released? We are aiming for late August at this point, but putting precise dates on anything like this is literally tempting fate. We’ll no doubt post another update here once we know for sure.


It’s ENNIEs Voting Time Again

So, once again it’s that time of the year when gamers everywhere get to vote for which of the ENNIEs-shortlisted products they think was best of 2019. While this year’s crop of shortlisted titles certainly has a lot less Cthulhu/weird horror entries than we’ve grown used to, there are some great things there which I’d encourage you to consider when voting.

There are also a few products in there that feature work by yours truly. Those are:

While it has nothing to do with me or Cthulhu Reborn, I’m also really excited to see that Arc Dream’s Delta Green: The Labryrinth has been shortlisted for “Best Supplement”. That will definitely be my first vote!

Selections from the CthuReview 2019

For the past several years I have written a summary article each January which offers an overview of all Cthulhu-related tabletop RPG products that came out in the preceding year. I didn’t do that this January, since I was busy with other things (getting APOCTHULHU ready for press mostly). But the good folks at Bayt al-Azif magazine prompted me later in the year to compile a 2019-year-in-review type article for their wonderful mag. I haven’t had time to serialize that article here — though I still might do that at some point. But as this is ENNIEs season, I thought I’d extract what I wrote about each of the products that made it into the voting shortlists.

Since the two Pelgrane titles that made it to the shortlist were technically released in late 2018, I have also copied my comments about them from last year’s blog posts. Unfortunately, neither of the 2019 or 2018 review articles cover Chaosium’s second edition “Harlem Unbound” … so sadly I have nothing to copy here about that title.

Delta Green: The Labyrinth (Arc Dream)

Back in 2018, Arc Dream ran another in their ongoing series of massively expansive Kickstarter campaigns that start with a single book and ultimately spin off several further titles. The core of that particular campaign was a book titled The Labyrinth which was billed as DG co-creator John Tynes’ grand return to game writing. As mentioned above, I have a huge soft spot for John’s writing from his many great scenarios from the heady days of Pagan Publishing (back in the 1990s). So I was very excited to see what the older-and-no-doubt-wiser Mr Tynes would be able to add to the sprawling canon of the Delta Green universe. Late in 2019, I (and every other backer) got to see exactly that, when the PDF version of The Labyrinth arrived (the print version, plus all the “add-ons” unlocked in the Kickstarter, are still forthcoming).

On a fundamental level, what The Labyrinth delivers is a selection of four allies for your Delta Green agents, and four clear adversaries. “So what?”, you might think, lots of books do that. The real genius of this book lies in the nuanced way in which Tynes has crafted these organizations and individual NPCs, not just to make them feel recognizably “authentic” to the present day but also to feel ambiguous. The four allies are certainly helpful – or at least potentially helpful – but each has a dangerous or destructive element to them as well, usually something that isn’t obvious up-front. The adversary groups aren’t traditional robe-wearing Mythos cults, but organizations that have an agenda that aims to help some portion of the community – whether that be parents who are having trouble starting a family, or people who are lonely souls online. Their ties to the supernatural aren’t obvious, or necessarily motivated out of malice … so are they morally culpable for the horrors they create? Equally parts stunningly creepy and surprisingly inventive, The Labyrinth is an impressive piece of “world-building” (or is that “conspiracy-building”) which could fuel an entire campaign if you were willing to take its many ideas and extrapolate them into scenarios.

New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, 2nd Edition (Stygian Fox)

One major milestone achieved by Stygian Fox was the partial completion of their Kickstarter for New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, 2nd Edition. The PDF version of this book – which is a reprint and expansion of a title by Miskatonic River Press – came out very late in 2019; at the time of writing the print version is still forthcoming. New Tales, in its MRP incarnation, was widely heralded as a milestone book in terms of its well-written scenarios. The Stygian version keeps all those unchanged, adding one new scenario – an Innsmouth-based tale written by Seth Skorkowsky. All the illustrations, maps, handouts, and general look-and-feel have been updated to reflect the very high quality of graphic design which is typical of Stygian Fox books. In all fairness I should point out that the handouts for this book were contributed by yours truly (so I am not entirely unbiased in my assessment), but regardless I think that the book really is one of the more beautiful Call of Cthulhu titles in recent years.

Also noteworthy in this re-release are the all-new redrawn maps of each of the Lovecraft Country locations. These are more than simply recreations of old maps; almost all of them enhance the level of detail mapped out for their respective locations, adding to the collaborative world-building that has defined the game setting.

Berlin: The Wicked City (Chaosium)

Probably the most notable Chaosium Call of Cthulhu release of 2019 – certainly the most commented upon – was David Larkin’s sourcebook and scenario collection Berlin: The Wicked City. This is a curious title for current-day Chaosium to publish, albeit quite a welcome change. It provides a detailed and rather lurid portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, complete with its sleezy nightlife, murky politics, and licentious freedoms of sexual expression. While not many people would otherwise consider cabaret-infused Weimar Republic Germany as a setting for their Call of Cthulhu game, this book does a great job at showing the merits of such a choice. The book presents a lot of background to the several different facet, regions, and ideologies that a Keeper might like to weave into his or her Berlin-based scenario or campaign. This includes the murky politics surrounding the rise of the Nazi party. Not since the days of Gary Gygax’s 1st Edition DMG have I seen so many different terms for ‘prostitute’ grace the pages of an RPG book. But unlike many low-brow game books, the inclusion of such detail really is an essential part of the fabric of the setting … and it’s a topic, along with others such as non-traditional sexualities, that’s handled in a generally very sensitive manner in this book.

Many have also commented that Berlin: The Wicked City has one of the best cover illustrations of any recent Chaosium title, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. As a bold and brave approach to familiarizing readers with a setting that few would have previously encountered, this book deserves the praise it’s received. Whether it’s something you need for your game will depend ultimately on whether your tales of Lovecraftian horror are likely to venture onto The Continent and into the infamous heart of its vice capital.

Pelgrane’s Yellow King RPG + Absinthe in Carcosa (Pelgrane)

Pelgrane Press have established themselves in recent years as a mid-sized publisher that isn’t afraid to take on some absolutely massive honking projects, and largely deliver them on time. A couple of years back their Dracula Dossier product (line) for Night’s Black Agents was a modest Kickstarter which escalated into something bigger than Ben Hur. Their current Kickstarter – for Robin D. Laws’ Yellow King RPG seems somewhat cut from a similar cloth, aiming as it does to create a brand-new RPG with not one but four variant historical settings, each of them a wildly different take on the King in Yellow mythology of Robert W. Chambers.

Strictly speaking, the weird fiction of Robert Chambers is not part of the standard Cthulhu Mythos cycle of stories, but it’s been so closely rolled into virtually every Lovecraftian RPG that I think it’s reasonable to consider it, if not precisely “Lovecraftian” then at least a near neighbour.

Pelgrane’s Kickstarter for the Yellow King RPG funded in July 2017 but had an estimated fulfilment date of December 2018. This is a long lead time for a gaming project (which may have put off some), but it has proven a fairly accurate schedule – the final PDFs for all parts of the game being delivered in early December. Printed versions of the books are still pending.

Trying to describe the Yellow King RPG is not an easy task. On one level it’s easy to understand: it’s yet another Gumshoe-based game of weird investigation. It’s the style of investigative settings and adversaries that makes it something quite unique. Whereas pretty much all existing investigative Lovecraftian games have aimed to set their tales of dark cosmic horror in a recognizable historical or current real-world setting, the Yellow King RPG revels instead on putting players into slightly surreal worlds where normal history has been subverted by the influences of the King in Yellow. If you’ve ever read the original cycle of four “King in Yellow” stories by Chambers, you’ll probably recall how they seem to be set in slightly unsettling versions of the present or near future (e.g., a version of America where there is a Royal family and suicide booths on street corners). The core concept is that the influence of the King in Yellow (the entity, the play, both) is corrosive to normality and causes weird decadence to seep in and warp reality.

Thus, in the first book of the Yellow King RPG, players take on the roles of art students in a warped version of 1890’s Paris. Amid the fin-de-siecle decadence of the “yellow decade” they can run into manifestations which hint that things are not as they should be. The publication of a play called “The King in Yellow” has started to overwrite reality with an alien world called Carcosa. The second book in the Yellow King RPG set (titled The Wars) presents an entirely different set-up but one that is equally warped from established history – it is a version of 1947 where World War 2 has been extended by the alien influences of the Yellow King. Players take on the roles of soldiers fighting on these battlefields of shattered Europe investigating instances of weird supernatural manifestations.

Books Three and Four (Aftermath and This is Normal Now, respectively) provide two different “modern day” types of setting – or rather, places and times which are “twilight zone”-similar to reality as we know it. But in different ways. In Aftermath, the players take on the roles of survivors of the Continental War from Book Two, now living in the 2010s … but the devastating influence of the wars means that “modern day” America is a kind of brutalist totalitarian state where propaganda and society has a more 1950s bent and technology has languished in the 1980s. Conversely, This is Normal Now presents a world that seems on the surface like it is our familiar “real world” of the 2010s (or whenever the game is played) but weirdness and dark secrets lurk not far below – the discovery of which will expose the truth that this world is really nothing like the world we know.

It’s entirely possible to just pick one setting and run a game limited to just that, but the Yellow King RPG is written with an eye to linking the characters from different eras/realities to one another. This could be as a kind of epic multi-setting campaign, or via parallel concurrent game realities intersecting and interweaving with one another. In each of the four settings, the same Gumshoe-based rules are the order of the day, but most of the novelty of the game isn’t in the rules but in the ways in which the setting is presented. As such, it is conceivable that you could ignore the Gumshoe aspects entirely (if that system isn’t to your liking) and use the core material as a sourcebook for whichever weird investigative system you prefer. (But don’t tell Robin Laws I said that.)

In addition to the main four books which make up the Yellow King RPG there are two additional books unlocked during the Kickstarter – one is a book of fiction, while the other is a large “in world” game prop for the 1890s Paris setting. I can’t really comment much on either of those (since I haven’t read the fiction and was involved heavily in the creation of the prop).

Happy ENNIEs Voting!

Voting for the 2020 ENNIEs runs until July 12th and the announcement of winners will be made as a live broadcast that’s part of GenCon Online (July 31st, 8PM EST).


Free APOCTHULHU Fiction #2

Here’s another Lovecraft-related short tale of mankind’s Apocalypse, this time co-written with one of his (then very young) protegés, Robert H. Barlow. Not too many people know about Barlow, but in the latter years of HPL’s life he was a welcome friend to the (basically totally broke) Lovecraft, hosting him on several extended stays in Florida. HPL in turn encouraged the young man in his ambitions to become a weird fiction writer — this Apocalyptic story, “Till A’ The Seas” is one of the products of this shared passion.

When Lovecraft died in 1937, Robert Barlow was named as his literary executor in recognition of the ongoing kindness and generosity he had afforded HPL — though this assignation eventually counted for little as August Derleth approached the monetizing of the Cthulhu Mythos with a kind of singlemindedness that would brook the involvement of no other parties. Still, that’s a story for another day (and if you can see parallels with this money-grubbing theft and more recent developments in the game publishing industry, that is *definitely* a topic for another discussion).

In the meantime, here’s a tale of the end of the world written by the teenaged Robert Barlow, and almost certainly heavily rewritten by Lovecraft.

Click here for the 4-page PDF version of this typeset version of “Till A’ The Seas”, extracted from the WIP APOCTHULHU core rulebook.

 


Free APOCTHULHU Fiction #1

We are right now in the thick of layout for the core APOCTHULHU rules, which will be quite a weighty tome once it’s done. One thing we have decided to include in the front of the book is some representative Mythos fiction which paints some kind of picture of what the “End of the World” looks like from a Lovecraft perspective.

Because the fiction we’re using is all in the public domain, we thought it would be cool to also release the individual (typeset) stories as free downloadable PDFs. So … here’s the first one: H.P. Lovecraft’s odd prose poem of mankind’s downfall. Yep, it’s HPL’s “Nyarlathotep” (1920). In case you weren’t aware this is the piece of weird fiction where everyone’s favourite many-masked Mythos meddler was first introduced, or at least where the name “Nyarlathotep” was first published.

Click here for the 4-page PDF version of this short-but-mindblowingly-effective tale of hinted annihilation.

Another APOCTHULHU fiction freebie tomorrow!

 


Have Another Tot of Rum (Convict’s Birthday)

Today (or technically yesterday) marks the four year anniversary of the release of the original Convicts & Cthulhu core book. So … happy birthday to C&C.

In past years we have tried to time our C&C releases so that we’re able to put out something new to celebrate the anniversary, but this year things have been so crazy that we haven’t been able to do that. Hopefully the brand new campaign PDF that we released back in April will satiate your need for new Convict content for a little longer.

We can offer three pieces of news about the future of Convicts & Cthulhu, though:

  • We now have a draft manuscript ready for the next Ticket of Leave (#16) — it’s titled “The Devil to Play” and concerns itself with convict theatres in the colony;
  • We believe that despite the many changes to GenCon, we will still have a Convicts & Cthulhu event at the con. More details to follow;
  • In creating the APOCTHULHU RPG we have crafted a customised version of a d100 system that we will use as the engine for our (long-planned) standalone Convicts & Cthulhu game. The same engine might also be useful for other gaming projects that have been on our backburner … so watch this space.

In the meantime … we offer our heartfelt thanks to those of you who have downloaded and read our Convicts games. And for those who have been in touch with details about your game runs — thank you from the bottom of our hearts; it’s your enjoyment of this unique setting that keeps us creating.

So … another tot of rum to celebrate (then it’s back to the ankle line).

 


First Review of APOCTHULHU QS

The first review of the APOCTHULHU Quickstart rules was just published over on the Rolling Boxcars blog. It’s a bit of a mixed review (some pros and some cons), and definitely worth a read.

The TL;DR summary is that the reviewer generally praises the game’s rules and the presentation of the Quickstart, but is less sure whether the idea of a game blending horrors of Mythos encounters with everyday grimness of Post-Apocalyptic survival is something for everyone.

Of course we are also keen to hear what you folks, our loyal readers, think of the game … and whether you think that the central concept is TOO dark and gritty for your gaming group to enjoy. Drop a comment below if you have an opinion.


Released Today: APOCTHULHU Quickstart

The APOCTHULHU Quickstart PDF is available right now on DriveThruRPG. The 73-page PDF contains literally everything you need to get a game of Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraftian goodness up and running for your gaming group.

More specifically, it includes:

  • A streamlined version of the full APOCTHULHU rules (which will be released later in the year)
  • Rules for creating new characters (called “Survivors” in the APOCTHULHU parlance)
  • A set of six fully-detailed pre-generated characters
  • A suitably creepy sample Post-Apocalypse setting (“This Fecund Planet” as featured here in the blog in February), and
  • A 25-ish page scenario by Chad Bowser set in the same Post-Apocalyptic world.

The whole thing is a “Pay-What-You-Want” title on DTRPG, which means you can grab it for free if you want. Indeed, if the current world situation finds you in difficult circumstances we really WANT you to grab it for free. Alternatively, if you are interested in contributing some funds to allow us to make the core rulebook even cooler and prettier, your generosity will be very much appreciated by all of us here at Cthulhu Reborn.

Also today we have created a support page here on Cthulhu Reborn to provide resources for APOCTHULHU. Right now it contains a fillable autocalc version of the character sheet as well as pre-filled character sheets for the six-pregens included in the Quickstart. Feel free to grab these files if you think they’ll make it quicker and easier for you and your friends to dive into the game.

So … don’t delay … head over to DTRPG and nab yourself a brand new RPG. The Apocalypse has never been more Lovecrafty.


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