Apocalypse Sketch 3: The Stars Turn, Turn, Turn

So far this month we have posted two extracts from our forthcoming APOCTHULHU RPG book — each covering an example Lovecraftian Apocalypse you could use our game to bring to (gritty) life. If you missed the previous two segments, you can find them here and here. Since last week, several of you fine folk have cast additional votes in our poll as to which of remaining 6 sample settings you’d like to see us reveal next. This time round the winner is perhaps the most classically Lovecraftian “end of the world” you can imagine — the stars come right and Cthulhu and his slumber-buddies wake, no doubt ravenous.

Don’t forget we will be revealing one more setting next weekend as well. At the moment it looks like the front-running candidate might be “Under The Charcoal Sky” … but the poll is still open, and copied at the bottom of this post, so if you really want to see one of the others, cast your vote! If you’ve forgotten (or missed) the descriptions for the eight sample Apocalypses, you can find them here.

Credits for the material from APOCTHULHU which appears below are as follows: the Apocalypse setting description was written by yours truly, while The Wolf and The AAR of Sgt O’Neill (both of which are statted in the actual book itself) are a creation of Chad Bowser.

The Stars Turn, Turn, Turn (APOCTHULHU Example Setting #1)

Several of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories allude to vast cosmic cycles of time, some of which are inimical to the physical existence of alien forces of the Cthulhu Mythos. Mankind evolved in one such lacuna in the dominance of extradimensional terrors. And while it enjoyed thousands of years believing itself the ultimate intelligence and power on Earth (perhaps even in the universe), humanity’s pre-eminence was always destined to be short. When the cosmic cycle turned and Mythos beings could once again exist, all the might and history of the human race could not save it from near-instant destruction at the hands of Cthulhu and his ilk.

Alien cities rose from the oceans and beneath the ground. Great and terrible horrors crushed whole cities beneath a single enormous foot or tentacle. Almost the whole of humanity was wiped out in just a few months – the nukes didn’t save us, the might of the world’s militaries didn’t save us, the satellite weapons didn’t save us. Nothing saved us.

  • When Did the Apocalypse Occur? Humanity’s dominance over the Earth ended sometime in the first half of the 21st Century.
  • What Event was the Trigger? The world “ended” through no particular action, but merely because a pre-appointed cosmic cycle had come to an end.
  • What Changed? Cities were crushed, armies of inhuman creatures swarmed out of the oceans and the dark places below the earth. Rampaging monstrosities as large as a planetoid came down from the stars and crushed entire continents, leaving the outlines of some familiar landmasses scarred. At the same time, some hidden ancient places – like sunken R’lyeh – returned to the surface.
  • How Long Afterwards? The game setting occurs a decade after humanity’s grasp over the world came to an end.
  • What is the World Like? Much of the world remains as it was, although devoid of human population. Instead, colonies of Mythos creatures are the most common inhabitants to be found on land and at sea. It is common to find sights where familiar – even comforting – landmarks from before the fall are juxtaposed with alien and terrifying constructs, supernatural manifestations, or extra-dimensional creatures.
  • What Communities Exist? The vast majority of humanity was wiped out in the months after the Mythos forces rose. Those who still survive can be broken into two categories – those humans who have submitted to become servants of the horrors (at terrible cost to their sanity), and those who cling to a tenuous life in shadowy places stealing food and dreaming of the days when humanity thrived.
  • What Mythos Entities? The Game Moderator can populate the world with any of the Mythos races described by H.P. Lovecraft (and other authors). Similarly, the presence of any of the terrifyingly powerful alien gods can be justified – after all, now that a new cycle of cosmic reality has begun, any of those ancient horrors might take an interest in humanity’s former playpen.
  • Is There Any Hope? If playing in a “purist” interpretation of Lovecraft’s writing, there is no real hope of reversing the turn of the great cosmic cycle. That’s not to say that Survivors cannot make a significant change to the world, perhaps even beating back the forces of oppression and re-establishing a kind of civilization. But the wolves will always be at the door.

“The Wolf”, an example horror for The Stars Turn, Turn, Turn

(By Chad Bowser)

The Wolf lurks in the shadows, waiting for prey. It might have once been a wolf. It might have once been a human. The archivists don’t know. The guns don’t know. Hell, the settlement’s brains trust doesn’t know. All everyone knows is The Wolf is death incarnate.

It looks like a balding man with wild fringe hair; rotten, blackened teeth, with the breath to match; mismatched eyes – one yellow and one blue; a five-day stubble always coated in gristle and gore, and fingers that end in ragged talons. In a world of monsters, The Wolf hunts alone. But it never takes solitary prey. The Wolf sneaks into supposedly secure compounds and buildings to tear into the sleeping and vigilant.

Like its animal namesake, The Wolf possesses an uncanny sense of smell and the ability to see in near darkness. Even more terrifying, though, The Wolf is able to walk into one shadow and emerge from any other shadow within sight. It sometimes uses this technique to toy with prey, slashing at hamstrings and exposed flesh with its diseased claws.

When prey is captured, The Wolf tries to silence it first by slashing its neck with a claw or even tearing out its throat with a savage bite.

Although it stalks its prey silently, after feasting the Wolf can’t help but whisper, hum, or even sometimes flatly sing old folk songs by Leonard Cohen – “So Long, Marianne” and “Master Song” are his favorites.

The After-Action Report (AAR) of Police Sgt. Duncan O’Neill, an example “tome” for The Stars Turn, Turn, Turn

(By Chad Bowser)

Sgt. Duncan O’Neill was on patrol when it seemed like the world ended. What he didn’t know at the time was, it really was ending … and his side wasn’t going to win. Several police interceptors rendezvoused at a hospital and attempted to make a stand against an encroaching, formless monstrosity.

Whenever there was a lull in the fighting, Sgt. O’Neill wrote notes in the hopes that someone would find them. The notes detail the creature as well as the appearance of a mysterious woman who seemed to appear from out of nowhere and struck at the creature with her mere words before she too eventually succumbed.

His after-action report is a spiral-bound notebook on the passenger seat of his interceptor. The penmanship goes from neat, block letters to hastily scrawled cursive as he recounts the four-day stand against this monster. He initially writes in ink, but soon shifts to blood, before ending with the last few pages in a strange, black, ichor.

When viewed under the dark of a new moon, as was the last day of his battle, the ichor shifts and swirls, reforming to reveal hidden inscriptions

Vote For The Next Apocalypse

Next weekend we’ll be releasing the description of another example setting ripped from the pages of APOCTHULHU — you can help pick which one by voting in the poll below. Options #1, #2, and #8 have now been revealed, so to make your vote count pick one of the other five choices.


Apocalypse Sketch 2: This Fecund Planet

Since posting the first extract from our forthcoming APOCTHULHU sourcebook’s section on “example Lovecraftian Apocalypses” I have been closely watching the summary of votes in our poll. Right from the beginning there’s been a high level of interest in Apocalypse #8: “This Fecund Planet” … so let’s make that our second manuscript “sneak peek.”

As mentioned previously, the plan is to do four of these throughout February, so there’s still time to influence which of the remaining Apocalypses we leak as #3 and #4 in coming weeks. For a description of all of the example Apocalypses, head back to this earlier post. If you want to lodge a vote for the next one — the same poll is still open, and is repeated at the end of this post.

Credits for the material from APOCTHULHU which appears below are as follows: the Apocalypse setting description was written by yours truly, while the Hollow Men (which are statted in the actual book itself) are a creation of Chad Bowser.

This Fecund Planet (APOCTHULHU Example Setting #8)

Most Post-Apocalyptic worlds are defined by the scarcity of life, due to some horrific extinction event. This particular world is not like that – it is a horror brought about through an excess of life. A terrifying fertility.

Cults devoted to Shub-Niggurath have existed since the dawn of human thought, most seeking to invoke their awful god’s powers of corrupted fertility. But in the 1970s one cult achieved what no other had been able – to bring about a global manifestation of Shub-Niggurath’s ‘blessing’. Masquerading as a New Age movement dedicated to the protection of “mother Earth”, the cult duped hundreds of innocent Britons to participate in ‘fertility rituals’ held in an isolated Scottish castle owned by a popular musician. The weeks of gyrating dances and liturgical chanting seemed like harmless fun to most of the participants, but what none could see was the changes that were being wrought due to Shub-Niggurath’s ‘blessing’.

In the weeks that followed the ceremonies, many accounts were reported world-wide of odd floss-like matter blowing on the wind. Wherever this white fibrous material fell to earth, common plants grew rapidly – even in the most unlikely of places. Scientists took samples of the miraculous floss but could not explain its origins nor its amazing powers as a fertilizer. Then the day came when the floss-streams got higher into the atmosphere and seeded themselves into clouds. Wherever rain fell, it had tiny dissolved particles of the floss. And in every square foot of earth touched by this rain, things grew faster and bigger than normal.

At first the scientific community and the world-at-large embraced this miracle, even if nobody knew from where it had come. Parts of the world where food is perpetually scarce suddenly found themselves with bumper crops. Normally lush-and-green places found their harvests topping all-time records, so much so that business was soon booming and there was enough food that overabundance became more of a problem than scarcity. The cost of feeding the planet halved overnight.

However, what nobody knew – except perhaps for the shadowy Shub-Niggurath cult that had set events in motion with their orgiastic Scottish rites – was that food grown by such fertilizer is infused with something otherworldly. Something that is part of Shub-Niggurath. This enigmatic element causes the plants, fruit, and vegetables to grow rapidly … but they do not stop growing when they are harvested, nor does the miracle ingredient stop growing even after it is eaten. Instead, the mysterious substance accumulates inside those who consume it … and when it accumulates to the right level, it sends forth its “shoots” to find the soil, right through flesh and bone if needed. And once those steel-hard shoots are in fertile ground, they are almost impossible to remove.

 

After just four years, the normal order of civilization had crumbled. Vast numbers people were torn apart by thick verdant tendrils bursting from their chests; just as many were pinned to the ground to die a slow death of starvation. Too late the message went out to abandon eating produce grown in the soil, but by then the element was already in the flesh of livestock – and so an all-meat diet offered no protection.

  • When Did the Apocalypse Occur? The events unfolded in the mid-to-late 1970s.
  • What Event was the Trigger? The ceremony at the Scottish castle.
  • What Changed? The creation of the super-fertilizing floss, which is carried on the wind, right around the globe. It is eventually also dissolved into clouds. Everything it touches – directly or indirectly – grows fecund and tainted with Shub-Niggurath’s element.
  • How Long Afterwards? The game setting takes place four years after the beginning of the monstrous fertility and the fall of civilization.
  • What is the World Like? The world is greener and lusher than ever before, with abundance of foliage covering over even the most densely-populated cities. Scattered amid the foliage are the corpses of people torn apart or pinned down by greenery bursting forth from their internal organs.
  • What Communities Exist? Some people have sought out those places around the globe which are most inimical to life – rocky islets with no topsoil, harsh deserts, and the like. These people survive off stockpiles of tinned food from before the coming of the floss. But this scarce resource is rapidly running out.
  • What Mythos Entities? As regions of the planet have become depopulated to humanity, creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos have slithered from hiding to take up residence. Also, Shub-Niggurath’s many and diverse “children” have been drawn to the bountiful harvest infected with her seed.
  • Is There Any Hope? It may be possible to find a way of neutralizing the effects of Shub-Niggurath’s fecund floss but doing so will mostly stabilize the situation rather than reverse it.

The Bible of Southcross Fields, an example “tome” for This Fecund Planet

(By Chad Bowser)

Rumors say that there’s an unwilling scarecrow deep in the 400 acres that comprise Southcross field that will tell you all about a new god. Thomas Jacobson was a farmhand working Southcross field when he was transfixed. Stuck where he stood, a migrant with a beard down to his knees and wearing dusty traveling robes came by and began to pass on his wisdom. By carving it into the still living Thomas’ flesh.

The ritual practiced by the man keeps Thomas alive so that there is always fresh blood to keep the words bright. However, the ritual does nothing to dull the pain. The script is tiny and Thomas’ body contains thousands of words of this wanderer’s screed. To compound matters, the wanderer writes in the language he hears in his head – Akkadian.

Thomas’ body is filling up, though, and a new scarecrow, Heather Bunham, has just appeared not too far away.

Vote For The Next Apocalypse

Next weekend we’ll be releasing the description of another example setting ripped from the pages of APOCTHULHU — you can help pick which one by voting in the poll below.

 


Getting Stuff With Cthulhu Reborn Logos

Here at Cthulhu Reborn we’re not especially keen on the idea of “crass commercialism” when it comes to selling games.

So, you may be a little bemused to learn that we have just opened a RedBubble store where anyone can go to buy T-Shirts, other apparel, mugs, coasters, etc, emblazoned with our logos and designs.

“What gives?” you might be asking. “Has Cthulhu Reborn finally turned to the dark side?”

The answer is like this: several people who downloaded/purchased our last Dateline: Lovecraft add-on scenario (“Bottoms Up!”) really liked the vintage soda labels that I designed as potential in-game props to enhance play. “Some of those designs,” they said, “would look great on a T-Shirt.” So we looked into what was involved in getting one or two such items made up for the people who asked (and for me, since I wouldn’t mind wearing my own designs from time-to-time).

In the end the easiest and quickest way of making something like that was to create an account on RedBubble, upload the relevant image files and click “make me some T-Shirts”. But then, once all those designs are up there … it’s just as easy to click “make available to the public” as well. So that’s how our merch “store” was born — since then I’ve added some more designs, logos for APOCTHULHU, Dateline: Lovecraft, and Convicts & Cthulhu.

I’m not expecting that many folks (or maybe, anybody) who reads the CR blog to feel the sudden overwhelming need to own a Convicts & Cthulhu Hoodie or a set of 4 Dateline: Lovecraft coasters … but equally well those things are there if you want them. It’s not so much crass commercialism as a vanity project that I’m happy to share with anyone who happens to be interested.

Stuff that’s on the store: several styles of apparel, mugs/travel mugs, stickers, water bottles, weird resin block things, coasters, notebooks, greeting cards, art prints, throw pillow, draw string bags (for dice maybe), tote bags, and even a Convicts & Cthulhu wall clock (who doesn’t need one of those?).

Obviously the photos on the RedBubble store are renders based on the uploaded designs. If you’re curious about what the real, manufactured items might look like — here are some photos of things I ordered myself.

 


Apocalypse Sketch 1: Nyarlathotep Unmasked

Thanks to the many folks who have answered our poll to pick which Mythos Apocalypse sketches from our forthcoming APOCTHULHU RPG and sourcebook. Looking at the poll results there are a couple of clear front-runners, one of which is “Apocalypse 2: Nyarlathotep Unmasked” … so that’s the one I’ll unveil below.

I will leave the poll open, though, to allow folks to vote on which *other* sketches we should similarly “spill the beans” about during February. We’re aiming to do about one a week. You can get to the poll via this link — it’s also embedded at the bottom of this post.

Credits for the material from APOCTHULHU which appears below are as follows: the Apocalypse setting description was written by yours truly, while the Hollow Men (which are statted in the actual book itself) are a creation of Chad Bowser.

Nyarlathotep Unmasked (Example Apocalypse 2)

In the mid-1920s, a world-wide conspiracy of cults devoted to Nyarlathotep forged a bold plan to open a dimensional rift through which the Great Old Ones could return (early). Their covert machinations came to the attention of a group of occult investigators who undertook a globe-trotting adventure to track down and defeat the monstrous plan. They failed. At the appointed hour, in the shadowy light of a solar eclipse a rocket was launched from an island in China and exploded high above the world – the final act needed to open the invisible gateway.

Great yet insidious evil descended upon the world. While the way had been opened for the ancient and terrible gods, the nature of reality was still not ready for their physical manifestation. But their mental – and even more importantly, moral – influence certainly took shape across the face of the globe. Wars became bloodier, politicians more mean-spirited and greedy. By the time the Atomic age had been ushered in, the hidden influence of the Great Old Ones was in the hearts of many world leaders, whether they understood it or not. This dark stain led ultimately to the nuclear holocaust that shattered the civilized world. It began with a small rogue Asian nation obtaining atomic weapons and ended with a series of tactical strikes that killed hundreds of millions and pushed the world into nuclear winter.

Today, remnants of humanity still linger in many places – although isolated and without most of the trappings of technology and civilization. But the insidious stain of the Great Old Ones lives on as well, poisoning the minds of people towards actions designed to either wipe out humanity altogether or groom it as a slave race ready to mindlessly follow the physical forms of Cthulhu and his ilk … which surely must approach their long-awaited resurrection.

  • When Did the Apocalypse Occur? The downfall of humanity can be traced to actions in the 1920s, but the nuclear exchange that directly led to the current world happened in the mid-1950s.
  • What Event was the Trigger? The gate was opened by the Nyarlathotep cultists; the atomic war was the product of human greed and fear pushed onwards by subtle whispers and dreams from the Great Old Ones.
  • What Changed? Scores of cities burned under the mushroom clouds; electro-magnetic pulses rendered most complex electronics inoperable. Electrical grids and communications fell.
  • How Long Afterwards? The game setting takes place in the immediate aftermath of the 1950s atomic war.
  • What is the World Like? The fall of most infrastructure has left isolated bands of survivors huddled in small groups. Their lives were bad enough, with the after-effects of radiation casting a pall over everything. Then the RADHAZ-suited execution squads began roaming the countryside following orders given by national leaders, each a thrall to one alien god or another. They were accompanied by things that seem to be even more unnatural than the mutations.

  • What Communities Exist? Small groups of people are common, many of them survivors who weathered the atomic war in fallout shelters in their backyards or towns. There are not yet any large-scale communities established, although some people have a dream to reunite people into a form of civilization. But do those people do so for the good of humanity … or compelled by whispered instructions from the Great Old Ones?
  • What Mythos Entities? This game setting is light on physical manifestations of the Cthulhu Mythos, although a handful of monstrosities may be found. Far more common is dark mental and moral influences pushing people to commit terrible – sometimes inhuman – acts. Perhaps this is the world as Nyarlathotep, lord of chaos, truly wants it to be? Or perhaps it is the unintended impact of close mental contact between sensitive human minds and the now-adjacent realities where the Great Old Ones wait at the door?
  • Is There Any Hope? In theory humanity may still recover from the nuclear winter and re-establish some form of civilization. But for any such efforts to be long-lasting, the taint of the Great Old Ones must be removed or blocked, else any semblance of order that is brought into being will soon crumble under their insidious shadow influences.

The Hollow Men, an example monstrosity for Nylathotep Unmasked

(By Chad Bowser)

In the aftermath of the nuclear winter supplies are scarce and safety in short supply. Many communities lack the means to effectively protect themselves against ranging bandit groups let alone the Hollow Men.

Rumor has it that the Hollow Men were once men who have been warped and twisted by the radiation that permeates the world. That’s just a rumor, though. The reality is much worse. The Hollow Men are normal men and women driven mad by what they’ve seen and experienced. These are people who have lost any sense of mercy or morality.

While bandits loot, pillage, and rape, Hollow Men sweep across the landscape utterly devastating whatever life they encounter. In the grips of their psychoses, they can’t stop until they’re dead.

Vote For The Next Apocalypse

Next weekend we’ll be releasing the description of another example setting ripped from the pages of APOCTHULHU — you can help pick which one by voting in the poll below.


29 Days of the Apocalypse

Somehow, it’s February already. Not just that but it’s one of those weird Februaries with an extra leap day. Nothing says cosmic weirdness like a date that only exists some of the time.

For no particular reason, we’ve decided that we are going to use February as the month where we share some information about APOCTHULHU, our forthcoming RPG of Lovecraftian Post-Apocalypses. This is something we’ve been working on behind the scenes for a little over 2 years, and have mentioned it here briefly a few times. But 2020 looks set to be the year when we finally bring this project to fruition.

So what the heck is APOCTHULHU?

In short it’s a set of tailored RPG rules *and* a collection of detailed scenarios — both of which are designed to explore a range of different “Lovecraftian” Post-Apocalypse settings.

H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction (and that of his many collaborators and successors) is full of hints that mankind’s dominance over this planet is ephemeral. Something is coming that will sweep away all our accomplishments and nullify our position at the top of the food-chain on Earth. Lots of different stories have vague suggestions or allusions to the possible causes of such an Apocalyptic change of circumstances, although there are precious few tales that describe the state of the world as it exists after the cataclysmic change has come to pass.

APOCTHULHU aims to rectify this by allowing for game scenarios set in devastated versions of our world broken by the “Mythos Apocalypse”. One of the first things that we faced when deciding to create such a thing is the problem of dealing with the many, MANY possible ways in which the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos might (deliberately or accidentally) herald the end of humanity. After all, even the classic Mythos tales provide no real consensus — does humanity’s fall occur because Nyarlathotep goads us into developing weapons capable of wiping out our own species? Or does it come when the cosmic cycles turn and Cthulhu and his ilk can once again walk upon the surface of the land? Or is some future Apocalypse triggered by a need for the Great Race to inhabit the bodies of post-apocalyptic beetles?

 

Obviously no one single “Mythos Post-Apocalyptic World” can draw upon all those different influences … so in creating APOCTHULHU we have decided to opt for an approach where the rules and sourcebook material focus instead on providing the reader (the GM of an APOCTHULHU game) with a range of tools for crafting any number of *different* Mythos Apocalypses. Think of them as parallel realities of humanity’s demise — after all, why stop at destroying mankind just once, when you can imagine dozens of different Mythos-fueled demises?!

Is this a new game system or a supplement for an existing system?

We will release more information about game systems later, but for now it’s most accurate to say that we have designed APOCTHULHU to be a standalone RPG … but one that is a reskinned version of an open-sourced system that is out there and in common use among Lovecraftian investigative gamers. Folks should be able to pick up the main APOCTHULHU book and run games with just that … but equally, players familiar with common game systems will find it very easy to transfer that knowledge to quickly picking up APOCTHULHU’s mechanics.

You mentioned detailed scenarios as well. How will that work, and who’s written scenarios?

In addition to the sourcebook material which gives a GM the “toolkit” for building an apocalyptic setting from their own ideas, we have also created a bunch of example Mythos Apocalypses, and for some of them also created fully-detailed scenarios. In fact this project actually began with the goal of making a diverse collection of unique Post-Apocalyptic adventures — and a half-dozen great writers have contributed their own version of the Mythos end-of-the-world in scenario form. The writer list includes some well-known names (like Jeff Moeller, Jo Kreil, Christopher Smith Adair, and Dave Sokolowski), as well as some other surprises that I will — for now — keep under my hat.

When is APOCTHULHU likely to come out anyway?

All the scenarios and primary source material for APOCTHULHU are already written and currently working their way through editing. Between rules, sourcebook, and a half-dozen hefty scenarios there is a LOT of material to work through. If I had to guess I’d say the team has produced well over 350 pages of material for this project — whether it all comes out as a single monolithic book, or gets split into a couple of titles, remains to be seen. We are definitely aiming to release APOCTHULHU in 2020, ideally in the first half of the year. At the moment we can’t be any more precise than that.

So … can you give away some more concrete hints about what these example “Mythos Apocalypses” look like?

We’d love to share some details of what our super-creative authors have dreamed up as *their* idea of a Mythos-related end of the world. In fact, over the rest of this month I’m planning on releasing some text sections from the APOCTHULHU book, each of which describes a different Apocalypse setting. These, I guess, would be useful to someone interested in running an interesting Post-Apocalypse game, even if they don’t (yet) have our book. Because we have a bunch to choose from I thought I would let you fine readers pick which setting you’d like to see. Vote in the poll below and I will share the most popular Apocalypses — one per week — throughout February!

The eight Apocalypses up for grabs are:

  • Apocalypse 1: The Stars Turn, Turn, Turn — The Stars came right, as the cults of the Great Old Ones prophesied and Mythos beings could once again exist and walk openly on the face of the Earth. Alien cities rose. Cthulhu walked unleashed for the first time in millennia.
  • Apocalypse 2: Nyarlathotep Unmasked — A certain global conspiracy of cults in the 1920s sought to open the way for Nyarlathotep. Globe-trotting investigators were on the case … but what happened if they failed to stop the cult’s grand plan?
  • Apocalypse 3: The God From The Uttermost South — In the early 1930s a pair of expeditions braved nigh-unsurpassable challenges to travel to the Antarctic regions and the so-called “Mountains of Madness”. Hidden in an alien city was a trapped entity; what happened when it was trapped no longer?

  • Apocalypse 4: The Firelands of Melqart — A crackpot doomsday cult called the “Church of Melqart” predicted the coming of a year-long purging fire that would cleanse the earth. On the Internet everybody laughed, but nobody was laughing when the appointed day came and millions of fireball creatures descended from the heavens.
  • Apocalypse 5: Under The Charcoal Sky — Nobody is sure exactly how it happened, but somehow a world-wide invasion of supernatural sentient shadow creatures has decimated humanity everywhere. The scattered survivors live huddled beneath a perpetually charcoal-colored sky.
  • Apocalypse 6: Shake The Disease — Global society as we know it ended in 2023 when humanity was decimated by the release of a bioengineered bacteriological agent from a government laboratory; what few know is that the disease is not terrestrial but rather the manifestation of the Great Old Ones.
  • Apocalypse 7: This Silent World — The world is infested by extra-dimensional horrors spawned by Yog-Sothoth, blind alien things that kill indiscriminately and mercilessly, thanks to an exceptional sense of hearing. A few humans have escaped their murderous rampage … and they have learned that to survive they must be *very* quiet.
  • Apocalypse 8: This Fecund Planet — When the miraculous floss-like substance first fell from the sky scientists called it a biological miracle, something that could cause any plant to grow even in the most barren of soil. But the ‘blessing’ of Shub-Niggurath is a type of fertility that does not always yield wholesome things.

Vote Here


Beneath Our Radiant Southern Cross

So, today is Australia Day — the day that Australia celebrates its “founding.” Unlike many other countries Australia’s national day doesn’t really celebrate the creation of the nation of Australia (that came into effect on January 1, 1901) but rather the day that European colonization began. Since that also marked the beginning of 200+ years of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians, who had been here for 60,000+ years before that, many feel it is a somewhat distasteful thing to celebrate … but for now that’s how things are.

The first British colonization of Australia was in the form of the penal settlement at New South Wales founded in 1788, centred around Sydney township. This was an extraordinarily brutal and corrupt colony, where convicts served as de facto slaves and cruel military-style justice was meted out for even minor transgressions. Doubtless life was pretty miserable for many people … but the combination of human cruelty, an empty and unexplored land (from a European point-of-view), and a thoroughly unfamiliar landscape (whose animals and plants no European really understood) has much potential for tales of darkness and horror. Since 2016 we have been exploring that setting in a RPG-sense through the lens of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Convicts & Cthulhu is our line of (free, or at-cost) game supplements for running Lovecraftian horror scenarios and campaigns in the brutality of early Australian convict settlement.

Over the past 3.5 years we have created a *lot* of material for Convicts & Cthulhu — the product line now has 19 titles. This can make it a little difficult for newcomers to understand what’s what. On this, the 232nd anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of convict ships, I thought I would have a go at demystifying C&C by briefly walking through everything we’ve made to date. If you just want to grab it ALL in one go, we have an up-to-date ZIP file which lets you do just that (the so-called “Bundle of Misery”, but be warned it is 111MB).

The Core Convicts & Cthulhu (1st Ed) book is a 96-page supplement which describes the setting and includes rules (referencing Call of Cthulhu’s 7th Edition) for running games of Lovecraftian horror in the penal settlements. The book is available as a free/PWYW PDF or as a PWYW softcover book (which has its base level set at the POD print cost of the book; so as close to “free” as we can make it).

Things that are included in this book: Enough historical info for GMs/players to understand the key flavour of the setting, templates for creating investigators — either European or Indigenous Australian, notes on social classes and literacy in the era, ideas about structuring investigative scenarios in a place where few “musty old tomes” exist. It also has a gazetteer of convict-era New South Wales (with particular attention to places in Sydney), as well as notes on Dark Cults that the GM can use in his or her scenarios as well as Lovecraftian horrors old and new. The book’s rounded out with a short introductory scenario called “Un-Fresh Off The Boat” which I have run numerous times at conventions around the world to great success.

Ticket of Leave Supplements

We began publishing short (and later, not-so-short) PDF supplements with an eye towards giving GMs tools for creating memorable scenarios. Most of these “Ticket of Leave” supplements are themed around one aspect of life in the penal colonies, providing historical notes on that topic as well as a scenario or scenario-outline that heavily features that thematic element. To date we’ve released 15 of these, totalling 278 pages of scenario-related Convict material. All of it has been released as free/PWYW PDF titles.

Ticket of Leave #1 is titled “Night Terrors” and explores the phenomenon of the “Night Watch” a group of soldiers and other hangers-on who were given the unenviable task of patrolling around the colony at night to keep the peace and deter breaches of curfew or other wrongdoing by convicts (or soldiers). Since the Night Watch is charged with poking its nose into all manner of after-dark activities, the possibilities of it accidentally stumbling upon weird or horrific manifestations is … well, much higher than anyone would really prefer.

Ticket of Leave #2 is titled “Tri-Colour Terror” and investigates the precarious relationship between the British Empire and France during the era of Convicts & Cthulhu. France and England were bitter foes for much of the 18th Century, periodically at war, occasionally at a kind of uneasy peace. When Australia was founded several French scientific expeditions were dispatched to explore parts of its coastline; this was more than a little alarming to early Australian colonists — these ships are allowed to re-provision at Sydney … but are those so-called French “scientists” really here to spy on behalf of Napoleon?

Ticket of Leave #3 is titled “Criminal Enterprise” and explores the seedy underbelly of crime in the penal settlements. It’s easy to think that because the ne’er-do-well convicts sentenced to the prison colony are kept under close guard, their opportunities to continue their criminality is small. That wasn’t always the case … and even when it was, the soldiers and civilians running the colony weren’t exactly above breaking the law themselves in one way or another. Even in this oppressive regime there are criminal gangs — and how much easier is it for them when they have access to the skills of hundreds of convicted thieves, counterfeiters, and the like.

Ticket of Leave #4 is titled “The Vanishing Ensign” and explores some of the military logistics of keeping track of troops and settlers in a sparsely-populated but vast colony. From time to time, the Governor needs to arrange for a grand Muster — a literal stocktake of the whole colony. This can present a great opportunity to have player-characters sucked into an endeavour that literally spans a visit to every nook and cranny (and tiny isolated farmstead) in the colony. What happens when the data being collected reveals some weirdness? The scenario in this supplement explores one such case — many disparate places have official records of a soldier called “Ensign Dobley” assigned to serve there … but nobody knows who he is, and nobody has seen him for many weeks. What is the truth behind this weird “vanishing man”?

Ticket of Leave #5 is titled “The Damned and the Degenerate” and is an exception to the general pattern of these supplements being scenario-related. This PDF aims to massively-supercharge the range of player character options for your Convicts & Cthulhu games. Due to space constraints we could only include a dozen or so profession templates in the core book — in this supplement we go to town on providing a wealth of different character types. These are divided into convict “professions”, free-settler “professions” and Indigenous Australian “professions”. It also provides statted examples of many of the profession types, highlighting the diversity of different types of player/non-player characters that can populate a C&C game.

Ticket of Leave #6 is titled “Night of the Convict Dead” and explores burial grounds and funerary traditions in the early colonial days. Naturally enough, cemeteries and similar houses of the dead make great sites for several different types of Lovecraftian tales of darkness. In the scenario portion of this supplement, a familiar trope of horror stories is given a uniquely Convict-era twist, presenting the players with an unusual type of dark horde of rising terrors.

 

Ticket of Leave #7 is titled “Seams of Peril” and explores a rather singular real-life incident concerning the apparent early discovery of gold in the colony. Many people may be familiar with the Australian gold-rushes of the 1850s and later, but decades earlier an enterprising convict concocted a convincing tale about having stumbled upon a valuable seam of gold while working an assignment out in the unexplored backwaters of the colony. His plan: to convince the greedy gaolers to grant him a pardon in exchange for its location (presumably with the idea of him being far away before they realized they were conned). This amazing-but-real setup has potential as the basis for a horrific tale which takes player characters far out into the remote corners of New South Wales … but the promised gold at the end of the trek isn’t actually gold at all.

Ticket of Leave #8 is titled “Gentlemen Convicts” and explores the curious phenomenon of wealthy individuals who found themselves sentenced to Transportation to New South Wales. Most stereotypical depictions of convicts shows them as grubby and drawn from the poorer classes of Great Britain — these convicts were not like that at all. Sometimes they were convicted as “high society thieves” or master counterfeiters … but just as often they were lawyers or prominent citizens whose political dabblings had brought them on the wrong side of the powers-that-be, to be convicted on trumped-up charges. Gentlemen convicts provide both an interesting character option, and a whole new strata of society to weave into C&C games.

Ticket of Leave #9 is titled “Orphan School Horror” and provides a creepy Christmas haunting scenario. The Female Orphan School is one of the few vaguely charitable institutions in early Sydney — a place for abandoned girls to live and be educated to perform crafts or domestic service. What happens when ghostly apparitions start being reported by some of the girls? The Master and Matron of the school want nothing to do with such “superstitious nonsense” but the manifestations still keep being reported, and some girls have “fallen into a swoon.” What is going on?

Ticket of Leave #10 is titled “The Doom That Came To Five Dock” and is a purely scenario-based scenario. Several ships plying the route between Parramatta and Sydney have reported that the small waystation and dock building at Five Dock has been utterly destroyed, seemingly overnight. As the location is usually unpopulated, nobody really knows what happened, but it must have been something fairly drastic to cause such extensive destruction in such a short time. Of course it’s the player character’s job to travel up the river to Five Dock to see what the heck made such a mess of everything. It’s not something they (or anyone) would expect, and some may not return from the trek.

Ticket of Leave #11 is titled “The Dispensatory of Doctor MacDead” and explores medical practice in the early colonies. It’s hard to credit today, but the only real qualification that someone needed to call themselves a physician is … to call oneself a physician. While the colony itself tended to employ people with established credentials in Britain, there was nothing to stop someone setting up a private practice with absolutely no training or experience at all. This led to quacks and charlatans — all of which is great fodder for a Lovecraftian tale of dubious medicine.

Ticket of Leave #12 is our very first GenCon scenario, titled “Fallen Stars.” A strange shooting star was observed by many crossing the night sky above Sydney and elsewhere in the colony. Some people in outlying regions heard a crash as the thing fell to earth. This event has raised interest among the few scientific men of the colony … so much so that they want to mount an expedition out into the unexplored districts at the colony’s edge, in the hope of retrieving the meteorite. As it happens, this long and harrowing trek — not to mention the meteorite itself — holds more than its fair share of surprises.

Ticket of Leave #13 is titled “The Thirteenth Convict” and explores superstition and folk magic in the early days of Australian settlement. Recent archaeological research has shown that it was not uncommon for colonial-era buildings to be constructed with strange “witch marks” carved into wood … or with objects hidden in the walls. Both were common “good luck” charms of the day, aimed at keeping evil spirits at bay. But what happens, as in the scenario included in the PDF, when the thing you buried in your wall isn’t what it seems to be …?

Ticket of Leave #14 is our second GenCon scenario, titled “Hark, Now Hear The Sailor’s Cry.” It explores the maritime world of sealers and whalers in the southern waters in the early days of white settlement. While convicts and gaolers lived out their grubby lives, enterprising ship captains from around the world eyed off these waters as a source of potential wealth. They too lived grubby lives, sometimes aboard ships and sometimes aboard makeshift camps built on otherwise unsettled islands in Bass’s Straits and elsewhere. In this scenario, one such whaling ship — a vessel hailing out of Kinsport, Mass. — is found dead in the water. Naturally the player characters are the ones dispatched to investigate; is this American ship part of some dubious (spying?) enterprise … and if so, what the heck happened to the crew?

Ticket of Leave #15 is our most recent C&C release, titled “The Death Knells.” It has some details about different types of ways in which music or musical instrumentation was used in daily life in the early penal settlements. Its scenario part riffs on a real-world historical mystery — the uncertain fate of several church bells transported to the colony on an early ship, but apparently never used in any structure. A night of carnage has left several dead on the shores of Sydney Harbour and a strange French naval axe embedded in the harbour bell … who could have committed these bizarre crimes?

Other Supplements

In addition to the Ticket of Leave supplements, we’ve also put out a few other themed supplements. Two of these are shorter releases themed around real-world figures who would make handy NPCs (or even player characters) in an investigation. These supplements are called “Musters” and the two we’ve released so far are:

We have also released a Convicts & Cthulhu Prop Document Pack which contains some PDF-fillable versions of key documents that convicts might carry or aspire to carry (e.g., Tickets of Leave or Pardons), as well as templates to help GMs make newspaper clues for their scenarios.

Frequently Asked Questions about C&C

As I have spoken to a great many folks at conventions about Convicts & Cthulhu, there have been a few common things that have come up.

Q: Do I need to be an expert in the historical era to use this material?

A: Absolutely not. We deliberately wrote the C&C core book — and every supplement that came thereafter — with the assumption that most readers wouldn’t be familiar with the history surrounding the era or setting. In truth, even readers who have been schooled in Australia usually don’t get to hear about some of the grubbier (i.e., more realistic) elements of their early colonial history — it is, to a greater or lesser extent, glossed over in favour of a more “whitewashed” narrative. Because of that, even readers who know zilch about Australian history, or even British colonialism for that matter, should be able to pick up these books and create a rollicking fun (and somewhat historically accurate) game.

Q: What if I don’t want to run a historical game? Is this material useful to me at all?

A: We set out to make a game that would be fun for people who love historical gaming … but have been quite surprised to hear that several folks have downloaded and used our material for entirely different purposes. The most fun-sounding thing we’ve heard about is someone inventing their own “space prison” settlement in the far future and using the C&C material — with appropriate changes of names and weapons tech — to sketch out a grimy and corrupt penal colony on some far distant planet. Sounds fun to us …

Q: What if my players don’t want to be Convicts?

A: While there are lots of convicts in the early settlements, there are also lots of soldiers, administrators, surgeons, Aboriginal trackers, amateur scientists, merchants, and the like. It is easily possible to run a game in which nobody is incarcerated … but equally well, playtests have shown that playing a convict can be surprisingly fun too. Groups which combine some convicts and some free-settler or military characters also offers some interesting dynamics. The setting is flexible enough that the GM can easily find character types that will generate a style of game that works for the expectations of their players. Well … unless the players expect an easy or safe ride … in which case I don’t think Lovecraftian roleplaying is for them.


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