This is our final “teaser” posting ahead of the release of Convicts & Cthulhu (which is still planned for sometime around June 1). This time around I thought I would provide a bit of an overview of exactly what era is covered in the book, and also what type of game resources we have included.
On the topic of exactly what constitutes the Convicts & Cthulhu “era” … while the era of convict transportation to the colonies of Australia covered quite a broad historical period (all the way from 1788 until the 1840s), we have chosen to concentrate on a much more specific time period, namely 1795-1810. This isn’t an arbitrary decision, but one made based on the fact that some rather unique events and alarming themes prevalent in this era make it an especially good setting for tales of darkness and evil.
While there is a wealth of description in Convicts & Cthulhu, the early days of penal settlement in Australia can be summarised as an initial well-meaning plan which ran off the rails. Despite the fact that the entire idea of a prison settlement meant life was supposed to be hard (for the convicts at least) the first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, was actually a somewhat enlightened and sympathetic man who aimed to run things as fairly as possible. Sadly, his tenure was cut short due to illness, leaving the colony somewhat unexpectedly in 1795. The speed of his departure created a problem … no successor had been appointed by the Colonial Office in Britain, thus the responsibility of running things fell to the heads of the military unit created to be gaolers to the convicts, the New South Wales Corps. As noted in the previous blog posting, these men were not especially capable and certainly not as highly principled as the departing Governor … so they did what any self-interested group would do when handed the power of government. They abused it, to make themselves extraordinarly wealthy.
The main way in which the corruption of the New South Wales Corps manifested was in their monopolistic practices and in particular the way in which they insisted on controlling the importation (and also price) of Rum, a popular commodity and trade good. Owing to a lack of coinage in the early colony, Rum was also a commodity that was used as a de facto currency, so controlling its price meant that the military could basically manipulate the “Rum Economy” to their benefit. The practice was not condoned by the Colonial Office back in England, who sent out a series of official Governors charged specifically with cracking down on this practice; but like any good cartel, the New South Wales Corps weren’t going to give up their cash cow without a fight. In the end this rising tension — inflamed by the extraordinary abrasiveness of Governor Bligh — led to actual insurrection, the military coup which is today called the “Rum Rebellion” of 1808. It wasn’t until order was restored two years later that things started on a more predictable and reasonable march towards Australia’s colonies becoming fully-fledged “civilised settlements.”
But who wants to set their tale of dark deeds and madness from beyond the stars in a time of law and order when there’s a decade of corruption and lawlessness on offer? Hence our decision to focus on this part of Australia’s convict history …
Before I sign off, I also wanted to share some information about what we have included in the 96 pages of Convicts & Cthulhu and how you might use it to kickstart a Convict era campaign. Here’s the Table of Contents:
As you’ll note we have tried to include all the normal sorts of things you might find in a Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, adapted for the setting … (so much less focus on musty old tomes and libraries, and much more on eerie and remote places which have remained untouched since the dawn of time). We’ve deliberately aimed to support lots of different investigator roles — sure, some people will love to play convicts, but you can also play guards or settlers. Or if you are really adventurous you can also play an Aboriginal investigator. The book includes one complete scenario and six detailed scenario seeds (sort of like “Tales of Terror” from The Unspeakable Oath; horrific situations with multiple different Mythos explanations). There exists a much more epic Convicts & Cthulhu scenario, but that will appear in a later publication …
Of course, once Convicts & Cthulhu is in your hands we would also love to see other people contribute to the setting — the book will be released (like most things here on Cthulhu Reborn) under a Creative Commons license, so you can do whatever you like with it as long as you don’t ask for money.
Anyway … back to creating the last few pieces of art for Convicts & Cthulhu … watch this space for a download link in the near future!