2016: Cthulhu’s Year in Review

So, normally at about this time of year our good friends over at Sentinel Hill Press put together a blog posting which summarises all the nifty products that were released for Call of Cthulhu in the previous year. Because I know that the Sentinel folks are really, REALLY busy with a combination of real world things (a new homonculous) and finishing off their amazing Arkham Gazette Kickstarter, I’ve decided to step in to write up this year’s write up — a “those were the tentacles that were” kind of thing. I hope WinstonP doesn’t mind 🙂

Compared to the last few years, 2016 was a quiet-ish year for new Call of Cthulhu releases. Depending on how you count it, there were between 10 and 12 new book titles released for the game compared to around 16 in 2015. Of course, that number does include two pretty important titles — the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition rules (which were technically published in PDF form late in 2015, even though most people didn’t get hard copies until late 2016) and the long-awaited Pulp Cthulhu.

There is no denying that 2016 was a year dominated by Kickstarter-delivered titles … in fact every single title that was produced for Call of Cthulhu came out as the result of a Kickstarter, or as an add-on to a Kickstarter. Here’s a breakdown of the books released in 2016, grouped by publisher.

Chaosium

Chaosium had a big year in 2016, mostly due to the (much elongated) delivery of it’s anticipated 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu rules. Although versions of the final layouts have been kicking around for a year or so, it has been great to see most backers of their 2013 Kickstarter campaign get their books. The Kickstarter isn’t entirely finished yet, but it’s close to being done — which must be a big relief to Chaosium (who have earned the unenviable epithet “The Company That Almost Kickstarted Itself To Death”).

The other big, BIG release for Chaosium in 2016 was Pulp Cthulhu. Those of you who have followed the game for a while will already be aware that Pulp Cthulhu has been an “upcoming title” for Call of Cthulhu for a decade or more. The version that finally came out in 2016 probably has very little in common with the book that was originally announced in the mid 2000s, having been extensively “reworked” by Mike Mason and others. It is quite a significant release for Call of Cthulhu, though, since it introduces a rather different “mode” of play — much less focussed on investigation, and much more on two-fisted, Indiana Jones-style, action. While other Lovecraftian games have incorporated “pulp” sensibilities (in particular Trail of Cthulhu), few if any have embraced this mode with as much gusto.

In addition to these two big rules-related books, Chaosium released a couple of books which brought new scenarios. Doors To Darkness is a book of 7th Edition scenarios which is specifically targetted at beginning Keepers and players, with the book providing more-than-typical guidance text to help folks who are still learning the game. Interestingly, this book was briefly released in limited numbers at NecronomiCon 2015 in a black and white softcover format but Chaosium subsequently made the decision to abandon that layout in favour of a new, full-colour hardcover treatment to better fit in with the more lavish presentation that premiered with the 7th Edition books and Pulp Cthulhu. Chaosium Creative Director Jeff Richard has mentioned at convention panels that this high production value will be standard for all future books produced by the company.

The other Chaosium release for 2016 was a more slim tome — a Free RPG Day scenario by Sandy Petersen called “The Derelict”. This short, modern-day title was significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was Chaosium’s first Free RPG Day book; secondly it was the first newly published Call of Cthulhu material in 20 years written by the original creator of the game.

Another interesting first for Chaosium in 2016 was the establishment of their “Organised Play” programme via the “Cult of Chaos”, a free-to-join association of Keepers that volunteers to run Call of Cthulhu either at public events (e.g., conventions) or for their own home-grown groups. Chaosium’s first “Organised Play” event was a six-part classic-era campaign called “A Time to Harvest” set around Miskatonic Universtity and the backwaters of Vermont. This campaign was released in parts (one chapter per month throughout mid-2016) to Cult of Chaos keepers for free. There are plans to revise the campaign based on feedback from those Keepers and one day release this campaign as a proper Chaosium title.

Licensees

Moving away from Chaosium-land, 2016 was also a big year for several of the Call of Cthulhu licensees. Foremost among those is Cubicle 7, who put out three books as part of two different Kickstarter campaigns. The first of these was World War Cthulhu: London, a book detailing the home front during World War II (as part of Cubicle 7’s WW2 setting first described in 2013’s World War Cthulhu: Their Darkest Hour). The WWC: London book was originally created as a stretch goal to the 2013 Cthulhu Britannica London Kickstarter, and is the last piece of that campaign to be delivered.

An entirely different Kickstarter campaign by Cubicle 7 saw the release of an exciting new campaign setting for Call of Cthulhu — the shadowy world of 1970s Cold War espionage. Two different books were released as part of this campaign in 2016. They were World War Cthulhu: Cold War and the Section 46 Operations Manual. Both books look great and the Cold War looks like a really interesting, if somewhat grim, setting for Cthulhu gaming — one I am certainly looking forward to reading (especially if it maintains the uniformly high standard Cubicle 7 has shown of late).

Speaking of World War 2 setting, 2016 also saw the final books delivered for Modiphius’ rather ambitious Kickstarter for the Achtung! Cthulhu line of products. Ever since this campaign was run in 2013 there has been a steady stream of sourcebooks and hardback campaigns published as well as some rather strange cross-over products with other game systems. Two of the latter titles were the stragglers that finally saw the light of day in 2016 — Elder Godlike (a cross-over with Greg Stolze’s superhero RPG Godlike) and Secrets of the Dust (a cross-over with Paolo Parente’s DUST universe).

Golden Goblin Press has established somewhat of a reputation for itself in recent years with timely fulfilment of Kickstarter campaigns. In 2016 they delivered on their third such game-related Kickstarter, Tales of the Caribbean. This book includes seven 1920s-era scenarios spread over the diverse islands of the Caribbean.

Goodman Games also released another volume of its popular Age of Cthulhu line: The Lost Expedition. As with the previous entry in this series, this (ninth) book in the AoC line was funded via a Kickstarter.

Last, but certainly not least, among the Call of Cthulhu licensees active in 2016 is the new-kid-on-the-block Stygian Press (run by Stephanie McAlea). This new publisher released its first (Kickstarter-funded) book, The Things We Leave Behind, which aims to present a grim and grown-up version of modern-day Call of Cthulhu. I would have to say that I was blown away by the quality of the writing in this book — these are truly great, if somewhat dark and twisted, scenarios … certainly a lot more embedded in the horrors of 21st century “modern” life than almost anything that’s been published before. If I had to pick one “best book” for the year, this one would certainly be a serious contender.

Magazines

Generally, 2016 was a pretty lean year for Call of Cthulhu content in Magazines — once again the stalwart “Unspeakable Oath” remained silent, with no releases.

The big exception to this resounding silence is the back-issues of the Arkham Gazette released by Sentinel Hill. In 2014, Sentinel ran a highly successful Kickstarter to create the third issue of its Lovecraft Country magazine/sourcebook, devoted to an in-depth study of witchcraft in Arkham and elsewhere. The PDF and print versions of this magazine issue were all delivered in 2015 … but stretch goals of the original Kickstarter promised upgrades and reissues of older (free PDF-only) issues of the magazine. In 2016 two of these emerged — Issue #0 (Aylesbury Pike) and Issue #1 (Arkham), both in PDF and softcover Print-On-Demand.

Cthulhu Reborn

Convicts & Cthulhu Logo 2

Finally, I can’t write a wrap-up of 2016 without sparing a few sentences to flog Convicts & Cthulhu, our very own big release for 2016. This setting book, covering Lovecraftian horrors in the early penal settlements of Australia, has been extremely well-received and has sold far, far in excess of our wildest dreams. Geoff Gillan — my partner in convict-ness has, subsequent to the release of the main (96-page softcover and PDF) book, also written three small supplements which we have released for free. All of those goodies are available right now over on RPGNow.

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5 responses to “2016: Cthulhu’s Year in Review

  • Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

    A slight correction – all the issues of the Arkham Gazette available on DriveThruRPG are available in PDF and Print on Demand form.

    A fine list otherwise, sir.

  • gbsteve

    Your missing out if you only stick to CoC, and even if you only believe in BRP as the one true way, surely Delta Green is in the fold?
    http://bit.ly/2j4k3LL

    • deanadelaide

      Yeah, I guess. Personally my bookshelf is filled with loads of non-BRP Lovecraftian RPGs, but speaking with other folks — particularly newer gamers — I’ve noted that for a significant number of gamers anything other than pure, vanilla Call of Cthulhu is “a bridge too far.” Considering there is 30+ years of material to draw on, all of it highly cross-compatible, I guess there’s something to that argument. That’s not to say there is no place for Trail, KWAS, Cthulhu Hack, Raiders of R’lyeh, Pathfinder’s Cthulhu-related AP, and so on. Those things serve an important role in making Lovecraftian gaming accessible to people who prefer different styles of gaming experience … or who want to game in settings that BRP/CoC has shied away from covering.

      Regarding the new Delta Green game — which is not BRP, but heavily influenced by it — it will be interesting to see whether there is a general consensus among gamers that it is “close enough” to official CoC that some folks will play both, or whether it is seen as “different enough” that it splits a portion of the CoC playing community to become its own not-so-walled garden.

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