Cthulhu in 2018: A Retrospective, part 5 (END)

In the first blog posting in this series I provided the “helicopter-view” of the year’s releases, which is probably the place to look if you want a quick overview. The rest of this series consists of more details analysis of 2018 releases.

The Dark Future: Kickstarters yet to fulfil

So far, this review has described products which have made their ways into customers’ hands in some form or other. Another interesting thing to look at is the products that are still in the process of breaking through into our reality … namely, the Kickstarters that are yet to be fulfilled. Some of these are older campaigns that were supposed to have completed in 2018 (or even earlier); others are campaigns run in 2018 for products that won’t grace the gaming table until 2019 or later.

Before summarizing the list of Kickstarters-in-waiting, special attention should first be given to one KS campaign: Pagan Publishing’s Horrors of War. This originally funded back in September 2014 with an estimated fulfillment date of February 2015. Despite making apparent progress, this campaign has now taken the non-coveted crown for “most delayed” (now that Punktown, the previous title holder, has been released). In 2018, as part of a general “call to action” to the operators of several much-delayed Kickstarters, Chaosium gave Pagan Publishing an ultimatum – release Horrors of War before the end of 2018 or lose the license to release it as a Call of Cthulhu title at all. For much of 2018, progress was reported towards meeting that date, as well as paying refunds to a number of backers who requested them. But in November, the wheels seemed to fall off: Pagan made a backer update that announced that due to unspecified “serious problems” with the project, it would no longer be possible to hit the date laid down by Chaosium. At least part of the problem seems to have been created by one of the original key writers (a long-time Pagan stalwart) withdrawing his three scenarios – this meant that on top of other delays, three new scenarios needed to be written to replace them. The inability to meet the mandated deadline left Pagan looking into “other ways to continue the project” – one might assume that to mean potentially transferring the book to use a non-Chaosium-licensed game system. Ultimately, however, the crisis was averted a few days later when Chaosium unilaterally acted to extend the license for Horrors of War until June 30, 2019. Finger-crossed that this is enough time for the team to wrap up this fine-looking book. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/460966263/horrors-of-war-a-convenant-with-death

Other Kickstarters that were originally targeting a 2018 date but have yet to release:

  • The Dare (Sentinel Hill Press): The Kickstarter campaign to reprint The Dare, a classic-era scenario by Kevin Ross, funded in October 2017 with an estimated fulfilment of November 2017 (always an ambitious target). Sentinel Hill have been good in giving backers in-progress versions of the full scenario text and partial-layouts, however the finished product is still pending. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/562089942/the-dare-a-call-of-cthulhu-1-shot-revised-for-7th
  • Unspeakable Sign & Sigil (Cubicle 7 & Make Believe Games): This was a hugely publicised Kickstarter jointly run by two sizeable game companies – Cubicle 7 (publishers of the current Tolkien games amongst other titles) had teamed up with Mark Rein*Hagen’s latest game company to produce a game of Lovecraftian horror … from the perspective of player-character cultists. The campaign funded in May 2017 with an estimated fulfilment in March 2018; to the best of my knowledge backers are still waiting. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/461807648/sigil-and-sign-cthulhu-mythos-rpg-where-you-play-t
  • H. P. Lovecraft Preparatory Academy (Third Eye Games using PDQ & Savage Worlds rules): This is a project which bills itself as the creation of “a cheerfully macabre game of schoolyard horror”. The general concept is that players take on the roles of students at a school with weird Lovecraftian goings-on. The Kickstarter for this book funded in March 2018 with an estimated fulfilment of April 2018. To my knowledge it is still being finalised, although backers have received a rather advanced “ashcan” layout which looks pretty close to being done. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eloylasanta/h-p-lovecraft-preparatory-academy-tabletop-rpg/description
  • The Idol of Cthulhu (Delphes Desvoivres): Arguably this campaign doesn’t belong in this review (since I’m trying to focus solely on products which have direct game content); however, one part of the Idol of Cthulhu campaign is a brand-new licensed Call of Cthulhu scenario by Matthew Sanderson. This Kickstarter funded in December 2017 with an estimated fulfilment of Sep 2018 … but calamity struck late in 2018 when Delphes’ art studio was robbed, thieves taking expensive components for the final idol statuettes. That has forced delays. Original KS links: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/195095939/the-idol-of-cthulhu-a-scenario-and-props-for-call
  • The Sassoon Files (Sons of the Singularity): This campaign aims to create a licensed Call of Cthulhu book with scenarios based in 1920s Shanghai. It is the first licensed title by Sons of the Singularity, and was funded on Kickstarter in October 2018 for an estimated fulfilment in December 2018. That didn’t happen, although every indication is that things aren’t too far away from a book materialising soon. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1918458549/the-sassoon-files

These campaigns were run in 2018 for products to be released later in 2019:

  • The Wild Hunt (Stygian Fox): The goal of this project was to create a lengthy (90+ page) licensed Call of Cthulhu adventure loosely inspired by Celtic mythology. The campaign funded in March 2018 with an estimated fulfilment in January 2019. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stephaniemcalea/the-wild-hunt-for-call-of-cthulhu
  • New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley (Stygian Fox): The original version of New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley was a Call of Cthulhu scenario anthology published by Miskatonic River Press in 2008. With MRP sadly long gone (though still lamented), Stygian announced that they had licensed the rights to reprint some of the MRP titles. This Kickstarter campaign, which funded in June 2018 for a fulfilment in January 2019, was the first such reprint. The project also aims to add one brand-new scenario to the original running order – set in the Innsmouth region and written by Seth Skorkowski (celebrity YouTuber). Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stephaniemcalea/new-tales-of-the-miskatonic-valley-2ed-for-call-of
  • Cathulhu – Tails of Valor (Golden Goblin): Perhaps one of the more unexpected Lovecraftian game Kickstarters in 2018 was that run by Golden Goblin for scenarios set in Sixtystone Press’ Cathulhu setting (players take on the roles of feline investigators). The campaign included both a fiction book and an RPG book. It funded in July 2018 with an estimated fulfilment of February 2019. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/golden-goblin-press/cathulhu-tails-of-valor-and-terror

  • Delta Green: Labyrinth (Arc Dream): Certainly the biggest of the Lovecraftian tabletop Kickstarters run in 2018, Arc Dream’s campaign to expand support for its Delta Green RPG raised over $150,000. It was notable for several reasons, one being that it marked the return to game writing of the legendary John Scott Tynes. In similar fashion to the previous Delta Green KS, this began as a fundraiser to create one book but unlocked an entire product-line of other books along the way. As well as the titular book, by my count backers will receive six additional scenario (optionally collected in a hardback book) plus another hardback book and a lengthy campaign. Plus handout sets for several of these. Whew. The Kickstarter was run in August 2018 with an estimated fulfilment in April 2019. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/arcdream/delta-green-the-labyrinth
  • Occam’s Razor (Stygian Fox): The last of Stygian Fox’s three Kickstarter campaigns for 2018 was a fundraiser to create another book of six modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenarios (a genre which Stygian has successfully explored twice already). This book is spearheaded by long-time Chaosium writer Brian Sammons, who wrote all six scenarios. The campaign funded in October 2018 with an estimated fulfilment in June 2019. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stephaniemcalea/occams-razor-a-collection-of-scenarios-for-call-of
  • Leagues of Cthulhu: Codicil (Triple Ace Games; for the Ubiquity ruleset): Triple Ace Games ran a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017 to add a Lovecraft-themed adjunct to their Leagues of Gothic Horror line (powered by an in-house rule system called Ubiquity). On the back of the success of that campaign, a follow-up was run in November 2018 for more Leagues of Cthulhu content. The new book was estimated to be fulfilled in May 2019. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1588759266/leagues-of-cthulhu-codicil
  • Never Going Home: WW 1 Occult Roleplaying (Wet Ink Games using in-house system): This Kickstarter flew under the radar in the standard Lovecraftian forums and social media, but I’ve included it in this list since it has some affiliation with familiar horror themes. As best I can tell this is intended to be a game set in an alternative WW1 where arcane forces have broken through to afflict the fighting forces on the battlefield, in subtle ways. The campaign funded in December 2018 with an estimated fulfilment in August 2019. Original KS link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2103068465/never-going-home-world-war-occult-role-playing

Trends, Observations and Conclusions

This review has aimed to shine an Elder Sign into the numerous different corners of the tabletop gaming world to unearth the 2018 releases which have some stated connection to Lovecraft’s vision or creations. There are – it seems – quite a lot of these. But after looking at all of these individual products and Kickstarters, are there any clear themes or observations to be drawn? I will give a few of my own thoughts, but equally I would be happy to hear what others can discern (use the comments section at the end of this post).

  1. The (Lovecraftian RPG) world is an amazing, diverse place: It’s easy when reading through online forums and communities about Lovecraftian RPGs to conclude that most of what has been published comes from a handful of campaigns or scenario anthologies or companies. There are definite “old favourites” that attract a lot of attention, sometimes disproportionately so. But each time I undertake the research for one of these retrospective articles I am reminded that the world of Lovecraft-influenced RPGs is much, much, larger than those small set of Cthulhu’s “greatest hits.” That is, I would contend, a good thing – because any time you tire of any one specific author’s or publisher’s interpretation of HPL’s ideas, there is always a host of *other* variant RPG interpretations you can read for inspiration. This is especially true if you’re willing to take scenarios/campaigns from different game systems (which may not to your liking) and repurpose them. While some people shy away from ripping and remixing content like that, I would strongly encourage GMs everywhere to consider giving it a try. Because most Lovecraftian investigative scenarios comprise about 75%+ non-mechanical content (plot, character motivation etc.) the task of adapting is much less than for other genres where mechanics are everything.
  2. Licensed releases by larger established companies are down: If you look back just a handful of years, there were a half-dozen or more largish established game companies producing Chaosium licensed material in English. Over the past couple of years that number has dropped off rapidly, until in 2018 the only publisher fitting that bill who produced any licensed content at all was Pelgrane Press (a couple of Trail of Cthulhu titles). While this may be just a temporary anomaly, the messaging from those companies that had historically been big producers of licensed content makes one wonder whether they are deprioritizing licensed content in favour of other types of non-licensed Lovecraftian material. The most recent such announcement is by Modiphius who will be creating its future Achtung! Cthulhu content primarily for its in-house 2d20 system with only a modest commitment to BRP.
  3. Mid-sized licensees are sticking to their successful formulae: Licensees like Stygian Fox, Golden Goblin Press, and Sentinel Hill Press have continued to be active, and have charted a course which builds on past successes. For the most part all of them have built substantial followings of Kickstarter backers, with each successive campaign building in terms of numbers and overall funds raised. This is a healthy position for these companies, although all of the three publishers mentioned above have struck difficulties with Kickstarter delays and managing the expectations of their backers (and indeed Golden Goblin appears to have slowed its tempo of Kickstarters in order to “catch up” on older commitments; while Stygian Fox conversely has ramped up its frequency of campaigns).
  4. Chaosium is striking a difficult balance between customers old and new: While it’s true that the new management at Chaosium assumed the reins of the company back in 2015, it’s probably fair to say that during the first couple of years of their operation they weren’t setting the direction for the CoC line. They inherited an off-the-rails Kickstarter (for 7th Edition CoC) which needed to be closely managed, and then they had a pipeline of previously approved projects to work through. It’s only been in the last year or so that the new management would have been in a position to set the agenda for how *they* want Call of Cthulhu to be. So … what does that look like? Well, if you draw inference from 2018’s releases – and even those from late 2017 – you might conclude that the new Chaosium are very actively pursuing brand-new CoC players. Certainly, the CoC Starter Kit is a product aimed at such gamers; but arguably so too is Pulp Cthulhu, Doors To Darkness, and even the new edition of Masks (since most existing players already own at least one edition whose content is not far different from the expensive new brick). Doubtless the goal of attracting new players to CoC has some sound basis in business – indeed, it seems part of a broader Chaosium agenda to “get big”. But the pursuit of such a goal has its perils, too, the greatest one being the need to also keep the existing customer-base satisfied. After all, there is no point in attracting an army of new customers while losing your existing customer-base in the process. Success will require a deft balancing act to keep both camps appropriately supported.

The Final Wrap

In the final analysis it’s fair to say that 2018 was another great year for Lovecraftian RPGs, providing further evidence that HPL’s influence is strong and insidiously clawing its way throughout the tabletop world. Here’s hoping that 2019 continues that wonderful, if horrifying, trend . . .


6 responses to “Cthulhu in 2018: A Retrospective, part 5 (END)

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