Apocalypse, Here We Come

In a day or so’s time we will be releasing the APOCTHULHU Core Rules in PDF. In preparation for that momentous event, we’ve been sharing some snapshots of the final book layout on our Twitter (@cthulhu_reborn) … for folks who aren’t twits, I thought I’d also share those pictures here.

The final book is 330 pages and contains a bunch of different stuff to help GMs and players create memorable games which sit at the intersection of the well-established “Post-Apocalypse” genre and the equally well-established “Lovecraftian Horror” genre.

The rules baked into the APOCTHULHU system are derived from D100 iterations that are released under the (WoTC) Open Gaming License, so our game system is also OGL. While many of the features of the game will be very familiar to long-time Lovecraft RPGers, the game also has some brand new features catering to some unique problem/features of Post-Apocalypse settings. In particular, there’s entire new systems for resource scarcity and character status within communities. There’s also some new material about handling “Tomes of Arcane Lore”, an essential feature of Lovecraft-lore but something that perhaps takes on different shape in the Post-Apocalypse.

Most tabletop RPGs come with a pre-defined game setting baked into the rulebook — even if that’s something wide-open like “real world 1920s”. APOCTHULHU doesn’t. We thought long and hard about what types of Apocalypses we wanted the game to support and realized that there are just so many different ways to have the world ruined by Mythos forces, that for us to design the rules with any specific one in mind would be arbitrary. What we opted to do instead was to make the rules themselves as general-purpose as possible and focus on giving the GM tools and resources for building whatever Mythos Post-Apocalyptic setting they thought would be fun to explore.

Of course, building an entire new setting from scratch is a lot of work … and while some gamers revel in intense “worldbuilding” for their fellow players, lots of others are too time-poor to get into that. To help overcome that barrier, we’ve created nine “sample Lovecraftian Apocalypses” which are extended setting outlines which someone could either pick up and use whole-cloth as the backdrop to their own adventure, or tweak and modify to suit their personal preferences.

Of the nine pre-defined Apocalypse settings included in the APOCTHULHU core book, the one I’m personally most excited about is the mini-sourcebook chapter adapting William Hope Hodgson’s “The Night Land” setting. Kevin Ross, perhaps the most prolific and experienced Lovecraft game writer still with us, wrote this … and it’s an amazing description of an equally mind-boggling far-future pseudo-fantasy/pseudo-horror/pseudo-scifi setting. WHH’s novel was written in 1913, and was actually an inspiration for Lovecraft in some ways (although thankfully not in the painfully arcane writing style Hodgson effected for the novel). With this sourcebook chapter I think Kevin has done an amazing job at distilling the essence of the highly-imaginative world described in The Night Land and turning it into an atmospheric game setting that just begs to be played.

One thing that I must confess I was dreading having to do was to draw a brand-new map of the sprawling Night Land setting. Numerous efforts have been made by Hodgson fans over the years (many of which don’t agree with one another), but hopefully the new version I’ve drawn somewhat summarizes those preceding geographical researches while also giving gamers something usable for Post-Apocalyptic adventuring.

While our book is big on providing settings/resources to support readers in creating their own original scenarios, we would be remiss in not including a couple of “pick-up-and-play” adventures. I’ve always thought it’s important that core rulebooks include content like this … since it’s sometime only by seeing a concrete scenario that it become obvious (via example) how the game can support different styles of storytelling.

For the APOCTHULHU core rules, the first of our two scenarios is a chunky (48-page) scenario by veteran game writer Jeff Moeller, called “Kick The Can.” In the near future, the world becomes “purged by flame” when one night a rain of sentient fire emerges from the heavens in a frenzy of destruction. The weird thing is that this exact event was predicted months earlier by a crackpot doomsday cult called “The Church of Melqart.” The player-character Survivors are among the few who didn’t perish during the conflagration because they were safely holed up in one of the cult’s pre-arranged bunkers. They were always told that … eventually … the call would come over the pedal-powered CB Radio, calling the faithful to assemble. As the scenario starts, weird messages have started being heard on the radio for the first time in a year; is that the message that they were told to listen out for? And should they even follow its instructions to leave the bunker and venture out into the world?

The second scenario in the core book is called “A Yellow And Unpleasant Land” and was written by my co-editor Jo Kreil. This one is a different kind of Apocalypse altogether — a “historical apocalypse” set in an alternative Victorian England. The prim and proper Victorian Age has been swept aside, even as the Queen herself has been usurped by a shadowy figure who revels in decadence and licentiousness. This mysterious “King in Yellow” and his strange attendant army of masked foot soldiers have turned Great Britain into a strangely altered place — one in which the pursuit of sensate pleasures is not just encouraged, but mandated. Most people cannot remember a time before the arrival of the Libertine King, but the player character survivors have some vague memories … which are stirred into life when they encounter a curious ancient man on one of the gilded underground Metropolitan Line trains.

Finally, the APOCTHULHU core rulebook also includes appendices with some guidelines and notes to make it easier to adapt Mythos-related elements which have been statted-up for use in other games. With over 35 years of Lovecraftian RPG material already out there, there’s so much previous content that can be repurposed for your Post-Apocalypse games with very little work. So why not recycle?

Our appendix also includes the obligatory further reading list … which we already shared in full here on the blog. There are many great movies, TV shows, audio dramas, novels, short stories, games, and comics that our writing team picked as being great examples of Post Apocalypse tales with a “Lovecraft-y sensibility.” Any or all could be mined for scenario ideas or just general notes about how this curious genre-intersection might work in practice.

 


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