The Victorian Apo-Hack

Welcome to another year — we’re looking forward to something new and (eventually) better from 2021, and we sincerely hope that’s true for you also.

Back in December we released the APOCTHULHU SRD — the barebones version of our full RPG engine that’s absolutely open and free for anyone to use (for personal or commercial projects). Ever since we did that we have been getting a steady stream of folks downloading the SRD, but also a steady stream of questions about the SRD.

The most frequent thing people ask about the SRD is … “so, can I use this to make game content that has nothing to do with Post-Apocalyptic stuff?” The simple answer to that is, “of course you can!” Open means OPEN; if you can find some way to recycle the rules of our game to make something completely new and original and unrelated to Apocalyptic worlds, you absolutely can. Not only that, we would LOVE for you to build your new content based on the skeleton of our game, and as per the terms of the OGL you don’t need to pay us a cent in licensing (as long as you follow the attribution and other rules in the OGL contract).

These various questions about recycling APOCTHULHU’s core system got us to thinking, though … what could WE do with that same rules engine. When designing the game — based upon other pre-existing OGL rulesystems, we might add — we looked to make something as flexible as possible. After all, APOCTHULHU is supposed to be able to power any number of different “end of the world” scenarios so it can’t be terribly specific to any one setting.

We realized when combing through the rules subsystems in our SRD, there are really only 4 areas that need to be tweaked to adapt the rules to an entirely new Lovecraftian setting. These are:

  1. Harshness: what types of environmental backgrounds in the new setting (if any) might be considered so awful that someone growing up there might be stronger-but-mentally-scarred? This is what APOCTHULHU’s Harshness ratings are all about. An auxiliary question is: if there are Harsh backgrounds, what types of “Adversity Skills” might someone be given to recognize the challenges they’ve needed to overcome to become a player-character adult
  2. Skills: The APOCTHULHU skills list is sort-of generic in lots of ways, but if you’re targetting a historical era or somewhere far in the future, they’ll need a bit of tweaking in some places
  3. Archetypes: Similarly, the set of character templates in the APOCTHULHU SRD are geared towards Post-Apocalyptic games; for other settings you’d need to devise some new archetypes particular to the time/place
  4. Equipment-related: Weapons and Vehicles available at different historical periods vary a lot. The generic list of both in the APOCTHULHU SRD are a good cross-section of possibilities, but for other settings you’d probably want to build more specific tables of both.

And that’s about ALL that needs tweaking to make a brand new flavour of Lovecraftian gaming — well, from a rules perspective anyway. To make a fully evocative setting you’d need to write a lot of flavour text to spark ideas in both players in GMs, but that’s a whole different type of RPG development.

As an experiment to validate the above, we decided we would see how easy it would be to hack the APOCTHULHU SRD to build the core mechanics for a Pre-Apocalyptic game set somewhere in the Victorian Age of history. That’s basically 1850s through to 1900. So, the kind of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes kind of era.

Based on the above we devised a Victorian-Age variant of the APOCTHULHU Skills List and using that built 11 typical character archetypes for the era. We also put together some tables of weapons and vehicles common in the era.

You can download the PDF hack-notes here:

SRD HACK – Victorian Age Cthulhu

(it should go without saying that for this to be useful to you, you’ll also need the APOCTHULHU SRD file. Thankfully you can get this for free via this link or from DriveThruRPG if you’d prefer).

In the spirit of collaborative invention, we thought we’d share the results of our experimental hacking — if this material is helpful to you, feel free to use it however you want! If this kind of thing is especially helpful to other designers or game-hackers, we’ll create some more for other historical eras … drop a comment below if you have any ideas about cool settings that you’d think are crying out for a Lovecraftian treatment.


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