Yesterday we posted the first part of the CthuReview 2019 which first appeared in the pages of the most-excellent Bayt al Azif #3. The initial section surveyed all Chaosium releases for the Call of Cthulhu RPG released in the 2019 calendar year … today we venture onwards to explore releases by Call of Cthulhu licensees. We also (briefly) look at Magazine releases for the year and some amateur Lovecraftian RPG publications.
Call of Cthulhu Licensees
In addition to publishing its own supplements for the Call of Cthulhu game, Chaosium licenses a handful of other companies to create content for the game. As described in previous years’ CthuReviews the ranks of licensees has thinned a little in recent times but it’s still true that these companies serve a very important function – namely, providing a steady stream of new titles even at times when Chaosium itself is busy with large projects (as in 2018).
In 2019, three Chaosium licensees produced new products – Stygian Fox, Golden Goblin, and Sons of the Singularity. Modiphius technically also released licensed material, in the form of re-released 7th Edition-compatible versions of the Achtung! Cthulhu Investigator and Keeper guides (also publishing a PDF scenario, “Under The Gun” to go along with this re-launch).
Easily the most prolific of the licensees in 2019 was Stygian Fox, who released ten titles. To a large extent this expanded volume of titles was a consequence of the company’s major change of direction mid-year. Previously, Stygian Fox (like most other Call of Cthulhu licensees) had relied heavily on Kickstarter as the means of raising funds to create new books. For a variety of reasons Stygian found themselves in mid-2019 without the ability to continue running more Kickstarter campaigns, but the need to keep earning income, nonetheless. Their solutions was to create a Patreon which releases new supplements to backers every month … and after a delay, also releases the same material for general sale on DriveThruRPG.
One major (non-Patreon) milestone achieved by Stygian Fox in 2019 was the partial completion of their Kickstarter for New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, 2nd Edition. The PDF version of this book – which is a reprint and expansion of a title by Miskatonic River Press – came out very late in 2019; at the time of writing the print version is still forthcoming. New Tales, in its MRP incarnation, was widely heralded as a milestone book in terms of its well-written scenarios. The Stygian version keeps all those unchanged, adding one new scenario – an Innsmouth-based tale written by Seth Skorkowsky.
All the illustrations, maps, handouts, and general look-and-feel have been updated to reflect the very high quality of graphic design which is typical of Stygian Fox books. In all fairness I should point out that the handouts for this book were contributed by yours truly (so I am not entirely unbiased in my assessment), but regardless I think that the book really is one of the more beautiful Call of Cthulhu titles in recent years.
Also noteworthy in this re-release are the all-new redrawn maps of each of the Lovecraft Country locations. These are more than simply recreations of old maps; almost all of them enhance the level of detail mapped out for their respective locations, adding to the collaborative world-building that has defined the game setting.
Another Kickstarter backer that was completed by Stygian Fox in 2019 was the delivery of Aspirations, a PDF-only book unlocked as a stretch goal during the campaign for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. This add-on was the final component of the FSLN campaign. It is a 44-page book which contains nine further “needles”, or short mini-scenarios, in roughly the same format as those in the main Kickstarted book.
The remaining eight 2019 releases from Stygian were all made after the company’s change of direction; most were titles which debuted on Patreon and were later released as licensed PDF-only titles via other channels.
The first such title was “The Unbearable Likeness” (actually released not as a licensed product but as a title on the Miskatonic Repository; see a later section of the CthuReview 2019). This book established a new product-line for Stygian, the so-called “Fox Country” books. “Unbearable Likeness” is a modern-day scenario by Simon Brake which sees small-time criminals stumble into sinister things best left unexplored. By monograph standards, its layout and graphic design is extremely good – on par with everything else that has previously been (commercially) released by Stygian.
After the initial experiment with the Repository as a release vehicle, the subsequent seven titles were all released as fully-licensed PDFs, individually approved by Chaosium:
- Fox Country #2: The Dark Forest – another modern-day scenario, this time written by Chitin Proctor, which unfolds in a remote part of Michigan. This is definitely a “mature audience” type of title, and also one that’s relatively lengthy (although the PDF’s page-count of 74 is as much an artefact of the sparseness of the layout and the numerous colour illustrations).
- Fox Country #3: Autophagia – is a classic 1920s-era scenario written by Tyler Omichinski and set entirely aboard a luxurious cruise ship stuck in quarantine in New York Harbor. Shortish but with generally nice production values.
- Fox Country #4: Nakuko – is a scenario by Glynn Owen Barrass, set in the 1990s Japanese setting created by Chaosium in their venerable Secrets of Japan (and never subsequently developed). Another shortish title which shares more than a little common DNA with any number of J-Horror films.
- Fox Country #5: Nightmare on the Necropolis Express – has a title that could only suggest a Gaslight London setting. The scenario is once again by Glynn Owen Barrass, and while the production values aren’t quite up to preceding titles, any scenario set on London’s notorious railway for the dead is going to have atmosphere.
- Fox Country #6: Thorston, The Shunned Town On The Dee – is another Gaslight title, this time written by Robert Grayston. Set in a part of the world not far from Stygian Fox HQ, this scenario has more than a little intriguing local colour (and ghouls!).
- Fox Country #7: I Want To Play – represents another modern-day title, this time written by the (ever-excellent) Adam Gauntlett. Like many Stygian titles, it has some mature themes in the form of people-smuggling. It also has some inventive horrors involving children’s toys. Probably my favourite of these Patreon scenarios.
Aside from these, Stygian also published another PDF providing a new scenario for their Gaslight setting, Hudson & Brand. That title was “Eyes Like Red Balls Of Flame” by Glynn Owen Barrass. This short investigation centres upon the mysterious figure known as “Spring-Heeled Jack.” This PDF also has a few handouts supplied by yours truly.
In recent years, Golden Goblin has been one of the more reliable licensees when it comes to delivering Kickstarter-funded products somewhat on time. In 2019 they continued their steady pace of releases, releasing three books – two stretch-goal “add-on” books for 2018 titles and one brand new title. Golden Goblin also ran two new Kickstarters (described in a later section of this article).
One of the landmark releases by Golden Goblin in recent years is its 7th Edition Guide to Cthulhu Invictus (covered in CthuReview 2018). As with many Kickstarted projects, this one included a stretch goal for an extra book of scenarios. With the release of Fronti Nulla Fides (No Faith in Appearances), Golden Goblin fulfilled that obligation and closed out the Kickstarter. The book was released in both print and PDF and contains five shortish scenarios which take place in different (mostly far-flung) corners of the Roman Empire.
For an “add-on” book, the writing in Fronti is of a high quality and the general production value is on-par with everything Golden Goblin produces. Of particular note in this collection are the scenarios by Jeff Moeller (taking characters to a remote location in East Africa), and that of Charles Gerard (set entirely on a ship sailing the Mediterranean between Cyprus and Crete, and featuring a rather unusual Mythos entity).
As with the preceding, Riding the Northbound is an “add-on” book whose release finished fulfilment for an earlier-year’s Kickstarter. This time the Kickstarter was that for Cold Warning (mentioned in CthuReview 2017), and the release of this final piece was obviously somewhat delayed. However, the finished book is an intriguing title, presenting a scenario where the players take on the roles of some rather unusual 1920s characters – hobos who “ride the rails.” The set-up to the adventure is equally unorthodox – the player hobos are travelling to the wedding of one of their hobo friends who has won the hand of a wealthy lady – and the Mythos twist is also something a little out-of-the-ordinary. Despite being delivered late, this one was worth the wait.
Tails of Valor
Back in 2018, Golden Goblin ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Tails of Valor, a book of scenarios allowing players to take on the roles of cat investigators in three different historical eras. This was intended to build on the Cathulhu setting published back in 2014 by Sixtystone Press (not to be confused with “Call of Catthulhu” which is a separate non-d100 system of feline Mythos investigation). One wrinkle was that the Sixtystone title was designed as an adjunct to the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition rules, and licensees are obliged to only release new material for the current 7th Edition.
This occasioned some creation of notes for translating the rules of Cathulhu to work in 7th Edition (and also for the Cathulhu character sheet designed by yours truly to be redesigned).
Golden Goblin released Tails of Valor in PDF and print late in 2019. As advertised the 80-page book contains cat-based adventures set in Ancient Egypt (written by Stuart Boon), Ancient Rome (Jeff Moeller), and Dark Ages France (Oscar Rios). As well as the scenarios, the book contains some sinister seeds for each of the three time periods, an organisation of Lovecraft Country cat investigators, and lots and lots of photos of cats.
The Sassoon Files (Sons of the Singularity)
The most recent addition to the list of Chaosium licensees is Sons of the Singularity, whose successful Kickstarter campaign for The Sassoon Files was run late in 2018. The premise of this title was to create a linked series of scenarios set in and around 1920s Shanghai, with additional period and cultural authenticity coming from the fact that several of the Singularity team are themselves based in China or surrounding nations. This book encountered more than its fair share of production problems – not many game books need to contend with having to reprint the full run of books because the originals were seized and destroyed by the Chinese government.
But after weathering those delays, The Sassoon Files was successfully released in 2019. It largely delivers on the promises of a captivating and rich portrayal of twenties Shanghai. A little like Chaosium’s Berlin book, this title contains a lot of material to help those unacquainted with the social and political challenges facing Shanghai in this (pre-communist) era. Overall this is pretty well done, and the four scenarios feature a good variety of challenges for investigators (even if the writing and editing feels a bit creaky at times).
An oddity of this book is that it’s designed for use with either Call of Cthulhu or Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu. The format of the scenario takes more cues from Trail adventures, which are structured as a discrete set of scenes and linking clues – if you’re unfamiliar with that style, the scenarios in Sassoon might feel a little oddly structured. Another curious feature of this book is its unconventional assertion of the relationship between two established Cthulhu Mythos entities – describing Y’Golonac as an avatar of Nyarlathotep. I suppose the Mythos is inherently uncategorizable, so this linkage makes as much sense as any other, but might seem a little odd to purists.
As with many Kickstarters, the Sassoon campaign unlocked an “add-on” book with a further scenario, titled Brother of Jesus. The publishers also managed to get this PDF-only title released in 2019. This 64-page scenario is entirely devoted to the titular scenario which is presented in an identical (CoC + ToC) format to those in the main Sassoon Files book.
Magazines and Amateur Publications
As well as Chaosium’s releases and those of its licensees, smaller-scale publishing for Call of Cthulhu content also continued in 2019 in the form of magazine publications and amateur press.
Of the magazine published during the year, Bayt al-Azif Issue #2 was the most substantial, weighing in at over 100 full-size pages. It feels a bit meta to review the contents of a magazine within the pages of the same magazine, but if you’re reading this and don’t already own a copy of Issue #2, you should definitely consider remediating that. I’m not just saying that because my CthuReview 2018 is in it – it also has some great scenarios, interviews, and general articles on playing Lovecraftian RPGs.
Sadly, neither of the other two major Lovecraft-related gaming magazines – The Unspeakable Oath and the Arkham Gazette – released an issue in 2019.
One notable magazine release for 2019, that also qualifies as amateur press publication, was Hypergraphia Issue #2. This is a fanzine-style publication that is often produced to sell at the NecronomiCon convention in Providence, put together by a network of creative folks loosely affiliated with by the Miskatonic Uni Podcast, Skype of Cthulhu, and Weird Works collective. Since I was, for the first time, able to get to Providence for the 2019 NecronomiCon (see my three-part convention review on the Cthulhu Reborn blog), I was eager to pick up the new issue of this ‘zine. I was glad that I did: despite being an ‘amateur’ publication, the quality and diversity of the contents is pretty impressive.
There’s also a great scenario in the back, which I was even fortunate enough to play through with the writer, Anthony Lee-Dudley, at the convention.
In terms of other amateur game publications, it’s hard to keep track of everything that gets released in a year. One thing I can reliably say is that Cthulhu Reborn (my blog-and-sometimes-publishing-imprint) put out four PDF titles, namely:
- Convicts & Cthulhu Ticket of Leave #14: Hark, Now Hear The Sailors Cry
- Convicts & Cthulhu Ticket of Leave #15: The Death Knells
- Convicts & Cthulhu Muster #2: The Master of Convicts
- Dateline: Lovecraft EXTRA: Bottom’s Up!
Cthulhu Reborn also created physical versions of the large Dateline newspaper prop and associated guidebook.
In a similar vein, the good folks at Reckoning of the Dead (Noah Lloyd and Matt Ryan) put out a dozen One Page Scenarios of Lovecraft-inspired horror over on reckoningofthedead.com. They also released a new title on the Miskatonic Repository, the Gaslight scenario “A Lark In A Cage” (see later).
CthuReview 2019 will return … in part 3
So far, the focus of this review has mostly been on titles supporting Call of Cthulhu … but that is certainly not the only Lovecraftian RPG for which great products were released in 2019. In the next section of CthuReview 2019 we look at the Delta Green RPG as well as titles released by Pelgrane Press in support of GUMSHOE-fuelled Lovecraftian games. Join us tomorrow!