Author Archives: deanadelaide

CthuReview 2017, part 4 – Dreams of Future Nightmares

The previous fragments of this piecemeal review of Lovecraftian RPG material published in 2017 have focussed on professionally-published material that actually saw light of day in 2017.

To round out the review (and bring it to a much-awaited close), I thought I’d include a quick roundup of Cthulhu-related RPG Kickstarter campaigns that were run in 2017 but haven’t yet delivered products — these are “leading indicators” of some of the cool products that will emerge in 2018 (or maybe 2019, or 2020, or … :)). I also thought I’d briefly mention some amateur-press publications that came out in 2017.

Kickstarters of Doom

George Cotronis' cover

In March 2017, Stygian Fox completed their second successful Lovecraft-related Kickstarter campaign, for the creation of a book of short one-night modern-day scenarios. The book is called “Fear’s Sharp Little Needles”. This comes hot on the heels of the previous Stygian Fox modern-day Call of Cthulhu book which was an incredible collection of scenarios which went on to win a (much deserved) gold ENnie. “Fear’s Sharp Little Needles” seems poised to deliver in early 2018, with the book just going into layout as I type these words.

Also in March 2017, Golden Goblin Press ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of their reboot of the Cthulhu Invictus setting for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. This project is the first of many Roman-era books planned by the Goblin, who has received a license from Chaosium to be the “official” source of all things Invictus. The goals of this campaign seem mostly to involve rewriting the Cthulhu Invictus setting from the ground-up, which seems a little strange since the previous editions seem mostly to have been well-received by those who’ve run games set in Ancient Rome. I can only assume that it’s some kind of rights thing, where GGP do not have a license to reuse the text of the earlier versions. Either way it will be interesting to see how this project goes — it’s probably the most ambitious thing attempted yet by Golden Goblin, but they have a solid track record on delivering Kickstarters (albeit one that has gotten steadily more shaky as projects have gotten larger and larger).

In April 2017, Cubicle 7 & Make Believe Games (a company founded by Mark Rein-Hagen) jointly ran a Kickstarter to fund the creation of Unspeakable Sigil & Sign, a tabletop roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of Mythos cultists. It makes use of the Axiom system created by MBG for its games, which uses a special deck of cards as the primary game mechanic. Target delivery date of March 2018.

In July, 2017 Pelgrane Press ran what proved to be the biggest and most expansive Lovecraft-related Kickstarter of the year, a monumental campaign to fund the launch of The Yellow King RPG. Written by industry-veteran Robin D. Laws, this new gaming adaptation of the works of Robert W. Chambers isn’t strictly “Lovecraftian” but is probably of interest to many of the same crowd. The YK RPG is another game fuelled by the Gumshoe system, and aims to provide four separate but inter-related “worlds” in which to set weird and surreal tales of terror. An interesting feature of the Kickstarter campaign — which also featured an insane number of small stretch goals — was the fact that Pelgrane released a text-only early draft of Robin’s text for all four books immediately after the campaign closed. So, despite the fact that the game won’t ship until December 2018, it’s easy to get some kind of idea about what it will cover.

In August 2017, Atomic Overmind Press ran a Kickstarter campaign to create a sequel to an earlier book of essays by Kenneth Hite about Lovecraft’s fiction. This new book, Tour de Lovecraft — The Destinations, focusses less on the stories of HPL and more on the places (real and fictional) that they describe. Although not pitched as a gaming book per se, anyone who has read Kenneth Hite’s previous Lovecraft essays will know that pretty much any time he sets pen to page it produces something that could inspire a game scenario (or ten).

In the frightful month of October, there were two Lovecraft RPG-related Kickstarters run. The first was by Sentinel Hill Press, for the publication of a revised version of a scenario written by Kevin Ross back in the 1980s (and previously published in a long-out-of-print-and-impossible-to-find book by Triad). The scenario, titled simply The Dare, is unusual in that it places players in the roles of teenagers who are faced with a range of horrors as they explore a “haunted house.” Given the recent pop-culture sensation that is Netflix’s Stranger Things, this seems pretty fertile territory to explore for Call of Cthulhu, so a reboot / rewrite of this classic-era scenario seems well worthwhile.

The second Kickstarter of October 2017 was the campaign by New Comet Games (the new name of the company formerly known as Dark Cult Games) for a new 1920s “sandbox style” Call of Cthulhu scenario called Devil’s Swamp.

Concept art for the Cover

The final Cthulhu-related Kickstarter run in 2017 was a campaign by Delphes Desvoivres to fund the creation of The Idol of Cthulhu. This is (I believe) the fourth Kickstarter by Delphes, but differs from previous installments in that it ventures beyond just providing physical props for use in previously-published Call of Cthulhu scenarios. This campaign (primarily to create a version of the Cthulhu Idol described by HPL in “The Call of Cthulhu”) also funded the publication of a brand new game scenario by Matthew Sanderson, ostensibly a sequel to Lovecraft’s tale.

Small End of Town

Image may contain: one or more people and text

As well as being a great year for professionally-published material, 2017 also saw a good crop of amateur publications for Call of Cthulhu and related games. A couple of highlights were:

  • Hypergraphia Magazine: a new fanzine-style (physical print) magazine launched at Necronomicon 2017
  • Dark Times Fanzine: while this free PDF mag is notionally aimed at the Dark Conspiracy RPG, its first few releases have featured a fair bit of Lovecraft-related material

And last, but (hopefully) not least, it’s probably worth a quick summary of what we at Cthulhu Reborn have managed to publish in 2017. It has actually been a record year for us, releasing 7 PDF products. Six of them have been supplements to our surprisingly-successful Convicts & Cthulhu product line. The other one is a free “Scenario Upgrade” pack (prop/handouts and 7th Edition stats) for the older Chaosium anthology of modern-day scenarios titled “The Stars are Right.” All of those PDFs are available over on RPGNow either free downloads or “Pay What You Want.” Some are also available via the Download page here on the blog.

The End (of 2017) … now on to the Beginning (of 2018).

 

Advertisements

CthuReview 2017, part 3 – Other Games

In preceding parts of this review of 2017 Lovecraftian tabletop RPG releases, we have focused mainly on the squamous ecosphere that exists around Chaosium and it’s venerable Call of Cthulhu RPG. While this is where the idea of Lovecraftian roleplaying started, it’s certainly not true that Chaosium has a monopoly on the creations of HPL and others — and as such it is unsurprising that numerous other games release material that feature those dread horrors, sometimes in familiar context and other times in quite radically-different ways. This trend towards more and more non-CoC supplements featuring investigative horror scenarios and resources inspired by Lovecraft, has kicked into high gear over the last decade or so. Hence it’s hardly surprising that 2017 saw quite a number of new Lovecraftian RPG products that target non-Chaosium game systems.

This summary is, by necessity, going to probably be incomplete. There’s a lot of stuff out there and only some of it drifts across my consciousness — if you know of something important that I’ve missed, get in touch via the contact form at the bottom of the post and I’ll try to remediate the oversight later.

Cthulhu Dark

One of the titles I’ve most looked forward to in recent months is the re-published (super-deluxe) hardback for Cthulhu Dark, Graham Walmsley’s minimalist RPG of Lovecraftian terror. Those who have previously encountered Cthulhu Dark will know that it is extremely lean when it comes to mechanics — in fact the basic rules can be written down in just 2 or 3 pages of a book. So, you might be wondering how Graham’s highly successful Kickstarter could possibly take that super-simple system and turn it into a 192-page hardback book.

As it turns out, the answer is … very easily. The deluxe edition of Cthulhu Dark still features (slightly tweaked versions of) the same ultra-streamlined rules that has been published for free elsewhere. But it also includes a slightly more expansive explanation of those same rules and then a mountain of helpful resources and scenarios for the Gamemaster’s eyes. The rules themselves take up only the first 20 or so pages of the beautifully-illustrated book. The next 40 or so pages are given over to general advice about how to write compelling mysteries featuring Lovecraft’s creations (and more importantly his thematic elements). The remainder of the book is taken up by setting and scenario information. In order to promote diversity, Graham has chosen to not just support the traditional “Arkham 1920s with stodgy old white professors” type of setting, either. Yes, you can certainly play Cthulhu Dark that way .. but the settings described in the rulebook are much more unorthodox than that. There is a Gaslight setting which focuses on players taking on the roles of mudlarks rather than gentlemen; there’s an Arkham 1692 setting (by Kathryn Jenkins); there’s a modern-day setting in a fictional African nation (by Helen Gould); and there’s a Cyberpunk Mumbai setting. For each of these there is a scenario included in the book. All up that makes for a pretty full book.

Because the rules part of the Cthulhu Dark rulebook are so brief, it’s also very tempting to think of this book as much as a source of ideas for other Lovecraftian games — it would be quite easy to pick up any of the elements described in its pages and repurpose them for Call of Cthulhu, or any other system.

In addition to the printed book, the Cthulhu Dark Kickstarter unlocked two other PDF-only supplements as well. One of these is a 1930s “Dust Bowl” scenario by Mo Holkar; the other is a WWI scenario featuring African-American soldiers (by Chris Spivey of “Harlem Unbound” fame).

Delta Green RPG

Ever since Pagan Publishing first created Delta Green as a modern-day conspiracy-style horror setting for Call of Cthulhu (in the mid-90s), it has occupied a unique place in the world of Lovecraftian RPGs. Much-beloved by a loyal cadre of fans and almost blatent in its efforts to strike out on a different type of route for modern horror than the “default” Call of Cthulhu setting for modern-day, Delta Green has been continuously developed and detailed as a setting through a series of books sporadically published first by Pagan and then as joint ventures between Pagan Publishing and Arc Dream.

In 2015, the creative forces behind Delta Green surprised the Call of Cthulhu world with the announcement of a Kickstarter for a new “rebooted” edition of the setting. The surprise came not so much from the fact that the setting was being radically overhauled (to bring the pre-Millenial sensibilities of the original DG into the post-9/11 age) … but from the announcement that the future Delta Green would *not* be a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, but have its own rule system, somewhat reminiscent of BRP but independent of it. Furthermore, the rule system developed for the new game (although not the DG setting itself) would also be released under the OGL, meaning that anyone could use it freely as part of a different game as long as the terms of the OGL license were honoured.

The first book release by Arc Dream’s hugely successful Kickstarter — the Agent’s Handbook — came out in 2016, and detailed the basic rules for the game. But it was in 2017 when the bulk of the books began to see the light of day. The biggest DG release during the year was the Handler’s Guide, a massive (370 page) book which outlines the past and present shape of the DG conspiracy, the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos, and a range of other things that a Gamemaster needs to know to run games using the setting.

In addition to this major milestone, Arc Dream have also slowly been drip-feeding the release of scenarios for the new game system, all of which are available for free to Kickstarter backers as PDF but also available as Print-on-Demand softcover books. In a generous move, Arc Dream have provided KS backers with discount vouchers on the print versions of the books. During 2017 six scenarios were released in this way:

There were also several other Kickstarter-backer-only PDF releases during 2017 — so it was certainly the year that the “rubber hit the road” for the DG:RPG.

Gumshoe / Trail of Cthulhu

Pelgrane Press have carved out a very enviable niche for themselves in the Lovecraftian and Horror RPG domain — they are kind of the folks whose experiments with form and structure continue to delight (and also keep winning ENnie Awards!). This probably shouldn’t be surprising since the company has a couple of the most prolific and accomplished writers in the industry working on their books … and is also the most professionally run of any of the companies producing Cthulhu-related material (and nice to work for as well).

The main organ for Pelgrane’s forays into the Cthulhu publishing world has, til now, been the Trail of Cthulhu game — an adaptation of the Gumshoe rules to the genre of Lovecraftian investigative horror. While the game system isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste, I’ve always thought that the quality of the writing that Pelgrane brings to this line more than justifies picking up most of its releases … even if just as examples of alternative ways that the genre can work.

In 2017, there were two releases for Trail of Cthulhu“Out of the Woods” and “Cthulhu City”. The first of these is a scenario anthology which weighs in at five scenarios spanning 168 pages. The theme binding all these tales together is the primeval ancient fear of the archetypal “deep, dark forest” and the opportunities for nasty Lovecraft-inspired horrors to lurk in such places. The second volume, “Cthulhu City” is something much stranger. Written by the always-impressive Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan this book offers a somewhat surrealistic alternative depiction of the town of Arkham which takes Lovecraft’s geography and twists it into a nightmarish world where cyclopean skyscrapers stand side-by-side with baroque ruined buildings … It all sounds weird and evocative (and since I haven’t yet read it, I can’t really say anything more).

Technically not part of the Trail of Cthulhu line, but a pioneer release of a new line called Gumshoe One-2-One, Cthulhu Confidential is the other big Lovecraftian release by Pelgrane during 2017. The idea behind the One-2-One line is that it is an adaptation of Gumshoe that is especially designed for running games with one Gamemaster and one player. The Cthulhu Confidential setting is a hard-boiled “film noir” setting which plunges players into either the seedy underbelly of 1930s Los Angeles, or other similarly grimy American settings (the core book also includes a noir depiction of 1930s NYC, and a Washington, DC setting as well).

Clockwork & Cthulhu / Rennaisance

For reasons described in mid-2017 blog postings on Cthulhu Reborn, we have recently been very actively looking around at other game systems that provide convenient (and license free) vehicles for publishing Lovecraftian material. Perhaps the biggest surprise to emerge from that survey of game systems was the (re-)discovery of the excellent work that has been done in recent years by Cakebread & Walton to create and support various Lovecraftian adaptations of their BRP-clone Rennaisance system. In 2017, there was one notable release for this line — “The Heydelberg Horror”. This scenario, set in Europe of the early 17th Century, is the first part in an ongoing campaign called “A Clockwork of Orange” which promises to take investigative agents across Europe and into the heart of the Holy Roman Empire.

Systemless

One of the stranger Cthulhu-related tabletop RPG Kickstarters to be run in 2017 was the campaign to fund a systemless scenario called “Pax Cthulhiana”, written by a couple of Norwegian guys. The approach taken to the challenge of avoiding all game mechanics — and thereby making the scenario equally playable (or non-playable, depending on your perspective) with any game system, make it a noteworthy experiment. Having recently received the print copy of the Kickstarter book it’s easy to see that a lot of work went into this book, which has some great art. The scenario also has its own musical soundtrack. Without having read the scenario itself I can’t really comment on whether it achieves its goal of making a fully-playable game without reference to specific rules. The idea certainly has promise, though.

Other Games

As well as the products mentioned above, there were a number of other game products released in 2017 that had ties to Cthulhu and Lovecraft in some way, shape, or form:

  • The “Leagues of Cthulhu” Kickstarter by Triple Ace Games (which brings Lovecraftian gaming to the Ubiquity game system) delivered its final PDFs in 2017 (although print copies are still pending.
  • The long-delayed “Raiders of R’lyeh”, which had previously released early PDF versions of their d100-inspired system in previous years. In 2017 they released a final version of the rules (although print copies are still pending).

  • Another huge 2016 Kickstarter was one to create a guidebook outlining game statistics of Cthulhu Mythos horrors for the Pathfinder system. Drawing heavily on artwork created for Cthulhu Wars, this monstrously-huge (500+ page book) finally saw light of day in 2017. Titled (somewhat inaccurately) Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos, it includes game information relevant to all the standard open-source Cthulhu Mythos gods and monsters, as well as a handful of original creations designed for the Cthulhu Wars miniatures game.
  • Lurking at the borderlands of being an “RPG product” is Cubicle 7’s boxed storytelling game “Cthulhu Tales”, also funded as a Kickstarter which delivered in 2017. This game features a deck of “story cards” and “hazard cards” and challenges players to each spin a tale using them (the central conceit of the game being that everyone is a patient in an asylum flashing back to the horrific situation that brought them there).

To be Concluded …

Did We Miss Something?


CthuReview 2017, part 2 – Call of Cthulhu

In part 1 of this “review of 2017” we touched on some of the industry-level changes that have reshaped the landscape for Lovecraftian tabletop RPGs in the past year. For this second installment we’ll turn our attention to the products that were released in 2017 … or at least those which made some reference or use of Chaosium’s venerable-and-much-loved game, Call of Cthulhu. As we will see in the next installment, this is only part of the story — recent years has seen a steady increase in the number of releases that aim to deliver Lovecraftian horrors using other game systems.

But, even considering the list of Call of Cthulhu-related products released in 2017 is not a small task. In a typical year, Chaosium and its licensees has historically released somewhere between 10 and 17 books for the game — in 2017 that number was 17. Additionally there were a few notable products that technically saw release in 2016 but finally emerged in print during 2017. And then there are the five “launch titles” in the Miskatonic Repository that snuck out just before Christmas. So … a lot to cover.

Chaosium

As creators of the Call of Cthulhu game, and the largest publishing company currently producing for the line, it’s not surprising that Chaosium’s output in 2017 was the largest of any single producer: some 6 or 7 titles (depending on how you count it).

Probably the most significant Chaosium release for 2017 was Down Darker Trails, the “old west” setting that we already mentioned in part 1 of this review (since it also marks a much-welcomed return by industry veteran Kevin Ross). It’s not very often that Chaosium releases a fully-fledged and detailed new setting for playing Call of Cthulhu investigative horror, so it’s a bit surprising that they didn’t make a little more fanfare when this fine book came out. Delicately balancing historical realism with a pulpy sensibility appropriate to the western genre, DDT is a great addition to the game — and one that can be played with either CoC 7e or Pulp Cthulhu (for an even more two-fisted style). The book makes mention of two further books of scenarios/mini-campaigns that Kevin has already written/co-ordinated — here’s hoping that Chaosium has plans to get those out quickly to build a growing sub-line of western-themed Call of Cthulhu titles!

Another pulp-fuelled release from Chaosium in 2017 was the globe-trotting campaign The Two-Headed Serpent, which is intended to be a supplement to their 2016 release of the much-delayed Pulp Cthulhu setting book. This campaign definitely ticks a lot of the right boxes for a lengthy tale of two-fisted (not-really-investigation-based) battles against Mythos foes in numerous 4-colour locations around the world (and beyond).

On the rules-side of things, Chaosium also released a large hardcover book detailing literally hundreds of spells and magical-effects which have appeared in previously published Call of Cthulhu scenarios/rules, all updated to 7th Edition. This book, The Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic, is a nice counterpoint to the core 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu rules. For reasons of space, the core rules needed to cut back heavily on the space allocated to spell descriptions — previous editions had steadily grown this section of the rules each edition, bringing in material from scenario books and the like. This necessary trimming left a small gap: folks playing scenarios written for previous editions of the game might run into occasional spells (like the ubiquitous but absent “Change Weather”) that aren’t described in the rules. Although not a particularly serious problem — and not one I’ve heard anyone complain about — having an encyclopedic and complete set of 7th edition spell rules is nice (even if it does require the Gamemaster to carry around another hardcover).

A surprise release from Chaosium in 2017 was Reign of Terror, a two-part scenario by the illustrious Mark Morrison set around the time of the French Revolution. This release has quite an odd provenance, beginning life as a (final) add-on to the sprawly and mega-Kickstarter for Horror on the Orient Express 2nd Edition. As part of the KS campaign, a few backers were treated to an exclusive scenario written by Mark and run personally for them at GenCon. While this rare and exclusive scenario could have ended there, a decision was made by the uber-backers that this great material shouldn’t be locked away, but shared with all backers. Based on that, Mark brushed up the manuscript to become a free backer-only PDF that dove-tailed nicely with HotOE 2e. Somewhere along the line the development of this freebie kicked up a gear and a set of additional historical, rules-related and setting material relevant to the rather unorthodox setting was written. All of this was packaged into two (somewhat-confusing) versions of the product — one being a free PDF with just the scenario text by Mark plus some basic formatting and illustration, and the other being a fully-fledged hardback book. The latter consists of everything that’s in the free version, re-typeset in Chaosium’s full-colour trade dress and re-illustrated with a lot more colour. Content-wise, it adds perhaps 20 pages of new material.

Another slightly surprising release was a book of modern-day scenarios by Sandy Petersen, the guy who was the primary writer for the first few editions of Call of Cthulhu (but who has largely been absent from the Chaosium line for the past few decades). The book, entitled Petersen’s Abominations, compiles five scenarios which are co-written by Sandy and Mike Mason. These all began life as convention notes for sessions that Sandy had run over the years — most famously fulfilling player’s wishes to be “killed by Sandy Petersen” (yes, really). One of the scenarios in this book, The Derelict, previously saw light-of-day as Chaosium’s “Free RPG Day” release for 2016 but everything else is new.

Rounding out the 2017 Call of Cthulhu game releases by Chaosium is a revamped edition of the classic solo scenario Alone Against The Dark. This new version is substantially the same scenario as the originally, but upgraded for CoC 7e and re-illustrated.

In addition to these six titles, Chaosium also released a novelty item “Call of Cthulhu: The Coloring Book” which is arguably part of the company’s game line (although it has no particular use in the game).

Although not released by Chaosium themselves, there were a few notable licensed items released by others in 2017 that tie-in directly to older Chaosium titles. The most impressive and exciting of these is the Audio Adventure “Brotherhood of the Beast” released by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society as part of the Dark Adventure Radio Theater line. The HPLHS have been working tirelessly over the past several years to create some amazing “30’s style radio drama” adaptations of classic H.P. Lovecraft stories. In the last year or so they’ve been getting a lot more creative and diverse with their releases, and this title is their first foray into the world of adapting a classic-era Chaosium CoC campaign (the Keith Herber campaign variously called “Fungi from Yuggoth” or “Brotherhood of the Beast”) to audio. Spread over 3 CDs and featuring four different optional endings, it’s a great adaptation. But what makes this release particularly remarkable is the deluxe version which adds a huge satchel full of physical props (see the picture above; and yes it really does look just like that).

Another series of Chaosium-related physical props that were created in 2017 came from the two successful Kickstarter campaigns run by Delphes Desvoivres which produced beautiful prop-quality artefacts for chapters of Masks of Nyarlathotep.

Cubicle 7

Aside from Chaosium, the only company to produce two brand-new Call of Cthulhu titles in 2017 was Cubicle 7 who continue to impress with the high-quality items delivered as part of their World War Cthulhu: Cold War Kickstarter. While the 1970s espionage setting is not an obvious one for Lovecraftian investigation, the previous work done in establishing a format for World War Cthulhu (in the WWII era) means that the format largely works. In 2017, Cubicle 7 was originally intending to release the final THREE books promised to backers of the Cold War Kickstarter, but due to a set of unfortunate circumstances the campaign book “Yesterday’s Men” was ultimately cancelled after two different writing teams both failed to deliver. Backers were given credit for the undelivered book.

The two titles that did see release are Covert Actions and Our American Cousins. The former is a book of six standalone scenarios (or missions) which see players travel to a range of different 1970s political hotspots on the trail of the Cthulhu Mythos. The second book is a kind of add-on to the core “World War Cthulhu: Cold War” book, which itself takes a British-centric focus to Cold War spying. The new book counteracts that a little, by providing information about US operations around the globe, as well as an additional scenario.

In addition to producing these two new books, Cubicle 7 also successfully closed out the very last parts of their earlier Kickstarter for the Cthulhu Britannica: London box. Although most items were delivered long ago, there remained two sets of cards to be delivered for backers — one set of Postcards (lots of period London-themed postcards with scenario hooks attached), and another set called “Cards from the Smoke” (a deck of threats and encounters which can be used for chases or improvised scenario building).

Sadly, none of the Cubicle 7 items mentioned above are available any more, due to their decision to terminate their license for Call of Cthulhu.

Sixtystone Press

Although Sixtystone did not publish any new products in 2017, they did achieve a couple of notable things — the first being the shipment of backer copies of the doorstop-sized “Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion”. This encyclopedic reference had been available to backers as a PDF for some time, but production problems had several times delayed its physical release. Finally, 2017 saw the end to this long (and, no doubt very painful, production process).

Also during 2017, Sixtystone released physical versions of the modern-day scenario “Lost in the Lights” which was released in PDF (for CoC 6e) back in 2013 but never saw print at the time due to a variety of problems plaguing some of the creators. Updated to 7th Edition, this new full-colour print looks very spiffy indeed — and the Las Vegas-based scenario by Jeff Moeller is about as bonkers as you’d expect.

Smaller Licensees

As mentioned in part 1 of this retrospective, changes with Chaosium’s licensing model for Call of Cthulhu had some impacts in 2017 on smaller publishers. For a few it meant the opportunity to produce books under license for the very first time — all-in-all there were four brand-new licensees in 2017 (Dark Cult Games, Darker Hue Studios, Trepan, and Weird 8). Here’s a quick roundup of the products they released:

  • Weird 8 released “Sun Spots” a 1920s scenario by Dave Sokolowski which has an interesting history. It was originally planned for a cancelled Miskatonic River Press book of scenarios about Lovecraftian god-like entities, and as such had been edited by the (now sadly departed) legend of the game, Keith Herber. Dave ran a very successful Kickstarter to revise and release this scenario as a self-published book
  • Darker Hues Studio released “Harlem Unbound” which an interesting counterpoint to the traditional Lovecraftian tropes of all-white investigators plunging headlong into danger amid a society filled with (historical) racism. Chris Spivey ran a successful Kickstarter to publish a remarkable and unique sourcebook which focusses on the vibrant black society of 1920s Harlem and challenges players to take on the roles of black people who are the subject — as opposed to the perpetrators — of racism. An interesting book. Also interesting is the decision by Darker Hues to make the book a dual-statted release with both Call of Cthulhu and Gumshoe (Trail of Cthulhu) statistics.
  • Trepan released “The Haunted Clubhouse”, a smallish PDF-only release by Melbourne-based writer, Leigh Carr. It features a modern-day scenario set in New Hampshire (although sadly I’ve yet to read it).
  • Dark Cult Games released a sandbox-style scenario called “The Star on the Shore” before (somewhat confusingly) changing their company name to New Comet Games. The scenario is well-illustrated.

In addition to these four brand-new publishers, there were also another fiveestablished producers who also released one title in 2017. They are:

  • Stygian Fox released “Hudson & Brand”, a setting/organisation book for Gaslight-era London. This rather beautifully laid-out book describes the Hudson & Brand Inquiry Agency, an established private investigation service that can either be a source of work for player characters or a source of baffling cases. The book also includes a couple of scenarios. Currently available to backers only.
  • As mentioned in part 1 of this round-up, a notable publication in 2017 was the Golden Goblin resurrection of a “lost gem” by Scott David Aniolowsi, “Cold Warning.” This 30 page scenario was the product of a rather unusual Kickstarter campaign that only ran for one week (but was still highly successful). Scott’s scenario is a great example of a “classic era” type scenario brought up to modern production and writing standards.
  • The illustrious Sentinel Hill Press re-released Issue 1 of their Arkham Gazette magazine, dedicated to the town of Arkham and its inhabitants.

  • Somewhat of a surprise, Modiphius released part 3 of the “Zero Point” campaign for Achtung! Cthulhu — the first part of this multi-book campaign by Sarah Newton came out right at the beginning of Acthung! Cthulhu’s publication history … though this third chapter, “Code of Honour” (set in Istanbul 1942), has been much delayed for some reason. Looks nice but I haven’t yet had a chance to read it.
  • Also somewhat surprising from Modiphius is the release of an Audio drama set in the Acthung! Cthulhu world.
  • Finally Skirmisher, publishers of Cthulhu Live (which is technically a variant of Call of Cthulhu) produced a new LARP script called “The Return of Cyris Crane” (or more accurately an update of an earlier script with a slightly different name).

The MiskRepo

As mentioned in part 1 of the retrospective, Chaosium launched the Miskatonic Repository, its community publication vehicle shortly before Christmas 2017 (making it all of about three weeks old at the time of writing). I haven’t yet read any of the titles available for sale … but here is a list of the six that were made available prior to the end of 2017:

  • “The Scales of Time” by Michael Nagel
  • “The Trail of the Monolith” by Michael Nagel
  • “Terror Itself” by James Coquillat and David Naylor
  • “Plague” by Matt Ryan and Noah Lloyd
  • “Isle of Madness” by Edward Possing
  • “Jasper St. Jones Got The Prettiest Bones” by Tristan Jusola-Sanders
  • “The Idol of Thoth” by Joe Trier

Phew … that was a lot of Call of Cthulhu stuff to describe. But that is only half the story for Lovecraftian RPG material produced in 2017. For the next part I will tackle the task of tracking down the Lovecraft-related material produced for other game systems in 2017.

To be continued …


CthuReview 2017, part 1 – People & Companies

So, normally around this time of the year I like to look back over the previous 12 months and reflect on all the things that have happened in the world of Lovecraftian tabletop RPGs — all the new products, Kickstarters, and so on. Problem is, looking back over 2017 … there were a *lot* of things that happened in the Cthulhu gaming world, probably far too much to summarise in a single blog posting. So, I have been procrastinating about it instead.

However, in the interests of getting *something* written (and published in a time-frame that doesn’t entirely miss the season for “new year reflections”), I’ve decided to split the review over a few parts and tackle them one at a time.

For Part 1, I’d like to try to sum up 2017 events relating to People and Companies (in particular licensees). Subsequent posts will do the round-up of products (for Call of Cthulhu as well as all other gaming systems) and Kickstarters that were run in 2017.

Cthulhu’s People

In a community as small and tight-knit as the Lovecraftian gaming world, the most important element is people — and in particular the personalities whose passion for Lovecraftian games drives thing forward. And while 2017 was, generally a great year for drawing some of the most experienced Call of Cthulhu writers of the game’s “golden era” back into print, it was also a year marked by some sad news.

In November, the passing of Carl T. Ford — the founder and long-time publisher of the Dagon Fanzine — was announced. While those new to the hobby may never have heard of Dagon of of Carl, I think it is fair to say that the Lovecraftian RPG world owes a huge debt to both of them. At the very beginning of Call of Cthulhu’s success, there really was no forum for fans to discuss the game, to publish their own scenarios and thoughts about rules, and to generally hone their skills as producers of game material. Semi-professional magazines like “The Unspeakable Oath” were still a glimmer in the eye of a few young fans, and even the concept of online discussion forums or communities was something akin to science-fiction. In that environment, the Dagon fanzine — an amateur publication, mimeographed and mailed out to subscribers — provided some extremely valuable “glue” to bind a nascent community together. If you’ve never skimmed an issue of this (now highly-collectible) mag, but are curious about what it contained, there are summaries of each of its 25 issues (1982-1990) available from this page. Several of the big names who went on to become major writers for Call of Cthulhu in the 1990s, first published in the pages of Dagon … and so its legacy as a fanzine cannot be underestimated. And neither can the importance of Carl’s passion and dedication to tirelessly producing it, and bringing the Call of Cthulhu writing and playing world closer together. He will be missed by many.

Leaving aside the sad news about Carl Ford, 2017 was generally a very happy year when it comes to famous creators of Call of Cthulhu material — no less than four legends of the game all published new scenarios for the first time in many years. Perhaps the most notable of these was Kevin Ross, whose “old west” setting for Call of CthulhuDown Darker Trails — has been long in the making, and eagerly awaited by all those who knew of its existence. Here’s hoping that Chaosium pushes forward quickly with the publication of the two follow-up books of scenarios and mini-campaigns that are still sitting in the shed. Ironically, Kevin’s classic-era writing also seems to have received some renewed attention in 2017, with the highly-successful Sentinel Hill Press Kickstarter to republish his 1980s-era scenario “The Dare”. So, who knows, perhaps we are on the brink of a (much-welcomed) Kevin Ross avalanche 🙂

In a similar vein, Scott David Aniolowski, a close cohort of Kevin’s and another extremely well-accomplished writer from the 1980s and 1990s had one of his older (yet previously unpublished) pieces released as part of a Kickstarter. The campaign, run by Golden Goblin Press, funded not only the release Scott’s scenario Cold Warning but a few others as well (although those unlocked scenarios have yet to be released).

A surprising publication from Chaosium in 2017 was Reign of Terror, a French Revolution-era off-shoot of the Horror on the Orient Express 2e campaign. This was notable because it represents the first new writing for Call of Cthulhu by Mark Morrison, one of the most popular writers of the “golden age” of Chaosium’s line, in many years.

Finally, Sandy Petersen, primary writer of the first few editions of the Call of Cthulhu rules also returned to the world of scenario writing thanks to Petersen’s Abominations, a volume that was co-written by Mike Mason (based largely on the sketch notes Sandy had created to run these scenarios at conventions).

Companies

Perhaps the biggest single change that occurred in the world of Lovecraftian RPGs in 2017 came about as a result of Chaosium’s radical rewriting of the landscape surrounding licensed Call of Cthulhu products. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” … and the sentiment behind that quotation seem to resonate strongly with the changes that have reshaped Chaosium as a company in 2017.

To set some context: throughout most of its lifetime, the Call of Cthulhu line has supported some level of licensee model. This is basically a way for other companies to legally publish material for the game and even make some use of the core intellectual property contained within the game rules. Historically, Chaosium have approached licensing in a fairly laid-back way with most licenses giving the publishers freedom to create whatever they wanted within some pre-defined limits (usually this was a fixed number of product releases per year, to avoid any one company saturating the market). Because small publishers are typically cash-strapped Chaosium introduced the notion that the “license fee” for using the Call of Cthulhu name could be paid in product — that is, a certain percentage of the print run would be supplied to Chaosium for them to sell via their web store. Licensee contracts usually allowed individual publishers to retain copyright in the material they had produced, providing they continued to pay the license fee (in books).

Fast forward to 2015, and Chaosium as a company found themselves on the brink of financial collapse (again) … and also heavily committed to deliver on not one, but two very large and expansive Kickstarter campaigns. To save the company — and also complete the Kickstarters — required an outside party to pretty much “buy out” Chaosium and its debts. That company was Moon Design, who to all intents-and-purposes are the “New Chaosium”.

For the first year or two following the Chaosium buy-out, the new management focussed very heavily on finishing up the wayward Kickstarter campaigns, and to their credit they delivered to the satisfaction of most backers (eventually). With those heavy millstones lifted from their necks in late 2016, they started planning for how the company — and its licensees — should operate moving forward. This planning has lead to a few different announcements, and some knock-on effects.

The biggest single change has been the replacement of the previous (relatively “hands off”) licensing model with one that has three different tiers:

  • Larger companies can still secure a full commercial license; this allows them to publish books by paying a fixed % of profits (not product) to Chaosium. Such publishers are also permitted to run Kickstarter campaigns;
  • Smaller companies can secure a “Small Publisher” license which has some hard limits on the maximum income that can be earned, a % profit payable to Chaosium, and a limited period for which the publisher can make money from their creation. Small publishers can’t run Kickstarters;
  • Individuals can create their own content and publish using a “fan license”, as long as they do not charge money and include a boilerplate paragraph. Fans can’t run Kickstarters.

For commercial licenses, the previously permissive approach to copyright, line management, and other moral rights has been significantly rewritten, with a focus on control and ownership falling to Chaosium. The notion of paying a licensee fee by product is no longer really viable or desirable for anyone (in part because of rising shipping costs), so has been dropped altogether.

To further complicate the picture (or, alternatively, to give people even more options) Chaosium also announced in December an entirely separate community for publishing original Call of Cthulhu material — the Miskatonic Repository. This community is based on similar successful online publication portals such as the “DM’s Guild” for D&D5, and has its own set of terms and conditions.

Overall, the longer term impacts of these changes — whether good or ill — have largely yet to be felt. We’ve already written here on the blog about some of the complexities that the new Chaosium licenses pose for smaller operators (so we won’t rehash that here), but we were also very interested to see announcements in early December that Cubicle 7 (by far the most prolific of the current Call of Cthulhu licensees) has decided to not renew its licenses with Chaosium for both Call of Cthulhu and Basic Roleplaying. Other publishers, conversely, seem to be thriving under the new rules, including smaller operators like Stygian Fox, Weird 8, and Sentinel Hill Press. There have even been a couple of brand new smaller publishers that have popped up during 2017. This, coupled with a reasonable volume of material available on launch of the Miskatonic Repository, suggests that overall the revamping of licensing is largely delivering Chaosium the desired outcome. Though, only time will tell …

 

To be continued …


This Year, Give The Gift of Horror

This year has certainly been a bumper year for Cthulhu Reborn, at least in terms of releasing new Lovecraftian PDFs to shock, horrify (and we hope delight) your RPG gaming group. So, it only seems fitting to close out 2017 by releasing one final PDF — our Christmas gift to gamers everywhere. With today’s release of Ticket of Leave #9: Orphan School Horror we have done just that. This 23-page PDF is available for download right now, absolutely for free.

This release also brings up a small milestone for the Convicts & Cthulhu product line, being our 10th C&C release! We’re also particularly proud of the fact that this is our largest scenario seed release to date (and arguably, the scenario that is most easily transplanted to other historical — or even more contemporary — settings). So even if you have absolutely no interest in the C&C setting, this PDF may have something of interest.

As with previous Tickets of Leave, ToL#9 aims to explore a previously glossed aspect of the colonial Australian setting — this time, the perilous plight of children in the penal settlements. It’s easy to imagine that a place set up as a full-time prison, thousands of miles from Britain, would have had no children whatsoever. But that was very far from the truth. Some children were sent to the colonies as convicts themselves, but many more accompanied mothers who had been convicted of crime. Quite a number of children were even born during the long (and rather horrific) journeys which brought their mothers out to Australia. And when the convict colonies became more established, many many children were born as the products of liaisons between convicts or between convicts and gaolers.

Even aside from the fact that the prison colonies were a rather unwholesome place for children, the presence of such a vast number of (mostly illegitimate) children created more than a few problems. Most disturbing of these was the rise of an underclass of destitute children, boys and girls whose convict parents simply could not afford (or in many cases want) to raise them. These unfortunate children lived mostly on the streets … at least until a few “benevolent” institutions were founded to protect destitute children from being preyed upon. In the Convicts & Cthulhu era the only real facilities of this type were the Female Orphan Schools at Sydney and (later) Parramatta.

This Ticket of Leave includes historical information about the Sydney Female Orphan School. It also includes a mountain of information about using this intriguing historical institution as the setting for tales of personal-level horror, riffing on the familiar theme of orphanages as places of horror fuelled by the misfortune and suffering of young innocents. If you don’t know the type of horror tale we’re talking about, grab yourself a copy of the amazing 2007 Spanish horror firm “El Orfanato” (aka “The Orphanage”) and you will soon see the story potential such places offer.

We’ve saved this particular Ticket of Leave until Christmas since … well … tales of spectral horrors haunting drafty orphanages seems to tick a lot of the boxes that people have come to expect from horrific tales at Christmas. Having said that, there’s really nothing that would stop you from setting the detailed scenario seed incorporated in Ticket of Leave #9 at any time of calendar year. But if you particularly want to gather your gaming group for an evening of egg-nog, mistletoe, and creepy extra-dimensional horrors thirsting for the downfall of humanity — well, this is the scenario for you!

As usual with the scenario portions of our Ticket of Leave releases this seed sets up a complex, investigation-based scenario premise and then provides the Keeper with three different Cthulhu Mythos forces that may be responsible. This time around, Geoff Gillan has been particularly inventive with his talented weaving of the themes common to dark tales told around the Christmas fireplace, with the dark visions of H.P. Lovecraft and a couple of other similarly-minded authors.

Ticket of Leave #9: Orphan School Horror is available right now for free download from the Cthulhu Reborn blog, complete with game statistics for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition (under Chaosium’s fan license). For complicated reasons associated with Intellectual Property restrictions imposed by Chaosium, we’ve also created a stat-free version released via DrivethruRPG — in all likelihood, if you’re reading this post, you’ll probably want the version with all the game stats.

We hope you and your group enjoy some wonderful Christmas horrors! And, if you have supported Cthulhu Reborn throughout 2017 (as many readers have done), please accept our heartfelt thanks and appreciation! It’s feedback and support from the community that keeps us going.


Christmas is Coming to Convicts & Cthulhu

Better not shout …

Better not cry …

Something is watching …

We are currently putting the finishing touches on the final Convicts & Cthulhu Ticket of Leave release for 2017, a (slightly) Christmas themed tale of ghostly terror.

Out soon … (watch this blog!)


(Some) Gentlemen Prefer Crime

We are super excited to be able to announce the release, today, of the latest in our “Ticket of Leave” supplements for the Convicts & Cthulhu setting for Lovecraftian roleplaying in the penal settlements of early Australia. This, our eighth “Ticket of Leave” is titled Gentlemen Convicts and weighs in at a respectable 20 pages — and it is available right now as a totally free download here on the Cthulhu Reborn blog.

This PDF release also marks a bit of a milestone for Convicts & Cthulhu in that it brings the total amount of supplemental material we’ve released more than 100 pages. When combined with the original 96 pages in the original C&C book, that means that there is now about 200 pages of pro-quality Convict-related Lovecraftian material that is available for download effectively for free. [A few of our titles are “pay what you want” on RPGNow, which means that you certainly *can* pay a small donation for them if you want, but you can get them free if you want as well]

The eighth Ticket of Leave covers an intriguing, not often discussed, aspect of the early Australian penal settlements — the so-called “Gentlemen Convicts”. These were persons of high standing in Britain who (for one reason or another) still found themselves on the wrong side of a sentence of transportation. Sometimes this happened because the wealthy gentleman (or lady) was truly guilty of a crime — perhaps quite a serious offence — yet despite using the full force of their power and influence to try to manipulate the (highly-corruptible) judicial processes of the day, had somehow still been convicted for it. But equally well, a “Gentleman Convict” might find themselves transported not so much because of their actions as their politics: wealthy persons who had connections to upstart anti-establishment political organisations (such as those advocating free rule for Ireland, or better treatment of Scots), could sometimes find themselves spontaneously found guilty of “sedition” and whisked off to the penal colonies. In some cases all they had done was dare to publish a pamphlet. A third group of “Gentlemen Convicts” were persons of influence who crossed swords with other, even more powerful, members of the upper British classes, and had incurred the wrath of someone with true power. Even the high station of such upstart minor nobles was not enough to protect them from trumped-up charges and a hurried kangaroo trial, and a one-way trip to Australia.

While the “Gentlemen Convicts” were always a numerically small proportion of the overall convict population, they were immensely influential. Their wealth back in Britain meant that, despite the fact that they were indeed convicts (at least by law) they were treated somewhat better than any other convict. Sometimes such convicts travelled with a letter from a wealthy patron in England addressed to the colonial Governor — when they arrived in New South Wales, the government would usually immediately grant them a “Ticket of Leave” which meant that, unlike all other convicts, they would be free to live in their own accommodation and spared a life of harsh physical labour. Other wealthy convicts achieved the same level of freedom by literally buying it. Regardless of how it was obtained, such freedom established the “Gentlemen Convicts” as a sub-class of their own. This was reinforced by the loose associations and organisations they set up amongst themselves.

“Gentlemen Convicts” offer an intriguing opportunity for characters in a roleplaying game. They might be key NPCs in a game, paradoxically a person who is a convict, but also someone who may have more privileges than the investigators. Alternatively, for players who would like to play a convict character but don’t necessarily want to roleplay the harsh treatment of the lower class prisoners Gentlemen convicts provide a useful alternative character type.

The “Ticket of Leave #8” PDF contains some historical background on the Gentlemen Convicts as well as five capsule biographies which illustrate the breadth of this unique social sub-class. The supplement is rounded out with a lengthy scenario seed which centres upon a mysterious supernatural figure that seems to have taken an unnatural interest in a secret society of Gentlemen Convicts. Can the investigators figure out the true motives of this gruesome stalker in time, or will his bloody trail of murder and dismemberment end with every member of the society dead and in pieces? This scenario seed is the longest that we have included in a free C&C supplement — about 11,500 words in all. That’s actually almost as long as a full scenario manuscript!

Because of licensing reasons this “Ticket of Leave”, like the previous one, has been produced in two versions — one which includes Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition statistics and one which does not. The version linked here is the STATTED (CoC 7e) version, which is likely to be what most readers want. The non-statted version will shortly be available via RPGNow. When we published the previous “Ticket of Leave” we were a little worried that splitting things into different versions like this might be off-putting to our customers but sales/download figures seem to indicate those worries were unfounded — which is quite a relief!

We hope that this free PDF will enliven and inspire your own tabletop RPG adventuring in the worlds of Convicts & Cthulhu. If you decide to run the scenario seed, or even pull it apart to create an awesome game scenario of your own devising, we’d love to hear about it! And (since this is Northern Hemisphere convention season), if you decide to run Convicts & Cthulhu at your local Con, you should certainly get in touch — we are always happy to throw some free merchandise your way if you’re willing to write up an account of your incredible gaming experience playing in the C&C setting!


%d bloggers like this: