Category Archives: Convicts & Cthulhu

Convict with the Midas touch?

Most readers with an interest in Convicts & Cthulhu will probably have heard something about the series of Gold Rushes which formed an important part of Australian Colonial history, bringing thousands of people to the newly formed colonies in the 1840s and 1850s. What very few people will know, however, is that these momentous discoveries of precious gold were not in fact the first occasion that Australia was seized by gold mania. Very early in the history of New South Wales, a convict named Daley stunned the colonial authorities by revealing that while out on an assignment to a remote part of the colony he had stumbled upon a gold mine! Not only that, but he had extracted enough ore to make a sizeable sale to a ‘black-complexioned man’ who was purportedly crew on a visiting ship.

Understandably many people became very excited by this news, not least the colonial authorities. Despite Daley first requesting only that he be granted passage back to England in exchange for the location of his valuable find, the Government was more keen to have the convict show them the place himself. And this is where the whole tale came unstuck for the entirety of Daley’s elaborate story was, in fact, a monstrous hoax. There was no such gold mine, no such ‘black-complexioned man’, and the nuggets which the convict had produced as evidence were in fact other pieces of gold and bronze that he had scavenged together and mashed into aggregates. And it was with the (painful) revelation of this audacious lie that the unsung Gold Rush of 1789 died.

Except of course, in the world of Convicts & Cthulhu it doesn’t need to … such a colourful yarn of duplicity, dishonour, and brazen desperation has all the makings of a superb tale of dark and gritty horror. All that it needs is an injection of weirdness. Perhaps the so-called nuggets were something other that natural? Perhaps the convict was actually enthralled by some other force, compelling him to make such wild claims? Or Perhaps the real lie is the one the convict told when recanting his tale after receiving three hundred lashes?

Horrific renditions of the Fake Gold Rush tale are the subject of Ticket of Leave #7: Seams of Peril, which Cthulhu Reborn is delighted to release today as a free download. This lavishly-illustrated 14 page PDF includes information about the historical hoax, and the types of perils that might face a group sent to verify the claims of a spurious gold-mine in remote areas of the Blue Mountains. It also includes three different Mythos threats that could explain the weirdness that accompanies the convict’s claim. Each of these provides a different type of adversary, and a different flavour of Lovecraftian supernatural horror; allowing the Keeper to pick the type of peril that best suits his or her tastes (or those of the gaming group). We hope that Keepers will enjoy sending their Investigators off on wild (golden) goose chases out into perilous, unexplored parts of the colony — to be cruelly devoured, seduced, or just stabbed in the eye by a lying convict. What could be more fun?

Please note: this is the first Ticket of Leave that we have released under Chaosium’s new “Fan Use” policy. In order to comply with the terms of this policy we have been obliged to create two versions of the PDF — one with game stats and one which omits game stats. The version downloadable direct from Cthulhu Reborn is the statted (Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition) version. This is distinct from generic non-statted version downloadable from RPGNow. Most readers will want the direct download version, however customers who only obtain PDFs via RPGNow/DrivethruRPG are welcome to download the generic (systemless) edition if they prefer.

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The Future of Convicts & Cthulhu

Over the past few weeks, several people have asked me about Cthulhu Reborn’s plans for the (surprisingly-popular) Convicts & Cthulhu line, in light of the announcement about the direction of our future publication efforts. This is something that has played on our minds a lot and has received a lot of attention, with a number of different options considered.

At the end of all that navel-gazing, though, we have decided on both a near-term and short-term direction for Convicts. Both are exciting in their own way, so I thought I’d share some details with you guys.

Short Term Future

Prior to Chaosium releasing its new policies on licensed material, Cthulhu Reborn already had a healthy pipeline of upcoming (mostly smallish) Convicts & Cthulhu supplements in the works. Most of these are Ticket-of-Leave type releases whose manuscripts specifically target Call of Cthulhu as their game system. In the short term we plan to continue with our plan of releasing one of these every two months — a goal we’ve mostly managed to maintain over the past year.

The next of these releases, Ticket of Leave #7, will be titled “Seams of Peril” and concerns a wayward expedition to validate a peculiar convict claim of having stumbled upon a rich gold deposit … only of course the truth is something far weirder and more dangerous. The original plan was to release this PDF in August, which would align with our bi-monthly release schedule. Unfortunately that probably won’t happen due to a combination of ill-health and prolonged travel, but we will certainly have it out sometime in September.

ToL #7 will follow the format of recent releases, but will be an exclusively FREE download. The major difference between this PDF and previous releases will be that it will be produced in two versions: one with Call of Cthulhu game stats (for download direct from here on the Cthulhu Reborn blog) and another with the stats removed (for download from RPGNow). This may seem like a strange thing to do, but it is unfortunately necessary for us to comply with the letter of Chaosium’s “fan use” license. We sincerely hope that this doesn’t inconvenience anyone too much.

Following on from ToL#7 we have a enough additional things in the production queue to keep that line ticking along until the end of the year.

Longer Term Future

The longer-term plans for Convicts & Cthulhu are, however, far more ambitious. Put simply we would like to re-launch Convicts as a standalone RPG of its own. Now, before you raise your eyebrows and mutter to yourself “why does the world need yet ANOTHER new RPG system?” … we are not proposing to create a brand new tabletop gaming system, but instead re-purpose the Renaissance system published by the most excellent guys at Cakebread & Walton. For those of you who haven’t checked out their work, it’s definitely worth a look. Renaissance Deluxe is a d100 RPG system which has a pedigree that stretches back to earlier versions of Runequest which have now become open platforms (by virtue of being published under the OGL). Thus Renaissance has a very BRP-like feel to it, and many of its systems will be very familiar to gamers who have played other similar games.

The most recently-published version of the Renaissance system is in Cakebread & Walton’s rather splendid book Dark Streets, 2nd Edition which is a historical RPG set in a Lovecraft-infused version of 18th Century London. If you are a fan of our Convicts material, chances are you’d probably like this setting as well (in our humble opinion). The 2nd edition of Dark Streets (unlike the first) is also a standalone game, which includes all the cutdown parts of the Renaissance system that you need to play. We are kind of using this as a starting template for how a standalone Convicts & Cthulhu game might look.

In terms of content that we want to roll into the new standalone C&C game — well, we certainly will be aiming to bring all the scenario and source material that we’ve released under the Ticket of Leave series back into the core book. We’re also looking at expanding out the historical coverage in a few areas as well as covering a bigger part of the New South Wales colony. But I guess the biggest new sections — still to be written — are those which describe supernatural manifestations (spells, creatures, gods). In this we will be sticking as close as possible to two sources: Lovecraft’s writings themselves, and some of the traditional Indigenous Australian songlines and mythologies. It’s an exciting thing to be tackling … and I’m sure we will be sharing some of that work-in-progress as it gets written.

In the meantime, though, here’s a (very draft) version of what the standalone C&C cover might look like.


Horror: it’s venturing into the darkness, alone

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Cthulhu Reborn. In the wake of our recent call for readers to give us their thoughts on the future direction of our (humble) publishing efforts, we have been inundated with insightful and useful comments. We have also had some lengthy conversations with Chaosium, to better understand their new policies and practices around commercial licensees for Call of Cthulhu.  Because a few people have asked us what, if anything, we’ve decided  based on all this information I feel it’s only fair to explain a bit about the path we’ve chosen and some of the reasoning behind it.

The short version is: although Cthulhu Reborn has been offered a commercial license by Chaosium to produce Call of Cthulhu products, we have decided NOT to take up that offer and instead to continue producing independent Lovecraft-related (and d100-related) games and supplements.

“Padlock in Despair” by jpnavarro@DeviantArt

The reasons behind this decision are complicated, and in some ways unique to the particular (community-oriented) focus we have always intended for Cthulhu Reborn. Our core values of openness, sharing, and not-for-profit publication are not especially compatible with Chaosium’s new licensing arrangement. In particular, Chaosium’s position on Intellectual Property and their practices of centrally “orchestrating” the types of products/settings which licensees are allowed to produce, don’t mesh well with those values. For us, signing up to a commercial Chaosium license (or even their “small publisher” license) would mean a move away from our independence and community focus … and we firmly believe those two things are what have allowed us to create cool and interesting products. As such we’d rather stay “outsiders” and retain the freedom to make the things our readers love.

“St Scarecrow” by Mattbarley@DeviantArt

Obviously, this decision will have some impacts on the way in which we produce Lovecraftian gaming materials. We will be posting more in the coming weeks about specific plans (including the future direction of Convicts & Cthulhu, which we are keen to continue and grow). But, essentially our strategy moving forward will be to divide our efforts into creating two types of product:

  1. Smaller, free PDF titles which can be published under Chaosium’s “fan material policy”. These smaller PDFs can include game statistics for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition but realistically most won’t be much larger than our free Ticket of Leave PDFs.
  2. Larger print titles and PDF books which provide resources for Lovecraftian RPGs but don’t include explicit Call of Cthulhu content — these may be either generic (systemless) books, or make use of openly licensed Lovecraftian RPG systems (e.g., Cthulhu Dark, or the d100-compatible Renaissance system from the wonderful Cakebread & Walton).

Wherever it is feasible for us to link products of these two different types together we will do so, since we believe that each can enhance and support the other.

We realise that changes to the way we publish Lovecraftian material might not be to every Cthulhu Reborn reader’s tastes … and we apologise in advance to anyone who feels that our chosen direction has made our future titles less relevant to their game, or harder to use. Overall, we think that this will be a positive move for Cthulhu Reborn since it will open up a lot of opportunities to pursue interesting and quirky Mythos ideas that have been rattling around in our heads for a long time but never had an avenue to escape into the world.

“Strangers” by Aticum@DeviantArt

Finally, we would like to offer sincere thanks to Chaosium who have been very generous in spending time explaining their licensing arrangements to us. Despite not ultimately signing up to their commercial offer, Cthulhu Reborn certainly appreciate their generosity and professionalism. We remain huge fans of Chaosium as a company, and fans of the Call of Cthulhu game. We strongly encourage Cthulhu Reborn readers to continue to support Chaosium by purchasing their fine products wherever they can. We hope that you’ll also continue to support us by picking up some of our free (and eventually commercial) future products as well.

Watch the Skies! Watch the Seas! Great Cthulhu is rising!


Happy Birthday Convicts (Have a Ticket of Leave)

Let’s face it, life in the early penal colonies of Australia was no picnic. Even if you were fortunate enough to avoid the brutal floggings and ever-present threat of capital punishment for disobedience, there was always disease and starvation to contend with. Is it any surprise, then, then the mortality rate in these grim colonies was — at least by our standards — shockingly high. People died in the colonies all the time. This problem was not made better by the fact that conditions on the ships coming to the settlements was even more toxic, which meant that frequently vessels arrived with many of their passengers having perished on the voyage over.

All these corpses had to be disposed of somehow, and in this era that meant finding somewhere to bury them. The settlement at Sydney began with some modestly-sized burial plots, a couple for convicts and another for sailors. These were filled within four years, creating somewhat of a crisis. It wasn’t until some time later when the governors grappled with the problem more sensibly, that a very large cemetery was allocated at the far southern extent of the township (ironically, this location is in modern times where Sydney’s town hall stands).

Even with a sizeable space to bury their dead, the early colonists were remarkably lax when it came to doing so — all graves were all dug by convict labourers who couldn’t care less whether they were deep enough or not. This meant that many bodies were buried in very shallow graves, which created problems of noxious smells not to mention attracting pigs from neighbouring fields who were free to roam around the burying ground (and occasionally dig up corpses).

While all these details of early colonial life are horribly macabre … they are wonderful fuel for tales of horror and death. After all, where would have the necromantic tales of H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe (not to mention George A. Romero) have been without an ample supply of poorly protected corpses.

Ticket of Leave #6 — released (more-or-less) on the first anniversary of the publication of the core Convicts & Cthulhu setting — is a chunky 15-page PDF which explores burial customs and locations in the early colonies. But, far more excitingly, it also includes a creepy mini-scenario by Geoff Gillan, which explores the dark and nasty consequences of cadavers being just a little to easy to obtain for experimentation. The scenario also includes wonderful new art (pictured above) by the fantastic Reuben Dodd, a long-time friend of Cthulhu Reborn.

Do your investigators dare to leave their homes on the Night of the Convict Dead? Available right now for download via RPGNow (as a pay-what-you-want title).

“They’re coming to get you, convicts!”

 


No Time Off For Good Behaviour

It’s hard to believe it, but in a few days time we will be celebrating the first anniversary of the release of Convicts & Cthulhu, our (suprisingly very popular) sourcebook for playing grime-and-depravity-fuelled Cthulhu Mythos adventures amid the horrific penal colonies of early Australia. Since its release, the core Convicts book has sold almost 1700 copies in PDF and print. We’ve also managed to bring out five mini-supplements under the “Ticket of Leave” line which, collectively, have sold almost 1900 PDF downloads (of course many of the downloads of both the main book and the Tickets have been free-of-charge downloads, so maybe the term ‘sold’ isn’t 100% accurate, but you get the meaning).

If by some chance you have missed grabbing some of these books, here are some links to the RPGNow pages where you can grab them. Each is either free or “pay-what-you-want”:

Convicts & Cthulhu core setting book [96 pages; PDF or print].

Convicts & Cthulhu player’s edition (the historical and setting sections of the core book) [57 pages; 10.6MB]

Ticket of Leave #1: Night Terrors [4 pages]

Ticket of Leave #2: Tri-Colour Terror [6 pages]

Ticket of Leave #3: Criminal Enterprise [8 pages]

Ticket of Leave #4: The Vanishing Ensign [14 pages]

Ticket of Leave #5: The Damned & The Degenerate [24 pages]

To celebrate the one-year anniversary, we’re planning to release our sixth supplemental release sometime close to the actual C&C first birthday (30th May). Obviously this will depend on several unholy stars aligning, but … fingers crossed. The title of the sixth “Ticket of Leave” will be “Night of the Convict Dead” — we’ve even commissioned some new art from the always-amazing Reuben Dodd. Here’s a peek at his illustration:

BTW if you’re wondering whether the recent flurry of activity around Convicts & Cthulhu means that Cthulhu Reborn are only working on convict-related projects … let me assure you that is not the case. In recent weeks we have commissioned two well-known Call of Cthulhu authors to create brand new setting books in entirely different corners of the Call of Cthulhu world. Hopefully we will be able to share some more specific news about those awesome future projects soon!


Ticket of Leave #5: The Damned and Degenerate

We are very excited to announce the release of the fifth installment in our highly-popular “Ticket of Leave” series of mini-supplements for Convicts & Cthulhu. It’s available for download right now on RPGNow. This one is entitled “The Damned & The Degenerate” — it’s a bit of a departure from previous PDFs in that it doesn’t aim to expand the world of C&C by adding new narrative elements. Instead it is a comprehensive revisiting of the character generation sections of the original sourcebook. While we originally only had a small number of pages to devote to character templates and skills, the richness of the colonial prison setting lends itself to a very broad range of colourful characters, both roguish and virtuous (but mostly roguish). The opportunity to go back and expand the character rules as its own mini-supplement was just too good a temptation to resist.

Mind you, I *say* “mini-supplement” … but the reality is that when we started looking at the intriguing range of character types that are possible for the colonial Australian setting we ended up with quite a sizeable list. The original Convicts & Cthulhu sourcebook has something like 12 occupation templates — the list for this Ticket of Leave is just over 40. Of course, describing the game statistics and historical context of all those professions takes space. So our “mini” supplement weighs in at 24 pages, and includes a fresh copy of the C&C character sheet.

The set of character occupations in ToL5 is broadly divided into four categories — Indigenous Australian occupations, Convict occupations, Government/Military Occupations and Free Settler Occupations. All the obvious things are in there, but so too are a bunch of interesting and unusal character types. Ever wanted to play an Aboriginal tracker paid by the white colonists to track down escaped convicts? Well, now you have the “Bush Constable”. Ever wondered how “aristocratic” convicts, or convict confidence tricksters might work? Now those are options. And if you’ve ever speculated that maybe there were turncoat foreign spies lurking beneath the thin veneer of the colonies, plotting an overthrow … you can now create exactly such a character.

To illustrate the diverse range of convict-era character types, and also to give Keepers and players ready-made “drop-in” characters, this PDF is peppered with lots of examples of real historical people who performed those jobs in the colonies. These aren’t the high-and-mighty people of the colonial administration; rather they are the day-to-day people struggling to get by. In other words, perfect NPCs and replacement investigators. Full stats are provided for each example character, along with a historically-sourced bio (because the squalid details of real history is actually more horrible than anything we could dream up ourselves).

To round out “Ticket of Leave #5: The Damned and Degenerate” we’ve included some slightly tweaked and better-described rules around handling a few CoC 7th Edition skills in the colonial setting. And we’ve also included some notes on playing a couple of unusual character types. The first of these are early “bushrangers” — desperate escaped convicts (and occasionally deserting military types) who somehow manage to survive off the land. The second is the odd phenomenon of free settler women who came to the colonies to accompany their convicted husbands (now that’s dedication!).

If you are a Keeper or player with an interest in Convicts & Cthulhu, there will certainly be a wealth of character-based material in this PDF that is helpful to running your game. You can grab it right now from RPGNow. As with the previous Ticket of Leave we have decided to make this a “Pay What You Want” release rather than a straight free download — this is really just to reflect the amount of effort that has gone into creating a fully illustrated beautiful 24-page booklet. Of course we are more than happy if our loyal readers want to grab the book for free. But we would graciously accept any higher purchase price as well (and would consider it a valuable donation which will help us maintaining this product line well into the future!).


Ticket of Leave #4: Vanishing Ensign Released

We are delighted to announce the release of #4 in our popular series of mini-supplements to the Convicts & Cthulhu setting of Lovecraftian horrors in the early Australian colonies. This release, titled “The Vanishing Ensign” is by far our largest Ticket of Leave supplement — really more of a double-sized release, weigning in at 14 pages of PDF goodness. You can grab it right now from RPGNow. Because it’s a much bigger book than others in the line we’ve decided to make this a “Pay What You Want” title rather than just a simple free PDF. What that means is that if you still want to pick it up for free, you can do so (and that’s fine with us!) but if you would like to chip in a dollar or two as a “thank you” to Cthulhu Reborn, then that avenue is open to you also. Strangely, the number 1 complaint we receive about our free books is that some people wish they could pay for them, as a show of their appreciation I guess. The “Pay What You Want” pricing model is a good way of balancing both … and we will probably use it again if we make more large Tickets of Leave.

So, with all that preparatory stuff out of the way … I guess that just leaves me the task of describing what the heck “Ticket Of Leave #4: The Vanishing Ensign” is all about. At its core this release is inspired by a particular historical detail, Governor Bligh’s enormous military muster of 1807. In the early days of the Australian colonies military resources were pretty dire — there were never enough troops to keep the peace for such a huge population of convicts, and the NSW Corps were given the crappiest of equipment and ordnance (and yet somehow expected to be the front line of defence if other European nations, such as France, decided to invade the colony). Every Governor had complained about this dangerous situation, but it took the irascibility of Bligh to ramp it up a notch. In order to prove to the Colonial Office back in London exactly how terrible the military situation in NSW truly was, he commissioned a team to travel throughout the colony and tabulate a full muster of all troops and ordnance, documenting all the stuff that didn’t work. In the end this grand plan of Bligh’s led to nothing … but it provides an excellent concept for a Convicts & Cthulhu campaign.

So … that’s what this Ticket of Leave concentrates on — providing the historical, game, and narrative resources that a Call of Cthulhu Keeper might need to put together an extended series of scenarios which feature the intrepid investigators travelling to the most far-flung parts of the colony to gather information. Given the poorly-explored nature of the landscape at this time, there are ample opportunities for concealing any number of terrifying Cthulhu Mythos threats in places where “the hills rise wild.” And of course, there is always the chance that investigators digging too deeply into the records of the colony might stumble upon certain … irregularities … that need to be cleared up to ensure that the results of the Governor’s grand muster  will stand up to scrutiny. Whether it’s encounters with terrifying alien menaces, or battles against black-hearted murderers or cultists, this campaign frame has opportunities for incorporating any number of different threads, all within an overarching narrative construct. Plus, there is always the possibility that by piecing together disparate findings from different parts of the colony, investigators might stumble upon something really big … because “we live on an island of ignorance”, etc, etc.

The PDF is rounded out by a detailed scenario sketch that could easily be used as a springboard for a longer campaign spent gathering the Governor’s muster. The scenario involves a curious anomaly in the records held in lots of different parts of the colony — all of them record a certain Ensign Dobley as being among their contingent, but in reality there seems to be no such person. Or rather that he seems to exist, but nobody knows where he might be currently found. It is a mystery that needs urgent resolution for the statistics gathered to have any meaning at all. Rather than give just one Cthulhu Mythos explanation for this strange phenomenon, the PDF provides three different “solutions” each of which makes use of a different style of threat, allowing the Keeper to pick the flavour of horror he wishes to inflict on his players.

“Ticket of Leave #4: The Vanishing Ensign” is available for download right now — scoot over to RPGNow to secure your copy. And if you do decide to chip a dollar or two to help us keep the pipeline of glossy, high-quality, supplements going … you will incur our eternal thanks!


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