Category Archives: Convicts & Cthulhu

(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!

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Coming Soon to a Ticket of Leave

One of the most enjoyable parts of putting together horror gaming material is working with some truly astounding artists and illustrators. We have been very fortunate over recent years to have Reuben Dodd (of Sorrowking Studios) create a lot of the visual identity for our Convict-era horror setting. Recently we set him a tough challenge for an illustration to accompany the eighth in our ongoing “Ticket of Leave” series of supplements (to be released in a week or so). And as usual, he has truly done an amazing job!

 


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.


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!


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