Category Archives: News & Updates

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 …

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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!)


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!

 


That One Night When Lost Souls Wander …

Halloween is traditionally the one night of the year when foul things from beyond the grave can break through to wander through our earthly domain. It’s kinda like the Vaults of Hell being left unlocked by some drunken infernal gatekeeper or something.

In the spirit of the season I thought it might be fun to let the infamous Vault-of-unseen-Cthulhu-Reborn-goodies creak open for just a bit and let some designs escape to haunt the internet … just for this one night.

Since starting Cthulhu Reborn back in 2011 we have been asked by a lot of different people to design things for their Lovecraftian projects … in many cases, our hellish designs have made it into PDFs and printed books. But in a lot of other cases, those designs are still sitting in the vaults waiting for the stars to be right and the projects in question to finally see the light of day. Normally we don’t share any pre-release pics of things we’ve made for other people, mostly to avoid stealing anyone else’s thunder. But, infused with the pumpkin-y Halloween goodness we are going to break that habit just once and share some unpublished things. [Apologies to any publishers who might be offended; hopefully you will also share in the spirit of the season]

All four of the tasty morsels we’re going to share have one things in common … they all feature Call of Cthulhu character sheet designs. It is no secret that Cthulhu Reborn has released a lot of different themed versions of the 6th Edition and 7th Edition character sheet. Just check out our downloads page, or the official Chaosium website for examples. But, as you will see below, there are plenty of others we’ve made over the years and which haven’t yet been loosed upon the world!

Ghoulish Morsel #1: Vestiges of Hate

Vestiges of Hate was the name given by Chad Bowser to a techno-thriller espionage-themed Call of Cthulhu campaign or setting that he had been working on. Back in 2013 he asked me whether Cthulhu Reborn might be able to put together some custom character sheets for his pre-generated techno-spy characters (all of which had cool handles like “The Face” or “The Wheelman”), as well as a couple of handouts.

Ghoulish Morsel #2: Punktown

Punktown is a much-delayed, but very cool-sounding, Kickstarter project which provides a near-future dystopian setting for Lovecraftian gaming based on the novels of Jeffrey Thomas. Initially this book was going to be released by the now-defunct (and sadly missed) Miskatonic River Press, but the project has since moved to being released by Chronicle City. It’s actually quite close to being released to its very patient backers … and as a last-minute addition I was asked a couple of weeks back to create a brand new Punktown character sheet.

Ghoulish Morsel #3: Cthulhu By Arclight

Cthulhu By Arclight is a setting book for Delta Green, set during the Vietnam War. It was announced back in 2011 as an upcoming title from Sixtystone Press, but there hasn’t been a lot of news in recent times about its current status … We were asked back in 2011 whether we could contribute some character sheet designs (actually the first commission we received!)

Ghoulish Morsel #4: Colonial Lovecraft Country (CoLoCo)

Also on the “upcoming titles” list from Sixtystone Press is a series of most excellent books set in Colonial-era America, or more particularly Colonial-era versions of the townships made famous by Lovecraft — Arkham, Kingsport, and the like. This is a truly inspired setting for historical gaming, made all the more special by excellent writing by Kevin Ross and others. We really, REALLY hope that these books see the light of day sooner rather than later. We were asked back in 2012 to design a character sheet for the core setting book, Colonial Lovecraft Country.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into our normally-tightly-bound vaults of secret-unreleased-stuff. We hope that you haven’t been unduly disturbed by the nocturnal meanderings of things that should, by all rights, never have seen the light of day!


Kevin Ross, Resurrected!

Most people would be aware that the Cthulhu Reborn blog was originally created as a way to bring-back-to-life some old gems from the early days of Call of Cthulhu scenario publishing. Hence we are absolutely excited to see the announcement today of a new Kickstarter by Sentinel Hill Press, great friends of the blog.

“The Dare” is a scenario written in the early days of Call of Cthulhu by Kevin Ross, one of the all-time great authors to have ever written for the game. It’s biggest claim to fame is that, rather atypically, it affords players the opportunity to take on the roles of everyday 1980s kids who innocently become swept up in the horrors of the Lovecraft Mythos, courtesy of a haunted house (Stranger Things style). The scenario was published in 1996 as part of an anthology titled Dwellers in Shadow. That book was released by a small licensee publisher, Triad Entertainments, and likely only printed in smallish print runs. That means that this great scenario — and many others from this era — are now almost impossible to find; this problem is exacerbated by the fact that Triad closed its doors long, LONG before the era when books were released as PDFs.

Not content to have such a wonderful piece permanently inaccessible to 21st century gamers, Sentinel Hill have chosen to not only reprint this classic, converted to the current 7th Edition. They have also decided to greatly expand upon the original ideas of Kevin Ross, turning the scenario into a much more substantial piece — but one whose “essential salts” are still firmly Kevin’s original concept.

We are very excited by this project — it’s exactly the sort of thing we love. If you think a dose of classic, long-out-of-print scenario madness might also be your thing, you can check out the KS campaign page. But if you are thinking of backing, don’t hesitate too long … unlike most Kickstarters, this one only runs for 10 days!


ENnies Winner are Grinners

Those of you who follow the tabletop RPG industry closely will likely already know that the winners of this year’s ENnie awards (presented each year at GenCon) were announced a few hours ago. Call of Cthulhu in general was well represented, which is great to see.

Of the many Cthulhu-related titles that took prizes, Cthulhu Reborn had a hand in the crafting of three:

  • Pulp Cthulhu (Chaosium) — GOLD: we contributed maps and the character sheet;
  • Doors to Darkness (Chaosium) — SILVER: we contributed maps
  • The Things We Leave Behind (Stygian Fox) — GOLD: we contributed handouts

We congratulate the various publishers whose works have received some much earned industry recognition — even though our contributions are relatively slight (in the context of the finished books), Cthulhu Reborn is very pleased to have been involved in such successful projects.

Particularly noteworthy is the achievement of our good friends at Stygian Fox — for your very first book to take out a hotly-contested industry award is quite remarkable, but very much deserved. The Things We Leave Behind is a collection of extremely well-written scenarios which sets a very high standard for modern-day Lovecraftian adventures. Our congratulations in particular go out to Stygian Fox stalwarts Stephanie McAlea and Jeffrey Moeller — those folks must be on cloud nine right about now :)!


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.


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