A Reason to Change Direction?

As long-time readers of Cthulhu Reborn would know, we have a long history (6+ years) of creating cool and innovative, high-quality PDFs and print books which specifically aim to be useful to folks who play Chaosium’s awesome tabletop RPG, Call of Cthulhu. We were founded with the idea of bringing great stuff out for little or no cost, and almost all of the 15 or so titles that we’ve released can be grabbed (electronically at least) without spending anything.

One of the things that has proven a growing challenge over the years is knowing how to respond to the very frequent suggestions and requests that Cthulhu Reborn should take on more ambitious and larger-scale projects. Creating bigger things inherently brings with it the need to pay writers, artists, printers, etc … so necessarily involves charging something for the final product, even if only to recover costs. And asking for money for a Call of Cthulhu product really means becoming a licensee of Chaosium. To pursue this we have been in on-and-off discussions with Chaosium since 2012, but the small-scale of Cthulhu Reborn as a publishing endeavour seems to have made it hard to find a way to make it work for all concerned.

In the past few days, however, Chaosium have released a new set of licensing policies — some of which are aimed to specifically to address fan-based (free) publication and smaller scale commercial publication. While we’re very glad to see some clear direction from Chaosium on these topics, after some consideration of the terms of Chaosium’s “small publisher” license (and, in particular, the way it is implemented) we have some concerns. Without going into a bunch of specifics, we’re fairly confident that this new licensing model would only really work for PDF-only titles which are quite small (~ 10-20 pages). And while some of the things we would want to do might fall into those parameters, many wouldn’t.

 

“Fork in the Road” by khantheripper (Deviantart)

This development leaves us with a difficult decision to make — namely, how should Cthulhu Reborn continue? There are a few different options.

More Focus on Freebie Stuff?

Chaosium’s policy on fan-based releases is actually quite generous, but comes with the inherent limitation that it’s purely a non-commercial arrangement (i.e., you can’t ask for money in return for your products). While returning to our roots as a purely-freebie-based publisher is very attractive in some ways, it does mean that we couldn’t really commission paid artwork or pay writers for their contributions (both of which we *have* done). There also really isn’t any way to make freebie stuff work in print, since there are inherent costs in the physical production of books.

More Focus on Bite-Sized PDF-only releases?

Navigating Chaosium’s processes for applying to be licensed under their “Small Publisher” license is somewhat of an unpredictable maze but conceivably we *could* make this the principal way that Cthulhu Reborn brings things to you. While this would allow us to continue to make stuff for the Call of Cthulhu RPG system — which is a game we love — as described above, it really would max out at fairly small publications. Something like the core Convicts & Cthulhu book would simply be much too large to attempt under such a license (for example).

“Rusted to a Halt” by khantheripper (Deviantart)

More Focus on System-Independent Stuff?

Chaosium’s licenses only apply to products which make direct use of its Intellectual Property — i.e., the copyrights and trademarks that make up Call of Cthulhu as a property. Conceivably we *could* follow in the footsteps of a few others and continue to publish game-useable content but without reference to specific game mechanics etc of the Call of Cthulhu game. Prop packs and resources might fit well into this model. The advantages are that Cthulhu Reborn could tackle whatever sized projects people wanted, but the downside is that the products aren’t explicitly for Call of Cthulhu and would require some work to be used in a CoC game.

Start Developing For A Different Lovecraftian RPG?

Whereas once upon a time Call of Cthulhu was the “only game in town” for Lovecrafitan gaming, that certainly isn’t true these days. Over recent years a bunch of other systems have sprung up (e.g., Trail of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu [Savage Worlds], Delta Green RPG, to name just a few). Almost all of these are much more open in their licensing terms & conditions, allowing creators a lot of freedom in using the system however they wish. Conceivably we could reorient some or all of Cthulhu Reborn’s energies into targetting one of those alternative Lovecraftian RPGs. Of course that assumes that people *want* material for those games.

We Want To Hear What You Think

Ultimately, what we want most is to continue to create products that are useful to people like you, and support Lovecraftian gaming the way you play it. So … what do you think we should do? If there are other systems out there that you use for Lovecraftian stuff, which ones are they? Feel free to leave your thoughts either in the comments to this post, or using via the contact form below (which will just go to us, and not be visible to others).


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!).


Return of a Great Old One

Scott David Aniolowski is one of those writers who has achieved a bit of a legendary status among those who have a long-time connection to the Call of Cthulhu game. He has a list of writing credits as long as your arm (see below), but like many of the game’s “Great Old Ones” there hasn’t been much in the way of newly-published material from Scott. But, as the famous couplet from Alhazrad goes, “that is not dead, yada yada yada”. And this is proved, today, as Scott launches a Kickstarter campaign for a brand new scenario publication: “Cold Warning”

The Kickstarter campaign describes Scott’s scenario as follows: “Cold Warning is a Jazz Era, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition scenario set in Arkham, Massachusetts and Hudson, Maine. What begins with the dubious suicide of Joseph Sutton and the bizarre behavior of his widow Marilyn, leads investigators to Winter Haven, a remote hunting lodge in rural Maine. Here they experience mysterious phenomena, encounter suspicious lodge guests and staff, learn of ancient legends, and confront strange and frightening creatures before finally witnessing the awesome power of a Great Old One.”

It also describes how Cold Warning — a scenario first written by Scott in the 1990s — almost became one of those “lost unpublished gems”, after having been left forgotten in his bottom drawer for decades. The long history of the scenario is discussed by Scott in this interesting 20 minute audio interview with the crew from the MU Podcast. As folks who have also worked to bring some of the more obscure “lost classics” of Lovecraftian roleplaying to printed form, this is exactly the kind of thing we’d like to see more of! So, we would definitely encourage you to check out the Kickstarter page for Cold Warning to see if it’s is to your liking. Another great reason to consider backing the book is because it will feature art from Reuben Dodd (see below), who has also done a bunch of great work for us. We love Reuben’s work — and it will be great to see more of it in print.

But … don’t wait too long to check this out. Unlike all of Golden Goblin’s prior Kickstarters (which have each run for about a month), this particular campaign only runs for seven days. This is an interesting experiment, and I’m sure that lots of other publishers will be watching closely to see how it goes. In another first for Golden Goblin, this book will be produced solely as Print on Demand — a distribution method already wholeheartedly embraced by a few other publishers such as Stygian Fox (and us!). Hopefully this will do something to avoid the ugly situation that Golden Goblin faced last month with the backlash over international shipping fees for their “7th Edition Cthulhu Invictus” Kickstarter.

Finally … in case you’re not familiar with Scott’s long history with Call of Cthulhu, the photo montage below gives a visual overview of just *some* of the great books to which he has been a core contributor. You can also check out an interview with Scott we ran here on Cthulhu Reborn back in 2013. And if you’ve ever cracked the cover of Malleus Monstrorum, the encyclopedic book providing game statistics for a huge number of Cthulhu Mythos gods and monsters, then you’re well acquainted with Scott’s genius!


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 musterĀ  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!


A Golden Geek Nomination!

Colour me blown away — purely by chance we just discovered that Convicts & Cthulhu was nominated for the category of “Best RPG Supplement of 2016” in this year’s Golden Geek Awards. Sadly, we only learned of this news a few hours before voting closed … otherwise we would have spruiked far and wide for votes! Ah well, as they say — it’s great just to be nominated.

In other Convicts & Cthulhu news, Cthulhu Reborn are right now working with Geoff Gillan to put the finishing touches on a double-sized Ticket of Leave supplement which gives C&C Keepers an entire new campaign frame for their 18th Century convict tales of horror plus an extended scenario sketch to get their campaign rolling. If all goes well that should be released sometime in March. Beyond that there are quite a number of other products bubbling away — some related to Convicts & Cthulhu, some in completely different Lovecraftian domains. So we’re quietly hopeful that 2017 will be a year of many horrific publications from us!


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