APOCTHULHU in Hungarian

Recently our good friends at Kalandhorizont in Hungary released their translated version of the APOCTHULHU Core Rulebook! We are so pleased to have been able to work with them on this — they’ve got a great track record (having produced Hungarian language versions of such diverse RPGs as Trail of Cthulhu, Blue Planet, and Runequest).

If you’re a Hungarian speaker and want to pick up a copy of APOCTHULHU in your native tongue, here’s a link to the Kaland webstore!


Pages From the Bayt, part 4

For the past few days, we have been serializing the “2019 Year in Review” article I contributed to Issue 3 of Bayt al Azif (article written in early 2020 and published late 2020). This is re-published with the kind permission of the generous editors of that fine game magazine (which I thoroughly recommend you check out).

For this final part of the 2019 retrospective, we tackle games that have a Lovecraft influence but are beyond the traditional d100 sphere. We also wrap up the review with a round-up of Kickstarters that funded in 2019 (or earlier) — some of which have fully delivered since this was written, some of which are still MIA … yes, “ASG’s Horrors of War” we are looking at you 🙂

Lovecraftian Games Further Afield

Perhaps the most challenging part of trying to summarize the year’s Lovecraft-inspired RPG releases is trying to track down games from beyond the traditional crunchy Cthulhu-centre of the hobby which have nonetheless woven “eldritch” or “cosmic horror” elements into their releases. Because Lovecraft’s fame … or should I say notoriety … is so great among gamers and game writers, his influences can pop up in all sorts of unexpected places. The list of games and supplements which follows is certainly not intended to be exhaustive but provides a glimpse of some of the more obvious influences beyond the normal sphere.

Fate of Cthulhu (FATE)

FATE is an amazing lightweight narrative-led game which has been successfully adapted to many different genres. When I first heard of the upcoming Kickstarter for Fate of Cthulhu I was excited, but the more I read about the specific project the more limiting it sounded. Rather than being a general game of Lovecraftian horror using the FATE rules, Fate of Cthulhu aims for a much narrower scope – it’s a game that’s all about people from a Post-Apocalyptic future (where the forces of the Mythos have triumphed) travelling back in time to present day to stop that terrible fate from eventuating. If you think “Terminator” or “12 Monkeys” you’re on the right wavelength. While this concept seems interesting for a scenario or even a campaign, the idea of making a game that is only suited to that kind of story feels, to me anyway, like a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Regardless, the Kickstarter for Fate of Cthulhu was quite successful, and the book was delivered later in 2019. It’s an attractive 256-page tome, although there are elements of the writing that I find a little problematic. In terms of the possibilities for gameplay the book offers five different dystopian future timelines that your character can be from – one in which Cthulhu has risen from the sea and driven the world crazy, one in which Dagon has mutated humanity, one in which Shub-Niggurath has gone on the rampage, one in which Nyarlathotep has taken rule in Egypt and built an army of alien horrors, and finally one in which the King in Yellow has created a plague that sweeps the earth.

As ideas these are a bit on the obvious side, but I suppose also easy things for players without much prior experience of Mythos fiction would instantly be able to comprehend. Gameplay seems to be, as advertised, limited to going back to the beginning of the Mythos entity’s rise to power and somehow deflect or defeat it. Each timeline gets about 25 pages of description which give a brief capsule summary of how the world ended and some of the people and places involved.

Cthulhu Deep Green

One of the welcome new additions in recent years has been the creation of lightweight Lovecraftian games which embrace a more minimalist approach to game rules while still encouraging gameplay that has the familiar feel of investigative cosmic horror. Perhaps the most famous game in this group is Graham Walmsley’s super-lean game Cthulhu Dark. Moth Lands Publishing’s 2019 release Cthulhu Deep Green is an adaptation of the Cthulhu Dark rules to the genre of modern-day conspiracy horror.

If that description makes you think “Cthulhu Dark crossed with Delta Green” you are very much on the money – although Cthulhu Deep Green never mentions any of the elements of the Delta Green universe, or even the existence of such a game. I guess that’s not surprising since those things are all intellectual property owned by the Delta Green Partnership.

So, what does super-rules-light conspiracy horror in CDG look like? Well it’s a lot like Cthulhu Dark with the exception that combat is much more of an option for players – and there’s a lot more focus on the specifics of mental damage to player character agents and the things they get up to between missions. As well as releasing the core Cthulhu Deep Green game as a 52-page PDF, Moth Lands also released a CDG mission called “Food of the Gods” as a separate 18-page PDF. The core game has since been released as a Print-On-Demand physical book as well.

The Cthulhu Alphabet

Not so many years ago Goodman Games used to be a Call of Cthulhu licensee, producing the Age of Cthulhu line of books. While that relationship seems to have come to an end, there are obviously some at Goodman who still foster some love for the Mythos: The Cthulhu Alphabet is testament to that.

This is a book which is, strictly speaking, fully system-neutral but which seems thematically tied somehow to Goodman’s very popular Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Indeed, The Cthulhu Alphabet would seem to be inspired by the publisher’s earlier Monster Alphabet. Both provide a literal ‘A’ to ‘Z’ of different facets of designing a game critter (or other element) and offer some random tables for randomly picking one of a dizzying array of options.

In The Cthulhu Alphabet, examples of the kinds of alphabetically-ordered categories include: “F is for Forbidden” and “V is for Voorish Sign”. The former includes a table of Forbidden items and another table for randomly picking how they arrive in the hands of the player characters. The Voorish Sign entry includes pages and pages of possible supernatural effects that might be triggered by said mystical hand gesture.

The book is basically 100-or-so pages of such alphabetical listings. It’s a fun and somewhat handy resource for games, but perhaps the most engaging part of The Cthulhu Alphabet is its liberal splashings of old-school black-and-white art. These are by a range of artists, but all evoke a kind of vibe that feels reminiscent of the early days of the role-playing hobby.

Sandy Petersen’s Ghoul Island Campaign

For the past few years Sandy Petersen’s personal game imprint has been ramping up its output of Cthulhu-infused roleplaying books, bringing the Mythos to players of mainstream fantasy games. First there was a book of Cthulhoid monsters for Pathfinder, and then the same book ported to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The popularity of these has no doubt inspired the creation of scenario books which similarly take the common formats of fantasy adventures and replaces the monsters with Mythos creatures. Petersen Games produced four hardcover scenario books in this vein in 2019, all of them part of the “Ghoul Island” campaign for D&D 5E.

The four chapters of this campaign are titled: Act 1: Voyage to Farzeen, Act 2: Ghoulocracy, Act 3: Clean Up Crew, and Act 4: Ghatanothoa Awakens. In format, the Ghoul Island campaign is quite similar to most “Adventure Paths” created for fantasy games – the characters pass through a linear series of loosely-plotted adventures, slowly getting exposed to more and more dangerous situations before having a chance for an epic fight to stop the forces of evil once and for all. Act 1 sees the adventurers hired on to deliver cargo to a nightmare-shrouded island, the journey breaking the minds of many of the crew causing them to mutiny.

Act 2 sees them on the trail of the traitorous crew, uncovering a temple to Ghatanothoa, ancient horrors, subterranean tunnels, and a huge battle which threatens to destroy a city. The third act sees the adventurers on the trail of Ghatanothoa’s foul cultists, up into lava tubes and perhaps capture. The last part covers the adventurer’s mission to defeat the cult once and for all, including a surprise side-visit into the Dreamlands and a trip back to the volcano to stamp out the menace before an even worse threat can be unleashed upon the fantasy world.

Dark Trails (DCC)

A Kickstart campaign was run in mid-2019 for a game called Dark Trails utilizing the Dungeon Crawl Classics system created by Goodman Games. The game, to be published under license by an outfit called Stiff Whiskers Press, promised “a standalone weird West RPG based upon the works of H.P. Lovecraft and all things Cthulhu.” The campaign was very successful, raising almost 5 times the original goal. Unlocked along the way were a range of upgrades including some Cthulhuoid western adventures. While the full version of the Dark Trails game has yet to materialize, the publisher did put out a “Bootleg Edition” just before the end of 2019. This was envisaged as a cut-down “quickstart” version of the game, although at 192 pages I don’t think anyone would consider that a quick read.

Most of the “Bootleg” book is devoted to covering the rules of the game which are very much in the OSR vein, as you’d expect – one of the notable deviations from traditional western fare is the inclusion of some rather unusual and outlandish character classes. There’s also some great black-and-white illustrations, including a portrait of HPL as illustration for the Occultist character class. While most of the pages are about rules, there is still some background detail on how the world of Dark Trails got infused with Mythos-ness, and a lengthy adventure called “Death Crawls West”. The latter is an introductory funnel – if you’ve played or read the DCC game you’ll know what that means – focussing on a wagon trail that’s moving out into New Mexico Territory, only to find a lot more peril than anyone bargained for.

Leagues of Adventure: Cthulhu Codicil (Ubiquity)

For several years Triple Ace Games has been releasing titles for their Victorian adventure game Leagues of Adventure (which uses their in-house Ubiquity system). While this game covers a lot more than just Lovecraftian horror, it has certainly dipped into that territory for some of its material (most notably 2017’s Leagues of Cthulhu). In 2019, Triple Ace were back for more Lovecraftian goodness, running a successful Kickstarter for the Cthulhu Codicil. It was advertised as an expansion to the Leagues of Cthulhu book, “packed full of new character options, tomes, locations, and monsters.” Examples of new Mythos elements cited on the Kickstarter page seem to be original inventions for this book (as opposed to elements created in the fiction of other writers). The exact status of this book at the time of writing is not entirely obvious – it hit a major snag during the year when it’s principal writer, Paul “Wiggy” Wade suffered a stroke. However, it seems that the majority of the title’s contents had been written well before that time, and the Kickstarter updates suggest that at least some backers rewards have been sent out.

New Titles for The Cthulhu Hack

Just Crunch Games’ Cthulhu Hack is an OSR game, based on a previous game called The Black Hack (itself a kind of retro-clone of 1st Edition AD&D). It’s been around for a few years and there have been a few supplements released for it. In 2019 there were no less than three new titles released for The Cthulhu Hack, one by Just Crunch and two by another imprint called Matakishi’s Tea House.

The release from Just Crunch was titled Mother’s Love and is a substantial book which collects three scenarios, each of which has something to do with concept of motherhood. “Deep Roots” is set in rural Canada and revolves around peculiar incidents involving recently adopted and fostered children coming from a local orphanage. “Ggantija” is set on Malta and is concerned with events surrounding a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. The third scenario, “Gifts of the Flesh” sees the players take on the roles of animal activists headed to an abattoir on a privately-owned Greek island to investigate reports of mistreated animals. All of the scenarios are designed to be run in modern(-ish) day, and the influence of Shub-Niggurath flows strongly throughout the book.

The two Cthulhu Hack titles by Matakishi’s Tea House are The Chaos Beyond The Gate and The Flame From Space. Both are shorter and more amateur publications, the former involving some creepy occurrences at a local health-care clinic, while the latter exposes investigators to preparations for a hideous Mythos invasion of Earth from beyond.

Cthulhu Nights (A ChapBook RPG)

I must confess I had never previously heard of the term ChapBook RPG – looking it up online reveals that it’s a term used to describe an ultra-lean type of game where the entire game’s rules take up 30 or so pages, and is intended to be a “pick up and play” experience. Cthulhu Nights definitely fits that mould, providing an ultra-light set of rules in its 26 pages. The creator, Noah C. Patterson, is a fiction writer specializing in young adult horror, dabbling in game writing on the side. In addition to Cthulhu Nights, Noah also released three solitaire micro-RPG-games of a Lovecraftian nature – all under the banner One Page Cthulhu. All of these books are available as Pay-What-You-Want titles on DriveThruRPG.

Sidequest Decks: Lovecraftian Paranormal

Inkwell Ideas is a company that produces game accessories which are intentionally system-agnostic. Many of their titles are decks of double-sided cards which contain a variety of different locations or characters that could be dropped easily into a game. Almost all of these Sidequest Decks and NPC Portrait Decks cater to fantasy games, but there are a few that do not – in the latter camp is Sidequest Deck: Lovecraftian/Paranormal which provides 54 cards each with an adventure idea/element on one side and a related map or graphic on the other. You can buy the product as a physical deck of cards, or just grab the PDF and make your own deck.

H.P. Lovecraft Preparatory Academy

In my CthuReview of 2018, I mentioned a Kickstarter for a roleplaying game called H.P. Lovecraft’s Preparatory Academy, which promised to be “a cheerfully macabre game of schoolyard horror.” The fulfilment of this Kickstarter was massively delayed – its original target date of April 2018 was missed by a long shot, with the books actually going out mid-2019 instead. The game was originally intended to be released for two separate systems – PDQ and Savage Worlds – and the release of a new (SWADE) edition of the latter game certainly was the cause of some delays. Each different game system received its own separate book: in the end, the publishers (Third Eye Games) also chose to create a version for their in-house “Pip System” as well. All of these books appear to be now available generally. There’s also a short scenario called “With Friends Like These” available as a separate product.

Pocket Wonders: Dreams of Cthulhu

Dwarf Army Games has released a couple of games in the “Pocket Wonders” line. These are designed to be ultra-light rules that can be crammed into a few pages but provide enough “crunch” to allow an experienced gamer to run games in a specific genre. In 2019, the 22-page Pocket Wonders: Dreams of Cthulhu was released. Set in the 1920s and drawing on familiar tropes of Lovecraftian horror, it offers a 3d6-based system which could easily be used to power scenarios of the GM’s own invention.

Future Horrors: Unfulfilled Kickstarters

In addition to looking backwards at what’s already been released, it’s sometimes interesting to look into the crystal ball (or maybe Shining Trapezohedron?) and get a sense of what is coming next. One of the best ways of doing that is to take a look at Kickstarter campaigns for Lovecraftian RPG projects that have funded but haven’t yet delivered their final rewards. Here’s a quick roundup. [We have added some notes to describe the state of each of these campaigns at the time of this blog-article, i.e., late March 2022].

First off, it’s probably worth reviewing the list of Kickstarters that funded in 2018 or earlier, but which didn’t manage to deliver in 2019 due to project delays. These are: 

  • Horrors of War (Adam Scott Glancy): This book project has become sadly synonymous with delayed Kickstarters, having funded back in 2014 with an original delivery estimate of February 2015. Nothing much has changed with this project since I wrote its status and history in the CthuReview of 2018. [Update Note: this campaign HAS NOT yet delivered its rewards (as per March 2022)]
  • The Dare (Sentinel Hill): This is another project that hasn’t moved much since last year’s review. It must be a frustration to backers and the publisher that the production of this title has reached the 90% done mark and then been stymied by a series of small mishaps and delays. Finger-crossed this one will be in backers’ hands soon. [Update Note: this campaign HAS delivered its rewards since this article was published]
  • Unspeakable Sign & Sigil (Cubicle 7 & Make Believe Games): I also wrote about delays on this project in the 2018 review, and while there has been some evidence of progress I believe that the books still have not found their way out (far overshooting the original target date of March 2018). [Update Note: this campaign not only failed to fulfill its rewards, but the project was ultimately cancelled altogether]
  • The Cthulhu Idol (Delphes Desvoivres): This is yet another delayed project included in my list from last year; and once again there’s still no concrete timeline on when either the idol or the scenario book parts of this project will be released. [Update Note: this campaign HAS NOT yet delivered its rewards (as per March 2022)]
  • The Wild Hunt and Occam’s Razor (Stygian Fox): Both of these Stygian titles were mentioned in last year’s review, and both have now passed their original estimated delivery (Wild Hunt was due in January 2019, Occam’s Razor in June 2019). The changes in Stygian business model have placed additional pressures on finalizing all the company’s outstanding Kickstarters, but to their credit they are pushing onwards and adapting to their changed environment with some success. [Update Note: these two campaigns HAVE PARTIALLY delivered their rewards since this article was published; PDFs of both titles have been released, but the print version of “The Wild Hunt” is still in progress and the printed “Occam’s Razor” is being (slowly) distributed around the world (as per March 2022)]
  • Delta Green: The Labyrinth (Arc Dream; core book delivered, others still forthcoming): Although the main book at the heart of this Kickstarter (the titular “The Labyrinth”) is now out in PDF, it still hasn’t made its way to print. Also, there are quite a few unlocked add-on books and scenarios associated with this campaign that have yet to appear – these were always planned to come out much later than the core book (so aren’t necessarily running late). By my reckoning, the list of future titles includes: Bleeding Darkness (scenario), Final Passages (scenario collection + handout kit), God’s Teeth (campaign + handout kit), The Horned God (scenario), In The Stillness (scenario), The Language of Stars (scenario), Schemata (scenario), Those Who Come After (sourcebook + handout kit), and Undertow (scenario). [Update Note: these two campaigns HAVE PARTIALLY delivered their rewards since this article was published; the main Labyrinth book and its associated handout kit have both been released, but everything else is still in progress (as per March 2022)]

The following four new Kickstarters for Lovecraftian RPG products were run in 2019:

  • Hudson & Brand: Shadows of the Past (Stygian Fox): This successful fundraiser was to create a book of three linked scenarios for Stygian Fox’s popular “Hudson & Brand” setting in Gaslight London. It was envisaged as a 150-page book, with estimated delivery in February 2020. Original Kickstarter link. [Update Note: this campaign HAS NOT yet delivered its rewards (as per March 2022)]
  • An Inner Darkness (Golden Goblin): This book was advertised as a scenario anthology featuring subject matter relating to social inequalities or injustices of the past. By the time it closed it had stretched to include seven scenarios. This was estimated to be delivered in November 2019 but actually came out in PDF form around March 2020 and will probably be distributed in physical form in May. Original Kickstarter link. [Update Note: this campaign HAS delivered its rewards since this article was published]
  • Lovecraft Holiday Collection (Golden Goblin): This was a campaign to create an anthology of four Lovecraft Country scenarios, each themed to a different holiday season (Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and Independence Day). Two of the scenarios were formerly published in Miskatonic University Library Association Monographs many years ago. The campaign is forecast to deliver its books in June 2020. Original Kickstarter link[Update Note: this campaign HAS delivered its rewards since this article was published]
  • A Time For Sacrifice (New Comet Games): Back in 2018, New Comet Games published Devil’s Swamp. This new Kickstarter seeks to recreate that success with another book of 1920s scenarios. The campaign had an original estimated delivery of May 2020. Kickstarter link. [Update Note: this campaign HAS delivered its rewards since this article was published]

Conclusion

There’s no question that 2019 was another strong year for new Lovecraftian RPG material, with a broad variety of new books being released to cater to many different settings and styles of game. The overall trend away from one publisher being the “dominant voice” in how Lovecraft games should look, has continued. Chaosium is still the biggest contributor to the number of new titles (they released around 1100 pages of new non-Repository material in 2019, slightly down from 1200 in the preceding year), but other publishers still create significant amounts. The altered operating arrangements of Stygian Fox in 2019, for example, generated about 750 pages of new game material, while Arc Dream’s Delta Green released about 550 pages of new content. All this points to a healthy and continuing trend of “Lovecraft taint” infecting gaming products far-and-wide. Doubtless this will continue, even though global events are certain to significantly affect all game producers publishing in 2020. Cthulhu will prevail.

The CthuReview will return …

Next week we will serialize the “year in review” article that I wrote for the recently-released Bayt al Azif #4. That piece covers all Lovecraftian RPG releases for 2020.


Pages From the Bayt, part 3

Today we continue our serialized version of the CthuReview article that appeared originally in Bayt al Azif #3. The purpose of the article was to summarize all Lovecraftian RPG products that were released in 2019 (the article was written in April 2020). So far, we’ve blogged the parts of the article that describe Chaosium’s output for that calendar year, and also the output of the main Call of Cthulhu licensees.

In this post we begin to venture into more diverse corners of the Tabletop RPG world, to describe other places where Lovecraftian themes were baked into 2019 products …

Delta Green

Arc Dream’s excellent d100-based game of modern-day Lovecraftian conspiracy and investigation just seems to keep going from strength-to-strength. In 2019 there were seven new titles, one of which represents the return to RPG writing of one of my personal favourite game authors, John Tynes. All up, it was a pretty good year for Delta Green.

The Labyrinth

Back in 2018, Arc Dream ran another in their ongoing series of massively expansive Kickstarter campaigns that start with a single book and ultimately spin off several further titles. The core of that particular campaign was a book titled The Labyrinth which was billed as DG co-creator John Tynes’ grand return to game writing. As mentioned above, I have a huge soft spot for John’s writing from his many great scenarios from the heady days of Pagan Publishing (back in the 1990s). So I was very excited to see what the older-and-no-doubt-wiser Mr Tynes would be able to add to the sprawling canon of the Delta Green universe. Late in 2019, I (and every other backer) got to see exactly that, when the PDF version of The Labyrinth arrived (the print version, plus all the “add-ons” unlocked in the Kickstarter, are still forthcoming).

On a fundamental level, what The Labyrinth delivers is a selection of four allies for your Delta Green agents, and four clear adversaries. “So what?”, you might think, lots of books do that. The real genius of this book lies in the nuanced way in which Tynes has crafted these organizations and individual NPCs, not just to make them feel recognizably “authentic” to the present day but also to feel ambiguous. The four allies are certainly helpful – or at least potentially helpful – but each has a dangerous or destructive element to them as well, usually something that isn’t obvious up-front.

The adversary groups aren’t traditional robe-wearing Mythos cults, but organizations that have an agenda that aims to help some portion of the community – whether that be parents who are having trouble starting a family, or people who are lonely souls online.

Their ties to the supernatural aren’t obvious, or necessarily motivated out of malice … so are they morally culpable for the horrors they create? Equally parts stunningly creepy and surprisingly inventive, The Labyrinth is an impressive piece of “world-building” (or is that “conspiracy-building”) which could fuel an entire campaign if you were willing to take its many ideas and extrapolate them into scenarios.

Control Group

The most substantial physical product release for Delta Green in 2019 is the hardback book Control Group. This is a scenario anthology of four adventures written by Greg Stolze and Shane Ivey. “BLACKSAT” takes Delta Green agents into one of the most unlikely places for a mission – low Earth orbit. “Night Visions” has them investigating some unusual and dangerous events in remote regions of Afghanistan. “Sick Again” is set in a more mundane locale – the American South West – but involves some rather unusual circumstances as players take on the roles of researchers trying to understand a mystery disease outbreak.

The final scenario, “Wormwood Arena” involves an investigation into a New Age cult in Kansas, a weird sigil, and some related disappearances. Of course, all of these missions are much more than they appear on the surface, and each one veers off into unexpected (but entertaining) peril and destruction. Nobody would expect any less from Delta Green.

Sweetness

As well as creating larger hardback books for Delta Green, Arc Dream also publishes slender saddle-stapled books containing individual scenarios. In 2019, they released Sweetness which is one such title, albeit the absolutely most slender example. One wonders at the merits of releasing a 16-page product as a standalone physical booklet, especially when the actual scenario only occupies about 10 pages. I guess collector-folk (like me) will pay for it regardless of the slimness of the stapled booklet. The scenario, written by Dennis Detwiller, is a kind of testament to the ways in which involvement with Delta Green can ruin a person’s life.

The Complex

Delta Green is a peculiar game in that it actively encourages – insists really – that players brush up their knowledge of the structure of US Government agencies. This is, after all, where DG agents come from and it’s inside these agencies that they find their “cover” identities to avoid detection by the forces of the Unnatural, but more routinely the opposing conspiracy. The Complex provides 21 new agency descriptions (here called “dossiers”) covering a range of Law Enforcement, Defense, Intelligence, Public Safety, and other agencies … as well as a few private sector organisations (mostly those with ties to the military).

For each organization there’s some general background as well as plenty of practical advice on playing a character from that background; this includes recommended profession templates. Perhaps not the most riveting subject matter, but when it comes to empowering players and Handlers to create a diverse range of agents and NPCs, it’s good practical stuff. The Complex was primarily released as a PDF although it is also available as a Print On Demand title on DriveThruRPG for those who crave hardcopy.

PDF-Only Releases

As well as the print (and future print) books mentioned above, Arc Dream also released several PDF-only scenarios in 2019. Here’s the list:

  • Future/Perfect 3 and 4: Dennis Detwiller’s multi-part campaign has been progressively been getting a more professional treatment and release, and in 2019 parts 3 and 4 saw release in PDF.
  • Ex Oblivione: Another Detwiller scenario, this one focusses on gruesome ritualistic murders in a small town in Arizona. What starts as an X-Files-ish kind of investigation has the potential to turn into something much more dangerous, as a horror with ties to the earliest days of Delta Green becomes involved.
  • A Victim of the Art: Yet another Detwiller scenario, this one involving a serial killer on Long Island who leaves victims in terribly mutilated state and strangely positioned.

Pelgrane Press

In recent years one of the welcome alternative voices in Lovecraftian RPG publishing has been Pelgrane Press. Whether it’s their Trail of Cthulhu titles, or more recently their Cthulhu Confidential or Yellow King RPG books, Pelgrane have always been an innovative voice which dares to challenge some of the deep stereotypes of Lovecraftian games. Unfortunately, for reasons (I am guessing) of logistics and time limitations Pelgrane released almost no Lovecraft-related new releases in 2019. Doubtless the huge pressures of getting the print versions of the massive, sprawling 6-book, 2-screen Yellow King product out to backers chewed up a massive amount of Pelgrane’s time and money. Publicly shared woes about massive problems with print partners gives some insight into the not-so-fun part of running a publishing company. Hopefully it’s just a blip, and now that both the “cursed” print products are now safely in backers’ hands we’ll see Lovecraft stuff from Pelgrane start to flow again.

Hideous Creatures

Perhaps the biggest Lovecraft-related feather in Pelgrane’s cap for 2019 was the print release of Hideous Creatures, a wonderful, wonderful bestiary of obscure Lovecraft monstrosities (released in PDF previously). I had an awful lot to do with the visual appearance of this book (doing handouts, some illustration composition, and all of the layout) – so I won’t comment on that element of things. Judge those for yourself. But on the writing front, I must say I am consistently impressed by this book each time I open it.

Despite the fact that about half of the book’s contents was previously released as PDFs in the “Ken Writes About Stuff” subscription service from a few years back, there are so many fresh ideas crammed into Hideous Creatures that it feels like a brand-new book.

Most of these ideas come from other writers: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan had a big hand, but there’s also great material by Becky Annison, Helen Gould, and Ruth Tillman.

Covering 31 common and not-so-common monstrous creations by Lovecraft, this book spends a little bit of time giving Trail of Cthulhu stats for the creature, but far more time giving mythological connections, potential powers, ideas for varying or tweaking the monster, and stat-free scenario ideas. Oh, and handouts providing in-world documents relating to every monster. All this means that even if you don’t play Trail at all, the vast majority of this book would be of use to you if you wanted to spice up the horrors in any Lovecraft-related game.

Doors To Heaven (Yellow King RPG free rpg day scenario)

The only other marginally Lovecraft-related product released by Pelgrane in 2019 was the Yellow King scenario “Doors To Heaven” by Sarah Saltiel. This formed one half of Pelgrane’s Free RPG Day booklet for the year (the other half being a scenario for the 13th Age Fantasy RPG).

The Miskatonic Repository

Chaosium runs an online community publishing portal called the Miskatonic Repository aimed at providing an easy way for “fan-made” products to be made available to customers of DriveThruRPG (either free, Pay-What-You-Want, or for a fee). Whereas this publishing platform had only recently reached its first full year of operation when I wrote the review of 2018 products, it is now a well-established institution.

Compared to 2018, when some 44 titles with English-language content were released on the Repository, 2019 saw a marked increase in the number of releases. Some 75 English-language products were released during that year – 57 sold for a fixed fee, and another 18 released as either free downloads or Pay-What-You-Want titles. On top of that, the Repository has been embraced in a major way by fans who wish to release material in other languages (notably Polish and Korean).

While 75 Miskatonic Repository titles is clearly way too many to even list, let alone try to summarize, I’d like to nonetheless draw attention to a half-dozen noteworthy monographs that were released in 2019:

  • The Saltwater Inheritance by Mark Morrison: I would imagine most people reading this article have some notion of who Mark Morrison is – he’s one of a handful of writers whose 1990s scenarios created the foundation of what Call of Cthulhu is today. But nobody much would have seen the very first piece he ever wrote for the game – a submission to a “write a scenario to go with this map” competition run in White Dwarf in the early 80s. As the story goes, Mark didn’t win the competition (he came second), but even the fact that he could take a map clearly designed to work with 1980s hexcrawl fantasy RPGs and spin it up into a 1920s scenario of Lovecraftian investigation is pretty impressive. This Miskatonic Repository release reproduces the text of the original 1980s submission, with a nice new version of the original map.
  • Of Wrath and Blood by Jon Hook: The most played Call of Cthulhu scenario of all time is no doubt “The Haunting” (aka “The Haunted House”), the introductory scenario included with the 2nd through 6th editions of the rules, and in the 7th Edition Quickstart Rules. Despite the fact that this famous scenario is peppered with hooks to inspire follow-on stories, almost no published material has picked up on any of those threads. One notable exception to this is the scenario in this monograph, which is a direct sequel to the events of “The Haunting.” The scenario was actually written back in 2010 as a submission to a competition run on Yog-Sothoth.com (where it also won second prize, sheesh what is it with these silver medallists and Repository republications?).
  • A Lark in a Cage by Noah Lloyd: This scenario, set in Gaslight London, was written by one half of the crew responsible for the long-running blog reckoningofthedead.com (described earlier). The adventure touches on a number of interesting facets of the 1890s era, from the hubris of science to the grand expansion of public works. And, of course, throws in the Mythos as a complicating factor to all that. What starts as a simple request to locate a missing child takes a left turn, placing the investigators in the midst of intrigue between two powerful but invisible factions at work in London. This title also has some rather nice book design and excellent maps to accompany the scenario.
  • The Solo Investigator’s Handbook by Paul Bimler: Have you ever found yourself wanting to play a Lovecraftian investigative scenario but there’s nobody around to game with? While you could solve this problem with one of the solo scenarios published by Chaosium over the years, you could alternatively use this Miskatonic Repository title to improvise a solo Cthulhuoid scenario on-the-fly. Working by a table-driven process (and your own imagination to extrapolate based on what you roll), it’s possible to spin up an entire adventure without ever needing a Keeper to drip-feed you horrific encounters and clues. While technically the system presented in this book is geared to Call of Cthulhu, it could really be used with any investigative horror scenario (just ignore/replace stats in the few places where they are mentioned). While this kind of approach won’t ever surpass the social experience of a Keeper-led game, it could definitely get you out there and investigating the Unknowable when there’s nobody else around to run a game.
  • Five Faces of Fear by Faceless Publishing: This 162-page title was probably the largest book released on the Miskatonic Repository in 2019. It contains five full scenarios, each written by a different writer (all of them Irish authors who’ve previously designed games for conventions). A couple of the scenarios are also set in modern-day Ireland, but others are placed elsewhere in geography and time – there’s a scenario set in Cape Town, another in Liverpool, and one set in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. What’s great about this book is the diverse range of ideas that are peppered through the five scenarios, and the community approach these different writers took to creating the book. If you’re sick of running scenarios set in traditional Lovecraftian locales and situations, some of the scenarios in here might make a great break.
  • A Balance of Blood by Matthew Puccio: It’s not common to see Cthulhu Invictus scenarios turn up on the Repository, and this one is a good one. Set in Armenia, on the far eastern fringe of the Roman Empire, the players take on the roles of members of a Roman delegation sent to meet with the commander of all Armenia’s armies. All is not well in his household, and soon a simple mission turns into something infinitely more bizarre and dangerous.
  • Other Honourable Mentions: as well as the books mentioned above, the following Miskatonic Repository titles struck me as notable for one reason or another – “Dark Offerings” by Rob Leigh, “My Guardian Monster” by Danial Carroll, “Fever: Death Toll” by G.A. Patrick, “Taming the Waterwolf” by Arjen Poutsma, “The Second Amphora” by Entente Cthulhiana, “We Are All Savages” by William Adcock, and “The Unbearable Likeness” (the first Fox Country release, described in the Stygian Fox section previously).

CthuReview 2019 will return … in part 4

The CthuReview has already covered a whole bunch of 2019 releases … so what’s left, you might ask? Well, a lot of stuff as it turns out — everything Lovecraftian that doesn’t come from the family tree rooted in d100/BRP/Call of Cthulhu. While it’s hard to be exhaustive in tracking down all such items … we will give it a crack in our final installment of the 2019 Review. Check back tomorrow and see if we survive with our sanity intact (ha!).


Pages From the Bayt, part 2

Yesterday we posted the first part of the CthuReview 2019 which first appeared in the pages of the most-excellent Bayt al Azif #3. The initial section surveyed all Chaosium releases for the Call of Cthulhu RPG released in the 2019 calendar year … today we venture onwards to explore releases by Call of Cthulhu licensees. We also (briefly) look at Magazine releases for the year and some amateur Lovecraftian RPG publications.

Call of Cthulhu Licensees

In addition to publishing its own supplements for the Call of Cthulhu game, Chaosium licenses a handful of other companies to create content for the game. As described in previous years’ CthuReviews the ranks of licensees has thinned a little in recent times but it’s still true that these companies serve a very important function – namely, providing a steady stream of new titles even at times when Chaosium itself is busy with large projects (as in 2018).

In 2019, three Chaosium licensees produced new products – Stygian Fox, Golden Goblin, and Sons of the Singularity. Modiphius technically also released licensed material, in the form of re-released 7th Edition-compatible versions of the Achtung! Cthulhu Investigator and Keeper guides (also publishing a PDF scenario, “Under The Gun” to go along with this re-launch).

Stygian Fox

Easily the most prolific of the licensees in 2019 was Stygian Fox, who released ten titles. To a large extent this expanded volume of titles was a consequence of the company’s major change of direction mid-year. Previously, Stygian Fox (like most other Call of Cthulhu licensees) had relied heavily on Kickstarter as the means of raising funds to create new books. For a variety of reasons Stygian found themselves in mid-2019 without the ability to continue running more Kickstarter campaigns, but the need to keep earning income, nonetheless. Their solutions was to create a Patreon which releases new supplements to backers every month … and after a delay, also releases the same material for general sale on DriveThruRPG.

New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, 2nd Edition

One major (non-Patreon) milestone achieved by Stygian Fox in 2019 was the partial completion of their Kickstarter for New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, 2nd Edition. The PDF version of this book – which is a reprint and expansion of a title by Miskatonic River Press – came out very late in 2019; at the time of writing the print version is still forthcoming. New Tales, in its MRP incarnation, was widely heralded as a milestone book in terms of its well-written scenarios. The Stygian version keeps all those unchanged, adding one new scenario – an Innsmouth-based tale written by Seth Skorkowsky.

All the illustrations, maps, handouts, and general look-and-feel have been updated to reflect the very high quality of graphic design which is typical of Stygian Fox books. In all fairness I should point out that the handouts for this book were contributed by yours truly (so I am not entirely unbiased in my assessment), but regardless I think that the book really is one of the more beautiful Call of Cthulhu titles in recent years.

Also noteworthy in this re-release are the all-new redrawn maps of each of the Lovecraft Country locations. These are more than simply recreations of old maps; almost all of them enhance the level of detail mapped out for their respective locations, adding to the collaborative world-building that has defined the game setting.  

Aspirations

Another Kickstarter backer that was completed by Stygian Fox in 2019 was the delivery of Aspirations, a PDF-only book unlocked as a stretch goal during the campaign for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. This add-on was the final component of the FSLN campaign. It is a 44-page book which contains nine further “needles”, or short mini-scenarios, in roughly the same format as those in the main Kickstarted book.

Patreon Releases

The remaining eight 2019 releases from Stygian were all made after the company’s change of direction; most were titles which debuted on Patreon and were later released as licensed PDF-only titles via other channels.

The first such title was “The Unbearable Likeness” (actually released not as a licensed product but as a title on the Miskatonic Repository; see a later section of the CthuReview 2019). This book established a new product-line for Stygian, the so-called “Fox Country” books. “Unbearable Likeness” is a modern-day scenario by Simon Brake which sees small-time criminals stumble into sinister things best left unexplored. By monograph standards, its layout and graphic design is extremely good – on par with everything else that has previously been (commercially) released by Stygian.

After the initial experiment with the Repository as a release vehicle, the subsequent seven titles were all released as fully-licensed PDFs, individually approved by Chaosium:

  • Fox Country #2: The Dark Forest – another modern-day scenario, this time written by Chitin Proctor, which unfolds in a remote part of Michigan. This is definitely a “mature audience” type of title, and also one that’s relatively lengthy (although the PDF’s page-count of 74 is as much an artefact of the sparseness of the layout and the numerous colour illustrations).
  • Fox Country #3: Autophagia – is a classic 1920s-era scenario written by Tyler Omichinski and set entirely aboard a luxurious cruise ship stuck in quarantine in New York Harbor. Shortish but with generally nice production values.
  • Fox Country #4: Nakuko – is a scenario by Glynn Owen Barrass, set in the 1990s Japanese setting created by Chaosium in their venerable Secrets of Japan (and never subsequently developed). Another shortish title which shares more than a little common DNA with any number of J-Horror films.
  • Fox Country #5: Nightmare on the Necropolis Express – has a title that could only suggest a Gaslight London setting. The scenario is once again by Glynn Owen Barrass, and while the production values aren’t quite up to preceding titles, any scenario set on London’s notorious railway for the dead is going to have atmosphere. 
  • Fox Country #6: Thorston, The Shunned Town On The Dee – is another Gaslight title, this time written by Robert Grayston. Set in a part of the world not far from Stygian Fox HQ, this scenario has more than a little intriguing local colour (and ghouls!).
  • Fox Country #7: I Want To Play – represents another modern-day title, this time written by the (ever-excellent) Adam Gauntlett. Like many Stygian titles, it has some mature themes in the form of people-smuggling. It also has some inventive horrors involving children’s toys. Probably my favourite of these Patreon scenarios.

Aside from these, Stygian also published another PDF providing a new scenario for their Gaslight setting, Hudson & Brand. That title was “Eyes Like Red Balls Of Flame” by Glynn Owen Barrass. This short investigation centres upon the mysterious figure known as “Spring-Heeled Jack.” This PDF also has a few handouts supplied by yours truly.

Golden Goblin

In recent years, Golden Goblin has been one of the more reliable licensees when it comes to delivering Kickstarter-funded products somewhat on time. In 2019 they continued their steady pace of releases, releasing three books – two stretch-goal “add-on” books for 2018 titles and one brand new title. Golden Goblin also ran two new Kickstarters (described in a later section of this article).

Fronti Nulla Fides

One of the landmark releases by Golden Goblin in recent years is its 7th Edition Guide to Cthulhu Invictus (covered in CthuReview 2018). As with many Kickstarted projects, this one included a stretch goal for an extra book of scenarios. With the release of Fronti Nulla Fides (No Faith in Appearances), Golden Goblin fulfilled that obligation and closed out the Kickstarter. The book was released in both print and PDF and contains five shortish scenarios which take place in different (mostly far-flung) corners of the Roman Empire.

For an “add-on” book, the writing in Fronti is of a high quality and the general production value is on-par with everything Golden Goblin produces. Of particular note in this collection are the scenarios by Jeff Moeller (taking characters to a remote location in East Africa), and that of Charles Gerard (set entirely on a ship sailing the Mediterranean between Cyprus and Crete, and featuring a rather unusual Mythos entity).

Riding the Northbound

As with the preceding, Riding the Northbound is an “add-on” book whose release finished fulfilment for an earlier-year’s Kickstarter. This time the Kickstarter was that for Cold Warning (mentioned in CthuReview 2017), and the release of this final piece was obviously somewhat delayed. However, the finished book is an intriguing title, presenting a scenario where the players take on the roles of some rather unusual 1920s characters – hobos who “ride the rails.” The set-up to the adventure is equally unorthodox – the player hobos are travelling to the wedding of one of their hobo friends who has won the hand of a wealthy lady – and the Mythos twist is also something a little out-of-the-ordinary. Despite being delivered late, this one was worth the wait.

Tails of Valor

Back in 2018, Golden Goblin ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Tails of Valor, a book of scenarios allowing players to take on the roles of cat investigators in three different historical eras. This was intended to build on the Cathulhu setting published back in 2014 by Sixtystone Press (not to be confused with “Call of Catthulhu” which is a separate non-d100 system of feline Mythos investigation). One wrinkle was that the Sixtystone title was designed as an adjunct to the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition rules, and licensees are obliged to only release new material for the current 7th Edition.

This occasioned some creation of notes for translating the rules of Cathulhu to work in 7th Edition (and also for the Cathulhu character sheet designed by yours truly to be redesigned).

Golden Goblin released Tails of Valor in PDF and print late in 2019. As advertised the 80-page book contains cat-based adventures set in Ancient Egypt (written by Stuart Boon), Ancient Rome (Jeff Moeller), and Dark Ages France (Oscar Rios). As well as the scenarios, the book contains some sinister seeds for each of the three time periods, an organisation of Lovecraft Country cat investigators, and lots and lots of photos of cats.  

The Sassoon Files (Sons of the Singularity)

The most recent addition to the list of Chaosium licensees is Sons of the Singularity, whose successful Kickstarter campaign for The Sassoon Files was run late in 2018. The premise of this title was to create a linked series of scenarios set in and around 1920s Shanghai, with additional period and cultural authenticity coming from the fact that several of the Singularity team are themselves based in China or surrounding nations. This book encountered more than its fair share of production problems – not many game books need to contend with having to reprint the full run of books because the originals were seized and destroyed by the Chinese government.

But after weathering those delays, The Sassoon Files was successfully released in 2019. It largely delivers on the promises of a captivating and rich portrayal of twenties Shanghai. A little like Chaosium’s Berlin book, this title contains a lot of material to help those unacquainted with the social and political challenges facing Shanghai in this (pre-communist) era. Overall this is pretty well done, and the four scenarios feature a good variety of challenges for investigators (even if the writing and editing feels a bit creaky at times).

An oddity of this book is that it’s designed for use with either Call of Cthulhu or Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu. The format of the scenario takes more cues from Trail adventures, which are structured as a discrete set of scenes and linking clues – if you’re unfamiliar with that style, the scenarios in Sassoon might feel a little oddly structured. Another curious feature of this book is its unconventional assertion of the relationship between two established Cthulhu Mythos entities – describing Y’Golonac as an avatar of Nyarlathotep. I suppose the Mythos is inherently uncategorizable, so this linkage makes as much sense as any other, but might seem a little odd to purists.

As with many Kickstarters, the Sassoon campaign unlocked an “add-on” book with a further scenario, titled Brother of Jesus. The publishers also managed to get this PDF-only title released in 2019. This 64-page scenario is entirely devoted to the titular scenario which is presented in an identical (CoC + ToC) format to those in the main Sassoon Files book.

Magazines and Amateur Publications

As well as Chaosium’s releases and those of its licensees, smaller-scale publishing for Call of Cthulhu content also continued in 2019 in the form of magazine publications and amateur press.

Of the magazine published during the year, Bayt al-Azif Issue #2 was the most substantial, weighing in at over 100 full-size pages. It feels a bit meta to review the contents of a magazine within the pages of the same magazine, but if you’re reading this and don’t already own a copy of Issue #2, you should definitely consider remediating that. I’m not just saying that because my CthuReview 2018 is in it – it also has some great scenarios, interviews, and general articles on playing Lovecraftian RPGs.

Sadly, neither of the other two major Lovecraft-related gaming magazines – The Unspeakable Oath and the Arkham Gazette – released an issue in 2019.

One notable magazine release for 2019, that also qualifies as amateur press publication, was Hypergraphia Issue #2. This is a fanzine-style publication that is often produced to sell at the NecronomiCon convention in Providence, put together by a network of creative folks loosely affiliated with by the Miskatonic Uni Podcast, Skype of Cthulhu, and Weird Works collective. Since I was, for the first time, able to get to Providence for the 2019 NecronomiCon (see my three-part convention review on the Cthulhu Reborn blog), I was eager to pick up the new issue of this ‘zine. I was glad that I did: despite being an ‘amateur’ publication, the quality and diversity of the contents is pretty impressive.

There’s also a great scenario in the back, which I was even fortunate enough to play through with the writer, Anthony Lee-Dudley, at the convention.

In terms of other amateur game publications, it’s hard to keep track of everything that gets released in a year. One thing I can reliably say is that Cthulhu Reborn (my blog-and-sometimes-publishing-imprint) put out four PDF titles, namely:

Cthulhu Reborn also created physical versions of the large Dateline newspaper prop and associated guidebook.

In a similar vein, the good folks at Reckoning of the Dead (Noah Lloyd and Matt Ryan) put out a dozen One Page Scenarios of Lovecraft-inspired horror over on reckoningofthedead.com. They also released a new title on the Miskatonic Repository, the Gaslight scenario “A Lark In A Cage” (see later).

CthuReview 2019 will return … in part 3

So far, the focus of this review has mostly been on titles supporting Call of Cthulhu … but that is certainly not the only Lovecraftian RPG for which great products were released in 2019. In the next section of CthuReview 2019 we look at the Delta Green RPG as well as titles released by Pelgrane Press in support of GUMSHOE-fuelled Lovecraftian games. Join us tomorrow!


Pages From the Bayt, part 1

If you’re a fan of Lovecraftian RPGs, you might already know about the fantastic Bayt al Azif, a splendiferous magazine that has been going for the last few years. Recently, Bayt published its fourth issue (typically, at present, releasing a deluxe-sized issue once per year).

If Bayt al Azif is not already part of your collection, it’s something well worthy of your consideration — each issue presents a carefully curated blend of gaming scenarios (of course), source material drawn from history or mythology, interviews with industry titans, practical articles about Lovecraftian gaming and conventions, and “year in review” product summaries.

In relation to the latter, I must confess that I am the guilty author/compiler of the lengthy annual reviews: so far I’ve contributed one to each of the first four issues. Issue 1 featured my summary of every Lovecraftian title released in 2017; Issues 2, 3, and 4 have followed with reviews of 2018, 2019, and 2020 releases.

In addition to publishing a fantastic gaming magazine, the editorial staff of Bayt al Azif are also supremely wonderful and community-minded folks. That is, no doubt, why my recent inquiry about whether it would be ok to reprint my last two CthuReview articles here on the blog, was met with a generous response of “sure, why not.”

So … with that kind permission granted, I’ve decided to start by serializing my review of all Lovecraftian gaming products released in 2019. The full article spans to a little over 10,000 words … and bear in mind it was written in early 2020 for publication in Bayt al Azif #3.

Introduction to the CthuReview 2019

There’s no denying that in last decade or so the influence of Lovecraftian cosmic horror has seeped into a vast array of different roleplaying games, worlds, and adventures. Some have said that trying to keep track of everything that has been influenced by that delightfully horrific taint is a fool’s errand. For the past few years, I have been that fool – trying to summarize the diversity of Lovecraftian tabletop RPG products from each year’s releases.

The good news is … I still haven’t come to my senses, so here I am penning a summary of Cthulhu RPGs in the year that was 2019.

Chaosium

Moon Design Publications (d/b/a Chaosium Inc.) remain the most visible publishers of Lovecraftian roleplaying products, their venerable Call of Cthulhu game now 40 years old. In 2019, Chaosium released three substantial hardback book titles as well as another six smaller releases. They also ran a four-part campaign via their “organized play” program

Compared to the past couple of years, Chaosium’s output was less voluminous both in terms of total pages and total books but covered a nice diversity of material. There were none of the “blockbuster” titles that have been the staple of the line in recent years, but a steady line of generally solid books.

Berlin: The Wicked City

Probably the most notable Chaosium Call of Cthulhu release of 2019 – certainly the most commented upon – was David Larkin’s sourcebook and scenario collection Berlin: The Wicked City. This is a curious title for current-day Chaosium to publish, albeit quite a welcome change. It provides a detailed and rather lurid portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, complete with its sleezy nightlife, murky politics, and licentious freedoms of sexual expression. While not many people would otherwise consider cabaret-infused Weimar Republic Germany as a setting for their Call of Cthulhu game, this book does a great job at showing the merits of such a choice.

The book presents a lot of background to the several different facet, regions, and ideologies that a Keeper might like to weave into his or her Berlin-based scenario or campaign. This includes the murky politics surrounding the rise of the Nazi party. Not since the days of Gary Gygax’s 1st Edition DMG have I seen so many different terms for ‘prostitute’ grace the pages of an RPG book. But unlike many low-brow game books, the inclusion of such detail really is an essential part of the fabric of the setting … and it’s a topic, along with others such as non-traditional sexualities, that’s handled in a generally very sensitive manner in this book.

Many have also commented that Berlin: The Wicked City has one of the best cover illustrations of any recent Chaosium title, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. As a bold and brave approach to familiarizing readers with a setting that few would have previously encountered, this book deserves the praise it’s received. Whether it’s something you need for your game will depend ultimately on whether your tales of Lovecraftian horror are likely to venture onto The Continent and into the infamous heart of its vice capital.

Shadows Over Stillwater

Back in 2017, Chaosium released Kevin Ross’ impressive “Lovecraftian Western” setting Down Darker Trails, a nicely-balanced fusion of Mythos horror and lovingly-researched rendition of the American West. Shadows Over Stillwater represents the first follow-up book to this new Call of Cthulhu setting. Within its pages may be found four detailed scenarios – the first three linked to form a sequential mini-campaign – plus a standalone description of a further Western town for the Keeper to drop in to his or her own game. There’s a nice amount of variety in the scenarios featured in this book, with some traditional horrors as well as some genre-crossing that affords some intriguing twists on the familiar.

If you already own Down Darker Trails, this volume definitely offers some great extra material to help expand out your Cthulhu Western games. The book itself is not without a few flaws, however. The chief among these is the disparity between the tone of the written material and many of the illustrations and supporting text. While the core scenario writing seems to be aiming at a measured approach towards fusing the Mythos with the historical setting, the optional “Pulp Cthulhu” boxes amp up the pulpiness not just by a little, but by a lot. This is reinforced by virtually all the colour illustrations (but strangely, not the B&W art) which aims for a cartoonish look. The end result is that Shadows Over Stillwater feels like a book which is at war with itself about what exactly it wishes to be. On the plus side, this means that in the hands of the Keeper its scenarios can easily be great Call of Cthulhu games or great Pulp Cthulhu games.

A Cold Fire Within

The third of Chaosium’s hardcover Call of Cthulhu titles for 2019 was the Pulp campaign A Cold Fire Within, written by Christopher Smith Adair. Unlike the preceding, this book definitely is not aiming to have a foot in both the CoC and Pulp camp – it has two feet firmly in the latter, and probably both arms, and an extraneous pseudopod as well. This five-chapter campaign (plus an optional floating time-travelling interlude chapter) is an entertaining rollercoaster which takes Pulp heroes through locations mundane and remarkable. There’s an extended visit to some famous Mythos locales thrown in for good measure as well (it’s hard to be any more specific than that without introducing spoilers). As well as all this fast-moving supernatural color and motion, there are also ample opportunities to go toe-to-toe with NPC bad-guys, which gives the Keeper a broad palette of challenges mundane and supernatural to throw at the players.

The obvious comparison for A Cold Fire Within is the previous Chaosium Pulp campaign, The Two-Headed Serpent. While both similarly pulpy in their outlook, they’re otherwise quite different – Cold Fire is much less of an exercise in ‘globe-trotting’ than its predecessor and the chapters generally bind together more closely to produce a more consistent long-form narrative. The newer campaign does feel somewhat shorter, however, which is perhaps a consequence of its structure as a linear(-ish) sequence of adventures. Overall, however, I’d probably pick A Cold Fire Within as the better Pulp campaign.

Gateways to Terror

A notable focus for Chaosium in recent years has been creating pathways to bring brand new players to Call of Cthulhu. Two of the main areas they’ve focussed on are products specially designed for people new to the game, and super-short demonstration games to be run at conventions.

Gateways to Terror is a book that is firmly at the intersection of these two – it’s a collection of three one-hour convention/demo games brushed up to publication standard. The purpose behind this release would seem to be two-fold: supporting new gamers, and providing Keepers with ultra-short games that can be slotted into gaps at short notice. The short “one night” format has been (very briefly) tried before for Call of Cthulhu with the “Fright Night” releases in the 1990s, but the scenarios in Gateways to Terror are even briefer than those.

For what they are, these new scenarios are reasonable enough, ticking all the boxes for easy-to-run drop-in scenarios. Gateways to Terror was a title that many suspected was destined to be a PDF-only title, a print version not becoming apparent for many months after the electronic version’s release. A print version did, eventually, materialize.

The Shadow Over Providence

The biennial NecronomiCon convention in Providence is a highlight in the Cthulhu literary and gaming calendar. For the 2019 convention, Chaosium decided to commission and release a short scenario – this was The Shadow Over Providence by Jon Hook. The scenario premiered at the convention, both in terms of being run by Jon at the gaming tables and also being sold by Chaosium in the vendor hall. One of the novel things about Jon’s scenario is that it is set in and around (a fictionalized version of) the beautiful art deco Biltmore Hotel (currently called the Graduate). This delightful 1920s building is the very epicentre of the con, and a location visited a few times by Lovecraft during his life.

As a booklet, Shadow Over Providence is a slim saddle-stapled affair: its scenario is relatively brief yet not without appeal, especially if you’ve visited some of the downtown Providence locations referenced.

Dead Light and Other Dark Turns

A rather unexpected title put out by Chaosium in 2019 was the republished and repackaged edition of “Dead Light”. This scenario has a slightly unusual publication history – being released in slim standalone booklet format as a special gift to backers of the oft-delayed Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter. That original publication (CHA23132) was, one presumes, exclusive to backers – hence perhaps a reason to re-release the scenario six years later in a different format. This time around, the book (CHA23159) has a much bigger pagecount and “Dead Light” is accompanied by a second scenario, Matthew Sanderson’s “Saturnine Chalice”, as well as a selection of story seeds and a hefty collection of player handouts and maps.

Alone Against The Frost

In recent years, Chaosium have re-released all of its old solo Call of Cthulhu scenarios (most of them originally dating to the very earliest days of the game). In 2019 it was the turn of 1985’s “Alone Against The Wendigo” to receive the update and re-release treatment. Chaosium decided to change its title to “Alone Against The Frost” – the text describes this as a move to correct the previous cultural misappropriation of a creature from indigenous mythology.

The Lightless Beacon: When the Lights Went Out

In 2019, Chaosium paused in October to mark the first anniversary of the death of its co-founder Greg Stafford (best known as the imaginative spark behind Glorantha, and extensive work on Runequest and Pendragon). For the occasion, the company released a free PDF-only title for each of its games. The Call of Cthulhu title was The Lightless Beacon, a short convention-style scenario.

Organized Play: Flotsam and Jetsam

Back in 2018, Chaosium kicked off its Organized Play program by releasing a multi-part campaign called “A Time To Harvest”, making a new chapter available free to registered Keepers each month. The program returned in 2019 with a four-part mini-campaign called “Flotsam and Jetsam.” The four individual chapters were “The Star Brothers” by Brian Courtemanche, “Inheritance” by Matthew Dawkins, “Insanitarium” by Anthony Lee-Dudley, and “On the Banks of the Ohio” by Glyn White. Signing up to the Chaosium organized play program is currently free of charge.

CthuReview 2019 will return … in part 2

Chaosium’s contributions were just PART of an amazing year of Lovecraftian Tabletop RPG releases: there were also great titles published by Call of Cthulhu Licensees, by Pelgrane Press, by Arc Dream (for the Delta Green RPG) and for a diversity of other disparate game systems. Join us for part 2 tomorrow where we begin to unpack all that great stuff.


Armageddons Are Non-Fungible, part 3

Over the past couple of days we have been sharing some of the winning entries in our recent “Nyarlathotep’s Favorite Things” competition (aka that thing where we asked people to invent cool Post-Apocalypse settings brought about by NFTs and the Cthulhu Mythos).

Today we are THRILLED to be presenting the entry by Alonso Aguilar that our judges awarded FIRST PLACE. For his troubles, we’ve sent Alonso two hardback books — a copy of the APOCTHULHU Core Rulebook and a copy of its scenario anthology companion Terrible New Worlds.

We hope you enjoy Alonso’s entry (reproduced below in full) as much as we did! If you’d like to turn it into a setting for your own game of dystopian Post-Apocalyptic horror …? Heck, we won’t stop you!

The NFT Apocalypse … by Alonso Aguilar

There’s an auction happening. Nobody really knows what exactly is being offered, but that hasn’t been a problem before. The site does seem a little bit shady, at least for these kind things. A bidding form and an Ethereum value constantly going up.

Nobody really knows what the initial asking price was. Everyone that’s in this mentions a different sum. Some started bidding a week ago, some a month ago. Some even say they’ve been bidding for a year. But no one can stop. The thrill that comes from submitting that bid is like something no one has experienced before. Goosebumps, orgasm, a chill down your spine, the sensation of a spontaneous decline on a dodgy roller coaster… All happening at the same time. A brief epiphany of pure, unadulterated joy rapidly vanished by someone outbidding almost immediately.

Everyone I know is a part of this now. We haven’t gone out in weeks, waiting for the perfect moment for the final scoop. We take turns looking at the screen, omnipresent in its reddish glow. It isn’t a question of wanting, it’s a necessity. Something primal, even.

Lately we’ve heard some tremors coming from behind the door, but nobody I’ve spoken to knows what’s really going on. The news occasionally pop in the background with mumbles about “insurmountable damage” and “creaking from the skies”, “a worldwide phenomenon” and “the end of the social contract”. Nobody really knows anything about that, we’ve got bigger things to worry about.

The number of bids is now in the billions. The tremors have increased, and protests have started outside. I can hear their howls and hollerings beyond the door. Some of the other bidders have succumbed to the outcry, but that just means a better chance for the rest of us.


Armageddons Are Non-Fungible, part 2

Yesterday we shared the third-place entry in our recent competition to describe a dystopian future which somehow arose through the combination of cosmic Cthulhoid horrors and Non-Fungible Tokens.

Second place in the contest went to long-time friend of the Cthulhu Reborn blog, Tyler Hudak, who submitted an intriguing take on the NFT-Apocalypse (his entry is below). For his troubles, we sent Tyler a hardback copy of Terrible New Worlds, our first scenario anthology for the APOCTHULHU RPG.

We hope you enjoy Tyler’s nightmare vision of the future … who knows, you might even want to run a game there …

The NFT Apocalypse … by Tyler Hudak

In late 2021, the world was introduced to Ingress, a new blockchain that used one-tenth of the power needed by other blockchains. This allowed anyone to run the Ingress program, on any system, anywhere.

Ingress also allowed runners to automatically create unique images, or NFTs, iterating toward a final perfect image. Ingress founders stated that the runner who created the final image would win millions of dollars. People joined into teams, jokingly calling themselves “cults”, to run Ingress on devices worldwide.

In reality, Ingress was casting a ritual. When the program was run, a spell was cast that claimed a piece of the runner’s soul into the blockchain. The more souls taken by Ingress, the closer it came to its final goal – opening a gate to allow the Great Old One, V’ev’anox, to enter this world.

When the final image was created, the ritual completed and the gate was opened through the runners themselves. 70% of the world’s population were immediately consumed by the ritual. Another 20% were shortly destroyed by V’ev’anox and its unspeakable minions.

Years later, many attempt to survive but deal with warring cults and the indescribable horrors brought through the gate. Insane runners that survived the ritual continued their cults and took over power centers to run Ingress, keep the gate open, and V’ev’anox in this world. Non-runners have acquiesced to these cults and joined them to survive and keep their power on.

The cults are power hungry and hunt down those with any type of energy. To stay hidden from these cults, some communities have reverted to pre-industrial revolution ways. Other survivors, however, work to find a way to stop Ingress, free those trapped in the blockchain, close the gate, and return the world to humanity.


Armageddons Are Non-Fungible, part 1

Recently we ran a competition asking folks to pitch us their ideas for a Mythos-fuelled Apocalypse which somehow involved those real-world modern-day horrors: Non-Fungible Tokens.

Our judges were incredibly impressed by the diverse and imaginative entries we received; picking a pair of winners for the hardback books was certainly quite a challenge.

Narrowly missing out on the first and second prize was the entry below, submitted by Aaron Sinner. As a thank you, we decided to create a third prize (a PDF of the APOCTHULHU Core Rulebook) and award that to Aaron for his fine work!

We will be sharing the first and second place entries over the coming days … in the meantime, congratulations Aaron!

The NFT Apocalypse … by Aaron Sinner

The near future: Crypto enthusiast Valentin Dyatlov develops a computer virus engineered to wreak havoc upon the global financial sector, wiping out balances and mucking up records in order to demonstrate the folly of a centralized banking system. The ensuing distrust in financial institutions leads the populace to abandon banks en masse, moving their money into decentralized blockchain-based cryptocurrencies. Bank runs cause the implosion of major financial institutions, marking a point of no return.

Like the proverbial dog that caught the car, this mass migration to cryptocurrency poisons the system. Individuals shift their finances between different decentralized cryptocurrencies, chasing The New Hotness as they strive to become early adopters and capture the greatest financial reward. Rampant cycling between currencies creates substantial volatility in personal wealth —everyone’s personal fortunes are driven by precisely when they cash in and out of any particular currency.

The real consequence, however, is that the energy consumption required to sustain these decentralized currency networks is eating the planet. Energy costs soar, destabilizing the electrical grid and leading to rolling blackouts. Astronomical gas fees on every transaction grind commerce to a halt.

Into this wasteland enters the Mythos. Shoggoths leave the frozen wastes of Antarctica and exploit the blackouts, migrating under cover of darkness. Cults emerge worshipping The God of the Green Flame, a deity its devotees claim can provide ample energy in a world of power scarcity. No one is certain as to the veracity of their claims—and if true, what unintended consequences summoning The Green Flame might bring, or terms might undergird this devil’s bargain.

Mystery surrounds the fate of Valentin Dyatlov and his culpability in the world he created. Is he a misguided fanatic who unleashed a future he never envisioned? An unwitting stooge to greater forces? Or the mastermind behind this new world order?


Just Say It In Broken Aklo

Today we are pleased to announce the release of the FOURTH in our line of Cthulhu Eternal SRDs. This one covers the “Cold War Era”, broadly the period from the end of WW2 to the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. This is a period which some of us creakier old gamers remember quite well … perhaps with a sense of nostalgia, or perhaps with memories of the pervasive sense the world might just teeter into World War III.

The Cold War period is a time ripe for inserting cosmic horror. The world is already living in fear of imminent nuclear annihilation. The geopolitical situation throughout the world is one of paranoia, with nations using subterfuge to fight “proxy wars” and accusing their opponents of rampant spying. Into that brew of distrust, fear, and deception it is easy to sow the seeds of Mythos horror. Whether they are trained intelligence operatives digging to find the truth or everyday people stumbling onto it, it is easy to find ways for Protagonists to learn hints of the true history mankind wasn’t meant to know and can never comprehend.

Cthulhu Eternal Cold War Character Sheet

In preparing the Cthulhu Eternal Cold War SRD we’ve tried to keep things open enough that you COULD use these rules to make an espionage-thriller type of Cold War game, or you could dispense with all the cloak-and-dagger stuff and just go for some nostalgic 80s (or 70s or 60s or 50s) genre emulation. As with all these SRDs, the foundations are there, what you build on them is your call.

The Cthulhu Eternal Cold War SRD is available for download right now — as with all these titles, we’ve made it a free/Pay-What-You-Want release. Pick it up and use it to launch your gaming group back to the heady decades of the recent past … whether as shadowy spies in search of dangerous Mythos incursions, or just everyday folks caught up in things they cannot possibly fully understand …

“The air attack warning sounds like / this is the sound …”


Nyarlathotep’s Favorite Things

There’s been a lot of interesting debate in recent days on various online platforms about the role of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) in tabletop RPGs. This has all been spurred by news that one of the traditionally largest publishers of Lovecraftian RPGs reportedly has ambitions to capitalize upon this technology to help fund their business model. If you haven’t seen the lively conversation — these Reddit threads give you a good sample: thread one, thread two, thread three, thread four.

Now, while we have our own very strongly-held views on NFTs (we would never touch them, not even with a large bhole), we figure that you folks don’t read this blog to hear about our position on finance technology and the social and environmental ills particular schemes generate. So, we won’t be using this forum to discuss or debate the topic.

However, as publishers of an RPG of Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraftian horror, a few of the comments dropped casually into the Reddit comments got us to thinking … is there a way to turn this whole topic into a creative resource? Is there SOME way in which NFTs, in some foul conjunction with one of the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos actually brings about a literal Apocalypse? I don’t know about you, but that feels like a cool (and topical) game that I’d love to play.

We are all connected; that’s good, right?

Rather than try to dream up one set of ideas (based on our own limited imaginations), we thought it might be a lot more fun to solicit ideas from all of you fine readers. And to incentivise folks to put some of their precious time to sharing their cool ideas, we’ve decided to offer a couple of hardcover print editions of our APOCTHULHU books as rewards for the best ideas.

Yes, that’s right … I think I am announcing a competition!

“Imagine there’s an NFT or Crypto Apocalypse” Contest

Here are the important details:

  • What do you have to do? Just describe a Post-Apocalytic setting where some combination of NFTs/Cryptocurrency and the Cthulhu Mythos (not necessarily working in collaboration), brought the downfall of civilization. What terrifying forces now rule the planet? What groups of survivors eke out a tenuous living amid the rampaging horrors? Can they still access their Crypto wallets? There’s no need to include game stats, just your descriptive ideas.
  • How many words? To keep it easy for us to read everyone’s cool ideas, we’ll cap the submissions at 300 words (which is the same we ask for authors pitching ideas for our publications).
  • What are the prizes? For the idea that we think is the most evocative, creepy, and original we’ll happily reward the devious submitter two books: a hardback copy of the APOCTHULHU RPG (RRP US$41.95) and a hardback copy of Terrible New Worlds (RRP US$38.95). For the idea which is the most off-the-wall-crazy we’ll send the submitter one or the other of those books, whichever they prefer.
  • How to submit? You can either use the form at the bottom of this page to send ideas, or email them to contest [at] cthulhureborn.com.
  • How long do you have? We will keep submissions open until midnight UTC on Tuesday, March 15 (the Ides of March)
  • What about ownership of ideas etc? You will retain ownership and copyright of all the content you submit to us, but by submitting it you’re also agreeing to us sharing some or all of your submission here on the blog. If we really like your idea, we reserve the right to work with you to develop it into a full-blown APOCTHULHU scenario for publication, but that would be via a separate paid arrangement that we’d sort out with you under our standard freelance contract.
  • Other random Ts & Cs: Winners will be judged by a panel of Cthulhu Reborn core contributors; after their decision is made, no correspondence will be entered into. Books will be sent to all winners with all shipping and other fees paid by us.

Submission Form


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