The King is Yellow. Long Live The King.

We are very VERY excited by the launch yesterday of the Kickstarter campaign for Pelgrane Press’ brand new Lovecraftian game, Yellow King RPG. This game sounds amazingly cool — not only is it written by Robin D. Laws, one of the most accomplished game designers in the tabletop RPG industry, but it draws upon one of the most intriguing and enigmatic corners of the Mythos. Comprising four main game books — one set in 1890s decadent Paris, one in an alternative reality WW2, one in an alternative reality 2017, and the last in a weird twist on OUR version of 2017.

But the thing that excites us MOST about the campaign is that we get to be a part of it — in addition to the four core books of Yellow King RPG, the campaign will also provide backers with a novel (written by Robin) and a sourcebook called “Absinthe in Carcosa”. This last volume will be made up of a bunch of pages designed to serve as weird inspirations and starting seeds for uncanny stories … and formatted as a kind of huge in-game prop, comprising replicas of pages from the personal notebook of an unfortunate 1890s artist whose encounters lead him on the slippery slope to truth, madness, and the horrible revelations of the Yellow King. And it is in the creation of these paste-up pages of rambling doom that we have been asked to help out. You can see, above and below, a couple of initial mockup pages we have made — based partly on the hideous imaginings of Robin — to demonstrate how the final sourcebook will appear.

We are really excited by the opportunity to work with Pelgrane again — they are a great company (and fantastic, friendly people too). We hope that their Kickstarter goes gangbusters. At the moment I write this, it’s already funded 300% and has crashed through five stretch goals … so it really does seem that there are many folks out there who really DO want to see the Yellow Sign. If you think you might be one of them … please consider backing Pelgrane’s campaign! The King will remember it when the time comes right.


Kickstarters of Note

We don’t usually use the Cthulhu Reborn blog as a vehicle to advertise people’s Kickstarters … but there are two pretty remarkable campaign happening now-ish that we’re willing to make an exception for.

The first is the already-massively-funded Kickstarter for Graham Walmsley’s super-light rule system Cthulhu Dark. As I write this the campaign is something like 850% funded with about four days still to go. Whether or not you’re interested in funding the KS, it’s still worth visiting the page just to watch the cool campaign video — I swear these things are getting more and more professional. Long-time readers of Cthulhu Reborn might remember that we interviewed Graham a few years back (with a short addendum), during which he spoke a lot about the realities of being a small-scale publisher. We are really thrilled to see his Kickstarter doing so well … and really do hope that the last few days keep the momentum moving quick enough to get to some of those enticing final stretch goals.

The second Kickstarter that I want to mention is … still some days away from launching (so I will need to be deliberately vague). All I will say at this stage is that recently I received a link to THIS strange twitter video. Make of it what you will 🙂 And watch that space.

From the Audient Void

Last week I posted here on Cthulhu Reborn, asking readers what they thought about some of the challenges and options facing small-scale publishers of Lovecraftian RPG material. Since then I have received rather a lot of feedback from a variety of different corners — it’s actually been quite insightful.

Because some of the same issues likely affect other small publishers — and people who are contemplating taking a future step into the world of publishing — I thought it might be useful to summarize some of the key points that readers have been mentioning in their feedback.

The Importance of Independence

Perhaps the most common piece of feedback we received was that readers place a huge amount of value on the fact that Cthulhu Reborn is an independent (albeit very small-scale) voice in the tapestry of Lovecraftian RPG publishing. Anything that moves us away from that position of independence, would risk Cthulhu Reborn becoming irrelevant to readers.

I guess this is not too surprising given that most players of Lovecraftian RPGs are well aware that there are several different publishers and products, each of which has its own distinctive take on “gamifying” the works of HPL, and in most cases a fairly healthy catalogue of published titles. If Cthulhu Reborn were publishing material that was exactly like any one of those existing publishers, people would naturally ask the question “why should I download your books when I could the same kind of thing from a well-established, large-scale publisher?” To be useful, we need to be doing something a little bit different — perhaps filling a slightly different niche.

This becomes more relevant in relation to fears voiced by a number of readers that hitching our wagon too much to Chaosium (e.g., by formally becoming a commercial licensee) might threaten that independence. I don’t honestly know whether it *would*, but there are certainly some people who are concerned that it might.

“Unearthed” by khantheripper (deviantart)

The Importance of Game Systems

One of the things I was most interested to get feedback about was how wedded our readers are to the Call of Cthulhu system, the game which we have (more-or-less) exclusively focussed to date. One thing I’m sure every game publisher fears is that a decision to support a slightly different system, or indeed release systemless material, might alienate their audience, leaving a lot of people behind.

I’ll be honest: I was half expecting the overwhelming response from readers to be “our group only plays Call of Cthulhu; if you shifted to other systems your material would be useless to us.” But that wasn’t what most people said. Instead what the vast majority of folks told us was that, for Lovecraftian games, they viewed the system as the *least* important part of the final product. If a scenario or setting is well-written, evocative, and has the requisite atmosphere, tone, and number of scares — people seem to be saying that they would be more than willing to do a bit of system conversion to use it with whatever game they ran for their group. I think that’s an interesting trend, and while not universal (there actually *were* a few people that told us they wouldn’t be able to use anything that didn’t have CoC statistics) it suggests to us that the choice of which system(s) to support is perhaps not as significant as we first thought.

“Nuclear” by Schistad (deviantart)

In terms of specific systems that people suggested we *could* consider if we were to (partially-or-fully) move away from Call of Cthulhu, there wasn’t a clear standout recommendation. Each of the following had some supporters:

  • Gumshoe / Trail of Cthulhu
  • The new Delta Green RPG (Arc Dream)
  • Savage World (“Realms of Cthulhu”)
  • Cthulhu Dark (whose glossy hardback edition is being Kickstarted right now)
  • The forthcoming “King in Yellow” RPG (Pelgrane)
  • Cakebread & Walton’s “Rennaisance” system (based on BRP)
  • GORE
  • Greg Stolze’s “Nemesis” system (based on Godlike)
  • Cthulhu d100 (currently only available in Spanish)
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess

A few folks (perhaps cheekily) suggested we could make our *own* system … but with all those to choose from, I’m not sure why we would want to go to that amount of trouble.

A World Beyond Systems

Interestingly, several people directed us to a handful of previous efforts that have been made to create systemless supplements for Lovecraftian games. While I was already aware of one (Gary Sumpter’s book “Tainted Legacies”) I wasn’t aware of other similar efforts which have more explicitly targetted multiple game systems via systems of more generic notations which can be easily translated into different systems. One of these is the “Dark Symbols” created by Brennen Reece and Graham Walmsley (and used for the generic scenario “Sukakpak” by Jason Morningstar, published in The Unspeakable Oath #21).

So, What Next?

We are still sifting through all the mountains of intriguing ideas and options that you, our faithful body of readers, have provided us. Some of the points that have come out of this exercise have already proven very insightful to us — and have changed our perception about what folks *want* from a small-scale publisher like Cthulhu Reborn.

There’s still some amount of pondering (not to mention reading up on various different licensing approaches used for different systems) to be done before we have a clear way forward … but, once we have a clear direction we will certainly share it with you. In the meantime, if you have any *further* insightful feedback — feel free to use the form below. I do feel, however, that you guys have already been extraordinarily generous with the feedback you’ve given us (so, thank you for that!)


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!).

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