Supplement Supplemental! (Redactings, Crawlings, and Harvestings)

Here’s another in my occasional series on game supplements which I read and have some thoughts on, but not enough thoughts for an entire article. This time I’ve got a slightly unfocused expansion for Wrath & Glory, a couple of issues of an old-school D&D zine, and a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

Redacted Records (Wrath & Glory)

This feels like an odd little grab-bag of material for the official Warhammer 40,000 RPG, a bit like the Archives of the Empire volumes offer grab-bags of material for 4th Edition WFRP. The cover and the back cover blurb make it seem like this is a space hulk-themed supplement – a sort of update of material from Ark of Lost Souls for Deathwatch – but this only covers about a third of this supplement’s content (and since the book is only about 100 pages long that’s not a lot). Other material includes more frameworks for your PC party, a brief chapter on unusual servitors, an overview of some cults from two of the worlds of the default setting of Wrath & Glory (the Gilead system), and the start of a greatly expanded Talent list. (Literally: it covers A-I, implying that there will be followup chapters in other books covering J-Z.)

The weird thing about the supplement is that much of this feels like it’s been chopped out of a larger body of work – as well as the J-Z sections of that additional talent list, you’d expect similar cult rundowns of the other worlds of the system to exist somewhere, for instance. Still, as a sort of half-supplement-half-magazine thing it’s not useless – but I feel like it should be presented as being Volume 1 of a series, like the first Archives of the Empire book was, because it’s very apparent that this is merely the first of a series of miscellanea-themed supplements with not much connecting theme.

Carcass Crawler Issues 1 and 2 (Old-School Essentials)

These are actually the second and third issues of Carcass Crawler; the first one was part of the second wave of Old-School Essentials Kickstarter products. Both magazines continue the same general approach established in that: present a bunch of useful optional rules and interesting treats for Old-School Essentials (which will therefore be entirely compatible with B/X Dungeons & Dragons and largely compatible with BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia D&D and OD&D), using the same high standard of layout as the core Old-School Essentials rules, with a presentation optimised for clarity and ease of reference at the game table.

In issue 1, a clutch of new classes are the big thing here – the mage was carried over from the Kickstarter-exclusive issue, and is joined by the acolyte, kineticist, gargantua, goblin, and “hephaestan” (read: Star Trek Vulcan). The latter three are character races, and so are presented both in the pre-Advanced D&D “race as class” format and in a more familiar “race and class are separate choices” format as per AD&D and 3E to 5E, the latter being made possible in Old School Essentials via the Advanced Fantasy rules. (See my coverage of the first Old-School Essentials Kickstarter for more on that.)

As far as the classes go, the goblin has a fun “talk to and befriend wolves” power which feels nice and flavourful, but perhaps the most interesting are the acolyte and mage, which provide equivalents to the cleric and magic-user but with powers based on thief-style percentile rolls, rather than on the Vancian spell slot system. Incorporating both of these into your game, swapping out their more traditional equivalents, feels like an interesting experiment. Other useful bits include some guidance on using thief skills (and an alternate way of using them for those who dislike the percentile-based system), as well as black powder firearm rules.

Issue 2 is lighter on new classes – this time it’s just phase elves and wood elves. “Wood elves”, in this context, are a version of elves leaning more on druidic magic than arcane spellcasting, in keeping with a more sylvan aesthetic; “phase elves” are an attempt to do a B/X riff on the really weird thing that elves had going on in OD&D where they chose whether to act as magic-users or fighters from day to day.

Less space taken up with classes yields more space for other support material: there’s some stuff for towns like a rundown of services available in a typical settlement or rules for hiring retainers, some optional systems like an alternative encumbrance system that’s less complex than tracking precise weights, advice on handling traps, rules for energy weapons, and quick-pick equipment choices for different classes to make character generation faster. A set of snake cult-themed monsters and a two-page dungeon round the package out.

On the whole, Carcass Crawler continues to offer the sort of material which is far from essential (if it were, it should be in the core books), but is nonetheless very useful: were I running Old-School Essentials, I’d definitely prefer to have this stuff available, and Gavin Norman in general seems to be making good use of these to provide tweaks and additions to the system and testing out ideas. The energy weapon and black powder rules, for instance, feel like they might eventually lead to supplements for games set in the modern day or the future, doing for Boot Hill or Metamorphosis Alpha or Gamma World what the Old-School Essentials main game line does for B/X D&D.

A Time To Harvest (Call of Cthulhu)

This was originally an organised play campaign presented for free via Chaosium’s Cult of Chaos scheme, but it’s now been compiled into a single book and offered for sale. The updated campaign includes various bits of polishing and expansion, presented in response to feedback from those who ran it back in 2016 when the organised play campaign occurred; I actually ran the original version, and to my eye most of the tweaks are well thought-out, with good highlighting of potentially contentious themes and some good judgement calls here and there. In particular, the sixth episode is now specifically tagged as being optional, since tonally speaking it’s really more suitable for Pulp Cthulhu than a more purist campaign – certainly, I considered it an escalation too far after the already apocalyptic enough events of the fifth episode.

There are some challenges involved in running the campaign; in particular, early episodes involve keeping track and investing life in a fairly broad range of NPCs. It’s also the sort of thing where it follows on closely enough from existing Lovecraft stories as to risk spoilers – you’re going to Vermont and sure enough there’s Mi-Go flying about up there, but the Mi-Go have been getting weird with it since the events of The Whisperer In Darkness, and that in itself only provided the tiniest glimpse of their activities.

The best Chaosium adventure releases also end up being sourcebooks of reusable stuff, and that’s certainly true here: as well as providing adventure material the supplement also provides a deep dive expanding the range of the Mi-Go as adversaries in the game, provides an updated, condensed dose of information on Arkham and Miskatonic University from previous Call of Cthulhu supplements, and also outlines a potential patron for investigators who could be used in other scenarios. On the whole, I would say the scenario book is very good value.

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