Down Darker Outback Trails

Terror Australis was an early Call of Cthulhu supplement – it originally came out in 1987 – which has been left fallow for some years, only to now receive a major new rerelease for 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu. Both the original supplement and new edition involve significant amounts of work from Australia-based game designers including Penelope Love and Mark Morrison, whilst the new edition has been substantially enlarged and revised.

The supplement is a guide to Australia in the 1920s, and seeds the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos within the island continent – both in terms of homegrown horrors (such as the Great Race of Yith and their enemies, the flying polyps, thanks to Lovecraft setting the climax of The Shadow Out of Time in Australia) and nastiness brought to the continent by the settlers.

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Alone Against the Book-Keeping

Alone Against the Dark is a solo adventure for Call of Cthulhu – a valiant attempt to cram a globe-trotting campaign on the scale of Masks of Nyarlathotep into a thin gamebook which almost, but not quite, succeeds.

The gamebook deploys several clever innovations to add useful options in play without needlessly wasting paragraphs – like the scope to telephone places or the use of a single paragraph to describe the process of using medical facilities, whether the place in question is a world-class hospital or a lonely ship’s medical bay. The cleverest thing about it, however, is the way it incorporates an honest-to-good method of providing multiple “lives” in a gamebook adventure. Though you only play one character at a time, when your character dies that isn’t the end of the adventure – you instead go to the starting paragraph of the next pregenerated character, who it is assumed has been largely filled in on what has been going on by regular telegram and, with the flow of telegrams having stopped for some days, is prompted to spring into action themselves.

The pregens themselves have 150 unspent skill points each, so you can personalise them as you see fit, though they each have their specialties – you begin with an aged academic and end with a tough muscley sailor lad – presumably because the later in the investigation it is, the more you’re going to need to resort to violence. It’s only a full-fledged “game over, start again” situation if your fourth PC (the Tom of Finland pinup) dies. In principle, it’s possible to finish the investigation with your starting character still alive, though you’d need to be both clever and lucky to manage it.

The major downside of the adventure is the painstaking timekeeping it demands; it literally requires you to account for every single hour of every day, including 8 hours for sleep and 2 hours for eating, each meal hour suitably separated from the other one. Though there’s some important plot stuff which does hinge on timing, equally I feel like this level of bookkeeping and fiddling about amounts to overkill – far, far too much effort on the part of the player for the payoff it gives. It feels like Alone Against the Dark might be better off were it adapted to Cthulhu Chronicles as a result; then your mobile could handle the bookkeeping and as a player you wouldn’t spend half the playing time ticking off hours and planning meals.

The Delta Green Archives

With UFOs high in the zeitgeist in 1992, and shortly before The X-Files made the subject matter a full-blown pop culture phenomenon, Pagan Publishing’s Call of Cthulhu fanzine The Unspeakable Oath published a little adventure called Convergence, which introduced the concept of Delta Green – a top-secret, unsanctioned, off-the-books conspiracy within the US government to investigate and contain the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos.

In years to come, Convergence would begat a whole swathe of supplements. The original run of Delta Green material would provide an exciting model for modern-day Call of Cthulhu play. In more recent years, Arc Dream Publishing – consisting of many former Pagan personnel and generally speaking the inheritors of their illustrious mantle – has turned Delta Green into its own standalone RPG, though not with a system so radically divergent from 5E/6E Call of Cthulhu as to render the original supplements useless. In essence, the Delta Green RPG is a fork of Call of Cthulhu, with adaptations and changes made to better reflect the style of the Delta Green setting – substituting out the Call of Cthulhu sanity system for an adapted version of the Unknown Armies one being the most significant system deviation.

Sooner or later I’ll be doing Kickstopper articles covering the new Delta Green RPG, since the product line has been underwritten by crowdfunding efforts, but until then (and to avoid those articles getting even more absurdly big than they are already), here’s some reviews of the original run of supplements.

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Kickstopper: Friends, Romans, Great Old Ones!

One of the recurring strengths of Call of Cthulhu is that it’s very easily adapted to other time periods. Tweak the skill list to remove anachronistic skills, introduce skills appropriate to the time period, and update the baseline skill values appropriately – people are likely to have a generally higher level of computer skill in a present-day game than one set in the 1970s, where computer use is likely to be a highly specialised skill, for instance. Once you’ve done that, you’ve done 90% of the work; do an equipment list and a career list and you’re basically there.

Cthulhu Invictus is a game line which takes this principle to heart by adapting Call of Cthulhu to ancient Rome. It’s also not a game line which Chaosium themselves are interested in directly managing these days – though they did put out material for it for 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu, and did include some conversion guidelines in Cthulhu Through the Ages.

Instead, in 2017 they gave Golden Goblin Press, a third party publisher, a 3-year licence to handle the line, beginning with The 7th Edition Guide to Cthulhu Invictus – a new core book, updated to the 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu rules. What happens when that three years up, I rather suspect, depends on how well Golden Goblin do as custodians of Cthulhu Invictus. How’s the line’s flagship product, as produced via this Kickstarter? Let’s have a see…

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Non-Euclidian Training Wheels

Chaosium’s new Starter Set for Call of Cthulhu, whilst attractively presented, doesn’t seem to have required an awful amount of work in terms of generating raw text. The individual components seem to have been drawn together from a range of existing products Chaosium had to hand, to an extent where those who already have an extensive Call of Cthulhu collection probably already own a lot of it. That said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – and, of course, anyone who already has an extensive Call of Cthulhu collection doesn’t need the Starter Set in the first place.

Along with a set of dice, some pregenerated player characters and some blank character sheets, and nice printouts of the player handouts for, the box comes with three handsome booklets. The first offers a brief introduction to the concept of the game and then follows the example of the classic “Red Box” Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set by Frank Mentzer by using a solo adventure to teach the basic concepts of the system. Specifically, the solo adventure in question is Alone Against the Flames, which is actually fairly substantial as far as such things go and is probably as decent an introduction to the system as could be offered in this format.

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Kickstopper: Punch Nazis and Feed Them To Cthulhu

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

The controversy over the latest Wolfenstein game is absurd and illustrative of a wider absurdity: it’s startling how quickly violent opposition to a Nazi regime has gone from being entirely uncontroversial (to the point of being a bit tired and cliched) to being regarded as somehow politically controversial.

Thus, in the service of supporting games where you fight Nazis, I’m going to cover a game line blending the action of the Call of Cthulhu RPG with all the Nazi-shooting goodness of World War II. Hang on to your Indiana Jones hat, we’re going to cover Achtung! Cthulhu.

Usual Note On Terminology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

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