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Children of the Storm
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/23/2012 06:43:17
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/04/23/tabletop-review-childre-
n-of-the-storm-call-of-cthulhu/

Sometimes a supplement or campaign setting comes along that is so elegant and ingenious that you have to wonder how no one had thought of it before now. Children of the Storm is just such a book. For use with Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, Children of the Storm lets Investigators and Keepers play the game during the time period of The Great Depression through just before the dawn of World War II. It’s such an obvious fit. The Great Depression is a time period very close to the de factor 1920s setting that most Call of Cthulhu adventures and campaign take place in, yet it is so very different from the 1920s that it almost feels light years away. The Roaring 20s of course were full of gangsters, dancing, drinking and a general sense of upbeat positivity in America. The 30s were a time of melancholia, rampart unemployment, a general feel of pessimism and, for many, an uncertain future as to how they would pay their bills or where their next meal would come from. In many ways the bleak outlook that Lovecraft and his contemporaries predicted for mankind did indeed come about, but it was by their own hands rather than an alien creature from beyond the stars. For gamers that like taking the themes and system of Call of Cthulhu but prefer it in alternate time periods like Cthulhu Invictus or Cthulhu Dark Ages, you will more than likely fall in love with Children of the Storm as instantly as I did. For those that prefer things to be set in the 1920s, Children of the Storm is still of use to you and your players if have a long ongoing campaign. After all, you’re going to hit 1929 sometime!

Children of the Storm is eighty pages of pure awesomeness. It contains everything a fan of the 1930s could ask for…along with Cthulhuoid monstrosities to boot! The book starts off with an eight page introduction to the time period followed by four full-length, in-depth adventures. I was really surprised how much information about the 30s was packed into these eight pages. You’re given historical background about the time period, what led up to the Great Depression, how people coped and the technology of the time. You’re also given eight new character classes for the time period. These include Teen Hobo, Radical, Social Worker (two kinds), FBI Agent, Civilian Conservation Corpsman, PWA Construction Worker, WPA Artist and Documentarian. I literally squealed when I saw the section on the CCC as it’s my favorite part of the 30s and, without getting political, something I still feel should be done today when the country gets into bad spots. We’re also given three new skills: Sociology, Forensics and Cinematography. Investigators will no doubt find the first two of extreme interest. The intro then ends with eleven scenarios snippets that the Keeper can fully flesh out after they have played through all four adventures in Children of the Storm with their gaming crew.

“The Starving Ones” is the first adventure in Children of the Storm and it’s an awesome one. Travelling within a stone’s throw of the small West Virginia town my wife grew up in. Here the PCs will be investigating a rash of mysterious deaths where people seem to be…eating themselves to death. How are these deaths connected to a long abandoned home of a Confederate supporter? That’s for the investigators to discover. “The Starving Ones” is a very subtle and still very creepy adventure. Investigators have a pretty big mystery to unfold and neither the cause nor the solution are outright apparent. There’s only one possible Mythos creature that PCs might encounter, but even that is not a given. What remains is simply an adventure that really tests the player’s deductive and inductive reasoning skills. I love it. This adventure is just a great old school horror story that feels like it should have been written by Ambrose Bierce. “The Starving Ones” alone is well worth the cover price.

“To the Dust Returned” takes players to southern South Dakota near the Nebraska border. This is a very surreal adventure that involves the Dreamlands and our world converging on one sleepy little hamlet overwhelmed by dust storms. This is another adventure where the solution for success isn’t obvious and that’s part of what makes it fun. There are multiple ways to complete “To the Dust Returned,” but only two that lead to a happy ending for the majority of people involved. You get pretty much everything here. There’s redneck bigoted sheriff, a theme of religion vs. science, extremely creepy monsters which are never fully seen by the players and a weird fantasy-esque dreamworld that is superimposing itself on this little community. I’m generally not a fan of Dreamland based adventures, especially those with the cliché of the two realms merging idea, but this one is exceptional.

“ENTR’ACTE” is by far the weirdest and creepiest of the adventures in Children of the Storm and considering the first two, that’s saying something. Here players are in Northern California, near the Oregonian border. Here players will have to investigate the disappearance and/or kidnapping of some children. As the players investigate further, they find a rash of disappearances all fitting a similar profile. Are a small group of Japanese immigrants behind the missing children? What about an odd theatre group? What about Nyarlathotep? Players will have to figure out what really happened to these missing kids and the answer is far worse than they had imagined. This adventure is probably the most physical and violent in the collection. It definitely has the most gore and the highest chance of Investigators not making it out alive. The adventure is also the only one that could easily be set outside the 30s.

“The Tractate” is a wonderfully blend of a good old fashioned murder mystery, Cthulhuoid terror, secret societies, and taking down the evil schemes of Nazis. You really don’t see the Third Reich come up in Call of Cthulhu very often unless it’s the remnants in a Modern Era adventure. As such, this may be the adventure the players have the most fun with as it is straight forward, has you dealing with the SS at the height of its power and the summoning of a godlike creature from 2,600 light years away. “The Tractate” takes place in good old Arkham, MA, which makes it easy to fit into most Call of Cthulhu campaigns. This is a fun little adventure to end the book on and it’s the only one that directly forces Investigators to do battle with an ancient godlike being.

All in all, I really loved The Children of the Storm. I think the idea of a Cthulhu campaign setting during the Great Depression is a wonderful one. There’s a nice amount of information here, some fun new character classes and skills and four really great adventures that any Keeper will enjoy running. Children of the Storm is a great example of why I love Chaosium’s monographs so much. At only eight and a quarter dollars, it’s almost impossible to think of a reason why any Call of Cthulhu gamer wouldn’t pick this up.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Children of the Storm
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Cthulhu Invictus Companion
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/20/2012 06:01:05
Originally published at: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_reviews_write.php?prod-
ucts_id=101277

Call of Cthulhu has many different settings. The primary time period has always been the 1920s, but there are a lot of modern and Victorian era supplements as well, including the recently updated and re-released Cthulhu By Gaslight. That didn’t seem to be enough for Chaosium though, as in 2004 we were treated to two new campaign settings: Cthulhu Dark Ages and Cthulhu Invictus. Although I STRONGLY preferred the former, it’s the latter that seems to have become a cult favorite. Over the years it received two companion piece follow-ups and then in 2010, Cthulhu Invictus was re-released, upgraded from a “monograph” to a full supplement. In 2011, Miskatonic River Press put out a campaign for Cthulhu Invictus entitled The Legacy of Arrius Lurco and followed it up later that year with Lux in Tenebras. I reviewed Lux back in November of last year and found it interested, but a bit overpriced and really required Arrius Lurco and Cthulhu Invictus for a Keeper to get any use out of it. Now Chaosium has churned out a whopping six books in two weeks(Quick Start Rules, a fourth edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep, two monographs, Cthulhu by Gaslight and this) with a new Cthulhu Invictus Companion as one of the offerings. How does it fare? Let’s take a look.

To be honest, when I first heard of the Cthulhu Invictus Companion, I thought it would be a compilation of the two old monograph compilations for the original CI that was released back in 2004. Surprisingly none of the material from either Malam Umbra or Extrico Tabula show up here. Instead this Companion is actually a collection of three adventures, two of which originally appeared in the Cthulhu Invictus monograph. Now you’re probably wondering why two third of this book is a reprint. Well, it’s because these adventures were left out of the 2010 Cthulhu Invictus remake and it’s all but impossible to find the original monograph. It’s not even available in PoD or PDF formats. So this is really your only way of getting them, especially if you only have the 2010 version. Now if you own the 2004 Cthulhu Invictus monograph, there’s really no point in picking up the Companion, as you’re basically paying seven bucks for a single adventure. For newcomers though you’re basically paying $2.37 per adventure (with minimal artwork), which is a very good deal, especially for a Chaosium product. I found all three adventures to be rather interesting and although Cthulhu Invictus isn’t my thing, I think fans of the setting will have a lot of fun with these adventures. All three are geared for very experienced CoC player. They’re not very inviting to newcomers but then, I can’t think of too many fresh of the street gamers that would conceivably start tabletop gaming with Call of Cthulhu in an Ancient Roman setting.

The first adventure is called “Chuma Invictus!” This adventure heavily involves the Dreamlands. I know some Cthulhu players actively avoid the Dreamlands, but for those that enjoy it, this adventure should be right up your alley. It involves a secret society, a magical scroll and a crazy body jumping sorcerer whose goal is to merge our reality with the Dreamlands. This is a neat adventure where players won’t realize the true goal until it is almost too late. The adventure works best as a one-shot as characters will be forever changed by it. I also really liked that the adventure involves a lot of travel and is a nice way to introduce players not only to the campaign setting, but the ancient world in general.

The second adventure is “Morituri Te Salutamus,” which had me thinking of the old Strikeforce Morituri comics. It’s not very “Cthulhu-esque” but rather a creepy story about a crazy priest who kidnaps a lot of women for a mass sacrifice. A Dark Young is thrown in for the climax, but honestly, it feels really out of place and doesn’t fir the actual tone of the adventure. It’s as if the writers needed to justify this being a Call of Cthulhu adventure. The detective aspects of the adventure are neat, but the end of the adventure is unsatisfying and feels thrown together. It’s not at all satisfying.

The final adventure is “Bacchanalia.” This adventure also revolves around a deranged cult that engages in a mass kidnapping for the purposes of a sacrifice. It also involves servants of Shub-Niggurath. Really the only differences are the type of victims and the specific Shub-Niggurath servitors. As “Bacchanalia” is the only new adventure in this Companion, you can choose to look at it in two ways. The first is that the writers were plumb out of ideas and so they took the plot of the second adventure and tweaked it slightly for the third, hoping that no one would notice. The second is that “Morituri” is the rough draft of “Baccanalia” and this adventure is what “Morituri Te Salutamus” should have been in the first place. I guess it’s all whether you want to be optimistic or pessimistic about the product. Either way, this is my favorite adventure of the set. It has a great opening, a dramatic and memorable introduction to the creatures you’ll be encountering and there are some nice red herrings/side quests to go off on if the players choose.

Finally, the book contains information on five different cults scattered haphazardly throughout the book. None of these cults come into play with any of the adventures and their inclusion and their location within the Companion comes off very odd. I’m still not sure why they were included here. They’re interesting and informative, but the book would have been better organized to have all the groups in their own section for easy reference.

All in all, I give the book a thumb’s in the middle. The price is great, especially for a Chaosium book as they are generally more expensive than competitor products (including others that use their own CoC license). The problem is that two-thirds of the content is reprinted from the 2004 version of Cthulhu Invictus so if you have that, there’s no need to pick this up. As well, you can’t use the book without owning one form of Cthulhu Invictus and the core rulebook, so even though the price for the Companion is nice, you do still have to make an investment to even begin to be able to use it.Basically, if you’re a fan of the Cthulhu Invictus line AND you only own the 2010 version of the book rather than the 2004 monograph, you might want to pick this up – but then only if you use published adventures instead of making your own. For everyone else, you’ll probably want to pass on this. It’s just not something you’ll be able to use on its own. What’s here is neat but will only be of interest to an extremely limited audience.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Invictus Companion
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Unseen Masters
by Rory H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2012 07:27:11
Meaty interlocking trio of scenarios set in modern New York. The major selling point is the high level of psychiatric research that went into it, particularly the award winning middle scenario. Without giving the plot away, it's well worth buying for that one alone.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Unseen Masters
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Call of Cthulhu
by Rory H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2012 04:33:43
Call of Cthulhu is a brilliant and influential RPG, as almost any gamer ought to know, and it remains as playable and adaptable to different eras as ever. The interior layout is nice and mysteriously atmospheric, and the writing style appealing if you like academia and conciseness over flowery prose (which I do). The original short story is also included, which is worth noting - and some of the artwork is excellent.

There are some glaring editorial issues, however - one of the pages (a full page piece of art) is missing, the title fonts are askew towards then end of the book and the character sheets are the missing lines need to be functional. All of these aspects are correct in the extra pdf copy provided from the original book (and don't really affect the game or the writing in any way), but this copy is a bit faded and disjointed as those pdfs usually are. Could do with an editorial update, in short.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu
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Publisher Reply:
This PDF for CALL OF CTHULHU was re-processed for better appearance and functionality. Thanks -- Chaosium.
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/17/2012 06:30:52
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/04/17/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-quick-start-rules/

I love Call of Cthulhu. Along with Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade, it’s made up my holy trinity of RPGS since I was a child. I moved away from tabletop gaming for a while, but over the past year, Call of Cthulhu has been on fire. Between the gorgeous 30th Anniversary Edition of the game and the recent remake of Cthulhu By Gaslight, which is easily the best Role-Playing Campaign Setting/supplement I’ve read in some time, my love for this system and its setting has been reignited. So when I was offered a review copy of the quick start rules, I jumped at the chance to see how Chaosium was going to try and reel in new players.

I’ll admit I was originally turned off and somewhat offended by the fact Chaosium was charging money for quick start rules. These are universally free as a way to bring new players into a game, so any money at all being charged for something that is normally FREE is not only a bit ass backwards but is probably going to be detrimental instead of inviting. I’ve said for a while now that Chaosium hasn’t adjusted very well to the digital age, charging more for PDFs than it should, especially compared to competitors, and this is a perfect example of their inability to adapt. The sheer fact they charge for quick start rules is almost enough for me to say, “Don’t buy it.” However, the quality of the product is so top notch that is eventually had me coming around to thinking, “Well, it IS only seventy-five cents…”

So what do you get with your quick start rules? Well, you get a black and white cover from 3rd Edition (The game is currently on 5.6, although they officially renamed it sixth edition a while back, even though nothing is different.), an introduction to the game system and Lovecraft’s writing in general, and then the basic rules for how to make an Investigator (player character). These rules cover attributes, skills and the like. The only thing missing are set professions. The character creation process only takes up two and a half pages and it gives you all a newcomer needs to make a character. It won’t be as refined as someone with the full core rulebook, but it’s meant to be quick and dirty, and so, it fulfills its goal nicely.

The next four pages are an amazingly concise set of the rules for the game system. Thankfully, CoC’s rules are light and straightforward to begin with, so this works rather easily. It also comes will a full Resistance Table and examples of gameplay. This section closes off with a set of books and films to help one get in the mood for a Call of Cthulhu game. The entire CoC core rulebook summed up in only nine pages? I never thought it possible, but this was incredibly well done.

The next seven pages are the adventure, “The Haunting.” This is a very common adventure, and generally the first or second that newcomers to Call of Cthulhu play. This alone is worth the cover price, as it’s always a fun adventure to play through, and I love that it has been retooled to have adventure hooks that lead to other Chaosium products. This way a new Call of Cthulhu Keeper (DM) can pick up one of those books and use the two for a campaign. Very cute. I especially love that you can run the adventure with just the quick start guide as it contains all the rules you will need, including spells and info on the Mythos tome within.

After a one page ad for the game, the quick start rules finish up with four pre-generated characters (two from the 1890s and two from the 1920s), and then a blank character sheet for players to print off and make their own. All in all, this is a wonderful product, but again, I can’t give it top marks simply because Chaosium is trying to charge for what is a free product in every other tabletop line, and that doesn’t sit well with me. If this was free, it’d be something I would be printing off and handing to anyone even remotely interested in RPGs. As it is, you have an extremely well done quick start rules set that no one is actually going to pay money for unless they don’t realize quick start rules sets are always free. Come one Chaosium… you’re better than that. Excellent quality, but it still feels somewhat slimy.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start Rules
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Publisher Reply:
Hi, Read your review. Made the CALL OF CTHULHU QUICK-START a free download. Charlie Krank Chaosium Inc.
Masks of Nyarlathotep
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/15/2012 02:02:46
Originally published over twenty years ago, in 1984, Masks of Nyarlathotep is one of Chaosium's best known campaigns for good reason. Not only does it provide a wide geographic variety of adventures players and Keepers will enjoy, it's also a very well designed adventure, avoiding many pitfalls other Call of Cthulhu adventures fall into. Masks was written by Larry DiTillio, whose writing credits also include executive story editor for the science-fiction series Babylon 5.

The adventure begins with the gruesome murder of a friend in New York. Investigators explore overseas to England, Egypt, Kenya, Shanghai, and western Australia. Locations range from London museums, to Egyptian pyramids, Kenyan mountains, Australian deserts, and Chinese import warehouses. NPCs run the gamut from high society to mysterious wisemen. Not only will investigators encounter cults dedicated to different aspects of Nyarlathotep, but will meet a memorable variety of mythos creatures as well.

From a Keeper's standpoint, the adventure is exceptionally well-designed. All too often, I've run a Call of Cthulhu adventure only to hit an unexpected dead end, as the players failed to find a critical clue called for by the adventure. Some fumbling improvisation usually moves the plot forward, but the author in Masks provides multiple ways to obtain the clues the investigators need to proceed in their tasks. For those Keepers who enjoy adding their own touches to an adventure, the author suggests various adventure seeds to enhance game sessions. Meanwhile, Keepers who do not will not be required to do so. Each country has three to five separate adventures, including red herrings, which investigators should encounter more often than they seem to do. If there's any caution to note, Keepers should be prepared to play the part of a very wide range of NPCs. If you have a co-GM, or a player who's joining for just one session, enlist them to play a few NPCs!

In my opinion, I think the PDF format is superior to the dead-tree version. Both hardcopy and PDF have a handout section that can be photocopied or printed out. However, with a PDF, a Keeper can do much more. The Keeper can print out maps and 1920's prices for players to refer to. The adventures contain atmospheric evocative artwork the Keeper can print out to show the players what their investigators see. Players inevitably forget the orally presented (and often critical) information their investigators discover. The Keeper can print and give this information to the players. And, when PCs also inevetibly expire, NPCs encountered in the adventure can become PCs. The Keeper can print out their stats and backgrounds to provide them to the players. If a player misses several sessions, or a new player joins in a few months into play, the other players can simply give the handouts to the player to catch up (assuming they're organized better than your typical Arkham professor's research notes).

I'm very happy to see Chaosium release Masks of Nyarlathotep in PDF format. Its $20 pricetag is also 2/3 the price of the dead-tree version. Not a bad deal for one of Call of Cthulhu's mostly highly regarded adventures.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Masks of Nyarlathotep
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Cthulhu by Gaslight
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/13/2012 13:38:48
Introduction: Andrew Lucard has written an excellent review of Cthulhu by Gaslight, 3rd edition, so I'll be taking a look at the PDF itself, which has been corrected since his review. The PDF was viewed on a PC with Acrobat X, and iPad 2 on Adobe Reader and other readers.

The PDF viewed is CHA23123book_rev.pdf, dated 4/5/12. On the PC with Adobe Acrobat X, I was able to view the document. I had problems viewing the document on an iPad 2, until I upgraded my Adobe Acrobat to the 4/10/12 version. iPad 2 apps that had problems viewing the document were previous versions of Acrobat, iBooks, PerfectReader, pdf-notes, PDFReaderLite, and Epson iPrint. The viewing problem is that the background on the boxed text is too dark to read the text.

Format: The PDF comes in a 196 page book, divided into Victorian Characters (player material), The Victorian World (player and Keeper historical source material), Strange Britain (player and Keeper occult and mythos source material, NPC stats, and adventure seeds), Gaslight Adventures: The Night of the Jackals (introductory adventure) and The Burnt Man, Appendix I: Suggested Sources, Maps and Handouts for the adventures, and Character Sheet. The PDF is in black and white, in a double-column format.

Price: The price of the PDF is $20 versus the MSRP of $28. That's only an $8 difference, and some online sellers may have the print version at lower than MSRP. If you *must* have a print version, you might as well buy it printed. However, the PDF version has some advantages over print, particularly for the player material.

Victorian Characters: The player material consists of the Victorian Character generation section and The Victorian World historical source material. A major advantage PDFs have over printed copies is that the Keeper can print several copies of player materials, so each player can have his own copy. The Victorian Characters section is about 20-some pages printed.

Victorian World: Based on historical England, the Victorian World source material can be used by both players and the Keeper. An advantage of the PDF format is that Keepers can easily share this information with the players. Avid players may read ahead of time this section before the game. Or a Keeper can print out the pages and cut out relevant information (eg. Underworld Slang or English law) as handouts to players during the game. This section is about 45 pages long.

Strange Britain: This section consist of Occult in the 1890s, A Gazetteer of Selected Strange Sites in Britain, The Cthulhu Mythos in Britain, Victorian Fictional Characters, A Compendium of Victorian Non-Player Characters, and Victorian Scenario Suggestions. Like the Victorian World, the Keeper can provide the occult information to players as printed handouts ahead of time or during the game, depending on their occult skill. The Gazetteer and Cthulhu Mythos are prevented something like one-paragraph adventure seeds. A crafty Keeper can definitely print this information as handouts for unfounded rumors and red herrings for gullible investigators. The remaining sections are Keeper material to add unique NPCs, stock NPC stats, and suggestions on running Victorian adventures.

Gaslight Adventures: Cthulhu by Gaslight includes two adventures, The Night of the Jackals, and The Burnt Man. The Night of the Jackals is an introductory adventure, still challenging for experienced players. Both come with handouts to print and provide the players. Both also include atmospheric art that can also be used as handouts to show players what their investigators see.

Suggested Sources for Victorian Roleplayers: This section lists further reading of and viewing Victorian fiction, Cthulhu Mythos fiction in Britain, and Victorian Roleplaying.

Maps and Handouts: Cthulhu by Gaslight provides maps and handouts for players for the game adventures, plus a map of London. A larger map is printed in black and white, with additional blue for railway and underground.

Character Sheet: The first page of the character sheet has the Call of Cthulhu stats, while the second page is for personal data and other background information. Unfortunately, I was not able to fill in the sheet in Acrobat.

Conclusion: The PDF format allows the Keeper great flexibility in providing Cthulhu by Gaslight to players. iPad 2 viewers should upgrade to Adobe Acrobat, version released on 4/10/12.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu by Gaslight
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Cthulhu by Gaslight
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/06/2012 02:57:53
I’ve always felt that Call of Cthulhu works best in two possible eras: 1930′s and the 1890′s. Chaosium’s latest edition of Cthulhu by Gaslight is a gem of a setting sourcebook that I feel a lot of publishers could learn from. The detail provided gives a strong and accurate look at a given culture and atmosphere of an era, while injecting enough of the horror and wonder of the CoC brand to make it a must-buy for anyone who likes the era. There’s enough information on this book to make it worth getting even if you’re not running CoC, as it presents reference information that can fuel pretty much any Victorian Era Game as well.

---

This is an excerpt of a full review. To read the entire review, kindly visit the article on my blog at: http://philgamer.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/review-cthulhu-by--
gaslight-3rd-edition/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu by Gaslight
by Billiam B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/05/2012 14:14:30
I'm really happy to see that Chaosium have fixed this PDF so that it is now truly sublime, gorgeous and without display errors (I originally gave a harsh review which I now humbly and gratefully retract). Since it is mainly grey scaled it will also be more printer-friendly than other ebooks/PDFs.
The gaming content more than lives up to the title (although I recommend that long time Call of Cthulhu fans read the other reviews here regarding exact comparisons to the previous Cthulhu by Gaslight edition).
I particularly like the literary tie-ins with books of the period (including a Martian invasion!) The handouts and maps are perfect as well as the good looking character sheets.
Also Chaosium have now added an uber-useful map of London - which I believe is a "pull-out" in the printed version.
Great job. Very yummy.
Be careful in those dangerous foggy streets...

Billiam B.
bit.ly/rpgblog

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu by Gaslight
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/02/2012 09:09:47
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/04/02/tabletop-review-cthulhu-
-by-gaslight-third-edition-call-of-cthulhu/

When Chaosium sent me Cthulhu By Gaslight, Third Edition to review, the first thing I did was go to my bookshelf and pull down my second edition version from 1988 along with 1993′s Sacraments of Evil, the follow up supplement so that I could do some comparison and contrast. After all, it’s been twenty-four years between editions. I have a lot of fondness for Victorian Cthulhu as the campaign I ran my senior year of college used Gaslight and it still remains a particular favorite campaign of my friends I gamed with over a decade ago (I’m old, you see). Hell, old PC Brian Chumley, the 44 year old Barrister, had his character sheet tucked in the back of Gaslight still.

It makes sense to re-release Gaslight as 2011 saw the 30th Anniversary Edition of Call of Cthulhu. It’s always had a strong cult following and as a quarter of a century has passed since its last update, it was a smart choice to re-release this. However, this third edition is so fundamentally different from first and second edition that an attempt to compare or just cover “what’s new” would be insulting to all three editions. Third Edition has a completely different layout and is a much longer book. The original adventure, “The Yorkshire Horrors” is gone completely from the current edition and in its place are two new adventures: “The Night of the Jackals” and “The Burnt Man.” Third Edition is also a far more thorough affair. Second Edition was only 128 pages – forty-four pages of which were the adventures. Third Edition is 196 pages, fifty pages of which are for the two adventures. So Third Edition has a lot more content, twice the number of adventures and a LOT more detail. Now there is some carryover of William Barton’s original text from the previous two editions, but there’s a ton of new stuff too. I was really impressed by everything in this latest Edition and I was also intrigued by what was left out and/or changed. Either book will also pair wonderfully with Cubicle 7′s Cthulhu Britannica line for a comprehensive campaign set in the United Kingdom. Whichever you go with, you’re in for a book that is both a great gaming resource, as well as a fun read. Now, let’s take a look at each of the four sections in this latest incarnation of Cthulhu by Gaslight and let you know what you’re in for.

I. Victorian Characters

The first thing we are presented with is character creation. Now you’re probably wondering why they include rule for making a character in Cthulhu by Gaslight when the core rulebook would have this already. Well, it’s not to make this a stand-alone rulebook. It’s actually to show off some slightly new rules for character creation. Most of the rules are subtle but potential game changers. You can know put your stat rolls in any order –as long as it’s the right type of role. So your 3D6+3 rolls can go in STR, CON, POW, DEX and APP in whatever order you want. Same with the 2d6+6 rolls. The game has also modified age-related stat changes, The game originally had you lose one point of STR, CON, DEX or APP at age 50 and then every ten years of character age thereafter. This game now has this start at 40! This is a bit intense, but remember, Victorian England had shorter life spans than we now do in the 21st century. Characters also gain 1 point of EDU at 30 and then every ten years thereafter so things are balanced out – especially when you consider that point of EDU also comes with 20 skill points. Middle aged doesn’t sound so bad after all.

The game now offers Traits. These are similar to Merits and Flaws from the White Wolf Storyteller line. It’s an optional piece and it’s oddly done in several ways. First it’s optional, but if you agree to roll, you don’t have to take your result. As well, the Keeper can bribe a player to keep a negative result with 3D20 extra skill points. I don’t get any of this. First, It’s good role-playing if you end up with a negative trait. You shouldn’t have to bribe anyone to flesh out their character. Secondly, this is just going to reinforce a munchkin/power gamer attitude with the extra skill points, which is the exact opposite of the type of gamer that should be playing Call of Cthulhu in the first place. Finally, if Chaosium was worried that people wouldn’t accept their results on an optional random chart, why not create more balanced traits. Say something that gives both a positive and negative? Maybe even let gamers pick from a balanced list instead of randomizing it. It gets even weirder when you use a d6 AND a d20 to roll on the chart, You don’t add the rolls together. Instead you just look at what the separate numbers give you. So for example a roll of 6, 14 gives you “Unseen Property” where your character inherits land from someone they don’t know or have never seen. Said land, be it a building, home, business or whatever is probably going to come into play as a storyline too. Don’t get me wrong; I think the chart is neat and there are some neat ideas here. It’s just Chaosium seems all over the place with the Traits and almost afraid of implementing it. That makes sense as this is the newest rules change to the system in man, twenty plus years. Still a little tweaking in a few spots would have made that a lot smoother. That said, I know I’ll be implementing it in any CoC games I run from now on, just to see what people get and how they use them.

The rest of the chapter contains professions appropriate for the era, along with tables and lists of weapons, clothing, Victorian era terminology and more. Pretty much everything in this first chapter is exactly what I wanted.

2. The Victorian World

This chapter is primarily flavour for the Keeper. You have timelines, a history of Victorian England, a list of British colonies, a brief commentary on the rest of Eurasia and what they were like at the time, and then a list of famous and/or noteworthy people from the era. The rest of the chapter is a look on England proper, started with a detailed look at London, followed by various region of Britain. It even has a paragraph in this section of varying accents, which I loved. You get a very detailed look at the government, crime, forms of travel, publications and anything. It’s extremely well done and this section alone is worth picking up the book for as you can easily use it for other games/systems set in Victorian England. If you want rules for coach chases, information about a specific hotel or criminal slang for characters to use if they ever get incarcerated by the bobbies, this is for you.

3. Strange Britain

I absolutely adore this chapter as once again, it can easily be adapted to any setting or system that takes place in Victorian England. The chapter starts off with a look at various occult societies from the era like the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and t6hen it moves into things like Spiritualism. You also get a Fortean timeline, which was a brilliant idea. The chapter then moves onto to a list of spooky or ominous locations. You then get a listing of Cthulhu Mythos stories that take place in the United Kingdom and stats for things not found in the core rulebook. This chapter even gives you stats for famous fictional characters from the time period like Count Dracula & Phileas Fogg ! How cool is that? For those that are saddened by the excise of the Holmesian content from the first two editions – at least you have their stat blocks intact in this version. Strange Britain concludes itself with a NPC listing and some tips on how to run a successful Victorian campaign and/or adventure. Incredibly done from beginning to end.

4. Gaslight Adventures

This final section of Cthulhu By Gaslight contains two adventures. One,”The Night of the Jackals” is meant to be an introductory adventure while the second, “The Burnt Man,” is meant to be for more experienced players. I’m glad they gave us two adventures, both of which are new, as it means I can own this and the second edition version of Gaslight and not feel like I’ve paid for the same book twice.

“Night of the Jackals” is an exceptionally well done adventure. It’s a murder mystery that involves a bit of the supernatural, only a subtle hint of the larger Cthulhu Mythos and a good deal of what was typical of Victorian occultism. In other words, a lot of Egyptian lore and artifacts. It’s a slow burn adventure that is designed to help one get a feel for both the system and the era. It’s perfectly balanced and the adventure can easily be run by keepers both new to Call of Cthulhu and long time vets alike.

“The Burnt Man” is an equally awesome adventure. It takes the old English faerie legends and turns them on their head Cthulhu style. This adventure also features a very subtle nod to the creatues of Lovecraftia – at least until the climax where the investigators get a full, in your face, experience with a Dark Young in a dramatic chase scene of all things. The crux of the adventure revolves around a evil old man who pissed on the Little Folk. His widow believes their home is now haunted and hires the players to discover why and how his ghost is still there. Of course, nothing is what it seems and the entire adventure is so full of twists and turns the players won’t know what to expect. Simply wonderful.

The chapter the ends with a few aides for players and Keepers alike. It gives a list of quality fiction from the Victorian Era to read, followed by books about the time period. It even gives a list of excellent Cthulhu Mythos fiction set in Britain to read. It ends with a list of other RPG systems that could easily make use of the info in this book, ranging from Masque of the Red Death (A Ravenloft offshoot) to Vampire: The Masqueade. Awesome. This is something more companies should do.

All in all, Cthulhu By Gaslight, Third Edition is easily the best Role Playing campaign book I’ve read this year. It’s amazingly well done and reminds me why I wish Chaosium would print as much as it used to in the 1990s. That being said, I can’t recommend the PDF as it was released with a massive series of errors. The PDF itself is readable but almost all the art and a good deal of the handouts are missing. There is simply blank space or an empty frame where these should be. As Chaosium PDfs are way overpriced compared to their contemporaries, I’d definitely suggest spend the eight dollars extra to get the good version of the book. I’m sure the PDF will be fixed eventually, but right now the missing art and handouts makes the PDF a shadow of the actual softcover version. Once that’s fixed, I’ll definitely recommend that with as much praise as the physical copy, but Chaosium takes a long time to fix their pdfs (if they ever do…), so keep this in mind if you’re thinking of going digital with this one.

Even though the PDF is a bit bungled, Cthulhu by Gaslight is definitely a book any Call of Cthulhu or Victorian England fan should pick up, even if they are nopt going to play an adventure and/or campaign in this setting. The book is so exceptionally done and the wealth of informative is so tremendous that this is going to be a hard book to top in 2012. Cthulhu By Gaslight is a wonderful example of how to make a near perfect RPG book. Anyone thinking about make a supplement, campaign setting, or core rulebook should read this and take notes.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu by Gaslight
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/01/2012 18:25:15
I love Victorian era games. They are my favorite actually. Cthulhu by Gaslight has always been one of those rare hard to find treasures. Whether or not you play it as a gothic game, a period horror game, a darkly inspired Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula game, or as a Call of Cthulhu game there is something here for all sorts of horror game fans. It is the chocolate peanut butter cup of horror games; two great tastes that taste great together.

The book is divided up in terms of creating your Victorian age character, the Victorian world, Strange Britain, Gaslight Adventures and an a very nice Appendix on Victorian literature and some handouts.

The Victorian Age Character chapter is typical of a Call of Cthulhu game. Skills and professions are discussed. Some familiarity with Call of Cthulhu is helpful here since this book assumes you have a copy of Call of Cthulhu. Te times assumed here are 1890 to 1900. No discussion on Victorian Age characters is complete, or really can even begin without a discussion on social class, which we get during character occupations. This section is expanded over the 2nd Edition with inclusion of common terms from the age.

The Victorian World covers the world of the British Empire including it's place in the world, a time line of important dates and biographies of important people from the time. My favorite part is the locations in and around London. This chapter is well researched and great for any Victorian era RPG.

Strange Britain is a great overview of the occult scene in Britain in the 1890s. Lodges, Fortean events, and a gazetteer of strange sites in the British isles. All of these are great for all sorts of games. The Cthulhu mythos portion comes later and has some new ideas for old monsters, both mythos monsters and classic ones from the British Isles. The chapter continues with some fictional characters from the time. Though one might want to figure out how some authors can appear with their fiction creations. My favorite part though is the Martian Invasion. H.G. Wells meets H. P. Lovecraft. Some Victorian adventure campaigns are then discussed.

Gaslight Adventures helps Keepers (Game Masters) with some ready to run adventures; "Night of the Jackals" and "The Burnt Man".

The Appendix is full of great information about various sources of information on Victorian England, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and Britain in general. Though if I have a quibble it is that the sources are a bit dated, nothing for example from the last few years.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rubble & Ruin
by Ernie C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/18/2012 07:54:12
Interesting, but if you're looking for that next Gamma World or Aftermath, keep going. Has potential with some added work however as the Chaosium system leaves it open to work with in limitless ways.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Rubble & Ruin
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Basic Creatures
by Erik S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/17/2012 12:51:56
I don't know where to start. I got this product to get a basic bestiary with fantasy creatures I could use in a BRP fantasy game. First I found that this book is basically a reprint of the Runequest bestiary. None of the content are adapted for the new BRP book all creatures for example have their Moves listed as per the optional Strike Rank system for example.

The thing that bugs me the most are that a lot of the creatures are already available in the BRP book except for some classic icons like the Broo. And a lot of the creatures already listed have different stats forcing you to make the choice of which to use.

If the book had been reworked and updated to fall in line with the new BRP system the rating would have been a lot higher. A lot of the information is not much use and could be lifted out of the book completely without hurting the material. Instead it's still there taking up unnecessary space.

The book is not completely useless but you have to do some work for each creature you are gonna use and depending on what optional rules you are using. But if you are tight on money the money is better spend elsewhere.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Basic Creatures
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Queensguard
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/19/2012 23:35:43
If you are looking for either a diversion from your regular Cthuhlu chronicle, or interested in a small, self-contain campaign, then Queensguard is the right title for you. Queensguard takes place in an alternate America, one in which the British Monarchy, having lost Europe has transferred the seat of power to Manhattan. Around them are a swirl of Norse raiders, the war with the Central Asian Empire rages and there appears to be dissent and madness even in those meant to be the closest advisors to the Crown.
The two new societies introduced are the Philosophers and the Queensguard. The first are a scholarly order, responsible for many of the steampunk themed inventions of this age, from airships and electric carriages to augmented goggles and alchemical fire. The second are the Queen’s personal guard who are a blend of bodyguard, elite military unit and national police force. Both orders are given enough treatment to make characters drawn from either to be playable and interesting.

The overview of the Kingdom of America, character creation, new magic and descriptions of the orders take in only twenty-seven pages and it is an incredibly compact, yet satisfying section. The remainder of the book (fifty-five pages) is given to a two-part module-style story. The running time asks for around four hours per module (for eight hours total), but I’d be keen to see this tested as I believe that it would be easy to drawn this out to double the length with imaginative players. In either case, it offers a good length of play experience and an interesting (albeit sparsely developed) campaign setting. If you did intend to pursue a longer-running story arc, the Keeper would need to invest some time to further develop the setting.

My main criticism was that the elements I’d associate with steampunk weren’t immediately apparent in the book. To me it felt like a blend of 19th century technology with magic, but lacked the same feel I get from Deadlands, or Iron Kingdoms. It almost seemed as though the word was used to give the product a genre and nothing else. That said, a Keeper familiar with the genre would be able to narrate the setting as they saw fit and make things a little more industrialised, smoke filled and mechanical – with that touch of magic thrown in for good measure.

The module is well-written and would be an enjoyable experience to run as Keeper, but does require some preparation. There is some solid advice in the ‘Contingency’ sections (in case the players make choices that aren’t explicitly covered) and also notes on scaling to be found in the end of the book.

Queensguard, whilst not living up to my expectation of steampunk Cthuhlu, is still a good read and the module would play enjoyably. I could honestly see this as an alternate Cthuhlu experience that you’d be tempted to revisit (and write your own material for) every now and again – and in that it succeeds admirably as an imaginative RPG title.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Queensguard
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Miskatonic U. Graduate Kit
by Richard S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/14/2012 19:14:14
This is (or was when I downloaded it) a scanned copy of the print version of this fun product. I enjoy it but it could be greatly improved by an actual conversion to the PDF format.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Miskatonic U. Graduate Kit
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