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Eldritch Skies

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Eldritch Skies
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Eldritch Skies
Publisher: Battlefield Press
by Brian P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 23:23:09

Back when Lovecraft was writing his stories, there wasn't the neat distinction between horror, fantasy, and science fiction that currently exists. It was all kind of shoved together under the label of Weird Fiction, so you get stories like John Carter of Mars psychically transporting himself to Mars, or magic-wielding aliens, or--more topically--Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, which has this quote when referring to the Old Ones:

"Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn - whatever they had been, they were men!"

That's the approach that Eldritch Skies takes, and right from looking at the human/mi-go trade mission on the front cover, you know that this isn't going to be like Call Of Cthulhu, or as I often call it, "The Dunwich Horror: the RPG." Aliens are alien, but they're not innately inimical to humanity, and while you'll never have a human and a mi-go drinking together in a bar after work and complaining about their bosses, it is possible for them to interact and get beneficial results for both parties.

Eldritch Skies actually reminds me a lot of Eclipse Phase. Not because of the specific details--the kind of society Eclipse Phase demonstrates is probably intrinsically destructive and dehumanizing in the world of Eldritch Skies--but because of the overall structure. The PCs are assumed to be part of an organization that's tasked with solving various problems that pop up as humanity expands out into the cosmos, the threat of total extinction is hanging over humanity's head, a lot of offworld colonies are based on exploring alien ruins, and so on. This is a good thing, because Eclipse Phase is excellent.

Anyway, what makes Eldritch Skies a sci-fi Lovecraft take other than that the players can talk to the horrible monsters as well as be eaten by them? Part of it is the approach to world-building it takes. When discussing the structure of the universe, the book (albeit obliquely) refers to the Great Filter in the discussion of the fate of every space-faring species. The vast majority of species either go extinct or transcend, though some species find a stable equilibrium and stagnate as their psychology prevents them from making any new technological discoveries unless they experiment with alien technology, and some species try to transcend and screw up or only partially transcend, leading to creatures like the flying polyps or the star-spawn of Cthulhu.

Hyperspace mentioned above is how a lot of the Lovecraftian metaphysics and background is all tied together. Humans who gain "hyperspace exposure" can become psychic, and psychic powers or sorcery can cause hyperspacial exposure, as can alien artifacts based on hyperspacial principles, or even simply traveling through hyperspace (which makes the colonies perhaps more dangerous than they otherwise might be...). Humans exposed too much develop an increasingly inhuman mindset, and eventually transform into hideous monsters. This is the source of ghouls and deep ones.

Similarly, hyperspace is where the servitors of the Outer Gods and the Great Old Ones live. In Eldritch Skies, Great Old Ones might be natural, or they might be the result of certain individuals transcending, or possibly the amalgamation of an entire species transcending. Servitors and Great Old Ones typically don't have much contact with the physical world unless they are summoned or something catches their interest, and one of the ways to attract their notice is...high levels of hyperspacial exposure. This is one of the reasons why extinction is so common: a species begins experimenting with hyperspace, an experiment goes hideously wrong, Cthulhu or the alien equivalent takes notice, and millennia later some other species exploring its local surroundings finds a world with its atmosphere blasted away, or evenly-spaced craters covering the entire planet's surface, or perfectly preserved ruins with no trace that anyone ever lived there, and so on.

This is another point I think connects it to Eclipse Phase--humanity's exploration of the cosmos is probably the only thing that will ensure its survival as a species, but at the same time, it makes it far more likely that humanity will attract unwanted attention leading to its total extinction.

There are a few planets listed here that humanity has discovered, including Firefly, where almost all life is part of vast communal organisms called "metas"; or Colossus, which experiments indicate is actually a Dyson sphere built around a gas giant and has a surface area 300x that of Earth; or Eridanos, where some old catastrophe boiled off the oceans and rent the planet with giant rifts into which life had to descend to survive; or Galatea, where humans used sorcery to travel there millennia ago and the planet is a series of city-states ruled by sorcerer-kings like something out of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. If some of these sound similar to some of the planets in Gatecrashing, that's because they are, but the similarity is pretty superficial, and anyway Galatea is way more similar to Stargate. And frankly, that's fine to me, because Lovecraftian Stargate is great tastes that taste great together.

I haven't been talking about the mechanics at all, but that's mainly because I don't really like Unisystem. It's a perfectly fine system, it's just not for me, so reading the system parts of the book mostly either put me to sleep or made my eyes glaze over. I bought Eldritch Skies for the fluff anyway so I don't mind, but you might have another opinion.

This gets four stars only because there are huge portions of the book I can't use and that actively resisted my reading them. Taken solely on the fluff and ability of the book to inspire, it's five stars all the way. If you're tired of reading interpretations of Lovecraft that read more like Gnosticism, where the universe is intrinsically inimical to humanity specifically and every non-human species has it out for humanity and the only possible fate is madness and death, Eldritch Skies is an excellent antidode.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Eldritch Skies
Publisher: Battlefield Press
by Robert G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2012 18:03:43

when I tried to open the file I got and error (109) please help

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
I tried to contact you privately, but for some reason I can not locate an email address for you in the sales reports. Try to download the game again, as it might have been being updated at the time you downloaded it originally. If you are still having problems, please contact me directly and I will personally send you the PDF. Thank you so much for your patronage.
Eldritch Skies
Publisher: Battlefield Press
by Alexander O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2012 19:14:00

I like this RPG, though the succeeding paragraph may not seem to make that point -- trust that the rest of the paragraphs do.

First the negative: this book is not really laid out (or organized) to my tastes. It's done in a competent manner, but there are certain slips that, in my opinion should be addressed to make the book stronger and easier not only to read, but also to use a as a reference book. In general, I do agree with the ordering of the material, but I feel strongly about trimming the 'game fiction for flavor', a more refined layout from the two column approach, and a more detailed table of contents.

Next, the positive: this is, surprisingly, a different take on the Lovecraftian mythology. It goes purist in that it ignores a lot of the post-Lovecraft additions to the Mythos, but allows for both the pessimistic and optimistic Lovecraftian play. And it takes the characters into space, allows characters to play with sorcery, forces characters to deal with the various races on Earth and beyond, and exposes characters to Hyperspatial radiation.

The games you play here could easily echo a Twilight Zone episode or Bradbury's Mars tales, your games can inject a sense of exploring the unknown, pushing the limits, and taking mankind beyond its cradle into a dangerous universe that could easily kill him or, strangely enough, king him. Not all endings need to result in the deaths of the protagonists -- some might survive, or even thrive as Randolph Carter did in the Dreamlands.

The juxtaposition of the open secret of hyperdimensional travel with the strange dangers of the mythos-filled universe is interesting for me. The actions of world governments and individuals in the timeline feel plausible and interesting to me, and the opportunities for a different type of space adventure / horror / exploration campaign are very appealing.

I also like (though I've not playtested) the unfolding of the cinematic Unisystem ruleset to allow for fast play. The character templates give a broad spectrum of recognizable archetypes, the character creation rules and gear give enough twists to optimize and ready your character for adventure.

This is a densely detailed, finely crafted setting. It provides standard kits for different types of military and scientific teams. It details a wide variety of realms and worlds that humanity has gone to or can go to. It provides a ready kit of well-known (and lesser known) creatures and dangers to threaten the PCs with. And it manages to maintain a Science Fiction feel despite the presence of the Lovecraftian elements. You don't get that overwhelming 'small band of heroes against a government conspiracy' feel that you do in Delta Green (which I love); in Eldritch Skies you get a 'humanity with all its strengths and foibles against the sea of unknowable terror and wonder that is the universe' vibe.

There's potential here to celebrate exploration of the universe, to celebrate the human spirit that seeks to push farther and delve further into cosmic mysteries than it has any right to, to celebrate cooperation and conflict and courage. There's also potential to expose all the ugly sides of the human condition -- greed, pride, and a lust for personal power at the cost of other peoples' lives and loves.

It reminds me of the potential of shows like the early season(s) of X-files and Earth: Final Conflict, and of (as mentioned above) the Twilight Zone episodes about space exploration and the Bradbury Mars Chronicles -- a wonderfully dark merging of science and weirdness that somehow avoids becoming science fantasy (which it technically is) and somehow avoids being merely horror in space.

If this is your kind of thing, give Eldritch Skies a shot.

(this review also appears on my blog: http://armchairgamer.blogspot.com. I originally posted a shorter version of the review, realized I had more to say to fully represent my opinion; so I deleted the old one and posted this new one.)

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Eldritch Skies
Publisher: Battlefield Press
by Paul D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/15/2012 17:15:20

Eldritch Skies is quite a fascinating product. It takes the Cthulhu mythos and translates into a sci-fi setting with a logical alternate history of the 20th century. It presents a space game where there is both wonder and terror to be encountered among the stars.

Shortly before purchasing this I was thinking of having a homebrew setting with aliens that were both much more powerful than humanity (rare in my experience) as well as less advanced (quite common). There is a reason for finding other planets with human populations built into the setting as well as interpretations of the Mi-Go, Deep Ones and Ghouls that work well and will keep adventurers on their toes.

If you like sci-fi, cosmic horror and/or Sorcerors and Starships this product is worth your while.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eldritch Skies
Publisher: Battlefield Press
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2012 16:08:41

So what can I say about Eldritch Skies?

Let's go basic. Certainly there is the feel of Aliens here more than say Avatar. One thing though for certain, this is not Star Trek, Star Wars or anything like that. Though to be fair, Trek did have a story by Robert Bloch and it was very Lovecraftian in tone. Also if that is what you want (SW or ST) then the rules will support that. This book is Lovecraft as SciFi (dark SciFi to be sure), but not so much as horror.

Chapter 1 deals with the recent history and the present day, 2030. The history of the world here is slightly different. Think of it as if all those Lovecraft stories were true and humanity found a way to start using some of that alien tech/magic to get to the stars. There is a history and the changes start out subtle till we get to the 90s. We get to the present day and now we are stepping out into the reaches of space and we find wonders and horrors.

Chapter 2 is Character Creation and Chapter 3 is Game Rules. The game system is Cinematic Unisystem. The same system that powers my own Ghosts of Albion and other games like Army of Darkness, Buffy and Angel. So if you are familiar with those games then you will be familiar how this one works too. Like other CineUnisystem games there are three "levels" of characters, Civilians, Operatives and Veterans. Unlike other CineUnisystem this game uses the Secondary Attribute Speed, from Classic Unisystem. For Qualities and Drawbacks there are all the expected ones, Fast Reaction Time, Nerves of Steel, etc. But there are also a lot of "Ab-Human" abilities, such as Deep One Hybrid and Sorcery (it is not the same as Buffy's) and some augmentations. The rules are same as other Cine Unisystem games with some additions to support the game, ie lots of gear.

Chapter 4 is Arcane Secrets including the secrets of hyperspace. Not just how to travel, but the biggest issue of the hyperspace madness. This is the keystone of the game. What separates this from other Unisystem games and it from other Mythos games.

Chapter 5 deals with the Realms of the Mythos. These are the worlds known to humankind. This also includes the psychic Dream Realms. This is a very cool chapter that had to be a lot of fun to write. Tons of new worlds ready for you to use and have adventures on.

Chapter Six: Eldritch Threats and Wonders: The monsters and creatures of the settings. Includes the mythos creatures, humans and ab-humans. If you have any passing interest in mythos monsters or expanding your CineUnisystem games with more creatures, then this chapter is worth the price of the book alone. Yes, you can play it as is. Or use it in your Buffy, Army of Darkness or Ghosts of Albion games.

Chapter Seven is the Director's section on how to run a game. This includes setting the tone and what to do.

The Appendix has rules for using the Classic Unisystem and a bunch of tables for your ease. No character sheet though.

I think one of the troubles about playing games like D&D and even to a degree Call of Cthulhu is we have tended to categorize the mythos creatures as well, Mythos Creatures. They often times are "Stated up" as gods or some other similar sort of being. We tend to forget that while humans may have worshiped them in cults most were not in fact gods at all. Powerful alien beings yes, but not so much gods. Looking at them again as aliens is a deft move and this change of the point of view makes this book less Buffy-doing-Aliens and more Armageddon/ConspiracyX-doing-Event-Horizon.

What I really, really like about this is it treats the Mythos Creatures as aliens and magic as advanced science. The Thing is a good example of Lovecraft as SciFi story.

Also this book remembers that Lovecraft's stories were also not all about tentacle monsters and evisceration. Sure we have the Mi-Go, but this more about the madness that lies between the stars. Honestly to get a better feel of what you can do here, take the Sam Rockwell movie Moon and assume there are outside alien influences on the whole thing. We never see the aliens, except for maybe when Sam's character sees a Mi-Go with a brain tube at the very end.

I mentioned the playtest files because I'll admit I was not initially a fan of this game when I first read it. But I was focusing on the crunch rather than the fluff. The Unisystem parts were (and are) fine. But since it's release I have grown to like it more for both the crunch and the fluff.

If you like SciFi, Lovecraft, the Mythos or Unisystem, or all the above, then this is a great game to get.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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