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Accursed: Long Dead and Twice Slain
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2014 08:27:47
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/16/tabletop-review-accurse-
d-long-dead-and-twice-slain-savage-worlds/

Long Dead and Twice Slain is another short adventure for the Accursed campaign setting, which uses the Savage Worlds rules system. Unlike Half-Light which was more a story seed than an adventure and which was very systemless by design, Long Dead and Twice Slain is a fully fleshed out (albeit short) adventure and has Savage Worlds mechanics interspersed throughout the piece. While these are mainly stat blocks for NPCs and antagonists, it’s nice to see that this adventure leans more towards The Banshee of Loch Finnere in quality, giving Accursed a second quality published adventure for GMs to pick up instead of having to homebrew their own.

Long Dead and Twice Slain is eight pages of content (the other two pages are the cover and credits/table of contents); there is a ton of adventuring packed into this short little PDF. While the adventure can be played in a single session (and is designed for such) an enterprising Gm can probably pad things out for a second session if he or she wants to put forth the effort.

The adventure begins with the characters already knee deep in action. For some time cauldron-born undead have been besieging the land and rounding up new victims for some unknown experiment or torture. Accursed and humans alike have been fighting back and striking back against the witches and their unholy armies whenever they can. At some point the PCs come into contact with a band of nine human warriors – all that remains of an original fighting force that stood their ground against the witches. The two groups, PC and NPC parlay just long enough to see one of the NPCs die horribly by some mystical means. Together the two bands team up to figure out what is plaguing the humans. Could it be a curse, a ghost, or something else? The only way to find out is by playing the adventure!

The adventure is a branching one, giving players a choice of two beings to question. Neither is right nor wrong, but each provides you with a very different playthrough experience. The beginning and the end of the adventure is a constant, regardless which path you choose, but the fact the middle is quite different gives this adventure some nice replay value if you’re looking for that sort of thing. I prefer the Witch path to the Clock Maker one personally, but only because it’s more atmospheric and Ravenloft-y. Your mileage may vary.

The final battle in this piece is a pretty tough one and some PCs probably won’t make it out alive. Once the battle is dead the adventure wraps up quite nicely and without any loose ends. The end result is a tight little piece that gives more advanced Accursed characters their first published adventure to play through. I suppose the only problem is that the game hasn’t been out long enough for characters to naturally progress to this piece. No one says you can make “Seasoned” characters and just play this though. You’re also getting a pretty good deal here cost wise. Another Accursed adventure, The Banshee of Loch Finnere costs six dollars for twenty-one pages, so Long Dead and Twice Slain gives you a better content to cost ratio, and definitely a better one than Half-Light which is $1.25 for four pages – only two of which are content. Remember though, you’ll need three or four books to play this $2.50 adventure – the core rulebook for Accursed, the Savage Worlds core rulebook, the Savage Worlds Horror Companion and maybe the Accursed Player’s Guide as well. Suddenly, you’re spending a lot more than $2.50, aren’t you? Still, if you’re already invested in Savage Worlds, and/or Accursed, Long Dead and Twice Slain is a great adventure to pick up. It’s well designed, won’t hurt your wallet and most of all – it’s a lot of fun.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: Long Dead and Twice Slain
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Shadowrun: Run & Gun
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2014 06:32:12
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/16/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-run-gun/

Run & Gun is our second major Shadowrun release of 2014, with the first being the awesome Digital Tools Box. Usually Shadowrun has several small PDF releases a month, but Catalyst Game Labs has really cut back on that with the release of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. For those that miss all those little one to two dozen page PDF stat block collections like Gun H(e)aven 3, Parazoology 2, Used Car Lot and others like them, you’ll be happy to know that a huge chunk of Run & Gun reads and feels like an omnibus of those pieces. There are roughly seventy pages of new armor and weapons in this this sourcebook! That should keep you busy well… until Sixth Edition rears its ugly head. Seriously, this book is a one stop shop for things to murder (or be murdered) with. Best of all those thirty page stat blocks tend to cost $7.95 EACH. So for Run & Gun, you’re getting the equivalent of a little more than two of those supplements (which would run you $16), but you’re also getting another 148 pages of content as well. Hopefully this knowledge upfront helps ease the sticker price of this sourcebook. I know my first instinct was, “THIRTY DOLLARS FOR THIS? WHAT THE HECK???” Once the shock wears off however, you can see that you’re getting a much better deal cost-wise with Run & Gun than with all those little (overpriced?) PDF supplements. So for some of you, the lack of prolific releases for Shadowrun 5e will be made up by the sheer value of this weighty tome.

Of course, there is so much more to Run & Gun than exotic items like space armor, harpoon guns and monofilament garrotes. The format of Run & Gun follows the usual Shadowrun motif we have come to expect from CGL. You get short pieces of fiction interspersed with metaplot told from the point of view of JackPoint (a Shadowrun Matrix group for those of you who are new to the game with 5e) and a bunch of mechanics. It’s worth noting that unlike a lot of Shadowrun books, Run & Gun breaks from the Jackpoint POV to straight rules and back with little or no warning. That might make the book seem like a chaotic mess at first as you’ll wonder why the speaker du jour suddenly started talking in mechanics, but you’ll get used to it. Perhaps my biggest complaint about the book is this constant narrative style shift. It could have been a lot more seamless. While long time Sixth World fans are going to find the constant flipping back and forth weird but navigable, newcomers will be confused more often than not. Considering this is the first sourcebook for a new edition, Run & Gun should have been more newcomer friendly than this. Still, the book is very easy to navigate, ESPECIALLY if you get the PDF version so you can quickly turn to bookmarks and the like. Due to the twenty dollar difference and the power of CTRL+F, I’d definitely say the electronic version of Run & Gun will be a lot easier to use in your Shadowrun, Fifth Edition games. It’ll be easier on your wallet and take up less space/weight to boot!

The first third of Run & Gun are the weapons and armor stats blocks mentioned earlier. This is probably the section that will get the most use by players and GMs alike. After all, if you want to make an arctic saboteur, you’ll want the Ares Polar Sneak or Coldsuit. (Actually the art for Ares Arctic Survival Suit is a direct rip-off/homage to the Snow Serpents from G.I. Joe. I’m not sure if that is intentional or not, but it is awesome). If you want to relieve Games Workshop’s Chainsaw Warrior board game, you can do it in style with an Ash Arms Combat Chainsaw. So on and so forth. There is something for everyone in these two areas. Now that doesn’t mean ANYONE should buy a full sourcebook if all they want is a single weapon or piece of armor from it. A GM however, can really get use out of Run & Gun if only by throwing new weapons and armor at the PCs. Tired of the same old mooks and grunts? >Spiffy them up with a new machine pistol or give that gang some bike racing armor. This is especially good if you have players that have all the items in the core rulebook memorized and love to rules-laywer.

The other two thirds of Run & Gun are all new tactics and options that can be done during combat. It’s always great to see some new options in combat, but Run & Gun gives you an incredible amount. So many that there is no way even the most anal retentive player is going to memorize all, or even HALF of the options in this book. As such, even veteran players may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options and eventually a group is going to be split on what they want to allow and what they won’t. In a worst case scenario a bad group will want to use all of these and pressure a player into feeling like they MUST purchase Run & Gun. A good group will realize this is not a mandatory Player’s Handbook 2 set of canon rules ala what you see in D&D 3.0 or Pathfinder. If you think forty+ different Martial Arts (Yet the options are still missing Savate, Sumo, Sambo, and a ton of others) is too much for everyone, trim it back to what is workable for your group. The key thing to remember with Run & Gun is that the book is more New World of Darkness where you have a buffet you can pick and choose from than Classic World of Darkness where the books are written in a way where everything is canon and woe to you that can’t afford the latest release or who lack a set on index cards cross referencing everything. Yes the sheer amount of options are INSANE, but remember the focus should never be rules and mechanics first. It’s fun first, so if any of these optional rules don’t work for you or some players don’t have access to them, DON’T USE THEM! It’s that simple.

Our first section in this area is entitled “Sixth World Combat Tactics.” You get an overview of the basic tactics players and their characters know after spending a little bit of time in the Sixth World. “Geek the Mage First” and “kill the Decker second” sort of things. It also talks about the importance of team tactics similar to what you would see in a video game ala X-Com or Shining Force. There’s some really good commentary about how to work as a team and make sure everyone has a specific function or role when drek hits the fan. I’m actually surprised this piece wasn’t in the core rulebook because it’s advice Shadowrun players of all experience levels should read. This section also gives you eleven combat maneuvers which allow two or more characters to tactical options which will give them slight bonuses in specific situations. Case in point, you have a four player team that wants to attempt the “diamond maneuver.” This characters in the shape of a diamond moving in the same direction, thus giving them 360 degrees of sight. If you get four successes on this team attempt, all members doing the diamond maneuver get a +1 bonus to surprise/ambush checks and +2 to their Initiative rolls. This is nice. You get a small, non-game breaking reward for actually performing and moving as a team. Although there are only eleven of these options, an enterprising or creative GM can easily think of more. This section then ends with odd little tools like pain grenades (suck it invisibility spells!) and battering rams.

“KIllshots and More” is where things really start to get intense. You get six different OPTIONS for combat. These range from no action phase limits for simple actions to armor piercing options. My personal favorite is the alternative initiative where characters get rewarded for extremely high rolls and their quickness. Instead of getting one action per round, each player rolls their initiative and then goes in the usual highest to lowest order. Then everyone subtracts 10 from their roll. If they have a roll above 0, they get to go again. Repeat until everyone is down to 0 initiative and start again. I know I already made a World of Darkness comparison to this already, but in many ways this initiative option, gives extremely quick players something akin to Vampire: The Masquerade‘s celerity and I like that. Previously a high initiative “just” let you go first. Now you might be able to go first and get a couple extra attacks in to boot. This option also really lets mages get more out of slow and haste style spells. Of course, just because *I* like it doesn’t mean *you* have to. These are all optional rules; I can’t stress that enough. More options are always welcome while more forced canon rules appearing outside the core rulebook are rarely welcome.

This section continues with even more new combat options a character can take when his or her turn comes up. “More Called Shots” gives you twelve attacks that are more about style or positioning instead of damage. “Location, Location, Location” lets you take aim at sixteen different body parts (Yes, including genitals). “Ammo Whammy” gives you special actions to take with uncommon round types. For example, you can try to aim your Toxic round into a part of the body that will absorb the poison faster. You can’t obviously use an EX-Explosive round for an action designed only for a tracker however.

From there we get to one of the low points in the book. “More Actions” gives you over forty NON-optional actions. These are canon and are now part of the permanent action options so no doubt you’ll see them pop up in adventure with only a reference to Run & Gun, meaning you will have light pressure to buy this book to properly understand the published piece. That’s not cool, and although 4e was REALLY guilty of this, I was hoping 5e wouldn’t start off with it right away. Why these half dozen pages weren’t in the core rulebook for 5e is beyond me. They either should have made this a separate addendum, put them in the core rulebook or not done them. Most of these are common bits to begin with, so it’s more than a little inexcusable to have them in Run & Gun.

After that you have five new ways to spend Edge, seven new positive Qualities and one negative one. Then it’s the plethora of martial arts options I mentioned previously in the review. Besides all the martial art styles I mentioned, you also have techniques, which are the equivalent of called shots for martial artists. All of this is great if you are a physical adept, but these fifteen pages might have been better off as their own separate PDF so that more detail could have been added. As it stands, it’s a lot of options, but none of them have enough depth or detail. Basically this was a great idea on paper, but not enough follow through.

Can you believe there is STILL MORE CONTENT to talk about? At this point we’re only 145 pages into the 218 page PDF. The last third of the book is pretty much two chapters, “Staying Alive” and “Blow Up Good.” “Staying Alive” talks about real world hazards characters can face. After all, it’s not just bullets, dragons and magic that will kill you in the Sixth World. Here you are given mechanics for dealing with extreme heat, cold, radiation, pollution and more. Each of these topics only gets between one and three pages of content, but Space Combat gets about seven. How does magic work in space? How do laser or bullets? What happens if your character specialized in flame magic and he’s out in a vacuum? What happens when your suit starts to leak or the hull of your craft is breached? All of these are covered here. This is great stuff, especially with the earlier space suit bits in the armor section towards the front of the book. There are also two positive and three negative qualities in this section for characters to take as well.

The last real chapter in the book is “Blow up Good.” After that, it’s some short fiction and metric ton of tables. “Blow Up Good,” as you might have surmised, is all about explosives and/or things that explode. This is a pretty detailed chapter covering various types of explosives, different detonators, accessories, rules for cutting charges and even how to blow things up via your rigger’s drone. This is really well done for people that are interesting in sabotage or whose characters go around saying, “And so he says to me, he says, ‘You want to be a baaaaad guy?!’ and I say, ‘Yeah, baby! I want to be bad!’ I says, ‘Surf’s up, Space Ponies! I’m making gravy without the lumps!’ Ah ha ha ha ha haaaaa! ” Oh god. Now I want to make THE EVIL MIDNIGHT TROLL STREET SAM WHAT BOMBS AT MIDNIGHT. If however this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s thirty pages you can just skip over. “Bad is good, baby! Down with government!”

Overall, Run & Gun is well done, but it feels like a hodge podge of small PDFS supplements thrown together until they had enough of a page count to sell it as a physical release. This means that most gamers will only use a portion of the book and excise the rest from their Shadowrun, Fifth Edition campaign. Although it’s a lot cheaper to get the weapons, armor, tactics, actions, martial arts, explosives and environmental hazards as one big bundle rather than as seven or eight supplemental PDFs, the pieces in the book aren’t for everyone. A Physical Adept fan will enjoy the martial arts and action bits but not have a lot of use for the rest. Street Samurari’s will make great use out of the weapons and armor. Mages and Decker players don’t have a lot of use for this book at all. So the amount of use you’ll get out of Run & Gun really depends on what type of character you play and how much of a Shadowrun completionist you are. Remember, those supplemental PDFs tend to run eight bucks a pop, so purchased separately, the wildly divergent sections of this book would cost you between $56-$64 bucks. Instead you’re getting them bundled for $29.99. That’s a great deal price wise. However, if all you wanted were the weapons and armor, you’re stuck paying twice as much as you would have if you could buy each section separately. So the value for Run & Gun will vary greatly depending on your play style and how much of a Sixth World junkie you are.

Can I recommend Run & Gun? Most definitely! It’s not for everyone and the very different topics at hand make the sourcebook feel like more like a Frankenstein’s Monster type of deal rather than a cohesive collection, but the content is all quality stuff. In the end, no one gamer is going to make use of every aspect of this book, but there will be at least one section you’ll really enjoy – if not more. I’d definitely suggest going electronic over physical and remind gamers that if you look at Run & Gun as a bundle instead of sourcebook, the price tag on this thing looks a lot better. Whether or not it’s worth the full thirty dollars is really going to be up to each of you reading this and if you like the wide range of content we’ve looked at today.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Run & Gun
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Accursed: The Banshee of Loch Finnere
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/15/2014 06:58:01
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/15/tabletop-review-accurse-
d-the-banshee-of-loch-finnere-savage-worlds/

Unlike the short story seed, Half-Light, which I reviewed a little bit ago, The Banshee of Loch Finnere is a full length, fully plotted out adventure featuring an exciting plot and some gorgeous artwork. The cover by Alberto Bontempi is almost worth the six dollar cover price alone. I have to admit that, while both reading and experiencing The Banshee of Loch Finnere, I almost forgot this was an Accursed product and found myself viewing it as a Ravenloft one. That’s high praise indeed. In fact, this adventure has probably surpassed The Festival at Glenelg as my favorite Accursed product.

Caer Kainen is under the control of The Morrigan, as are many lands these days. Although Clan Finnoul has been humbled, decimated and dominated since the end of the Bane War, their mind is on a more pressing horror – that of the Banshee of Loch Finnere. While sitting around nursing old grudges and being on the losing side of the war, a vengeful apparition roams your ancestral home with the single minded purpose of wiping out what remains of Clan Finnoul. At the time of the adventure’s start, three members of the clan have died, and the player characters are there to see if they can prevent any more deaths. What follows is a three act adventure that should last roughly half a dozen play sessions, and it features a nice mix of mystery, intrigue, investigation and violence. GMs running The Banshee of Loch Finnere should be familiar with the Cairn Kainen setting (it’s in your Accursed core rulebook).

I really loved this adventure. It’s well laid out, offers a decent amount of back story regarding the location and core antagonist, and gives a list of locations in the general vicinity for players to visit and for GMs to craft subquests around. I also liked that the adventure focused primarily on investigation and discovery rather than constant combat. After all, there is a mystery to be solved rather than a dungeon to crawl through. In fact, I counted only eight combat encounters in the whole adventure, several of which can be avoided altogether based on the choices the PCs make and/or how good they are at thinking things through rather than hacking and slashing. Of course, there are gamers out there who want non-stop combat, and Accursed CAN be that type of game if a GM runs it that way, but this is certainly not the adventure for those gamers. Rather, The Banshee of Loch Finnere makes a great way to bring in fans of Call of Cthulhu, Chill, WoD and other slower paced horror gamers into the Accursed fold.

I really liked the pacing and progression of this adventure. It’s slow moving like an old Victorian ghost story, and it really gives the GM a chance to set a somber yet spooky tone for the adventure. As Accursed is a game of monsters fighting monsters, it can be hard to really craft something frightening for the setting. After all, if you’re playing a mummy or a Dhampir, are zombies really going to terrify you? The local townsfolk, yes, but not the PCs. The Banshee of Loch Finnere, however, creates an atmosphere of dread because the PCs really can’t punch a curse in the face or do battle with the banshee directly. For all their combined powers, the PCs greatest weapon against the evil in this adventure is their wits. By the end of the adventure, players may have pissed off two major powers in the Accursed world, as well as either helped the banshee to find peace or destroyed her outright. There are a lot of ways this adventure can unfold, and it’s nice to see this isn’t an on-rails piece where PCs are simply along for the ride.

Again, the core plot piece of finding out who the Banshee is and why she has her heart set on the destruction of Clan Finnoul is straight out of the old AD&D Second Edition version of Ravenloft, as it highlights the power of a curse, how horrific and/or terrifying a run of the mill monster can be if written correctly, and it just oozes atmosphere. It also helps that there are squabbles between the dark rulers of this setting similar, to those that occur in the Dark Domain. Because of this, D&D gamers might want to pick up this adventure as well and do a bit of tweaking so it uses 2nd or 3rd edition rules rather than Savage Worlds mechanics. Note that this is a LOT easier than you might imagine, as the entire adventure is stat-free/systemless except for the last two pages of the PDF, which gives monster stats in Savage Worlds terms.

In the end, The Banshee of Loch Finnere is exactly what I’d give to someone who was curious about Accursed. I’d have them play through this adventure and, if they had fun, lend them the core books to decide if this is a system they wanted to invest in. Of course, Accursed is a pretty expensive game to pick up, as you’ll need the core rulebook, the Savage Worlds core rulebook and the Savage Worlds Horror Companion just to get started. That can be a pretty pricey undertaking. At only six dollars, The Banshee of Loch Finnere is a great way to see if Accursed is the horror fantasy system for you without spending fifty to a hundred dollars in books you might not actually use. There’s absolutely nothing negative I can say about the adventure itself. So if you’re a fan of horror fantasy at all, definitely make a note to yourself to pick up The Banshee of Loch Finnere when you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: The Banshee of Loch Finnere
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Tales From The Crucible
Publisher: Modiphius
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2014 08:26:17
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/14/tabletop-review-achtung-
-cthulhu-dossier-tales-from-the-crucible-call-of-cthulhusava-
ge-worlds/

We all like free stuff, right? Well, Modiphius has given us our first free Acthung! Cthulhu supplement in Tales From the Crucible. This thirteen page PDF is fully compatible with the Savage Worlds version of the setting as well as the classic Call of Cthulhu game put out by Chaosium. In fact, you could use this PDF with ANY system you choose, as there are no mechanics to be had anywhere within its pages. In a way, the PDF is to sell you, the reader, on its core six characters that you’ll find throughout the Achtung! Cthulhu universe, the same way Paizo has its Pathfinder iconics or the characters that proliferate Fantasy Flight Games’ Cthulhu titles like Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror. These are the characters you see in art, short stories and (soon) miniature form. This PDF lets you know more about the reoccurring characters and aims to make you care more about them so that you continue to pick up the Acthung! Cthulhu products with a price tag attached to them (especially the upcoming Secret War campaign), so that you can thrill to their continuing adventures. In essence, Tales From the Crucible is an excellently done tease designed to hook you into wanting more.

The six characters profiled in Tales From the Crucible are:

•Natalya Petrova – a Russian tank driver who appears to have picked up an otherworldly hitchhiker.


•Professor Richard Deadman – the typical American Call of Cthulhu protagonist whose delving into things man was not meant to know has rewarded him with great knowledge, great magical ability… and little sanity.


•Captain Eric “Badger” Harris – The commander of a unit within the secret British Intelligence organization known simply as Section M. He feels like a bit of a British Nick Fury. Of course, HIS commandos aren’t the howling type, literally or figuratively – YET.


•Ariane Dubois – a beautiful and stealthy member of the French Resistance. One of the pictures in the PDF makes her look like Kitty Pryde with that dragon type thingy on her shoulder. Of course, this creature is not quite as benevolent as Lockheed, but at least it is on her side. (A bit sad that two of the four come off as VERY inspired by Marvel Comics characters.)


•Corporal Akhee “The Eye” Singh – Although on the side of the Allies, Singh may be a bigger threat to his comrades than the Axis. As long as the eye on his pendant remains closed and his powers are kept in check (We don’t speak of “the Black Mist incident”), Singh is on the side of the angels.


•Sergent Brandon Carter – An All-American army grunt who is never without an Elder Sign nor a SMG with a mind of its own.

There isn’t a lot of content here, maybe a page or two on each character, but the snippets are well written and enough to make you want to learn more about each character so – mission accomplished. As a freebie teaser, Tales from the Crucible is a great peek at Achtung! Cthulhu and what it has to offer you as a gamer. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t pick this up. It is free, after all. Who knows? You might just find yourself deciding to pick up the Keeper or Investigator’s Guides after you’ve flipped through this.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Tales From The Crucible
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Grimtooth's Traps Too
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2014 06:26:18
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/14/tabletop-review-grimtoo-
ths-traps-too/

So this is interesting. The Grimtooth’s Traps series has been around since 1981. Each book contains dozens of traps useable for whatever gaming system you prefer. Sure, being a systemless collection means that the DM has a little bit of work to do to make the trap fit the mechanics they are using, but the Grimtooth series is generally as fun (and funny) to read as it is to drop some of its traps into your campaign. Now, back in 2011, Flying Buffalo released PDF versions of Grimtooth’s Traps 1 and Grimtooth’s Traps Fore, each of which we have covered here at Diehard GameFAN. I’m not sure why they are being released out of order, or why it’s been three years since the last release (I’m assuming Flying Buffalo is simply hard at work with Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe), but I’m just happy to have them back where all gamers can get these classic books, as they definitely withstand the test of time. The fact you can get this book for only $4.95 should have long time old school gamers squealing in glee… or begging for mercy. I guess it all depends.

Grimtooth Trap’s Too contains 101 traps for DM’s to unleash upon their unsuspecting players – all of which are sure to hurt, maim or murder all but the most paranoid of characters. Every page is tinged with dark humor though, so don’t be looking for a book that takes its macabre mayhem too seriously. Grimtooth the Troll is a wonderful narrator, in the style of EC Comics’ Cryptkeeper and other comically evil characters. The introduction by Grimtooth himself sets the tone of the tome perfectly, and the artwork is pretty fun too.

The book is divided into five sections, each of which is dedicated to a different type of trap set. As well, each individual trap is given a skull rating. The more skulls on the page, the more lethal the trap is to explorers and adventurers. First up are Room Traps, which tend to be over the top and anything but subtle. These traps are designed to turn an entire room into a deathtrap. Sometimes they are the simple, tried and true teeter-totter floor that sends characters into a pit. Others are far more complicated and might even have decoy traps to distract players from the real deathdealer in the room. There are fun traps, like a safe where each wrong turn of the dial causes a foot of floor to fall away, or a metal bridge that transforms into a cage. Each room trap is fiendishly fun, and it is this section you’ll probably use the most.

Corridor Traps are for use in hallways, and help to add a little flavor to the dull drudgery of walking down a dungeon or underground caverns. These traps change hallways from places to rest or to encounter wandering monsters, into a fresh new hell to keep PCs on their toes. These traps range from the non-lethal, humorous variety, designed to warn characters that worse awaits them if they continue on, to fun takes on pressure plates or spring loaded pieces of floor. I also like the bee-hive trap, which actually shoots out metal darts instead of bees. There are a ton of great ideas to be had here.

Next up are Door Traps, which are obviously twists on the old trap door motif. The first one, aka “Double Trap,” is a classic. The door is actually a false one, and trying to unlock it causes the door to reveal itself as a giant spring loaded plate, which sends the PC (most likely a rogue) toward the opposite wall, which now happens to be littered with spikes. Another great one is where the keyhole to a door actually sets off a bomb. There are even gruesome takes on classic practical jokes. You know the one where you stick a bucket of water above a door and when it’s fully open a person gets wet? Well, replace the bucket of water with a five hundred pound granite block or swinging set of spikes!

The fourth set of traps in Grimtooth’s Traps Too are Item Traps. These are booby-trapped pieces of loot. The book cautions you to use these sparingly, as not every item a player touches should burst into flames, and having too many item traps can suck the fun out of a game. I agree wholeheartedly with these statements, but the occasional item trap can be a lot of fun. Magnetic gauntlets or armbands for example. A lot of the traps under item traps are non-lethal, like gems that are actually glue or extremely smoky torches, but there are definitely some literal killers amongst this collection. A bird cage with a blanket over it turns out not to be a parrot, but a basilisk! That’s a good, but obvious, one. So is the shield covered with a scentless flammable liquid or oil.

Section five is simply titled Items. This is a catch-all section for potential traps that don’t fit anywhere else. These include things like rocks that are actually napalm, coins that are actually a living hive mind that control their possessor, or a webbed doorway where the web is actually a fuse or trigger for a bomb. Another great one is the two swords mounted above a fireplace. If either is touched, a sack of gunpowder falls into the fireplace. BOOM! These traps tend to be the most bizzare and amusing in the book.

After these five sections of traps, you’ll notice you are only sixty-seven pages into this ninety-eight page book. What could possibly be left, right? Well, you have a two page commentary by Grimtooth, followed by a fun seven page comic strip about the character. After that, you get five pages of puzzles, like a maze, word search and rebus. It’s kind of bizarre to see those in a gaming book, but they’re entertaining at least. After that, the book closes out with what it calls the “Fudge” system. This is basically a way to help gamers convert these traps from the systemless designs they have to the mechanics of their choice. It’s quite interesting, and younger or less experienced gamers will find it a real blessing. Older or more experienced gamers won’t need this, though, as they’ll most likely be quite adept at converting things to their game of choice.

All in all, Grimtooth’s Traps Too still holds up thirty-two years later, which is pretty impressive for a systemless piece. Even gamers who feel they have seen it all, trap-wise, will be surprised or foiled by some of the traps in this book. Best of all, there are several other books out there along the same line bearing the Grimtooth name, so if you love this one, you’ll want to start picking up the others as well. Again, with a five dollar price tag for the PDF, this is an absolute steal and well worth downloading. Whether you play D&D, T&T or even a modern era RPG, you’ll find something to use in Grimtooth’s Traps Too.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Grimtooth's Traps Too
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The House of R'lyeh
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:32:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/22/tabletop-review-the-hou-
se-of-rlyeh-call-of-cthulhu/

The House of R’lyeh is a collection I’ve been excited to get my hands on for some time. This is because, for the first time, there is a Call of Cthulhu adventure collection that ties heavily into not only actual stories by H.P. Lovecraft, but over a dozen other published adventure collections of campaigns by Chaosium. In a sense, The House of R’lyeh is the first real piece for Call of Cthulhu tying together enough published works that the system could now have a slight semblance of a metaplot. Unlike systems like Shadowrun or Vampire: The Masquerade, where every book released seems (or seemed in the case of V:TM) to build on the metaplot, and sometimes were written more for said overarching story than for gamer accessibility, the metaplot suggested here in The House of R’lyeh is both optional and nebulous. This means, thankfully, that Call of Cthulhu will never be one of those games where you feel like you need to purchase every release to understand what is going on, but that those interested in the light trappings of a metaplot presented here can track down the adventures, supplements and stories (many are out of print though, both physically and electronically) to fully realize the “bigger picture” presented by authors here. I’m very happy about the interconnectivity of all these adventures being so light, because had it been otherwise, this could have been a massive train wreck. Instead, The House of R’lyeh gives us five interesting adventures, each of which is primarily tied to a story by Lovecraft, thus acting as a quasi-sequel to the events in those tales. There are ways to connect all five adventures into a min-campaign, and many references to other stories and adventures, in case the Keeper wants to go to use these adventures as a starting point or link for something else in his or her collection. I really like how all these hints, homages and nods to other Cthulhoid publications come across, as I admit, I’m getting fatigue from certain other RPGs, where the books are unabashedly written in such a way that you MUST own previous releases to make heads or tails of what is going on in it. So a big kudos to Chaosium for presenting a collection that tries to pull previous releases together in a light form of metaplot/cohesiveness while making sure all the way it is optional, AND providing enough information about the inspiration material that the Keeper doesn’t need to search out and/or purchase the other pieces of writing in question.

I will give one word of warning to those who are interested in picking up The House of R’lyeh. These are exceptionally long and in-depth adventures, and they will no doubt seem daunting to casual or less experienced Call of Cthulhu keepers. Not only are the adventures themselves crammed with an amazing amount of information about the plot, potential NPCs and pratfalls, but they also include everything from a quick synopsis of the story that inspired them, a massive amount of information on the area in which the adventure takes place and everything the less detail oriented Keeper won’t even think of, like full rail charts (and length of trips) or the cost of various items for the time period. I won’t say the adventures come off as anal retentive or OCD, but they are so jam packed with information that you will either find The House of R’lyeh to contain everything you’ve ever wanted to see in an adventure, down to the most minute detail, or to be extremely superfluous and cause your eyes to glaze over as you fathom each page’s multitude of information. It’s going to be one extreme or another. Either way, my advice is not to try and read this book in one sitting. Maybe one adventure at a time, and for the longer 60+ page adventures, perhaps a few sittings each, and take notes during each one as, while running the adventure, there’s just no way to remember where every last detail is. Just remember, HoR contains five adventures and clocks in at 224 pages, while something like Atomic Age Cthulhu has nine adventures and a mini source book for the 1950s to boot – all with the same page count as this collection. So, yeah, let’s just say The House of R’lyeh is INTENSE, and whether that is a positive or a negative is really up to what you want from an adventure collection.

The first adventure is “The Art of Madness” and it is a sequel to Pickman’s Model, arguably one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories (Cthulhu knows it’s been turned into a plethora of low budget, but varying quality films/TV episodes over the years). I will say the the characterization of Pickman is completely off from the Lovecraft story, and certainly it’s different from the Pickman we see in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, which will no doubt draw the ire of some Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos fans. It’s the problem any time a character is adapted into someone else’s work. I will admit it is an inaccurate portrayal of Pickman compared to his Lovecraft penned pieces, but it is well established that becoming a ghoul is a painful and maddening process. In Pickman’s Model we see the beginning of Pickman’s descent, but in “Kadath,” he’s not only quite sane (more or less) but an ally of Robert Carter. I suppose if this was Marvel Comics, I’d try and earn myself a No-Prize by saying that “The Art of Madness” takes place when Pickman hits the zenith of his insanity and slowly begins to rebuild himself at the conclusion of the adventure, perhaps with a stark clarity that only comes with being mad and hitting rock bottom. Or, in Call of Cthulhu gaming terms, he’s failed one too many sanity checks and is temporarily insane, but eventually gets better, or as much as a cannibalistic undergrounding dwelling humanoid mutated by his own dark nature can be. That said, I loved this adventure because it’s one of those stories that seems so obvious that I can’t believe it hasn’t been written before now. The plot is so simple it’s ingenious, and can be played for stark terror or even with a Blood Brothers-esque tongue-in-cheek feel to it, because the premise is as absurd and potentially comical as it is creepy as all get out.

Oh, what is the plot of “The Art of Madness,” you ask? Well, Richard Upton Pickman feels his art is unappreciated by the plebian human society he was once a part of. Pickman also feels that his style of art must live on in the surface world, and so he decides to open a school of the arts inside the ghoul warren he is part of. Now he only needs students, and so he begins to take a select few that show “potential” from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This is where the Investigators come in, although the missing students and teacher may not be the plot hook that initially sends them into this macabre foray.

I really like that “The Art of Madness” offers multiple hooks to get Investigators involved. After all, there are FAR too many adventures that rely on the assumption that the PCs are parapsychologists, a detective agency or just “know Cthulhu stuff.” With multiple story hooks, the Keeper can choose what works best for players, as well as the tone of the adventure. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t decide whether to play this adventure seriously or as somewhat comedic. I started off the adventure like it would be a normal CoC adventure, but when players interacted with the Portuguese janitor who is somewhat pivotal to the plot like he was Manuel from Fawlty Towers, I knew it was time to err on the side of farcical, which turned out to be the right call. I strongly doubt the author of “Art of Madness” wrote it realizing the comedic potential of the adventure, but then neither did Bruce Nesmith when he penned The Created for Second Edition AD&D, and look how that turned out. The adventure DOES work if you play it straight, as there is a good deal of creepiness, what with wandering into a Ghoul warren and discovering the fate of the kidnapped artists. No matter how you decide to run with “The Art of Madness,” it really is a brilliant little adventure you can’t help but have fun with. 1 for 1.

“The Crystal of Chaos” is the second adventure in the collection and it is meant to be a sequel to the Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark. I always loved this story, and I’m surprised the creature from this tale hasn’t turned up in more Call of Cthulhu adventures. Here it is, though, as Investigators journey to Providence, Rhode Island to retrieve a mystical artifact from the long defunct Church of Starry Wisdom. Of course, said item bears a horrific curse that threatens the physical and mental well-being of the PCs, but really, isn’t that par for the course in a CoC adventure?

My only real problem with “The Crystal of Chaos” is trying to get players into the adventure. This is one of those that assumes players are all allies/co-workers and have some sort of Cthulhoid leaning background, such as professors, anthropologists or detectives. What happens when you have characters that run the gamut from Olympic gymnast to hobo? It’s going to be very hard to create a proper story hook for this one that actually fits a group of players who were given free reign during character design, which is MOST groups. “The Crystal of Chaos” would be awesome with pre-generated characters or as a one-shot adventure, but trying to come up with a reason why a circus clown, a wealthy dilettante, a longshoreman and a chemical engineer should team up to track down the Shining Trapezohedron from a ruined and possibly haunted church so that an Egyptologist can use it in his upcoming expedition is going to take a bit of planning out. This is why I love adventures like “The Art of Madness” where you are given multiple ways to get characters into the adventure. Ones with only a single plot hook like this that doesn’t really work as a catch-all is pretty much equivalent to, “Your party is in a tavern when…” for fantasy RPGs.

Now, with that out of the way, once you find a way to actually get your motley crew of characters to undertake the trip to Providence, you’ll find the adventure is a really fun one. The adventure provides five full pages just on landmarks in the city itself, meaning a good Keeper can really make Providence come to life, even if they have never been there. The Free-Will Church is laid out in exacting detail, leaving the Keeper with little to no work to do in order to run the adventure, save for memorizing all that it contains. There’s an unexpected mini-boss, so to speak, which I enjoyed seeing, and it’s now the second time in the past month a Call of Cthulhu adventure has featured this creature, which is funny as I mentioned in my Tales of the Sleepless City review that this particular monster of choice doesn’t get enough play in CoC.

The climax of the adventure is when the players find the Shining Trapezohedron, but in a sense, it starts something completely new, as now players have to deal with The Haunter itself and all that comes with it. It might be a good idea to break the adventure into two sessions, ending the first right when the players unwittingly do something with the ancient jewel that sends everything into chaos. Everyone loves a cliffhanger, right? Of course, everything goes to hell from there and what was originally a simple snatch and run operation becomes an event where the PCs may not only have to save the world, but one of their own. By the end of the adventure, at least one Investigator will be suffering from severe nyctophobia. Ouch. Again, this is a fun little adventure and players will probably be expecting one thing from the adventure, especially when they are told they are investigating an old ruined crazy cult church, and then end up getting hit with something quite different. It’ll definitely be fun to hear how various play sessions of this adventure went. 2 for 2.

The third adventure in The House of R’lyeh is “The Return of the Hound.” I’ve always loved that story, but I can’t say I cared for the adventure. It never connected with me. At times, it was just really dull, and at others it felt too over the top, like with the auction where a bunch of magic using occultists were there to examine the rare magic bearing tomes (including a Necronomicon!) up for sale. Part of it is that the adventure just felt far too long both in terms of reading and actual play. It dragged and felt heavily padded, which is never a good thing.

Now, that’s not to say the adventure was a complete flop. With some heavy excising and streamlining, this could work really well. As the adventure is basically two in one (part taking place in Amsterdam and the other in a small rural English community), you could just remove the Dutch part of the adventure and really focus on the weird British auction of the damned. However, the core of information the players need to get through the information is in the Dutch part so… I don’t know. My advice is that the seeds of an interesting adventure are here, but it’s just too bogged down to flow in an enjoyable manner. It feels like it was put together via a game of Mythos from the late 90s.

Basically “The Return of the Hound” has players not only having to deal with the return of this otherworldly canine, but a victim turned avatar of the Hound turned serial killer. The text is quite contradictory on the non Hound antagonist, as it’s mentioned to be an avatar, but still potentially being hunted by the Hound, which is nonsensical. It would be like Hastur trying to smack down the King in Yellow. It gets far more convoluted from there without any real rhyme or reason behind the Hound or De Slachter, and the adventure really needed a better editor to focus the writer’s ideas into a more comprehensible affair. It also doesn’t help that there is a TON of back story content, in-depth location descriptions and NPC bios to sift through. In a better laid out adventure, all this would be helpful instead of a hindrance. Unfortunately, the layout of the adventure has you flipping back and forth to make some sense of the story being told while trying to keep all the Keeper information separate in your head. I would have to suggest that this needed to be totally rewritten from the ground up. There’s just way too much going on here and very little of it is going to be fun or even interesting to the people playing through this. 2 for 3.

Our fourth adventure in this collection is “The Jermyn Horror,” and it is meant to play off of Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, which is a truly strange but memorable Lovecraftian story. I’m at odds with the adventure itself. Its connection to the Lovecraft story is tenuous at best and mere window dressing at worst, which is a shame, because it’s a really good adventure for the most part and it might have been even better had the core story been allowed to stand on its own instead of being tied to a previous Lovecraft penned tale. You could excise the entire Jermyn connection and the adventure would still work wonderfully. It just depends on if your players will like the slight homage to a previous Lovecraft story or if they will find it trite and unnecessary.

There are two other problems I had with this adventure. The first is a minor one, but it is the second in this collection that hinges around a PC being possessed by the antagonist of the adventure, and the third where the antagonist possesses SOMEONE to keep the story moving along. That’s… not good in my opinion, and shows a dearth of creativity in this collection. Fortunately for “The Jermyn Horror,” I can’t pin my disdain for the fact that 60% of this collection goes back to the same well on it alone. The second is that the adventure doesn’t really have a true ending set up, and that’s the big one. The adventure has the characters forcibly held in place by a fiendish thingy that tried to possess and convert their bodies, but the adventure doesn’t really give any way for players to “win” or even survive it. The creature in question is crazy powerful and has trapped the players. There is a way of delaying the inevitable destruction if players can find it, and a very obscure way of killing the creature you will pretty much have to hold the hands of players to lead them to, which is never fun for anyone. There really needed to be more outs for the Keeper and his or her players, rather than a single paragraph on what could be done including the sentence, “Other solutions might present themselves to inventive players.” as the way to end the adventure. This seems to be more of an editorial than a writer issue though, as it could have been easily fixed by the editor saying, “Could you expand this a bit more so that less experienced gamers or Keepers have more of an out?” I mean, Call of Cthulhu should be a deadly game, but the solution shouldn’t be so obscure that most players won’t figure it out unless it’s virtually handed it to them by the Keeper. The end result is this adventure reads and plays like it is the Keeper VERSUS the players, which should be a massive red flag for anyone, as we all know how those affairs turn out. It’s a shame too, because I loved the creature, the setup, the atmosphere and some of the goings-on in the adventure. With some fine tuning, this could have been a great adventure. Instead it feels like an incomplete one. 2 for 4.

“Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” is our fifth adventure, and after the two I gave a thumb’s down to, I’m happy to say The House of R’lyeh ends on a positive note. There is some combining of Irem and the Nameless City, which may cause squabbling between different camps of Mythos fans, but hey, it’s an adventure for a role playing game; it’s not like it’s going to magically retcon everything Lovecraft has written since the 1890s.

This adventure feels like a classic Cthulhu story from the 20s turned into an adventure, which is what I was hoping for with this collection. Players will be travelling to the Middle East (starting in Yemen) in search of Irem, and once again, I love that this adventure gives you multiple hooks to use instead of one rigid assumption about the Investigators and why they are along for the ride. You got a LOT of information on the Nameless City in the course of playing the game, so even if you hadn’t read the actual story by Lovecraft, you won’t feel like you are missing out on anything. There are also a lot of suggested optional encounters which can turn “Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” into a mini campaign, which is always a fine option. This allows the Keeper to adapt the adventure to the attention span of his or her players, as well as change things on the fly. Are the Investigators burning through the adventure with no problem? Then throw an optional event at them. If they are having a hard time and making little progress, there’s no sense in using them. I love when adventures do this.

“Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” just has that “it factor” for me. It’s well written, it’s in an exotic locale yet well written enough that a Keeper who is utterly unfamiliar with Yemen can make it come alive. There’s a wonderful mystical quality that pervades the entire experience, and though much of the adventure is simply travelling and talking with NPCs rather than investigating or running from Mythos terrors, it’s a highly memorable experience. I also love the unexpected allies that you can gain in this adventure. One of which is a realistic portrayal of a Mythos creature and how, simply because something isn’t human doesn’t mean it’s out to destroy mankind or drive things insane. The other is perhaps the most famous creation of Lovecraft after Cthulhu, and while this will no doubt raise the ire of some Lovecraftian purists, I found it to be a nice unexpected touch. If you’re unsure if the introduction of this character will cause a dour reaction from some of your players, just change his name and have him be some other ancient figure with copious amounts of knowledge that no man should possess.

At the end of “Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” Investigators will have picked up a lot of Cthulhu Mythos simply through osmosis, have made some powerful mystical allies, and will have encountered a veritable menagerie of things man was never meant to encounter. It’ll be interesting to see how many characters make it through this adventure with their sanity intact. This is simply a fantastic adventure that is best used as the climax or end of a long campaign before classic characters are finally to put to bed. 3 for 5.

So as we can see, The House of R’lyeh is a mixed bag. There are three excellent adventures in the collection and two I can’t recommend. Although the good does outweigh the bad in this set, I have a hard time saying it is worth the thirty-four dollar price tag of the physical copy. Twenty dollars for the PDF is more acceptable, but still a little high for the level of quality. As Chaosium is having a sale until April 28th, you can get the PDF for $14.26 which is definitely worth it (Five bucks per good adventure is a fine deal), but at the same time, you can then get other new-ish releases like Terror From the Skies for only $16.07 and Atomic Age Cthulhu for $12.68 and I’d recommend either of those over The House of R’lyeh without hesitation. There are FAR better Call of Cthulhu collections out there for the same approximate price tag, but by no means is The House of R’lyeh a bad or even disappointing choice.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The House of R'lyeh
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Terror From the Skies
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:30:16
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/12/10/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-terror-from-the-skies/

It’s been an amazing year for the Call of Cthulhu franchise. Chaosium has put out top notch pieces like Cthulhu by Gaslight Third Edition and Mysteries of Ireland. Goodman Games has given us A Dream of Japan and The Timeless Sands of India. Pagan Publishing FINALLY released Bumps in the Night while other new publishers like Modiphius and Hebanon games releases some quality adventures as well. As 2012 comes to an end, Chaosium gives us one last release in Terror From the Skies – a massive campaign containing over a dozen connected adventures, guaranteed to keep your players busy for the next few months. While it’s nowhere as impressive as say, Horror on the Orient Express or Masks of Nyarlathotep, you’re still getting a solid adventure that will test both the Keeper and the Investigators alike as they try to foil a scheme that, if left unchecked, will spell the extinction of the entire human race.

The primary antagonists in this campaign are the Insects from Shaggai, or the Shan, as they are referred to throughout this collection. Although the race is presented slightly different in tone and deed than Ramsey Campbell first portrayed them, they still make for a creepy recurring threat to your Investigators – especially with their legions of shantanks, star vampires and cultists behind them. There is a lot of combat here, especially for a Chaosium published Call of Cthulhu adventure, but if the players are smart, they’ll be able to even the odds by way of magic, stealth and even making an alliance with the Deep Ones. This adventure is pretty unforgiving, and much like those classic boxed sets from Chaosium’s past, everyone’s starting Investigator will probably be dead or mad before the campaign is through. In this respect, it’s almost like this is a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, but with train rides instead of underground lairs and Cthulhu Mythos beasties instead of dragons or beholders. I’d suggest using characters that are well experienced if you want them to survive, as they would have Mythos skill points and some spells at hand, but then you risk losing a beloved character, and the first adventure is written in such a way that this is each character’s first experience with the Mythos. At the same time though, there are times when the adventure expects Investigators to have a pretty hefty Cthulhu Mythos skill percentage to make a few rolls, which is pretty jarring and at times impossible. This isn’t the only case where balance is an issue with the entire campaign. You’re going to want each Investigator to have an extremely high Psychology skill level, as it’s used for just about everything in this game. Other skills that are abundantly used are Spot Hidden, Hide and Sneak. It’s as if a team of Jungian loving Ninjas would be the ideal Investigators for this campaign. It would have been nice to see a larger spread of skill usage throughout the campaign, but it is what it is. Just don’t expect your typical librarian or Professor to make it through this unscathed. A Hobo or dock worker might have a better chance, which is kind of neat. Keepers may want to give hints as to what skills are best suited for this campaign if they are overly nice and generous, but it also may be fun to see how well the usual Call of Cthulhu builds hold up in this campaign.

The campaign starts off innocuously enough, with the wedding of a dear friend. Unfortunately the wedding is to be held in a church with a hideous curse that plagues any who try to wed within it, thus setting off a massive chain of events no one could predict. The first adventure is an intro not only to the campaign, but could also work as an intro to Call of Cthulhu as well. There’s little, if any, combat, and it’s all about deciphering how the curse works and disabling it. It’s about as cut and dry as a CoC adventure gets. From there, though, each adventure is meant to lead into the next, but things start off with a rocky start. A character briefly met in the first adventure is the story hook for the second one, which takes place in Whitby. However, said character lived nowhere near Whitby in the first adventure, and for a campaign that is almost anal retentive on keeping track of dates and times so as to stick to a schedule of events, there’s no commentary on when this character moved or how long of a time elapsed between the two adventures. There’s also no reason for this NPC to have forged such a strong bond with the Investigators that he thinks to write them and ask for their help. In all honestly, I would have the first adventure, “Introduction,” take place a year or so before “A Whitby Vampire” and throw in two other short adventures between them to let the Investigators raise their skills while letting the players get some experience in the system. I’d also make this particular NPC, named Frederick Davis, a recurring character in them somehow to strengthen his relationship with the PCs and make it less jarring.

The second adventure is only connected to the first because the things behind the cursed church are also behind the serial killings in this adventure. That and Mr. Davis. Other than that, they aren’t as interconnected as they need to be for a true campaign feeling. Still, “A Whitby Vampire,” is a fun adventure, just like the first, and it really gives the Investigators full exposure to the Mythos while also making some truly strange allies. It also gives the PCs knowledge of the cult that does the bidding of the Shan and a hint towards the end goal of this alien race.

After “A Whitby Vampire,” the Investigators begin to follow clues leading them into a vast world-wide conspiracy. They’ll be traveling by train, motorcar, carriage and even ship as they follow leads all over the United Kingdom. Each leg of the journey puts them at odds with the Shan’s cult, while also gaining magic and Cthulhu Mythos points at an increasing pace. As mentioned earlier, there will be a lot of battles taking place, but with the right magic, players should be able to stand up to the creatures they encounter, even while their sanity slowly dissipates. As Investigators will (hopefully) gain access to the same summon/bind spells the cult has, they can just neutralize the creatures with their own kind, freeing up time to investigate, steal, assassinate and research. Like I said, a Ninja would work out really well in Terror From the Skies.

A good part of the adventure is figuring out who is in the Shan’s cult and who is also quasi-possessed by one of these creatures. This is where the massive amount of psychology rolls will come in. Every character will have access to the spell Cast Out Shan, which will help immensely, but it’s getting a person to a place where you can perform the spell privately that will be the trick, just like any other spell in the game. It’s not just spells and psychology rolls that will come in handy. Someone who is excellent with a sniper rifle will make the adventure pretty easy as well. There are times when the an Investigator with experience in this field (say a veteran of the Great War) will be able to take out a cultist easily. More importantly, it’ll keep from having to deal with Shantanks and Star Vampires. At one point characters may even try to infiltrate the cult. At the very least they’ll be sneaking into a few ceremonies and the like. Investigators might not have a problem foiling the plans of alien horrors and their pet monstrosities, but they might balk at having to kill a lot of cultists. All for the greater good though, right?

It’s not until the sixth adventure, “Newcastle,” where the Investigators will really have an idea of what is going on. Until now, they’ve just been dealing with a cult that seems to be spread across the country. Here, however, players will finally figure out what the Shan need, a flight around the world via the Graf Zeppelin, even if they won’t know why. For the next few adventures, players will be going after specific cultists and either neutralizing them or opening their eyes to what the Shan really are and the nefarious schemes they have in place. The good thing is that you can have some of these (hopefully) ex-cultists in line as replacement characters in case someone dies or goes irreparably mad from this point on. Basically, from here on, players will be trying to figure out what cultists are going to be on the Graf Zeppelin, and taking their tickets through a variety of means. These bits can range from helping free these people from their Shan infestation (if they have one. They might just be helping willingly) to doing a 1920s style Shadowrun affair, or just outright robbing and/or murdering them to keep them from bordering the most important blimp ride in human history. Of course, no matter what, the Investigators will have to figure out who (or what) a mysterious being known as The Carrier is and what exactly “Heliowall” is, and why it is so important to the Shan. Is it a person? A Place? An alien being? A technological device? Players will need to figure this out and invariably, it will probably lead them through a maze of challenges that will test even the most min/max’d character.

The campaign climaxes with “The Graf Zeppelin” and “The Last Leg,” where the investigators, now armed with the knowledge of what Heliowall is, must figure out which of the passengers or crew aboard the Graf Zeppelin is it. Then they have to find a way to neutralize them and prevent the Shan’s plan for world domination from taking effect. In essence, these two adventures are a logic puzzle similar to the old board game Guess Who? albeit with more lethal consequences. Players will have to mentally tick off who the Carrier could and could not be. A wrong guess can lead to disaster, imprisonment and even extinction of the human race. At the same time, they have but a limited amount of time, as they must stop The Carrier before the flight around the world is accomplished, so they can’t dawdle. There will be numerous occurrences where The Carrier will try to take the Investigators out, and thus chances for the players to compare notes and try to pinpoint who the Shan’s ultimate agent is. It may come down to one Investigator taking it for the team by coldly murdering the Carrier in front of witnesses, or even the entire team sacrificing the Graf by using Mythos creatures of their own to destroy it and the Carrier (along with dozens of innocent human lives). It all just depends on the players and the actions they choose for their characters. In the end, the Investigators will have hopefully stopped the Shan from their one and only chance of destroying humanity in exchange for earning the eternal enmity of this race of beings. With a good Keeper and some fine players, Terror From the Skies should be an immensely rewarding and entertaining experience for all who play through it.

As fun and lengthy as Terror From the Skies is, it’s not without flaws. I’ve mentioned a few earlier, such as the lack of balance with important skills and the sheer amount of combat and magic players will be engaging in. The other really noticeable negative with this book is the layout of the content. I really feel that each chapter, as well as the entire book, could have been laid out better. Terror From the Skies feels a bit ramshackle, like everything should have been placed in a different order for better cohesion and comprehension. For example, each chapter ends with a summary, when really, that should have been at the beginning to help the Keeper or reader understand how events are meant to play out. As well, there’s not enough detail or planning for an adventure of this scope. It’s written as if this was an old school video game, where things progress linearly and that there isn’t room or discussion of how events might go down differently. A little more depth to each chapter could have gone a long way, and I’d really have preferred to see alternatives to outright combat. What’s written in this book is as if it is set in stone, and that’s never good for a tabletop game. After all, players will ALWAYS think of something the Keeper didn’t prepare for, and the structure of this book, combined with the underestimation of what players may do, means that Terror in the Skies is best left in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, lest things fall apart quickly, especially with the lack of any real attempts at tying the first few adventures together cohesively. I will also say that I wish Chaosium had stuck with the original cover (which you can see here instead of the one we ended up with. The original cover was awesome and let you know exactly what you were getting. The final cover is a bit generic at best.

So all in all, is Terror From the Skies forth picking up? At twenty-three dollars, I’d say yes. It’s fun to read through even if you’re not going to play it. It’s well written, if not well laid out, and it’s great to see Chaosium still putting out full campaigns instead of monographs and the occasional remake or sourcebook. Again, it’s nowhere near as good as some of those other lengthy campaigns that the company is famous for, but it’s still going to make for a fun time for any group that loves to play Call of Cthulhu. I’d definitely recommend it with the caveat that a Keeper will want to flesh things out so that the campaign runs a little smoother.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Terror From the Skies
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Canis Mysterium
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:27:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/30/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-canis-mysterium/

It’s been a long time since Chaosium released a single stand-alone adventure. Usually (even as far back in the early 90s when I first started playing CoC), the company packs things together as a collection or put out an entire campaign like last year’s Terror From the Skies. As such, Canis Mysterium is a breath of fresh nostalgia, reminding me of the days I’d pick up cheap five to ten dollar single adventures for games like Ravenloft and Shadowrun. The only physical copy of a solo Call of Cthulhu adventure that I own is Alone on Halloween and that’s a third party release from Pagan Publishing, so this is nice. Luckily the cost of the adventure is quite low and the quality is rather high, making this one of the better Call of Cthulhu releases of 2013. Let’s take a look at why.

Canis Mysterium sheds a lot of the Call of Cthulhu tropes. Yes, your characters are from Arkham and most will even work at Miskatonic University, but Arkham is not the focal point of the adventure and I can’t think of a single Library Use roll that you’ll be making. The adventure is more of a psychological detective story instead of a “discovering something horrible plaguing mankind” or stopping the machinations of a Great Old One or vile cult. Sure, there’s a typical Lovecraftian beastie lurking somewhere in the adventure, but you don’t see much of it and the crux of the adventure is more about the evil mankind does to itself. In fact, the monster only comes into play in the adventure due to an act of kindness performed upon it by an NPC, which is another unusual twist to the adventure. If the adventurers fail the mission (in one of several ways), something supernatural does indeed occur, but it’s more of an All Flesh Must Be Eaten experience than a Call of Cthulhu one.

The player characters will be travelling to a small town of about 800 people named Coldwater Falls. It seems the town drunk has fallen prey to lycanthropy and Miskatonic University wants the PCs to help out with the situation. Now hold up. When I say lycanthropy I don’t mean a werewolf, but the actual mental disorder where a person believes they are a wolf. The poor old man is deranged, reduced to walking on all fours, growling and trying to attack people so that it can kill and eat them. In fact, the man is believed to have already killed an eaten a young girl on her way to the outhouse one cold October Eve. At least one PC should be a psychologist, biologist or anthropologist in order to have them be hired to study (and solve?) the man’s obvious severe mental impairment. Sounds like a pretty straightforward adventure, right? Well, this being Call of Cthulhu, it is anything but.

Once in Coldwater Falls, the players will discover the usual small town gossip along with a web of intrigue that will lead them to the source of the man’s insanity. Investigators will discover a scheme of revenge that is as revolting as it is potentially lethal to all the residents of Coldwater Falls. The climax of Canis Mysterium will have the PCs fighting five different enemies and so hopefully there will be at least one character skilled at combat, but expect at least one character to bite the dust. A TPK (Total Party Kill) is not out of the question in this battle either, so be warned that while the Sanity loss rolls are at a minimum here, physical dismemberment is not.

I really enjoyed Canis Mysterium as it ended up being intriguing and unusual, allowing players to really investigate the locale, while not being so open world that they could go off tangent and lose track of their original goal. Things are pretty straightforward once clues start to fall in place and although I wouldn’t call the adventure linear, it doesn’t leave too much room for sidequests or going off rails. This means you should be able to play the adventure in a single play session, or two if players like to explore every nook and cranny and do a lot of in-character talking to NPCs. Because the adventure does require several Investigators to have specific professions, Canis Mysterium does feel like it works best as a one-off with pre-generated characters. These aren’t included in the adventure, so you will have to make them yourselves. Alternatively, this adventure could be the start of a Call of Cthulhu campaign as you are provided five story seeds that work as sequels to this adventure. These range from returned antagonists to a trip to France for an ancient and evil grimoire. It’s nice to see some options for expanding this adventure into more than a one-shot, and as long as your Keeper is willing to put some elbow grease into fleshing out the seeds into something playable, Canis Mysterium can provide you with a wealth of gaming sessions. This alone makes it well worth the cover price.

I can definitely recommend Canis Mysterium as it’s well written and a lot of fun. It also helps that it doesn’t rely on the usual Mythos tricks and tropes. The digital version only costs six dollars, and that’s a crazy good deal. You can pick it up on Chaosium’s website and read it right away. For a few dollars more, you can have Chaosium or Amazon ship a dead tree version to your house. Personally, I’d say go for the digital version unless you’re expressly against that format. It’s cute to see a adventure for Call of Cthulhu released on its own instead of in a collection, but ten dollars might be more than you want to pay for single adventure that you might not ever run, especially if you’re used to purchasing collections of adventures. Either way you’re sure to be happy with Canis Mysterium unless you really only want tentacles beasties, squamous horrors and eldritch terrors in your Call of Cthulhu games.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Canis Mysterium
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Atomic-Age Cthulhu
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:26:28
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/02/22/tabletop-review-atomic--
age-cthulhu-call-of-cthulhu/

Atomic Age Cthulhu is the newest release for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium. This adventure collection, which also contains a chapter on story seeds and also a primer on the 1950s is not the first time Chaosium or other Call of Cthulhu publishers have dug into the era of Leave it to Beaver and McCarthyism, but is the first full collection of adventures for that time period. Atomic Age Cthulhu is not a campaign setting tome like Cthulhu by Gaslight, but the book does contain enough information for any Keeper to understand the time period and mood of the era.

At first glance, the 1950s does seem like an odd period to set Call of Cthulhu adventures, especially compared to the 1890, 1920s, and 1930. After all, you really don’t think of eldritch horrors along with Dobie Gillis and Chuck Berry. However the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. After all, the 1950s are almost a perfect analogue for the Cthulhu Mythos tales. On the surface, everything is pristine and almost serene if you watch the TV shows from that era. Everyone is friendly and neighborly. Parents and kids gets along wonderfully. There is no hint of social or mental illness and every problem is solved positively and with a laugh. However when you skim off the propaganda, we see that the 1950s were a time of paranoia, fear, distrust and unabashed madness for the human race in general. I already mentioned McCarthyism, but it’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how crazy the hunt for the “Red Menace” got. People were constantly afraid of communists invasions or rebellions and we fought many a war in the 1950s about suppressing the threat of Russian and Chinese satellite countries. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian War, and many others had their beginnings (and some ends) in the 50s. This was not a time of peace and happiness, but almost constant global conflict, either with bullets or dollars. The 50s were a dark time in world history, no matter how much Donna Reed might make you want to think otherwise.

Another aspect of the 1950s that fits Call of Cthulhu nicely is that the focus of horror went from the classical monsters like werewolves and vampires to otherworldly alien creatures whose very appearance could make a man go mad. Sound familiar? Although none of these were necessarily Lovecraftian in origin, and the films about aliens from beyond the stars were often cheesy (and eventually turned into MST3K fodder), the sci-fi of the 50s shared many an underlying theme with Lovecraft’s writing. Heck, 1959 was when The Twilight Zone first began airing, and several of its stories were outright influence by Lovecraft and his contemporaries. Alfred Hitchock Presents also started in the 1950s, both of which are excellent resources for Keepers wanting to do a campaign in this era.

Finally, you have the first underpinnings that society and government were out to get you rather than protect its people. Scandals like Twenty-One, the Hollywood “black list” and farces like “duck and cover” combined to all let people realize that perhaps, everything isn’t as the powers that be want you to believe it is. Again, another wonderful Lovecraftian analogue.

So Atomic Age Cthulhu is a great idea on paper, but the question is whether or not it works in practice, and that’s what this review is for. We’ll take a quick look at each of the nine sections of the book and show you the highs and lows of this collection. I should give a caveat that the adventures of this book are more Delta Green than the typical Call of Cthulhu adventure as in many, players will be cast as government agents or military operatives. So if you’re not a fan of Delta Green or running adventures that are more X-Files than tales about antiquarians and dilettantes researching musty old tomes in an effort to save humanity, you probably won’t be happy with Atomic Age Cthulhu. For those that like a little more hack and slash or action than the run of the mill Call of Cthulhu adventure, this will probably be right up your alley. Now let’s take a look at the contents of this book, shall we?

The first adventure is “This Village Was Made For Us” and has players reacting to the suicide of a worker in a government town dedicated to cracking atoms. This means players are either government employees of some sort of friends of the family. What awaits the Investigators is a town wide conspiracy where a particular Mythos race is attempting something nefarious. I know that description makes the adventure sound a little generic as that could describe dozens of CoC adventures out there, but that’s basically the core of the tale. There’s a little Native American mysticism thrown in as a counterpoint to the Mythos creatures, but it’s an adventure that could be told at nearly any time and in any location with only a little modification needed. In fact, much of the adventure is all too similar to Terror From the Skies which Chaosium published in late November 2012. Now these two adventures aren’t carbon copies, but the fact they have the same antagonists using the same methods to accomplish similar goals is enough to make me wince. It’s not the fault of either writer, but more Chaosium for letting the two hit back to back like this. It’s equivalent to “Oh that nutty Nyarlathotep is up to his old tricks again!” or, “Oh no, we’re in a coastal or island town and there’s been a strange disappearance of townsfolk acting funny. It couldn’t be DEEP ONES, could it?” Now all this aside, “The Village Was Made For Us,” is a well written adventure and it flows smoothly in terms of narration and unfolding events. Sure it’s a bit on the generic side and it could easily occur at any time post WWII rather than being truly unique enough that it has to occur ONLY in the 1950s, but I enjoyed it for what it was and feel that as long as you haven’t recently read or played through Terror From the Skies, you’ll have fun with this. I’ll be nice and say we’re 1 for 1 right now.

“TV Casualties” is an odd adventure and like “This Village Was Made For Us,” I have mixed feelings and still am not sure whether I like it or not. On one hand, the adventure is pretty unique with a small picturesque town slowly falling apart at the seams. It’s a truly wonderful analogy for the perception vbs reality of what the 1950s were like, as well as one for early detractions against the “Boob Tube.” Keepers will find that this adventure doesn’t necessarily NEED to be in the 1950s, as it requires only a bit of tweaking to set it in a different time period, but it works best here, especially if the Keeper fills Plainville with flowery image rife from Nick at Night episodes. On the other hand, the core antagonist comes off a bit too futuristic or even steampunky for an adventure set in “our” 1950s. It’s also a pet peeve of mine when someone just randomly creates an antagonist for Call of Cthulhu and says, “Oh, it’s a form of Nyarlathotep,” even when the actions and personality of said form go expressly against how Lovecraft wrote the character or described him outside of his fictional work. So in this respect the adventure irks me, but it’s not really the writer’s fault as this facet was created by someone else for a previous Call of Cthulhu release and as it is canon to the game, you might as well take advantage of it however erroneous its original creator was with its core concept. You can’t really blame the writer of this adventurer for using a visually interesting Big Bad who also fits the feel and theme of the story he’s trying to tell. At the same time, if the Keeper excises the antagonist from the tired idea of making it a facet of the Crawling Chaos, it’s an even more memorable encounter for players, both visually and roleplaying wise because now it’s motives and very existence are all the more unfathomable and bizarre. So it’s a personal nitpick, but not one against the quality of the adventure. Again, “TV Casualties” is a well written adventure that feels like you are acting out an episode of The Outer Limits, and that’s definitely a good thing. It’s creepy, atmospheric and it even exploits the inherent racism and one of the big anti-Semitic myths of the 1950s – that of Judeo-Bolshevism. 2 for 2.

Every adventure collection tends to have one that is an absolute stinker. In this case it’s the third adventure in the book, “The Return of Old Reliable.” My big problem with this adventure is that it’s so over the top corny/cheesy/laughable, that it just isn’t something players or readers will be able to take seriously. Unfortunately the adventure is written so seriously (although if the art doesn’t make you laugh in this piece, you might need to check your funny bone), it unintentionally (or maybe it is intentional and it’s just so deadpan compared to how other comedic adventures for CoC have been written in the past that the intention is hard to gauge.) comes off as if it belongs in one of the old Blood Brothers collections Chaosium used to put out. “The Return of Old Reliable” is an homage (intended or not) to the exceptionally terrible Sci-FI movies of the 1950s where some animal mutates and threatens Mankind. You know the ones. Earth Vs. The Spider. The Giant Gila Monster. The Killer Shrews. Terrible films that took themselves seriously but no one else could so they eventually ended up being fodder for the Satellite of Love. In this case “The Return of Old Reliable” features a Spider Monkey imbued with the spinal fluid of a byhakee and after given a good dose of cosmic rays, has mutated into something that may just devour mankind from the inside out. Unfortunately the concept is so farcical, I just can’t see anyone pulling it off in a way where players won’t crack jokes the entire time, thus deflating the mood it wants (but fails horribly) to invoke. I’m actually surprised the writer didn’t really play up the sheer camp potential here and include notes to the Keeper on how to salvage this thing by telling them to play it up. I’ve seen other adventures ranging from Shadowrun to Ravenloft do this thing an “The Return of Old Reliable” desperately needed something like that to keep this from being an embarrassing affair for any Keeper who tries to run it straight laced with a straight face. My advice is to just play the camp factor to a hilt and give your CoC players a one-shot affair for laughs. Seriously, when you monsters are basically Flumphs and a Spider Monkey with a brain the size of Detroit, horror and terror are hard concepts to invoke. 2 for 3.

Adventure number four is called “Forgotten Wars,” and unlike the rest of the collection, it takes place outside of the United States; Korea to be exact. Forgotten Wars takes place during the Korean Warm although Hawkeye and BJ Honeycutt are nowhere to be seen. Instead the players take on the role of a M4 Sherman Tank squad that gets into far more than they bargained for. The end result is a very combat heavy experience, which usually isn’t a good sign for an Investigator’s chance of making it through the adventure to the end. However in this case, players have a lot of high tech (for the time) weaponry including a freaking TANK. They’ll need it to as they’ll have to face not just a Cthulhu devoted cult, but also a Hunting Horror, a few Star Spawns and some other alien monstrosities to boot. I will say that I ran through the combat pieces of this adventure several times and found that even when you knew what was coming and could prepare in advance, the combat is just too overwhelming. There are just too many enemies for a pack of five players and their tank to deal with unless you are used loaded dice. Oddly enough the writer suggests optional ways to give the antagonists even more of an advantage throughout the piece instead of the other way around, which is what the adventure desperately needs. I’m surprised no one on Chaosium’s side didn’t catch this and requests some rebalancing as it’s now completely on the Keeper to do so. As well, using a M4 Sherman tank in the Korean is somewhat historically accurate, but the main tanks used in the Korean conflict were the M26 Pershing and the M46 Patton, another thing I’m surprised wasn’t caught in the editing/vetting process. Using one of these more powerful tanks would definitely gives the Investigators a fighting chance to survive this adventure. Otherwise your best solution is to add some weaponry to the M4 that it actually would have been able to have such as the t34 rocket launcher and/or a flamethrower.

Now aside from the need to rebalance the combat and/or modify the tank, there is one other small flaw with the adventure and that like how “This Village Was Made For Us” was a bit too similar to “Terror From the Skies” for my liking, I had several flashbacks to Goodman Games, The Timeless Sands of India while reading “Forgotten Wars.” It’s got the same Great Race of Leng Vs. Great Old One storyline going, and similarities right down to the “Here’s some lighting guns for your lesser beings to use!” Thankfully though, both adventures have very different locals and enough variance in the plot progression (not to mention his one has a tank) that you can play them both (although hopefully not back to back) and still enjoy them both without players nitpicking that they’ve already run through something similar before.

Now you would think after two paragraphs of pointing out the problems with “Forgotten Wars,” that I must have hated it, but I honestly really loved it. There’s so much potential for this adventure to be a memorable experience for everyone in your gaming troupe. The idea of all the players as a finely knit tank crew that have experienced the horrors of war is a fascinating one and that might even make them less susceptible to the usual things that drive CoC Investigators into the madhouse. It’s definitely well worth playing through and one of the highlights of this collection. 3 for 4.

Adventure number five is “High Octane” and it’s just a fun and surreal adventure from beginning to end. It incorporates the hot rod culture from the time period, the sheer paranoia about Communists living amongst normal folk (which in this case turns out to be true), the Hell’s Angels and a good dose of Serpent People all thrown together into one fantastic (cracktastic?) adventure from beginning to end. The writer could have easily gone over the top with the potential for camp this adventure had, leading to the same problems that plagued “The Return of Old Reliable.” Instead, everything is weaved together in a believable and yet ominous fashion. Everything is grounded in reality (except for the Serpent People obviously) and NPCS are presented as multi-faceted believable people rather than two-dimension stereotypes based on TV shows from the time period. The crux of the adventure is that, for once, not only are all the fears from the 1950s real (alien threats, commies, biker gangs and teenagers) real, but they all just happen to converge on the same town at the same time. You can imagine what unfolds. This is simply a lot of fun and it’s an adventure where players can openly and consistently crack jokes without running the mood or atmosphere of the adventure. This is definitely one of the highlights of Atomic Age Cthulhu. 4 for 5.

The penultimate adventure in Atomic Age Cthulhu is “L.A. Diabolical.” Here’s the thing, I really enjoyed this adventure, especially all the homages and in-jokes to real life people within it. The problem is this isn’t a 1950s adventure but a late 1960s/early 1970s one. All those aforementioned references and allusions? They’re from the 1960s, not the 1950s. Zander LeNoir is Anton Levay. The Church of Night is the Church of Satan. Jayne St. Jayne is Jayne Mansfield. Davy Samuels Jr. is Sammy Davis Jr. So on and so forth. Anyone who remotely catches the nudge nudge, wink wink aspects of this adventure will appreciate them (as I did) but also know that the time period for them is all wrong. So I’m torn on this minor aesthetic aspect. While “L.A. Diabolical” is a well done adventure it also doesn’t belong in this collection at all and should have been saved for something for befitting the story and actual time period it is referencing. It’s akin to having a collection entitled “Cthulhustock” and having all the adventures being psychedelic hippie fare, but then one being an homage to “That’s What Friends Are For” where all the world’s top music stars are brought together for a song to help ease suffering in Africa, only to have the whole thing be a ploy by the Insects of Shaggai to take control of the music industry in one fell swoop. Sure it might be pretty interesting, but it wouldn’t fit the theme or collection, now would it?

The catch is not too many people are actually going to pick up on the fact that this is a 1960s adventure masquerading as a 1950s one and really, besides pointing it out in a review (because hey, if a critic isn’t critiquing, they’re not doing their job.) only the most anal retentive rules-lawyerly of gamers is really going to have a problem with this factoid and generally we all know how to keep from gaming with those people, so most of your time with L.A. Diabolical will be fun and frantic rather than a discussion on the fact that a high profile cult of this nature simply wouldn’t be tolerated during the 1950s due to the spotlight on Hollywood for a supposed proliferation of communist sympathizers. It’s a game – have fun with it.

The adventure is one that is hilarious in concept but quite serious and dark in its follow-through and it works wonderfully. The concept simply is this: Small town naïve Great Old One worshipper makes it in Holywood but longs for the days of ritual sacrifice and communing with things of otherworldly origin. When the Church of Night makes it big, she readily joins up only to discover it’s a sham without any real magic or occultism going on. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I’m thinking a worshipper of things Mankind was not meant to know can give that lady a run for her money. This is just a fun adventure in all respects unless you are hell bent on chronological accuracy. I should point out Anton LeVay’s estate is highly litigious, so let’s hope they don’t find out about this one. 5 for 6.

The final adventure, but not the final section in the book, is “Destroying Paradise, Hawai’ian Style.” This adventure is a bit of an homage to the Elvis in Hawaii set of movies “The King” made…which were made in the 1960s. So see above for my little commentary on this exact issue with this aspect of the adventure. Unlike the previous adventure which was firmly set in the 60s in all ways, this one sticks hard and fast to actual 1950s history, save for the potential genocide of all life on the islands if the Investigators screw this one up. “Destroying Paradise” is set firmly in 1957, as Hawai’I edges ever closer to statehood. The Investigators are stuck in the middle between factions who want to see the USA get a 50th State and those who want to see the haole leave the islands. If that’s not enough each side has their own Cthulhu Mythos cult aiding them. This, my friends, is where the fun (and insanity…and deaths…and horrific monsters that defy description and…well, you get the picture) begins.

Investigators are going to have to keep the Elvis analogue’s movie filming smoothly, discover the machinations of the two cults, save as many lives as possible and eventually prevent a minor Great Old One from wiping out all life in the region. Also, the effects of nuclear testing in this region by American armed forces comes back to haunt the Investigators big time. This is just another solid all-around fun adventure for players and Keepers alike where I only have minor issues. In this case it’s aspects of the 1960s showing up in a 1950s collection and that the final bits of the adventure really need to be run by a very organized Keeper who is well versed in the game, otherwise it’s going to fall apart on them. 6 for 7.

Think we’re done? Guess again, there is still another twenty percent of the book we haven’t covered. Up next is “1950s Sinister Seeds” where the authors have provided you with twenty paragraphs, each of which can snowball into a full fledged adventure of their own. Sure you’ll have to do the legwork and put the thing together, but nearly all of these are top notch and should have you chomping at the big to try and flesh at least one of them out. 7 for 8.

The last bit of the book is “The 1950s Sourcebook” and it contains a lot of helpful information for Keepers. You need information about the presidents of the era? It’s here. Population statistics? Ditto. Pop culture factoids? You’ve got it. Everything from the House Un-American Activities Committee to views on race and sexual preference are covered in this section. It might even be worth it to read this last chapter first so you can better visualize what the 1950s were like. There are even some fun new occupations like Beatnik and Rock Musician. This alone is worth the price of admission. 8 for 9.

As we can see from the past six pages of commentary, Atomic Age Cthulhu is an exceptionally well done piece. Sure the adventures could have used some better vetting/editing, but the good definitely outweighs the bad in nearly all of them, making this a truly worthwhile collection to pick up. With the digital version of Atomic Age Cthulhu at almost half the cost of the physical version (which will also have shipping fees), I strongly recommend going PDF all the way as it becomes quite the deal. Here’s hoping the rest of 2013 follows suit for Chaosium releases!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atomic-Age Cthulhu
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Secrets of Tibet
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:24:53
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/05/tabletop-review-secrets-
-of-tibet-call-of-cthulhu/

Secrets of Tibet is the latest is the “Secrets” set of campaign settings that Chaosium puts out for its Call of Cthulhu line. They did kind of a stealth release of the digital version on Thanksgiving Eve, so unless you keep your eyes peeled to their official website, you might have missed that this came out.

What makes Secrets of Tibet interesting is neither Lovecraft nor his contemporaries ever set a Mythos related story in the setting of Tibet. At the same time it’s so often romanticized for its culture and isolated location, that it makes perfect sense that someone eventually did either a Secrets or Monograph piece on the country/region (depending on how you look at Tibet).As well, Secrets of Tibet becomes the first official release for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition, beating even the two core rulebooks by several months. Of course without the core rulebooks (Which, like most Kickstarter projects, are rather delayed) the only thing you have to run Secrets of Tibet with is the Quick Start Rules for the time being. Good news though – the book does devote five pages on how to convert the book to previous editions of the game so that you can use it with say, Fifth or Sixth Edition until 7e is finally released en masse. The conversion guide is a real highlight of the book, especially if you haven’t paid close attention to the changes coming with 7e. It highlights both some of the really good and really bad ideas that are going into 7e and should help you decide if you want to invest in the new edition or stick with an older version of the game. If you haven’t been paying attention to the forthcoming changes, I suggest you read this section of the book FIRST (It probably should be closer to the front instead of towards the back due to its release before the core 7e books). Otherwise you might be in for a bit of culture shock when you see average joes and their 75-80 STR.

So with that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual content of Secrets of Tibet. As you might have guessed, the bulk of the book is a campaign guide that discusses Tibet in great detail. The book also contains three adventures for use with the setting, but we’ll talk more about them later. I was disappointed that the book shied away from the Chinese occupation of Tibet since 1950 as it’s such a huge part of the modern era for both countries. Information on this ongoing debacle would have been of use to Keepers who know only the window dressings about the issue or remember Richard Gere protesting Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1980s and 90s. The good news is the book does go into detail about every other historical aspect of Tibet, including 1500 years of conflict between China and Tibet highlighting occasions where both have been the aggressor (and even invader) in situations. Because most CoC games tend to take place between the 1890s and 1940s, Secrets of Tibet will more than satisfy fans of those time periods. Gamers who prefer a more modern CoC setting like Delta Green will have to do a little research to flesh out current day Tibet for their gamers.

Honestly, Secrets of Tibet is exactly what I want from a campaign setting/guide for a RPG. Similar to the recent Sundering campaign guides, Wizards of the Coast has put out for Dungeons & Dragons, Secrets of Tibet almost overloads you with quality information about the region, culture, indigenous people, politics, religion, history, food and weather. It’s wonderful and although your brain can’t possibly fit in every last detail that Secrets of Tibet throws at you, you will love just how in-depth this book goes. I should also point out the majority of content (outside of the adventures) is about the real history of Tibet rather than a Cthulhu-ized version of the location ala what you might see for a World of Darkness campaign setting book. Instead, the actual game pieces are supplementary to the various essays that comprise Secrets of Tibet. You’ll see conjecture about how Lovecraftian beasties and creations could fit into Tibetan folklore rather than hamfisting Mythos creatures into the setting. For example, the book suggests that Sky Burials in a CoC version of reality could have come about due to not wanting ghouls to desecrate the corpses of loved ones. It’s a subtle and optional choice yet it still manages to stick closely to both the reality of the Tibetan people and to CoC canon. I love this.

Of course the entire book isn’t a non-fiction treatise disguised as a campaign setting book for a popular role-playing game line. For every bit of real world information, you’ll get a sidebar or a full follow-up on how the information works with game mechanics. After an article on the history of Tibet, you get a few paragraphs on how the region can be a gateway to the Dreamlands. Almost thirty pages of Secrets of Tibet are devoted to the topic of religion. You’ll find some new spells, the ability to create a Tulpa, and even mechanics for reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, all interspersed with a ton of real world content. After a rundown on the people of Tibet, you are given a whopping eleven new Investigator professions. I should also point out that some of the Occupations including stat changes and that said changes are with Seventh Edition rules in mind, So Keepers, don’t let your 6e players come to you and say, “I get +10 to my STR since I am a Fighting Monk.” So on and so forth through the book. Some gamers might want a lot more mechanics and stat blocks that the book provides, but I think the fact the book leans heavily on actual substance about the location is what really makes the book shine.

Besides the really fun occupations, you have eight new skills that characters can learn. Things like Dreaming, Animal Handling and Radio Operation act just like any other CoC skill (regardless of edition), but a special note should be paid to Tibetan Status as this can ebb and flow regularly throughout a game, especially if say a PC is found to be a reincarnation of a Lama. You’ll also find a chapter devoted specifically to monsters/demons/etc ripped directly from Tibetan folklore. Of course, they are slightly and subtly modified to reflect Call of Cthulhu. Grol-Ma is an avatar of Shub-Niggurath and garuda birds are a byahkee variant. So on and so forth. These potential antagonists will be somewhat familiar to longtime COC gamers but also help to keep the correct mood and atmosphere of a Tibetan based adventure and/or campaign. A huge part of the chapter is devoted to making the mi-go part of Tibet’s past(as well as an entire adventure). This is really the only shoehorning of a Mythos race into Tibet within the book but the inclusion makes sense and it’s well done, so you won’t hear any complaints from me on this front.

The chapter on NPCs is very well done as it gives Keepers premade characters to insert into his adventure. As they are all based on real people, this is another nice historical layer of the book and it will be a nice easter egg for players who were already fans of Tibetan history and culture. I will say my only problem with this chapter is a minor one I have throughout the book and it’s that the stat blocks for NPCs are insanely overpowered. For example, no one in this chapter has a stat of under 55! In sixth or older editions that translates to no one have a stat under 11. That’s crazy high and basically means every NPC is above average at everything they do, which is unrealistic. I’ve been noticing power creep going into character stats, both pregenerated PCs and NPCs alike throughout Call of Cthulhu this year, regardless of publisher (Golden Goblin, MRP, Chaosium, etc) and it’s just odd to see characters with stats this high, especially when part of the appeal of Call of Cthulhu is about everyday people getting sucked into events far beyond their comprehension. Again though, this is a minor issue, but worth bringing up as it’s been an all too apparent trend as of late.

After this intermission of mechanics based content, Secrets of Tibet goes back to full fledged essay mode (entertaining, not dull lecture Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). You get an extremely comprehensive chapter on travelling to Tibet. I’m a pretty voracious reader on the region Tibet is in (although I’m far more interested in Bhutan) like the current state of train transport from China to Tibet and the fact it just started up in 2007. I loved getting a current real world price tag for a train ticket too, as it’s a lot less that I would have thought and it makes me want to travel to Tibet that way. Again, for those who care more about mechanics than fleshing out the locale, this chapter contains information on how to run altitude sickness, a problem that affects the majority of people that come to Tibet. After that we get the final chapter of the campaign setting part of the book. It primarily focuses on the city of Lhasa, although it also includes some general odds and ends that could have been its own “Miscellaneous” style chapter. These pieces includes weapons, a look at the justice system in Tibet, a list of general names of Tibetan people, a guide to the Tibetan alphabet, foods festivals and how their calendar works. You know, things that don’t apply just to Lhasa, making them an odd inclusion at the tail end of the chapter. Again, a minor thing, but like all of Secrets of Tibet, the only things to criticize about the book are tiny things here and there that in no way take away from the overall quality or enjoyment of this release.

Now that we’ve finished discussed the campaign guide part of Secrets of Tibet we have three adventures to look at. While none of the adventures are mind-blowing or extremely memorable ones that you and your friends will talk about for months or years after you play them, all three are fine introductions to using Tibet as a region and work as first adventures for new characters. I should point out that the adventures are not designed to be played as a mini campaign as some are for foreigners visiting Tibet and others for natives. I actually like that the adventures were done this way as it gives a Keeper an option of what he wants to run. After all, to outsiders, Tibet is a strange and mysertious land full of wonder. To native characters it’s home and pretty mundane. So you get a very different atmosphere based on what group you are using and thus adventures designed for one won’t feel the same (or even work quite right) if you use them with the other.

“Dreaming of the River of Night” is an adventure for non-Tibetans and serves as an introduction to the land, the culture and the Dreamlands. A copy of the Dreamlands sourcebook is NOT needed for running this adventure, but it will flesh things out if you want a more comprehensive look at that setting. I do like the idea of tying the Dreamworlds into Tibet as the two just seem like such a nice fit. There isn’t a lot going on in this adventure. There is very little research and next to no combat. It’s primarily an atmospheric talking heads pieces that introduces player and/or characters to two locals. It might even be a great “Gamer’s first COC adventure” as long as they aren’t predisposed to nonstop hack and slash combat.

“Company Town” is designed for Tibetan native characters and is a take on the usual, “Mi-Go are up to wacky experiments” trope. This time however, the fungi from Yuggoth have dealt with an ENTIRE TOWN and it is up to players to discover what is behind the rash of recent disappearances in the area. The adventure can have a bit of a Night of the Living Dead feel to it depending on how you play it, but I’d play it more Invasion of the Body Snatchers or “angry mob.” This adventure is quite the opposite of the first one in Secrets of Tibet as it’s pretty action packed and it can get extremely combat heavy. It’s a nice contrast to “Dreaming.” While “Company Town” is a bit paint by numbers in some respects, it’s a fine adventure for introducing players to Tibet.

Our final adventure is “O’ Sleeper! Arise!” and it is the most complex adventure in the collection. The adventure warns that it can come off a bit Dues Ex Machina at the end in the hands of an inexperienced Keeper and that going this route will make it a letdown to everyone involved. I like when an adventure warns you of its potential limitations and flaws so that the Keeper can prepare for them, but more importantly PREVENT THEM FROM OCCURRING. You don’t see this type of disclaimer very often, so I’m glad it is here.

“O’ Sleeper! Arise!” takes place in Lhasa and is designed to use a lot of the locations, materials, NPCs and information contained in the sourcebook section. It is designed primarily for native Tibetans, but one or two outsiders can still work in the parameters of the adventure. The adventure is a pretty typical one. Cultist pokes his nose where it is not meant to be. Cultist accidentally unleashes someone horrific with tentacles. Things die or go insane. Of course the adventure won’t unfold that way if the Investigators are successful. It’s a fairly straightforward adventure that pits the Investigators against one of the monsters deadly and dangerous creatures in the game (if they’re not lucky). If the players manage to discover exactly what the cult is up to and prevent them from awakening…something, then it’s a pretty low key adventure. Again, we have another short and fairly standard adventure. Indeed, “O’Sleeper!” could easily be placed outside of Tibet and still work properly without a minute amount of fine tuning by a Keeper. It’s not a bad adventure by any means, and it is well written, but like all the adventures in Secrets of Tibet, it’s not very memorable.

All in all, Secrets of Tibet is a really great release from Chaosium, which has struggled a bit in 2013 in terms of quality. The campaign guide is one of the best I’ve seen released for Call of Cthulhu and it’s the most informative read since the Mysteries of Ireland monograph. The adventures are the weakest part of the book, but you’re not really purchasing Secrets of Tibet for the adventures. Rather, you are buying it for the in-depth comprehensive look at a region that is still a bit mysterious to outsiders even in modern times. As you can pick up the PDF for under twelve dollars, I can strongly recommend the digital copy of Secrets of Tibet to any CoC fan who wants a highly informative campaign guide to read. It might not be a book you actually end up using with your players, but Secrets of Tibet is fun just to sit down, especially if you are even remotely interested in Tibet.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secrets of Tibet
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Darkfast Classic Fantasy Advanced Classes: Ducks
Publisher: Okumarts Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:22:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/11/tabletop-review-darkfas-
t-classic-fantasy-advanced-classes-ducks-labyrinth-lord/

When you’re a reviewer, sometime a piece so weird comes up that you have to review it. In this case it is Ducks, a supplement for Labyrinth Lord by Okumarts Games. Labyrinth Lord isn’t a system that is known for its sense of humour, but the cover and description of Ducks was so hilariously odd that I had to see if the piece was a nice piece of levity for the system or if it actually was taking itself seriously. Well, thankfully this is meant to be a comic piece. However, once it is on your table you or your players can treat it as seriously as you want. After all, is a race of duck people really that different from Dragonborn, Lizardmen or Wolfweres? I’d say no. Anything is possibly in YOUR fantasy world.

For $2.50, you get two nine page PDFs – one for PCs and one for Macs. Each format also gets two ads for other Okumarts products. Now $2.50 might seem a bit pricey for a mere nine pages of content, especially when one of those pages is actually just the OGL. The highlight of the piece is the comical duck-person art by David Okum. It’s no Carl Barks or Don Rosa in quality, but the art kept making me thinking of a Disney/D&D mash-up, which is wonderfully bizarre.

The duck race appears to be an ancient curse brought upon by a cranky wizard, but it’s never said why or to whom. The duck race as a whole seems to take its cues from Donald Duck as they are cranky and awkward. Being ducks they have a harder time on land than on water (although not if they are wearing full plate armor obviously) and they get penalties to hiding their tracks and disguising themselves for obvious reasons. It is interesting to see that Ducks are also grumpy and unlucky as a race, making me wonder if the author did indeed pattern this after the Carl Barks version of Donald Duck. It really seems like it, as the credits thank Disney’s greatest creator ever. However, what do you do with a Gladstone Gander type duck, a Gyro Gearloose or even an Uncle Scrooge? Why not a playable Ranger class considering the importance of the Junior Woodchucks? There are multiple lost opportunities with the piece, although perhaps due to the size of the PDF rather than the imagination of the creator.

After a history and overview of the Duck race, readers are treated to both NPC stats for common ducks and also player progression stats/charts for playable Ducks, as well as four class options: Fighter, Magic-User, thief and Cleric. Ducks get a lot of restrictions especially in the fact they can only have d6s for Hit Dice and their terrible saving throws vs magic, but they also get a wide range of bonuses including the ability to 100% read magic, even if they are a non-magic-using class. The challenge and comic potential of playing a Duck character will be intriguing to some.

After looking over all the options, a Duck Cleric and Magic-User seem to be the best options due to their bonuses and hindrances involving magic. A Duck Thief is going to have challenges due to its appearance, waddling speed drawback and lack of disguise options. A Duck Fighter will be held back by the armor and weapon restrictions the race faces. Now this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play a Duck Warrior if that is what you really want – just a heads up about the potential challenges these characters would face. Duck Clerics and Magic-Users are pretty much the same as any other races that has access to those classes, so they’d be the best to try using this class with in my opinion.

Overall, Ducks is a very interesting product. The piece is definitely presenting with its tongue in its cheek and the artwork is fabulous, but the piece is also written in such a way that the race can be taken quite seriously if you and your players choose too. It’s a cute idea that I am really glad I picked up. My two complaints are actually parallel to each other in that the piece is a bit pricey for what you get and that there is a lot of missed potential because of the brevity in the PDF. Still, that means we might see further supplements down the road, right?

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Darkfast Classic Fantasy Advanced Classes: Ducks
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Accursed: Half-Light
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:21:59
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/11/tabletop-review-accurse-
d-half-light-savage-worlds/

Half-Light is the latest adventure for the Accursed setting for Savage Worlds which was launched in late 2013. This short little two page adventure (the other pages are the cover and legal mumbo jumbo) can be used as a stand-alone adventure or can be used in conjunction with the plot-point campaign found in the core Accursed rulebook. I should point out that with only two pages, Half-Light is more a story seed than a true adventure, as the GM that runs this will have to put a lot of work into fleshing it out and making it playable. There are no stats or mechanics to be had save for a block for a single NPC. As such, purchasers need to know how to put together an adventure almost from scratch, so this wouldn’t be a good fit for an inexperienced GM. I should also point out that while the adventure is only $1.25, to properly run it with the Accursed setting, you’ll need the Accursed rulebook, the Savage Worlds core rulebook and the Savage Worlds Horror Companion. That’s going to get expensive. Because you need three full rulebooks just to run this two page adventure, people who aren’t already heavily invested in Savage Worlds should either look elsewhere or consider taking the 99.99% systemless story seed and converting it to mechanics they already own or know quite well.

The story of Half-Light revolves around the village of Whitetarn, which has been completely slaughtered. Not a single resident has been left standing nor a single drop of blood lies upon the ground. The characters are cajoled into investigating this gruesome genocide by a local priest named Father Dhugal (as opposed to Dougal from Father Ted. They are also aided in the investigation by a dhampir named Sevtlana, who is as talented as she is both brusque and unlikeable. Once the village of Whitetarn is reached, players and their characters must solve the mystery of the strange deaths littering the area. Clues involve a missing ancient tome, a sacrilegious offering of a priest’s corpse and a pretty complicated and insidious plot by a powerful monster.

The adventure is pretty straight-forward aside from one fairly obvious twists that players will figure out before it actually occurs. It’s a paint by numbers style adventure and so any experienced gamer will know what is coming. The question will be whether or not the character’s knowledge and the player’s knowledge will match up. Half-Light should take more than one or two play sessions to complete as much of the adventure consists of investigation or talking heads. There is a bit of combat to be had in Half-Light but how much depends on how cerebral the players are. There isn’t much substance to be had due to the thin plot and short length of the PDF, but enterprising GMs can pad the adventure out to be longer if needed. There’s also a nice map of the chapel players will spend a lot of time in, but it’s much too small to be of any use. The PDF really should have offered this as a full page piece that GMs could then print out and use. Oddly enough a bigger version of the chapel can be found and downloaded directly from the DRiveThruRPG.com link at the top. Why it isn’t included in the PDF proper is a real head scratcher.

Overall, Half-Light is a thumbs in the middle. It’s a decently written piece and at only a dollar, it’s not going to break anyone’s bank. However it’s extremely straightforward and uses the same basic plot we’ve seen in many an adventure across pretty much every system ever. As such, it’s really only fun in the hands of a GM who can truly flesh this out and/or when played by very inexperienced gamers who won’t see the plot progression coming a mile away. I was more than a little disappointed this wasn’t a more original affair, but what can you do? As such, I can really only recommend Half-Light for diehard Accursed completionists.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: Half-Light
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator's Guide
Publisher: Modiphius
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/04/2014 07:10:37
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/04/tabletop-review-achtung-
-cthulhu-investigators-guide-to-the-secret-war-call-of-cthul-
hu-savage-worlds/

When this first popped up I had to say I was compelled, not just by the fact that it’s Cthulhu, but also because it’s set during World War II which I’ve always had an ongoing interest in. This is the first part required to play Achtung! Cthulhu, the second part being the Keeper’s Guide which functions as the Gamemaster’s book if we were talking Dungeons and Dragons while this one would function as the Player’s Guide. This started life as a Kickstarter and I have to say the final results here are amazing. The idea of the Cthulhu mythos running side by side with the Nazi’s isn’t something we haven’t seen before. They’ve always been portrayed as being involved in some kind of cult rituals in a lot of different fiction over the years. My first real exposure to this was Raiders of the Lost Ark and more recently Hellboy which deals much closer with the Old Ones than just simply labeling it as an occult thing. But Achtung! Cthulhu goes a step further than that even, and while you won’t find a whole lot of information in the Investigator’s Guide about the Nazi side of the Secret War, most of that is reserved for the Keeper’s Guide, what you end up with in the Investigator’s Guide is a very detailed RPG that could easily be a World War II campaign without the Cthulhu mythos coming up at all. There’s a lot in here and I love the details.

01The whole book is laid out like you’re reading the case files of an investigator or a military brief. Artwork that’s on a page will be framed like it’s an actual photograph that’s been paper clipped to the pages you’re looking at. The pages look rough and like they’re laid out on a corkboard or rough desk from the period. The titles are set up to look like they were punched onto the page by a type-writer but they opted to give the main text you read a far more readable font, thankfully. When you are presented with a table or stat block, it’s done up like it was formatted on a large index card and hastily taped into place but is still legible. The look and feel is heavily tailored to look like it comes from the time period Acthung! Cthulhu is set in and if I wasn’t just looking at this as a PDF, the book alone would be amazing. Added to that, only 4 pages of the book are ads giving you a full 141 pages of content minus the covers, a splash page, several pages of thanks for the backers of the kickstarter and the index.

Achtung! Chtulhu is actually set-up to work with two different game systems, Savage Worlds Deluxe and Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition. There are 4 chapters, 2 each dedicated to character creation specific to each system. You end up with 49 pages in Chapters 5 and 6 that are designed specifically for character creation in Call of Cthulhu and only 18 pages in Chapter 7 dedicated to Savage Worlds. That isn’t to say you can’t use some of the ideas in either, but if you’re only planning on running one rule set you’re going to end up with some wasted pages here. The nice part is that they’re full of content and sparing on a lot of stat blocks. Other than those three specific chapters, the rest of the book doesn’t bother separating everything out but will include a brief set of stats to apply to either game with text in differing colors to distinguish which game system gets what text and they’ve done a great job making sure it’s never confusing as to what goes with which.

02Chapter 1, titled Welcome to the Secret War, goes on for a short six pages to give an overview of the real-world events leading up to World War II as well as some of the bigger events through the war up to April 1945 which isn’t the actual end of the war, but who’s to say with the Secret War going on things won’t end differently? Germany was desperate at the end after all. There are mentions of two supplements coming at this point in the book as well, the Achtung! Cthulhu: Assault on the Mountains of Madness campaign and the Achtung! Cthulhu: Bye Bye Baby supplement. It’s really just a little blurb but it’s something beyond both books to look for if you’re enjoying these, which I really do love. The overview is pretty well done and actually reminded me of a film I hadn’t seen yet which I ended up watching shortly after going through the book for a few more ideas. Chapter 2, Keep the Home Fires Burning, goes on for ten pages and goes really in depth with what life was like during the period, both in Europe and in America. There are lots of tips on what was acutally available for food, what kinds of jobs for non-military people were available, mob ties, and even what kinds of entertainment were out there from music to films. When I mentioned details earlier and playing this as a straight World War II RPG even without the Cthulhu mythos, this is what I was talking about. It’s pretty well researched and helps set the tone perfectly. Chapter 3, Home Sweet Home, is a twelve page chapter that re-visits the chronology from Chapter 1, but goes into more specifics with it and details different events for Britain, titled Dear Old Blighty, France, titled The Not-So-Belle Epoque, and the United States titled Mom & Apple Pie. With the chronology is a bit more on life during the time and specific adventures you might go on if your part of the Secret War starts there and what you may end up doing. This is equally as well-researched as Chapter 2 and can really help with painting the picture for players and gamemasters alike with what life was like during the war.

Chapter 4, In the Service of One’s Country, goes in depth for 13 pages on France’s, Britain’s, Germany’s and the United States Militaries and breakdowns of their intelligence groups. There are some pretty good blurbs here on the different aspects of each and it touches on the French Resistance as well as several civilian actions taken during the war in Britain. It’s a decent overview of the different branches and what they do but doesn’t go too terribly in-depth into any of them. Chapter 5, Your Country Needs You!, gives the player the Call of Cthulhu character creation rules for creating your investigator for Achtung! Cthulhu. This is part one of Call of Cthulhu character creation and weighs in at a hefty 37 pages. That’s not to say that you won’t get anything out of this if you’re playing with Savage Worlds rules however as there is a lot of nice detail on military characters and other aspects of the war, but it’s definitely geared stat-wise for Cthulhu. Chapter 6, Getting Your Hands Dirty, is part two of Call of Cthulhu character creation that delves into updating skills since technology from the twenties and the world don’t quite mesh with the forties and the second World War all that well so you get 9 pages of updated skills for Call of Cthulhu which really won’t help you with Savage Worlds. Chapter 7, The Savage Practice of War, is the character creation section for Savage Worlds and weighs in at 18 pages. Savage Worlds is a fairly versatile game system already so it really doesn’t need all the extra pages Call of Cthulhu had to have for updates, and there is some crossover from what’s presented in Chapter 5, but tailored more for the one game system.

03Chapter 8, The Tools of the Trade, is what it sounds like, equipment. This chapter is 15 pages of equipment summaries and then stat blocks for both game systems that Achtung! Cthulhu is designed for. They delve into the different gear that each country was using, clothing options, and a variety of other weapons or technology that you might find at the time. Chapter 9, Quick-Play Guide, is almost a waste of 3 pages. All it really does is list all the pages and chapters you can find character creation rules in Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds. While it may prove useful, I can almost guarantee having the rulebook for either game will do the same thing, but this might speed it up a little bit. Chapter 10, Suggested Resources, is 4 pages of lists of films, books, television shows and games that might help get the flavor of World War II and the occult usage down. It’s a pretty decent list, but if you’re not looking for lists, well there you go. After that you’ve got the Kickstarter Backer thank-you’s which without them we wouldn’t have this book to review and use, a map of Europe and the borders when the war was going on, the index, and character sheets for both game systems.

Overall, there’s a ton of content in this book. It’s a phenomenal resource even if you’re not going to use it to run Achtung! Cthulhu as intended. I’m tempted to just run a spy or war campaign set in World War II just with this and see how it goes. It’s really well done and just reading through it gave me plenty of ideas for my own campaigns. I highly recommend this one as it’s very much worth the price for what you’re getting out of it. The artwork looks great, the layout is easy to read and look up, and you can use this in two different game systems right off the bat, both of which have either quick start rules for playing or offer an entirely free version of the rules to play with. Keep an eye out for my review of the Keeper’s Guide as that’s next on my list.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator's Guide
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Injecting the Weird
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2014 06:27:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/31/tabletop-review-injecti-
ng-the-weird-numenera/

From the title, I assumed that Injecting the Weird would actually be a crossover of sorts with Monte Cook Games’ upcoming release The Strange, similar to how In Strange Aeons was a guide on how to add Lovecratian moods and themes to your Ninth World experience. Perhaps by giving ciphers or creatures from that game. Instead, Injecting the Weird is a lot like In Strange Aeons, but “the weird” in this case is literally strange and bizarre happenings and how the Ninth World should be super saturated with them. Now, if you’re like me, your Ninth World is pretty weird, as you have probably used “it’s a billion years in the future – plausibility and physics go right out the window” for the sake of giving your players something truly strange to discover. Maybe you have given them a cipher that, when pressed, shoots out a wad of slime that coalesces into a 14 foot high gummy bear that screams when you take a bite out of it. Maybe characters have run into a life that resembles a giant jawbone, except it is hovering fifteen feet in the air and no force on earth can lower or raise its altitude. Maybe they have found a village where all of the homes are made of a substance that appears to be fluorescent blue cottage cheese, yet it is durable enough to withstand lightning strikes and monster attacks. All of these things are WEIRD, and yet, if you read the core Numenera rulebook, none of these things should ruin the suspension of disbelief for players, because the Ninth World is all about things that are wondrous and unexplainable. It is a game of discovery and imagination first and foremost after all.

However, weirdness is far more than strange unexplainable phenomenon and lifeforms that just happen to go on in the Ninth World around the PCs. It needs to be more than just throwing strange things at your players for the sake of strange, and it certainly has to be more treating Numenera like a futuristic dungeon crawl hack and slash experience. This is where Injecting the Weird comes in, as Monte Cook gives us a twenty-two page PDF on how to fill your Numenera campaign with weirdness and how to do so in a way that makes your campaign better as well as stranger.

For Monte, weird is defined in the same way some politicians used to define pornography – you know it when you see it. Weird things are those that fill you with a sense of wonder. How does that exist? WHY does it exist? Weirdness should make your players curious and want to learn more, even if they know full well that they can’t. Weird is also relative. In a game like Shadowrun, a Fairlight Excalibur deck is far from weird, but drop one of those into Numenera and the PCs will probably poke and prod at it, having no idea what it is for, especially from the first base GM description.

After defining what weird is, the next section talks about when you should explain the weird, such as when it is pivotal to an adventure. After all, if the goal of the adventure is to discover (and stop) what is causing giant hail in the shape of flounder to ravage a countryside and decimate the crops of a region, then you do have to explain the weird to some degree. However, there are far more times when defining it can ruin the effect, so as a GM, you have to know when to give a full reveal and when to just let it fascinate or creep out the PCs. After that, we are given a short piece on “The Point of the Weird,” which gives explanation and justification for WHY the Ninth World is so bizarre. The answer, of course, is that we are a billion years in the future and eight full civilizations have come and gone, some so alien that we can’t even conceive of them, and all we have left of their existence are bizarre doodads and residuals we simply can’t explain or understand. What made sense to them doesn’t to us, and probably vice versa. Hence, weirdness is now everywhere. There’s a great summation in the piece that highlights just how incomprehensible some things will be to the PCs. “Could a Neanderthal understand how and why you’re reading this Glimmer right now?” Said Neanderthal should be just and confused and fascinated by the concept of a PDF in the same way players should be with all sorts of strange things that litter the Ninth World.

From there we get fourteen pages of d100 tables. Yes, sixty-three percent of this five dollar PDF is little more than random tables, leaving only seven pages of actual content. I can’t deny that this makes Injecting the Weird overpriced for what you get, as seven random tables whose topics range from “A Weird (But Not Particularly Dangerous) Creature” to “A Weird NPC” aren’t what I want, need or look for in a Numenera supplement, but that’s probably because I have spent two and a half decades playing/running games like Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Paranoia, Cyberpunk, SLA Industries, Spelljammer, Planescape and HoL, so I’m pretty familiar with the concept of weird. However, that isn’t true for all gamers. For some, this might be their first RPG (I know it is for one of my friend’s little girls) and for others, they might be hardwired to roll-playing over role-playing and thus haven’t focused on the creative, imaginative or descriptive side of RPGs. For others, they might only have run published adventures, so crafting something bizarre might be outside their forte. For these, and many other, gamers, the seven random charts included in Injecting the Weird are going to be very helpful. It’s hand-holding to give those gamers less experienced in weirdness hundreds of examples of exactly what this piece is all about. So just because I have always gravitated towards extremely weird games doesn’t mean these random tables aren’t useful or a good tool to help fledgling GMs learn how to infuse a game with weirdness – they just aren’t useful to me. If, however, you’re a gamer who is struggling with the concept of throwing strange and unexplainable things into your Numenera game, these tables are probably worth the five dollar admission price alone.

The last five pages of Injecting the Weird are mechanics and rules to help provide more weirdness in Numenera characters from the getgo. You have a new descriptor called “Weird,” where a character gets +2 to their Intellect pool, a distinct physical quirk (maybe a fin on their head or fourteen eyes) and training in Numenera knowledge, at the expense of social interactions all being a step higher on the difficulty scale. There is a new focus called “Masters Insects” which is pretty self-explanatory. The tier powers in this one are pretty fun (and sometimes creepy) and it might be worth investing in, especially if you want to play a were-walking stick or something. Admit it, that’s weird! You also have a new focus option in “Sees Beyond,” which is a really interesting focus. It opens itself (and thus the PC) to a lot of potential GM intrusion, but it’s also a focus that can let the GM help guide players towards what they are looking for or steer them towards the direction an adventure needs to go. As you can imagine, Sees Beyond gives a character the ability to visualize different spectrums, see things that are invisible or out of phase with our reality and so on. It’s a very cool focus and one that I think will see a lot of use, especially with NPCs by certain DMs. Sees Beyond will probably become the equivalent of the Divination magic sphere for Numenera.

All in all, this is another great first party release for Numenera by Monte Cooke Games. I was expecting something totally different, but the end result is still a wonderful release that offers something to gamers of all experience and skill levels. Some gamers will probably balk at the fact that Injecting the Weird is almost two thirds random tables, and I can’t fault them for that. After all, that wasn’t what I wanted either. Those same tables that may push away some gamers will actually draw in others – especially those with less experience designing their own world, and especially those not used to running a game whose fuel is strangeness. So while Injecting the Weird isn’t for everyone, it is a well-designed supplement for Numenera and one I can easily recommend.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Injecting the Weird
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Fighting Fire - Ernie Gygax Benefit Adventure
Publisher: Creative Mountain Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2014 06:17:17
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/25/tabletop-review-fightin-
g-fire-ernie-gygax-benefit-adventure/

Ernest Gary Gygax Junior did not have a good 2013. At the beginning of the year his home and many of his worldly possessions burned down. Since then, his brother Luke has set up the Ernie Gygax Fire Relief Trust Fund so that gamers around the world can help him out. After all he and his family have done for the industry, it’s not a surprise that companies are donating profits or making outright contributions to the fund. Case in point: Creative Mountain Games. CMG is donating a third of all profits from Fighting Fire to the fire relief fund, which is pretty nice. So by purchasing this, you get a nice adventure, keep a small indie publisher going and help Ernie Gygax get back on his feet. Wins all around!

Fighting Fire is a system neutral adventure. This means there are no stats or mechanics. You are just given the story, a list of major characters and antagonists, and from there, the DM has to flesh things out. On one hand, this means you can use Fighting Fire with any fantasy based system, from Dungeon Crawl Classics to Castles & Crusades. Since it is a Gygax tribute, you’re probably better off thematically with one of the earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Regardless of which system you choose, the fact remains you can play Fighting Fire without being locked in to a specific set of mechanics or rules. On the other hand, system neutral adventures require a lot of work from the DM. You’ll have to look up stats for monsters (or design them outright), craft maps of locations and more. If you purchase published adventures because you lack the patience, skill or time to make your own, you probably won’t get much out of Fighting Fire.

Fighting Fire has a somewhat comedic look. It does try to make light of the events that hit Ernie Gygax by turning them into the basis of a fantasy adventure. I’m sure some people may not be comfortable with, say, Ernesto Magnifico, a mighty wizard, who had his tower of solitude burned to the ground, along with many a mystical artifact. That might strike a little too close to home. For others, it is a wink and a nod to real life and an attempt to find something good at the heart of a tragedy. Whichever side you yourself fall on, the fact remains, the intent of Fighting Fire is a good one.

Fighting Fire takes place in the town of Gamington, a neutral town where many a heroic battle is fought. Sides with an itch or need to conflict come to Gamington, not to do battle with swords or spells, but with dice, miniatures and rulebooks. Yes, the treaties of Gamington have allowed surrounding countries to settle their disputes through tabletop war games rather than conventional methods that typically cost a lot of money and cause a lot of death. Until now, the use of tabletop gaming to settle disputes has served the countries surrounding Gamington, but with an outright attack on Ernesto’s tower, fingers are pointing and faith in the tabletop way of settling disputes is badly shaken. After all, if someone attacks the great Ernesto with fire, who is to say a full on assault of a country is not next?

This is, of course, where the PCs come into play. Due to the length of the adventure and the challenges it contains, they should be medium to high level characters. The PCs will have to make their way through a lot of encounters to find the culprit. There are a few false endings too, because right as you THINK you are at the climactic battle with the big bad, you learn there is actually someone else pulling the strings. As such, the adventure can go on for several sessions. It could even make up an entire campaign depending on how well the characters come to like Gamington and get to know its residents. There is a LOT of detail to Fighting Fire, with information on multiple local businesses, the most important residents, and detailed descriptions of the surrounding areas. I’m surprised at how much content was crammed into these thirty-four pages.

Of course, it all comes down to whether or not Fighting Fire is an adventure worth investing in. The truth of the matter is that, as the DM, you will make or break this piece. As a system neutral affair, your DM really has to be meticulous and willing to do a lot more work than you normally would see in a published adventure. This is especially true with Fighting Fire because of the sheer amount of content provided in it. It is as long, if not longer than most adventures with stat blocks and system mechanics written in, so while you’re getting a mini campaign of sorts, the DM will probably spend more time tailoring this than actually running it for his or her friends. Another good example is that there are four maps crammed onto a single page in the back of the adventure. Most DMs will want to probably redraw the maps onto a single page so that they can have more detail and room for notes. In the hands of a less experienced DM, this adventure will probably flop, simply because Fighting Fire is more of an overview or collection of story/encounter seeds rather than the hand holding process a lot of system based adventures are. Even if you don’t ever play Fighting Fire, it is a fun read, and it’s supporting a worthy cause, so you may want to consider purchasing it just for that reason.

Overall, Fighting Fire isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for people who are relatively new to gaming, as it will be a hard adventure to make work and there won’t be the emotional/historical ties to the product. Older gamers however, especially those well versed in Tactical Studies Rules era gaming, will more than likely get a kick out of Fighting Fire.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fighting Fire - Ernie Gygax Benefit Adventure
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