Call of Cthulhu was the first breakout hit of horror themed RPGs, surprising, since Lovecraft's work concerns itself often with horrors that are literally indescribable and RPGs rely on verbal description to get across their situations and emotions. What Call of Cthulhu, the RPG, brought to the table was a simple, clear system and a methodology of GMing and playing that put players in the mindset of investigators who would put themselves in the middle of horrific mysteries and not run away at the first ominous shadow. Most horror games since that time have mimicked this successful investigative formula, for good reason.
However, few have taken another element of Call of Cthulhu's initial success: a historical setting. As a historical gaming buff, I have always felt that making Call of Cthulhu close enough to reality that we can recognize things like police officers and hats while far enough away as to still put us out of our comfort zone. I like historical gaming quite a bit and a well-realized historical setting appeals to me more than yet anothr fantasy game completely disconnected from reality.
The world offered by Colonial Gothic is one in which mysterious monsters and witchcraft exist in colonial America. The characters must navigate the dangerous politics of the revolution and avert the supernatural threats that could endanger everyone's survival.
In terms of being a True20 adaptation, Colonial Gothic does a solid job. It only introduces a handful of new mechanics, skills and feats, sumarizes them well in a few pages. True20 works well for this kind of game and there isn't a need to significantly alter it. The main shift is for magical powers, which become witchcraft and ritual.
Colonial Gothic doesn't delve deeply into colonial-native relations or the issue of slavery. However, I appreciate that it gives native and former slave characters as a player character option and takes their points of view seriously. In the time frame described, native tribes were seen as equals to colonial forces in strength and importance. Though racism colored all interactions, it was not seen as strange to seek out native allies and partners in conflicts or enterprises.
Based on the world of Colonial Gothic, natives know more about the supernatural than colonists since to a certain degree America actually is a magical land in this world. This decision helps separate Colonial Gothic from the "magic native" stereotype - it simply makes sense that in a world where a certain area has monsters, that people there would know more about monsters. Each of the major native tribes has a full writeup in the gazetteer section of the book.
All in all, I feel that the native characters, both player characters and NPCs, are given a very thorough and fair approach in the book and Colonial Gothic gets high marks from me for making this attempt.
However, I do think the treatment of blacks (not just slaves) in various colonies is somewhat less detailed and specific than it could be. Free black laborers, entrepreneurs, soldiers and leaders existed in New England colonies even very early on, and it was their organization and support that would lead, only a few years after the Revolution depicted in Colonial Gothic, to the emancipation acts that would make the North nearly slave-free in a relatively short time, while in the Southern states an increasingly baroque and stringent infrastructure to control slave populations necessitated targeting free blacks as well. Given that a significant portion of the game is dedicated to creating a real-feeling political milieu that the characters must navigate, it seems an important omission.
There are a few strange historical mistakes in Colonial Gothic - in the area of mental health treatment, electroshock therapy was mentioned, though at the time induction of seizures theraputically was rare and usually accomplished through the injection of Camphor oil. It was also primarily used on those that were comatose, thinking that the seizure could jump-start their bodies. The first electroconvulsive therapy wasn't reported until 1938, almost 200 years after the time frame in the game. The rules for getting rid of psychological disorders in general are strange and ad hoc, which is unusual for a game with sanity mechanics like Colonial Gothic - characters make a roll when they go up a level to see if they can slough off a disorder. That's fine, but it means that high-level characters really aren't impaired nearly as much. Perhaps this is what's intended by the rules, but it does seem odd.
A welcome addition is the "Secrets" section, which gives a thorough analysis of what GMs should do in Colonial Gothic to get across the history effectively while not being straitjacketed by it, as well as some pitfalls to avoid in horror games specifically. In addition, it contains themes associated with villain types (undead, etc.) that can make a game very atmospheric.
Finally there's a sample adventure regarding an evil cult. Although the adventure is straightforward (as befits an introductory adventure), I'm happy to note that the "aftermath" section introduces some fun complications for player characters to face. Some of the cultists may surrender (they think their demonic master will eventually win anyway, so why face tortuous death in this world?), and become prisoners. Transporting them back to civilization along with the captives the cultists had taken is a challenge that often times we overlook in a world of ambulances and police cars.
The file includes bookmarks, and the art is woodcut period-style illustrations so it shouldn't be too hard to print part of all of.
Colonial Gothic is a solid True20 adaptation (and I love True20), a solid historical game (and I love historical games) and a solid horror game (and I love horror games.) Is someone pandering to me specifically?!?! This seems almost suspicious. Anyway, I give it high marks and a strong recommendation.