Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/04/tabletop-review--
The Three Kings is the first part of a trilogy of adventures for Modiphius’s Achtung! Cthulhu line. It uses the Call of Cthulhu rules system, which has had an amazingly good year with releases like Cthulhu by Gaslight 3rd Edition, Children of the Storm and more. Even non-Chaosium publishers have been putting out some really great stuff for CoC this year as Goodman Games’ A Dream of Japan shows. With all this in mind, I was pretty excited for Acthung! Cthulhu as I really enjoyed the pre-WWII adventure in Children of the Storm and was interested to see how a full WWII era campaign would far.
…as it turns out, not very well. Don’t get me wrong: there is definitely some potential to be had here. It’s just you can really tell that this is a first time publisher’s first ever piece as you flip through it. It’s got some formatting, typographical and layout issues and the full colour PDF is layered very poorly, causing tablets like the Kindle Fire and iPad to have problems loading it. You’ll be able to read it on there, but expect some bits to load later and a good deal of stalling between some pages. These are all things that will improve with time as Modiphius learns and grows as a company. The other problem with The Three Kings however isn’t something you can really fix and that’s that this adventure just doesn’t feel like a Call of Cthulhu adventure. It’s more action than investigation, more violent than cerebral, and the Mythos creature in question might not even show up in the adventure, and when it does, it more or less takes a back seat to zombies (Ugh. ENOUGH with zombies already – and this is coming from a person who wrote for All Flesh Must Be Eaten!) and it just feels thrown in rather than having any real relevance to the story. Any large Mythos creature could be interchanged without a lick of difference and that’s not a good sign. A monster should be a key part or the cornerstone of the adventure and not something just pulled from the core rulebook. The final and worst problem with the adventure is that the writers suggest blowing away said monster with Nazi weaponry, including tanks. This should pretty much be a red flag to all Call of Cthulhu players as this is pretty much the opposite of what CoC gamers want from an adventure. There’s a reason there was such an uproar with Dark Corners of the Earth and the whole “Kill Dagon with a rocket launcher” incident. So as the majority of Call of Cthulhu gamers are looking for adventures that are heavy in thinking skills and low on hack and slash violence, this isn’t an adventure I can recommend to most of them, because it’s the exact opposite of that.
Now that said, if you’re looking for something more akin to a Dungeons & Dragons style dungeon crawl, just with Nazis instead of orcs, Czechs instead of villagers and a castle in Prague instead of a castle in some fantasy realm, you pretty much have it here. Truly, this adventure would be better off with a system like Top Secret, Chill, or something else that is geared for a spy motif. Neither the mood nor story really fits the Call of Cthulhu setting. It’s more akin to survival horror/espionage mash-up than anything remotely close to what a Mythos writer like Chambers, Bierce, Lovecraft et al would have written. That doesn’t make this a BAD adventure; it just means it’s not a good fit for Call of Cthulhu. I’m eager to see the Expeditions or Savage Worlds variations Modiphius is planning on releasing as it might feel more thematically correct there.
So we’ve established this adventure isn’t a good fit for Call of Cthulhu but it DOES use the basic rules and system of Chaosium’s BRP (Basic Role Playing System) decently. There are quite a few noticeable modifications to the system however, which is always a clear cut sign that the adventure should be using a different system because it’s not an easy fit. There’s also some odd statements like, “The Call of Cthulhu rules don’t deal with combat between vehicles. Now not only is that statement poorly worded and grammatically incorrect, but it’s also not true. I’ve seen quite a few adventures that have vehicle based combat, ranging from the 1920s era to Cthulhu Invictus which even has chariot combat rules. Just because something isn’t in the core rulebook doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I do like the new skills (Cryptography, Jury Rig and Scrounge) along with the parachuting rules so again, there are some good ideas in Acthung! Cthulhu; it’s just the inexperience with the system shows.
The actual Three Kings adventure is twenty pages long, with the other twenty four pages being devoted to art, maps, pre-generated characters, NPC stats and more. I think the maps are the best part of the PDF. It’s just too bad the full colour version of the PDF loads so slowly/funny as they are definitely better looking in colour.
So now let’s talk about The Three Kings itself in terms of content. The adventure consists of five “episodes,” each of which are comprised of several scenes. The fifth episode is optional and I do agree with the writers that it will be anticlimactic to actually run it, but it does add a bit of realism to the adventure. Do not think that this adventure is going to have your characters in libraries researching must old tomes or exploring the home of a recently deceased dilettante solving mysteries. No, in The Three Kings, players are members of Section D (what would eventually become MI-6) who are parachuting into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia in an attempt to uncover some wartime atrocities being committed by the Third Reich. Uncovering what is going on in Prague may be just what England needs to officially declare war on the Axis. The players’ mission is to go into Prague, make contact with the resistance movement there, and discover just what kind of shenanigans the Nazis are up to.
In the first Episode, players will be trying to enter Prague undetected. In the second, they’ll be trying to make contact with the Resistance. In Episode Three you’ll have the same goal but this time you’ll be trying to contact a priest under the codename of ANGEL. Episode Four has you storming a castle and dealing with both the undead and perhaps even a Mythos creature while Episode Five has you fleeing the Prague and returning to England with the information you’ve discovered. Again, as I’ve mentioned throughout this review, this adventure really doesn’t jibe with a Call of Cthulhu feel. It’s very fast paced and action-oriented. There is a lot of fighting and very little detective work. As a one –off, this adventure might be a nice change of pace. However, Modiphius is planning a full line of adventure (Indeed, it’s meant to be a CAMPAIGN!) for CoC in this fashion. So what might seem like a nice one-off for a Keeper and his troupe, definitely will feel tired and forced if they play any other of these adventures. What’s here is okay, but definitely feels shoehorned into the system and setting. It just doesn’t have the slightest bit of Lovecraftian feel towards it. It’s more Hammer than Mythos.
All in all, if you really want to run a hack and slash adventure in a Call of Cthulhu setting where players will be shooting up Nazis and zombies instead of casting spelling of researching how to hold back the old ones, this adventure is an okay one. I’d strongly suggest “The Tracate” from Children of the Storm as a better example of how to blend Nazis, WWII era happenings and the Cthulhu Mythos instead of this. What’s here is okay, but it’s like trying to get some D&D players together and telling the players that today they’ll be in Spelljammer and that they have been hired by Mr. Johnson to break into a corporation and plant false evidence of wrongdoings there so said company gets some negative PR. It might be a cute idea, but that’s what we have Shadowrun for. Actung! Cthulhu uses the Cthulhu system decently enough but it fails to capture the mood, theme and inherent reason why people play Call of Cthulhu in the first place. You can purchase The Wasted Land for less if you really want wartime Cthulhu stuff.
[3 of 5 Stars!]