A Cunning Plan: Achtung! Cthulhu review pt 1

Rorschach – or Dale, if you insist on using his muggle name – has been a part of the Warmachine world since long before Lost Hemisphere even existed. Nowadays he frequently reminds people how old he is via the THACO podcast, and every once in a while he crawls out of the nostalgia to do a little writing, when he inevitably proves that he has… a cunning plan.

achtung2

Achtung! Cthulhu

From Modiphius Entertainment

PART ONE

 rorschach80Overview:

Achtung! Cthulhu is (in their words) “a World War Two inspired setting for Lovecraftian roleplay”. While it may feel to the average gamer like Cthulhu supplements are everywhere, and “Weird War II” stuff is all the rage, this is bringing something quite different to the table. Modiphius is world-building here, though well entrenched in true history. The Investigator’s Guide is sub-titled “A Guide to the Secret War”, and that aptly informs their approach. They’re not rewriting history (yet), with Nazis employing legions of ghouls and zombies to overrun the Eastern Front. Nor are V2 rockets launching Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath into the heart of London (or at least not obviously). Rather their secret history is intended to fit behind the scenes, in the same space occupied by Raiders of The Lost Ark for example.

achtung1

Achtung! Cthulhu is unique other respects. It’s focused on conveying a setting, and not beholden to one system. Thus, it’s written to accommodate both classic CALL OF CTHULHU rules, or SAVAGE WORLDS rules. And it would take very little for the enterprising GM to use it in other mechanics.

As mentioned, it’s also driven to bring an accurate historical feel. Many game settings and supplements begin to play loose with history once they add the Monsters – not so Achtung! Cthulhu. They’re in this to make the WWII part of the supplement just as valuable as the Lovecraft bits, perhaps even moreso.

Next, there’s a dedicated miniatures line planned, and early looks are good.

Last and most uniquely, they’re not just exploiting the Cthulhu Mythos. I’ll explain that further…

Exploitation vs Exploration:

Most Cthulhu-based games are grabbing onto the Mythos for the more “fun” and exploitative aspects of it, in much the same way the THOR movies and comics use Vikings (who were actually pretty horrible people by contemporary standards). It’s cool stuff to dress the Bad Guys in, adding horror to suit; not that any of this is inherently so, it’s just the usual approach since the Mythos can be so unrelentingly dark otherwise. Even something as thoughtful and deep as the HELLBOY and BPRD properties is leavening the darkness heartily with absurdity and clever humor.

Achtung! Cthulhu isn’t interested in giving the Third Reich any such slack.

I’ll quote a key passage in the Keeper’s Guide:

At all costs, do not paint the Holocaust, or the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, or even the “high altitude experiments” in Dachau, as caused by the Mythos. Nyarlathotep did not dictate the Wannsee Conference memoranda on the Final Solution; Mengele was not channelling Y’golonac in his surgeries. Playing it that way lets the Nazis off the hook: they were only following orders from Cthulhu’s nightmares! Rather, point your causality in the other direction: humans who build industrial-scale gas chambers, massacre towns down to the children and house pets, and torture women in low-pressure capsules are the kinds of humans who find the Mythos. The Necronomicon doesn’t make Himmler evil and crazy: Himmler is so evil and crazy already that he wants to weaponize the Necronomicon.”

This may seem like heady stuff, and to be honest, it is. But I love that approach for this RPG supplement, because it’s not the easy approach. If you like your WW2 to be Captain America fighting the Red Skull and Baron Blood, well that’s another game altogether. This one here is different. Not better, just different. The morality can ring a little more true for starters, when so fearlessly embedded in truth. It’s this moral exploration (vs exploitation) that truly interested me as I read.

And please don’t feel like Achtung! Cthulhu is some dry and boring textbook supplement. There’s a LOT of info here, but they’re merely striving to provide verisimilitude to the WW2 setting, including horror, Mythos or otherwise.  Any good student of history should find a great deal of entertainment and intrigue in the blending of the two great evils of the Third Reich and the Great Old Ones.

achtung3The Investigator’s Guide:

As mentioned, there’s quite a bit of real history packed in. This starts in the Investigator’s Guide as timelines. Two sections in fact – a timeline of key WW2 events from 1918 through 1945 in Chapter 1, and a series of “home front” timelines in Chapter 3. Much of the rest of the first part of the guide is detailing those subtle social and real-world details of the period that any good role-player needs to know.

The second part delves into player archtypes and the specific character generation rules for the two systems. Of particular quality are the set of tables in Chapter 5 bridging the questions, “What do you do” (for a living) and “How do you know the Mythos”. Whether for those who prefer random choices, or to give story seeds for those who make their own, this section I found invaluable.

The character sections also move well beyond the standard and cliché ridden Cthulhu Adventurers. Options are presented for designing any number of detailed Military and Civilians careers, from a British code-breaking Boffin to a US Ranger Forward Observer. Special attention is also given throughout the material to realistic variations for women characters

On the skills side, they range the gamut from Combat Engineering to Photo-Interpretation. The Savage Worlds mechanics section provides dozens of MOS (Military Occupational Specialties) and Civilian packages in similar vein; from Black Marketeer and Spiritualist to Tanker and French Partisan. Equipment and vehicles are equally detailed.

In fact, a player could read the entire Guide, and feel though they were simply making a World War Two character, not an anti-Mythos adventurer. There are hints around the edges of the Mythos, but really, the Investigator’s Guide is providing an immersion in the setting unlike almost any other historical supplement I’ve ever seen (even some of the crazier GURPS ones). If your players know little about WW2, after reading this they’ll feel as expert as Ed Greenwood expounding on the Forgotten Realms.

Oh, and lastly, Chapter 10 holds a wondrous list of inspirational resources. Anything that ranges from THE LONGEST DAY to Paul Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK to CAST A DEADLY SPELL to the film IRON SKY is getting a heck of a lot right. J

UP NEXT IN PART TWO

The Keeper’s Guide – where the pseudopods 

 

Gday’s Addendum:

As Modiphius prepares to go into retail with the first Achtung! Cthulhu releases they’re letting fans get one last bite at some of tasty print & PDF bundle deals. Using the Mutant Chronicles Kickstarter Cthulhu fans can now help unlock more Stretch Goals AND get their hands on the awesome Achtung! Cthulhu range of books, accessories and miniatures. 

Check out the Add On’s now available in today’s Mutant Chronicles Kickstarter Update


One Response to A Cunning Plan: Achtung! Cthulhu review pt 1

  1. Cubicle 7 has a great new setting called World War Cthulhu where it focuses on the spy aspect of the war. Also, it doesn’t have the Nazi’s using the Mythos but the Old Ones taking advantage of the mass confusion of the war to attack the world of man. Lots of good things from R’lyeh coming this year to help us enjoy going insane.