Achtung Cthulhu : Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
Yes, a full 6 months later, I’m finally getting to Part 2. I won’t bore you with my excuses, but hey, I’m still producing faster that George RR Martin. For those who’ve forgotten, you can find Part 1 by clicking the end of this sentence.
So someone in your gaming group would be the one to act as Game Keeper, devise the adventures, hoard the secrets, and generally works
their best to drive the players insane. The volume at hand is ably suited to assist those efforts. Some world continuity is doled out,
but by and large, the Keeper’s Guide is simply stuffed to the gills with tools for an industrious Keeper to shape around his own ideas. SO
much is here, its easiest to tackle in order.
Much like the Player’s Guide, the Keeper’s guide opens with a couple of excellent timelines. The first is labeled as the secret history of
WWII. It does a delightful job of juxtaposing the major events of the war alongside a wide range of occult and supernatural occurrences.
Proximity does not mean causality, but readers are left to make their own connections. Some very useful real-world facts are here, some
about real-world notable in the occult. And they’re blended so well with the in-game facts, you’ll have trouble telling them apart!
The second timeline proceeds from within Germany itself, from an interior point-of-view, and includes far more in-game knowledge about the founding and growth of occult forces within Hitler’s Germany.
Next, the game takes a break from the meta-physical connections and lays out a VERY detailed pair of chapters providing amazingly complete background. The first chapter here lays out key real-world information about the Axis and Allied military forces. Rules for NPCs are presented, in the established pattern of covering both CALL OF CTHULHU and SAVAGE WORLD rules.The next chapter covers all the Intelligence organizations, from both sides, and including the Resistance.
Perhaps the height of the book is the following chapter, which details the occult organizations throughout the world, starting with the
Allied countries. There’s a bewildering mix here of real-world and in-game “truths”, that again is very difficult to sort fact from
fiction. Also, a web of NPCs from these organizations are presented, equally good for enemies as allies. The back half of the chapter
covers the two major German occult power organizations: Die Schwarze Sonne (Black Sun) and Nachtwolfe (Night-Wolf).
No, these are not early metal bands. Perhaps let your players mock the names a little. Because when they finally encounter the people,
resources, and entities that these groups command, any mockery will only make their inevitable dread that much more tasty. These groups are terrifying, and about the only solace is that they definitely compete for the Fuhrer’s favor, rather than seamlessly cooperate.
Rules are given (in both systems) for primary NPCs, arcane weaponry, and other… things. Any Keeper should be able to make excellent use of this chapter.
Because World War II is a time and place very different from our modern world, the book then spends some time on more practical
matters. For starters, all the land, air, and seas vehicles of the world at that time, with full commentary on how folks got from place
to place, or attacked each other while doing so. And then the equipment and weapons they used to do the attacking is covered, including even more goodies for Black Sun and Nachtwolfe. As cool as the made-up stuff is, any World War II historical gamer would love this chapter, solely for the real-world details.
To top that off, there are two chapters back-to back covering major vehicle conflict (again land, air, and sea) ; one for CALL OF CTHULHU systems, and one for SAVAGE WORLDS. Fantastic stuff, and an essential supplement even for Keepers who might just want these rules for those systems! One word: Dogfights! Oh, and as an extra goodie, there’s full rules on having player characters interact with major large-scale battles, including detailed mechanics and table to dole out the horrors (and resulting insanities) caused by war.
Next, its back to the occult, with full details and rules on all the eldritch and arcane tomes and books to be found, read, and driven
insane by. The list here is fairly complete, including some I’d never heard of. This is quickly followed by rules for learning, casting, and
being driven insane by spells. And since many of those spells involve summoning and possibly controlling nasty gribbly things from the outer dark, there’s a whole chapter on the many beasties, masters, and “Oh my lord what is THAT?” things of the Cthulhu Mythos. Great stuff here, even for old-hands at the material; including very practical advice for how to use each in-game. Included are new monstrosities unique to the setting, including nightmare fodder like Die Draugar (you don’t want to know…).
The book is rounded out with more Keepers tools. There is a long section of NPCs, mostly named and important, and most historically
real people as well. There’s a lot of fun seeing how famous people like Churchill get portrayed in the setting. Then a section of simple
locations, with light background and details perfect from dropping into an existing adventure or for improvisational encounters. And
finally, a full chapter of “plot seeds” to get the Keeper going. All of this is of high quality, despite the brevity.
Almost as an appendix, there’s a quick reference chapter full of rules summaries for everything already covered – print this, pop it on some folding panels, and you have a Keeper’s screen! This is followed by another real-world resource section, repeating much mentioned in the Player’s Guide but adding some very interesting stuff, including a list and URLs for WWII museums and memorials around the world. One could plan quite the travel itinerary out of this!
As a full package, I think this Keeper’s Guide strikes that perfect balance between easily useable material, sandwiched amongst exhaustive background details for the completist’s. And the original material unique to AC is original and well grounded – somewhere in tone between the pulpy goodness of Hellboy’s BPRD; and the stark reality of an Allister McLean novel. If you have a gaming group interested in the material, this is perhaps your best buy for Weird War Cthulhu!