Alternate historical settings are my jam. Okay, High and Low Fantasy, Steampunk and Deiselpunk are also my jam, but they’re not pertinent to today’s bloggery. I received a little heads up from the powers that be, and had a giddy thrill to learn that there’s some new reading for Achtung! Cthulhu – the roleplaying game set during World War II, but blended with H P Lovecraft’s mythos. Imagine if the Third Reich’s occultists went fishing at Innsmouth…
There’s been a few fictional properties that take the Weird War II concept and run with it – Mike Mignola used it for Hellboy’s origins, and Dust USA has unleashed elder things for miniature tabletop gaming – but when it comes to roleplaying games, Modiphius has the setting dialed in.
The new Quickstart rules have just been released on DriveThruRPG, and provide an introduction to the 2d20 system and an adventure set in rural France, where Master Hans Stöller of the Black Sun has uncovered an ancient tome and is set to summon an avatar of Nyarlathotep into the sleepy little village of Saint Sulac.
I’ve relied on a number of dice systems in the past – from D&D’s roll- a-d20-beat-a-target-number to Shadowrun’s throw-enough-d6-to-bludgeon-a-goat-into-unconsciousness – but the 2d20 system took me a few minutes to wrap my head around.
You add your stat and skill to give you a target number – the higher your stat and skill, the higher that number. You roll 2d20 as a base, and each dice that rolls under your target number is a success. 1’s translate as crits, 20’s as crit fails. There’s a number of things you can do to roll extra dice, from trading in previous extra successes to bribing the GM for extra dice now, at the price of additional challenges later on.
The particular mechanic that caught my eye most though, was Truths. Each character, be they pc or npc, each item or encounter or effect, has some codified truths about themselves. These truths can make a roll easier or harder. For example:
- A room is on fire. A truth about this could be Smoke – it’s harder to see, your eyes sting, it’s harder to focus as your throat seizes. Accordingly, it’s more difficult to see your target across the room, and the difficulty goes up.
- Our hero’s truth is that he was a sailor before joining the effort. While it may not be codified on their character sheet, they picked up some basic navigation or ropework skills, which could make their lives a little easier as they try to find their way on a cloudless night, or need to secure a prisoner.
The thing I like about this idea is the freedom it allows for roleplaying opportunities. Our hero doesn’t have a defined statistic for animal husbandry, but a rural background could mean that it’s reasonable that they have some familiarity with livestock, and could lean on that to make things a little easier for the team as they tried to sneak through a paddock avoiding riling up the cattle. It could also mean a potential familiarity with tractors, so while operating the rusty old beat-up machinery they found in the shed may still require everyone teaming up and combining their efforts to get the number of successes needed, our hero’s ability to interpret some of the controls may lower the difficulty just a little.
There’s a little more math involved and the whole “It’s better to roll lower” concept always throws my dinosaur math brain for a loop, but I’d be selling the system short if I didn’t note that the potential for roleplaying based on concepts rather than stats is pretty bloody huge.
The scenario that comes with the Quickstart rules – A Quick Trip to France– is neatly laid out so as to be easily accessible to the nascent GM running their first game. The story is broken down into a series of named Scenes, and each scene has its own objectives clearly stated.
For example, the first scene is the group jumping out of their plane into rural France after HQ received a garbled message from the Resistance. The scene’s objectives:
- Parachute into France
- Locate the village of Saint Sulac
The players will have an opportunity to mess up their jump, finding themselves tangled in a tree or worse, and will then have to figure out how to find (and get to) the village. It’s a nice introduction to the 2d20 mechanics, gives the players the opportunity to bank some Momentum (if you do really good at X, you can use that to help you succeed at Y) or the GM the chance to bank some Threat (players trading future challenges for extra dice) or Complications (players mess up their rolls, GM gets to make life more difficult).
The story continues with the party trying to find their contact, sneaking into the Black Sun base, and – with any luck – thwarting Stöller’s plan. There are opportunities to roleplay, opportunities to shoot Black Sun operatives, opportunities to gaze upon things-wot-man-t’weren’t-meant-to-see, and the creeping shadow of doom. You do know that Servitors of Nyarlathotep look like giant tongues, right? (*shudders*)
The Quickstart rules are available to download free – Are you ready to stare into the abyss while your GM, who was never any good at languages, tries to pronounce Maschinengewehr? Swing by DriveThruRPG and take a peek beyond the veil.