ACHTUNG! Trail of Cthulhu

My Trail of Cthulhu conversions of Modiphius‘s first two Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios are now available.ACHTUNG! CTHULHU The Achtung! Cthulhu setting pits agents of the Allied nations against those of the Axis as they seek to harness the cosmic power of the Mythos. The backdrop of WW II has previously appeared in Cthulhoid roleplaying, but Achtung! Cthulhu is the first setting to provide substantial material for games set in that era. Here’s a link to a bundle deal on the PDFs (where they can also be purchased individually).

The scenarios are Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea, the first two parts of the episodic Zero Point campaign, written by Sarah Newton. Each stands alone, providing an individual mission to challenge the players. Modiphius previously provided versions for Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, and PDQ. This is one of the benefits of PDF publishing, though print versions will follow at some point. Based on the great success of their recent Kickstarter—which started with two books and funded to about five times that, with the addition of miniatures, a board game, and more—this line will have a long and healthy life.

My conversions provide statistics and rules, including, of course, Trail of Cthulhu‘s method of providing clues. While these scenarios have more opportunities for furious action than Lovecraftian ones stereotypically do, they have many of the familiar qualities of investigation, cautious approaches, and mind-shattering horror. If you are unfamiliar with Ken Hite’s Cthulhu Mythos version of Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE rules, more information can be found on Pelgrane Press’s website.

While a lot of conversion work is more or less mechanical, though requiring creativity and judgment (this stat equals this one, this Call of Cthulhu skill used to find the clue is equivalent to this Trail of Cthulhu one, etc.), this project’s setting provided further interesting challenges. Sarah Newton had provided CoC rules for vehicle combat and large-scale engagements (including rules for PCs commanding such forces). I wrote rules for these aspects of warfare to fit ToC‘s style, and this was probably the most extensive design work I did on these. Also of interest to Keepers are the numerous spells I converted (three for Three Kings and seventeen for Heroes of the Sea, with two overlapping between them). Some of these are spells I’ve converted in the past, but I looked at each one to determine if changes needed to be made to fit the scenario or my own evolving sensibilities.

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The Untimely Death of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

CIVIL WAR EpilogueIn one day, the license for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying expires with such force that official outlets for the game and supplements will cease to offer it. I know this is definitely the case for PDFs; DriveThruRPG has to stop selling them by the end of 4/30. I think Margaret Weiss Productions has to stop selling its physical stock by that point as well, but I base that on implications and inferences. Since the last three printed books (the Civil War supplements) never made it into normal distribution, that severely limits access to physical copies of over half the published material for the game. The first Annihilation book won’t see print and pre-orders will be refunded. The advance PDF is the only way to get it. Whatever final changes would have been made to the material will never be implemented.

What exactly happened can only be speculated upon by those of us not directly involved. Here’s my basic understanding: MWP had acquired the license from Marvel. It published the rulebook and a first round of supplements and had an ambitious schedule of future releases announced. Lots of work had already been done on these (and, apparently, work had begun on at least one that hadn’t been announced). Marvel and MWP were negotiating the renewal of the license. At some point, MWP decided they couldn’t continue with the license. They then had a week before operations shut down completely. (The official announcement is here, at the end.)

I don’t have any insider’s knowledge here. But without engaging in baseless theorizing, it does seem odd that there is such a short window of time to finish selling these products. I have to assume this was Marvel’s choice, and it doesn’t seem like a fair one. In any case, the situation is sad. It’s sad for the creators who put so much work into material that will never be seen. I don’t know what MWP’s payment terms are, but there’s a very good chance those hours of work will never be compensated. And if they were, then it’s MWP that will never see compensation. It’s sad for MWP, the company that worked to bring out a great game based on a beloved license and now has to deal with the effect this has on its operations and reputation. It’s sad for me personally, because this game did something I would have thought unlikely at best, and I was looking forward to more.

The unlikely thing that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying did was make me interested in a comic-book roleplaying game for the first time in twenty years. That it was for a licensed property, and that the way the license was implemented factored in, only makes it more surprising to me. The second roleplaying game I ever ran or played was TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set. (Before that came out, I used AD&D to run games set in the Marvel universe, just as I did Star Wars). I cajoled my parents into buying me the Advanced Set the day I saw it in a store. But I moved on a few years later. I began to feel that superhero roleplaying games just didn’t quite feel like they represented the comic books I loved. The rules focused on straightforward combat and benchmarking abilities. They didn’t have the fluidity and scope I wanted. Since I left those games behind, I’ve found some great games that have super-powered characters, such as the Wild Talents line of settings and Mutant City Blues. But I believed a game that really felt like playing a character in a comic-book story wasn’t going to come along.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying appeared to do that. I say “appeared,” because I still haven’t run a game. But reading online discussions got me to pick up the first book and the Civil War event book. When I read the recent announcement, I scrambled to get everything I’d been waiting for. I still hope to play the game sometime soon, but it’s unfortunate that, as far as official material goes, the end has come.

Golden Goblin Press Launches with Kickstarter

Golden Goblin PressISLANDS OF IGNORANCE has started a Kickstarter campaign for its first book, Island of Ignorance, the Third Cthulhu Companion. The Kickstarter went up on Friday, 4/19, and it’s been heading steadily toward its initial goal since.

I’m in the running to write a bonus “mystery” scenario. What’s the mystery? Almost everything about it. Backers at the Private Eye level and higher will vote on the elements they want to see in the scenario, as well as who will give life to the patchwork monstrosity. The other authors vying for the spot are Chad Bowser (writer of Cthulhu Invictus), Adam Gauntlett (writer of numerous historically based Trail of Cthulhu scenarios), Stuart Boon (line developer of Cthulhu Britannica), Bret Kramer (editor of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion), and Jeffrey Moeller (Lost in the Lights). Those are just a few of the credits these impressive writers have justifiably received accolades and awards for. That’s going to be some tough voting.

Oscar Rios is in charge of Golden Goblin Press. He’s well regarded for his numerous contributions to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, including the integral role he’s played at Miskatonic River Press since the beginning, both as a writer and an associate editor.

I’ve worked with him or been published alongside him a number of times. As impressive as his bibliography is already, I don’t think we’ve really begun to see what he’s capable of, because he keeps getting better and better. His Cthulhu Invictus campaign, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, stands eye-to-eye with any Call of Cthulhu campaign, which is saying a lot for a game renowned for its campaigns. And “The Tenement,” one of his latest offerings (included in Tales of the Sleepless City), is a masterful exercise in dread and despair. Under his leadership, Golden Goblin Press promises to be an exciting and vital new CoC licensee.

A Double Threat

Two books I worked on were published recently. Finally! (Working in publishing is an exercise in patience.) Paul Carrick was one of the many great artists contributing to both books.

Tales of the Sleepless City Cover

Paul Carrick’s cover for TALES OF THE SLEEPLESS CITY

I was a copyeditor on Tales of the Sleepless City, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Miskatonic River Press. It’s another beautiful book from them (their production quality keeps getting better and better). Each scenario spotlights an area of New York City in the 1920s, full of great atmosphere and details to bring the cosmopolis to life. Some friends and I got to play in a couple of the scenarios (“To Awaken What Never Sleeps” and “The Fishers of Men”) at MythosCon in 2011, courtesy of MRP president Tom Lynch.

Paul Carrick art from "This Village Was Made for Us"

Paul Carrick’s nightmarish painting from “This Village Was Made for Us”

I wrote a scenario, “This Village Was Made for Us,” and some scenario seeds for Atomic-Age Cthulhu from Chaosium.  This Call of Cthulhu collection takes place during the 1950s, a previously neglected era for the game. It also provides resources to create characters and run games during the period.  My scenario takes place in one of the communities established to support the nuclear industry, a surreal and oppressive environment for an investigation. I recently received my copy, and I look forward to reading the rest of the scenarios. Brian Sammons put it together, and it was great working with him again. I made my first RPG submission pitch to Brian back in 2002, for Strange Aeons II.