Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Stars Are (Coming) Right

Following my post about new Horror Games I thought it might be appropriate to post about the Call of Cthulhu renaissance that seems to be underway.  I’ve previously posted about both how I enjoy Call of Cthulhu, but also about how it has many old-school elements, which if played as written, are likely to create a less than optimal experience for many players. 

What is clear is that there is an enduring fan-base who enjoy playing the game and will support it despite some of these drawbacks.  I have personally been surprised at the consistent number of downloads of my free Call of Cthulhu scenario Sundown set in the Old West (it has been downloaded around 600 times via DriveThruRPG over the last 2 years – not bad considering Sundown is also available for free on the Chaosium website).

2013 has seen a number of interesting developments.  Firstly, the licensed Call of Cthulhu products have continued in leaps and bounds – with products like “Tales of the Sleepless City” from Miskatonic River Press, “Island of Ignorance” from Golden Goblin press and the previously mentioned World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour and Achtung! Cthulhu having maintained a high standard of quality.

In addition, Chaosium have been pretty active, with a number of new Call of Cthulhu releases including scenario collection “House of R’yleh”, stand-alone scenario “Canis Mysterium”  and new setting and scenario collection “Atomic Age Cthulhu”.

The excellent analysis via Yog-Sothoth provided by Dean (from Adelaide) shows that the number of scenarios for Call of Cthulhu published in books has jumped markedly in 2013, reaching a point near the high-water mark of the 1990’s. 

When you then consider the picture for 2014, with the release of the very successful Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter, and the refresh of the epic Horror on the Orient Express campaign, as well as the new Cthulhu Britannica: London (which is currently funded and on track to deliver and old-style premium box set), it seems that the stars may finally be right for Call of Cthulhu to enjoy an upsurge in popularity. 

More kickstarters have been hinted at, refreshing other old campaigns, Pulp Cthulhu might allow a more heroic style of play, drawing in those turned-off by the purist character path (a downward spiral into insanity), and the new edition should make the game more accessible to players.

It will be interesting to see if these new products actually result in a spread of Call of Cthulhu, introducing new players to the game, or if they actually reflect publishers finding more effective methods of tapping into the existing fan-base, and leveraging an aging gaming community who now have more disposable income which they are willing to spend on direct sales. 

When I look at my local gaming community, there is not a single Call of Cthulhu scenario currently offered in the major local gaming convention in January, nor was there a Call of Cthulhu offering at the Horror Convention in October.   Perhaps this will change over time, and perhaps more gamers will be inspired to pull a Call of Cthulhu scenario off the shelf in 2014, and give it a try… or perhaps contemporary gamers expect more than a mere makeover of such a traditional game to fire their imagination and Call of Cthulhu is still dreaming in the dark?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

New and Noteworthy Horror

Over on NZRaG Luke has begun his annual ranking of the top games & products of 2013.  When I looked at my own top picks, all of them were horror.  I found that little surprising - I don't exclusively read horror games, and I feel that several other products I've purchased have been of high particularly quality (e.g. Doctor Source Books for the Doctor Who Adventure in Time and Space RPG, The Laundry and Mutants & Masterminds products).

So, what (other than EPOCH) made the top of my list?

1. Eternal Lies.  The true test of a campaign like this is actually running it, but the sheer quality, size and attention to detail evident in this product are amazing.  Then, to top it off, Pelgrane offer additional support, including a soundtrack, map, comprehensive conversion notes for Call of Cthulhu, plus NPC portraits.  Truly a masterful product.

2. World War Cthulhu: Darkest Hour.  So far I only have this in PDF, so can't comment on the quality of the physical book but this seems like an interesting take on Delta Green style gaming in WWII, and the first in a series of Cthulhu war books. I'm not sure how easily this setup would mesh with the history of WWII - history buffs often have high levels of expectation about integrating games like this into the context of such a well-known conflict, and may therefore have trouble suspending disbelief - for example if the characters fail to prevent the horror from manifesting, how does this not have a visible impact on the war?  Interestingly with the parallel release of Achutung! Cthulhu you can choose whether you prefer a pulp or purist take on Cthulhu in WWII.

3. Esoterrorists 2nd Edition a refresh of the Gumshoe system in this clever and compelling contemporary horror setting.  I love the idea of the Esoterrorists setting, albeit not wildly dissimilar to Delta Green or The Laundry.  However, some of the scenarios have been very well executed, and this is a game I'd like to run more of.  I find the basic Gumshoe combat system a little clunky, so i'd be interested to see how this edition improves on that.