Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’


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DISCLAIMER: This review is based off a copy that was generously provided by Chaosium, Inc.

With the recent surge of popularity of Call of Cthulhu among local gamers in the Philippines, Petersen’s Abominations comes in with some really fortuitous timing. The local community of rpg gamers are big on hosting mini conventions, and with this, Keepers have a selection of five modern-day scenarios from Sandy Petersen himself!

Art and Layout

Presented in the gorgeous full-color format of the 7th edition line of Call of Cthulhu, Petersen’s Abominations also boasts of some delightfully troubling illustrations perfect for setting the mood or making an impression new and veteran CoC investigators alike.

Scenario Design

Given that each of the five scenarios are meant for convention play, Petersen’s Abominations delivers punchy scenarios that don’t waste time getting to the freaky stuff. That said, the scenarios don’t scrimp on detail either , and each one has the necessary maps, handouts, NPCs and background information that I’ve come to expect from Chaosium.

In addition, the book also provides the Keeper with ready-made investigators for each scenario, complete with a backstory and roleplaying tips to better integrate them into each game.

Keepers would do well to study each scenario carefully, as convention games require you to be a little bit more on the ball, with less tolerance for dead air as you flip through the book to figure out the next bit of the plot.

My personal favorite of the Scenarios in the book is chapter three: “Panacea” which is a fun Mythos take on a modern day body horror. I can’t spoil much of it, but the premise of the scenario and the discoveries that the investigators are meant to discover are definitely the sort to keep people awake at night.

Conclusion

Petersen’s Abominations joins the rest of the 7th Edition library of high quality releases. While the scenarios can’t quite be strung together to a campaign (not without a bit of elbow grease) they’re perfect for a one-shot. Players new to Call of Cthulhu will be able to bring in their modern sensibilities into play and discover that even with cellphones and the internet, the Mythos still finds a way to bring the crippling sense of helplessness and isolation to the poor investigators.

I recommend this book to Keepers looking to have something ready to run as an introduction to horror gaming and the Mythos. With a ton of work already done, and the ready-made investigators, this book is definitely a solid purchase.

You can get a copy of Petersen’s Abominations over at the Chaosium website for $19.95

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Disclosure: The copy of Two-Headed Serpent I used for this review was provided to me by the fine folk at Chaosium.

If there’s one thing that the pulp genre is known for, it would be the globe-trotting adventures that some of its most well known heroes go through. Chaosium knows this quite well, and had a hell of a follow up to the already impressive Pulp Cthulhu with the release of a 272 page hardcover campaign.

Preparing to run

The Two-Headed Serpent continues Chaosium’s legacy of well organized and extremely detailed adventures. It opens with an introductory chapter to help the Keeper get his bearings. This details the key plot points of the campaign, a history background of the villains and major factions, and possibly the most important: guidelines for the creation of Heroes meant to play in this campaign.

There’s a wonderful sidebar about how to run the game in classic pulp fashion, with a most telling statement:

“The Keeper should also look for opportunities to have nonplayer characters (NPCs) pass important information to the heroes, whether through interrogation, gloating, or attempting to play the heroes off against a shared enemy—this is a different approach to most traditional Call of Cthulhu games, where investigators are expected to be thorough in their search for clues; in Pulp Cthulhu, the clues are usually only there to point the way to the next action scene.”

That definitely caught my attention. I loved what I read in Pulp Cthulhu, but to see them double down and repeat this in Two-Headed Serpent was something I really appreciated.

This isn’t to say that the campaign is easy though.

Globe-trotting Adventure!

The campaign itself takes place across nine different adventures from exotic locales such as war-torn Bolivia to the streets of New York. Each location is an fully-fleshed out adventure, with NPCs, complications and plot details fleshed out as the Heroes take on the malign forces that are conspiring to bring about the end of the world as we know it!

I’m unable to give too much information here, but as a Keeper, reading through the entire adventure fills me with giddy excitement as there are some genuinely good plot hooks and twists and turns that will make for excellent conversations post-play.

Playtest commentary

I would be remiss if I didn’t compliment the authors for including Playtest notes and commentary to the adventures. We all know that no plan survives contact with the players, so being able to see how Keepers dealt with or handled certain cases in the playtests were enlightening.

Appendices

The book caps off with a few Appendices including details of recurring NPCs, spells and technology, pre-generated characters and details of a particularly grisly procedure that would spoil a great deal so I can’t talk about it here.

Conclusion

Two-Headed Serpent is to Pulp Cthulhu what Masks of Nyarlathotep is for standard Call of Cthulhu: A must have campaign that brings out the best of the setting, presented in a fashion that is helpful for the Keeper and brimming with brilliant and thrilling ideas.

If you liked Hellboy’s take on occult horror meets pulp, then you’ll instantly love The Two-Headed Serpent. With fantastic art, and full-color maps and handouts, the players are in for a wild ride.

To summarize? Go get it. There’s really not much else to say. Two-Headed Serpent is a perfect companion to the Pulp Cthulhu supplement and will be the source of many hours of excellent gaming.

You can get a copy of The Two-Headed Serpent on PDF for $22.50 from Chaosium or from DriveThruRPG

Review: Pulp Cthulhu

Posted: April 19, 2018 by pointyman2000 in Call of Cthulhu, Reviews, Roleplaying Games
Tags: , ,

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Disclosure: The PDF copy of Pulp Cthulhu that I’m reviewing today is a review copy that I was able to receive from the fine people of Chaosium Inc.

Now here’s a game that a lot of people have wanted for quite some time now. Pulp Cthulhu is a more heroic take on the classic Call of Cthulhu game, with Heroes possessed of more advantages and abilities that make them better than the normal Investigator, and yet still vulnerable when facing the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Along with it are a host of Pulp tropes common to the genre: Weird Science, Mesmerism and Daring Deeds… all of which add that delightfully weird pulp twist to the classic horror angle. Of course, the game is not without it’s terrifying antagonists, against the Heroes are villainous cults, alien horrors and outlandish monsters.

Pulp Cthulhu also pushes the setting towards the 1930’s and all the changes that go with it. As with any Call of Cthulhu Product, the research on this and the details they’re able to provide the Keeper with are remarkable and I can run a game with full confidence in the 30’s knowing that I have access to all that information. It’s a splendid reference for the era that can serve as a sturdy reference for any game set in the age.

The Pulps

The book opens up with a thorough discussion of the Pulps as literature. Its roots in the 1930’s and the various genres that were prominent in the era were highlighted. Of course, the chapter then zooms in to focus on the horror genre, which definitely left quite the impression as evidenced by the enduring love for the Lovecraftian horror to this day.

Creating Pulp Heroes

Pulp Cthulhu adds several new mechanics atop the standard Investigator character creation system to produce Heroes. Among them is choosing a Pulp Archetype, which bestows a Core Attribute that the character specializes in, additional Skill Points to distribute to skills that belong to the Archetype, and access to special Talents.

These Pulp Talents provide small mechanical advantages to a Hero beyond that of just simple increases to Attributes and Skills. These aren’t “super-powers” by any stretch of the imagination as much as edges that the Hero possesses. An example would be Night Vision, which reduces the difficulty of Spot Hidden rolls in the dark, and deducts a Penalty Die when firing a weapon in the dark.

Heroes also differ from Investigators in that they’re much hardier, with their Hit Points being double the number of Hit Points of a standard Investigator!

The character creation section also features a hearty selection of Pulp-themed Occupations that you can use including Gangster and Big Game Hunter.

Pulp Organizations

This caught me quite by surprise. While it was a Pulp staple, the idea of having organizations in a Cthulhu game was a surprise to me. This is because of how I’ve associated Call of Cthulhu as a game of isolation and lack of resources. Helplessness was the order of the day.

Adding organizations that give a structure and backup for the Heroes do fit very well, and I believe I felt a little tingle in my World of Darkness heart at the thought of being part of a *cough* conspiracy that knows the truth.

Sample Heroic and villainous organizations are introduced in Pulp Cthulhu, and they’re very well written. Each one has a ton of plot hooks and can very well support a campaign on their own (something, I believe that is done with The Two-Headed Serpent campaign for Pulp Cthulhu.)

Game Systems

This is the meat and potatoes of Pulp Cthulhu. Included here are new ways to spend Luck in order to buy Pulp-style harm avoidance, or resisting Sanity Loss. In line with this, they also introduce rules that allow for Heroes to survive near impossible odds. Rules such as the Major Wound from Call of Cthulhu are ignored, resulting in characters capable of much more in combat.

Mook rules are also introduced, and are average statted thugs that go down when they take damage equal to half their hit points. Rounding this chapter off is a selection of Optional Rules such as dual wielding weapons (like twin pistols, just like the Pulps!) and other combat-related tweaks.

Pulp Sanity is also covered in it’s own chapter, and it looks like the Heroes are still vulnerable to being driven insane. The most interesting aspect introduced would be the optional Insane Talents, which become available once a character suffers sanity loss. These are high-risk, high-reward talents that are added to the hero after it is first revealed. It’s a neat mechanic, and I’m eager to see it in play.

Pulp Magic, Psychic Powers and Weird Science!

Among the chapters of the game this was perhaps the one I wanted to check out the most. In many ways, this was perhaps the part that would pretty much push Call of Cthulhu towards strange new vectors given what Heroes could do that Investigators could not.

I won’t go into too much detail here as to not spoil anything but the team did a great job in presenting tweaks to the magic system, and introducing psychic powers and gadgets that played up the mood of the Pulps without turning it into something like Deadlands.

While some of the Psychic Powers can certainly cut investigations short, the fact that you’re exposing your mind to potentially terrifying trauma is a very expensive trade-off.

Running Pulp Games, The 1930’s and Villains

Never one to let the Keepers run unprepared, Chaosium continues their excellent support for new Keepers with three chapters aimed solely to address their needs. As a non-US citizen and having never been to the US, this is a godsend, as it helps flesh out details that I wouldn’t have gleaned through watching period movies.

Scenarios

Finally the book wraps up with four solid scenarios that cleave to the Pulps that inspired them while still having that familiar weird horror sting of the Cthulhu Mythos. Each one is splendidly detailed (perhaps intimidatingly so) but with careful study, Keepers should be able to pull off some very memorable pulp games.

Review and Conclusion

Pulp Cthulhu is one of those products that could very easily have been done wrong. It’s a genre full of easy cop-outs and shortcuts, but Chaosium stuck to their guns and delivered on all fronts.

Players get to play Heroes rather than “ordinary” investigators, and there’s a boatload of optional rules to make the game interesting. But it never loses sight of the fact that you’re still up against the Cthulhu Mythos.

You might be able to confront the creatures of the mythos to some extent, but Pulp Cthulhu only promises that you can go down swinging rather than screaming and that’s not a bad thing.

You can order a hardcover copy of Pulp Cthulhu over at Chaosium for $44.95 (plus shipping)

DrivethruRPG also sells the PDF for $22.50


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Finally we’ve reached the half of the book dedicated to Keepers. At this point, I’ll be switching gears and going over a quick blurb of what to expect on each of the following chapters, rather than going deep into detail as most of it is refinement and advice specific to running the game.

Given that we’re 7 editions into Call of Cthulhu, it’s gotten quite expansive, and there’s a lot of good advice to go around, especially when running for this particular take on the horror genre.

Playing the Game

I happen to like the approach the Call of Cthulhu takes in this chapter, working with the assumption that there will be newbie Keepers trying to run this for the first time. There’s good, common-sense advice included here, from putting a group together, to dealing with unsavory historical elements and setting the mood for a proper horror game.

In addition there’s more specific advice for running Call of Cthulhu, imparting insight to how the system is used, how you can take advantage of Pushing a roll to build tension, and some great stuff on interpreting success and failure in a given skill roll.

The chapter then goes into the details and advice on how to handle Action and Magic, and how to make sure that you build that air of horror into your custom scenarios.

Tomes of Eldritch Lore

This chapter goes into the listing and details involved in the Mythos Tomes. There’s some snappy advice on how to describe Mythos Tomes and the experience of dabbling in their contents, followed by a list of Mythos books, and their attributes, such as the Sanity Loss incurred when studying them, and other details.

Grimoire

As a logical follow up, this chapter lists the various spells for Call of Cthulhu that can be learned through the Mythos Tomes. The spells are all very colorful and quite… disturbing, and you can easily see what kind of insane cultist would consider using (or learning) such powers.

Artifacts and Alien Devices

Being the Cthulhu Mythos, there’s room for both arcane artifacts and strange alien devices used by the various species outside of man. This chapter is full of interesting and flavorful entries of the various items that Investigators might stumble upon on their investigations, or be subject to if they’re ever so unfortunate.

Monsters, Beasts and Alien Gods

Perhaps the favorite chapter of any Keeper, this is the bestiary that gives the stats of all the Mythos beasties from the Mi-Go all the way to The Great Cthulhu himself. It’s also lovingly illustrated (definitely a plus!)

At a certain point the numbers on the various Deities of the Cthulhu Mythos are somewhat overwhelming as some stats hit 3(!) digits when it comes to their values. Needless to say when an Investigator comes up against The Great Cthulhu himself, you might as well give up on any hope of a direct confrontation.

Scenarios

The book ends with two scenarios that the Keeper can run right out of the box. A part of me laments the fact that The Haunting is no longer here (It’s now part of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quickstart) but it does introduce two new scenarios to try. Both of these are fairly extensive, and are set in the default 1920’s era.

Each is complete with the kind of thorough scenario data that CoC is famous for, from NPCs to maps and timelines, all of which help the investigators put the clues together.

Appendices

The book wraps up with helpful appendices from items and weapons lists, a glossary and even rules summaries of the key mechanics for the entire game. Finally there are two sets of character sheets one for the 1920’s and one for modern Call of Cthulhu scenarios.

Review

While my experience with Call of Cthulhu was initially as a player with the 6th Edition (and the amazing Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign), the new 7th Edition was the one that I really bought into as a Keeper.

As I understand it, a lot of older Keepers might prefer the older version, but I find 7th Edition to be a great entry level product for a new Keeper. The book takes the time to walk you through each of their design choices and provides a lot of great advice on how to use each of the mechanics provided to deliver a genuine horror experience.

The art and layout of the book is flavorful, and easy enough to read. The full page and two-page spread color artwork is fantastic, and I deliberately avoided posting those here as to not spoil the surprise.

Call of Cthulhu is a veritable cultural institution in the hobby. While D&D might dominate the Fantasy RPG space, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not getting into Call of Cthulhu.

When done right, the payoff for well run Call of Cthulhu scenario is priceless.

You can pick up a PDF copy of the Call of Cthulhu Keeper’s Rulebook from DriveThruRPG for only $27.95


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Running Infinity

As expected, this section opens with a Game Mastering 101 section to help new GMs ease into the role. It’s a good entry, but a part of me worries that after having to go through all the other dense rules in the game, I hope that new GMs learn to flip to this chapter first and get their expectations set properly before they get a chance to be scared off by how thick the book is.

It covers a quick summary of the usual good to know bits of GMing, before finally giving a structure to the game. The tips on agenda, filling out the frame with details and cutting a scene are genuinely helpful, and are worth reading even if this isn’t your first rodeo as a GM. I know I have problems with ending up with empty scenes that don’t push an agenda, so seeing this addressed is great.

The book then goes into how to use the rules properly, from setting difficulties to managing Momentum and of course, running Action Scenes. Finally, it finishes with a few new rules on how to create scenarios incorporating the Wilderness of Mirrors.

Adversaries

The adversaries chapter contains all the rules that are necessary to manage the opponents that the players will be mowing down. Adversaries are categorized as Troopers, Elites and Nemeses, with each category representing a degree of capability and danger to the player characters.

Troopers are your regular mob that only roll 1d20 on tests and have their stress values halved. Also they go down after suffering one Wound or Metanoia before being eliminated, or one Breach before their systems fail.

Elites are much tougher, and suffer two Wounds or Metanoia before being eliminated and two Breaches before their network is shut down.

A Nemesis is a very dangerous opponent who has the full range of skills and abilities that calculate stress and harm as players do.

There’s also some rules on generating Fireteams, as most of the enemies you’ll run into will be operating in an organized fashion as opposed to being just a single guy with a gun (though in those moments, it might be best to pray it’s not a Nemesis)

The chapter finishes with a large selection of adversaries ranging from criminals to aliens, so you’ll not run out of things to throw at your players anytime soon. Kickstarter backers also get in here as special NPCs with full writeups. I especially fond the combat medic in a purple dinosaur lhost body to be incredibly inspired and will likely feature that character in my own Infinity campaigns.


Review

Reading the corebook for Infinity is a bit of a challenge, but like most challenges the payoff is worth it. I dove into the RPG with the slimmest of ideas of what it was. That it was based off a tabletop miniatures skirmish game, and that it featured anime-ish aesthetics. The Philippines was mentioned as being part of the dominant Hyperpower in the setting.  That was it.

But like in my experience in reading through the Star Trek Adventures RPG  by Modiphius, Infinity is one of those worlds that really pay off to sit down and read. The Setting is a lot to chew through, but the scope of the game expands the game from being merely one where you have paramilitary forces shooting guns at each other to other conflicts and battlegrounds beyond that of Warfare. The Psyops and Inforwar sections in particular were a favorite of mine.

The layout and artwork is great, with probably the only design piece that made me questioning it a bit being that one girl in a miniskirt rappelling down a rope while firing a pistol in the cover. Aside from that, everything is pretty much awesome.

The writing can be a bit dense, but the design sensibilities behind it are rock solid. I wish there was a better way to get ideas across without the use of terms like “intransigience” but I suppose that was deliberate to convey the high-tech nature of the setting.

Overall, Infinity is a win.It hits all the major buttons for a sci-fi universe, and the system is robust enough to run pretty much anything you’d want. GMs can zoom in or out, having players participate in grandiose schemes that decide the fate of entire worlds, or focus on the everyday struggles of a pack of criminals trying to make do. It’s all possible, and no matter what you’d like to try, there’s likely a solid backbone of hypertech material to make it work.

If you liked Infinity, you can grab the PDF from DriveThruRPG for only $24.99!