Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Realms of Cthulhu for Savage Worlds

Product: Realms of Cthulhu Campaign for Savage Worlds
From: Reality Blurs
Price: $25 PDF $
39.99 in Hardbound
Author: Sean Preston

Few settings evoke a more visceral reaction than those that wander to the edge of sanity such as Realms of Cthulhu. For some of us, it evokes those memories in the early days of RPGs when we discovered something very different from Dungeons and Dragons, very different.

In 1981, I remember visiting our local game store and seeing a new boxed edition of a game I hadn't heard of before: Call of Cthulhu. Unlike Mythos fans, CoC was my introduction to H.P. Lovecraft. Poe I knew, but who was this Lovecraft?

Our group jumped in, commenced to chasing cultists, hunting Deep Ones, and go insane. Then I found HP's books and began to understand; we weren't going to hunt the Great Cthulhu like we used to hunt the Ancient Red Dragon in DnD. We were attempting to stop mankind's fall into inescapable darkness.

CoC was a game of horror, not adventure. Surely there were adventures to be had but if you expected to hack your way through and slay a great old one you were in for a quick trip to the insane asylum assuming your character lived long enough to be committed.

Some say gaming in the Cthulian Mythos is a non-heroic endeavor. You don't don armor and bravely ride off to fight the darkness. Rather, your character finds and stop plots and plans that would hurl the world into a chaos of darkness, fear, and oblivion. But as your character learns more of Cthulian reality and ways to stop the growing tide of darkness, they go insane. You fight in the shadows trying to stop cultists and creatures from bringing doom and destruction to the world.

Other claim it is the most heroic. Your character is doomed and yet they continue to fight the threatening chaos to save the world for another day. So, how much fun can it be to thwart evil only to be eaten alive or driven insane for your efforts? As it turns out, quite a bit. The Savage version of Cthulhu only adds to the fun.

I'll break the review into 2 main topics similar RoC's layout:

1. Intro: Character building and setting rules.
2. Keeper Section, The Mythos, Magic, Tales, Adventures, and Critters (Citizens and Denzens)


If you are a fan of the old CoC but love/need the Fast, Furious, and Fun of Savage Worlds, then the Realms of Cthulhu is for you and it's a treat. For those that feel the need to stagger thru the dreaded gritty nihilism of the darkest adventures...and go insane, it's all there. I was thrilled to find that Sean Preston / Reality Blurs recognized that there other ways to play. For me, I much prefer a more pulpy approach.

Nearly 30 years ago I learned to appreciate that you need to be much more careful wandering the isolated cliffs and coves of 1920's New England. None of us longed to go mad and hand over our character sheets to the GM. I really appreciate the broader set of styles offered that still retain that original chilling fear. When a dusty tome referencing "he who is not to be named" is found in the desk whose owner has recently gone missing, the old pounding heart and fun fear returns!

Creating an Investigator
The "Creating the Investigator" process will be familiar to Savages. Just add the derived SANITY and the new CORRUPTION attribute, figure out your archetype and defining interests and you are ready. The new skills of Knowledge (Mythos) and especially Knowledge (Psychology) will get serious workouts in the Realms. Of the new Hindrances, I like Dark Secret (Major). You can be that slightly odd looking Investigator whose Grandmother wouldn't talk about her outcast family. The New Edges support the setting well with: Flexible Thinker, Jaded, Resilient (extremely useful, helps in recovering from madness), etc. and the most important Professional Edge: Psychotherapist! For a campaign long-running campaign with any grit, you'll need your support network of Psychotherapists and an Asylum you can trust. There are 2 Legendary Edges: Determined and Very Determined that boost your Sanity. The mere inclusion of these Edges gives me hope!

There is also an Equipment section covers the three recognized periods within which your Campaign will exist: Victorian, 1920s, and Modern.

Setting Rules

Fate is UNKIND: You roll snake eyes and no more bennies can be spent. Period. I read this as your attribute or skill roll and the associated wild roll both come up 1's. Happens more that I'd like to think. There are more detailed ways to handle combat and mental challenges in the sections to follow but this gives you the first hint, it's not just another horror setting.

Campaign Style

This for me was the best conceptual part of RoC. A true pulpy twist on the old Call of Cthulhu is dealt with instead of just a depressing nihilistic descension into madness.
Here is Reality's new style approaches:

To clarify, the Physical and Mental are really categories of how damage in each is approached.

There are extensive mechanics for both physical and mental damage, but the mechanics of Sanity ensure you understand: This is the world of HPL and no one gets out unscathed. The GM can use the Styles to communicate the way they intend to run the game. I, for one, am all for Heroic Horror. More Heroic Pulp and slightly less insanity.

The extensive Sanity Systems ensure that it's a central part of a campaign. There are no two ways about it but, if you work thru the mechanics, you see just how critical it is to have a sanity support system. I can see a smart group of investigators having a local trustworthy Sanitarium and Mythos savvy Psychiatrist or two staffing it. It could even be the investigators "bat cave" if you will and the central safe house for the group. That's the direction my brain went. If you are going to hang out for any length of time in the Realms, as I intend to, you'll see the need as well.

The last part of the Setting Rules has a helpful section on "New Uses for Skills". Without giving much away, it's a clever bit of re-interpreting some of the skills for new and useful ways to succeed in RoC. I liked "Persuasion as Disguise" and "Repair as Forgery". Both are self-explanatory and will be quite useful during an adventure. The last words in the section are words of wisdom for creating a unified and well rounded party. Good advise and you'll need it.


The Keeper's Section
This is the material Shane Hensley referred to in his FOREWARD: " I've read plenty of H.P.L.'s work---I'm a pulp enthusiast to the core-- but I don't want to see the stats for the Colour out of Space, or the details for the ritual cast in The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I don't want a spell list from The Necronomicon, or know the exact percentage chance a Ghoul has of causing my hero infection.... I want my Game Master to have these facts..." Well said and I couldn't agree more. So, no real spoilers here but a taste of the content to let you know, the last 120 pages are loaded with everything a Keeper could want.

The Cthulhu Mythos
This Guide is for Keepers to craft and successfully run a Cthulian Campaign. Using the four frameworks of Style to guide the decisions, you, the Keeper, will be expertly guided thru the handling of your campaign and keep it moving. The last parts of the book are loaded with how Magic works in RoC, how to generate a Mythos Tale (pages of excellent tables and explanations), Mysteries of Drake Manor (ready made start for a campaign), the Citizens and Denizens of RoC, and lastly a conversion section for bringing over your old CoC if you wish.

I see myself spending hours in the Mythos Tales section rolling up adventures, plots, plot complications, allies and new beasties of all levels. If you don't know your Elder God from a Formless Spawn (a Servitor in case you were wondering), then fear not, all is well organized and described. There are also example Tales. Reality Blurs provided four or one each for each type of style so you can jump right in with just a little work.

Mysteries of Drake Manor is a full start to a campaign and is their addition to the Cthulian Mythos. Set in the environs of Charleston, SC, in the 1920's, a coastal setting with as much history of HPL's northern New England but open for new exploration. Extensive characters, descriptions, mysteries, books of lore await.

Citizens and Denizens is as it sounds, populated with all the ready made and kitted out archetypes, cultists, npcs, aliens and critters you expect to find in the Realms. It is here you truly can learn the hierarchy of the horrific. The curtain is pulled back and all the stats and descriptions are there for your easy reading. The hours it must have taken to pour thru all the stories and lore is amazing and I appreciate every page.

Conversion Section: Five pages of wisdom to guide you if you wish to convert your Call of Cthulhu Characters and Creatures. There's a nice sidebar that addresses "New to Cthulhu". It directly recommends other Cthulhu products, starting with the original Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu as well as many others.

Character Sheet: Here's the link to Reality Blur's blog page that has all the downloads you could want. I recommend the pdf Investigator's Dossier.

Final Words: I will enjoy Realms of Cthulhu for years to come. RoC is a professional, well organized, well researched tome to lead any Keeper to successful and rewarding dark adventures. The 160 pages are packed with a setting that fits extremely well into the Savage Worlds library. I read it cover to cover over a weekend and created an investigator in short order. The amount of information can be overwhelming to someone who is new but only because the alien nature of it's denziens. Any Savage that's familiar with HPL and/or CoC will be able to jump in quickly with the ready made adventures, Drake Manor, and the fun (old style?) charts and tables to create all new mysteries. If there was anything to pick on, maybe some of the art was brought in from other projects. Given that Pinnacle itself leads the way in that practice, who can quibble. So a hearty two webbed thumbs up to Reality Blurs for their Realms of Cthulhu!

Editor's Note - The above comment that 'maybe some of the artwork was brought in from other sources'  generated a bit of controversy. Sean Preston of RB noted that all the artwork was commissioned expressly for RoC and was not drawn from other projects. The author's statement above reflects his opinion that the images of characters seem out of place and made a bad assumption about their origin. We fully accept Sean's statement and apologize for the assumption but Derek stands by his statement that some of the artwork doesn't fit based mostly on his memories of CoC being 1920s-centric. That said, he can't wait to run adventures in RoC. 

Related Links
Reality Blurs
Savage Worlds Explorers Edition (Required for RoC)
Sean Preston on Twitter
The Unspeakable Oath - a quarterly magazine for all things Cthulhu
The Unspeakable Oath Review on the Savage Troll

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