Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/04/tabletop-review-achtung-cthulhu-investigators-guide-to-the-secret-war-call-of-cthulhu-savage-worlds/
When this first popped up I had to say I was compelled, not just by the fact that it’s Cthulhu, but also because it’s set during World War II which I’ve always had an ongoing interest in. This is the first part required to play Achtung! Cthulhu, the second part being the Keeper’s Guide which functions as the Gamemaster’s book if we were talking Dungeons and Dragons while this one would function as the Player’s Guide. This started life as a Kickstarter and I have to say the final results here are amazing. The idea of the Cthulhu mythos running side by side with the Nazi’s isn’t something we haven’t seen before. They’ve always been portrayed as being involved in some kind of cult rituals in a lot of different fiction over the years. My first real exposure to this was Raiders of the Lost Ark and more recently Hellboy which deals much closer with the Old Ones than just simply labeling it as an occult thing. But Achtung! Cthulhu goes a step further than that even, and while you won’t find a whole lot of information in the Investigator’s Guide about the Nazi side of the Secret War, most of that is reserved for the Keeper’s Guide, what you end up with in the Investigator’s Guide is a very detailed RPG that could easily be a World War II campaign without the Cthulhu mythos coming up at all. There’s a lot in here and I love the details.
01The whole book is laid out like you’re reading the case files of an investigator or a military brief. Artwork that’s on a page will be framed like it’s an actual photograph that’s been paper clipped to the pages you’re looking at. The pages look rough and like they’re laid out on a corkboard or rough desk from the period. The titles are set up to look like they were punched onto the page by a type-writer but they opted to give the main text you read a far more readable font, thankfully. When you are presented with a table or stat block, it’s done up like it was formatted on a large index card and hastily taped into place but is still legible. The look and feel is heavily tailored to look like it comes from the time period Acthung! Cthulhu is set in and if I wasn’t just looking at this as a PDF, the book alone would be amazing. Added to that, only 4 pages of the book are ads giving you a full 141 pages of content minus the covers, a splash page, several pages of thanks for the backers of the kickstarter and the index.
Achtung! Chtulhu is actually set-up to work with two different game systems, Savage Worlds Deluxe and Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition. There are 4 chapters, 2 each dedicated to character creation specific to each system. You end up with 49 pages in Chapters 5 and 6 that are designed specifically for character creation in Call of Cthulhu and only 18 pages in Chapter 7 dedicated to Savage Worlds. That isn’t to say you can’t use some of the ideas in either, but if you’re only planning on running one rule set you’re going to end up with some wasted pages here. The nice part is that they’re full of content and sparing on a lot of stat blocks. Other than those three specific chapters, the rest of the book doesn’t bother separating everything out but will include a brief set of stats to apply to either game with text in differing colors to distinguish which game system gets what text and they’ve done a great job making sure it’s never confusing as to what goes with which.
02Chapter 1, titled Welcome to the Secret War, goes on for a short six pages to give an overview of the real-world events leading up to World War II as well as some of the bigger events through the war up to April 1945 which isn’t the actual end of the war, but who’s to say with the Secret War going on things won’t end differently? Germany was desperate at the end after all. There are mentions of two supplements coming at this point in the book as well, the Achtung! Cthulhu: Assault on the Mountains of Madness campaign and the Achtung! Cthulhu: Bye Bye Baby supplement. It’s really just a little blurb but it’s something beyond both books to look for if you’re enjoying these, which I really do love. The overview is pretty well done and actually reminded me of a film I hadn’t seen yet which I ended up watching shortly after going through the book for a few more ideas. Chapter 2, Keep the Home Fires Burning, goes on for ten pages and goes really in depth with what life was like during the period, both in Europe and in America. There are lots of tips on what was acutally available for food, what kinds of jobs for non-military people were available, mob ties, and even what kinds of entertainment were out there from music to films. When I mentioned details earlier and playing this as a straight World War II RPG even without the Cthulhu mythos, this is what I was talking about. It’s pretty well researched and helps set the tone perfectly. Chapter 3, Home Sweet Home, is a twelve page chapter that re-visits the chronology from Chapter 1, but goes into more specifics with it and details different events for Britain, titled Dear Old Blighty, France, titled The Not-So-Belle Epoque, and the United States titled Mom & Apple Pie. With the chronology is a bit more on life during the time and specific adventures you might go on if your part of the Secret War starts there and what you may end up doing. This is equally as well-researched as Chapter 2 and can really help with painting the picture for players and gamemasters alike with what life was like during the war.
Chapter 4, In the Service of One’s Country, goes in depth for 13 pages on France’s, Britain’s, Germany’s and the United States Militaries and breakdowns of their intelligence groups. There are some pretty good blurbs here on the different aspects of each and it touches on the French Resistance as well as several civilian actions taken during the war in Britain. It’s a decent overview of the different branches and what they do but doesn’t go too terribly in-depth into any of them. Chapter 5, Your Country Needs You!, gives the player the Call of Cthulhu character creation rules for creating your investigator for Achtung! Cthulhu. This is part one of Call of Cthulhu character creation and weighs in at a hefty 37 pages. That’s not to say that you won’t get anything out of this if you’re playing with Savage Worlds rules however as there is a lot of nice detail on military characters and other aspects of the war, but it’s definitely geared stat-wise for Cthulhu. Chapter 6, Getting Your Hands Dirty, is part two of Call of Cthulhu character creation that delves into updating skills since technology from the twenties and the world don’t quite mesh with the forties and the second World War all that well so you get 9 pages of updated skills for Call of Cthulhu which really won’t help you with Savage Worlds. Chapter 7, The Savage Practice of War, is the character creation section for Savage Worlds and weighs in at 18 pages. Savage Worlds is a fairly versatile game system already so it really doesn’t need all the extra pages Call of Cthulhu had to have for updates, and there is some crossover from what’s presented in Chapter 5, but tailored more for the one game system.
03Chapter 8, The Tools of the Trade, is what it sounds like, equipment. This chapter is 15 pages of equipment summaries and then stat blocks for both game systems that Achtung! Cthulhu is designed for. They delve into the different gear that each country was using, clothing options, and a variety of other weapons or technology that you might find at the time. Chapter 9, Quick-Play Guide, is almost a waste of 3 pages. All it really does is list all the pages and chapters you can find character creation rules in Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds. While it may prove useful, I can almost guarantee having the rulebook for either game will do the same thing, but this might speed it up a little bit. Chapter 10, Suggested Resources, is 4 pages of lists of films, books, television shows and games that might help get the flavor of World War II and the occult usage down. It’s a pretty decent list, but if you’re not looking for lists, well there you go. After that you’ve got the Kickstarter Backer thank-you’s which without them we wouldn’t have this book to review and use, a map of Europe and the borders when the war was going on, the index, and character sheets for both game systems.
Overall, there’s a ton of content in this book. It’s a phenomenal resource even if you’re not going to use it to run Achtung! Cthulhu as intended. I’m tempted to just run a spy or war campaign set in World War II just with this and see how it goes. It’s really well done and just reading through it gave me plenty of ideas for my own campaigns. I highly recommend this one as it’s very much worth the price for what you’re getting out of it. The artwork looks great, the layout is easy to read and look up, and you can use this in two different game systems right off the bat, both of which have either quick start rules for playing or offer an entirely free version of the rules to play with. Keep an eye out for my review of the Keeper’s Guide as that’s next on my list.