Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/08/tabletop-review-achtung-cthulhu-keepers-guide-to-the-secret-war--
I reviewed Achtung! Cthulhu’s Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War last month but had a number of things set me back from getting to my review of the Keeper’s Guide, which functions as the Dungeon or Game Masters’s Guide for the game using either Call of Cthulhu rules mods or Savage Worlds mods, most of which, aside from character creation, are contained here in the Keeper’s Guide. Both of these books started life on Kickstarter, and I’ve loved the end results that they’ve produced. Where the Investigator’s Guide offered up a nice supplement for playing a soldier with some unique investigative charges, going so far as to convince me that you could play it as a straight World War II RPG, the Keeper’s Guide unleashes the little tidbits lurking in the dark corners and provides the game master with all the tools to let the Old Ones and the cult side of the Nazi war machine which is great because if you can keep your player’s out of the Keeper’s Guide, they’ll have no idea what’s coming their way. Let’s take a look.
The layout scheme from the Investigator’s Guide continues, looking like a series of case files strung out over someone’s desk or put up on a corkboard with notes and photographs taped in for emphasis. It gives the book layout a distinct period feel that adds to the atmosphere of the game and keeps the book readable as well which is important when you’re using it as entertainment and a rulebook. 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. Both this and the Investigator’s Guide would be amazing to have as print copies when I stop to think about them in my hands I’m actually disappointed I only have access to the PDFs for review. If you thought the Investigator’s Guide only having 4 pages of ads, you’ll love the Keeper’s Guide only having 3.5 pages of ads and subtracting those, plus the covers, the splash pages, and a thanks to the backers of the game, you’re looking at 283 pages of content for your use. That’s impressive.
As I mentioned, Achtung! Cthulhu is set up to work with two different rule systems, Savage Worlds Deluxe and Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition. The bulk of the time you’ll see rules for each of these game systems printed side by side with each other with color coded names to better tell which rules go with which system, but like the Investigator’s Guide, sometimes it’s just easier to delve into a chapter on specific rule changes for each system, but while the Investigator’s Guide split this off into 4 chapters, 2 for each system, the Keeper’s Guide keeps this number down to just one chapter per system, each one aptly titled and marked based off the rules it’s written for. Both of these chapters are very similar in content with various tweaks for each, so I recommend looking each over even if you’re just running one of the systems, but you don’t have to know each to run. There will be later chapters that offer more for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu, but that’s more because some of the spells, effects and monsters are already covered in the core book for Call of Cthulhu and aren’t in Savage Worlds. There is new material for Call of Cthulhu in these mixed chapters, it’s just not as thick as Savage Worlds.
Chapter 1, From the Shadows, is a 12 page chronology of events that sparked World War II as well as the Secret War going back to 1907. While a good chunk of this time was covered in the Investigator’s Guide, this timeline deals with different events and details different people than was covered before so it’s not simply a retread of material you’ve already received if you have the Investigator’s Guide. It’s a pretty decent way to mine for more story ideas as well as being something your players haven’t seen yet unless they’re familiar with World War II history and even then there are things mentioned that I only know because of various documentaries I’ve watched over the years. Chapter 2, Inside the Reich, is another 7 page chronology, much like they revisited the idea in the Investigator’s Guide, but this is tailored more to events directly dealing with Germany. The other thing I find interesting in this chapter are short messages about how to run the Germans during the war and the fact that what they’re doing and actions they took are theirs alone and that the Mythos would have come to them because of it and not that the Mythos drove them to do those things. It helps avoid a slippery slope, I think, and keeps things going along the lines of what Lovecraft envisioned for his creation and makes it all the worse because of it. Chapter 3, Might Makes Right?, weighs in at 27 pages and covers a variety of topics, mainly the German forces and their make-up as well as structure. Later in goes into providing some example soldiers for the Allies and Germany as well. They cover a lot in there and do it pretty well.
Chaper 4, The Other Secret War, delves into the Intelligence forces active during World War II. Covering all the agencies active with an emphasis more on the Brits than the U.S., French or Germans, at 11 pages this is more of a summary but is still pretty decent and well laid out information on each. If any of your players heads that route or you need to use them, most of what you’d need as far as structure and who does what is covered in here. At 51 pages, Chapter 5 Secret and Occult Societies, is easily the meatiest chapter in the book covering a lot of what you’ll need to run the game depending on your setting and what you’re trying to do. The big things covered here are the Occult heavy hitters working for Germany, the Night Wolf and the Black Sun. One is a spin-off from the other and while they’re both working for Germany, they have very different methods and outlooks on how and what they’re trying to accomplish. While those two get a big spotlight, other groups are also covered so you can have them working against your group in America, France or Britain just as easily within their own soil or even groups designed to stop whatever is coming.
Chapter 6, Planes, Trains and Things That Go Bang, is another hefty 48 page chapter that serves as your equipment and weapons chapter. This covers gear, vehicles, and weapons that you average Investigator wouldn’t necessarily have access to on their own, but might acquire through killing an enemy or during a mission, or might just get as the key to getting through a mission alive. Not every piece of equipment in here is standard to World War II and there are definitely some interesting toys to use on your palyers here. Chapter 7, Into the Fray, is the first of the two chapters detailing specific rules for one of the two game systems. This 11 page chapter is all new rules and updates for Call of Cthulhu, including aerial and naval combat and a few other useful bits just for running in this time period. Chapter 8, Rules of Savage Engagement, is 12 pages covering aerial combat and cover for Savage Worlds, but instead of navel combat it instead covers Sanity and all the wonderful ways you might lost it being exposed to the Mythos.
Chapter 9, Artefacts and Tomes, is the first of three chapters that start to lean into more information for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu. While there is some new information here for both games, some ground that Call of Cthulhu covers is re-tread here over the 8 pages so you can use this with Savage Worlds as well. This chapter covers items that are tied directly to the Mythos that can have certain benefits and definite drawbacks for the players, especially if they’re not the first to find them. Chapter 10, Deadly Illusions and Cursed Knowledge, clocks in at 23 pages, only 3 of which contain new material for Call of Cthulhu. This part of the book delves into magic and spells specifc to the Mythos so you can see where the bulk of it may have already been covered by the Cthulhu core book. To avoid being completely useless for Cthulhu in this chapter they’ve added some new spells and effects however and some would be interesting to see outside of Achtung! Cthulhu in a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Chapter 11, Horrors and Monstrosities, serves as a kind of Bestiary for both games and is the last really lopsided chapter. At 28 pages, only 12 of these are for both games and feature things you haven’t seen before if you’ve played Call of Cthulhu. It goes through the Gods of the Mythos for the Savage Worlds players as well as some of the typical critters that serve before diving into the new creations that have shown up in World War II and not all of them are tied to Nazi creation.
Once you’re out of the monsters, they move onto the human element in Chapter 12, Allies and Nemeses, which covers the big important people like Hoover all the way down to the Man on the Street. There are a lot of examples of NPCs to run into as well as example locations and who you might find there. At only 20 pages this feels a little brief, but there’s enough variety here and between the other chapters that you shouldn’t have a problem assembling enough NPCs to fill out a campaign without much effort. Chapter 13, Adventure Seeds, is woefully short at only 6 pages and is actually the one chapter I wished could have been filled out more. You do get ten adventure ideas, so that’s great, but I would have liked to have seen more. Yes there are some more books incoming, and yes I have all I’d need here to make my own campaign between the two books, but when they go through the trouble to provide these hooks, I always want more to mess around with. Chapter 14, Quick Play Guide, is great if you’re already familiar with Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds, otherwise the list of page numbers and summaries of the new rules from this book are going to not really help you start quickly. It feels like 6 pages of fluff and I wasn’t too thrilled with the Quick Start Guide in the Investigator’s Guide either. Chapter 15, Suggested Resources, has a few more listed for each section than the Investigator’s Guide did but not enough that I don’t think they couldn’t have just pointed to the other book and said go here. After that is the backer’s thank you list, the index, a few ads and a different map of Europe than the one the players get.
Much like the Investigator’s Guide, I’m a bit over-whelmed with how much they’ve crammed into this set of books and not made it feel over-whelming at all. It’s organized pretty well and they’ve broken up the different sections so that it’s easier to locate the different information you might need. There’s much more here on the Secret War end of things than in the Investigator’s Guide and they’ve managed to not make it feel like a re-hashed book and more something that works in concert with the other book to make a whole expansion to either Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds. The artwork and photos they picked look great and the placement and feel really sold each of these for me on top of the content. I did enjoy reading the Investigator’s Guide more than the Keeper’s Guide, but they’re both extremely well done. While the book is weighted a little more on content for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu, there’s definitely material here enough for both games to warrant the price and it’s a new setting with a great twist for both and definitely something you should be picking up if you’re looking for something with a different kind of horror vibe to it. The bundle for both books is more than reasonably priced if you’re getting the PDF version as well.
[5 of 5 Stars!]