This lushly-presented - and free - set of Quick Start Rules serves as an elegant introduction to CthulhuTech, providing all you need to run an introductory game to see if it is something that will appeal to you and your group. Interestingly, the copyright notice allows free distribution of the document, so unlike many such products you can pass copies out yourself legally rather than sending interested parties off to download their own copies.
The work opens with an Introduction that explains the setting - an alternate reality near-future version of this world, that came about when a doctoral student began experimenting with multi-dimensional mathematics, leading to the blend of magic and technology called arcanotechnology. Oh, and she went mad in the process! Amongst the benefits of arcanotechnology, it also attracted the attention of an alien race called the Migou, who live on Pluto... who decided that those pesky humans were now becoming a threat and must be dealt with. Not having many warlike skills of their own, they created a race of genetically-engineered human-like beings, who were doing quite well until the realisation of how similar they were to human beings hit them and they rebelled against their Migou masters. Unfortunately by then the Migou had developed martial powers of their own... and of course, there's a whole lot of other stuff going on as well, occult lore about dark gods who by some timely (or is that untimely?) freak of celestial mechanics have chosen now to wake up and take an interest. And everyone is fighting for the future that they would like to see, for their own survival.
The next part is Playing the Game. Here we learn that the intent is to provide a complete alternate reality in which a multitude of games can be played, from out-and-out warfare using armoured battlesuits - mecha - to clandestine conspiracies in the shadows, using magic or psychic powers or stealth or violence to accomplish your aims. Each book published will have complete adventures and plot hooks to enable you to weave the tales that you and your group want to tell. However, there is mention of an overarching metaplot that will be developed over time: but it is something that you can use as a central part of your game, have as background, or ignore completely.
Next is an introduction to Framewerk, the core rule mechanic for CthulhuTech. It's quite straightforward, using a number of d10s rolled against a Difficulty in a Test whenever your character tries to do something that might go wrong (and when the outcome has plot significance), the higher your roll the better. The number of d10s you roll depends on the character's relevant Attributes (raw abilities) and Skills, chosen as appropriate for the task to hand. The 'Storyguide' (Game Master) determines the Difficulty. But then it gets interesting: there are different ways of determining your result! You can take the highest number rolled out of all the dice, you can add all dice that roll the same number together, or you can use a 'straight' (consecutive numbers) and add them. Then compare your result with the Difficulty... hoping there weren't any ones in your rolls, as they tend to lead to Bad Things... There's a bit more to it even here, and plenty more in the Core Rulebook, but this gives some idea.
Right, having grasped that, and decided who's going to be the Storyguide, everyone else needs a character. A brief run down of races and professions available is given, as well as an explanation of attributes and skills: then there's an outline of how combat works. It's turn-based, with characters determining initiative to decide order, then saying what they want to do and rolling as appropriate. This section winds up with a few notes on other activities like climbing, wounds and healing... and what happened when a character gets scared! And scared he will get: there are many things out there that can send you crazy, never mind just terrify you!
The rest of the book is an adventure, complete with four pre-generated characters to play in it. There is plenty of contextual information so that the Storyguide can understand what is going on even if he hasn't read any other CthulhuTech material, and the characters are supposed to at least begin pretty much in the dark! They have a mission to carry out, which needless to say doesn't go quite to plan... with plenty of atmosphere and detail to make this new alternate reality come to life, as well as giving the players opportunity to try out the Framewerk system as they use different skills and abilities to complete their mission. Stealth, observation, chases, investigation, negotiation and brawling will be covered, a good workout to build understanding of how the game works, while the climax of the adventure is a ritual that must be stopped... Classic stuff that whets the appetite for more.
Each character comes complete with detailed background and an explanation of his particular skills as well as a character sheet. The opposition is also given in detail. And all illustrated and laid out in the distinctive style of the game line, a feast for the eye as well!
Overall it's a good introduction to both game system and setting, and if it doesn't leave you wanting more - well, at least you know this game isn't for you. Me, I'll reach for the next book...
[5 of 5 Stars!]