Posted on May 31, 2011 by Nix
Available at RPGNow.com
The premise of Cthonian Stars is really quite simple, we are not alone in the universe. Even though we manage to overcome our current, and rather ignorant, age to reach out into our Solar System humanity will still be in its infancy when compared to what we may find. In the near future world of Cthonian Stars humans have settled into almost every corner of our Solar System. Colonies exist on Mercury to Pluto and every moon in between. Humans have come together in peaceful cooperation for our mutual benefit, yet the distances between the various colonies still has a stifling and isolating effect. Travel is not an instantaneous effect, but takes time and is dangerous.
The influences that sparked Cthonian Stars were ones that I was not only already familiar with but also a fan of. They listed movies such as Event Horizon, Pandorum, and Outland to help capture the ‘feel’ of the game. It is a realistic environment with realistic problems, it’s just that those problems are being exacerbated by the approach of an unknown body. For the past thirty years a strange mass has been approaching our system and in that time things have been getting weird, and the closer it gets the worse things become.
Cults are springing up, strange creatures that have never been seen before are stalking many of the planets, and Earths leaders are left to wonder at what to do. Some believe we can harness the “Cthonian Star” as it has been dubbed by the few that know of its existence, others wish for us to blow it up, while others wish it to be investigated. They all realize the inherent dangers each possible route would take and thus the gears of the political machine grind slowly to a halt.
It is then left to the Wardens, a special branch of investigators, to combat the menace. They have the tools, they have the funding, and they have the expertise to fight off the growing threat. Yet they are few in number and have to operate in secret. The Wardens are attempting to hold back a tide of nightmares set to warp all life in our Solar System and wipe out any opposition. There are fringes of mankind that support the encroaching torment, that gleefully accept the changes to their bodies and souls in exchange for power.
Cthonian Stars takes two classics from two separate genres and mixes them quite well. Horror games and science-fiction games are difficult enough to do, much less crossing the pair, however, the creators have melded Traveller and Call of Cthulhu with amazing precision. Traveller is the grandfather of science-fiction role-playing and Call of Cthulhu is the grandfather of horror. Both games are extremely hazardous to the players and Cthonian Stars is deadlier than both. As I read through the book, I saw what could be a high mortality rate among player-characters. Either through death or madness, survivability will be difficult. That said, Cthonian Stars is not a carnage fueled romp. Combat should be deadly. Facing down a multiple limb horror should be maddening. When you combine the two a player should be ready to bid farewell to several creations. The mechanics behind Cthonian Stars is based on Traveller, a superbly simple system that uses the d6. While it does use the most current edition of Traveller, fans of Traveller (classic) will be able to easily modify it the older format. You will need either the new Traveller core book or a set of the little black books from days gone by.
Character creation is quick and easy, roll 2d6 for the basic statistics of the character. Then you move on the characters life path where the player chooses a career. Cthonian Stars suggests the Warden, a specialized career that is introduced in the book, but one can still be a Marine, Navy, Scientist, Dilettante, or any of the other careers mapped out in the Traveller main book. a series of d6 rolls later and the characters history is mapped out. Certain tables are different, so that a Cthonian Stars character will be slightly altered from a regular Traveller character.
The book is well written and the design cleanly done. I personally appreciated the hex patterns on many of the pages as background images reminiscent of the old Traveller maps. Planets, moons, and other colonies are all detailed out for the players and game masters and it also includes several ships for use in the game. The artwork was sublime and the stories included truly did a good job of setting the appropriate mood. As you read through the short stories, and looked at the various images, you could feel the inherent tension the game needs and that it exudes. If you enjoy science-fiction with a dark edge, then you will enjoy this book.
Playability: 4 out 5
Artwork: 5 out 5
Writing: 4 out 5
Review by Sean “Nix” McConkey