Posted on May 26, 2009 by spikexan
In Jaws, Roy Scheider’s character tells us that “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” That is the chief message underlying CthulhuTech. We’ll explore the meaning of this later on. The Cthulhu mythos has seen some amazing variations since it’s conception nearly thirty years ago. The core rules evolved through six editions, not including solid side ventures like Delta Green. One of the hallmarks of these games is the sheer horror that comes when facing something you, well, can’t really beat. Chuck your stick of dynamite, hope you blow it up before you blow your sanity roll, and get the heck out of Dodge. I’ve always felt that these games were the Anti-Dungeons and Dragons based simply on the bleak outlook of the mythos and the mindset of the players. This game posits a few new questions.
One, what if we had some seriously potent allies in our struggle against Things Men Should Not Know.
Two, what if we had that bigger boat or, you know, a mecha with wilder powerful firepower?
Artistically, CthulhuTech is both a varied and beautiful thing. The range of artwork moves from H. R. Giger to classical styles (pgs 40-41). The layout also impressed me by remaining clean despite many well-placed sidebars and pieces of art. My only real complaint from a graphic sense is the character sheet. Because there is so much to a character and their mecha (should they have one), space is a critical issue that demands a multi-paged character sheet. No, my problem is how crowded the end result looks. Instead of picking off-hand pieces of art from within the book, I think running the borders more distinctly could have created a better final appearance. Although my review copy is a PDF, I fully intend buying the print version simply for the beauty of it.
Since the book weighs in at a mammoth 290 pages, I’m not going to overload anyone with the text’s intense details (eighteen chapters worth). Instead, I’m going to look at the game’s system and setting.
The Framewerk systems fuels CthulhuTech. This straightforward system works off of D10s. Players determine their dice for the roll (typically their Attribute and appropriate Skill) and roll against a pre-set difficulty, ranging from 7 to 32+. From there, the rules can grow with basically any group’s tastes. One unexpected aspect to the game that lends to the belief that much of the system is inspired by the Unisystem are the rules for Drama Points. In this game, Drama Points can be used in mainly three ways. You can burn them to improve a roll for yourself or for an ally. You can also burn them to ruin an opponent’s roll. This third use is a rare sort of find as it allows players to dig into the Storyguide’s dice pool.
Also, since this is Cthulhu, it is recommended that Drama Points never be allowed to augment Fear, Insanity, or Magic tests. Sometimes you just crap out. The explanation of the rules and character creation is excellent. This is a game that will benefit from a screen; nevertheless, the hard mechanics only has four steps to contend with regularly. In a pinch, you don’t have to elaborate and just get into the story. Character creation is quick without sacrificing details. You’re character will be ready for play in seven rather
simple steps. For those who want to make a pure mechanical character without much forethought, the speed will impress you. For those who want to go ahead and tag a little artistic flair to their doomed, I mean noble, hero, the game offers some quick inspiration with various questions. On page 67, there is also a page dedicated to designing your character around astrological signs or animals. While the animal concept gets a three-line nod, the bulk of the page is dedicated to the Zodiac. This helps with creating a fast core character persona without being bogged down all night. Good stuff.
While psychics have been utilized in various Cthulhu lines over the years, CthulhuTech permits players to try out one of the, for lack of better word, monsters. The Nazzadi were created by the Migou to bring forth the annihilation of the human race. Instead, some of them found a conscience and decided to join us and make Earth their new home. Genetically, the Nazzadi have more in common with humans than not. In fact, interbreeding is possible. I think the incorporation of these characters adds to the sci-fi aspect of this split-genre game.
The setting of the game takes place in 2085 (mark your calendars), although the game’s rich history covers from the early 21st Century to that point. I found the setting to be an interesting addition to the mythos. The writers laid out the second chapter rather well. Chapter Two is twenty-eight pages of setting material. After the timeline plays out, each of the game’s main concepts gets a two page treatment that doesn’t waste a word. I would guess that the reason behind this relatively quick read is to permit players and Storyguides the means to quickly jump into the game. By reading the blurbs and key notes on the mechanics, a gaming group can plunge right into the setting.
And this is a great setting, especially to fans of anime and Lovecraft. There are scores of baddies to either fight or flee, loads of mecha concepts to wow players, and an underlying series of conspiracies (both human and alien) to keep players guessing at every turn. Some may fear that strapping characters into a Transformer so they can stomp Hastur’s bony crown will be a buzz kill. They may cry out that incorporating high tech steals away some of the horror when dealing with these terrible beings. I’m here to tell you a secret, the secret that makes this game so sweet.
Having that bigger boat doesn’t actually help at all against these sharks. In fact, it’s the boat that kinda starts all this trouble in the first place. Read the game and you’ll know what I mean.
My scores for CthuluTech are:
Artwork: Five out of Five Dice
Layout: Four out of Five Dice (Would love to see a different take on the character sheet
since that is what most players look at all night)
Writing: Five out of Five Dice (Loads of material in easy to eat bits)
Overall: Four and a half Dice out of Five Dice (Great Game)
Review by Todd Cash