Yeah, this is the first post for about three months. Short version is I took a break from social media to fix real life stuff, get well, re-evaluate what I want to do creatively, and make some resolutions.
One of those resolutions is to actually design and run some of the games we’ve talked about over on Fictoplasm; and one of those games is Annihilation/Southern Reach, using Cthulhu Dark.
One: Cthulhu Dark
The standalone Cthulhu Dark is a massive expansion on the original seven page appendix in Stealing Cthulhu. Not much has changed mechanically, but there’s a lot of added value in the Keeper’s section on writing and refining mysteries, how to play, and the new settings that make the bulk of the book.
Cthulhu Dark is a thoughtful product for a post-CoC RPG market. A lot of CoC successors colour the “trad” CoC experience via mechanics (Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Hack, Savage Worlds versions, even Tremulus). Inevitably they also retread much of CoC’s content. Cthulhu Dark assumes the reader’s prior experience of Call of Cthulhu, the mystery RPG genre and the Cthulhu mythos. It’s a very self-aware product in that sense: it knows its audience, an audience that understands and runs free-form mysteries without the need for dictatorial mechanics. Here are the bits I particularly like:
- Very simple mechanics (one die automatically, one die for expertise plus the Insight die if you risk your sanity). This is good; I don’t need the full gamut of CoC’s attributes and skills to run a one-shot horror game.
- A very focused and concise Keeper’s section covering the essential elements of the mystery (Hook, Theme, who has the Power, what is the Final Horror)
- Well considered tools on how to make the mystery the best you can make it. Some of these are iterative (for example, refining the Final Horror) and others are lenses through which to analyse your module by clarifying the key elements and asking whether they in isolation are enough (are the locations special? Do you telegraph the approach of the monster? Does the plot hold together logically? Can anything circumvent it?)
- The notion of “creeping horrors”, recurrant motifs that underscore the horror
- And finally, the section on Mythos threats with a couple of themes, creeping horrors, and locations for each. Unsurprisingly this feels a lot like a stripped-back Stealing Cthulhu (and that’s a good thing).
I’ve been keen to cover Annihilation since we talked about it in S2E4 of Fictoplasm. Rather than recap here in detail I’d say listen to the podcast or better still read it first (it’s only a couple of hundred pages long). Also Alex Garland’s film of the same name will be out on Netflix this month, apparently.
I reckon Annihilation has a lot to offer Mythos fans, and more to the point it’s a great fit for Cthulhu Dark which in many ways is a successful return to the fundamentals source material of Lovecraft when the Call of Cthulhu RPG surpasses Lovecraft as its own, distinct genre.
The other nice thing about Area X is its ambiguity; it has a few loose principles expressed subjectively to the characters in the books, enough to work with in a game without choking the plot with canon.
I’m currently writing my notes for a one-shot that I hope to offer at Concrete Cow. When they’re done I’ll stick them up here as a pdf. For now, here’s a blurb:
This is the Southern Reach’s ninth expedition into Area X. You don’t know each other’s names, only vocations. Your equipment is outdated and careworn. Your memories are unreliable, and paper journals tell you where you have been. Some of you are studying the landscape, others are studying your team-mates. All of you are looking for answers in the wild coastline, and hoping you can get back without losing too much of yourself here.
Oh, and check out the Spanish translation’s cover of Aniquilación, from this article.