Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a character in your favorite story? I think everyone has wondered this at some point. Using the imagination to transport you to a place that doesn’t exist in the real world is one of the fundamental reasons we read speculative fiction. It’s a chance to escape reality for awhile. You can take your imagination a step further by actually playing the role. I’m talking about Role Playing Games — games in which you become the character you’re reading about and partake in pseudo-imaginary adventures with your peers.
I was never into RPGs and wrote them off as mostly a past-time for the more “serious nerd.” I chose to occupy myself with way less nerdy endeavors like making Anime Music Videos or painting Steampunk robots. My introduction to RPGs really began at Gen Con. I started covering Gen Con for Fanlit when the convention was getting too big to for the speculative fiction industry to ignore. Since it’s primarily a gaming convention, it’s impossible not to get into some of the games at Gen Con. I’ve talked about a few of the ones I’m into or got to look at on this site in my annual reports. I’d never taken an interest in looking at RPGs from a journalistic/reviewer standpoint outside the convention, until now.
Recently I was sent copies of the Investigator’s Guide and Keeper’s Guide, for Achtung! Cthulhu, a game published by Modiphius Games. Its meshing of World War II historical events and the nightmarish worlds of H.P. Lovecraft were irresistible to me. I did warn the Modiphius team I was not much of an RPG player and would be looking at their Achtung! Cthulhu universe from an almost pure storytelling perspective; they did not seem concerned by this.
I soon realized why they were unconcerned with being scrutinized by a non-gaming book reviewer, it’s because Achtung! Cthulhu is extremely well written. This is not a typical set of books. They do not have a specific narrative. This is pure world building, and the players are the ones who tell the actual stories. These books are definitive guides to the Achtung! Cthulhu universe, and their scope is impressive.
The opening segments of the Investigator’s Guide lay out the timeline of events — from the end of World War I in 1918 to the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. The abrupt ending of the timeline prior to the end of World War II is intentional since the stories you tell will quite likely change the ending of the war in some significant way. The timeline hits all the major high points of the war and gives the reader a basic summary of what happened at each crucial point. This will help “Keepers” build believable stories for their player to participate in.
You can get as detailed as you want with the accuracy of your story, and the guides make sure you have all the tools you need to go as deep as you want. There are entire chapters on the cultural issues of the time, so you’ll know how your character may react to seeing a woman or minority in your group. Or maybe there is no racism or sexism in your world — that’ll be for your keeper to decide. There is plenty more world-building information in the guides for equipment, jobs, and everyday life.
The guides are short on the mechanics and fundamental rules because Achtung! Cthulhu is based on the pre-existing rule engine Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition by Chaosium. Players are expected to be familiar with the Call of Cthulhu rule set in order to run a game of Achtung! Cthulhu. A good keeper will be able to assist new players with the fundamental rules. I would however recommend obtaining a copy of the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition rulebook before embarking on you Achtung! Cthulhu adventure.
I also must mention the artwork in the guides, because it’s amazing. The cover art is done by Spanish artist Pintureiro, and has that War era pulp look that fits the content perfectly. That theme is continued throughout the book with equally amazing art by Dim Martin. I should also mention Michael Cross, who was the graphic design and layout person. I’ve rarely thought about how the overall look and design of a book is such a huge factor in my enjoyment of the work. However, Mr. Cross has opened my eyes. These page designs are on another level. The copies I have are digital versions. I desperately want these books in hardbound covers sitting on my shelf, even if I never play the game again.
This is the first RPG I have reviewed, and I must say I’m impressed. They’ve certainly engaged my curiosity and my love of storytelling. The Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide and Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide are very sharply put together and beautiful pieces to look at. I really was in awe of the effort that went into producing something like this. If you’re curious about the Achtung! Cthulhu game, check with your local game store and see if anyone is playing it. Even if you already play a particular RPG then maybe it’s time for your gaming group to try something new.