Jul 262010
 

Published in October 2009, it has clearly taken me far too long to get a copy and start playing this product.  As a game master relatively new to Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment, but utterly infatuated, as well as one prone to fits of madness and visions of eldritch aberrations, Realms of Cthulhu is right up my alley.  For those woefully unfamiliar with H.P. Lovecraft, on whose work the game is based, he was an early 1900’s author of Cosmic Horror or what we might now call macabre Science Fiction.  He dealt with themes of hideous alien beings, elder gods from beyond space, and the limits of human comprehension and sanity.  He is loved by millions in the modern day, and taking on his work is no light task.

Horror and Beauty

Reality Blurs is no stranger to making some great products, such as their first setting Rune Punk, also written by company president Sean Preston.  As much as I have enjoyed that product, I’ve got to say that the effort and presentation of this book blows it away.

When looking at the pages before me, I simply cannot ignore the art.  I have a tendency to flip through and admire or criticize images in any book before I really delve further.  This is probably just an easy way to begin crafting my expectations for the theme of the work, and for Realms of Cthulhu, it worked masterfully.  The 1920’s pulp style comes through in spades while presenting a real feeling of towering terror beyond comprehension, particularly the full page pieces and monster artwork.  The tone was set for Savage Lovecraft.

Madness

Sean has managed a fairly seamless way to integrate his Madness mechanic into Savage Worlds by using a track that mirrors how the game already handles Wound penalties.  When players encounter a creature or otherwise mind shattering event they must attempt to resist with a Guts skill check, failure results in Mental Anguish opposed to the character’s Sanity score.  Because this operates so similarly to attack and damage rolls already used in the system, it’s a cinch to use.  But it can be a little deadly, which might be what you’re looking for in a Cthulhu game anyhow.

When your typical target number is a 4 in a game balanced around that number, repeated sights of sanity destroying creatures stacking cumulative penalties can be rather heart breaking.  In play, although my group ultimately had a great time with this system, they found that the penalties held them back a great deal from what they are used to with Savage Worlds.  This isn’t a bad thing, and I want to stress that.  This is just something that needs to be clear before you go into this game.  The pulp rules here aren’t like the almost superhuman characters in Triple Ace Games’ Daring Tales of Adventure; Realms of Cthulhu is high danger pulp.  And it can get worse.

Included in this setting are some alternate combat and setting rules to shift the game into a grittier and more deadly world, and I can’t see myself ever using them.  In a system that is already very deadly, the addition of Madness rules only make the system that much tougher to play.  Anything more is only for true masochists, but again if you are a Cthulhu enthusiast, maybe the more difficult and terrifying styles are just for you.  Ultimately, this amounts to a “cherry on top” that you can pluck off pretty easily if you don’t like it.

Mythos

If I were to choose only one reason to buy this book (and I’d have to say there are many), it is the descriptive writing for each and every bit of the Mythos.  At long last I finally feel like there is a nicely condensed source of creature and elder god descriptions that that looks professional, is a pleasure to read, and feels organized.  I’m having a blast reading and re-reading this book.  Sean’s skill as a writer has grown immensely and he does Lovecraft wonderful justice making the Mythos accessible to both new readers and masters of the Necronomicon.

And Miscellany

There are a number of items in this book that deserve quick mention:

  • An exceptional character sheet in full color, designed to look like a dossier on one sheet, very clever.  Often, full color character sheets are nearly impossible to write on, but this one did a pretty good job of keeping things legible.
  • A good list of new Edges and Hindrances.  I can’t say these are the most innovative that I’ve ever seen, but a few more are always nice.
  • The book provides a detailed and thorough list of vehicles and equipment for various periods of play, a nice inclusion for Savage Worlds, which does tend to keep that info generic or basic.
  • Rolling on the Mental Disorder Chart has to be one of the most fun features of any tabletop game.  My players were giddy when I gave them their results.
  • A fully detailed Mythos creature generator.  A few rolls on this can provide some really unique results and generate some fun story ideas.
  • A new magic system based on learning the Mythos and spells during play, as opposed to beginning with a typical Savage Worlds background.  Anyone can cast spells, but at the cost of learning what man was not meant to know.
  • The material is licensed from Chaosium, and the back of the book features a guide for converting their Call of Cthulhu system, dramatically increasing playability for Realms of Cthulhu with years of content already available.

Final Thoughts

In spite of stacking penalties that caused a little frustration at my game table, the excitement that came with success had my players screaming for joy (or perhaps that was the odd corners of the room and the other world beings shredding through into our universe).  This is the kind of setting set that is so brutal it might be difficult to sustain a long term campaign, but I’ll most certainly be running a few horror one shots or borrowing rules in the near future to terrorize and challenge my players on special occasions.

Coming Soon!

Continuing a successful theme, the President of Reality Blurs and author of Realms of Cthulhu, Sean Preston, has agreed to take Troll ITC reader questions in an interview to be posted sometime in August.  Please post all questions here by Friday, July 30th at noon, and we’ll gather the list and send the best to Sean.  You can ask anything from his thoughts on Lovecraftian lore to questions about his company or any of their other products.

While you wait for answers, you can listen to Sean run Realms of Cthulhu for our writer Tracy, as well as read some initial thoughts on the system, here.

[tags]Savage Worlds, Reality Blurs, rpg, role playing, games, reviews, Lovecraft, Cthulhu[/tags]

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About Nick Nundahl

I'm a wild haired demi-viking living on the East Coast United States. I've run games in countless systems and tanked more game nights than I've ever run successfully, but hopefully I learned a lot in the process and I'd like to pass that on. Follow me on Twitter.

  12 Responses to “Realms of Cthulhu, Savage Lovecraft”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Reality Blurs, Reality Blurs and Chris K., Tracy Barnett. Tracy Barnett said: Realms of Cthulhu review by Nick from Troll in the Corner: http://bit.ly/bwN2B0 [...]

  2. Here’s a Reddit link, feel free to post questions over there as well.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/comments/ctto6/realms_of_cthulhu_savage_lovecraft/

  3. Thanks for the excellent review! We’re looking forward to any and all interview questions you might have for Sean!

  4. The grittiness of this setting is pretty enticing. In an age where videogames tend to be unnecessarily lacking in challenge, it’s nice to see there are some games, though in another medium, that still give players legitimate reason to fear for their character (if you do enjoy a little masochism in your difficulty and panic levels, I recommend the incredibly rewarding Demons Souls).

    That said, I think there is an obvious question to ask. What is your favorite Lovecraftian tale or otherworldly being?

    And, I haven’t played the game yet, but is the threat of madness meant to be a consistently looming threat throughout all levels? Or at higher levels are characters expected to just Hellboy up and wrestle with astral tentacles like it’s their dayjob?

  5. gerhb, it really depends. If I were running the game, I would not change levels of grittiness as the game progresses. So, if you start off the campaign that is Hellboy-style, it would stay the same throughout. At the grittiest level, I don’t think that the characters would survive long enough to worry about being able wrestle astral tentacles. =)

  6. Sean,

    When writing Realms of Cthulhu, did you try to stick to Lovecraft’s vision of a meaningless and chaotic universe, or do you prefer Derleth’s interpretation, where the gods are classified as good and evil?

  7. Good job with the review. You make a lot of good points that I agree with. This game is really fun to play, even though at times the penalties made it frustratingly difficult. I was so close to saving the world…
    I’ll think of a question and post again soon.

  8. [...] Just wanted to remind you guys that Reality Blurs president Sean Preston has agreed to answer your questions!  Sean’s company publishes books primarily for Savage Worlds, but they are branching out to other systems, including True 20.  For more info, you can visit their website HERE, as well as read our review of Savage Worlds HERE and Reality Blur’s Realms of Cthulhu HERE. [...]

  9. I’m curious why the choice for Savage Worlds for a Lovecraftian setting? Was there something particular that attracted you to SW that had to do with how it would integrate with the setting, or was the choice more one of liking SW?

  10. PS, that character sheet is amazing.

  11. Hi Sean!

    When you play Realms of Cthulhu, do you require someone in the party to be a psychotherapist? It seems that without one, the game is almost impossibly tough because of the madness penalties.

  12. [...] of Cthulhu for Savage Worlds.  I wrote a review for the setting which can be found by clicking here.  If you aren’t familiar with H.P. Lovecraft or the twisted, dark themes of which he wrote, I [...]

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