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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]