More Than Man, More Than Machine – Review of Cthulhutech

The noise is loud, nearly deafening. It’s not surprising, really. What else would you expect from a division of of Engels walking across the ruins of a city? The giants mechs make more noise than you and the rest of your murder, that’s for sure. Part of your is a little weirded out by the man/machine monstrosities as they walk by. Sure, you’re bonded to an extra-dimensional being from beyond time and space, but at least you committed to your choice. Engel pilots, they get to unjack whenever they’re not on-mission. Seems too… impermanent.

Your musing are interrupted as static busts into your ear. The sound quickly resolves. “Alpha Pack, your target has been spotted. Coordinates are being transmitted.” A pause. “Looks like a testing facility of some kind left behind by the EOD. Good luck.” A testing facility. That would mean anything. With a sigh and a glance at the Engles hunting for bigger prey, you shift, your human form melting away, replaced by a being of terrible power. You stretch your wings, relishing the freedom. “Bloodflight is go.” It is time to hunt.

Usually when you look at RPGs, you find that a game sticks to a specific genre. You’ll have a fantasy game, or a sci-fi game, or maybe steampunk, which has now become a genre in its own right. Sometimes you get mash-ups that seem on the surface to not work (like the samurai steampunk of Iron Dynasty), but that turn out to be awesome. Cthulhutech is of that last group. Set in a world shattered by various forces of the Cthulhu mythos, Cthulhutech lets you pilot a mech, or be a shape-shifting holy warrior, or a regular member of the military, just trying to survive. All of it works well together, which is the biggest surprise. It’s a very pleasant surprise.

If you look at the title of this review, you will see the words “Book Review” are suspiciously absent. That’s because I actually had a chance to play Cthulhutech at Origins 2010. In fact, it was the first game that I had ever had a chance to lay that didn’t involve a d20, so it has a special place in my heart. What you will find with Cthulhutech is a flexible game that provides you with any number of different possible stories to tell.

The main portions of Cthulhutech are two that I already mentioned: mechs and monsters. This is Earth after two invasions (one ongoing) from the Migou of Pluto. The Esoteric Order of Dagon, The Children of Chaos, and The Disciples of the Unnamable (Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Hastur’s cults, respectively) are all working their agendas, and then only thing that is keeping the world from burning (or drowning, or dissolving into a murderous frenzy) is the military of the New Earth Government, with help from the Engel Project and the Eldritch Society, of course.

All three of those factions are available for you to swear allegiance to, and the faction that you call your own helps define who your character will be. NEG or Engle Project members might be scientists or arcanotechnicians, or (more likely), they might be mech pilots. Engel Project members might even pilot the half-biological, half-machine Engel mech. If you are a member of the Eldritch Society, you might serve any number of functions within the group. More likely (because it’s awesome), you will be a Tager, a human who is mystically bonded to an extra-dimensional power.

All of the above options only scratch the surface of what is a really cool set of ideas for a game. The question is, how does it play?

The mechanics for the game use a dice pool (all d10s), where instead of counting successes, you’re really playing a variant of poker dice. You’re looking for matching numbers, or a string of sequential numbers. You can call in all kinds of abilities and attributes to try and increase your dice pool (the more dice, the better, right?). As well, you or your party members can spend Drama Points to change dice, or add dice to your pool. Drama Points let you affect the outcome of attacks, help someone’s dice pool, or make other cool stuff happen in the game. The neat thing about Drama Points is that they can be spent by any player, on behalf of themselves or any other player, at any point in time. You don’t have to be in the same part of a scene. That helps keep everyone at the table involved in the events of a scene, even if the in-game party is actually separated.

When I played at Origins, I had a good time. The system was a bit confusing to me, and if I were going to run it or play it again, I would have to take some time to get comfortable with it. I did not play a mech pilot, so I can’t speak to how well that portion of the game works. The Tagers were fun and very capable, though.

Overall, I love the concept of this game. The mixing of the styles, and the manner in which the information is presented in the beautiful book, works really well. There is some weirdness for me in the system, and I really think it could be made less complex, and still retain the awesome feel and flavor that Cthulhutech has.

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. Great-looking book, amazing content, hampered by an overly complex system. Definitely check it out. Cthulhutech is published by Wildfire, and was written by Matthew Grau and Fraser McKay.

2 thoughts on “More Than Man, More Than Machine – Review of Cthulhutech

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the review, Tracy. I’d seen the system mentioned before, but this review helps give me a nice view from 50k feet. The name always sounded strange to me, and it’ll be weird playing a game without the familiar d20 hitting the table.

    I still want to play this game, though. It sounds intriguing.


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