Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is a new RPG Core Book from Modiphius Games.

Having reviewed the Investigator’s Guide, it is only natural to take on the next book in the series – the Keeper’s Guide.  For me, as a keeper or game master, this is where the meat of the story begins.  This is where the setting really comes out for me.  Included in this book, among other things, are Allied and Nazi forces & intelligence agencies, Occult organizations and Mythos-based missions, new tomes, secret weapons, artifacts & equipment, key characters & vile creatures, and new rules and strategies for World War II combat & survival.  Like the Investigator’s Guide review, I thought it best to go chapter by chapter and comment on each.

From page # ii:
“There’s a whole Shoggoth’s worth of Cthulhu villainy, enough for any Keeper to have his investigators dead, insane or running for their lives in no time!”

Chapter 1: From The Shadows seems like a very familiar chapter.  The Investigator’s Guide started out in the same fashion, with a timeline of key events in World War II.  However, in the Keeper’s Guide, this timeline contains key events in the Secret War, as well.  Some events actually happened and are re-tooled to link back to the Secret War.  I would not recommend just skimming this chapter.  There is an amazing amount of detail and inspiration in this.  This is where you can get your story arches and adventure seeds.

Chapter 2, entitled Inside The Reich, takes you into Nazi Germany – the people who suffered through it and key events in the Third Reich history.  Of course, chances are players in A!C will want to play Allied characters, but there is the off chance the players might want to play German characters instead.  It can be a difficult thing to wrestle with as a Keeper, but this chapter helps in a lot of ways to put Nazi Germany in perspective.  While it tries to give you a balanced view of the average German citizen and/or soldier, it makes no bones about the horrible atrocities the Nazis performed during the war.  There is a very well written portion by Kenneth Hite called Sympathy for the Devil that is a really good read.

“Man is a military animal, glories in gunpowder and loves parade.” – Philip James Bailey

Chapter 3: Might Makes Right? takes the reader into the organization within the various armed forces.  The A!C is set during of time of massive world conflict, where the ways of war rule the day in many parts of the world.  This chapter provides an amazing amount of detail (but it does not overwhelm you) about the common terms used in military structure, ranks, troop organization and military policy.  It also describes various things in the life of a soldier – supply lines and acquiring needed material and items, medical services and other essential aspects of life in the military.  Being captured is also a possibility in a time of war and can easily be a way to start out an adventure.  This chapter provides good insight into that side of the war.  The chapter ends with a series of military NPCs (in both Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Savage Worlds rules) helpful in the World War II military world.

Chapter 4: The Other Secret War looks at the history of the British, American, French, and German intelligence services.  Every war has its facets and layers.  The top layer of any war is the men and machines in places in the fields and the bravery shown as each side battles for territory.  Under that layer are the men and women that battle in the shadows searching for information on the enemy while seeding misinformation to the enemy, all in an effort to help the top layer do their jobs better.  It’s not always successful but it is an important role in the war.

This chapter deals in the complexities of World War II espionage.  All the major allies in the European theater are covered in fine detail.  The reason for this detail is because players will more than likely be working for or dealing with these organizations in their A!C adventures.  Adventures could easily start out as simple intelligence missions that explode into the world of Lovecraftian occult.

Chapter 5: Secret And Occult Societies, as the title implies, covers a wide variety of cults, cabals, and covens.  Traditionally, they play a pivotal role in many Mythos stories.  Throw the various motivations and twists of war time, and these secret societies explode with adventure possibilities.  In these pages are several secret societies and why they exist.  Motivations behind these groups vary, including protecting ancient artifacts, protecting the nation as a whole by use of their supernatural abilities, furthering a Mythos entity’s goals, and generally causing havoc because they hate a certain group or another.

If a good handful of twisted and dark cults, societies and factions isn’t enough, the book presents Section M, a special British-based multinational organization started by the British Section D.  It was formed after realizing there was more out there than just your standard challenges of wartime espionage.  Section M was formed to handle issues of a more supernatural nature.  The book describes the origins of this very important group and also gives a handful of important NPCs.  Also included is Majestic, the American answer to Section M.  The book includes similar information for Majestic as well.

The Cult of the Black Sun is the feared cult behind the scenes in Nazi, Germany.  A sort of Lovecraftian version of Hydra (Marvel Comics), its origin is deeply connected to the Dreamlands and the sinister beings within.  Its tentacles reach as far back as the late 1800s when its founder explored the Dreamlands and found the Valley of the Black Sun.  From there was born the foundation of what is to become one of the most powerful and feared secret societies within Germany.  Secretly linked to Hitler’s Thule Society, the Black Sun uses the society as a front to accomplish its sinister goals during the rise of the Nazi party.  Once Hilter begins his journey to power, the Thule Society is forced to disband but the Black Sun remained in the shadows. As the Nazis seize power, the Black Sun integrates itself with other facets of the party, including the Ahnenerbe – Himmler’s Ayran think tank.  The Cult of the Black Sun takes up a considerable amount of this chapter with amazing detail, interweaving it with key events and groups of real history.  The Cult of the Black Sun is set up as the big bad guy in the setting, one that the players will more than likely face through a multitude of fronts, related cults and other secret factions.  The section ends with a series of NPCs that make up the Black Sun, including individuals as well as generic soldiers of the Black Suns, like the Canon, the Norn, and die Troten – lower level leaders and drones of the Black Sun.  There is some incredible art here as well.

I could go on because there is so much more in this chapter, but suffice to say this is one of my favorite chapters.  There is plenty of meat for a Keeper to chew on and come up with great horror and supernatural hunting plots.

Chapter 6: Planes, Trains, And Things That Go Bang is the chapter of travel and stuff.  The first half of the chapter covers travel and the various means to accomplish said travel.  It contains a comprehensive list of air and sea ports and describes the various ways people traveled across country.  Several of the more common land and air vehicles are stat’ed out in both Call of Cthullhu and Savage Worlds.  Following this is the common equipment for characters from each country – weapons primarily – as well as some improvised or custom weapons and equipment.

Chapter 7: Into The Fray takes the reader into the war from a Call of Cthulhu rule system perspective.  Previously published rules on various important aspect of war and combat are re-printed here.  Rules for aerial combat as well as tank combat rules are presented here “ … with the emphasis on roleplaying rather than number crunching.” (p159).

Chapter 8: The Rules Of Savage Engagement is similar to Chapter 7 with a little extra rules where needed, like Aerial Bombardment rules and other special battlefield rules.  Also contained within these pages is a very special part of the Lovecraftian world – Sanity.  This is the area that surprised me the most.

From page # ii:
“The Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is the essential Achtung! Cthulhu wartime reference for any Keeper or fan of the Cthulhu Mythos.”

The first Achtung! Cthulhu product to be released was the award winning adventure Zero Point: Three Kings.  From the Savage Worlds point of view, the Three Kings adventure was written using Realms of Cthulhu rules set.  I thought when the Guides came out, they would stick with that rules set.  I didn’t really think was anything wrong with them.  To my surprise, they changed to a slightly different approach, at least where Sanity is concerned.  Both use the same derived Sanity stat but that is where the similarities stop.  There are three levels of Fear in Achtung! Cthulhu that creatures, tomes and spells have – Nausea, Horror and Terror.  Each has the potential of one or more levels of Dementia.  As they are gained, temporary insanities can become a problem for the character.  Gaining too much Dementia can result in permanent insanities and eventually total insanity. Horror and Terror have their own table and are referenced only when a one is rolled on the Trait die.  Dementia comes from these tables.

I am not a big fan of tables but they make it somewhat acceptable because you reference it only when a 1 pops up on the Trait die (no matter what comes up on the Wild Die).  If they make a Keeper screen, these tables would obviously have to be included.

Chapter 9: Artefacts And Tomes contains a wide variety of items for the Keeper to throw into his adventure to help or hinder the characters.  These include, of course, mystical items like Mi-go Bio Cloak or the Pyramids of Leng.  They also include items thought to be mundane but in truth have mystical powers.  The Die Blutfahne is one particular Nazi flag that, through some very dark and mystical events, has some very mystical powers to those loyal to the cause.  In total, there are 9 artifacts list here.

The tomes list several tomes that can be found in the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook and thus only have Savage Worlds stats.  There are also some original tomes that have both rules.  There are an additional 9 tomes here.

Chapter 10: Deadly Illusions And Cursed Knowledge expands on the aspects of magic using, learning spells and its effects on the human psyche.  The rules listed are primarily for Savage Worlds as most of the spells and rules surrounding spells can be found in Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition.  As Savage Worlds does not have Magic Points, so to speak, this system uses Sanity as the “cost” to cast.  Some cost a Sanity point directly while others require a Spirit roll.  There are a good many spells, some from the Call of Cthulhu line and some new.  Of course, the new spells have both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds stats.

Chapter 11: Horrors And Monstrosities is where I thought they would have saved themselves a lot of paper by simply maintaining compatibility with Realms of Cthulhu, but because of the path they chose to take primarily in the Sanity rules, they had to republish many of the standard Cthulhu Mythoscreatures in Savage Worlds rules.  I am sure there is a reason for it.  The question is are they all that much different from the Realms of Cthulhu?  Browsing through both books, I do notice a significant difference between the interpretations of common creatures while at the same time, there are some that are in one book and not the other.  So neither are better or worse than the other.  I just think they are both configured for their own particular setting.

What most readers would find interesting are the new creatures they have added to the Mythos, especially created for the Achtung! Cthulhu setting.  Servitor races like the Bloodborn or the Cold Ones gives you new options to creep your players out.  Twisted created like die draugar or die gefallenen are also very cool new creatures added for the setting.

While the previous chapter covers the dark and twisted, Chapter 12: Allies And Nemeses covers the real life heroes of the time and the mundane everyday NPCs.  A short description of all the major figures of World War II is given and a variety of generic NPC stats are also displayed.

Chapter 13: Adventure Seeds is 4 pages of great adventure ideas for the Secret Wars, with ideas inspired from real events and gives a slight twist to them to fit the setting.  This is a must-read for Keepers.

Chapter 14: Quick Play Guide is a quick reference guide to Achtung! Cthulhu, for both Call of Cthlhu and  Savage Worlds players.  And the book ends with a great chapter of Suggested Resources.

In conclusion, The book is a phenomenal piece of work.  It is attractive, easy to browse, well written, intelligent and well thought out.  It has everything a Keeper needs to inspire and run his Achtung! Cthulhu game.  The hard back version is a gorgeous book that I am proud to have on my shelf.  To run A!C, I highly recommend this book.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type: RPG Keeper’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden, Alex Bund, Russ Charles, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Kenneth Hite, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook & Kickstarter Backers
Number of Pages: 295
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $44.99 hard back; $22.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung