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Realms of Cthulhu

Realms of Cthulhu
From: Reality Blurs
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Realms of Cthulhu is a  Savage Worlds RPG Setting Book from Reality Blurs.

Call of Cthulhu has been one of my core games for years.  I fell in love with it back in the late 80s when I got to play it for the first time.  I have been a diehard supporter of the core CoC system since I started running it.  It is very open, free-formatted, and easy to play.  It allowed for such great role play and storytelling in my many years of experience with it.  I continue to run it at least once or twice a year at a con locally.

In 2009, Reality Blurs published Realms of Cthulhu by Sean Preston.  It took the classic CoC and retooled it for the very popular Savage Worlds game system.  My first reaction was “Why?”  If it’s not broken, why fix it?  In all honestly, I was rather averse to the idea of Cthulhu in another system.  Of course, Reality Blurs and Savage Worlds were not the first to do that.  A string of Lovecraftian games are available that take the Cthulhu Mythos setting and integrate it into a new system – Trail of Cthulhu (reviewed here) and Shadows of Cthulhu, just to name a few.

From the back cover:
“Whether you seek action and adventure battling cultists in the sun-drenched jungle temples, a shadowy milieu of dark words and impossible deeds, or a twisted mixture dredged up from the darkest recesses of imagination and nightmare, you will find the rules you need and inspiration you desire within these pages.”

Don’t get me wrong, however.  I am a fan of Savage Worlds.  I am just not a person that takes change well, I suppose.  Recently, however, I have felt the pull to run Savage Worlds games because I enjoy the system so much.

Realms of Cthulhu (RoC) is first and foremost a setting book. You will need a Savage World core rulebook to run this.  At its heart, it is primarily a conversion book of the Cthulhu Mythos from Call of Cthulhu RPG to Savage Worlds.  It also integrates (very well, in fact) key aspects of the CoC RPG into Savage Worlds.  The material adds very little new to Lovecraftian role playing, but it definitely brings it to a new and different level.

To start with, it adds a handful of very appropriate new Skills, Hindrances and Edges.  In the skill section, Realms of Cthulhu is one of the Savage Worlds games that uses the concept of Defining Interests.  Defining Interests are hobbies and interests that round out the character.  They may or may not come into play in game but it gives a little more to the character in general.  It also has a short list of disallowed Edges, which all make sense.  It also provides an adequate list of vehicles and equipment converted to the Savage Worlds system.  But more importantly, it gets into the meat of any Cthulhu game – Sanity and Damage.

One of the first aspects one thinks of when talking about CoC is Sanity.  Nothing is more terrifying then watching your Sanity stat slowly drain away as you go from one horrific encounter to the other.  While Realms of Cthulhu does not have the declining scale like CoC does, it does have an interesting approach to this.  First, it has two versions of Sanity rules – Gritty and Pulpy.  Gritty is characteristically more horror-like while Pulpy is what the name implies, giving you a chance to play in more pulp-like plotlines.  Gritty is less forgiving while Pulpy gives the characters a chance.

The whole Sanity mechanic is very intelligently designed and follows the core philosophy of Savage Worlds (at least the way I see it).  They kept it simple and familiar.  They did not add a new mechanic but instead used existing mechanics and expanded on them. It uses the “first line of defense – Guts” skill.  Once that is a failure, we proceed to Sanity and Mental Anguish.  Sanity is like your mental Toughness.  Mental Anguish is like damage to your mental Toughness.  For every 4 points of Mental Anguish above your Sanity, you take a point of madness.  Sound familiar?  It’s basically the damage system translated to the mental level.  The difference between Gritty and Pulpy is simply a Madness Soak roll. Pulpy allows for the Soak roll where Gritty does not.

From the page 5:
“You hold in your hands a horror game unlike most, for this game does not deal strictly with ghosts and other such monstrosities, but nightmarish landscapes of the master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and those who have shared his vision and shaped his Mythos.”

Of course, one does not die after taking 3 levels of madness, however.  Instead, they go insane.  This system replaces the Short Term and Temporary Insanity system of old CoC.  A check is made once 3 or more madness levels are taken and a table is consulted based on the level of success.   Overall, I liked this system because it was true to both the Call of Cthulhu genre and true to the Savage Worlds mechanics.

Sanity being at the heart of any Cthulhu role playing experience, I was fairly satisfied with the book from that stand point.  However, the Gritty and Pulpy aspect of the game also applies to Damage.  The Pulpy damage system is the default Savage Worlds system.  The Gritty damage system is a lot more lethal.  Among other things, it does not allow you to spend a benny chip to make a soak roll.  It is pretty nasty in general.

Coupling both of these aspects together – the Physical and the Mental – sets the tone for your RoC game.  You can use both Pulpy systems (mental and physical) to have a Heroic Horror game.  You can use Gritty physical and Pulpy mental to have Dangerous Action tone.  I like the fact that it allows for a variety of tone and styles, because going into this, my concern was that using the Savage Worlds system would make it too heroic and not horrific enough.

There is also a concept called Corruption, which is the equivalent of Max Sanity from classic Call of Cthulhu.  The more one delves into the Mythos knowledge, meaning the higher their Knowledge (Mythos) gets, the more Corruption a character receives.  This directly modifies one’s Sanity trait.  However, it also can be used in other ways, depending on the framework of the setting.  This kind of ramps up this aspect of Cthulhu, since the classic version affected a percentile value and was very slow and gradual.  This system is far more effective in showing the consequences of delving too deep in the mythos.

The Keeper Section takes up nearly two-thirds of the book and gives the Keeper enough tools and advice to help him adjust to Cthulhu Savage-style.  It gives some good advice about designing your campaign using three key aspects to begin with – Era, Style and Bond.  Then it follows with several generic frameworks of campaigns.   It is a rather concise and intelligent way of looking at campaign design for any version of Cthulhu.  Following this are several pages of good advice on how to run a good Cthulhu game, from the basic elements to horror to the essential aspects of any Lovecracftian story.

Mythos tomes and Magic are directly related.  Probably one of the more under-used areas in any Cthulhu game, at least in my experience, is magic.  However, because of the generic nature of Savage Worlds, I was concerned that perhaps magic was too easy for people to access because in my mind, magic should be very hard to do in any Lovecraftian world.  Eliminating the need for Arcane Backgrounds Edge (and Power Points as well), the system stays true to the classic feel of Lovecraftian magic while giving a little more options for the GM to play with.  The system requires a Knowledge (Mythos) skill check, and the risk behind is called Backlash.  On a Critical Failure, some really nasty things can happen.  Each power has a cast modifier and one can spend time on the spell to reduce it.

While at the same time it converts some of the classic Cthulhu spells for use in game, it also allows for a number of the core Savage Worlds combat spells.  Converting them to the new RoC magic system is fairly easy.  This is probably where a GM has to be real careful.  In a Pulpy game, these spells would probably work, but in a more Gritty feeling game, I would put pretty strong limitations on magic.

The remainder of the book provides a variety of Mythos Tale ideas as well as a fully fleshed-out location called Drake Manor. It ends with two very important sections – a section on creatures and denizens as well as a conversion system for Call of Cthulhu.

Throughout the book, it also provides handy tables to create random things.  Youc an create random tomes and random mythos creatures.  You can also randomly generate a Mythos Tale. These are a brilliant addition to the GM tool-chest.

In conclusion, the core system of Call of Cthulhu is significantly different from the core Savage Worlds system in more than just the obvious way.  The differences are a double-edged sword, however.  Savage Worlds is a fun system, but I was not sure it could carry the same tone as the classic Basic Role Play System did in Call of Cthulhu.  In some ways, it really does succeed at this while at others, it intentionally does not.  Because Savage Worlds really likens itself to more of a Pulpy feel, this game opens up whole new avenues for adventure that may not have been possible with Call of Cthulhu.   While, I would find it hard to leave my classic CoC stuff behind altogether, I do find RoC appealing in its own right.  It’s definitely different, while at the same time it preserves the feel of CoC, in many ways.  It does require a GM to work a little harder to narrow down his style of Cthulhu game play, but in the end, it is worth it.

For more details on Reality Blurs and their Savage Worlds RPG Setting BooksRealms of Cthulhu” check them out at their website http://realityblurs.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Realms of Cthulhu
From: Reality Blurs
Type of Game: Savage Worlds RPG Setting Books
Written by: Sean Preston
Contributing Authors: Shane Hensley, Simon Lucas, Ed Wetterman, & Stacy Young
Additional Materials: Shane Hensley, Simon Lucas, Ed Wetterman, & Stacy Young
Lead Editor: Lyn Harm
Assistant Editor: Ed Wetterman
Art Direction: Simon Lucas & Sean Preston
Cartography: Keith Curtis
Cover Art: Daniel Rudnicki
Glyphs: Omega Font Labs
Graphic Design: Simon Lucas & Sean Preston
Investigator’s Dossier: Cheyenne Wright
Typesetting: Simon Lucas
Interior Art: Aaron Acevedo, Raul Gonzalez, Andy Hopp, Igor Kieryluk, Diego Gisbert Llorens, Chris Malidore, luis nuñez de castro, Aaron Panagos, Daniel Rudnicki, Charlene Sun, Christophe Swal, Trisha Williams, Cheyenne Wright, and Darek Zabrocki
Number of Pages: 160
Game Components Included: One Hardback book or PDF
Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Deluxe core book
Retail Price: $39.99 (US)
Website: realityblurs.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

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