Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tommy's Take on Realms of Cthulhu

Savage Worlds is often, erroneously, cited as only being playable one way: Pulpy, high action games. The Cthulhu mythos is often cited as only being playable one way: Dark, defeatist, investigative horror in which you are almost certainly doomed to insanity or death or both. Realms of Cthulhu has developed a bit of a reputation for proving both theories wrong.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Well, the first thing you need to know is that Realms of Cthulhu is on sale right now over at Reality Blurs' website, and you can get it at RPGNow in PDF format or in hardcopy from Beautiful Brains Books & Games (since this review should remain up WELL after the sale ends). This review covers the PDF version, which is 162 pages and layered for printer friendliness. It is not complete in and of itself, requiring a Savage Worlds rulebook in order to play.

The format covers the standard "formula" for Savage Worlds books, and I want to stress that this is not a bad thing. In addition to standard Savage Worlds character creation, characters have a Sanity score (2 + half your Spirit minus your Corruption) as well as Corruption. Characters also have Defining Interests, which can be used to add a bonus to a Common Knowledge roll.

Realms of Cthulhu also includes a number of new Hindrances and Edges, like Glass Jaw (making Soak rolls harder) and Flexible Thinker (allowing characters to get around madness penalties).

The book assumes three different time periods: The 1890s, the 1920s and modern day, with the equipment lists divided up among them (with appropriate costs and availability).

The Setting Rules allow you to twist and turn the dials up and down, with Pulpy and Gritty damage options for both Physical and Mental damage that can be mixed and matched for different play styles, with other options (like losing all of your bennies when you roll snake eyes on a roll, as well as options that tip things in the PCs' favor, like giving them the Common Bond Edge for free if they Rank Up together).

There is an extra level of complexity added with these setting rules, but they are both flavorful and they build off of existing rules. They also add guidelines on team "roles", much like Reality Blurs did with Iron Dynasty.

The Campaign section also adds another optional rule, for those times in which you need to replace a PC (due to death or insanity): They can keep the previous PC's Knowledge (Mythos) skill, but with the the same cumulative, negative effects.

Magic is an important part of the game, but Realms of Cthulhu not only removes Power Points, but also Arcane Backgrounds...meaning that anyone with access to reference books can attempt to cast the spells within...with casting being based off of Knowledge (Mythos)...and yes, there is a Backlash table for it.

In addition to a whole slew of new spells, namely rituals that can be used to find and summon elder entities and the like (as well as a disturbingly easy to cast Resurrection spell), the magic chapter not only includes important tomes (such as five versions of the Necronomicon), but a generator that you can roll on to create your OWN tomes, complete with the spells found within.

There IS also a Mythos Tales Generator, and I love that sort of thing. For instance:

Hook: Supporting Cast (Friend) - So a friend needs help.
Lynchpin: Supporting Cast (Friendly) - They could easily be one and the same. Or the Hook could be the spouse of the Lynchpin, who has gone missing, for instance.
Location: Ruin/Lost City/Temple - Thinking we could see where they went missing at.
Proximity: Regional - Within a day or two's travel.
Plot Type: Escape - Hmmm.
Plot Complication: Shock/Revelation - The gimme on this one seems to be "Old flame calls Investigator up because their spouse has gone missing near the investigators area of operation. The Investigators discover a hidden temple there and find out that the spouse is, in fact, trying to summon some Lovecraftian horror and must now be stopped."

There are also generators provided for rolling up Tainted Humans, Servitor Races and so on. And, unlike some settings, it's okay if you get something just completely off the wall, ya know?

There are no plot points, though there are four Mythos Tales, and a location called Drake Manor, with its own Mythos Tale, NPCs and such.

A number of generic NPC stats are provided, as well as an extensive bestiary, ranging from cultists, ghouls, rat things and such on up to named entities such as Dagon, on to a whole other section on Elder Gods and Great Old Ones, with a paragraph or so detailed them as best as one can describe something like, say, Cthulhu.

Conversion notes are included in the back, for folks who might want to use their Chaosium Call of Cthulhu stuff with Realms of Cthulhu. Special notice must be given to the character sheet, which is one of my favorite character sheet designs I've ever seen.

WHAT WORKS: Savage Worlds can only be played one way? Think again. Sean Preston and Reality Blurs tackled the enormous task of taking a game known for high octane adventure, and making it entirely feasible to run it as a dark, gritty, defeatist setting...or you can keep the dials turned up to 11 and scream back into the face of madness, as befits your group. That's a win right there. The character sheet is a fantastic design, and the PDF is a gorgeous piece of work.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: We'll go with...I dunno...could have used more Savage Tales. OH. Deity was mispelled Diety in one heading (at least on my copy of the PDF), SO THERE.

Conclusion: I would call this an almost essential buy for a Savage Worlds GM, especially as the options inside go a loooong ways towards helping you adjust your own games to fit the lethality or harshness you may want from it. I'm working through the Complete Works of HP Lovecraft myself right now, and so this review was very timely for me to do right now. Just an amazing product on every level, and a fine example of the potential of Savage Worlds.


  1. Essential? Yeah, pretty much, I know I have my copy as an optional set of idea in my games. With Realms I add that special Lovecraft touch to Deadlands, Space: 1889, Interface Zero...the book is a toolbox for any GM worth his or her salt.

  2. I could totally see that.

    Deadlands Classic was pretty much a meatgrinder, and that changed in Reloaded. There's enough options here to get that feel back while keeping the speed of Reloaded.

  3. Nice review.
    My son wants to play some Cthulhu. I have the quickstart for CoC and plan on using that for a session or two. Do you have experience with any other Cthulhu games? If you do, how do they compare to Realms? Which would be your choice?


  4. I don't...I have a little experience with BRP and a lot of experience with Savage Worlds, though, so SW would be my default answer...but I can be a bit of a fanboy...=)