Tag Archive for: Kickstarter

Eldritch Texts in Cthulhu Awakens

Eldritch Texts

Art by John Anthony DiGiovanni

 

As we noted in our update about powers and eldritch workings, anyone can “cast a spell” in Cthulhu Awakens as long as they have a text to work from that contains the proper instructions rendered in a language they can understand. This of course leads us to the question of what these references are, and how they’re presented in the game.

Each text’s description passes on the following information.

Content and Effects: A general description of the text’s contents, followed by any special effects they may have.

Decipher: Ability tests and any other conditions required to understand the text.

Praxes and Workings: Eldritch workings—the “spells” of Cthulhu Awakens—are divided into categories called praxes. Each praxis is a bundle of workings with related effects so that, for example, Geometry is the praxis of manipulating spacetime.

Alienation Test: Studying a text deeply is potentially disturbing and may trigger a test to avoid the effects of Alienation: how the Mythos alters minds who witness its phenomena.

The following example lays out this information about itself. Yes, the Necronomicon is covered, though the entry is too long for an update.

Euler Manuscript of Esoteric Mathematics

Beautifully bound in red leather and inked on cotton parchment, this manuscript holds the lesser-known mathematical musings of 18th Century Swiss polymath Leonhard Euler. The only copy now sits in a forgotten storage room at Miskatonic University’s school of Physics, though MU’s librarians are aware that it was lost somewhere on campus in the 1890s. They have not entirely forgotten to keep an eye out for it. Euler’s contemporaries described its contents as “perverse theology,” and implied it was an attempt to solve physical and metaphysical questions with the same pragmatism Euler devised to his other mathematical work—and that its conclusions were abhorrent to science and faith.

Content and Effects: The Euler Manuscript contains graphs, calculations, and beautiful, full-color illustrations of mathematical theories involving the movement of the universe. Using a series of superficially simple formulae, Euler further claims the nature of the universe must parallel the nature of God—or whatever entity is constructed from first principles, which takes God’s place. Subsequent calculations show that the cosmos is simultaneously moving and unmoving, and in attaining greater self-organization only intensifies its eventual breakdown into chaos. Time only exists as a flaw in human perception designed to ignore these contradictions, and any Creator could only have set things in motion to enjoy their destruction. Nihilism is nothing new, but nihilism backed by rigorous math is another thing entirely.

As a result, upon first deciphering the Euler Manuscript, the reader must make a TN 13 Willpower (Faith) test or suffer one level of the Fatigued Condition. Furthermore, casting from the text reminds the reader that the cosmos is meaningless, prompting the test each time the Euler Manuscript is used for this purpose.

Decipher: The reader must succeed at a TN 13 Intelligence (Mathematics) test.

Praxes and Workings: Geometry (angular travel, counter geometry, hyperbolic rotation), Outsiders (intrusion, outsider correspondence)

Alienation Test: Phenomena, TN 14, when studying praxes from the text.
Eldritch Texts

Eldritch Workings and the Powers of Cthulhu Awakens

Eldritch Workings

Art by Maurice Risulmi

 

Cthulhu Awakens provides three options for characters seeking extraordinary powers. First, the Inhuman Legacy talent represents individuals who discover they’ve inherited certain strange characteristics. They might be related to ghouls, Deep Ones, or some other weird lineage.

Second, some humans and other entities possess psychic disciplines, giving them the ability to alter other minds or the environment through force of will. Those of you familiar with Modern AGE will find some aspects familiar, but not others. Some powers have been changed, and instead of spending points or rolling for fatigue, psychics make a Power Test and Price Test—and the latter can have unpredictable consequences. Still, it’s an option for characters seeking a straightforward taste of supernatural might.

But the strongest “magic” of all can be found in eldritch workings, though these straddle the boundaries between science, magic, and what might be considered a form of ritual worship, while truly being none of these, as each working represents reaching out into the unknowable for power. All eldritch workings are lengthier actions that utilize challenge tests, but they do not require characters to invest in them as abilities, though they can do so to make casting easier. Anyone can pick up a copy of the Necronomicon and if they can understand it well enough to follow instructions, they can absolutely attempt the workings within. Eldritch workings are, of course, horrendously powerful—balance takes a back seat to ripping apart the laws of nature for story reasons, as you’ll see in the following example, with annotations in italics.

Hyperbolic Rotation (Generic name of the working; it can have other specific names)

Geometry (Praxis, or category it belongs to)

This working envisions local spacetime as a hyperbolic manifold, a curved plane wrapped around itself so that the Unseen Dimensions act as a vessel for perceptible dimensions. Rotating this structure can distort the relationship between two points in space, putting them closer together or further apart.

Rote Test: Intelligence (Physics), Intelligence (Computers), Intelligence (Electronics), TN 15 (rolls for challenge tests)

Alienation Test: Phenomena, TN 16 (Alienation Rest required for casters)

Interval: Medium (one minute) (How long each roll in the challenge tests uses up)

Trappings: 1) Top of the line computer loaded with dedicated software 2) Electrically-powered gyroscope 3) Silver wire that must be placed and anchored around the target area in specific configurations (examples of components and conditions required, which may differ based on text and altered by skilled casters)

Effect: In an area with a radius of up to 50 yards per casting rank, the caster can designate a number of alternate spatial relationships equal to their Intelligence + casting rank, with points of intersection no larger than 4 square yards each, though several can be combined for a larger single intersection. This can cause a stretch of road to wrap around itself, or a door on one floor of a building to open to a room on a different floor—or in mid-air. All points must exist within the working’s radius. Within the duration, the caster can use an Activate minor action to shift one spatial relationship with range of their senses so that, for example, they can walk through a door to one destination, then ensure the next person who passes through it goes somewhere else.

This working’s effects last one hour per casting rank.

Magister Effect: It no longer requires an Activate action to shift a spatial relationship. Furthermore, at this rank the caster can fix one or more spatial relationships within the effect duration so that they become permanent, but they can no longer be shifted at will except by another casting of hyperbolic rotation. (When a character has special expertise in the working, they can accomplish this.)

Doom: The working’s area of effect vanishes from normal spacetime, with plausible environmental features filling in the gap. The area of effect now exists in a time and location of the Game Master’s choosing, such as 100 years ago, Antarctica, or Yuggoth, taking any occupants with it. (The potential result of a miscast working.)

Secret History in Cthulhu Awakens

Secret History

Art by Tentacles and Teeth

In expanding the source material to cover the Weird Century, Cthulhu Awakens presents a world with a secret history, where the Mythos is never acknowledged in public life, but still represents a pervasive, dangerous influence. This kind of thing isn’t at all unusual for horror and urban fantasy—it’s hard to keep the world recognizable and acknowledge Cthulhu is real—but in our case, this means including somewhat radical changes to the past as well, reaching all the way back to geological epochs. In the game we divide the setting’s history into the following loose epochs.

The Colonization Wars

Beginning over a billion years ago, rival alien factions battled for domination of the world. These included the city-building “elder things,” the body-stealing Yithians, the Mi-Go travelers from Yuggoth and beyond, and Cthulhu and its minions, but the Skotomorphs, a species so strange it has evidently never communicated with any other, and so destructive its actions created the Permian-Triassic Extinction event, presented perhaps the greatest danger. After that event, but in the waning aeons of this period, various hominid species evolved, and some were altered by alien factions, though the relationship between alien-modified hominids and modern humans is unknown.

Secret Human History

In Cthulhu Awakens, most people learn the same history we do, where slow waves of migration from Africa introduced humans to the rest of the world, and the first cities arise around 10,000 BCE. Only a small number of fringe scholars and subject matter experts who focus on certain highly sensitive issues for various governments and other interested parties know the truth: Humans have founded nations, forged bronze, and fought wars to drench the idols of strange gods for perhaps 80,000 years. Furthermore, nonhuman hominids (and, perhaps, beings who never descended from apes at all) had their own nations, in lost islands and vast underground realms, where they used eldritch technologies. Flood myths and other tales of catastrophe may explain why these civilizations fell.

Mundane History to the Weird Century

From 10,000 BCE on, the main course of human history is well-known to the public, but it has secret aspects ranging from the caves of K’n-yan, whose existence is kept secret by the US government, to a certain forbidden zone in Antarctica where the few authorized visitors must avoid using modern equipment to prevent accidentally teaching its clever, shapeshifting residents how to access computer systems or create horrendous weapons. The last 100 years of ordinary history constitutes the Weird Century, where Cthulhu stirs, and the effects of the prehuman colonization wars seem poised to wrench the world out of any predictable path.

The Weird Century

Weird Century

Art by Andrew Vasilchenko

The key setting concept of Cthulhu Awakens is the Weird Century, a rough period from the 1920s to the present characterized by rising Mythos activity. Isolated cults such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon become worldwide movements powered by advances in technology and global integration. Conspiracies attain greater sophistication and infiltrate governments, and governments themselves must conspire to keep humanity safe from the Mythos—at least, the parts they know about.

Classic stories in the public domain form the roots of the Weird Century, but with a proviso: We assume the accounts are unreliable, influenced by bias and incomplete information. The Weird Century provides what is, for our purposes, a more accurate view of the world under the Mythos, but still doesn’t answer every question. From a game design perspective, this approach means we can not just eliminate problematic elements of the source material and give ourselves the whole arc of the last 100 years to play in, but tailor the truth to fit the demands of a roleplaying game setting, as distinct from a world in which to set non-interactive fiction. That means finding groups characters can affiliate themselves with, as well as antagonists and conflicts that can support an extended campaign. It means we can include elements like:

The Carter-West Agency: In the 21st Century, scions of the Carter and West families join forces to start a peculiar investigation agency which eavesdrops on strange cults as often as on cheating spouses and the other mainstays of private eyes.

The Court of the Dead: Led by their queen Nitocris, the dead but ever-stirring followers of Nyarlathotep crawl across the Weird Century, though in later decades they must contend with reanimated rivals created through various versions of Herbert West’s infamous techniques.

The Implicit Cartography Group: After following leads to a cache of sensitive documents about the future, the analysts of the Implicit Cartography group use it to uncover sensitive sites in rival states…and hoard an arsenal of eldritch texts and artifacts.

Thalassology: The ocean is, of course, a ready metaphor for the primordial self and evolution, and this human potential movement harnesses that to supposedly guide followers to their best selves, especially after they spend thousands of dollars on initiation fees and sign multiple non-disclosure agreements. Coastal cities around the world host Encounter Centers, but the most prestigious is in the otherwise staid, suburb of Innsmouth.

There’s much more going on besides these examples, from the Mi-Go harvesting the brains of public intellectuals to the ambiguous effects of Yithian history manipulation—and that’s before getting alternate universes. That is, after all, the purpose of the Weird Century: to create a history filled with opportunities to tell your own stories.

Bonds: An AGE Mechanic Evolved

Bonds form the basis of many relationships and effects of Alienation

Art by Tentacles and Teeth

If you’re familiar with Blue Rose or Modern AGE, you’ve come across Relationships: a system that provides mechanical benefits based on your character’s powerful feelings for another person, whether it’s love, friendship, professional admiration—or deadly enmity. Relationships form the seeds of Bonds, a generalized mechanic used in Cthulhu Awakens that among other things, is used for the Alienation systems we’ve discussed elsewhere. I’ve been experimenting with expanding the basic concept of Relationships ever since developing Modern AGE and notably, used it as the basic for a divine influence system in the Fantasy AGE Trojan War supplement for sibling game Fantasy AGE.

In Cthulhu Awakens, Bonds are covered in the character creation chapter, as they are essential to the game. A Bond can represent things other than a relationship with a person, and can represent the following:

Enlightenment: This is a Bond of strange, mind-warping insights gained from contact with the Mythos.

Ideology: A belief system to which you’re strongly committed. This could be a religion, a political theory, or some code of honor.

Material: Your Bond connects you to an object, structure, or location. This is the kind of Bond possessed by a character who treats their car like a pet or child, or who would rather die than give up their home.

Melancholy: This Bond attaches itself to characters who abruptly leave the Dreamlands and are deprived of its wonders by our gray, heavy world.

Organization: This Bond either represents an organization’s hold on you or your feelings for it.

Relationship: This is the most common Bond. It represents your feelings about another person or the hold they have over you. A Personal Relationship Bond need not represent affection; you can have a Bond with an enemy.

Terror: This is a Bond given to thoughts cracked by the unnatural, and like Enlightenment, is produced through Alienation.

Each Bond has a rating and descriptor, such as the ideology Bond I will stand up for workers against the bosses because an injury to one is an injury to all (3). This tells you its strength and purview.

Unlike previous AGE system Relationships, Bonds are also split into Personal and External types. Personal Bonds are a source of strength when it comes to addressing the subject of the bond, and you choose when to draw on them. In practical terms, you can spend it on bonus stunt points to make an action more effective, even if you didn’t roll doubles on the dice, the usual way to gain SP. External Bonds represent an involuntary attachment, either because it represents how someone or something else treats you, or it’s a mental and emotional association you can’t consciously control. These are used aversively, such as to add stunt points to tests used against you. Once a loyal member of a group, you’re vulnerable when your former comrades act against you, for instance.

Bonds permeate the Alienation mechanic and several other places in the game, and I look forward to seeing the full rules out in the wild.

Alienation: A Mind Adapted to the Unknown

Contrary to popular belief, encountering Mythos entities, reading texts that convincingly upend the supposed laws of reality, confronting the dark miracles of sorcery, or witnessing the dark miracles of alien gods do not drive you mad—at least, not in the conventional sense.

Alienation in Cthulhu Awakens

“Madness” is used as a casual term for mental illness, a phenomenon that is partly neurological, partly social, and entirely within the realm of ordinary human experience. Sometimes the word is used as a tool of discrimination. But in Cthulhu Awakens, encounters with the unnatural do not have any special power to cause mental illness beyond the ordinary effects of stress. The Mythos inflicts psychic harm because you start to understand it—comprehend a cosmos beyond what your fat-and-blood brain is adapted to as it muddles through the four dimensions of spacetime. There is an order to the unnatural in its unresolved paradoxes, the unearthly biology of its beings, and the implications of its symbols, which is incompatible with human life and thought—and it is in the nature of the Mythos to embed such paradoxes in witnesses, so that they know what should be impossible to know, perceiving impossible colors, principles, and dimensions beyond our cage of spacetime. We call this phenomenon Alienation.

The game systems for Alienation divide Mythos phenomena into four categories:

Entities (test Willpower (Courage))

Monsters combine a terror coded into our genes from ancient predation with an alienness for which our ancestral memory offers no counsel. Mythos creatures are evidence of alternate lines of evolution inimical to human life, or of anti-ecologies, incompatible with all Earthly life, yet horribly entwined with it.

Visitations (test Willpower (Faith))

Your gods mean nothing when the other gods come, breaking your faith with their undeniable, terrible reality. Even secular pillars of understanding melt before the Outsiders, who are bound to a science and metaphysics where all human thought is an error, and our existence a fragile, temporary outlier in cosmic probabilities.

Phenomena (test Willpower (Morale))

When you see something rotate across five or more dimensions; when sorcery opens doors in the Void; when you stand at the Cyclopean gates of a citadel made when we were microbes, hinting of a civilization we will never match; when you see the curves of time blister into its angles—all are evidence of a universe where everything we know is a provincial exception to a callous, life-destroying rule.

Revelations (test Willpower (Self-Discipline))

The Necronomicon is the most famous source of Alienating revelations, but many other texts, artworks, oral traditions, scientific papers, and even the masterworks of corrupted geniuses can contain seeds of toxic wisdom that, when studied, flower into knowledge that leaves no room for the human condition.

Failing a test provides Enlightenment and Terror: special Bonds (we’ll cover these in future updates) that fuel special effects. Enlightenment in a source of Alienation provides useful insights as your mind filters the strange into the pragmatic. Terror is used against you when your spirit strains against the threatening truth. Accumulating Enlightenment and Terror may eventually lead to distortions, habits of thought that are rational within the context of your extraordinary experiences but interfere with more prosaic matters.

Cthulhu Awakens Game Master’s Kit!

Game Master's Kit

Available now as an Add-on during our Kickstarter campaign!

This morning we are pleased to announce that we will be making a Game Master’s Kit for Cthulhu Awakens!

The Cthulhu Awakens Game Master’s Kit is a collection of resources that help you smoothly deliver terror and adventure to your players. It provides a sturdy Game Master’s screen that displays stunts and other essential Cthulhu Awakens information at a glance–and it keeps players from stealing a look at the dangers you have in store for them, too. 4 quick reference cards provide further assistance with commonly used rules, and a dry-erase friendly combat tracker helps you follow violent moments of triumph, or doom. But the true power of this offering may lie in Unexpurgated Texts, a booklet detailing a dozen fell grimoires and their modern counterparts, each in an expanded, 2-page format listing the eldritch workings and other strange secrets each of them contains.

You can now select the Cthulhu Awakens Game Master’s Kit as an additional add-on for the discounted price of $25 by clicking on the “Manage Your Pledge” button in the upper right of the campaign page. It will also be available in the Backerkit pledge manager after the campaign, but adding it now helps us unlock additional stretch goals, and will automatically add it to your rewards when it comes time to pay for shipping.

The Cthulhu Awakens Menagerie

Cthulhu Awakens Monsters
Cthulhu Awakens
is a game of fear and weirdness, and that includes the people you meet, from mortal conspirators to otherworldly monsters. I thought folks might like to see all the listings with full game statistics provided in Chapter 9 of the book.

Mundane Creatures: Entries that might exist even in a world without the Mythos

  • Assassin
  • Burglar
  • Clever Crook
  • Enforcer
  • Guard Dog
  • Hooligan
  • Police Detective
  • Police Officer (Uniformed)
  • Security Guard
  • Socialite
  • Soldier
  • Veteran Private Eye

Touched by the Mythos: Individuals who’ve been radically affected by the Cthulhu Mythos, as resisters, victims, or pawns.

  • Angry Civilian
  • Cult Adept
  • Cult High Priest
  • Eldritch Scholar
  • Minion
  • Witch
  • Yithian Operative

Mythos Entities: The monsters and aliens of Cthulhu Awakens. These have expanded entries including extended descriptions and story hooks.

  • Blended
  • Deep One
  • Deep One Hybrid
  • Dimensional Shambler
  • Ghoul
  • Ghast
  • Gnoph-Keh
  • Godspawn, Major
  • Godspawn, Minor
  • Gregarian
  • Gug
  • Mi-Go
  • Night-Gaunt
  • Primordial
  • Shoggoth
  • Skotomorph
  • Tendril From Beyond

In addition, you can use creatures from Modern AGE, especially the Enemies & Allies book, in Cthulhu Awakens with minimal adjustments. Use Gritty Health in default games or convert Cinematic Health to Fortune if you’re using Fortune. Assign combat stunts using the packages in Cthulhu Awakens—something new to how AGE describes creatures we introduced in this game.

Cthulhu Awakens With Modern AGE

Cthulhu Awakens in Modern AGE

Art by Natalie Bernard

As part of the AGE System family of games, Cthulhu Awakens is substantially compatible with Modern AGE, our multi-genre modern era RPG. In fact, Cthulhu Awakens was originally designed as a Modern AGE supplement, but eventually merited being broken out into a dedicated game. Nevertheless, the two games are similar enough that we’ve offered Modern AGE books as part of the campaign, because it’s relatively easy to use them together. Here are some notes about doing just that.

Mode: Modern AGE includes special rules for three modes. “Realistic” Gritty Mode, the low-key enhanced reality of Pulpy Mode, and the larger than life Cinematic Mode. Cthulhu Awakens notes that in Modern AGE terms, it is pre-set to Gritty Health (it doesn’t improve with level) but Pulpy Toughness (your character can absorb blows from things like edged weapons as well as fists, but not bullets).

Enemies & Allies: The core Modern AGE book and its supplement Enemies & Allies provide a whole bunch of pre-generated NPCs and strange beings for your use beside Cthulhu Awakens Mythos-based counterparts. Use the Cinematic Mode stats if you use Fortune in Cthulhu Awakens (and covert their Health to Fortune) and Gritty stats otherwise (but Cthulhu Awakens’ rules for Toughness) and the entries are usable as-is. Enemies & Allies in particular includes game statistics for criminals, government agents, renegade scientists, strange psychics, and various mythic and weird creatures.

Powers: Magical Arcana from Modern AGE provide a more traditional version of magic compared to the dangerous eldritch workings of Cthulhu Awakens, while eldritch workings can be used in Modern AGE with no special rules. Modern AGE psychic powers convert to Cthulhu Awakens counterparts easily. The extraordinary items and other options for powers in Modern AGE supplements allow you to add superhumans, cyberpunk augmentations, and other genre variations to Cthulhu Awakens.

Stunts: Cthulhu Awakens and Modern AGE take different approaches to stunts. Cthulhu Awakens uses a small, tightly curated list of streamlined stunts, while Modern AGE takes an expansive approach. You can swap approaches or mix and match for the stunt options you prefer.

Adventures and Settings: Cthulhu Awakens could be just one world in the Modern AGE Threefold setting, and various adventures for Modern AGE would be suitable for Cthulhu Awakens with minimal conversion.

AGE games intended to be hacked and customized! Do what you like, using the common framework of AGE to find your way, and you’ll find immediate support for Cthulhu Awakens through Modern AGE.

The Expanse Meets Cthulhu Awakens!

Expanse meets Cthulhu!

Art by Tentacles and Teeth

The Kickstarter for Cthulhu Awakens, which brings cosmic horror from the unimaginable past, through the 1920s, and into the 21st Century, is now live! Both The Expanse RPG and Cthulhu Awakens are powered by AGE: the Adventure Game Engine, which opens new realms of possibility for both universes.

Cthulhu Awakens: On Kickstarter Now

Live on Kickstarter now!

The stars have truly aligned….

Part of the appeal of The Expanse are the elements of horror carefully blended within a science fiction setting. Certainly, some chapters are as chilling and terrifying as any horror novel. The changes that the protomolecule causes in humans are ghastly and reflections of Frankenstein’s monster can be seen in Project Caliban. And, of course, the entities beyond ring space could step right from the pages of the Cthulhu Mythos. By now, I suspect you know where I’m going with this: how can Cthulhu Awakens be used with your Expanse game? Even if you don’t want to bring the eldritch horrors into the Expanse universe, Cthulhu Awakens offers both players and narrators some intriguing new possibilities.

Alienation

Let’s start with the good stuff. In Cthulhu Awakens, alienation represents the influence of eldritch forces on the psyche. Through Holden’s eyes, we see throughout the Expanse series how much effect close encounters with the protomolecule can have on an individual, particularly through his ability to communicate with “ghost” Miller. A protomolecule connection like Holden’s could easily be replicated by the use of Enlightenment stunts which give Cthulhu Awakens characters insight into the Mythos. The other aspect of alienation—terror—could also be implemented to manifest the primal fear and horror resulting from many encounters with the protomolecule.

Bonds

Cthulhu Awakens has Bonds that are very similar to Relationships in The Expanse, but they are greatly expanded in both concept and utilization. Personal Bonds, which are much the same as Relationship Bonds in The Expanse RPG, are broadened to include a character’s ideals, oaths, or beliefs. There is also a completely new kind of Bond called External Bonds. These represent involuntary influences on characters and can be used by the GM to generate Stunt Points that put characters at a disadvantage. Interestingly, External Bonds may appear on the surface to be advantageous (membership in an OPA faction, a close relationship with a friend or sibling), but the GM controls them. Examples of External Bonds might be ties and obligations to organizations (the OPA, religious group, or employer), or individuals(someone you care about so much that it can become a detriment to you). And as with personal bonds, they could also be personal ideals, beliefs, or oaths. Alienation is also a form of External Bonds.

Talents

The talents in The Expanse are tightly focused and allowing some of the new talents from Cthulhu Awakens could offer some diversity that could make for interesting character development. Talents such as Bootlegger, Emergency Care, Esthete, and Hard Case could all fit quite comfortably into an Expanse campaign.

The Mythos

Finally, Cthulhu Awakens contains an enormous amount of information about the Mythos that has been adapted for the Adventure Game Engine. The two games are compatible and require very little tinkering to tell Mythos stories beyond the Weird Century. Or perhaps you want to take your Expanse campaign in a completely different direction and surprise your players with true cosmic horror. Perhaps the entities beyond the gate are something other than described in the novels and are, in fact, the Outer Gods, now awakened after untold millennia of slumber. Or maybe the Ring builders were the Mi-Go or the Elder Things. The possibilities are endless. The universe is yours to make as you will.