Cthulhutech – Review and Overview


We first found out about Cthulhutech last fall, and thought it was the best thing we’d ever heard of. A cross between the Lovecraft Mythos and Japanese mech-based anime? Preposterous! Amazing! Hopes to make it into a Halloween horror game came and went with the financial flow, but the game was in the back of our minds the entire time. Finally biting the bullet, I picked it up in July, and after a few one-shot sessions it proved so popular that my reign of having a game before everyone else did was incredibly brief. In fact, so popular that it earned no less than 5 ENnie nominations and 2 ENnie awards (best cover art for the core book, and best supplement for Vade Mecum).

Originally put out by Mongoose, the “revised and no longer horribly laid out” edition is brought to you by Catalyst, with all the production values and quality you’d expect from Catalyst. The books are GORGEOUS; the art is stunning, the color vibrant, the whole thing slick and very modern, almost justifying their high price tags. And I should note the price tags again. The core book is pretty damn slim at just under 300 high-gloss pages for $49.99; for the same price I picked up the 512-page Savage Worlds Solomon Kane hardcover, and for just $10 more, one can own the 400 page Rogue Trader. Expensive, kind of irritating, but still worth it.

The World

The world background is pretty in-depth, you get a great overview of how the New Earth Government was formed, as well as the various developments in the next 75 years. We have the D-engine, allowing the development of mecha and spaceships and other tech. We have two invasions from the Fungi from Yogguth, the Mi-go, first sending in a slave race based off modified humans known as the Nazzadi, then actually going in themselves when their slaves rebelled. So, the world’s at war between the bug-like extraterrestrial Mi-go, and the allied humans and Nazzadi.

And now we have the rise of the cults, the Rapine Storm, the Dagonites, and the Great Old Ones thrown into the mix. Rather than ally with the humans, the Mi-go do their typical thing and try to fight everyone at once. On top of this three-way death struggle, even the cults are working at opposite sides; some support Hastur, other Nyarlathotep, others for Dagon, and some trying to wake up Great Cthulhu. The world’s definitely going to hell in a handbasket, with war and intrigue everywhere.

The art helps build this technologically advanced marvel world, where every faction has its own mecha and powered armor (check out the amphibious Dagonite mecha in the companion), then there’s the mysterious “living-mecha” Engels, and the Eldritch Society and its Tager symbiote warriors… there’s occult science, spellcasting (legal and otherwise), ancient artifacts and Mi-go tech, and (with the companion) para-psychics thrown into the mix as well. It’s cluttered at points, but still believable, with plenty of options for both storytelling and character creation.

In other words, there’s a lot going on here. There’s plenty of opportunities for good hooks and adventure yarns, with numerous adversaries and the enemies of your adversaries. It all feels very natural, a world of epic anime-esque heroism and battlemech action, while at the same time adding in the  intrigues and paranoia of a good Cthulhu game. The blend is fantastic, and really depends on where you want it to go, horror-intrigue or epic-action, or anything in between.

System

I’ve heard a lot of negative responses for the system; I’m a big fan, and think it’s a good blend of epic-action to go with the anime-esque aspects of the game. It’s a nice action-y, cinematic system with a lot of class, and it’s also simple enough to learn quickly.

The Framewerk system involves the use of  one to five d10s for skills, one die per skill point, and a set-point-value for stats determined at character creation. The skill d10s are rolled and calculated, then added to your stat. The way in which the d10s are calculated is pretty cool too: you can either take the highest single number, add the highest matched pair, or add the best consecutive straight of three or more dice.

So, if you have 3 dots in a skill and 6 in the stat, you’d roll your 3d10 for skill and add them to the stat’s 6. Rolling a straight of 3,4,5 adds up to 12, plus the stat (6) to total 18, which would beat a high-end Challenging difficulty. 10-14 is the Average difficulty, with 12 being the “average” Average difficulty, a good example of how there’s a lot of sliding-scale options.

This kind of stokes me as a GM; I like having the sliding-scale since I can play with partial/near-miss glitches as well as overcoming the difficulty number.  The whole thing adds a lot of math head-games going on here. Which attributes do you raise higher to get the flat bonus? Can you survive with just 1 or 2 points in some skills since you won’t be able to roll a straight with them? Contrary to some games which introduce poker/card rules for skill checks, this one actually manages to pull it off well.

There’s a ton of other character options. There’s a smooth and classy “fear and insanity” system, of which I’m always a huge fan of in horror games. The merits and flaws are all reasonable, none of them immediately breaking the game for or against characters. The mecha rules are the same base rules only amped up a little for size. There’s a ton of Lovecraftian creatures, along with a bunch of other staples, plus some other awesome things thrown in for good measure. While generically named, the weapons are pretty cool, and the combat system is smooth and runs quickly once you get a handle on it.

This game also boasts one of the nicest vitality systems I’ve ever seen. You have XX vitality points, which is equal to the average of you Strength + Tenacity, plus five. You then have that many vitality points per damage step, of which there are five, each with new and interesting penalties. So, 11 vitality gives you 11 health per step, for a total of 55 health, though most of them with various wounded penalties and a sanity check once you’ve started the fourth damage step. Gnarly! Sanity check for damage. I love that.

All in all, this game is a hit for a reason. The core book, and companion Vade Mecum, are a tad expensive, but trust me, you’ll use them. The other books so far have some wonderful fluff, but not enough rules for me to say they’re critical for running the game—just really helpful. Cthulhutech has already won over enough players that Reuben and Paul both picked up the two mentioned books and are planning on running their own long-campaign Cthulhutech games in the near future.


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