Fighting ancient evils in the ancient Roman Empire - a Mephisto review
Even though the 1920s is the typical time period for stories set against the backdrop of the Cthulhu mythos, the Great Old Ones and other horrors of the mythos are far older than humanity. Therefore, it is not surprising that Cthulhu role-playing games repeatedly open up into other eras, such as the present time, World War 2, or the Middle Ages. Cohors Cthulhu presents the battle with the Cthulhu mythos against the backdrop of the Roman Empire.
The Cohors Cthulhu RPG Quickstart Guide gives a first look at the new setting and the underlying rules.
In Cohors Cthulhu, player characters once again face the horrors of the Mythos – be they sinister cults, monstrous creatures, or corrupted survivors of Atlantis. The Roman Empire has conquered large parts of the known world, but other powers operate in the background. Nyarlahotep corrupts the cults of other gods with his many masks; Sarthorthus tempts the survivors of Atlantis; and powerful beings slumber beneath the sea. The Deep Ones exact tribute from coastal cities, and the Mi-Go experiment on humans and plunder earthly resources.
Even though these horrors are everywhere, they operate secretly in the background. The player characters in Cohors Cthulhu are humans who come into conflict with forces of the Mythos and confront them – regardless of what corner of the Roman Empire or beyond its borders they come from. Not all of them fight on their own, as the Temperari, for instance, are supported by a Hyperborean warrior named Maeren in their fight against the Mythos, while the Fingers of Dawn recruit descendants of Atlantis for their struggle. On the opposite side are various cults, of which the Cult of Mormo is particularly influential and corrupts the north of Germania, while the legacies of Atlantis promise longevity and powerful artifacts.
Rules-wise, Cohors Cthulhu unsurprisingly relies on the 2d20 system, using a rules base developed further by Achtung! Cthulhu. Of course, the game statistics as well as the skills have been adapted, and some rules have been modified. As before, you have to roll several d20s compared to a threshold that is the sum of the corresponding attribute and skill, while the difficulty determines the number of successes needed.
Again, there are the rules for Momentum, which is gained from particularly successful tests and can be used to improve other tests. In addition, players can give Threat to the game master to make current tests easier, but the game master can use it to increase the difficulty later. Using Fortune, players have another option to make life easier for themselves and to repeat rolls, avoid defeat, etc.
Also adopted is the concept of Truths, which, analogous to the aspects of Fate, are short descriptions that can modify samples.
The combat system is based on stress, which is initially caused by attacks but simply dissipates between fights. Only when characters are hit particularly hard or often do they suffer injuries that can incapacitate them and affect them more in the long term. The combat system, which is more melee-based fitting to the setting, features two new concepts with Guard and Reach. Reach is the weapon's range, while Guard represents a character's readiness for defense. For example, if a character is thrown to the ground, they lose the Guard state and become easier to hit. Furthermore, weapons with a longer range have advantages.
Magic rules are also presented in short form, as in Achtung! Cthulhu, distinguishing between battlefield magic and ritual magic. Casting spells causes mental damage to the user, and spells must be prepared in advance.
While the rules section briefly outlines the background of the game and then presents the main rules (though without character creation), the bulk of the Quickstart is made up of the Rude Awakening adventure.
This story gets off to a fast start: The pre-made player characters are traveling with a caravan that is under attack. The action starts in the middle of the action, and once the attack is repelled, the player characters are supposed to get help in the next village. There they then stumble into a sinister plot because, in the village, they find traces of a cult that must be stopped before its influence becomes too great.
Without revealing more about the plot, the adventure mixes the classic “player characters must stop a dangerous ritual” approach with interesting enemies, making it an excellent introduction to Cthulhu threats in the Roman Empire.
The first impression Cohors Cthulhu gives is a solid, adapted rule base, with which Achtung! Cthulhu worked well, mixed with a background that offers many exciting possibilities. The adventure is good for a first impression, and the Quickstart is clearly and compactly put together, with illustrations worth seeing. The background is only touched upon, but it shows much potential.
The only thing that bothered me were some historical errors in the adventure. Even though potatoes in the cellar or weapons that are not contemporary are only details that can easily be corrected by the game master, I hope that the rule books will be more consistent in this regard. Nevertheless, Cohors Cthulhu offers a (free) Quickstart that Cthulhu fans should not miss getting a first look into this variant of the fight against the Great Old Ones and their followers.