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Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Player's Guide €19,31 €13,78
Publisher: Modiphius
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/05/2022 14:56:15

Pulp heroes in the Secret War - a Mephisto review

Achtung! Cthulhu Player's Guide

The Cthulhu mythos against the backdrop of World War II – that is the setting of the role-playing game Achtung! Cthulhu. While the war is raging in Europe and worldwide, the "Secret War" is taking place behind the scenes. There, the agents of Section M and Majestic try to stop the plans of the occultists of the Black Sun and the Nachtwölfe. Achtung! Cthulhu focuses on six power groups in the Secret War. The Black Sun is a Nazi occult organization that wants to use the magic of the Cthulhu mythos and the power of the Great Old Ones to win the war and advance its own goals. The Nachtwölfe have split off from them to use the technological achievements of Atlantis and the powers of the Blauer Kristall. Both face opposition from the British Section M and the American Majestic, who fight the occult forces with their agents – soldiers and competent civilians. Finally, the Deep Ones and the Mi-Go are the Mythos factions, alternately allies or enemies of the other groups. It is up to the player characters, who belong to Section M or Majestic, to defy the forces of the mythos as pulp heroes and thwart the sinister plans of their enemies as agents.

With the end of the licenses for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, Modiphius has brought the setting of Achtung! Cthulhu to the in-house 2d20 system and accordingly re-released the two core rulebooks Player's Guide and Gamemaster Guide. Not only was the rules base adapted, but the setting and focus were also realigned. While the first edition of Achtung! Cthulhu was very focused on playing soldiers and on the historic war, now the player characters are pulp heroes who can be soldiers, but also professors, occultists, and other people who have stumbled into the mythos. Power groups are also more focused, so clearly Black Sun, Nachtwölfe, Mi-Go, and Deep Ones are prominent as enemies (and sometimes allies).

Accordingly, the Player's Guide introduces the six major power groups with brief glimpses in the form of notes and rumors to give a quick impression of the setting but not reveal any secret knowledge.

The central part of the book is the introduction to the 2d20 system. The 2d20 system relies on players rolling two to five d20 to a target number calculated by attributes and skills for tests. Each d20 that beat the target number counts as a success, and some tests require more than one success. The rule is that a 1 is always a critical success, and a 20 is a complication. For each excess success, the player also generates Momentum (see below).

The other type of dice used is the six-sided Challenge Dice, which are blank on two sides, show the effect symbol twice, and offer the values 1 and 2. These dice are used for damage – called stress in this case – with the effect symbols triggering special effects.

Two fundamental game mechanics are Momentum and Threat. Players generate Momentum with good rolls, which can be used to buy additional positive effects for the corresponding roll – e.g., saving time, more information, etc. Players can also save Momentum for the group. The game master, on the other hand, collects Threat to bring special difficulties into play. Players can offer Threat to the game master if they are lacking Momentum.

Another game mechanic is Truths and Complications, which are reminiscent of aspects from Fate and represent a description that has gameplay implications. Complications are Truths that are a hindrance for the player characters. Both go into the calculation for tests.

A final tool for players is Fortune, which can be used to turn d20 to 1, pay for rerolls, and provide other benefits.

The game explains the rule mechanics for combat with initiative, zones, action types, and damage. Achtung! Cthulhu uses stress for damage – both physical and mental – which is quickly removed. However, if a character suffers more than five stress at once, or if his stress counter is completely filled, then an injury results, which has adverse effects as a Truth which is not so easily removed. Three injuries mean defeat. A player can save the character from death or permanent scars by voluntarily admitting defeat, similar to Fate. Scars occur when a physical or mental injury does not heal completely, and the character is affected in the long term by, for example, an amputation, drug addiction, amnesia, or paranoia.

Character creation is done in several steps based on archetypes, nationalities, and backgrounds, which define the majority of the selectable character stats. Thus, an archetype like Commander gets different attribute improvements and skills to choose from than an Infiltrator. This also defines selectable talents. The nationality determines the languages, while the background – as a former profession – clarifies other selectable statistics. Characters are thus created through several steps according to the player's ideas. Thus, as a result, a character can be an occultist from France who used to be a criminal and is defined by having been raised by a cult. Unlike previous editions, the focus on military characters is toned down and mixed with "classic" Cthulhu characters. To further refine the characters during the game, the book offers a large arsenal of talents, each linked to specific skills offering further advantages. Of course, two chapters are also devoted to equipment – primarily weapons and vehicles – with certain qualities defining equipment effects in play. The important thing here is that characters do not so much buy equipment as they get it provided for the mission at hand and have to apply for it accordingly. More exotic items are harder to obtain in this regard. The final topic is magic, which is divided into two sections. Battlefield Magic consists of spells that can be used spontaneously and are aimed primarily at combat situations. Ritual Magic has broader (and deeper) possibilities, but is correspondingly more elaborate. It is noteworthy that there are several magic directions: Celtic magic, rune magic, and ESP skills, which theoretically work the same, but each offers its own sets of spells. Magic-wielding characters can also be traditional mages, researchers, or dabblers, which results in minor rule changes. Traditionalists can only learn spells of their tradition, researchers are more flexible but have a harder time with spells, and dabblers always learn spells in a flawed version first. At the end of the book, there is some background on the military and their units, as well as sample stats for military personnel.   From my point of view, the 2d20 edition of Achtung! Cthulhu made some noticeable changes from the predecessors – not only by changing the mechanics. Player characters have become more pulp action heroes than World War II soldiers, and the new character creation makes it straightforward to create customized yet consistent characters. The rules are coherent, well explained and fit the setting. The stress rules also make this Cthulhu background a little less threatening than classic Cthulhu: dangers lurk here as well, but with a voluntary surrender, a player can always save their character. The use of magic is also pulpier. In addition to Mythos magic (which is not mentioned in this book), other magical paths are introduced, inviting you to create a magical character and use it actively with combat magic. This change is a departure from the classic approach of dangerously corrupting magic in the Mythos universe. The rulebook is well written, has a great layout and the new illustrations are worth seeing. Even though the book continues to offer information on the World War and everyday military life, this info is nowhere near as dominant as in the previous editions.

In my view, Achtung! Cthulhu with the 2d20 edition not only provides a well-defined rules, but the shift in focus away from the reality of World War II towards the more fictional pulp approach is a clear improvement for playability from my perspective. The simple magic without the evil aura of the Mythos is almost a bit too pulpy for me, but the seemingly lacking horror of the game is only to be expected for the Game Master's Guide anyway…

(Björn Lippold)

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Player's Guide
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