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Saturday, 20 May 2017

Hacking Convicts & Cthulhu

The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu combines two of the more interesting titles to come out for roleplaying Lovecraftian investigative horror. The first is of course The Cthulhu Hack, the elegant, stripped back player-facing roleplaying game based on The Black Hack. The second is Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia which presented a new society and new horrors against a backdrop of isolation and corruption in a convict colony. The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu brings the two together, providing an introduction to the setting of Great Britain’s first steps on the far continent and supporting them with the light mechanics of The Black Hack.

Published by Just Crunch Games, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu layers the background elements over the mechanics of The Cthulhu Hack. So it uses the same five Classes as The Cthulhu Hack—Adventurer, Bruiser, Philanthropist, Ruffian, and Scholar. Then a player selects from a Role, essentially what the Investigator does in the New South Wales penal colony, the options being Convict, New South Wales Corps officer, Free Settler, or Government Official. This determines starting equipment. Each Investigator also needs an Occupation, whatever he did before coming to Australia and if a Convict, an Offence, whatever it was that got him transported. There are more social benefits to these background details, but there are likely to be circumstances where the Keeper will award an Investigator an Advantage or Disadvantage die, depending upon the circumstances.

Our sample Convict is Henry Bacon, a big man capable of handing out a battering. Greed and a fondness of gin got him involved in crime and he became a fearsome gang member. He did kill a man, a rival gang member, but witnesses all swore that he was provoked and that it was self-defense, so Bacon did not go to the scaffold. He was sentenced to transportation for life instead.

Henry Bacon
First Level Bruiser
Role: Convict
Crime: Murder
Occupation: Bricklayer
STR 16 DEX 13 CON 11
INT 13 WIS 11 CHA 09

Hit Points: 12
Sanity Die: d8
Attack Damage: 1d8/1d6 (Unarmed/Improvising)
Lamplight/Rum: d4/d4
Gear
Uniform, bandana, six letters from home, shiv, empty flask

Mechanically, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu makes three changes. The first is to have all attributes rolled on 2D6+4 rather than three six-sided dice. This is reflect the harsher life and conditions in the colony. The other is to change the names of the Flashlights and Smokes—the first the resource used to discover clues, the second the resource used to purchase things or bribe people—to Lamplight and Rum. The reason for the change from Flashlights to Lamplight is obvious, but that of Smokes to Rum less so. The change is because Rum was a unit of currency in the early years of the colony.

The third change is to add rules for Shock. This gives an alternative effect to failing a roll of the Sanity Die, a short, sharp shock lasting a moment or a few rounds while an Investigator suffers the shakes, dives into cover, faints, screams, and so on. This allows the players to better handle their Investigators’ Sanity Dice as a resource, so that they are not depleted too early on in a scenario.

What The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu does not do is provide the means to create Aboriginal Investigators as does Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia. The author explains that this is because this would add further tension to a playing group in an already tense situation. Guidelines are given for equipment in the colony, for blackpowder weapons and indigenous weapons—the latter surprising given the lack of Aboriginal Investigators. Also listed are possible written sources of information that might be sources of written information for the Investigators and a number of Mythos entities indigenous to Australia to supplement those given in The Cthulhu Hack. This is accompanied by a short discussion of the Mythos down under. 

Rounding out The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is ‘Longships and Short Fuses’, an adventure outline set at mine where the treatment of the convicts has led to its superintendent being recalled to Sydney. After he has left, a tunnel collapses in the mine revealing a centuries old burial containing a Viking longship. Three options are given as what is going on at the mining site and these are decent enough. It is just that encountering an entombed Viking longship on the coast of Australia of all places, is more than likely to stretch the credulity of the players, let alone the fact that they will have to portray their Investigators not necessarily knowing all that much, if anything at all, about the Vikings. 

Physically, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is reasonably laid out and lightly illustrated. As written, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is just about serviceable as an introduction to the setting of Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia, but no more and no less. If there is an issue with the supplement, it could have better highlighted the corruption rampant in the colony during the period of this setting. Arguably Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia overemphasised it just a little too much, but The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu does not emphasis it enough. If there is a second issue with the supplement, it is the nature of the scenario, which is faintly ridiculous.

Ultimately, to get the most out of The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu, the Keeper will need the fuller information and background to the setting found in Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia. Thus The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu provides a serviceable method to run the Convicts & Cthulhu setting using The Cthulhu Hack rules.

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Just Crunch Games will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.