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Friday 29 October 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 Quick-start

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.


For Free RPG Day 2021, Modiphius Entertainment released not one, but three titles, two for existing roleplaying games, one for a forthcoming title. The first for the existing roleplaying game is the Star Trek: Adventures Quick-Start, an introduction to Star Trek Adventures, whilst the release for the forthcoming title is the Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 Quick-start, which includes the scenario, ‘A Quick Trip to France’. This is an introduction to the 2d20 System version of Achtung! Cthulhu, the roleplaying game of pulp action fighting a Secret War during World War II against the Nazi organisations who have harnessed the forces and entities of the Cthulhu Mythos. Originally published in 2013 following a successful Kickstarter using Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition, Savage Worlds, and other rules systems, Achtung! Cthulhu was supported with numerous supplements, miniatures and miniatures rules, board games, and more, all presenting a more muscular and action-orientated take upon Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying. In 2021, Achtung! Cthulhu returns using the 2d20 System first seen in the publisher’s Mutant Chronicles: Techno Fantasy Roleplaying Game and Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, and since developed into the publisher’s house system.

In Achtung! Cthulhu, players take the roles of soldiers and agents seconded to services more secret than SOE or the OSS—Section M in the United Kingdom and Majestic in the USA. They face the forces of two even more secret Nazi organisations. One is Black Sun, which through Hyperborean magic and dark pacts with the ancient gods of the Mythos, practices foul sorcery and summons evil creatures from other dimensions to rule the battlefields of men and delves into the Dreamlands. The other is Nachtwölfe, the Night Wolves, a splinter organisation which scours the world for the rare mineral Blauer Kristall and even rarer Atlantean technology, and employs it to develop science, technology, progress, biological enhancements, and wonder weapons powered by Blauer Kristall.

What this means is that Agents of both sides, Player Characters and NPCs, can use magic. This comes as two forms, one is ‘battlefield magic’, shorter-term enchantments, spells, curses, hexes, charms, and blessings, which are primarily used to aid forces involved in combat. The other is ritualistic magic, which is much more complicated and intricate, and thus more potent and powerful. It is used to contact and communicate with the forces and entities of the Mythos, to summon them, and even change the world! Either is learned through the traditional means of studying an occult path for years or researching forbidden tomes, occult lore, and fragments of precious knowledge, but dabblers might pick up fragments and spells that might be of use… Of the three, traditionalists and researchers are the more powerful, but all battlefield spells cast by the three types are stored in the sorcerer’s mantle, a token, fetish, icon, or wand, from which it is cast—and once cast, it must be stored again. In the midst of battle, a spell must be prepared—which in game terms, takes an action, and can inflict mental stress upon the caster when actually cast.

A Player Character in Achtung! Cthulhu is defined by Attributes, Disciplines, Focuses, Values, Traits, Talents, and Truths. The six Attributes—Agility, Brawn, Coordination, Insight, Reason, and Will—represent ways of or approaches to doing things as well as intrinsic capabilities. They are rated between seven and twelve. There are twelve skills—from Academia, Athlectis, and Engineering to Survival, Tactics, and Vehicles—which are fairly broad, whilst Focuses represent narrow areas of study or skill specialities, for example, History, Occultism, Handguns, Leadership, Instincts, and Battlefield Tactics. Truths are single words or short phrases, which describe a significant fact or aspect about its subject, such as ‘British’ or ‘Glimpsed What Mortals Should Not Know’. A Truth can make an action easier or more difficult, or even simply make it possible or impossible.

To undertake an action in the 2d20 System in Achtung! Cthulhu, a character’s player rolls two twenty-sided dice, aiming to have both roll under the total of an Attribute and a Skill. Each roll under this total counts as a success, an average task requiring two successes. Rolls of one count as two successes and if a character has an appropriate Focus, rolls under the value of the Skill also count as two successes. In the main, because a typical difficulty will only be a Target Number of one, players will find themselves rolling excess Successes which becomes Momentum. This is a resource shared between all of the players which can be spent to create an Opportunity and so add more dice to a roll—typically needed because more than two successes are required to succeed, to create an advantage in a situation or remove a complication, create a problem for the opposition, and to obtain information. It is a finite ever-decreasing resource, so the players need to roll well and keep generating it, especially if they want to save some for the big scene or climatic battle in an adventure.

Now where the players generate Momentum to spend on their characters, the Game Master has Threat which can be spent on similar things for the NPCs as well as to trigger their special abilities. She begins each session with a pool of Threat, but can gain more through various circumstances. These include a player purchasing extra dice to roll on a test, a player rolling a natural twenty and so adding two Threat (instead of the usual Complication), the situation itself being threatening, or NPCs rolling well and generating Momentum and so adding that to Threat pool. In return, the Gamemaster can spend it on minor inconveniences, complications, and serious complications to inflict upon the player characters, as well as triggering NPC special abilities, having NPCs seize the initiative, and bringing the environment dramatically into play.

Combat uses the same mechanics, but offers more options in terms of what Momentum can be spent on. This includes doing extra damage, disarming an opponent, keeping the initiative—initiative works by alternating between the player characters and the NPCs and keeping it allows two player characters to act before an NPC does, avoid an injury, and so on. Damage in combat is rolled on the Challenge dice, the number of Achtung! Cthulhu symbols rolled determining how much damage is inflicted. A similar roll is made to resist the damage, and any leftover is deducted from a character’s Stress. If a character’s Stress is reduced to zero or five or more damage is inflicted, then a character is injured. Any Achtung! Cthulhu symbols rolled indicate an effect as well as the damage. In keeping with the tone of the various series, weapon damage can be deadly (and nearly every character—Player Character or NPC, is armed with a firearm of some kind), melee or hand-to-hand, less so.

Lastly, the Player Characters all begin play with several points of Fortune, which can be used to pull off extraordinary actions, perform exciting stunts, make one-in-a-million shots, or provide an edge during life-or-death situations. These can be spent to gain a Critical Success on any roll, reroll any dice, gain an additional action in a round, to avoid imminent defeat, and to add new element to the current scene. More can be earned through play, and although how is not explained in Achtung! Cthulhu Quick-Start, there are numerous opportunities presented in the accompanying adventure, for the Game Master to award them to her players.

The rules themselves in the Achtung! Cthulhu Quick-Start take up a quarter of the quick-start. ‘Mission: A Quick Trip to France’ takes up more than a third, begins en media res, with the Player Characters about to parachute into France in the Rouen area. This is in response to a coded, but garbled message from a local resistance leader about a Black Sun Master, Jans Stöller, spotted in the village of Saint Sulac, leading a detachment of Black Sun troops. Essentially, the agents once on the ground, have to locate the resistance leader, investigate the Black Sun activities in the village whilst avoiding their attention, and ultimately thwart whatever dark plan Jans Stöller is concocting. Players expecting something akin to The Dirty Dozen or a host of war movies will probably be disappointed by ‘Mission: A Quick Trip to France’. A stand-up fight or going in all guns blazing will very likely get the Player Characters killed, and the adventure very much leans into the stealth and guile of secret missions in enemy territory, so the Player Characters will be sneaking around the village, trying to find out what is going on, before striking…! Overall, ‘Mission: A Quick Trip to France’ is a good adventure, does a decent job of showcasing the rules to Achtung! Cthulhu, and should provide a solid session or two’s worth of gaming.

To go with the adventure, the Achtung! Cthulhu Quick-Start provides a sextet of pre-generated Player Characters. The six are all members of Section M or Majestic, and include Agent Daphne Rogers, an Occultist Investigator; Sven Nilsen, Norwegian Dauntless Resistance Leader; Captain James Swann, a British Officer; Private Dan Gregg, a Genius Mechanic; and Corporal Sarah Walker, an Australian and Fearless Soldier. Two of these use magic—Daphne Rogers and Sven Nilsen, whilst Corporal Sarah Walker is accompanied by her loyal companion, a mutt called Crook. These are comparatively more complex than the other Agents—especially the two users of magic—and that means they receive double-page spreads each. Their players should be aware of their relative complexity ahead of time.

Physically, the Achtung! Cthulhu Quick-Start is well presented and easy to use. The artwork is excellent, and includes a number of illustrations which depict scenes from the scenario. That said, it is not as sturdy as it could be as it does not have a card cover. In comparison to other d20 System roleplaying games, Achtung! Cthulhu is more complex, crunchier even, but it has to handle the action of World War II, and more. Nevertheless, the Achtung! Cthulhu Quick-Start is a solid introduction to Achtung! Cthulhu, providing an excellent explanation of the core rules and showcasing them in an exciting and terrifying adventure.

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