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Saturday 13 May 2023

Quick-Start Saturday: Cursed Captains of Cthulhu

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?

The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide is the quick-start for Cursed Captains of Cthulhu, the swashbuckling roleplaying game which pirate crews hunt down and confront the eldritch forces of Cthulhu in the Golden Age of Piracy.

It includes a basic explanation of the setting, the various factions which make up the Brethren Court of pirates who guard the Caribbean against unspeakable horrors as well as fighting oppression and inequality, detailed descriptions of the various elements which make up a Pirate Character, rules for actions and combat, being terrified, magic, details of the arms and equipment fielded by the Pirate Characters, ship combat, the voyage, ‘Devil in the Details’, and nine ready-to-play, pre-generated Pirate Characters.

It is a forty-four page, 31.95 MB full colour PDF.

The quick-start is well illustrated and the artwork is uniformly decent, although there is none for the pre-generated Pirate Characters. The maps and handouts for the voyages are also good. Throughout there are sidebars with handy advice, summations of the rules, and examples for the benefit of the Game Master.

The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide is published by Black Cats Gaming.

How long will it take to play?
The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide and its voyage, ‘Devil in the Details’, is designed to be played through in one session.

What do you need to play?
The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide requires six-sided dice, no more than four per player.

Who do you play?
The pre-generated Pirate Characters consist of a Captain, Windcaller, Seeker, Exorcist, Duellist, Bosun, Brawler, Musketeer, and Student. The Windcaller, Seeker, and Exorcist are capable of casting spells. All have eight characteristics and some skills. Some also have traits. None have any background, so the player will need to provide or develop that.

How is a Pirate Character defined?
A Pirate Character in Cursed Captains of Cthulhu has eight characteristics—Melee, Brawn, Seafaring, Abjure, Harness, Studies, Savvy, and Accuracy. All are rated between zero and five, and of the eight, Abjure is the ability to withstand the power and influence of all things eldritch, whilst Harness is the ability to use forbidden powers and knowledge. These values are laid out on a ship’s wheel on the character sheet.

In addition, a Pirate Character has Health Points, Courage Points, Evasion Score, and Initiative Score.

How do the mechanics work?
Mechanically, Cursed Captains of Cthulhu is driven by characteristic checks. Target Numbers range from eight and ‘Very Easy’ up to thirty and ‘Nearly Impossible’. To attempt an action, the Pirate Character’s player rolls four six-sided dice and add the characteristic value to the total. If the roll is equal to, or greater, than the Target Number, the Pirate Character succeeds. If all four dice are sixes, the result is a critical success, but a critical failure if the result is all ones. It is possible to reroll the dice or nudge their values up and down. If the dice are all sixes after nudges or rerolls, the action automictically succeeds, but is not a critical success. Rerolls come from skills.

How does combat work?
Combat in the Cursed Captains of Cthulhu is also driven by characteristic checks. In a turn, a Pirate Character can move, attack, cast a spell, reload, hold, or interact for one action. It is possible to attack twice, including firing two pistols, swinging a cutlass, fire a cannon, and so on. The Target Number is typically equal to the Evasion Score of the NPC or Pirate Character. In general, weapons inflict set damage values. Once a fight starts and multiple participants are involved, combat be deadly, especially when cannon are involved.

In addition to suffering physical damage and losing Health Points, a Pirate Character can lose Courage Points through spells, failing certain saves, and being confronted by certain situations and creatures. If reduced to zero, the Pirate Character can become Terrified and do little more than crawl away. A Terrified Pirate Character can be revived by consuming certain drinks, or certain traits or skills being used, or ultimately, if time passes. This replaces the equivalent of a Sanity system as seen in other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, shifting to a loss of courage rather than sanity.

How does naval combat work?
Ships in Cursed Captains of Cthulhu have ratings for their type, size, health, and weapons. A ship’s crew is treated like a character of its own and has the equivalent of Health Points, Courage Points, Evasion Score, and Initiative Score, plus a general Characteristic value. The quality of the crew will also modify Characteristic rolls made by the players.

In general, naval chases and combat are kept abstract in Cursed Captains of Cthulhu in order to ease play and put the Pirate Characters at the heart of the action. The Pirate Characters’ typically has an edge over any NPC ship. The rules presented in the quick-start cover ship movement, actions, firing the guns, boarding actions, and forcing a crew’s surrender. It is noted that the latter does not always mean the fight is over!

How does magic work?
Casting spells requires the Otherworldly Insight skill. When casting a spell, a player can choose to roll one, two, or three dice rather than the standard four. The number of dice rolled determines the number of Courage Points lost when casting a spell.

What do you play?
The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide includes the voyage, ‘Devil in the Details’. The Pirate Characters are engaged by Benjamin Hornigold, leader of one of the factions in the pirate republic of Nassau, New Providence, to spy on a meeting between some pirate dissenters and agents of an unknown power. They are ordered to kill or capture the dissenters, but also ensure that whatever the dissenters are selling does not fall into the wrong hands. The encounter quickly turns into a fight and the Pirate Characters will have to chase down the agents aboard their vessel and board it in a final eldritch confrontation.

The voyage is designed to showcase the mechanics, primarily naval chases and combat, and personal combat, whilst hinting at the eldritch horrors on the high seas. The voyage does feel like Pirates of the Caribbean, but with added Mythos.

Is there anything missing?
For the most part, the Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide is complete. Although there is background on Brethren Court of pirates who guard the Caribbean against unspeakable horrors, there are no details of what the entities and forces and their agents are doing in the region beyond that hinted at in the given voyage. More problematic is the lack of background for any of the pre-generated Pirate Characters. Some background would make them easier to play and not leave the players reliant upon whatever they can make up on the spot, especially if the quick-start is run as a convention game. The result is that the Pirate Characters are bland.

Is it easy to prepare?
The core rules presented in the Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide are relatively easy to prepare. The Game Master will need to pay closer attention to how ships and ship-to-ship combat work in the game, as they are the most complex part of the rules. There is decent advice for the Game Master on how to run the scenario.

Is it worth it?
Yes. The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide includes everything necessary to play an action-packed voyage which reveals the eldritch nature of the real, if secret conflict in the Caribbean. The lack of background for the pre-generated Pirate Characters is disappointing as that would have helped players engage with the specific elements of the setting, but otherwise, the voyage, ‘Devil in the Details’ is simple and direct and has a pulp-action feel and will showcase both the core rules and elements of the setting, and will work as a convention scenario.

Where can you get it?
The Cursed Captains of Cthulhu Quickstart Guide is available to download here.

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