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World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour

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Average Rating:4.5 / 5
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World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour
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World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2017 12:42:58

The concept is presented in a flurry of facsimile documents that set the scene and create the right atmosphere even before we reach Part 1: Introduction, which explains what 'World War Cthulhu' is all about. Basically war presents opportunities for the followers of dark forces, and the major distruptions of the last century and in particular World War 2 gave rise to unprecedented scope for them to push forwards their plans with little risk of detection. The World War Cthulhu line is intended to explore other avenues as well, but with this the first book in the series the intention is to look at Europe in the early part of the Second World War. It's Allied-centric, with the party involved in defeating Nazis and Mythos creatures alike, although interestingly the Nazis are not represented as attempting to harness the Mythos in support of the Third Reich. Despite Nazi activities in the realms of the occult, they are still not quite that insane! The default setting is that they belong to Section N, an intelligence network - if nothing else, it's a good vehicle to send them off on missions!

The rest of the Introduction sets the mood of the game and details British Intelligence in considerable detail. It's likely that recruits to Section N (which comes at the end) may well be drawn from or at least familiar with the other organs of British Intelligence. If you have a burning desire to play an American, remember you'd be a volunteer in a British unit... the USA is yet to enter the war at this point!

Next is Part 2: Investigator's Resources. Character generation is based on the Call of Cthulhu ruleset, but it's advised that you use this rather the the core rulebook as these characters will be honed to withstand the rigors of wartime. If you do want to use an existing Call of Cthulhu character, there are some notes on how best to tweak it to suit, however. One difference is that the character's background is split into a pre-war occupation and the military service undertaken (in total war, even civilians get swept up in the war machine). As well as noting how the character became aware of the Mythos, recruitment by Section N is also covered - and the resultant training may yield some useful additional skills. As well as British characters, there's information about those from Australia, New Zealand and Canada (the Commonwealth having joined the UK in the war from the outset), escaped Europeans (especially from France and Poland) as well as a word on Americans. After all the detail you need and a worked example, there are some new occupations - politician, scientist and spy - and some new skills suited to this particular environment.

The rest of this chapter moves on from the game mechanics of character creation to a discussion of Intelligence Operating Procedures. Standard procedures can be a blessing and a curse: understanding them can stop you making a silly mistake but following them blindly can lead to disaster or detection. Study them well and use them wisely. For those intending to play military-oriented characters there is also an analysis of small unit tactics. Even the non-combatants ought to read through them - incoming fire rarely stops to ask if you are a trained soldier! Both these sections provide a solid overview of the matters under discussion and are particularly useful for players who have minimal experience in espionage or military combat.

Part 3: Keeper's Handbook covers all manner of things that the Game Master or Keeper should bear in mind when planning or running their game. Whilst there is a lot of good advice here, the main gist of it is to pile horror upon horror, playing to the 'purist' mode of Call of Cthulhu which aims to be as realistic and gritty as possible. The fight against the Nazi horde should be rooted in reality: draw on documentaries and history books rather than movie interpretations. While the agents of the Mythos might be taking advantage of all-out war to further their own ends, N - the party's director - is also taking every advantage of his position in British Intelligence to further his own war against the Mythos. N sure knows a lot about the Mythos, too. Here you can read a fair bit about his background and perhaps discover who he actually is... something the characters might never know, or may discover if (when?) they have to step up and take his place. Several suggestions are made, select the one you prefer or make up one of your own.

Moving on to a discussion of builing plots, things get complex with many strands - human, Mythos, the 'mundane' course of the war - to weave together to create each adventure. Standard intelligence missions are often subverted by N to his own ends, but the needs of the war and maintaining his cover means that the intended mission aims must be met as well as N's own. Then there are the plots being perpetrated by Mythos agents to defeat, as well as said agents to investigate. There's a lot going on, a lot to keep track of... and that's before you get to the strange places and alien horrors that also need to be investigated! There are some maxims for running adventures too. Make things personal - no nameless mooks amongst the opposition, for example. The Mythos and the war effort don't mix: this is not an alternate-history 'weird war' but the Mythos intruding into the real world. It's best to avoid big battles and too many encounters with historical figures, however - you don't want to introduce opportunities for history-changing events. There's a lot to think about as you plan.

Next comes a survey of theatres of war, with suggestions for missions that can be run in each one. Plenty of historical detail mixed with more outlandish stuff here, ready to spawn ideas in your mind for plots. Many mission suggestions have to components: an intelligence mission based on British war aims and a secondary mission at N's instigation. This is followed by The Dark Lamentable Catalogue, which documents Mythos cults and the Mythos beings whom they serve.

Of course, Mythos cultists are not the only opposition, and Behind Closed Doors presents some of the murky organisations, committees and people that the party will have to navigate and contend with back home in London. Attention then turns again to small group tactics, the focus now is on running encounters to best effect. Although it's best to stay away from pitched battles, there's enough here to enable you to run them well if the party's involvement is unavoidable. Should the adventure go underwater, there's information on SCUBA equipment and the underwater environment. Excitement can also be supplied with sections on parachuting and other military skills. Aerial, naval and vehicular combat is aslo covered. This is followed by the Equipment section, which pays attention to the difficulty of obtaining things due to rationing and black marketeering in different areas of Europe. There are plenty of weapons here too, even if their use against Mythos creatures is limited. They don't come with pricetags, they will either be issued or stolen...

Finally, The God in the Woods presents a complete campaign setting with scope for plenty adventure. It's the small town of Saint-Cerneuf-du-Bois in the Dordogne, which lies close to the border between the Nazi-occupied territory and Vichy France. There's a lot of information on locations in the town and the surrounding area, what is going on there, and a whole host of NPCs to encounter there. Everyone is well-developed, with a character and personality all their own. There is, however, Something in the woods - and a group dedicated to it. Once this introductory background material is presented, the sequence of events to drive your campaign is laid out, beginning with a briefing in London... and running over several weeks if not longer, with scope for side-missions and a myriad of events to throw in at opportune moments. It's a delightful slow unfolding of unspeakable horror lurking in the woods and blighting the whole neighbourhood.

A character sheet and a wonderful collection of strange snippets, events that are claimed to have actually happened but are weird enough to form the basis of future adventures finish up this book. What's really appealing is that it mixes real-world history with the Mythos, pulling no punches with either yet avoiding descent into a weird alternative history where the Mythos affected or was harnessed by the conflict going on around the party.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2016 23:41:57

"Hey, wouldn't it be cool if President Roosevelt sent a bunch of investigators to stop Hitler from summoning Cthulhu?" is a thing a gamer might think when they were fourteen. Then you learn a little about World War 2 and which side, if he had lived that long, Lovecraft would undoubtedly have sided with, and suddenly the bloom is off the rose. The concept of a mad Nazi sorcerer is frankly, stupid and a waste of everyone's time. They didn't need sorcery to be horrible. Sorcery is fictional and Nazi mass murders were real. What would they have done with sorcery that they didn't do with their own determination? Spread their evil further, win maybe? But that doesn't make them a different kind of evil; they don't become more horrific if you give them tentacle monster shock troops, they just become more successful at spreading the horror they launched. The more I learned about World War 2, the less I liked attempts to shoehorn the Cthulhu Mythos into it. Let's not even get to the Victorian anxieties that bubbled just beneath the surface of Mythos writings; suffice to say the Allied armies (racially diverse, eventually even racially integrated!) would not be the good guys in a Lovecraftian Mythos tale. Thus, for many years I put down the recurring idea of a WW2 Mythos game. I may have even been mean about it once or twice!

So when I saw World War Cthulhu: Darkest Hour, I was fairly decidedly disinterested, even though it was Cubicle 7 and I normally quite like Cubicle 7 games. Nevertheless I decided to give it a look and I'm very glad that I did. WWC has a very different attitude towards how to design a Call of Cthulhu scenario in World War 2 which transforms the war from a shorthand 5th grader's scribble of bad Nazis seeking forbidden knowledge to a setting that presents tremendous challenges to investigators seeking to achieve military and potentially occult goals at the same time.

In your typical Call of Cthulhu scenario, investigators receive a weird invitation or see a bizarre story in the newspaper that is in their professional field. They gather up because they know weird shit might be going down and start digging into it. Importantly, in Call of Cthulhu scenarios, you can lose. It is quite possible to miss clues, miss events on a timeline, misinterpret the clues and go to the wrong place, and you never solve the mystery, and then you see another horrible newspaper article and you FEEL AFRAID at the unknown horror that you almost spotted, and lose Sanity. This makes a typical Call of Cthulhu scenario a self-contained episode. However, in WWC, a different methodology is at work.

In WWC, you identify a location and determine what's going on with the war as an environment that the investigation takes place in. The sample campaign (more on this below) is a small town in Vichy France near a mysterious wood and a copper mine the Nazis really want to keep open. Then you create the occult threat and what might draw the investigators to the area. This approach guarantees you're not going to have your team of rowdy investigators winning the war singlehandedly, and also guarantees that they will have to thread some very difficult needles. In a (separately published) scenario, for example, there's a mysterious occult plague in a town controlled by Italian fascists. They believe (and spread the word) that they are being targeted by an Allied biological weapon of some kind. But it isn't; it's a MONSTER. You can definitely see how investigators who come into that situation will have to walk a tightrope between the danger of the Mythos and the danger imposed by the war. And when there's a plague monster around, maybe calling in an artillery strike is the worst thing to do. ("Are those spores or smoke?")

WWC asks not that you treat WW2 as a pulp setting, but instead asks that you treat it as real, with real stakes. And that, to me, is the innovation that makes it work where other WW2 Cthulhu scenarios have failed.

The sample campaign (which I'm going to be running soon!) is a great example. The characters are Special Operations Executive agents parachuting into the Vichy France countryside in April 1941 (seven months before the Americans even get into the action!) with the mission of putting together an intelligence network in the countryside, and finding out what happened to the investigator who disappeared before the Nazi invasion. He was looking into a cult, naturally, but the investigators can't just pop in to a Vichy village and start asking questions and avoiding attention because then they'll be pegged as spies immediately and killed by the Gestapo, and the cult will be about its evil business unimpeded.

And there are questions about how much to trust the Resistance that's helping you...or even if you trust them, how much to involve them? They have different goals and restrictions, and they may or may not know about or believe in the occult problems the investigators have to deal with. If a monster's going to eat a bunch of people, you have to balance whether you want a suave lady shooting a Sten while smoking a cigarette standing next to you, or whether it would be better if she didn't have her arm eaten and nerve broken so she would have both those things to fight the Hun.

All in all, World War Cthulhu is a tremendous effort, works really well, and the sample campaign gives a very solid example as to how to design a WWC scenario. This game completely rehabilitates the idea of the WW2 Mythos scenario and breathes new life into it with the relentless focus on the war as environment instead of the war as event.

If I had to suggest a way to improve this effort, I would mention there are several typographical errors (the names of characters in the sample campaign aren't always spelled the same way, etc.) and I would really hammer out several different campaign structures other than the SOE structure that's presented. All in all, however, this is an exceptionally solid work that accomplishes something many have attempted but rarely successfully. It's definitely worth your time.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by J J J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/10/2014 13:59:30

Excellent resource! Bringing the Call of Cthulhu into the WWII is something I've always wanted to do, I just never found the time. I'm happy someone has.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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