Shadows of Cthulhu Review

So here is what you need to know about Shadows of Cthulhu: Cosmic Horror Adventure in the World of H.P. Lovecraft. It is a supplement, not a standalone RPG like Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu, so will need the core rulebook. Not Call of Cthulhu, but True20 Adventure Roleplaying, Green Ronin Publishing’s streamlined and elegant evolution of the d20 System or Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. So in a sense that makes Shadows of Cthulhu a cousin to d20 Cthulhu, but do not let that put you off this new interpretation of Lovecraftian and investigative horror. The True20 incarnation of …of Cthulhu investigative horror is a combination of the d20 System’s muscularity and the poise and polish ofTrue20 Adventure Roleplaying.

Shadows of Cthulhu Review

Also check : Player’s Handbook 2 review
The most important thing about True20 is that you only roll one die type – the twenty-sided die. Not just rolled to hit in combat, but skill checks, and saves, the latter including characters having to roll against an attack in order to block, dodge, or parry it. Which replaces the Armour Class rules of Dungeons & Dragons. Also gone are Hit Points, replaced by damage status, which simply indicates how badly you failed the damage save. The core game only has three classes, each of which concentrates upon one area – Adept (magic or psionics), Expert (skills), and Warrior (combat). Each provides a range of skills and feats from which a player is free to choose, and between levels a character can switch between classes as freely as he wants. Lastly True20 dumps the standard three to eighteen range for its classic core attributes in favour of the bonuses levels in those attributes would give. So instead of Intelligence 18, which gives a +4 bonus, a character would have Intelligence +4.

Shadows of Cthulhu Review :

Shadows of Cthulhu is firmly set in …of Cthulhu investigative horror’s classic period of the 1920s – though an inventive Keeper or GM could take it elsewhere. Which is relatively easy given True20’s generic nature. So its background, both historical and outré will be familiar to most people interested in it, and the book gives you much of it anyway. Some readers will find it odd to see classic Mythos entities summed up as say, for example, a 34th Level Outsider as Cthulhu is, compared to Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath, who have no statistics whatsoever. Which is odd, but this is very much in keeping with what is still a class and level game, although a far more flexible one than its forebears. Then again, just take the stats as pointers rather than absolutes and never, ever let your players look at them. Some creatures are missing, such as the classic Hound of Tindalos. Nor is this the only thing missing. There is no guide to adapting the Basic Roleplay system of Call of Cthulhu to the True20 system of Shadows of Cthulhu, which is a shame given that this would open up access to all of those classic campaigns and scenarios published by Chaosium. Further, there is no scenario, which is an even bigger shame, given that the fundamental purpose of the scenario in a core book is do a show and tell for the system itself. Instead of the scenario we have a description of the village of Dunwich, which is just not as useful.

So where does the muscularity of Shadows of Cthulhu begin, but with character generation. No dice are needed, points being assigned to attributes, and feats and skills selected freely. In addition to the core trio, Shadows of Cthulhu adds the Academic, the Investigator, and the Reverent classes, which allow the easier creation of character concepts such as Archaeologist, Professor, Journalist, Private Eye, Nun, and Missionary, many of which are integral to classic  …of Cthulhu gaming. Shadows of Cthulhu suggests skills and feats for each of these archetypes and more, including many that use the Expert and Warrior core classes. In addition, where another RPG might give a character a race such as Orc or Trill, Shadows of Cthulhu suggests backgrounds, like Ancient Bloodline, High Society, and Small Town each granting more skills and feats, and adding to a character’s background. Several completed characters are included, ready to play.

The one core class not covered at character creation is that of Adept. It becomes available after 1st Level and this is where Shadows of Cthulhu begins to get interesting. Being an Adept in a standard True20 game gives the character access to various, such as Shadow Shaping or Cure, which he selects as he advances from one level to the next. Here a character needs the proper exposure to a Mythos Trait such as a Mythos Power (and similarly a Mythos Skill or Feat, for example Mythos Knowledge (Technology) and Mythos Familiar respectively), before he can select them during a campaign. And all a Mythos Power really is, is a spell (although the book also discusses how they can be treated as science rather than magic, but then, let us not forget Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”), many of which will be familiar to long time players of Call of Cthulhu, such as Dimension Gate or Elder Sign. Others though will look like they came from outside of the game and this is certainly the case, their inclusion allowing for a more thaumaturgical game if the Keeper wants it. In order to unlock any one Power, and it usually is only a single power at any one time, a character spends his Awareness points. These are gained for successfully investigating and thwarting Mythos threats, and are only given out a few points at a time, thus preventing the investigators from loading up on magic.

What balances out the inclusion of all of these outré abilities, including Powers – Mythos and non-Mythos alike, and skills, are two factors. The first is that it takes determination, represented by Conviction points, which every investigator receives, to actually use a Trait. So there is no casual use of any particular Trait. The second is that each trait in its own way is dangerous to the user. Should an investigator decide to use any one of those (hopefully) few that he knows, he risks not just his mental well-being, but also his physical being too. For example, if an investigator needs an Elder Sign, he could suffer Premature Aging in the creation process, whilst using a Power like Second Sight could lead to him acquiring an Anxiety based disorder, such as Obsession or Panic Attacks. All of this requires a Sanity save.

Shadows of Cthulhu Game Review :

A Sanity save is made, of course, whenever an investigator encounters something unexpected, something gruesome, a Mythos creature or entity, or reads one of the various foul and blasphemous tomes wherein the true nature of the Mythos and thus the universe itself is told. The listings for all of these – the unexpected, the gruesome, the creatures, the entities, and the tomes suggest possible disorders that can be gained if a Sanity save is failed against them. Indeed, the suggestions for each of these is accompanied by Mythos Traits that can be unlocked after exposure to them. The tomes in particular, list these suggestions chapter by chapter, a very nice touch.

To make a Sanity save the player rolls the die hoping to beat a Difficulty set by the GM, adding his character’s level and Charisma. For example, seeing a Ghoul eat human flesh requires a Sanity save of Difficulty 10. Fail this and the investigator acquires the Cannibalism Disorder, but fail it badly or fail it again, and the disorder stacks, making it more difficult to resist or overcome its effects. A disorder can be overcome through treatment – some of them are physical, so surgery or other medical care might be needed, or through the expenditure of Awareness points, at a cost one point per level of disorder. This may seem like an artifice, but in a sense it works in the same way that the Sanity rewards at the end of a scenario or campaign in Call of Cthulhu do. An alternative Sanity save system is also included, which has more of an emphasis upon the investigator’s mental state, and whilst more detailed and more in-keeping with True20 Adventure Roleplaying, it loses a little in terms of flavour when compared to the more interesting disorder rules. That said this alternative more clearly models the downward spiral of Sanity loss that we see in Call of Cthulhu despite its lack of flavour.

Physically, Shadows of Cthulhu is a decent looking book, although the artwork may be perhaps unsubtle to some tastes. I will admit that after Trail of Cthulhu, the art here is too brash and too cartoon-like for my tastes. Although the book lacks scenarios, there are plenty of hooks and adversaries given, as well as descriptions of notable locations within Lovecraft’s writings. The latter are not detailed in any great fashion, and a Keeper will have to look elsewhere or develop them himself if he wants more. Advice for the GM is also fairly light, so if a GM is coming to …of Cthulhu investigative horror for the first time through Shadows of Cthulhu, he is not as well served as he could and should have been. Perhaps a scenario would have alleviated is issue.

So the question arises, is Shadows of Cthulhu worth looking at, by either the new player or the old? Putting aside the fact that you do need a copy of True20 Adventure Roleplaying and that you do not get a scenario, then I would suggest that it is. For the one thing that it brings to …of Cthulhu investigative horror is a muscularity that pushes it towards the “Pulpier” end of the purist versus pulp scale of …of Cthulhu investigative horror. Even more so than the Pulp options given in Trail of Cthulhu, and definitely before the release of Chaosium’s very late Pulp Cthulhu. This it inherits from the d20 System origins of True20, and those gamers still missing d20 Cthulhu may well want to look atShadows of Cthulhu. What they will get is certainly an improvement over d20 Cthulhu, with dedicated methods of handling both the Mythos and Insanity that even the devotees of Call of Cthulhu might want to look at.

Player’s Handbook 2 Game Review

I remember opening up the first Player’s Handbook for Fourth Edition and being awestruck by the full color interior art.  The amazing images brought forth a world that was both familiar and new in a way I had not seen in other books.  Only later did I become aware of the new system and how it would irrevocably change my D&D experience.  However, from the moment I opened Player’s Handbook 2, it was the new classes and powers that grabbed my attention and would not let go.

player's handbook 2 review

Player’s Handbook 2 Review :

Inside the covers, Player’s Handbook 2 presents five races new to this edition: Deva, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, and Shifter.  It also presents Racial Paragon Paths for all the races from both Player’s Handbooks.  Of greater interest are the eight new Primal, Arcane, and Divine classes in the book: Avenger, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Invoker, Shaman, Sorcerer, and Warden.  Player’s Handbook 2 also fleshes out all available classes with new Epic Destinies, magic rituals, equipment, and wondrous items.  What is not included in the new book is any of the races, classes, powers, and such from the first book, which is okay if you already own the first book, but if you are new to the game it forces you to spend extra money.

When I first heard about the decision to split the Player’s Handbook into two separate books, I was a little upset.  It meant that if I wanted to play two of my favorite classes (the Druid and the Sorcerer), I would have to shell out the cash for two books instead of one.

While there is still a small part of me that feels that way, I have to say that Player’s Handbook 2 benefited greatly by being the second book.  First of all, the book is laid out much better in terms of the rules being roughly where I expect them to be.  There were a few times in the original book that I had to go searching for the right text for a particular mechanic.  All in all, this book is much clearer about where to find certain rules.  For instance, if a power uses a particular keyword (say the barbarians have powers with “Rage”) the text told me exactly where to find Rage rules.

Game : Player’s Handbook 2 Review

More importantly, though, Wizards of the Coast seemed to feel more comfortable taking risks with the classes and races in Player’s Handbook 2 than they did in the first book.  While no one would claim the first set of classes were vanilla or boring, the classes in the second handbook take big chances.

My favorite example is the Wild Magic build of the Sorcerer.  The Wild Magic Sorcerer takes the idea that the Sorcerer is untrained in the proper use of magic, so their magic sometimes erupts forth in powerful, though barely contained bursts.  They have a power called Chaos Burst which does two different things based on your first attack roll.  If it is even, you gain +1 to AC and if it is odd, you pass a savings throw.  This is a nice touch and not something I expected at all.

More importantly, there is a coolness factor to the Player’s Handbook 2.  All eight classes offer something that makes them fun to play.  For instance, The Invoker is a different take on the divine spellcaster who calls on her gods for offensive powers.  Players who have ever wanted to serve a god as a damage-dealer but were shackled by the Paladin’s famous code should really like this new class. .

On the other hand, the base Avenger class (sort of a holy warrior without the Paladin’s morals) was not very interesting to me until I read its Paragon Paths.  I would play an Avenger for ten levels to get to be a Hammer of Justice or a Zealous Assassin.  In this way, Wizards of the Coast never gave me a reason to dismiss playing a class out of hand (like the 3.5 Bard class, which I never had the desire to play.)

There is another thing the Player’s Handbook 2 got right, but because it’s not directly applicable to every game, it might not get the attention it deserves.  Wizards did a great job of giving lots of little bits of setting detail in the class and race write-ups without the text reading like an encyclopedia.  For instance, there is one sentence in the write up of the Druid’s Paragon Path, Guardian of the Living Gate, that mentions there are a number of Druidic orders, all of whom are fighting against alien invaders.  It’s tantalizing, it says a lot about the world, but it’s not overwhelming.  It also gives DMs a nice tool to use.

Of course, the Player’s Handbook 2 is not without its faults.  The races presented in the game are not nearly as exciting as the classes.  In particular, a new race, Shifter, is a canine-looking human with partial shapeshifting powers.  The race is okay, but it’s nothing compared to the shapeshifting of the Druid, who excels at going into animal form.  Gnomes were neat, but there was nothing about them or any race that screamed “Play me!” as much as the classes.

Also, perhaps my biggest complaint was pointed out by a friend of mine.  With all the creative powers and fun touches like Chaos Burst comes additional bookkeeping. There was already a burden on the player to remember which powers she used in an Encounter or in a Day.  Now players have to remember which effect they rolled, which rage is active, etc.  Certainly, this problem is easy enough to overcome with a good enough system of organization or a few play aids, but the additional work might turn some players off of some of the more unique powers.

Taken as a whole, the Player’s Handbook 2 is a great addition to every Fourth Edition player’s arsenal.  The concerns I had about it, from the price tag to power creep, were largely dispelled by the book.  Instead, what I got were classes that made me more excited to play than the first set, and some nice additional rituals and racial Paragon Paths on top of that.  Player’s Handbook 2 surpasses the original Player’s Handbook in a number of ways, and it is definitely a necessity in any 4th Edition library.