RPG review – World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour
World War II to this day mesmerises historians and non-historians. Its effects are still felt and we now look back and wonder how some of the atrocities could have possibly happened. I’m not sure any other war has received as much media coverage as WWII, with movies, games, books, more movies and many more artistic expressions covering the subject.
And at a time like WWII, the real and the fantastic can meet to tell fascinating stories and provide with fertile grounds for anyone’s imagination. All this comes with a risk, though.
World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour was a product that people have been looking forward to for many years. A gaming supplement for Call of Cthulhu that would provide with gaming material to set adventures in the already perilous theatre of World War II and gave the chance to fight for the survival of our world? Count me in!
And thus Cubicle 7 made it happen.
The book had been in development for a fair length of time. And rightly so. Rushing the production of a book like this could lead to mistakes that would turn the useful into offensive very, very quickly. So how has Cubicle 7 done?
Well, the book itself is actually quite impressive. A hardcover tome with a cover that is genius in its simplicity – and just as wonderful to look at – holds back no punches in conveying the darkness that the pages hold.
The layout by Paul Bourne let eyes glide through the pages as if they were made of silk. There has been fantastic attention to detail and a tremendous and careful consideration to the location of pictures and ornaments throughout this book.
The art direction is just as well looked after, with a number of illustrations combining a good mix of styles to enhance the mood of each chapter and section, so all and all, a very nice book to look at that makes me wonder what a truly gorgeous edition it would be if we could have it in full colour.
The chapter organisation is just as well curated. Starting with an introduction of the book itself and tackling head on the Cthulhu Mythos, Nazis and the whole mood of war times, a quick – but extremely helpful – history of the British Intelligence services , from MI5 and MI6 to Naval Intelligence Division, Intelligence Corps, Royal Air Intelligence and the Special Operations Executive. The aim is more to give a description of their ethos and activities, as well as the relationship between them, so they can be successfully used in homemade campaigns. And that it does very well.
There’s plenty of intrigue and motivation on all of these organisations and I found quite fantastic how this book paints a picture in which all of them are trying to do the right thing for different reasons and in different ways. Petty squabbles and struggle for resources amongst the reasons that turn these organisations into ineffectual machinery that does what it can with what it’s got.
However the mysterious N takes the spotlight in this book. A network of secret agents that work both for one of the public intelligence organisations whilst carrying out missions to stop the menaces from beyond destroying our planet. This is the mysterious network set up by N, whose one and only interest is to stop the many creatures from beyond our universe from destroying our planet. And you are about to be recruited by him.
Adding this organisation serves twofold. Firstly it gives the perfect motivation to join the battle against the Mythos. The second, and possibly the most important, is that it detaches the players from the war itself a bit, by aiming its focus to the supernatural and turning that into an even bigger threat than war itself.
On the second chapter World War Cthulhu introduces the rules to create characters able to operate in the theatre of war. Guidelines to create your own investigator, a new character sheet and a full example of how to create your character from start to finish, new skills,occupations and rules to adapt existing investigators to World War Cthulhu. To top it off, some intelligence procedures and small unit tactics. Basically, all you need not just make sure your character has all she needs to operate during war times, but also to get the atmosphere and frame of mind ready to have an able character.
The crew at Cubicle 7 haven’t spent too long on this part of the book and, truth be told, they didn’t really need to. You already have all you need in the core rule-book and this is just supplementary information to make adaptations. And as such it works very well indeed!
The Keeper’s Handbook is, as you would expect, the longest at nearly one hundred pages. Pages that are packed with data and information. A description of N’s network, its opponents, mission designs and advice on how to run those missions open this chapter, setting you up to get the most out of the Mythos right away and regardless of where you want to place your adventures. However, and to make sure nothing is left to chance, there is a fair amount of information on the effects of war in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
The rules of engagement also provide with extra guidance on ambushes, parachuting and other activities so popular – and let’s face it, exciting – for your characters to try out. This chapter will probably make you want to keep the book nearby, as there are quite a few new rules and situations you’ll want to refer to from time to time.
The equipment section is just as well populated. As well as a comprehensive list of equipment one could buy during WWII, but also how much they’d cost you in the black market and general availability. The best thing about this section is how it also gives instructions about discretion. Basically, anyone looking for something that’s not easy to find, like a vehicle or guns, would raise suspicions from the likely spies nearby. That’s bad news. The last thing the investigator’s want is the Nazis following close on their tracks when they’re trying to stop a Great Old One from raising and consuming all that’s knowable!
The one and only thing that I missed in this section were more illustrations. Admittedly, with the Internet at our disposal we can find all the illustrations we need, but having illustrations of the different – and numerous – weapons and vehicles described would have been a very nice touch.
The last part of the book is an adventure and campaign setting; The God in the Woods.
Let me see if I can make this clear enough: If what I have already described is not enough to get this book, or it’s just not interesting for you, this adventure should suffice to justify the purchase of this book.
The adventure sees the investigators being deployed in rural France, more precisely in Saint-Cerneuf-du-Bois, where one of N’s occultist friends has gone missing in very strange circumstances. The town, on the border of occupied France, sit at the edge of a forest in which not everything is what it seems. In fact pretty much nothing is what it seems. I don’t want to spoil anything, so will say no more.
OK, that’s not entirely true. I will also say that the adventure has a cult, lots of locations, plenty of non-player characters, history, intrigue, danger and it is damn scary!
I kid you not. This adventure, although it might seem traditional at first sight with its cult and Mythos entity, has been wonderfully crafted to be seriously scary. Plenty of opportunities for the unknown and surprises have been clearly put together. Whether you want to use this adventure as a starting point to introduce your players to war, or use the town as a centre of operation and centre of a longer and bigger campaign, there’s a bit of everything in here.
Seriously, I can’t praise this adventure enough!
Once again, line manager Dominic McDowall manages to put together the perfect team to create a wonderful product. Starting with the superb art direction and fantastic layout, the writing doesn’t lag behind with clear and concise information that doesn’t feel redundant or heavy with too many details.
The best bit about this book is how it manages to deal with the whole horror of war. Although the scenario is indeed contemplated, the authors run away from creating a Nazi army fuelled by the knowledge of the Mythos, which would turn the whole war effort into some sort of gigantic cult, thus providing some reasoning behind the atrocities committed during the war.
Instead, World War Cthulhu gives you a completely parallel, but perfectly seamless, dimension to war, leaving you to get on with your business of saving the world while dodging or dealing with the situation.
Although I must admit I’d *love* to see a full colour version of this book and more illustrations, there isn’t much to fault on this book. Totally, totally fantastic!
World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour is available from:
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