At it’s heart (?), Vade Mecum is a fairly standard RPG companion/expansion book, and is well suited to those who got their feet (or pseudopods) wet with the main CthulhuTech book, decided they liked it and wanted to go deeper into the game world.
Now I know you’re all wondering WTF “Vade Mecum” stands for, and many of you may be forgiven for assuming it’s some weird cthulhuesque term. Well, no. Vade Mecum is a real term, one I won’t reveal here but is defined in the early pages of the book. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the mythos, and is actually a clever title I’m surprised some other RPG company hasn’t copped before. (Or maybe they did and I never noticed. As much as it might shock those who know me, I have not bought and read every RPG product ever made.)
“So, what’s in the book?” you ask with baited breath. Well, dearies, let’s see what Mr. Back Cover has to say. According to it, VM has over 20 new machines of death, new tagers, new horrors, new magic rituals, new powers including para-psychic powers which are on the rise as the Aeon War progresses, new character types (Including ghouls. Maybe you could attend the Pickman Art College?) and others like Zoners, who are supposedly very powerful but start with a lot of insanity points. (Not good.)
A more detailed examination of the contents reveals that the bock cover was quite truthful. There are a load of new mechs for the NEG, EoD and MiGou, about half or so of them designed to operate in and under water. The EoD gets one big badass mech and some suits of power armor, the NEG gets some new Engels, mechs and power armor and the MiGou get more bugmechs, including the huge and terrifying Spider, which can go toe(?) to toe(?) with a Seraph.
Asides from the new gear there are as promised new powers, mostly para psychic powers and new magic rituals, plus the ability to use magic in one’s sleep, thus allowing you character to act like a federal employee and sleep on the job while getting paid! (The main difference is that the sleeping mage is usually doing something useful while slumbering whereas a lot of federal workers don’t even do anything useful while they’re awake, and runs the risk of being driven insane or killed while napping on the job.)
The big shiny new thing in Vade Mecum is basically the para psychic powers. There are hardly all that new in RPG terms, and feature such goodies as pyrokinesis, cryokinesis, telekinesis, photokinesis and various forms of telepathy and physical enhancement psionic powers. I’ve seen similar powers going back as far as Chaosium’s lamented “Ringworld”, but Vade mecum throws a few twists in by making it possible that the use of such unnatural powers will give your character the added benefit of adding to his insanity point collection on some rolls. You can try to overpower psi abilities with the expected risks.
Most psi powers aren’t all that useful until you reach about third level, with first level pyro and cryo abilities being, well, pretty useless unless you really like hot or cold drinks.
Another reason that psi powers are a dubious buy is that in the world of CthulhuTech, even if you don’t ask for psionic powers, if you get them you’d better register them with the gubmint and get used to being watched, unless you want to risk the Cthulhutech equivalent of the ATF turning your home into another Waco, sans the long standoff first.
Those who like playing crazy characters will be magnetically drawn to the Zoners, people who have traveled close to “The Zone” mentioned in the CT main book and have become extremely powerful psionics as a side effect, but are subject to out of control powers, massive insanity (The sample zoner had 7 insanity points to start with!!!), a collection of disorders and having the whole damn gubmint hunting them like Ken Starr hunted everyone who every said “Hi.” to Bill Clinton.
In addition to zoners and parapsychics as new character types there are also Xenomixes, which is what you get when mix a human, a nazzadi, a few drinks and a bed. There are two types:
Greys are “standard” xenomixes who inherit some of each parents abilities. They don’t get full nightvision like their alien parents, but do get better night vision that humans. They also get to choose one aspect to increase by one point. Whites are the strange and scary xenomix children, they’re pure white, including hair and eyes. They are a real mystery to everyone and have psychic abilities from birth. The picture of a couple of them made them look quite hostile and ominous.
There are other goodies in Vade Mecum aplenty. There’s a new resolution system that uses cards instead of d10’s. Thanks, but I’ll pass. There are also ideas for speeding up combat, like having players create a set of results ahead of time to use in combat. Again, pass, but I give major credit to the CT team for being flexible and accommodating to all sorts of gamers. In the CT mainbook there were rules for playing CT as an all out wargame for the tactical player in us. Now VM introduces rules to speed up combat for the more story driven gamer. It’s nice when a game company respects everyone, isn’t it? I like the thought and consideration, even if I won’t use it myself.
A new list of permanent injuries is included for those severely injured who may lack access to cloned part replacement or arcanotherapy to heal and restore themselves. Nice touch.
There are enhanced combat rules allowing “Cascade” type moves that essentially let you commit multiple actions with less penalties than you would normally. For example, if you character is able to commit 3 actions per turn and tries to do so normally, he would commit each action at a -4 penalty. Using a 3 move cascade, he would suffer a -2 penalty to one move and a -3 to each of the other two, thus incurring a -8 total penalty instead of a total of -12.
The drawbacks are that you can only choose from the listed cascades, you have to spend some points to buy the ability to cascade and your character must be able to commit multiple actions per turn. Sorry, but a guy with 1 action per turn can’t use cascades to get more, but he can still learn cascades in order to access the special moves, which he can commit, one per turn. It’s a nice touch that doesn’t overwhelm the game but still lets you pull some of that “Matrix/John Woo movie” stuff.
There are a couple adventures in the back of VM, which failed to impress me.
The art was fine, but some pictures of Nazzadi had them looking like normal humans with tattoos instead of having the jet black skin and red eyes they’re supposed to. The pic of the female grey xemomix may have some people licking the page.
The Good: Usually great art, a lot of new goodies to play with, not much wasted space, definite value for money. Is basically exactly what it should be: An add on for CthulhuTech.
The Bad: Some of it feels like pretty standard RPG fare with “CthulhuTech!” stickers plastered over it.
The Ugly: I think the worst things in the book were the sample adventures. One was bland and not very unique or interesting, the other….Ick.
The other really made me uncomfortable, not so much reading it as I see more graphic stuff on the net constantly and have written more graphic stuff, but uncomfortable in that I could not imagine running the adventure for a group of guys, and the only thing worse would be running it for a group with some guys and a femme.
The adventure had a very strong pornographic theme to it, and asides from the tiresome meme of having to rescue a bunch of helpless women from evil cultists doing unspeakable things to them (Yawn, that whole “helpless woman to rescue” bit really hit bottom a long time ago in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. Frankly I was tired of it after seeing that steaming pile of celluloid excrement and am even more tired of it lo these many years later.)
It also brought the players into the world of hardcore porn, as some clues to the adventure were found by watching a very explicit and misogynistic porn video. (Which was described in at least partially restrained terms, but got the idea across.)
I would be extremely uncomfortable running this with a woman in the group, and am unlikely to ever run it at all as immature gamers would leer and snicker while mature ones groaned and fidgeted.
Also, do we need to have adventures that include the word “Fellatio” in them? Seriously, people, you can find better adventures for CT free on the net by going to Mongoose’s site and looking up their online game magazines that they put some CT stuff in (Like here: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/home/series.php?qsSeries=13 ) , or by going to a site that offers free CT adventures. (like here: http://www.portalseeker.com/misc/ctech.htm ) (BTW, if you go there remember one thing: When the adventure’s quick intro rules say that 2 numbers in a row make a “straight” they’re wrong, a straight in CT must be 3+ numbers in sequence.)
All in all, I have to say that Vade Mecum is worth getting if you like CthulhuTech and want more. It’s a by the numbers RPG companion that does exactly what such a product should do. It has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and I must say that the former do somewhat outweigh the latter.