Stealing Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley

Back before GenCon 2011, I went on a bit of a Crowdfunding spree, sponsoring Do: Pilgrims of the Flying TempleBulldogs!Technoir RPG, and Stealing Cthulhu.  Today, the last of the lot has arrived all the way from the British Isles — Stealing Cthulhu is here!  This is more a recounting the pilgrimage of Stealing Cthulhu than a proper review.

From Graham Walmsley‘s Thieves of Time site:

The book is 175 pages and 30,000 words long (6 by 9 inches), with original art by Jennifer Rodgers and . It is annotated throughout by Kenneth Hite, Gareth Hanrahan and Jason Morningstar. It’s designed for use with any roleplaying system: Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Nemesis, Cthulhu Dark or whatever you enjoy playing.

I’ve never played a game of the venerable Call of Cthulhu nor any of it’s relatives (i.e. Trail of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Cthulhutech, d20 Cthulhu, or Cthulhu Dark), but have always been intrigued.

In fact, I’ve only read a few of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  But the Cthulhu Mythos permeates the modern geek culture.  Something about slipping into madness and ancient beings from beyond time and space with inhuman motivations resonates with the zeitgeist of today.

Why Did I Buy It?

Earlier in the year, I purchased Graham Walmsley’s “Play Unsafe“, a book about improvising in role-playing games.  It is exceptionally well written, with ample advice for sharing in a collaborative

I then traded to get a copy of Graham Walmsley’s “A Taste for Murder.” It is a wonderfully well written game that melds the “Importance of Being Ernest” with a murder mystery.  “A Taste For Murder” builds on Graham’s “Play Unsafe” book.  I even used the book when I demonstrated “how to protect your game books.”

So when I saw that Graham was running an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign for running Cthulhu games, I pulled the trigger and sponsored the project.

First Came the PDF

After the project was funded and the book was edited, Graham provided the backers with the PDF version of the book.

Graham breaks down the components of a Lovecraftian story and translates them to their RPG counterpart – Stealing Scenarios, Locations, Patterns, and Descriptions.  I read the book on my tablet and found the PDF version a bit more challenging to read.

In part, the pages have hand-written annotations that are a bit harder to read in electronic form. The bigger problem, by far, is that I personally have a hard time reading on my tablet.  I get distracted and start checking Twitter or my RSS feed.

Then Came the Wait

The PDF was released to backers on June 17, 2011.  The book was available for purchase at GenCon 2011 — This was a decision made by Graham that raised some ire.

While I certainly wanted my “shiny” right away, I also knew that Graham uses his trips to the US as a means of transporting small press books across the Atlantic.  He was able to bring copies of Stealing Cthulhu to sell at GenCon at Pelgrane Press’s booth.  He was then able to return to Britain with small press books to sell in his webstore.  This service has helped bring small press books to European fans by greatly reducing international shipping costs.

Knowing this, and honestly having lots of other books to read, I simply waited.  I trusted Graham, having briefly talked with him at GenCon, would get the books to me as soon as was humanly feasible.

Then Came the Book

Today, December 1st, 2011, and I have received my physical copy.  Given that I haven’t yet finished reading the book, I can’t do a proper review.  However, since I accidentally published this article, I figured I’d better write something about Stealing Cthulhu.

The physical book is fantastic!  And flipping through the book, the hand-written annotations evoke an ominous tone — Herein lies the madness of delving too deeply into the mythos.

Stealing Cthulhu argues that many Cthulhu scenarios are very cliched and original scenarios can be found in Lovecraft’s writings. Stealing Cthulhu is intended as a guide for crafting these adventures.  The book provides tools, insights, and prompts for the disassembly of the short-stories and reassembly into scenarios.

Though it may be a bit premature…”catacomb.”

Other Books by Graham Walmsley

Good News Everyone…Bulldogs! RPG is Here!

Full disclaimer: I have not read Bulldogs! in it’s entirety.  The book, however, renders gloriously on my Android tablet.

Update: My pre-gameplay review.

Yesterday saw the arrival of the Bulldogs! RPG (in pre-release PDF form), a Kickstarter Project, by Brennan Taylor of Galileo Games.  Bulldogs! was originally published as a d20 system game, but has been refreshed and re-imagined as a Fate game.

Take a look at Brennan Taylor’s blog post concerning developing Bulldogs! for Fate.  Creating balanced characters in the d20 system can be a tremendous choir, whereas Fate opens you up to defining your alien races via aspects and possibly a handful of stunts.  Certainly there are balance concerns with the stunts, but it just isn’t as regimented.

But What of Diaspora?

Don’t worry, I’m not dissatisfied with Diaspora, another Fate-based sci-fi RPG.  Quite the contrary, I love it, and eagerly look forward to our next session.

Where Diaspora is billed as hard science fiction, Bulldogs! is…

…sci-fi that kicks ass! Bulldogs! is a high action space adventure. Bulldogs! is about freebooting ruffians flying from planet to planet causing trouble. Bulldogs! is about far future technology—sci-fi movie technology that probably wouldn’t work given what we know about the universe today, but who cares? Bulldogs! is about blasters and faster-than-light travel. Bulldogs! is about hopping from planet to planet and running into a vast variety of weird aliens. Bulldogs! is about being shot at and pissing off powerful locals and fleeing just in time. Bulldogs! is about starship dogfights and ambushes by space pirates in rarely traveled star lanes.

Diaspora is a setting-agnostic toolkit RPG; Whereas Bulldogs! loudly and proudly lays out the setting  and tone.  The various organizations, races, etc are defined both with a bit of narrative fiction and with Fate Aspects.  The Aspects also include suggestions on how to Invoke or Compel them.  Unlike Diaspora, Bulldogs! rules closely adheres to Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files RPG.

Diaspora models varying technology levels.  Bulldogs! has an assumed technology level that is available to the player characters.  Powerful things are modeled by wealth cost.  Personally I like the Diaspora model of civilian weapons vs. military equipment and the required stunt to use military equipment.

But What of Bulldogs?

Bulldogs! setting is also chock-full of aliens, each with a full color illustration.  The book includes 10 alien species and strongly encourages making others.  Thankfully, Fate makes this tremendously easy.  After all who doesn’t want to make a Vrusk?

The artwork is full-color and fantastic, invoking memories of my Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn days.  The world at large may be civilized, but your role as a space explorer/delivery boy is anything but civilized.

One element of Bulldogs! that I like is the better defined aspects for the spaceships.  Whereas Diaspora’s ships have 5 general aspects, Bulldogs! has you define 3 aspects: it’s high concept, it’s trouble, and it’s strength.  These constraints provide focus for the ship, and I believe provide greater clarity.

And lest I not forget, the stunts of Bulldogs! are exceptional.  Diaspora keeps the stunts very limited in scope, but in some ways it feels like a bit too much is left for the reader’s imagination.  Bulldogs! provides a healthy dose of example stunts, and they continue to build on the game’s setting.

In the days to come, I will most certainly be mining Bulldogs! for ideas and inspiration, and right now I’m waxing nostalgic. Kudos to Brennan Taylor and crew.  I love your work, and am proud to be a supporter of such a finely crafted creation.