Over the past year we’ve been hard at work on the wider World War Cthulhu setting, spanning conflicts throughout the whole of the 20th century (and beyond…), and we will be bringing it to Kickstarter in the spring.
We asked line developer Scott Dorward to tell us what makes the World War Cthulhu setting so compelling – and so true in tone and style to Call of Cthulhu.
I have been a fan of Call of Cthulhu for over 30 years. My first exposure was seeing it advertised in White Dwarf, and I knew I had to play this game. This was something utterly different from the other roleplaying games I had tried. As someone who had grown up reading Lovecraft, Poe and every Pan Book of Horror Stories I could lay my hands on, I fell in love with Call of Cthulhu immediately.
One of the things that set Call of Cthulhu apart – and still does, to some extent – is the bleakness of the tone. These are stories of fragile humans fighting for survival in a cold, uncaring universe filled with alien intelligences that could destroy us as carelessly as we would crush ants. Over time, the endeavours of these heroes will count for nothing in the face of such overwhelming forces. They will lose everything, spiral into insanity and, almost inevitably, die horribly. And yet they fight.
For me, this is a kind of heroism that you rarely see in other games. A wizard who can turn goblin hordes into dust with a muttered word or a spandex-clad flying muscle who can punch foes into next Tuesday may be heroes, but there is rarely that edge of gritty desperation to their stories. A middle-aged librarian who has learned that a cult threatens the existence of her home town and puts her life and sanity on the line to stop them manifesting Yog-Sothoth is a different kind of hero, and, for me, a more moving one.
When I first heard about World War Cthulhu, I wondered how much of this desperate heroism would make it into its vision. Once I read the first book, World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour, however, I realised that this was very much the Call of Cthulhu I had originally fallen in love with. The protagonists in World War Cthulhu may have military training, logistical support and more access to weapons and explosives than most Call of Cthulhu investigators, but they are still only human. Moreover, the backdrop of war makes the fight against the forces of the Mythos all the more dangerous. Stopping a mob of Deep Ones from ravaging a fishing village is hard enough, but doing so while trying to avoid detection by the Gestapo and worrying which of your local allies may be double-agents is simply terrifying.
As we move towards widening out the World War Cthulhu line into new eras via Kickstarter, my goal is to keep this sense of grim determination in the rest of the setting books. The Cold War was a time of paranoia, shifting allegiances and a sense of being at the mercy of forces beyond human comprehension; I simply cannot think of a better setting for Call of Cthulhu. The alternate history that leads us to World War III is a very human one, but the aftermath is a breeding ground for those horrors that normally hide in the shadows. And our take on World War I promises to be rich in both figurative and literal nightmare. These will all be very different games, but ones that hold the pure horror of Call of Cthulhu tightly to their blackened, withered hearts.
Call of Cthulhu has never been a game for people who like happy endings, but its dark secret is its embrace of the human need for hope. Without hope denied or perverted there can never be true horror. No matter where World War Cthulhu takes us, we will carry on fanning the flames of hope wherever we find them, only to extinguish them in the end.”
About World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour
Like Call of Cthulhu itself, World War Cthulhu is rooted firmly in the real world of the 20th century, but one in which another, more secret war runs in parallel to the Second World War we all know. The Mythos is a threat to all humanity, regardless of which side of the conflict they are on, and you won’t find any Nazi sorcerers commanding undead minions or military alliances with deep ones here; the Axis have as much to lose as the Allies when they encounter eldritch forces.
The scenarios themselves are usually grim, desperate and bloody missions, inspired by the missions of the real Special Operations Executive. In this version of history, a secret network exists within the British establishment, under the leadership of the shadowy spymaster N, using SOE resources to combat the Mythos alongside military missions. N’s agents will often find themselves behind enemy lines, hunting cultists and alien entities, while in turn being hunted by the Gestapo or collaborators. While N’s agents are cunning, well-equipped and trained in the techniques of sabotage, infiltration and assassination, the dangers they face mean any victories will be hard-won indeed.
World War Cthulhu is a setting book for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game - you will need a copy of Call of Cthulhu to use it.