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Monday, 30 January 2023

The Illuminati computer game

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy playing Illuminati again. But I am.

Some history

I first played Illuminati, Steve Jackson’s card game of group-based world domination, in the 1980s. It was of its time – slow, fiddly, but with a deep streak of humour.

In 1994, Illuminati was reborn as INWO (Illuminati: New World Order), a collectable card game following the CCG craze that Magic: the Gathering started. INWO was like Illuminati dialled up to 11 – more groups, lots of crazy plots and bizarre combos.

INWO card game

Over the next few years, INWO spawned two expansions, Assassins and SubGenius, but we haven’t seen a new card in decades.

“I can’t help but wonder if it would be easier ACTUALLY to take control of the world?”

INWO was both more streamlined (action tokens replacing income) and more complicated (secrecy, immunity, resources, places, personalities, instant attacks…). It rewarded deep mastery, and I loved it. 

But it was also frustrating. The rulebook isn’t short, and as each group had its own ability, exceptions and special cases were inevitable. (As the compiler of an unofficial FAQ, the UFAQ, I was very aware of all the complications. Teaching INWO was a nightmare.)

(The quote above is from one of my friends.)

Variants

In 2010 or so, I dusted off my cards and pulled together some variants (rules and cards). I created a wiki to capture them all. (I don’t know why I didn’t do this on BoardGameGeek. I should upload them.)

I created a variant with very different rules that satisfied my issues with INWO. I’ve played it once or twice, but given the lack of fellow INWO players to hand, I haven’t played it (or regular INWO) in over a decade.

The deep freeze – and Kickstarter

So, to sum up, I was over-invested. But after about 2012, I put away my cards and variants and stopped thinking about INWO. Instead, I played other games. Simpler games. Games that were easier to teach. Games that weren’t so geeky. Games with a modern design and less waiting between turns.

And I didn’t think about INWO for years. Not until I learned of a Kickstarter for an Illuminati video game. I signed up for the basic tier – I wanted to support the game, but I didn’t like their business model as I didn’t want to buy all my cards again. (We’ll see…)

Illuminati – the computer game

In early 2023, the Illuminati computer game was released on Steam – and I’m enjoying it. It’s still being developed, so it’s rough around the edges. Gameplay combines classic Illuminati and INWO, with some plot cards and INWO’s colourful design (much of it updated). Over time, more of INWO is planned to be incorporated – but not too much, I hope. (Some things aren’t worth including.)

I’ve played several two-player games against the AI. I now win regularly. I have yet to play a game against a human opponent.

Gameplay

The Illuminati computer game is a cross between Illuminati and INWO. You have your own deck of plots and groups (as per INWO), but there’s also an uncontrolled area (as per Illuminati). There’s no deckbuilding (yet?), so everything is random, much like Illuminati.

There are no automatic takeovers, apart from one at the start of the game, so you are making attacks to control almost every turn. The plots are a cut-down sample from INWO: Mostly +10s, power boosters, reloads and alignment changers.

Illuminati computer game

The other big change is the power structure, which is laid out as a pyramid with your Illuminati at the top. All groups are played the right way up – this change works for the computer version.

The good

Things I like:

  • The new groups and art are great. As ever, the groups are biased towards the USA, but that’s inevitable. The random decks and uncontrolled area are a lot of fun, and you see lots of groups that would never see play in INWO.
  • Only one automatic takeover – at the start of the game. This took me a moment to figure out, as I had expected INWO’s auto-takeover every turn. But I think I prefer this way of playing – there are more attacks, and the game is more interactive as a result. (INWO often resulted in players playing defensively.)
  • Attacks fail on a 12. This is a huge change – in INWO, attacks failed on an 11 or 12. As attacks were relatively rare (you could grow your power base with your automatic takeovers), this made luck a huge factor. An unlucky roll could lose the game for you. Reducing the chance of failure from 1 in 12 to 1 in 36 is a big deal – I like it.
  • I like the new pyramid structure, with all the groups facing up. (However, I am confused by the underlying logic. The computer tells you where is free in your power structure, but it’s not always clear why those slots are free.)
  • Reloads are simpler – restore an action to a group of a specific alignment that doesn’t have one. There’s no discarding or action token requirement, unlike INWO. I prefer this simpler, cleaner approach.
  • Similarly, the power boosters are simpler. Instead of increasing power to 6 (as INWO), they increase it by +3.
  • The in-game tutorial is good. I muddled through a couple of games without it, but I wished I’d started with the tutorial.
  • I like the combination of a neutral zone and a private dossier.
  • Illuminati plays quickly – it takes 15 or 20 mins to play a game against the AI. I think there would be too much hanging around with more than three.
  • I like the clarity of play. INWO could get very muddled, with every group having a unique ability and the interactions creating analysis paralysis. This is much simpler. Having said that, I’d like to see some of INWO’s craziness, but probably not all of it. (More on that below.)

The not so good

Illuminati isn’t perfect, however. It’s an early release, and updates are released all the time. So this list is likely to be out of date fairly quickly.

  • The graphical display isn’t great. Once you have lots of groups, you must pan around to see your power structure. 
  • The interface isn’t great, and it’s not always clear where to click. Once you get used to it, it’s fine. But initially, it’s awkward and doesn’t give a good first impression.
  • Documentation is non-existent. It would be nice to read how Secrecy and Immunity work (are they the same as the original?).
  • Where groups can be placed is confusing. It’s not a big issue (as the game highlights all available slots), but I can’t figure out the underlying logic. For example, even when your Illuminati’s control arrows are all used up, you can still use it to attack to control (with the group going elsewhere in the power structure). I like this, but it's not how I remember INWO.

Going forward

While the game plays well at the moment, adding complexity from INWO may make things worse:

Cancellers: Cancelling was a real pain in INWO. Cancelling slowed everything down – not just because cancelling an action stopped it, but also because you needed to factor in the likelihood of your opponents cancelling your actions in your planning. And that added to the analysis paralysis.

Do we really want to have to click “Do you want to cancel?” for every action?

For me, I wouldn’t include any cancellers. Instead, I’d change the Nuclear Power Companies’ ability to remove a group’s action. Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know could do the same. Hoax could remove an already-played power/alignment changer.

New World Orders in combat: Playing an NWO in combat was always frustrating as everything needed adding up again. It’s much simpler with the computer doing all the adding up, but I suspect it would be better if NWOs had to be played outside of an attack.

At any time: In INWO, many cards can be played during your opponent’s turns. This included power boosters and alignment changers, which can be played only on your own turn in the computer version. I think I prefer this limitation – the complexity of playing cards during opponents’ turns may slow the game down significantly. So I hope those cards will be minimised.

Things I’m looking forward to:

  • Some funky group abilities that aren’t just attack bonuses. (Brazil, Fraternal Orders, IRS, NPCs (but see above), Pentagon, Phone Phreaks, and so on.)
  • Resources, instant attacks, NWOs and other elements from INWO.
  • Deckbuilding. As much as I like the random decks, I’m looking forward to deckbuilding.
  • More AI Illuminati – the AI plays the Network at the moment.
  • Stuff that only a computer can do – there’s talk of a campaign game where you start in the 1980s and continue through to the 1990s and 2020s. That sounds fun.

Would I recommend?

So would I recommend the Illuminati computer game? Well, I’m very happy playing it and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops further. If you’re a fan of INWO or Illuminati, I think you’d be happy. But I’m not sure I’d pick it up if I weren’t into either of them. Not yet, at least.


Monday, 23 January 2023

Other London: Desk 17 published!

So I’ve published Other London: Desk 17 on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io.


Other London: Desk 17
(DriveThruRPG or Itch.io) is a modern-day urban horror setting that uses Fate Accelerated Edition. The players play members of Desk 17, London’s supernatural police team. The 72-page pdf includes character creation, pre-generated characters, factions, folk, and a short investigation.

Other London: The Fallen (DriveThruRPG or Itch.io) is a free investigation for Desk 17.

How’s it doing?

Amazingly well, all things considered.

I put the core book up onto DriveThruRPG, didn’t announce it, and came back a few days later to discover I’d sold a small number of copies. It may be a small number, but given that I expected it would disappear into the ether, I’m thrilled.

I've sold one copy on Itch.io, which is better than expected.

Why isn’t it a book?

I’d love Other London: Desk 17 to be a book I can hold in my hand. But doing that through DriveThruRPG means mastering Indesign or Affinity.

I have Affinity Publisher, but I’m finding layout a challenge. Partly that’s because it’s not something I particularly enjoy, but mostly because my laptop doesn’t seem to have enough horses for Publisher, and it regularly hangs.

Maybe it’s not horses; perhaps it’s a conflict. But either way, it’s making laying out work much harder than I want.

But I’ll get there eventually.

What comes next?

Next, I’m getting Murder of a Templar finished. That’s the next investigation (and my favourite). The text is finished, but I need to sort some art. With a following wind, I’ll get it done by the end of February.

I have also realised I could do with a Desk 17 worksheet, for answering the session zero questions about Desk 17. So I’ll sort that out as well.

After that, I will start on The Orphan Room, which is currently a pile of notes. I haven’t run it yet, so it’ll be a while before it’s in a state to be published.


Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Kingdom

Kingdom is a GM-less roleplaying game about communities by Ben Robbins, author of similar storygames such as Microscope and Follow. Microscope is one of my favourite games of all time (and the only game I couldn’t wait to play having only read the rulebook). I’ve played Follow a couple of times; it was okay but didn’t quite work for me.

Although I’ve had Kingdom for a while, I only got it to the table in early 2023. So here are my thoughts.

A “Kingdom” is the game term for the community or organisation that is the focus of play. Any community works – a school, a company, a club, a nation. Players play characters who are part of the kingdom which will face difficult decisions (crossroads) and eventually a crisis.

I played a three-player game over Discord, using Trello as our tabletop. We played two sessions and completed a crossroad and crisis.


Physically, Kingdom is a 6x9, 99-page black and white book with a colour cover. There’s minimal art – the cover and a couple of diagrams. I only have the second edition pdf, but it has a classy, elegant feel.

Making a kingdom

To create a kingdom:

Create a kingdom: We batted around a few ideas before deciding our kingdom would be The Egregious Society of the Silver Fork, a Victorian occult society.

Create three threats: Our threats were: Someone wanting to take over the order and remake it, a change in the law banning occult societies, and a collapse in relations with the museum that supplies our trinkets.

Although we agreed on these, I wasn’t sure how this would work out. I need not have worried.

Create locations: Each player creates two locations where characters are likely to be found. Our locations were Tavistock Hall, White’s Club in London, Petrie Museum of Egyptology, Madam Zara’s seance parlour, The Royal Society, and Stonehenge.

People: Brainstorm the kind of people who would be part of the kingdom. We brainstormed artists (painters, sculptors), theatre people, a wealthy but idle lord, an actual occultist who thinks he has powers, a down-at-heel European madam (fleeing revolution), a fortune teller, butlers, the deputy Prime Minister, society officials (chairman, treasurer, secretary), minor royals, a charismatic demagogue (with secret occult knowledge), and antique dealers. Plenty there to get us going.

(And if you don’t want to create your own, Kingdom has a dozen or so example kingdoms to get you started. But I wanted the whole experience, so we started from scratch.)

Make your characters

Creating characters introduces the trickiest concept in Kingdom – their role.

Your role: Before you decide who you are, you decide on your role. The three roles are:

  • Power: You have authority over the kingdom. You decide what the kingdom does and what it doesn’t do.
  • Perspective: You understand the kingdom, both its merits and flaws. You can foresee the consequences of the decisions the kingdom makes.
  • Touchstone: You reflect the desires of the people of the kingdom. Your attitudes show us what the populace wants and how they react to what is happening.

While you don’t need all three roles at the start, the three of us each took a different role. I chose Power. (If you’re playing Kingdom for the first time, I recommend ensuring all the roles are taken – not having a role makes some later sections fiddlier.)

Who are you: While it seems odd that you choose your role before selecting a character, it makes sense because the role you choose influences your character. You take a character from the list of roles you have brainstormed.

So as I had chosen Power, I decided my character would be one of the society officials and created society chairman Reginald Winchester.

(Our Perspective was a seer, our Touchstone, an aspiring actor/playwright.)

Your locations: Now pick two places (from the locations listed earlier) your character may be found – and why they may be found there. I selected White's Club (where Reginald feels at home) and Tavistock Hall (because Reginald likes hobnobbing with the Tavistocks).

Your bonds: Now you choose a bond with the character to your left – what you need from them and what makes it difficult. You agree this with the other player to create something interesting. So Reginald wants Gwynn (the aspiring actor/playwright) to introduce me to his family, but he won't - he goes into a rant every time I mention them.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it feels like it’s straight out of Hillfolk. I don’t know if that’s the case, but Hillfolk was published/Kickstarted a year before the first edition of Kingdom, so maybe.

A minor character: Finally, you create a minor character to help flesh out your kingdom. Again, you take someone from the list brainstormed earlier. I created Madam Zara, a sixty-something, pipe-smoking, Soho-based "fortune teller".

So that’s our kingdom created and populated. What happens next?

Playing Kingdom

Kingdom is played with scenes, but before we can get to a scene, we need to set up the crossroad, an important decision the kingdom must make.

Our Kingdom Trello board

Our first crossroad was: Will the society repair its relationship with the Petrie Museum? We decided that the Petrie Museum, our reliable supplier of occult artefacts, had started supplying a rival society. At the same time, a new dig had opened in Egypt, providing many new finds. How would this play out?

Play a scene: Then you take turns playing scenes. When it’s your turn, you must include your main character, and you decide who else is involved. They can be anyone – main, minor, or new characters invented for that scene.

Playing a scene is the roleplaying bit of Kingdom. It’s nice playing not only your main character but other characters as well.

In our game, one scene involved meeting Ernie, the supervisor of the warehouse where the finds from Egypt were being unloaded and catalogued. We were trying to discover if Ernie would be a suitable alternative supplier of occult artefacts.

You draw the scene to a close as soon as you’ve learned something new or seen a character make a choice. (The guidance in Kingdom isn’t super-clear here, but it was surprisingly intuitive when to end scenes in play. In essence, end a scene when it seems obvious to do so – and err on the side of ending it early.)

One of the things you can do during a scene is to use your role – provided you are playing your main character. So Power can make a decision, Perspective can make a prediction on the outcome of the crossroad, and Touchstone can say how everyone is feeling about it.

Check a box: Once you’ve played the scene, you check either a crossroads box or a crises box.

Reactions: After a scene concludes, and whether you were part of it or not, you get to react to it as your main character. (This is another opportunity to use your role.)

Resolve a crossroad or crisis: If the crossroad or crisis tracks are filled, you must resolve them. Resolution means Power makes the decision, Perspective tells us what happens, and Touchstone tells us what the people think.

In our game, we didn’t repair our relationship and instead bought our artefacts from Ernie at the warehouse. One consequence of this, however, was that the artefacts were much more expensive, and members weren’t happy with subscriptions being put up.

As we hadn’t completed the crisis track, we didn’t resolve the crisis.

That was the end of our first session. It took us about 2.5 hours to set up our kingdom and play through our first crossroad.

Our second crossroad: Our second crossroad, which we developed during our second session, built off the previous one. Now that we had an alternative supply of artefacts being smuggled in, we were approached by bloodthirst gangster Peregrine Cray who wanted to use our smuggling operation. In return, the society’s financial difficulties would be solved.

As we played through the scenes, we ended up with a crisis – would our alliance with Peregrine Cray destroy our kingdom? This is decided by a vote, and while it wasn’t unanimous, the society survived. It’s damaged and bruised, but it survives.

Kingdom: the good

It just worked: Kingdom worked much better than I had expected. I wasn’t sure how the game would work as I wasn’t sure if our crossroad was meaty enough, but it proved to have plenty of depth to it and we created lots of interesting scenes.

Kingdom played better than our first game of Follow or Fiasco – but maybe that’s our experience with GM-less games.

Easy to learn: Kingdom was easy to learn. I simply read from the pdf as we developed our kingdom.

Many example kingdoms: Kingdom provides a load of example kingdoms, with suggestions for conflicts, people, locations and crossroads. We didn’t use them because I wanted to create our own kingdom – but they exemplify the range of games you can play.

Two-player rules included: We had three players, so we didn’t need the two-player rules. But I’m interested in trying them at some point.

And the not-so-good

Bonds: The bonds didn’t come out in play much. While I touched on mine (with Gwynn) once or twice (and not at all in the second session), most of the time we focussed on resolving the crossroad. That’s an improvement on Follow, where I don’t think we touched on bonds at all.

I’m sure we could lean into the bonds more, but they feel a bit of an add-on. (They mean more in Hillfolk, where they are at the centre of play.)

It’s something to pay attention to, perhaps.

Resolving conflict: Kingdom has slightly fiddly rules about resolving conflict (Fight-or-Fix), which we didn’t use. I don’t know if we have a more cooperative style of play than others, but we didn’t use them. (Similarly, we didn’t need the Changing your Role rules, as everyone was happy with the role they had chosen.)

Overall

Overall I enjoyed my first game of Kingdom, and I’m looking forward to playing it again. From the one game I’ve played, it’s better than Follow but not as good as Microscope.


Monday, 9 January 2023

Society of statue people

Other London is filled with different factions, and part of my enjoyment when running Other London is seeing how the players navigate through those factions. (Desk 17 is, itself, a faction.)

As part of session zero game creation, I ask the players to come up with new factions which can be allies of Desk 17. The last time I ran the game, the players invented the society of statue people, filled with ex-Desk 17 burnt-out operatives and protecting London’s leylines.

I’ve taken that and expanded it into a full Other London faction.

The Worshipful Company of Statue Artists

Concept: Watchful street artists posing as statues

Trouble: Someone, or something, is picking off our members

Goal: Protect London’s ley lines

You can find them whenever the tourists are out: statue people. Motionless, watching. Just simple entertainment. That’s what they want you to think…

Among the run-of-the-mill, everyday statue people are those who belong to the Worshipful Company of Statue Artists. The Company (as its members call it) guards London’s ley lines and prevents magical havoc.

Karen, as a statue

Karen Carpenter: Statue artist and burnt-out D17 operative, I’ve seen too much, “No, not that Karen Carpenter.”

Skilled (+2) at: Observing, ley-line knowledge, Desk 17 processes and procedures

Bad (-2) at: Trusting anyone

Stress: O

Karen used to work for Desk 17, but found the pressure too much and quit. Nathan Pearce found her a position with the Worshipful Company of Statue Artists. She can now often be seen in Trafalgar Square as Queen Victoria, protecting the ley lines and observing the tourists.

Information, rumours and lies

  • Old Desk 17 artists often become statue artists.
  • Statue artists never appear alone – if you see one, another will be nearby. Somewhere. Watching.
  • Not all statue people are members of the Worshipful Company of Statue Artists.

Questions

  • Why are statue artists never alone?
  • Can statue artists tap into the ley lines they guard?
  • What are statue artists guarding the ley lines against?
  • Why do statue artists guard the ley lines only in tourist areas?

Enemies: King of the Tangled Wood

Allies: Desk 17, the rat king, Tuberunners

Location: Statue artists can be found at popular tourist spots. The Company’s headquarters are on a narrowboat, the Temptation, usually berthed at Camden Locks.


Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Other London: Desk 17 - status report

 I’m heading rapidly towards the finishing line for my Other London: Desk 17 RPG. 

Other London: Desk 17 is a modern urban horror RPG, where the PCs work for Desk 17, an obscure part of London’s Met that investigates magical crimes. So yes, it’s a bit Liminal and a bit Rivers of London, but also neither of those.


Assuming all goes to plan, the book will be 6x9 and around 80 pages long. There will be a bit of background, details on character creation, some pregens, lots of factions and NPCs, and a short investigation. Further adventures will follow. I’m using Fate Accelerated, which simplifies the system side.

I’m deep in layout at the moment. I have Affinity, but I’m struggling to use it on my laptop (it keeps crashing – I don’t know if that’s a conflict or if I have insufficient memory). So for the time being I’ve reverted to laying out the book in MS Word. That means I can’t upload it to DriveThruRPG, but I should be able to use Lulu. Either way, the pdf will come first – with luck by the end of the month.

NPC portraits

Artwork has been a challenge. Other London has been a labour of love. I’m not expecting much of a return, which rules out paying for artwork. But I like having artwork for NPCs, and Other London has a lot of NPCs.

So I’ve embraced AI art – in particular, Artflow.ai. Artflow lets me create portraits for everyone. They’re not perfect and can look samey, but I rationalised that by thinking that every artist has their own style – this is just artflow’s. 


One thing I like about artflow’s portrait creator is that you can tweak the results – turn the head, age them, and change their expression. The results can be a bit odd sometimes, but I’ve quickly been able to create portraits for all the major NPCs.

Other artwork

For other artwork, I’ve taken free-to-use images from Pexels and massaged them a little in paint.net.

Pregens

However, I have a dilemma for the pregens. I’ve created five pre-generated characters – they’re the ones I use at conventions when I run a Desk 17 one-shot. I’ve created them so they’re customisable – much like a PbtA playbook. So each character has options for their aspects, and they can choose different NPCs as their contacts.

And I want the players to choose their gender. But that means I can’t give them character portraits.

Current pregen design (character sheet design isn't my strong suit!)

I’m aware, however, that they would look better with portraits. But they wouldn’t be so useful at the table.

So I’m torn. I need to decide before too long.


Friday, 23 December 2022

Games in 2022

So it’s time to look back at 2022 in terms of gaming. I normally leave these posts until January (or very late December), because the year hasn’t finished – but my regular RPG groups have all now finished until January (both games hit a sensible finishing spot). So I’m fairly safe that nothing will change much between now and the end of the year (I will probably play more boardgames).

Freeform Games

Freeform Games had a good year. We haven’t fully recovered from the pandemic, but sales levels are almost back to what they were. I will write more on the Freeform Games blog, in January.

Freeforms

I played or ran 14 freeforms in 2022, which is probably a record for me. This was boosted by attending Retcon in November – a convention I don’t normally attend.

Favourite to run: I think All Flesh is Grass, the second of my first contact games, was my favourite freeform to run. I felt it went better than the first (The Roswell Incident) and the third (Children of the Stars) was unfortunately beset by technical difficulties.

Favourite to play: Smoke and Mirrors, which I played at Peaky, was a delight and my favourite freeform as a player in 2022.

Plans for 2023: Run Messages from Callisto, the next first contact game, and plan the ones after that. I also hope to run The Roswell Incident and All Flesh is Grass at Retcon B in February. This will be the first time I’ve run any of them face-to-face. And attend Peaky, of course.

I also hope to publish in 2023 my book on writing a freeform larp. I’ve been pulling my notes together and laying it out this year, I’m nearly ready to let others see it for comment. I’ll publish it in book form in Lulu (and probably put it on my itch.io page).

Tabletop RPGs


My 2022 top games in terms of numbers were Fate of Cthulhu (16 sessions as GM), Troubleshooters (8 sessions as a player), ALIEN (7 sessions as GM) and Fate Accelerated (7 sessions as GM).

Favourite to run: My favourite games to run were Murder of a Templar (a Desk 17 investigation using Fate Accelerated) and Perfect Organism (my cinematic one-shot for ALIEN), equally. (And very differently.)

Favourite to play: Without a doubt, my favourite game to play was Jon’s Cthulhu Deep Green investigation set in London. We only played a couple of sessions, but they were a delight.

Plans for 2023: I want to get Kingdom and Hillfolk to the table. And if I manage that, maybe even Good Society and a bit of Traveller. I also want to develop an investigation for the Department of Irregular Services – ideally for Liminal, although the current investigation I’m working on (based on MR James’ Count Magnus) feels like Cthulhu Dark would be more appropriate.

With a bit of luck, I’ll also publish Other London: Desk 17, an urban horror setting using Fate Accelerated. (Murder of a Templar will be an adventure.)

Boardgames

The year isn’t over for boardgames yet, but so far I’ve played more games of Wingspan than any other game – mainly because it has a good solo option. Sadly, my family don’t enjoy it as much as I do.

The only new game for my collection was Everdell, which turned up for my birthday. Only a few plays so far – but we’re enjoying it.

Other games

And as usual, I played the usual assortment of video games: too much World of Tanks Blitz, plenty of Star Realms and Race for the Galaxy.

A good year

2022 might have been rubbish in many ways, but in terms of games played, it was great.


Monday, 19 December 2022

Fate of Cthulhu #4: And that’s a wrap

I finally finished my Fate of Cthulhu mini-campaign. Although we started well (see here, here and here), I was pretty fed up with it by the time we finished and was looking forward to doing something else.


Overall, we played 16 sessions of Fate of Cthulhu. The players succeeded in all the missions, and while Great Cthulhu’s rise wasn’t exactly thwarted, it wasn’t as catastrophic as in the original timeline. On average, each mission took four sessions.

I had some thoughts about Fate of Cthulhu in my earlier post. In essence:

Core concept: Good (travel back in time to foil Great Cthulhu), but too much murder hobo-ing for my group.

Missions: Fine. Not too detailed, so improvising is easy.

The system: I’m not a fan of Fate Condensed and much prefer Fate Accelerated.

And now I’ve finished, I have more thoughts.

Time travel rules!

The rules around time travel didn’t work for me. The idea is that as the PCs complete the missions, the timeline changes. This is represented by giving pluses and minuses to the missions they have yet to finish. But this is treated abstractly in the rules – and I didn’t find it clear what they actually meant.

For me, it would have been better to say that if you complete the mission successfully, you’ve changed time. If I were to run it again, I wouldn’t worry about all the admin involved in checking resistance boxes and what-have-you. Just do the missions – they’re fun as they are.

Missions

I gave the players complete freedom to tackle the missions in whatever order they chose, but in the end, they completed them in the order they were presented in the book. Destroying the skyscraper in New Zealand presented more challenges than usual – simply due to the scale of the problem.

However, given the nature of the game is that time is changing, there is no advice for how things might change depending on how the players are doing. In theory, having successfully completed a mission, something should have changed. But Fate of Cthulhu gives you no options – and it’s as easy to use the text as presented.

(There is one exception to this. In the last mission, The Great Serpent’s Lament, things are radically different to what the players expect. This worked for us, as it was our last mission – but it wouldn’t have made any sense had the players chosen this as their first mission.)

If I were me, I would provide options for each mission the GM can use to show how the PCs’ actions are changing the timeline.

The great anti-climax

And then there’s the end – I found that Fate of Cthulhu fizzled out. The PCs finished the final mission, but it wasn’t clear to them that they had completed it. The other missions were clear, but because the timeline had changed so drastically in this one, it wasn’t obvious to the players when the endpoint had been reached.

The final mission is followed by a scene where Great Cthulhu rises – but it was a big anticlimax.

Cthulhu Rising by artflow.ai

In conclusion

Overall we had a good time, but that was largely despite the system rather than because of it. Were I to rerun it, I would use Fate Accelerated rather than Fate Condensed, throw out the time travel rules, and think beforehand about how the timeline could change. Oh, and I’d choose one mission to be the climax and instruct the PCs that they must do that one last.

But I’m unlikely to run it again.