The Game: Cthulhutech
The Publisher: Wildfire, originally through Mongoose Publishing then Catalyst Game Studios
Degree of Familiarity: Devoured the corebook on the bus. I only bought it a week ago!
Books Required: Just the corebook, but I wish I had a supplement to have the full list of core character options.
Cthulhutech has a nice, easy pitch: Giant robots beat up Cthulhu. Fuck yeah! Where's my electric guitar?
Okay. What's actually going on: Humans discovered a way to use Lovecraftian magic in technology. The masters of using Lovecraftian magic in technology, the Mi-Go0, think "Hang on a minute, those test subjects might actually start posing a danger", so send an invasion force to Earth. Originally the force is slightly altered cloned humans called Nazzadi—effectively, the setting's Drow. They attack in mecha, humanity responds with mecha because the engines make mecha easier to control1. Humanity wins when the
The general tenor of the world is a cyberpunk warzone overseen by the New Earth Government. Conspiracies are rife—the Chrysalis Corporation are pretty much puppets of the Children of Chaos. This is bad because the Children of Chaos a) are a cult of Nyarlathotep who know that their God-King walks among them, and b) can create Dhohanoids, alien beasts that can wear human skin for a while. The Esoteric Order of Dagon encroaches on the coasts of the world, seeking to convert humanity into Deep One hybrids—by force, and using their own mecha if necessary. The Rapine Storm destroys in the name of Hastur, while Death's Shadow corrupt the world in Hastur's honor.
It's not all bad. The NEG has all manner of big stompy robots. The Ashcroft Foundation (the magitech monopolists) have also made Engels, mecha-scale sanity shattering beasts mostly encased in layers of armour with guns strapped on. Solders and occultists protect people from the depradations of Hastur's cultists and the Esoteric Order both. And the Eldritch Society knows all about the Children of Chaos and their pet monsters. They've come up with a way to make Tagers—normal people who can sense Dhohanoids and have an alien symbiote for when they want to NOM UR FACE or engage in a little tentacular action.
Yeah. The setting's got plenty going on. The system's robust and fun, being halfway between a standard dice-pool game and poker: either pick the highest die, total up a set of the same number, or total up a straight of at least three consecutive numbers. A few things in there strike me as being in for completeness' sake, and the Xp rules are needlessly complex, but that doesn't detract from the fact that Cthulhutech is even better than it's fag-packet pitch.
It's not all gold, of course. Some of the writing, especially the boxed text addressing pronoun use in RPGs, goes over the line into "Other games do it wrong!" style rants. Boxed text can have one of at least three different backgrounds even on the same page, though it doesn't actually make any difference (compared to other games that use different styles of boxouts for different types of information, this just looks messy). The corebook feels incomplete: the ParaPsychic Advantage exists without any mechanics to back it up, and the book explicitly states "There's more Tagers and Engels and mecha in our first supplement!" I don't like that attitude, because that way lies Deadlands style supplement insanity. Either make a core book that's actually core, or divide it into two cores—personally, I'd have made the divide into Vitality and Integrity (human-scale rules in one book, mechs the other). The book doesn't significantly deliniate that it's basically dealing with three scales: Humans, Tagers/Dhohanoids, and Mecha, which confused the fuck out of me. And finally, the attitudes displayed in the game's forums and on the website can get really fucking grating when they talk about how great their proprietary system and setting are. I don't want a proprietary RPG, because that leads down a nice lane to the land of overarching metaplots and badly-integrated systems.
Anyway. As mentioned, the game doesn't distinguish between the three levels. People are balanced for fighting people, Tagers are balanced for fighting Dhohanoids and go OM NOM NOM at people and SQUISH at any mecha, and mecha are balanced for fighting mecha and turning everything else into a fine red mist. So before making a character, having a proposed scale in mind is a very good idea. I love the concept of Tagers (think of the Guyver anime), holy warriors with a symbiont from beyond time and space that helps them infiltrate cults and kill shit. So on with making a Tager.
Step One: Concept
I know I'm playing a Tager, but who is the man joined to the monster? I'm thinking someone who wasn't born to a life of espionage. His family thought he might go into the military, maybe become a mech pilot, but he has a real problem with authority structures. While he could coast through school as the class clown, in a real disciplined environment he wouldn't survive. Instead, he got a job working for the Chrysalis Corporation, just one of a hundred people employed to fix computers and machines for the Corporation's employees.
That's when it happened. Something big had broken down in one of the desert research stations. Normally, they have their own on-site staff but they'd called in sick or something—they never really explained—and he was chosen to fill in. A week out of town, that's what they told him. Overtime pay, that's what they told him. Three days in, all the alarms went psycho. He saw the station manager, a nasty piece of work at the best of times, twist into a nightmarish mass of muscle and teeth. At that point a whole bunch of other monsters burst into the room and he ran for his life.
Sandy (for that is his name) got lucky. He made it back into town, paged in his resignation, and ran straight back to Chicago. Four weeks later, some people showed up at his apartment. They said that they were from the Eldritch Society, that they'd heard what happened. They asked him to go with him, and he didn't look back.
So. Allegiance is the Eldritch Society, Profession is Tager, we know that much. Race is going to be human, because Nazzadi don't have anything I need. Name is Daniel Sanderson, but he prefers "Sandy". Finally, Virtue and Flaw. There's no mechanical effect to either, but what the hell. I look over the list and Self-Confident stands out as a Virtue, while both Arrogant and Flippant strike me as good Flaws. I go for Arrogant.
Step Two: Attributes
Six Attributes, rated one to ten with five as average. As a Tager, I need to have Tenacity 7 as a minimum. 35 points to spread between them, plus one bonus point from being a human. I know I want a high Tenacity, so I put eight points in there. Seven points into Agility and six into Strength, because he's a physical kind of guy. He's kinda smart, so I drop six points into Intellect. He's fairly sharp, but he rubs people the wrong way because he's so full of himself. Five into Perception and four into Presence.
Being a Tager, those will change soon enough.
Step Three: Skills
Well, it says Skills but this is also the step where you get Assets and Drawbacks. They're bought out of Skill points, and there's some I need to buy, so I'll go there first.
I've got 22 Skill Points to start.
As a Tager, Sandy has a 3 point Duty and 2 points of Fanaticism, but I bump that latter to 3 points—that is, his duty to the Eldritch Society takes most of his life, and he'd happily sacrifice himself for it. Which makes sense when his first experience of the Dhohanoids was seeing his boss turn into one. That's six points of Drawbacks. His ex-boss survived the encounter and is worth two points as a Foe, I reckon. Finally, I take the Short Fuse drawback. Now he's got power, he ain't sitting back and letting the world treat him like shit. 32 points to spend.
Qualities next. I need Tager, and that's four points. I could blow another two to get the Exceptional Tager quality, making Sandy a Nightmare—the giant field-support creatures. What the hell, you only live once. Six points down, and his symbiote's a Nightmare. Checking the Quality, Sandy needs a Tenacity of 9, so I spend 3 Cheats to get it (see below for more on Cheats). A Nightmare gives boosts to stats both in monstrous form and as a human. I record a +2 Strength and a +2 Tenacity for Human, and the boosted Tager-form stats
He still retains a couple of contacts in the Chrysalis Corp, worth a point of Contacts. I leave it at that. I've got 25 skill points.
Notable other stuff: Attributes have "Attribute Feats" as linked skills, for testing the Attribute. Those start at half the Attribute, rather than 0 like all the other skills.
I know I want three points of Fighting—in both normal and shifted form, that's the primary Skill for hitting people and Sandy's trained hard in how to hurt the Dhohanoids. Likewise, three points of Marksman—the Nightmare has a powerful ranged weapon, and an even better Limit Weapon, and missing isn't a good idea. Three in Stealth—especially in his human form, he's good at keeping out of sight. Finally, three in Dodge help him avoid getting hit.
Lots of Skills will come in very handy at two points: Athletics, because he used to be a jock. He used to work in tech support, so Computers gets the points. He's picked upon some stuff in the Eldritch Society, so I take two points in Occult. As an infiltrator, two in Security are pretty much required, and two in Intimidate are a given for a Nightmare. With the remaining points, I grab one level in Bureaucracy, one of Education, and one in Streetwise.
Finally, I note four points of Language (English), two of Literacy, and two of Regional Knowledge (Chicago).
Step Four: Secondary Attributes
Maths, maths, and more maths. Actions are the average of Agility and Perception, cross-referenced to a table. I get 1 as a human or 2 when shifted. Movement is again from the average of Agility and Strength. 13mph in human, 19mph when shifted. Sandy's Orgone is automatically 0 as he's an Exceptional Tager. Reflex is the average of Agility, Intellect, and Perception. 6 as human, 8 when Shifted. Finally, Vitality is the average of Strength and Tenacity, plus 5. That'd be 14 as human, and 17 when Shifted. Wow. That's quite a bit of health. Finally, Sandy starts with 10 Drama Points.
Step 5: Outfit the Character
Shopping! The real problem here is that Tagers, though infiltration specialists, can't rely on equipment to get the job done. A sidearm is pretty obvious. I go for the CS-40 Defender, an average medium pistol. A PCPU is basically a smartphone, but in the future everyone uses them or something. Seriously, the listed features are roughly the same as my old HTC Universal. One with an earpiece and video display glasses is a good idea anyway. Two clips of ammunition and a permit for the gun round out the purchases.
Step 6: Cheats
Cheats are the "Freebie Point" analogues. I start with 6. I spent three to raise his Tenacity. Of the remaining three, I blow two on Skills, netting me four extra skill points, and one on increasing his Vitality to 15/18. The extra Skill Points go to raising Education to 2, Streetwise to 2, and buying two points of Survival.
That's pretty much it.
Name Daniel "Sandy" Sanderson
Allegiance Eldritch Society
Agility Feat 3
Intellect Feat 3
Language (English) 4
Regional Knowledge (Chicago) 2
Perception Feat 2
Presence Feat 2
Strength Feat 4
Tenacity Feat 5
Travel 13/19 mph
Sprint 32/47 yards/turn
Cautious 8/11 yards/turn
Tager: Exceptional (Nightmare) 6
Contacts (Chrysalis Corp) 2
Foe (ex-boss) 2
Short Fuse 2
CS-40 Defender (+1), range 15/30/50, shots 2, 15 rounds.
AR eyeglass monitor
PA firearm permit
2 clips ammo
1 Insanity Point
+4 to Fear Tests
Talons (+2) melee
Shoulder Pods (+3) Range 25/60/170, shots 1, infinite ammo
Tentacle Sheathe (+1) melee entangling
Mystic Blast (+6) 30/75/300, damages all targets in range, hybrid damage
Fear Factor 16
Senses: Nightvision, Scan
Microhooks (x2 climbing)
x2 jump distance
Air supply (2hr)
0: Except spelled "Migou" for some reason that's never explained.
1: Insert handwavium excuse for mecha here