Cthulhu and World War 2 collide in Modiphius Entertainment’s Achtung! Cthulhu
“If you’re going through hell, keep going. If you’re going through R’lyeh, well, I think you’re pretty screwed.” - Winston Churchill (modified)
Modiphius Entertainment’s Achtung! Cthulhu series is what happens when the cast of Band of Brothers comes face-to-face with Nyarlathotep. The books make up a tabletop roleplaying campaign that places players into the combat boots of Allied Forces as they fight off deep ones, shoggoths, and other creatures from the Cthulhu mythos. It’s compatible with Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, and PDQ Core Rules. It is also compatible with the feeling of playing something awesome and unique.
Achtung! Cthulhu‘s first series of adventures, dubbed “Zero Point,” is written by Sarah Newton, while the overall series is directed by Chris Birch. Birch and Newton spoke with the Penny Arcade Report to share some insight into the adventures of the Allied Forces as they fight through one war to stop an even greater one.
Birch’s path to tabletop RPG publishing takes an interesting detour: his marketing and business experience come from working in video game fashion. Birch has been the creative director of Joystick Junkies, a UK-based clothing shop full of video game-inspired clothing designs, for the past 12 years. “ I set out to create a label that would appeal to non-gamers as much as gamers and we’re proud of the fact that we got some of the hottest stores in the UK to carry it by running it as a fashion label first, and a gaming brand second,” Birch said.
His close work with artists also helped Birch develop a critical eye to Achtung! Cthulhu. Birch said the whole idea comes from a basic principle of fashion: blend trends and look for the commercial angle. Birch has been a World War 2 history buff and Lovecraft fan for a long time. Achtung! Cthulhu simply brings them together, and Birch’s marketing know-how means he can make the books appealing. It’s a blend of passion and business you don’t see often.
“I never see this job as over. If you ever think you’ve spoken to enough fans, e-mailed enough press, done enough blog interviews, then you’ve only just started,” Birch told the Penny Arcade Report. “Managing creative people is always a challenge, but when you’re on the same wavelength talking mile-long star ships, ancient Cthulhu monsters, cool new rules and epic adventures till the wee hours, what’s not to love?”
Under the sea
Achtung! Cthulhu‘s newest entry in the “Zero Point” adventures is “Heroes of the Sea.” In it, players take on the role of British Secret Intelligence Service operatives, on the hunt for one of their own who has gone silent in the wake of the Third Reich’s blitzkrieg. The agent, codename WOTAN, did manage to inform her superiors of one secret German mission designated “Fall Nadel,” or “Operation Needle.”
The fictitious adventure takes place during the real Battle of Dunkirk, and though the game bends history to suit play, this feels like a tabletop version of Assassin’s Creed with Lovecraftian horrors standing in for Templars. Newton told the Penny Arcade Report that the concept is almost too big for its own good.
“If you’re not careful, it starts to look like a very fragmented concept. It’s important to avoid that, to keep all the disparate elements feeling like they belong together, and that, if you view them just right, could actually be true,” she said. “it’s important that everything make logical and pseudo-scientific sense. So I’ve avoided obviously illogical magic, or things that would require historical characters so act and behave differently.”
This isn’t the first time an entertainment product has blended mythology and reality. Guillermo del Toro’s take on Hellboy blended Lovecraft with WWII, for example. Where Achtung! Cthulhu sets itself apart from other such products is the attention to detail and honor that goes into each issue of an adventure series. Newton said it’s fortunate the issues come quarterly; she doesn’t think she could incorporate her research and produce a finished product any faster. There are too many considerations to take into account.
“I’ve consciously avoided anything that might take the blame away from the very human evil that was unleashed in the second World War. It’d be all too easy to blame things like the Final Solution on Nyarlathotep or the Great Old Ones, but that would be a desperate cheapening of a truly horrifying event,” she said. “Any ideas like that automatically end up on the cutting room floor - in Achtung! Cthulhu, the hideous Cthulhoid monstrosities and their deranged cultists are taking advantage of the chaos of the war to wreak further evil - but they aren’t responsible for it themselves.”
The History Channel presents: Cthulhu
“Heroes of the Sea” is full of flavor text and visual aids to help players settle in. Maps are drawn in a tactical style, the overall look and feel is that of a book printed in the ‘40s, and small details like intercepted German transmissions that can be printed and handed out to players give off the serious vibe Achtung! Cthulhu gives off. Players won’t interact with major players of the war, but those historical figures’ actions still effect the story.
“To be honest, the research is fascinating, mind-blowing, and exhausting. World War Two is an event which attracts the most minute expert study all over the world, so you have to make sure you’ve done your homework before putting pen to paper. Most of the work behind the scenes is reading and research,” Newton said.
While history is a draw for some people, Birch and Newton seem to realize that can’t be all there is. The game has to be fun. Newton said it can be overwhelming. “You want to include every cool fact or event you come across - but you have to whittle them down to just what’s dramatic and going to be exciting at the table.”
Birch thinks the setting speaks largely for itself. “There’s been a huge growth in Cthulhu attention over the last couple of years, with many high profile movies, comics, video games, boardgames, RPGs, merchandise, and people being inspired by the world of Lovecraft,” he told me. “There had been lots of Weird Wars-style cross-overs but oddly enough no one had decided to drop Cthulhu in the mix.”
“World War 2 with tentacles? Now you’re talking.”
You can buy a PDF version of Achtung! Cthulhu “Heroes of the Sea” now. Once the series is finished, each entry will be compiled to form one printed book.