Few gamers are unaware of the Lovecraftian mythos. Even if you haven’t read any of H.P. Lovecraft’s deliciously terrifying stories (Call of Cthulhu being one of the most well-known), you’ve most likely encountered My Little Cthulhu or another of his otherworldly creations in one game or another. The fear of tentacled, non-Euclidean things that go bump in the night seems to run deep in the human psyche. And, naturally, Lovecraft is an inspiration for a great many games and stories playing on the feelings evoked by Lovecraft’s prose.

But this post is not about H.P. Lovecraft’s tortured (and very racist) genius, fascinating as it may be. No, here I shall take a few bytes to discuss the excellent CthulhuTech RPG written by WildFire and published by Catalyst Game Labs (who also publish BattleTech, though the two are unrelated). Obviously, the name derives from an amalgamation of Lovecraft’s greatest monster, Cthulhu, and a sci-fi spin. The most important things to take away from the name are these: mind-bending horror, mechs, and interplanetary warfare in the future. I’ve been wanting a chance to look through this game for a few months now, so naturally I took the chance offered to me by the wonderful Ed Healy of Atomic Array. What follows are my thoughts about the CthulhuTech game and the Dark Passions supplement (the PDF version). For a review of the core book, read this at Stargazer’s World.

One caveat before I proceed further: CthulhuTech is not for the faint of heart. I said mind-bending horror and I meant it. To be clear, these books will not scar you for life but they are intended for mature audiences. Part of good roleplaying is getting in the mindset of every hero and villain, but part of a healthy mind is knowing when to stop and pull back.

So, on to the good stuff! First off, the layout of Dark Passions is nothing less than fantastic. The palette is generally pleasing to the eye, though the white-on-dark print fiction included in every CthulhuTech book can be a bit jarring. Aside from that minor detail, the book is marvelous. The artwork is fun and inspiring, not to mention evocative, and the book is generally well-organized and easy to read.

After some introductory fiction and a brief overview of the content, Dark Passions gets straight to business. The book focuses on the minor cults that feature in the future Earth. Most are associated with a larger cult of evil, but a few “benevolent cults” are included as well. The evil cults are the most easily spotted, since they tend to turn up in bloodbaths, while the benevolent cults walk in dreams and protect the citizens of the New Earth Government. The first chapters of Dark Passions cover these minor cults, relating them to the larger threats presented in the Core book (the Esoteric Order of Dagon, for example). They also include a basic primer on where the minor cults can be found, who joins them, and what their purposes are (both seen and unseen).

The minor cults range from brutal terrorists to friendly neighbors. Dark Passions does a fantastic job of presenting each in turn, describing the recruiting process, current status with the New Earth Government, and the puppeteers pulling the strings behind the stage. Later on, the book also supplies sample characters who might be found working for each cult. Each sample character includes stat blocks and brief blurb of flavor text.

The second half of the book offers more fiction, supplemental rules to spice up the minor cults, and two sample stories designed to introduce the minor cults into a CthulhuTech game. I haven’t been able to playtest the stories yet, but they appear both comprehensive and interesting. Similarly, the fiction is engaging enough to be sold on its own but it also serves the purpose of opening a window on the future Earth. Needless to say, I’m a bit freaked.

On the whole, Dark Passions is a quality product. I enjoy the way CthulhuTech weaves Lovecraftian horror and science fiction, and Dark Passions throws the spotlight on some of the more neglected aspects of the future Earth. The PDF is high quality and equally suited to providing flavor or inspiration for a game not using CthulhuTech‘s Framewerk system. My only point of contention is formatting of the fiction, really. If you play CthulhuTech, you want this book. Hell, I’d recommend Dark Passions to any gamer with a taste for horrific science fiction in a heartbeat. Cults are a major part of most roleplaying games, and I’ve rarely seen them detailed any better than this. Now go play!

Disclosure & Thanks: I received the PDFs for the existing CthulhuTech books to date in order to do my review. In no way was my review altered or edited by Catalyst Game Labs or Atomic Array, and if I didn’t think I could give the product a good review you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Thanks also to the fine folks at Atomic Array for providing the opportunity to review a fine product.

Want to learn more about CthulhuTech? Read on…