The secrets of the Secret War - a Mephisto review
Achtung! Cthulhu Gamemaster's Guide
The Achtung! Cthulhu Gamemaster's Guide represents the second half of the rulebook for the Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 Edition. It focuses on gamemaster topics and thus on the mythos background and the opponents of the player characters. Thus, the various power groups – Section M, Majestic, Black Sun, Nachtwölfe, Deep Ones, and Mi-Go – are presented in detail, whereas in the Player's Guide, there were only a few snippets of text about these power groups. The descriptions are not only very detailed and give a good impression, but also the story arc throughout the war, and thus the complete metaplot is outlined. Not only are existing adventures referenced, but upcoming events are also touched upon so that the game already presents its larger plot as an overview in this basic rulebook. The entanglements of the power groups, their secrets, development, and connections provide a lot of potential for exciting stories. After all, this background chapter already makes up the book's first quarter.
The second chapter is about the secret weapons used in the Secret War. Here, the developments of Section M and Majestic are found side by side with the occult artifacts of the Black Sun, the Atlantean technology of the Nachtwölfe, and the bizarre devices of Deep Ones and Mi-Go. Even though the primary focus lies on weapons – from swords cane to the Pufferfish grenade to the sniper rifle – one can find other practical items. But, of course, most items are difficult at best for the player characters to acquire – and much of it comes from the arsenal of their enemies.
The next chapter explains the subject of magic. While the magical traditions of the Allies are touched upon once again, the focus here is on Mythos magic, which is organized according to three Great Old Ones – Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth. Then, again, there is the division into combat spells, which are quick to cast and are indeed primarily geared toward combat, and rituals, which allow for broader applications but are also significantly more difficult. Inevitably, the usual Mythos books are also showcased, which can serve as a source for combat spells and rituals.
The game master chapter addresses not only beginners because here, in addition to the basic concepts of game management, the game mechanics of Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 and their possibilities are demonstrated. There are tips on how to design a scene, as well as a summary of the most important rules and ideas and examples of rule concepts like Truths or the use of Threat.
A little less than the second half of the book is devoted to the heroes, villains, and monsters of the Secret War. Here, you will find typical character profiles for soldiers of different units and key characters' backgrounds and game stats, from Badger and Ariane Dubois to Exarch Reinhardt Weissler and Mina Wolff. Thereafter, the book dives into a number of Mythos creatures. While Deep Ones and Mi-Go are presented in particular detail, the usual suspects like Ghouls, Serpent People or Sheehad are not missing. In the end, some of the Great Old Ones, Elder Gods, and Outer Gods are presented. Their statistics are not missing either – some of which are less impressive than one would expect, as the game system simply has hard limits regarding statistics. The question whether you really need game stats for the Great Old Ones is about as old as the different Cthulhu roleplaying games.
Like the Player's Guide, the Gamemaster's Guide offers a very well-done rulebook that provides the gamemaster with everything about the Mythos that is deliberately withheld from players in the Player's Guide. Particularly, the presentation of the power groups, their history, and also their development within the scenario is convincingly presented. Equipment and spells are coherent, and the chapter on gameplay provides good, concrete tips that are not only aimed at beginners. Whether you require the sheer amount of character profiles of various allies and enemies is something everyone must decide for themselves. However, the various Mythos creatures and gods provide a valuable cross-section, even outside the primary opponents in Secret War.
It is also noticeable in this book that Achtung! Cthulhu has ramped up the pulp factor and toned down the horror to make up for it. Here the heroes are better equipped to withstand the horrors of the Mythos. Contact with its creatures and magic spreads less madness and corruption. Compared to the previous editions, the real World War II takes a bit of a back seat, and with its archetypal characters, the game shows itself more as a pulp story or action movie. Thus, the officers of Section M showcase bravery and integrity; the scientists are somewhat cerebral and unworldly, while their opponents are either brutally repulsive occultists or sexy, cold-blooded schemers.
From my point of view, this new direction fits perfectly with Achtung! Cthulhu. On the one hand, the game distances itself somewhat from World War II and thus does not trivialize the actual horrors but provides a background against which fictional pulp heroes and villains can engage in action-packed confrontations with the Cthulhu mythos.