Review: Chaosium, Inc. – Cthulhu Dark Ages (Basic Roleplaying)


Cthulhu Dark Ages
Cthulhu Dark Ages is an historical investigative horror role-playing game set in the Dark Ages, and powered by Basic Roleplaying, combined with elements of the Cthulhu Mythos written by Stephane Gesbert and published by Chaosium, Inc.
By Aaron T. Huss

Learn more about Cthulhu Dark Ages here
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The Cthulhu Mythos looks a lot different in an era where superstition and mythology were normal beliefs being replaced by those who claim these historical beliefs are nothing but folklore. The Dark Ages is a time of transition from the pagan-world of old to the Christian west of the Middle Ages. People were told their previous beliefs were false and they needed to follow this new religion. So how would one discern these claims from the fact their neighbor just ate their child?

In modern days, much of the Cthulhu Mythos is viewed as the supernatural or unknown. In the Dark Ages, the Cthulhu Mythos is probably viewed as some type of heresy that religious leaders want to denounce, but people are witnessing the events unfold around them. This only adds to the turmoil of the era as people transition from nomadic or rural lifestyles to ones with more civilization. It’s not that the Mythos has changed, it’s that the people are different. This is ultimately the appeal of playing Cthulhu Dark Ages versus standard Call of Cthulhu as the danger of simply being alive during the Dark Ages is much more dangerous than in a modern setting, and your ability to draw on the written word doesn’t exist. People have to witness, or experience, the Mythos and not just read about it. It is as if the horror is turned up several notches because it’s more prevalent and within the view of everyone. In other words, there is more to be afraid of during the Dark Ages than just the Cthulhu Mythos, and everything concerning the Cthulhu Mythos seems that much more dangerous.

This is but one appeal for Cthulhu role-playing during the Dark Ages.

CONTENT

Introduction presents the Cthulhu Dark Ages setting and attempts to bring current or new Call of Cthulhu players into this setting, moving from a modern perspective to one from history. It also presents a bit of what Cthulhu role-playing is meant to emulate.

The Game System presents the core mechanics powering Cthulhu Dark Ages. Although it is powered by Basic Roleplaying and uses much of what is present in Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark Ages is slightly modified to reflect the setting, especially in terms of technology and literacy.

Utilities is a historical and game-influenced historical look at the Dark Ages and what it means to play a game within this setting. This includes a look at Europe and a timeline surrounding the setting.

The Cthulhu Mythos is an extremely brief look at the very basic overview of the major players within the Cthulhu Mythos such as the Elder Gods and Great Old Ones.

The Old Grimoire is the magic mechanics within Cthulhu Dark Ages including a list of all available spells, mythos books, and occult books.

Bestiary is a standard creature list for those most common to the setting.

The Tomb is a lengthy scenario that not only introduces the players and Keeper to Cthulhu Dark Ages, it represents what’s different about the Dark Ages compared to modern times. The mythos dangers are just as bad, but there’s a lot more which the characters don’t understand that can be used to create an atmosphere of horror.

OVERALL

Cthulhu Dark Ages attempts to do more than just present another sourcebook setting to take your Call of Cthulhu games. With a different approach to character types, this core rulebook approaches Cthulhu role-playing from the ground up within the Dark Ages instead of taking your current game into the era. This is done not only through a look at the different common character types, but also through the gazetteer-styled presentation of the setting along with the minor tweaks here and there to capture that Dark Ages feel. Overall, I think the execution is perfect!

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
Cthulhu Dark Ages is a great looking book, and follows much of the same quality as all other Call of Cthulhu books. Minor editing errors can be found and I’d prefer a bit more artwork depicting the era, but overall it is a very high-quality publication. It should be noted that this core rulebook is not only an excellent presentation of Cthulhu core mechanics set in the era, it is a great read in terms of source material for establishing the atmosphere for games set within the Dark Ages.

Mechanics: 10 out of 10
Besides the standard Call of Cthulhu/Basic Roleplaying mechanics, it was an excellent approach to take to flavor the core mechanics to match that of the Dark Ages setting. For instance, there is no Library Use because there are no libraries like we would imagine. Additionally, I like the approach to the Mythos and Occult through the Dark Ages flavor as supposedly the Necronomicon is in full circulation during this time.

Desire to Play: 10 out of 10
Anyone who is a fan of Call of Cthulhu can appreciate the move to a new era with the given source material and flavored mechanics. Anyone who enjoys playing in historical settings can appreciate the presentation of the Cthulhu Mythos and Occult within this Dark Ages setting. Overall, the two are married quite nicely, thus presenting a very complete historical horror creating some wicked investigations.

Overall: 10 out of 10
This is an absolutely fantastic book and I love taking Cthulhu out of the modern age and placing it cleanly into history; especially one so ripe with Mythos knowledge thanks to the Necronomicon. Yes it’s exciting to be an investigator with a Tommy gun, attempting to mow down the Mythos; but imagine a farmer during the dangerous times of the Dark Ages coming across anything related to the Cthulhu Mythos and how completely frightening that would be. This is Cthulhu horror role-playing taken to another level!

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