Featured Product: Cthulhu Dark Ages – How it Stacks Up (Part 2)

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Cthulhu Dark Ages – How it Stacks Up (Part 2)
By Aaron T. Huss
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Purchase Cthulhu Dark Ages here.

Welcome to the latest Featured Product series by Roleplayers Chronicle. In this short series, we’re featuring Cthulhu Dark Ages from Chaosium. Part 2, How it Stacks Up, takes a look at the support and game-play of Cthulhu Dark Ages.

Support

I’m not going to step lightly on this issue. Chaosium’s support of Cthulhu Dark Ages is horrible. As I stated in Part 1, I’m pretty sure it was completely developed by Pegasus Spiele. To add to that, Pegasus Spiele used to publish a Call of Cthulhu magazine called Worlds of Cthulhu (of which I have five of the six issues of). Within these issues, there is a very wide range of support for all Call of Cthulhu settings including Cthulhu Dark Ages, Dreamlands, Cthulhu Gaslight, Delta Green, and of course standard Call of Cthulhu. This means that if you want solid supplemental material, you’ll have to pick up these out-of-print issues of Worlds of Cthulhu. The problem is that they are large magazines and a bit pricey. Add to that that Cthulhu Dark Ages only covers a portion of these magazines and you’re paying a lot for a little. However, if you are a fan of all Call of Cthulhu settings, the cost is well worth it (I think they’re an awesome value).

You can find some good Dark Ages information including adventures and source material including a full write-up of Constantinople. However, much of their Cthulhu Dark Ages material is given over to their 13th century France setting Averoigne. The funny thing is, the Dark Ages “ended” in the 11th century. According to historical text, that’s what the Middle Ages moved from Early to High. Thus, building a setting in 13th century France really isn’t the Dark Ages at all. But then, that’s just me nitpicking their design. If you remove the Averoigne setting, you’re left with very little Cthulhu Dark Ages content.

I am, however, neglecting to mention that Chaosium has published five Monograph supplements from The Order of Saint Jerome series. Yes they are all Dark Ages, but they are also Monograph supplements. That means that although Chaosium published them, they did not develop, edit, layout, or do any graphical work for them. That means you’re at the whims of fans who wanted to see their fan material published, but may not have the tools to create a professional product. Yes they may have some extremely interesting or valuable content, but you may be paying for a product that looks as though it came from an amateur and may not mesh well with the core ideals of Cthulhu Dark Ages.

Pegasus Spiele is still an active translator of American games into German (including Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun), but the Worlds of Cthulhu magazine is no longer published and no one appears to be publishing anything Cthulhu Dark Ages. All in all, there’s content out there, but it’s not very much and you’re going to be mostly on your own.

Game-play

Fear not though, my weary Keeper. Although support is low and supplemental content is sparse, the game is worth the time you put into it if you enjoy that era and the possibilities it provides. The core rulebook does an excellent job of depicting the Dark Ages within the Occidental lands. The Call of Cthulhu mechanics are tweaked to match the era and there is extensive content discussing what life was like in the Dark Ages. It’s a little awkward to run scenarios in the Occidental lands as villages could be few and far between and warriors were probably few. Instead, you could move those scenarios to the British Isles, Scandinavia, Byzantium, Kiev, the Steppes, or any number of places where warriors and possible investigators could be found. You could then delve into a major city instead of tip-toeing around sparse villages that no one would simply travel to or happen upon. There’s definitely a bit of a disconnect between the core setting and the possible direction of the published scenarios.

If I were to attempt a campaign, not just a scenario, I would move setting to a major population center where you would have warriors questing across the land. Then you could connect the Dark Ages mechanics to your campaign and create an awesome gaming experience. But in terms of game-play, what’s so different?

For one, the resources at your disposal are completely different than in traditional Call of Cthulhu. Even Cthulhu Invictus where you would have chariots to move around, in Cthulhu Dark Ages, you’re lucky to have a horse. You’ll probably be walking. Getting around isn’t nearly as easy and you’d be more likely to travel to place very nearby where you’d already go to get supplies, go to a market, have family there, or maybe your feudal lord has ordered it. Another big different is weapons. In the Occidental lands depicted in the core rulebook, most freemen would have farm tools, hunting weapons, and possibly a spear. But that’s about it. Warriors from large cities may have access to better weapons, but the common villager most likely wouldn’t have a sword and shield, let alone armor. This means you’ll have to concentrate more on your skills and investigative creativity.

Another big part of the Dark Ages is that religions rule and education is very low. Most people cannot read or write and must rely on their ability to speak with others or recognize pictures to find where exactly they want to go. And because religion rules, most people will follow the word of their local Church authorities or the orders that come down from their feudal lords, kings, or emperors. It’s a culture one would have to embrace in-game. You definitely have to embrace the world that you have become immersed in. Moving the setting to a large city can eliminate some of that.

There’s also the possibility of villages with traditional beliefs in the old, deemed pagan, religions. They have much different beliefs than the Christians and are possibly in the process of being converted by a missionary. You can’t rely on modern knowledge to guide your way as history is so much different.

These are things to consider and embrace. They shouldn’t be viewed as hurdles to overcome as they can make your gaming experience that much better. If you understand the Dark Ages, the concepts provided in the core rulebook make a lot more sense. If you don’t understand them, you’ll need your Keeper to guide your way. This is where good quality supplemental material can help out. Without it, you’ll be doing some research.

So go on out there and take up ranks in an era filled with change. It can provide you with a Cthulhu experience unlike any other. You may want to make extra characters should your first one die or go insane.

Part 1

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