Don’t tell him I know, but Aron is trying to destroy me. Why else would he force me to read so much about things that are beyond mortal ken? And every time I thought I was finished with them all, that there were no more soul defiling works to be read, he would send me more. But finally, finally, I have read what is truly the last one.
And that last was perhaps the largest of the Call of Cthulu texts that I read. World War Cthulu: the Darkest Hour is a supplement to the game system that is the first of its line. This line is meant to tell the stories of what happens to the things humanity is not meant to know and the humans who are trying to know it against the backdrop of the various conflicts in human history that are horrible in and of themselves. And this first one focuses on what may be the most horrible one of those conflicts, World War II.
One of the first topics covered in World War Cthulu: the Darkest Hour is the juxtaposition between the human inflicted horrors or war that are based in historical fact and the Mythos inflicted horrors that are based on fiction. A point is made that the terrible things done by the Nazis were not caused by some otherworldly entity even in the fiction of this work. The extent of man’s inhumanity to man is not diminished in this supplement. This work simply adds another layer of horror to the terrible facts of the war.
To help give the setting some structure and a good basis for all the characters to come together, it is assumed that all the characters in the campaign work for a branch of British Intelligence. This limitation puts surprisingly few bounds on character creation, however, as a rather extensive variety of people, from natives of the British Isles to natives of the Empire’s current and former colonies to partisans from the continent all served one function or another in British Intelligence during WWII.
And to help the players and game master get into the right mindset there is an extensive discussion of British Intelligence at the time. Again, this is the sort of supplement that is so common for Call of Cthulu products that has portions that could stand alone as a scholarly document if the fiction and rules mechanics were taken out.
Just as thorough as the information about the real British Intelligence are the revised character creation rules used to make the characters who are going to be a part of the fictional one in the campaign. In fact, the character creation section of World War Cthulu: the Darkest Hour is so extensive that I doubt that players would need the core rulebook to create their characters. Especially given the information and mechanics specific to this setting that supersede the rules from the core book.
Every aspect of a character is defined and explored and given in game mechanical (especially skill bonus) benefits in this creation process from nationality to rural or urban background to education, hobbies and military service. While the player is in control of every one of these choices, they quickly become dizzying and there appears to be a great deal of potential for obsessing over each one to get the exact results desired instead of just being able to get those results and then create an entertaining history to match.
The next portion of the book bridges the gap between player information and game master information by discussing common squad level tactics used in World War II. These are tactics the players can use against their opponents but also ones that the game master can use against the characters and some rules suggestions that will apply to their usage either way.
The first purely game master matter in the book is a section that helps the person taking that role create missions and gives advice on how to make these missions appropriate and fitting to the setting. This advice will go to great lengths to help the game master create missions and adventures that fit the tone of the setting.
Of course, the war spanned a great deal of world geography and even just focusing on a relatively small but significant part like Europe can be difficult for anyone who does not want to dedicate years to studying facts about the area and time to help them create a fictional game. To help game masters avoid having to do this, brief descriptions and the frame work for possible missions that can be run in some of the more important or potentially interesting areas of Europe are provided.
But a game about World War 2 would just be a game about World War 2 if there was not information about the Mythos to make it a Call of Cthulu game. A list of Mythos threats with descriptions of both the entities, their cults, servitors and the possible tactics of all of them during the war is provided. Again, nothing is done to diminish the horrific nature of the actual war as it historically happened and these threats from beyond prove to be more of scavengers on the edges of the conflict, simply opportunists who take advantage of the horrible human conflict rather than driving it.
Following this is a list of NPC’s that could be useful to the N Network, the branch of British Intelligence that the players will end up working for. Like the rest of this book, this section is rooted in real world history and a few familiar names jump out. For example, anyone who knows much about James Bond knows that the creator of this most famous superspy worked for British Intelligence himself. Thus, it is no stretch for him to appear as a potential NPC for the characters to meet while operating with the British Intelligence at this time.
With the espionage aspect handled, an NPC who can deal with the occult part of the war in needed as well. And who knows more about the occult at the time of World War II than the wickedest man alive? Aleister Crowley is given as an NPC contact for the characters to tap when it is time to ask someone for information about things that are even more evil than he is.
Of course, while the basic rules of Call of Cthulu are quite extensive and cover most situations that arise, the world operates under different rules when there is a world spanning war going on. A number of supplemental rules are provided to account for some of the special dangers that occur only when men are trying to kill men on a grand rather than on a personal scale.
For that matter, people in the military, especially people in the military during war have access to different pieces of equipment, especially those pieces of gear designed to kill or aid in killing their fellow men. An extensive list of weapons, vehicles and other pieces of military equipment are provided. But these are not the only rules for goods provided. Additionally, a full discussion of the inability and expense of getting even the most basic of supplies during wartime by both military and civilian forces is provided including charts that provide the prices and availability of various items at different points in the war for each major country involved.
The book ends with the framework and details for a very extensive campaign that can be run in this setting. It starts with a very small introduction but quickly jumps into the sites that the characters will encounter in the area where they will operate. Each of these locations seems suitably mundane at first glance but has the secrets necessary to be as creepy and terrifying as needed in a Call of Cthulu campaign. To give the game master a head start in presenting the plot, they each have at least one encounter provided for the players to deal with at some point in their investigation.
There are a wide variety of NPC’s provided for the ancient backwoods settlement that the characters will be making their base of operations and home for a time. These characters are not just cardboard cutouts with a physical description and a single motivation that the game master is forced to flesh out. Instead, the game master is given several layers to provide to the players as the characters get to know the NPC’s in their surroundings. And in good Call of Cthulu fashion, every NPC has an ulterior motive and most of them have some dark secret that they are willing to murder, at least indirectly, to keep.
Also in good Call of Cthulu fashion, the bad guys are bad only because they have to be. In fact, the evil that these men do can easily be considered part of a greater good. While these bad guys (who are not Nazis) are doing horrible things and might do those horrible things to the characters to continue what they consider their holy task, it’s entirely possible that if the characters destroy/disband the bad guys, they will feel the need to take over that task.
Even the unholy entity that the bad guys worship is not particularly evil. In true Mythos fashion, it is so vast and powerful that having ire toward such paltry things as humans is not only beneath it but would baffle it. Instead, they are things of idle curiosity. But, much like a small child with a too fragile pet, this curiosity and affection often means disaster for its subject.
If the party focuses on the assignment they’re given, they do not even have to come into conflict with the bad guys. What they will have to face is the Entity and will probably butt heads with the bad guys at some point, but vanquishing the former is literally impossible and disbanding the latter is pointless.
Thus, in true Call of Cthulu style, fighting and trying to gain a victory over their opponents is pointless.
So, you can see, with this last, largest example of the sanity shattering works that Aron has cruelly forced me to read, it is obvious that he is trying to destroy me. But he has made one fatal mistake. Yes, a mistake he is going to regret and suffer mightily for. You see, he has underestimated me. I have not been broken by this knowledge he has made me ingest but rather been made stronger by it, a fact he is going to learn firsthand. Oh yes, I shall have my revenge. Know how I know that I’m going to succeed? Because the Voices have assured me that I will.