The Return to Planet Apocalypse Kickstarter will have some great new expansions for our much-praised board game while the RPG supplement will show you how to turn any fantasy world into a post-apocalyptic landscape where the heroes fight alongside surviving remnants to merely stymie the fiendish hordes.
Each week we are releasing a Design Corner from Sandy that gives you a sneak peek of art from these new projects.
Herne the Hunter
Herne is the Wild Hunter of Celtic and German myth. In the stories he flies through the sky or over the ground with his pack of demon hounds. His menace is prodigious — if the Hellhound is not in play, place it in Herne’s area!
He has Pack tokens and starts with tokens equal to the heroes. If his Pack drops below 3, he adds more in his Menace, up to a maximum of 6. If he has run out of Pack tokens, he places Fiends instead, so no matter what he has a sizable contingent accompanying him.
His Toughness is equal to 3 +1 per Pack.
So in a 5 player game, he’d start with a Toughness 8 which is pretty much unthinkably horrible. In addition, each Pack adds 1d12 to his attack (base 6d8). A Lord with Toughness 8 and 6d8+5d12 attack is lethal. Fortunately you can kill the Pack independently of Herne. Each Pack only has Toughness 1+1 and gives the killer 1 Courage.
While Herne also inflicts 1 damage on the hero with the highest Health when he attacks, his main threat is the Pack, so early on during the fight you are forced to kill his hounds, and only later do you target him directly. Of course you may also need to deal with a Hellhound and some Fiends.
The idea behind Bruno is that I wanted to have a hero who was driven mad by the horrors of the apocalypse. He is a fun hero, because he’s crazy. His flaw is pretty bad — when he’s Captain no one else can use the Courage Pool.
But his start ability is highly entertaining — since he’s delusional, at game start he chooses any unused trooper type and places them by the others. Only Bruno can recruit these troopers. He gets to add 1 to his recruit die roll when getting his delusional troopers. This recruitment advantage of +1 to his die roll isn’t quite as good as it seems, because only he can take those troopers; i.e no one else can help set up these ambushes.
His certifiable ability lets him gain 1 Luck as team captain (so he can be a useful counterweight to Ashley’s Luck drain, but beware the Killakee). His Megalomania ability means he gains 3 Courage if he ends his turn in a 4th circle demon’s area, meaning he preferentially seeks out these horrors.
His advancement track moves from both ends towards the middle — I was trying to make it seem kind of schizoid. Anyway, like the other new heroes he works better if you plan a team strategy that uses him.
Still, it does let you get a few Texas Rangers or Hooligans in any region.
In 2015 Petersen Games published the game Cthulhu Wars, which included 72 plastic figures, all in 28mm scale. Since then we have produced dozens of expansions and supplements, almost all of which feature additional plastic figures in that scale.
Eventually, we realized that we accumulated the most complete range of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos figures ever made, ranging from obscure entities such as Eihort and Ghatanothoa to better-known creatures such as Shoggoths and the King in Yellow. Many, if not most, of these figures have never been seen before as figurines.
In league with Chaosium, Petersen Games is now releasing these figures in blister packs as an official Call of Cthulhu figure line. Now, roleplayers of all types can acquire these figures separately. Or really, anyone who has need of some fungous horror in their games.
Creating Lovecraft’s Universe
I am of course an obsessed fan of Lovecraft’s work, and so even small details of the figures were scrutinized to ensure their successful creation. For example, look at this starspawn figure:
You can see that the creature tails off into a rather grub-like stump, and that its brain-case is open, as though its head is not yet complete. The idea here is not that this is a “small Cthulhu”, but that this is a larval Cthulhu, which will someday perhaps grow up into a Cthulhu – a terrifying thought.
In another example, these Undead are not zombies, but are covered in mummy-like wrappings.
These wrappings not only give the undead a more ancient, occult feel, but also echo the tattered ribbons that cloak the King in Yellow figure, a possible origin for these undead horrors.
In yet another case that of the Deep Ones, I took care to have these creatures be portrayed as quadrupeds. Lovecraft specifically states in his texts that the Deep Ones are largely quadrupedal, yet they are almost never portrayed in this way. I wanted to be the first.
Some creatures from the Lovecraft universe are notoriously difficult to portray. One example is Ramsey Campbell’s Daoloth entity, which is described as a mass of rods and spheres, yet with an impression of peeping eyes between the elements.
We created Daoloth as a twisted mass of rods, but when viewed from one specific direction, it can be perceived as an eye.
Lately we have started to also produce figures of the Elder Gods – a pantheon apparently at least in part opposed to the Great Old Ones. Our first was Nodens, who is an ancient Celtic God also known as Nuada. Lovecraft describes him as riding in a seashell, but I didn’t want this being to just look like some beardo in a chariot.
So, drawing up on his description as an “Elder God,” he is mummified and sere, hooded, and creepy, but without tentacles, which are the hallmark of the Great Old Ones, his rivals. Instead of a normal seashell, he is emerging from a gigantic extinct ammonite.
Because Nodens in Celtic myth is described as having an artificial silver hand, I gave Nodens a technological weapon as one of his hands, perhaps some kind of energy weapon or sensor. This also helps differentiate it from the Great Old Ones, which are wholly biological. I intend to continue this art style for future Elder Gods.
But, of course no one has to know the backstory of a particular figure to find it useful in a tabletop game, or to enjoy painting it.
About Sandy Petersen
Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.
He also worked on many other published projects, such as Runequest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game.
In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful boardgame projects, including The Gods War, Evil High Priest, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.
We had some hiccups in preparing the various credit giveaways for this project (related to backers who also backed the CATaclysm KS so they don’t pay extra on shipping, as well as other ones). Due to this, we will be launching the PM late next week.
NOTE: After the PM launches, it will only be open for a few short weeks (we are looking to close it towards the end of July). This is a major change from how we have normally run pledge managers in the past which normally stay open for several months. This one will be much shorter so we can get the reprint numbers to China faster and get the games to you sooner.
Let’s talk about how the Daemon Sultan Azathoth was designed (my version). Not the rules, but the actual concept and visuals.
First off, many people have noted that I used an odd approach to naming the avatars. Rather than stages or forms they are actually the three parts of the Fichtean dyad, and this is essential to the concept. You see, the philosophical way these work as as follows:
THESIS – represents some assertion. Example, “The universe is under a supreme entity’s direction.”
ANTITHESIS – represents the opposite of the assertion. “The universe is random and chaotic.”
SYNTHESIS – this reconciles the two previous concepts into a new, correct, whole. “The universe is controlled by a blind idiot.”
This is critical, because you cannot have a Synthesis without both the Thesis and the Antithesis existing. If we instead imagined Azathoth as three stages like a larva/pupa/adult, you could imagine the adult appearing by skipping over a previous stage. But a Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis only works in relationship to each other. Each of the three parts is necessary to the whole (well, technically you could have just the Thesis or the Antithesis by itself, but the Synthesis requires all).
So that is the philosophy of it. How about the appearance?
First let’s discuss the Larvae.
The Larvae are displayed as smaller, weaker, undeveloped forms of their respective adults. But Azathoth doesn’t “breed”. It’s not a species that needs to reproduce. It is a lone singularity, a terror at the center of the cosmos. So what is going on? Quite simply, the larvae are projections of Azathoth to all corners of the universe. A sorcerer can use one of these projections to “suck in” the greater reality that is Azathoth, and bring a real avatar of the Daemon Sultan to his presence. So they are actually more like trigger points, or if you will let me make an analogy from Youtube these are “thumbnails” of Azathoth – if you click on one, then Azathoth’s reality “loads up” and becomes awful reality.
The Thesis is “classic Azathoth” as it is often portrayed. Tendrils, mouths, and raw terror. This is the positif of Azathoth – the aggressive awful form. It grows cancerously until it fills all around it. It can devour, and converts what it eats into itself, growing logarithmically in speed and size until that unfortunate section of the universe is doomed.
The Thesis, on the other hand, is Azathoth as the Big Bang – the cosmic explosion and destruction. This is Azathoth negatif – the cancellation of reality, the End of Everything. Instead of a growing, replicating mass of life (Thesis), you get a devouring hungry maw with no interior – just oblivion. This is the opposite of the burgeoning Thesis. Instead growing fat on the rest of existence, and leaving a giant monster in its place, this swallows the universe and leaves behind nothing – not even a black hole.
This is one of the realities behind the growing tentacle-beast of Thesis and the destructive whirlpool of Antithesis – this is the entity whose other aspects are simply facets of the awful whole that is the Daemon Sultan. It has tentacles, yet the bulging spheres on the front in fact are the opposite of eyes – they project destruction, annihilating all that they rest upon, rather than taking in light or images. Thus the feral chaos that is Azathoth rules the cosmos.
But what about the OTHER Azathoth?
Of course we have another Azathoth figure, and it’s not obsolete. What the heck is Sandy thinking?
This is the projection of Azathoth that I regard this as the common form – when a mad sorcerer tries to contact the Daemon Sultan, conceiving of it as a sort of super-monster, this is what he gets – a sort of “shadow” of the Outer God. It has a form, and in fact you can see within the orbs and open “maws” the universe itself roiling, as though it surrounds and engulfs everything, instead of being at the center as it is usually imagined.
This form may take its shape in response to the mind and spells of the sorcerer, but it is a sort of sub-type of the reality that is Azathoth, bringing through a horror and a power that is much more difficult to dismiss than it is to summon.
The Cthulhu Wars factions are, obviously, extremely asymmetrical. But they have some features in common. All of them have some way of earning extra Elder Signs, and all of them have some kind of interesting Power bonus. Let’s talk about the latter.
Let’s take Black Goat for example – she has two Power bonuses – one obvious and one less-so. The first is the combination of her Red Sign spellbook with Dark Young. In effect, this gives her 3 extra super-cultists, who also can’t be captured (except by Tsathoggua, that cheater). Her other Power bonus is that she can get her monsters on the cheap with Thousand Young. She can combine this with her sometimes-maligned Fertility Cult ability to react extremely quickly to an enemy move.
Her Elder Sign bonus is Blood Sacrifice which she needs to get and use as early as possible. Unlike some factions’ Elder Signs, she is limited to just 1 special bonus one per turn, which means if Shub Niggurath is out on the second turn, she’ll probably get just 4 more. Not terrible, but not amazing.
Now let’s talk about your power bonuses as Daemon Sultan Power. You have three. First, your Psychosis ability, which places cultists for free (some conditions apply). Second, your spellbook requirement which lets all your rivals choose between 1 Power or 1 Doom – but you get the same. In a 4 player game, if all your rivals picked getting 1 Power, you’d end up with +3 Power. This one is kind of unreliable though, because those jerks will make their choice partly based on whatever they feel you need least at that moment. Your final Power bonuses are your Undirected Energy & Fiendish Growth spellbooks. The former straight up gives you Power, while the latter just gives you free units, which is sort of a shortcut.
Both Undirected Energy and Fiendish Growth require an Avatar (Thesis & Antithesis respectively). If the Avatar’s not in an area with an enemy, then these spellbooks are a wash. They cost 1 Power, and you earn 1 Power (or get a unit that costs 1 Power). Big whoop. You only start making a profit if you are in an area with a foe. If you can find an area with two foes, it’s even better though. Still, these are not going to make you rich – they’re maybe 1-3 extra Power per turn.
If you don’t count free units & monsters as “Power”, then during the course of the whole game you’re likely to end up with only 6-8 total bonus Power. Say 2 from your spellbook requirement, and another 4-6 for effective use of Undirected Energy during Turns 2-5. That’s not much, compared to the other factions. Nyarlathotep can pull in 3.5 a turn with Thousand Forms, and even more if he uses Harbinger for Power rather than Elder Signs. Yellow Sign can get 6-8 extra Power PER TURN once he’s on a roll.
SO you don’t get much Power, yet you have to spend a lot to win – you need 19 Power to awaken your Avatars, plus you will want at least one Ritual – maybe more – to take advantage of having three Great Old Ones in play. How do you do it? (Why 19 Power – 8 for Thesis & Antithesis, 8 for Synthesis, and 3 for the 3 required Larvae.) It’s a good thing your cultists are free, and your gates difficult to steal. It’s also good that Antithesis eats a cultist from each enemy when awakened, because this helps slow down their response.
How about getting extra Elder Signs? Well, one I’ve already referenced – the fact that you have up to three Great Old Ones. A single Ritual gets you 3 Elder Signs, and that’s pretty great. But you may only be able to afford this once, on the last turn. However, you have another tool – your Traitors spellbook. This gives you an Elder Sign at the cost of a Chaos Gate and a Cultist. The Cultist is nothing – you’ll get him back free. The Chaos Gate is only a slight problem, since it costs just 1 Power to reclaim. So in effect you are spending 1 Power for an Elder Sign, which is amazing. Unfortunately, unless you’ve carefully set your plans, you can probably only do this once per turn. And if you HAVE gotten set up, you can still just do it twice. But you should try to do it every turn – that’s 3-4 more Elder Signs over the course of the game.
You need to be efficient and careful in spending Power, obviously. But you have another secret weapon – that you spread chaos and dissension among the other players. Let’s look at how you do this.
ANIMATE MATTER & TRAITORS COMBO – move your Chaos Gate into somewhere obnoxious, like another faction’s home area. Then Traitors away your cultist, replacing it with a cultist from a third faction. His cultist is now in a dangerous situation, and he must choose whether to protect or abandon that gate. Meanwhile the first faction must muster to attack. In either case, they’re focusing on each other. Not you.
AWAKEN AVATAR THESIS or AVATAR SYNTHESIS – you divide up Power among the enemies. Nothing says you have to be fair about this. Boost players who are less likely to harm you, or who are enemies of a mutual foe. Did Cthulhu just drive Sleeper’s out of his home area? Why not give all the Power to Sleeper so he can wreak vengeance? Did Crawling Chaos just roll “6” on his hated Thousand Forms die? Perhaps the other factions would appreciate an ability to strike back at him? Or, if Crawling Chaos only rolled a “1”, and is sad, you could cheer him up by pointing out how much you’d like NOT being targeted with Harbinger. Then give him some Power to hit the others.
As Daemon Sultan, you need to react to what’s going on. Because of this nature of your faction, you can’t just make a plan from the start and stick with it. You have to be able to respond to the situation. This is really obvious right from the start, while you are placing your first, free, cultists using Psychosis. Where do you put them?
And when do you get your spellbooks? This is core to any faction. So let’s examine your spellbook requirements, and when you can take them.
One of each type of larva. There are three types, all of which cost 1 Power each. Since you need a gate to summon them, you can’t get this in the first turn.
An abandoned gate is on the map during Gather Power. In theory you could do this in the first Gather Power – if you are the last player, you can just abandon your gate. I wouldn’t recommend it though because you’ll be starting turn 2 with a bad power differential. And then someone will steal your gate first thing next turn. Instead, wait till you have Chaos Gates, and abandon one of them.
During the Doom phase, each other player gets either 1 Power or 1 Doom, and you get what they get. Again, you can’t get it the first turn, but you could kick off your second turn with this boost.
Awaken your Great Old One – you have three to awaken. Sadly, you can’t awaken any the first turn. Do the math. Building a Gate costs 3 Power. Summoning a Larva Thesis costs 1 Power. Now you’re out, and can’t take any more actions. Exception: if you can talk Sleeper into giving you a Power boost in the first turn, you can awaken Avatar Thesis. Lots of luck.
The bottom line is you’re at most going to have one spellbook as your second turn starts (the one where everyone gets Doom and Power). Early on, you can awaken Avatar Thesis, for 0-2 Power easily enough, for a second spellbook. Then build from here. But let’s check this out turn by turn. Let’s say it’s a 5 player game.
You have 4 Power and 0 Doom.
You recruit a cultist somewhere free, and keep doing this until you have at least 4-5 cultists in play. One or more might get captured. Obviously it’s good to avoid this if possible, but c’est la vie. It’s cheaper to recruit a new cultist than to defend one. You need to build 1 gate and summon 1 Larva Thesis this turn. That’s all four of your Power. Don’t do it till the end of the turn, when the other players are low on Power, so they don’t know where you’re going to be setting up.
You have 1 gate, and let’s say 5 cultists out. This gives you a start of 7 Power and 1 Doom. In the Doom phase you get your “everyone” spellbook. Let’s assume two of the other players took Doom and 2 took Power. This bumps you to 9 Power and 3 Doom. A logical spellbook to take is Animate Matter.
Animate Matter (Action: Cost 1) Flip this spellbook face-down. Move a controlled Chaos Gate from its Area to an adjacent Area, taking its cultist along. You cannot move to another player’s Start Area. If the new Area has an existing physical Gate, replace that Gate with the Chaos Gate.
As one of your first actions, you then create a Chaos Gate for 1 Power, following up with a Larva to guard it. You have 7 Power left, and now two guarded gates. You can now awaken Avatar Thesis to whichever gate seems more threatened. If you think you need more monsters & cultists, get a cost 0 Thesis. If you want a tougher Thesis, spend 1-3 Power on it. Say you get a 2 Power thesis. Now you have 5 Power.