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Achtung! Cthulhu

·1087 words·6 mins
A plane with an engine in flame crashing through a mysterious ancient structure.
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Achtung! Cthulhu is my first 2d20 game, which is the system that most games from Modiphius use. As Free League does with the Year Zero Engine, Modiphius tweaks the 2d20 system for each game to better fit the genre. This game was actually released originally for the Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rules a while back. There was also a Fate variant. Since its original release, Modiphius developed the 2d20 system and so this newer edition uses that system, which in my opinion is better adapted to the pulpy 1 nature of Achtung! Cthulhu.

The setting #

Achtung! Cthulhu is set during an alternate, Lovecraftian version, of World War II where the Mythos has a malign influence on the Nazi war machine. Players take on the roles of Allied servicemen and women, secret agents, members of the resistance or even hapless civilians caught in the wider conflict.

In this different World War II, a special branch of the Nazis is set upon releasing Yog’Sototh into the world, while another is trying to use ancient technology to create the ultimate weapon. The two work with the blessing of the Fürher, but are arc-enemies of each other.

To face this occult threat, the British and the American have created their own branches of special forces and are trying to catch up on their occult understanding and knowledge. The player characters are generally recruited by these branches, tasked to face the horrors and twart the efforts of the Nazis.

The rules #

The 2d20 system is a skill-based, dice-pool system. You roll from 2 to 5 d20s and each one can give you 0-2 successes, and you compare your successes to the difficulty of the task to determine if you succeed at your task. You need at least the same number of successes as the difficulty of the task to succeed at your task. If you get more successes than you needed, the extra become momentum which you and your colleagues can use in various ways.

There are 6 attributes: Agility, Brawn, Coordination, Insight, Reason, and Will. There are also 12 skills: Academia, Athletics, Engineering, Fighting, Observation, Persuasion, Resilience, Stealth, Survival, Tactics, and Vehicles. Each skill also has a number of associated focuses. For example Engineering has a Mechanical Engineering, and an Explosives focus (and many others) while Fighting has Hand-to-hand, Handguns, Heavy Weapons, etc. Overall there are almost 70 focuses. I like the way this lets you have a small number of broad skills and also let you have an advantage if you have a focus.

To determine if your roll on 1d20 gives you a success or not, you compare the result to the Target Number, which is the sum of one attribute and one skills. Attributes can be from 6 to 12 while skills can be from 0 to 5. Say that for example you want to set up an explosive charge on the Nazis’ car while the sentry is moving away on his perimeter check. That would be a Coordination + Engineering test with a difficulty of 2, and a focus in Explosives would apply. So if your Coordination is 9 and your Engineering is 3, your target number would be 12. Each d20 that result in 12 or less is a success. Rolling a 1 is a critical and is worth 2 successes. If you have an applicable focus for the test (Explosives in this case), then the critical range is your skill rating. In this case since your Engineering is 3, any result of 1-3 on the d20 is a critical worth 2 successes.

You normally roll 2d20 to make a skill test, but you can buy additional d20s with either Momentum (generated by previous skill tests) or by giving Threat to the GM, which is the GM’s currency similar to Momentum. The first d20 is only 1 Momentum, but the second is 2 Momentum, and the 3rd is 3 Momentum. You can only have a maximum of 5d20s for a skill test.

Extra successes can be spent immediately to improve the result of your test, or put in a Momentum pool that can hold a maximum of 6 Momentum (any extra are lost).

The Momentum pool makes for interesting opportunity to work collaboratively. For example those with higher skills acting first to build Momentum to help others in the party improve their odds.

I mentioned what a result of ‘1’ on a d20 meant, but not what a ‘20’ means. A ‘20’ is a Complication. Note that you can succeed at your task and also have a Complication. Complications are things that affect negatively your character as a result of your action. Perhaps your pistol jams, or you successfully opened the gate, but made a loud noise in the process. If you don’t want to get a Complication after a task, you can pay Threat to the GM instead.

Thouths #

Achtung! Cthulhu is a great game and a lot of fun. It’s not for everyone because some people find the momentum/treat mechanic to be too “gamy” for them, but I think it works very well in this pulpy, punch the nazies in the face, type of game. It lets the player characters be efficient adversaries to the bad guys, but in a structured way that makes it fun and fair. The momentum mechanic also sparks new ways for players to coordinate their actions which result in great fun.

I also like the mix of Lovecraftian lore with the nazies, I think it’s a great fit. The factions are well developed and make for interesting adversaries. There is a lot of material published and a lot of depth to them, and they’re beautiful.

One of the problem of this game (and other Modiphius games) is the lack of proper editing. There are lots of editing mistakes 2, and related rules are sometimes in totally different sections of the rule book, making referencing rules quite difficult. And the rules books are huge 3. It takes quite a while to grasp it all, but the material is great.

  1. There is also a “pulp” version of Call of Cthulhu which is very fun. ↩︎

  2. For example they changed the terminology for something between revisions while developing the game but they did not change all of the terms in the released book, so you come upon an ability with a different name. Sometimes it’s obvious what it refers to, but at other times it’s not. ↩︎

  3. Although there are rules that are repeated between the Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s guide. ↩︎