Sunday, 10 April 2016

Book Review: The Cthulhu Wars

By Kenneth Hite and Kennon Bauman

Published by Osprey Publishing

'From the Patriots' raid on the necromancer Joseph Curwen to the Special Forces' assault on Leng in 2007, this unique document reveals the secret and terrible struggle between the United States and the supernatural forces of Cthulhu. In this war, immortal cultists worship other-dimensional entities and plot to raise an army of the dead. Incomprehensible undersea intelligences infiltrate and colonize American seaports, and alien races lurk beneath the ice of Antarctica and high in the mountains of Afghanistan. It is only through constant vigilance and violence that the earth has survived. Also included are threat reports describing the indescribable - humanity's deadliest foes serving Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones. Strange times are upon us, the world is changing, and even death may die - but, until then, the war continues.'

At the moment I'm running a Call of Cthulhu (4th Edition) game for my local gaming club. It's set in the late 1920s and there's already been an arctic expedition, a brush with some Mi-Go and some zombified human constructs, a bit of a clash back at Arkham and a dead-but-not-dead incident on a train across the USA from Boston to San Francisco. Nobody's dead or insane yet, so they're either being incredibly good players or I've been an exceptionally bad GM.

As some of the players are new to the Cthulhu Mythos there has been a lot of questions about what it all means, and as I don't want to give too much away I'm building up to an incident where they can find out more by reading the report of a man who had done his own research, namely the Lovecraft story 'The Call Of Cthulhu'. Just by reading this story they should have a much better understanding of what is going on.

It was great fielding these questions, but one that came up was 'What do the government know?' which was a question I could not answer because they still had a lot of research and adventuring to do before they found that out, and mainly because I didn't really know myself.

So that got me asking the question; what do the government know about the cosmic horrors that plague the world? As if my mind had been read - as if the stars had aligned and the power of the Great Old Ones had ordained it to be - three days later a book landed on my doorstep, and this book was 'The Cthulhu Wars'.

Weird.

This 80-page colour softback book details the United State's struggle with dark forces from 1585 onwards. The fact that it's just from the point of view of the USA works for me, even though  realistically the conflict is world-wide, because the United States is always the starting point of my own Call of Cthulhu roleplaying campaigns; for me, Cthulhu is all about New England in the 1920s, so this is just fine.

This isn't a proper, fully-fledged sourcebook per se; you won't find stats or hints for any of the Cthulhu games be it RPG or boardgame, but what you have is an entertaining read that takes you from the very early records of the first settlers having issues with these monsters, through the better known mythos stories such as Innsmouth, through the use of nuclear weapons in 1962 (which is, in a word, epic) to more modern conflicts. The book is written as a document, intertwining fiction with historical incidents and figures, as if you've either just joined the ranks of the people fighting the danger and you've been given this book to orient yourself with the fight, or if you've received this to learn the horrifying truth from a conspiracy theorist.

It's also written as if Lovecrfaft wrote his stories not as macabre tales, but as memories of things that happened, and that he himself was privy to the truth. Indeed, the introduction by Kenneth Hite reads as if he has researched the book and fears for his life in doing so, and then this is followed by Kennon Bauman explaining how he's completing Kenneth's work as a tribute to the man. That's brilliant, and it adds a whole new level of reality to the book.

The artwork and images in the book support the text really well, from period images to eerily doctored photographs, to some fantastic art from Darren Tan that really helps sell the story. Even the 'Sources' section at the back of the book, which talks of where the information came from, helps with the overall atmosphere. It's a great read, and the suggested reading, games and fiction was helpful as it pushed me in the direction of some films I'd not considered before.

Ultimately, how useful was it? From a gaming perspective I can see it being quite useful but only for small pieces of background and inspiration across several campaigns in different ages. Right now I'm in the 1920s, and it gives me some idea of what was going on but, to be truthful, I have my original Lovecraft stories to give me the background and atmosphere I need. If I ever decide to run a game in the present day, during the Cold War or during World War Two, I can see this being really helpful, and it's already given me a couple of great ideas regarding special units in the ETO.

Overall, this is an entertaining book. It really tries to sell the reality of the war against the Mythos as fact and in this it succeeds very well. This would be a great addition to the collection of Lovecraft fans and gamers alike.

Recommended.

For the last twenty years Kenneth Hite has worked as a full-time writer and role-playing game designer, contributing to many famous games including GURPS, Hero System, Vampire: The Dark Ages, and Savage Worlds. He has also written or co-written numerous books on esoteric subjects such as Cthulhu 101 and Where the Deep Ones Are. 

Kennon C. Bauman is a professional analyst whose writings on weird history, forteana, conspiracy theories, and adventure gaming can be most frequently found at theIlluminerdy.com.

Born and raised in Malaysia, Darren Tan grew up drawing spaceships, dinosaurs and the stuff of his imagination, which was fuelled by movies and computer games. Inspired by these, he went on to study animation and later graduated as a Computer Animator from Sheridan College, Canada. After a brief stint in 3D animation, he decided to trade in polygons for a wacom tablet. Now he works as a digital concept artist at Imaginary Friends Studios and is enjoying getting paid for his hobby.