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Wednesday, 25 April 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: Raiders of R'lyeh Gamemaster's Guide & Complete Rules

This is a review of the Raiders of R'lyeh GM's guide and Complete rules; written by Quentin Bauer, published by the Cipher Bureau. Note that this is different from the "Gothic B&W edition" that I reviewed earlier. For starters, it's about twice as big. It contains the rules from the smaller book but adds a LOT more.  It is basically the "definitive" edition.

As always, this is a review of the print edition, which is a massive tome of about 500 pages; with a color cover (though mostly red and black) featuring some kind of undead-looking creature (or maybe just a corpse) in what appears to be the interior of a pyramid or some other kind of ancient complex. The interior is fairly lavishly peppered with black & white art (note that although the other book is called the "gothic B&W edition", this edition is ALSO entirely B&W art on the inside, only the cover is color, which I found rather odd), ranging from drawings to photography, all appropriate to the setting and the period.

I'll repeat what I said in the previous review: I was a major consultant on this game, and so it has some of my own work in it. I was (well) paid to consult, but I do not make any money from sales of the product now.  I obviously have a favorable bias about Raiders due to my involvement with it, and I wanted to make that transparent; but I do think I'll still be able to be fair and accurate about the content.

Since all the basic rules from the edition I previously reviewed are present in this version of the book as well, I'm not going to go over it again here; instead, I'd suggest you read the previous review first, and then in this one I'll be covering what is different about this more complete edition.

The first thing you get that's different in this edition is a "Tour of the Imperial Age", which covers the state of different parts of the world circa 1910. We get several paragraphs each covering the situation in Africa (at the height of European Imperialism in the region), Arabia (at this time still -barely- controlled by the Ottomans, excepting Egypt under British control; with the Germans engaging in a great deal of intrigues in the area to try to gain control), the highly unstable Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Balkans (a boiling point of Europe, with a mix of Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian intervention and various different nationalist movements), the British Empire and the Raj (at the highest point of British Imperial glory, though signs of decadence were already setting in), China (already at a low point of decadence and abuse by virtually all of the great Imperial powers), (British-Controlled) Egypt gets its own special section, France, the Kaiser's Germany, the Japanese Empire, Mexico (embroiled in revolutionary civil war led by the very controversial Pancho Villa), the crumbling Ottoman Empire, the Tsar's Russia (at the time of Rasputin), South America, Spain, Tibet (during the brief first invasion from Manchu China), and the United States.

The character creation rules are for the most part identical to that of the more basic rulebook, with a few additions (like random tables for Religion or Languages based on nation of origin; or detailed lists of common names of the era).There's also a couple of sample detailed culture groups (like the Bedouin), and tables for randomly determining family ties, connections, and reputation.

The chapter on Game Mechanics also includes a couple of new bits, most particularly a set of pretty decent Chase rules, and some expanded rules for hazards (including weather).

The section on magic is somewhat expanded, via a chapter on "Extraplanar Entities". These include entities like Daimons, Demons, Elementals, Elementary Spirits, and Tulpas; along with their various powers and abilities.  There's also a set of tables for creating extraplanar entities, with some examples. Also included are rules for "extraplanar combat", which can be thought of as astral psychic combat.

The setting creation chapter has significant changes.  This chapter starts out with a set of rules for creating locations, with their specific "location traits" (consisting of "adventure traits" and "horror traits"). This is set up for sandbox-style play, in a way reminiscent of the method done by Kevin Crawford in his OSR products.

After this there's a collection of premade NPCs meant to be used to add to the setting. These are detailed with biographies and background, resources, and campaign leads/opportunities. There's also a set of much simpler statblocks for generic NPCs, stuff like bodyguards, cultists, police, thugs, etc. Also, stats for regular animals.

The following chapter provides guidelines and a large set of random tables to generate organizations. These are quite impressive, thorough and detailed. Intelligence organizations are also presented, including the Secret Service Bureau, the French Deuxieme Bureau, the Abteilung, the Okhrana, the Kokuryukai, the Austro-Hungarian Evenzbureau, the Serbian Black Hand, the Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Pinkertons.

There's similar write-ups of secret societies, including the Freemasons (with a sidebar on Freemasonry in Arkham), the Golden Dawn, and the A.'.A.'., which were all real; and Mythos organizations like the Cult of the Yellow Sign, the Cthulhu Cult, the Starry Wisdom Sect, and the Servants of the Great Race. An entire 30-page chapter is dedicated to a shadowy organization known as The Glove; set up to be a major (likely antagonistic) organization for a campaign, with details of their activities in the Arkham area.

The chapter on creating a sandbox adds more material on developing a campaign, including making "frameworks", uniting themes, locations and common bonds that allow a campaign to function. Several examples are provided, though I will say that in my opinion not only is this pretty self evident (though I could admit that it might not be to raw beginners to Cthulhu RPG play), but also the examples are not particularly great ones. A lot of them fail to really be "campaign-worthy" unless a campaign means just two or three sessions.

The Appendices also add more new material  which I frankly think is more useful than the previous chapter. There's tables for useful reference to the 1910 setting: percentage chances of a backwater, industrial or progressive town or city having a list of amenities (paved roads, street lighting, telegraph, trains, streetcars), There's a list of world leaders, by country, 1900-1914. Populations in 1910 by country, and more usefully a list of which colonies belonged to each of the great Imperial powers in 1910.  There's also a list of military ranks for the British, German, and French military. Also, a list of ranks, titles and forms of address of the British aristocracy (although it would have been REALLY useful if the book had a similar list for Continental European aristocracy, which is often trickier, as well as for titles of non-European aristocrats).

There's several other tables too, including a whole-page table of Academies, Societies and Institutions, listed by name, type, location, year founded and unique features. Many of these are real, some are from the Mythos literature. There's another whole page dedicated to the departments, department heads, and notable courses of Miskatonic University circa 1910. Then a chronology of recent wars and conflicts worldwide prior to 1910; a chronology of recent famous exploratory missions, a list of 1910's professional baseball teams (the New York Highlanders, for example, as the Yankees didn't exist yet), distances to seaports, travel times, etc.

Finally, a big 3-page list of recommended material for further study, including fiction, archaeology, military history, exploration, heraldry and high society, lifestyle, crime, the occult, and vehicles. Plus, the character sheets etc at the very back.

So ultimately, how much more worth it is this book than the shorter B&W rulebook? 
Frankly, it's a tough call. Let's start by saying that there's no question that the "Gothic B&W Edition" contains everything you need to actually play. What the Gamemaster's Guide and Complete Rules provides is expanded material, mainly of interest if you are going to make a longer campaign with a lot of emphasis on the setting.

For that, it's worthwhile. I think that the essential difference in terms of value is just how much work you want to put into the setting; if you don't care much about the setting at all, if you are only playing one shots or campaigns that won't really require delving into and immersing in the world of Imperial Twilight in 1910, you probably wouldn't need any of the exclusive material in this book at all (except maybe you might miss the expanded material in the magic section).  Likewise, if you were, say, a highly qualified historian and were either already super-familiar with the era or could easily research it yourself. 

But otherwise, you will likely want this edition. It's a fantastic-looking book, and it will certainly provide you with a very great wealth of setting material to maneuver your way through a short, medium or long campaigns.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + Blue Boar 

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