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Cthulhu Dark is a tabletop roleplaying game of cosmic horror, in the style of H.P. Lovecraft.
It's about the things we fear, amplified until they are unbearable. It's about stories that genuinely creep you out, not well-worn tropes and creatures you've seen hundreds of times before.
And it's about bleak horror, in which humans are powerless when confronted by hyperintelligent alien horrors. You can't beat them. You can't fight them. You can only watch, run, hide and fear.
If you love Cthulhu games already, then this is Lovecraftian horror at its most intense. If you're new to them, then Cthulhu Dark is a great place to start. You'll enter a world of stories that are both terrifying and terribly human.
The rules are incredibly short: they're tightly focussed on horror and they drive the game.
"I love Cthulhu Dark - it combines economy, thoughtful design, and a rare respect for the source material that really gets at the core of what's fun about the combination of impersonal, unknowable horror and a ragged, unstoppable descent into madness. It's the best Lovecraftian game I've ever played, and I have played them all."
Jason Morningstar, designer, Fiasco
"Cthulhu Dark is Lovecraftian gaming in its purest form. By cutting away everything except investigation, revelation and consequence, it provides a simple, cruel mechanism for driving protagonists to madness and destruction."
Scott Dorward, writer, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition
"Cthulhu Dark gets to the heart of what I love most about Lovecraft's work. It is a clean, simple system which has a laser focus on investigation and the increasing stress on your mind and soul from the horrors you see. Graham has a deep and rare understanding not only of the Mythos but also of the pacing and structure of the stories themselves. Nothing will feel closer to Lovecraft's awful truth than a game of Cthulhu Dark."
Becky Annison, writer, Lovecraftesque
"Cthulhu Dark packs more than its fair share of evocative wallop into less than its fair share of pages. It's designed to work hard, but unobtrusively, with an easy faith in both its players and its genre."
Vincent Baker, designer, Apocalypse World
Cthulhu Dark is a hardback book, 8.5 by 11 inches, about 200 pages long. The cover, by George Cotronis, is in full color. The interior is beautifully laid out, with stunning black-and-white art by Matteo Bocci.
It starts with the Player's Section, which consists of:
- The Rules: Cthulhu Dark's tight, focussed two-page ruleset, which you can see here.
- The Rules In Detail: How to use the rules to best effect in your games, together with a range of tips and tricks.
Then comes the Keeper's Section, consisting of:
- Introduction: An introduction to cosmic horror and all the essential elements of a Cthulhu Dark mystery, including the Themes, the Threat, the Final Horror, the Setting, Creeping Horrors and the Power. You can see the start of the Keeper's section here.
- Writing a mystery: A step-by-step guide to writing Cthulhu Dark mysteries. This takes you through every step of making an effective horror story to play through, starting with the things you fear and ending with the full horror.
- Rewriting a mystery: Ten different ways to look at a mystery, which help you sharpen and polish it, until it's as good as it can get.
- Playing a mystery: How to play a Cthulhu Dark game, including how to explain and use the rules, how to describe horror and how to find a dramatic ending.
- Threats of the Mythos: A guide to the creatures, artifacts and other unspeakable things that haunt the universe, explaining how to use these things to enhance the story you want to tell.
Then you get four settings, taking Cthulhu Dark into different times and places. Each comes with a full scenario to play.
- London 1851: Terror in dirty, twisted Victorian London, where evil hides in the dark and the stink. Here's a short extract. Plus the scenario Screams of the Children.
- Arkham 1692 (by Kathryn Jenkins): Fear and superstition in Lovecraft's iconic city, in a time of witchcraft. Plus the scenario The Doors Beyond Time.
- Jaiwo 2017 (by Helen Gould): In modern-day Africa, corruption lurks in the ruins of the British Empire. Plus the scenario The Curse of the Zimba.
- Mumbai 2037: Stories of cyberpunk India, in the city where dreams, wealth and power meet. Plus the scenario Consume.
In all these settings, you play Investigators who don't often appear in Cthulhu games: in London 1851, you play thieves, beggars and other residents of the slums; in Arkham, you play rural villagers; in Jaiwo, you play people from that African country; and in Mumbai, you play Indian workers.
Everything above is written and, after final editing and layout, it's ready to go. You'll get most of it just after the Kickstarter ends, in a preview edition called Cthulhu Dark Zero (see below).
I'm Graham Walmsley, an award-winning author and game designer. I won a Gold Ennie for my work on Trail of Cthulhu for Pelgrane Press, which included Cthulhu Apocalypse and the legendarily bleak Purist adventures (collected as The Final Revelation).
I wrote and published Stealing Cthulhu, a book about how to write stories of Lovecraftian horror in games. I also wrote Play Unsafe, a book about how to tell stories and play better. (If you've read either of these books, you'll be glad to know that Cthulhu Dark's guidance on Writing A Mystery and Playing A Mystery is almost all new.)
As well as that, I've written for many roleplaying games, including Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space, Fiasco, The Laundry and many others. That's me on the left below.
I'm joined by some incredibly talented co-authors.
Helen Gould, who wrote Jaiwo 2017, is a professional writer and long-time gamer. Kathryn Jenkins, who wrote Arkham 1692, writes regularly for Vacant Ritual Assembly and the blog Final Thoughts of a Murdered Guard. Both are relatively new to RPG writing and that's deliberate: I wanted to give new writers a chance to shine.
And then there's Chris Spivey (right), a Cthulhu old hand, who you might know from his work on GUMSHOE One-2-One and his immensely successful Harlem Unbound. He's written an exclusive mystery, The Whole Is Greater, which you'll get if you back at a level that includes the Season Pass.
They've all delivered fresh and excellent takes on Lovecraftian horror. I'm looking forward to showing them to to you.
The cover art, which you'll find near the top of this page, is by George Cotronis. The beautiful black-and-white interior art, which you can see throughout this page, is by Matteo Bocci. The cartographer is Stentor Danielson: he's done a map for every setting and you can see his wonderful London 1851 map as part of this extract.
The preview video, which you can watch above, is by Banana Chan. I wanted something different from most Kickstarter videos and she's given me that and more. If you haven't watched it, you really should.
When you back Cthulhu Dark, I hope you're investing in the project, rather than just buying a book from me. Thanks for your support. In return, I'll make the final Cthulhu Dark rulebook as good as I can get it.
This is what you'll get.
Whatever level you back at, you'll get both the preview version, Cthulhu Dark Zero, and the final version, Cthulhu Dark.
Cthulhu Dark Zero contains everything you need to play, including the full Player's Section, Keeper's Section and the London 1851 setting, and comes with special cover art. This is all written, edited, laid out and ready to go, and you'll get it just after the Kickstarter ends.
Cthulhu Dark Zero is a PDF and I'll give you a DriveThruRPG code if you'd like to print it (at cost). I'm doing it this way to avoid doing two print runs and keep the Kickstarter simple. It lets me put my energy into the final product.
Cthulhu Dark contains everything above, plus any stretch goals, plus the final three settings, Arkham 1692, Jaiwo 2017 and Mumbai 2037. I'll make this book as good as I can get it, depending on how much we raise in the Kickstarter: it'll definitely be hardback and I'll upgrade the printing if I can (say, adding a dustjacket). It'll be beautiful and you should get it before Christmas.
Here's what the two books will look like. On the left is an early proof of the Cthulhu Dark rulebook. On the right is Cthulhu Dark Zero.
If you back at the Digital level, you get PDFs of Cthulhu Dark Zero and Cthulhu Dark.
If you back at Digital + Season Pass, you also get the Season Pass. I haven't done this before and I'm excited about it! I'll send you all the settings and other material as they are finished, so you'll get something in your inbox at regular intervals until the book arrives. I'd love your feedback on anything I send. This means you get an early look at everything that goes in the book, plus you get an exclusive scenario in PDF, which won't appear in the book: Chris Spivey's The Whole is Greater, set in France in the First World War.
If you back at The Book, you get Cthulhu Dark in hardback. It'll look wonderful.
If you back at Signed Book & Season Pass, you get Cthulhu Dark in hardback, with a signed bookplate. You'll also get the Season Pass, including that exclusive scenario by Chris Spivey.
If you back at Leather Book & Ominous Letter, you get a leatherbound copy of Cthulhu Dark. I'll also send you a disturbing letter from a fictional correspondent, which warns that dire things will happen if you read Cthulhu Dark.
If you back at a higher level, you're seriously investing in the project. I appreciate this so much. I'm offering some fun things in return, but really you're backing Cthulhu Dark and making it better for everybody. Thank you.
As for shipping, I've tried to keep this as low as possible, starting at about £6/$8. It helps that I'm shipping both from the US and UK.
Finally, I should mention that Kickstarter makes me charge in British pounds. If the backer levels look like strange amounts of money, that's because Kickstarter is automatically translating them to your currency. Don't worry about this: it's exactly like backing any other Kickstarter, except the dollar amount isn't a round number.
Cthulhu Dark's streamlined rules (which you can see here) are designed to tell stories about mind-bending horror. Here are some of their best features.
You can roll for anything, even if you don't have a skill in it. Want to try to remember something from your childhood? Or sense the mystical pattern behind ancient symbols? Or control your dreams? In Cthulhu Dark, you can always roll for it. The higher you roll, the more you find out.
But, if you roll too high, you find out too much and glimpse the horror. You never know when the horror will hit you: whenever you're investigating and you roll a 6, you'll get more then you wanted to know.
Your Insight into the Mythos - which, to the outside world, looks like insanity - increases slowly at first, then quickly later. At the end of the game, you're on a knife-edge, where one bad roll will tip you over and make you lose your mind.
When your Insight gets too high, you can lower it by destroying evidence. You could burn photographs, deface carvings or even kill other Investigators. The only way you can recover your mind is if you leave no trace of the horrors you've seen.
Finally, you can't defeat any Mythos creature by fighting it. Try running or hiding instead. But, ultimately, you know that the horror will win.
Those are just some of my favourite parts of Cthulhu Dark's rules. You'll find more as you play. And I'll explain the best tips and tricks under The Rules In Detail.
As I mentioned above, I want to focus on making the final book as good as possible. That means I'm keeping this Kickstarter simple, without many add-ons.
Having said that, there are some extra things I'd like to do, so...
Now we've hit £10,000, I'll add a section on "How To Hack Cthulhu Dark". This will take you under the hood of Cthulhu Dark, showing you how it all fits together. It'll show you how to write your own games based on Cthulhu Dark.
Now we've hit £40,000, I'll add beautifully-written handouts to the book. That means I'll get all the letters from the scenarios handwritten and add some extras too. It'll give you something beautiful to hand your players when you run Cthulhu Dark.
Now we've hit £50,000, I'll release my design notes for Cthulhu Dark and put them in the book. These will help you get inside my head - if that's a place you want to be - telling you exactly why I designed Cthulhu Dark the way I did and how it's changed from the original version. If you want to write your own Cthulhu Dark stuff or publish Cthulhu Dark hacks, this is essential stuff.
Now we've hit £65,000, you'll get Good As A Feast by Mo Holkar, a new mystery in the Dust Bowl of 1930s America. It's a story about food, hunger and flesh.
If we reach £75,000, you'll get Now We Are The Sons Of God, a mini-campaign by Scott Dorward in London 1851. It's in three parts, each focussing on a different aspect of Victorian London: Walk In The Light Of Your Fire uncovers a cruel and deadly factory; The Brightness of the Firmament sees shooting stars fall on a London rookery; and The Truth Shall Make You Free finds dangerous knowledge in a ragged school.
If we reach £85,000, I'll link all the main Cthulhu Dark scenarios into a mini-campaign. That is, I'll give you the tools to play The Doors Beyond Time (Arkham 1672), Screams of the Children (London 1851), The Curse of the Zimba (Jaiwo 2017) and Consume (Mumbai 2037) in one time-travelling mystery.
The How to Hack guide, handouts, design notes and instructions to link the scenarios into a mini-campaign will go in the book. Good As A Feast and Now We Are The Sons Of God will be in PDF.
Oh, and finally, I'll be using BackerKit for Cthulhu Dark, and they've asked me to display their logo. I'm happy to do so and delighted to be using them. Here it is!