Punching Nazis – A Review of Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 Quickstart

Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 Quickstart

Author: Brad Bell, John Houlihan
Publisher: Modiphius
Page Count: 44
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – Free
Print – Free (Free RPG Day’ 21)

Achtung! Cthulhu is a blending of genres and themes that has always appealed to me. The ham-fisted world of Achtung! Cthulhu is not new. Kickstarted in 2012, the original Achtung! Cthulhu line was licensed under Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds, later branching out into Trail of Cthulhu and Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) for a handful of scenarios. When their Call of Cthulhu license lapsed, Modiphius relaunched the Achtung! Cthulhu line in February 2021 with a digital Quickstart using their 2d20 game engine. It wasn’t until October, as part of the 2021 Free RPG Day, that the public finally got a print version of the booklet and accompanying scenario.

As part of the 2021 Free RPG Day, it was available in limited quantities—three per box—as often happens with certain publishers’ offerings. Fortunate to grab a copy, I dove right in. While I had a not-so-good limited prior experience with the 2d20 engine, I apprehensively began to read this booklet.

For those unfamiliar, the 2d20 engine powers most, if not all, of Modiphius’ in-house roleplaying games—each game using a tailored version of the engine. As you read, keep in mind that this is just a Quickstart with highly abbreviated rules. As of this review, full versions of the Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Player’s Guide and Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Gamemaster’s Guide is available digitally, and print versions will soon be available in all major markets.

Setting

Amidst the battles of World War II, a secret war rages. Brave Allied heroes fight the good fight against Nazi forces of the occult, the fearsome Black Sun who favor magic and monsters, and their ruthless rivals Nachtwölfe—the Night Witches—who use ancient technology and forgotten secrets to create their wonder weapons.

With their terrible Mythos allies, these factions are on the precipice of tipping the tide of war in favor of their Nazi masters. However, opposing them is the Allies’ last best hope, the young men and women of Britain’s Section M and the US’s Majestic. It is their task to take the fight to their foes and foil the Nazi occult threat!

Game Mechanics

Every character is made up of Attributes, Skills, and Talents. Attributes include Agility, Coordination, Reason, Brawn, Insight, and Will. Within the Quickstart are twelve Skills ranging from Academia to Fighting and Medicine to Tactics and more. While Talents are not explicitly covered with these rules, each pre-gen has three. Accompanying each Talent is a summary of the Talent and its in-game effects, including any mechanics.

The 2d20 system’s core aim is to create dramatic and narrative action by rolling 2d20. Test resolutions are either a basic Skill Test or an Opposed Test. Players must roll equal to or under a target number derived by adding the values of a single Attribute and Skill together. The task’s difficulty (ranging from 0-5) determines the number of successes needed except in Opposed rolls where the difficulty is one. Extra successes create “Momentum.”

Momentum is a pooled resource for players to use to create cinematic action or gain advantageous effects. Additionally, players can also use it to add additional d20s for their own rolls. Conversely, players may give the Gamemaster something called “Threat” to purchase additional d20s for their rolls—this comes with risks. Threat represents everything that can go wrong and is a Gamemaster resource to make the characters’ lives more interesting if they push their luck.

Speaking of pushing their luck, players have an additional, limited resource called Fortune Points. These points are used to pull off over the top, extraordinary actions, perform exciting stunts, and make one-in-a-million shots, or provide them an edge during a life-or-death situation. Typical uses include re-rolls, taking a critical success (as noted below), etc.

Several things can affect Test resolution. The high points are:

  • Additional d20s may be purchased with Momentum or Threat.
  • A Focus—a specialization connected to the Skill—rolling equal to or below the Skill’s rating generates two successes.
  • A 1 results in two successes
  • Spending a Fortune Point, players set a die to 1 instead of rolling it, worth two successes.
  • A 20 results in a Complication—Gamemaster introduces a complication into the scene. The Complication Range is affected by injuries, each increasing the range by one. With one wound, the range increases to 19-20, with two to 18-20, etc.
  • Talents may grant bonus d20s in specific situations.
  • Characters and scenes have Truths associated with them. If a Truth explicitly helps or hinders a character or non-player character (NPC), it will increase or decrease the Difficulty of the Test.
  • Tests at Difficulty 0 are automatically successful. However, Gamemaster may have the player roll to determine the number of successes. These add to the Momentum pool.

Combat in Achtung! Cthulhu is cinematic and over the top! Combat is played out in rounds and turns. During a turn, characters may perform one minor and one major action. Minor actions consist of preparatory actions—aim, move, etc.

On the other hand, major actions are the meat and potatoes of the cinematic combat—attacking, rushing, stabilizing a companion, casting a spell, etc. The type of attack (physical or mental) and whether the attack is hand-to-hand (melee) or ranged (guns, thrown knives, etc.) determines the kind of Test used to resolve—basic Skill Test (ranged) or Opposed Test (melee and mental). Successful attacks inflict Stress and Injuries. However, Melee attacks can result in the attacker being hurt. Stress represents the physical and mental stress the body endures in combat and is determined by rolling a number of Challenge Dice. The weapon or spell determines the number of Challenge Dice. The results range from 0, 1, 2, or 1+effect; there are special Challenge Dice, but standard d6s can be used. The target’s cover modifies the total number of Stress taken. Stress leads to Injuries. Injuries increase the Complication Range of all future Tests until healed. Suffering three injuries; a character is “defeated” and can no longer act in the current scene.

Within the scope of the Quickstart, magic mostly consists of “Battlefield Magic.” These are spells used on the battlefield. There are three types of spellcasters; each stores their available spells in their Mantle—a token, charm, wand, or fetish. Casting, like combat, follows a procedure to determine success or failure. Battlefield magic adds further pulpy excitement and mayhem to the battle through Magical Duels, which increase the difficulty of the attacker’s spell or when a spell is miscast.

Scenario: A Quick Trip to France

It is June 1940. The Black Sun, one of the major occult forces within the Nazi regime, has taken over the French village of Saint Sulac. While the local resistance leader attempted to make his report, something happened, resulting in London receiving a garbled and incomplete message. These events have the upper echelon of Section M, the British occult intelligence agency, very nervous. As a result, Section M has hurriedly put together a team and dispatched them to investigate.

The characters parachute into France and must contact the resistance, assess the situation in Saint Sulac, and neutralize the Black Sun. If they’re lucky, they’ll complete their objectives and return to England alive.

“A Quick Trip to France” is a scenario designed to teach Achtung! Cthulhu’s core rules and played out in four scenes. Throughout the scenario, there are prompts for the Gamemaster, directing them to have the characters make specific rolls or how a specific rule functions. Additionally, the scenario includes several rules that are not in the Quickstart rules section. While I appreciate them being presented within the scenario, it is frustrating that they were not included in the rules section.

Product Quality

The 44-page booklet is presented in full color with three distinct sections (rules, scenario, pre-gens), each using a different color palette. The paper stock is of sufficient weight that it’s holding up to continued reading and page flipping. The two-column layout and accompanying artwork make reading the material easy and enjoyable. All of the included artwork supports the pulpy Mythos dripping themes of the game. All in all, this is a well-presented booklet and PDF.

However, for all its positive qualities, the Quickstart needs to be proofread again and could use another editing pass to address some of the prose. The need for additional proofreading is most evident within the scenario. I was forced to stop reading on more than a few occasions because of oddly placed word(s). Re-reading each passage broke my immersion. It’s easy to see the editing artifacts in the copy, which a proofreader should have caught during post-editing proofreading.

Conclusion

I like this Quickstart, despite my previous bad experience with other 2d20 games. It contains only the basics necessary to learn core game functions. There are no character generation rules, and much of what is here is superficially treated. However, it’s enough to give players a taste of Achtung! Cthulhu and play the included scenario.

All in all, the way the basic rules are presented made them easy to understand. I now feel like I better understand the 2d20 basics, at least how they pertain to this particular engine variation. I think the rules presented here support the pulpy tones that the game is striving for.

There are a few things I think Modipheus could have done better on when putting together this Quickstart; an eight-month window between digital and print release. I can’t be the first to raise these concerns. Specifically, addressing why new rules are presented only in the scenario and ensuring the product was better edited and proofread. To be fair, I fully acknowledge that creating a Quickstart is both an art and science.

So, if you enjoy pulp games and the Mythos, you should definitely grab this Quickstart; the PDF is free. Give it a read-through and determine if the 2d20 engine is for you. I think you’ll find that it’s easy to understand and supports two-fisted pulp action!

~ Modoc

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