Welcome to a brand new Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 blog. We’ve maintained radio silence for a little while as we’ve been concentrating on finishing off the Player’s Guide, GM’s Guide, Exarch Edition, GM Toolkit and dice.
The great news is, all products are now feature complete, with full art and final rules and have been dispatched to be forged in the top secret laboratories able to contain their eldritch mightiness!
As we gear up towards full release, we’ll be stepping up our information briefings too alongside our monthly Missions releases in something we’re dubbing Achtung! Tuesdays. Today we kick off with a brand new piece from system designer Nathan Dowdell who has some insight to share on how battlefield and ritual magic will work in the final game, plus a brand new awesome art piece from the GM’s Guide above!
By Nathan Dowdell
Achtung! Cthulhu is a world where the supernatural intrudes upon reality, where occult scholars and nihilistic cultists dabble in knowledge incompatible with the human mind, and devotees of ancient gods long-thought mythical conjure powers from legend.
As a result, the game includes rules for wielding magical powers. These are not solely the preserve of Black Sun sorcerers and other worshippers of the Elder Gods: player characters have as much access to magic, though their powers tend to take a different form.
Magic in Achtung! Cthulhu is divided into two broad categories. Battlefield magic comprises small, direct abilities used to bolster and protect allies and weaken or destroy enemies, while ritual magic creates larger and more impressive effects, but requires greater effort and greater risk to receive those greater rewards.
Spellcasters in Achtung! Cthulhu all have a Power rating. This Power rating depends on the kind of spellcaster a person is: those who practice traditional mysticism, those whose powers are learned through scholarly study, and those who simply dabble in the occult each approach magic differently, and thus different factors contribute to their power. When a spellcaster casts a battlefield magic spell, the spell’s effects, such as damage or duration, will often be based upon their Power.
During a ritual, the spellcaster’s power affects how efficiently the ritual itself can be performed. Different spells use different skills to cast, though the caster always uses the attribute tied to the type of caster they are: a dabbler may rely on their Will, while a researcher uses their Reason, and traditionalists use their Insight. There is no singular spellcasting skill, so those who practice magic need to hone a variety of skills to get the most out of their powers. However, regardless of what skill is used, casting a spell takes a toll. When a spell is attempted—whether successful or not—it enacts a cost upon the caster, in the form of mental stress inflicted upon them. Experienced spellcasters learn how to withstand some of this, but some potent spells can cut through even the hardiest mind.
Performing a ritual is a little more complex, as befits their greater power. A ritual will take multiple skill tests to complete, and that number can vary, making them risky. Each ritual is an Extended Task, a specific mechanic which adds a stress track and a number of “Wounds” to a difficult ongoing activity. Each time you succeed at a skill test as part of an extended task, you roll a number of Challenge Dice equal to your Power, and add the total rolled to the ritual’s stress track. This is still counted as casting a spell, so each skill test inflicts some mental stress upon the spellcaster.
If you can cause 5+ stress in one roll, or you cause enough to fill the ritual’s stress track, you complete one of the ritual’s steps (if both happen at once, you complete two steps). If you inflict any stress when the ritual’s stress track is full, you’ll also complete a step. A ritual’s number of steps is linked to how powerful the effect is, but you have to choose that before you start performing the ritual. Once all the steps of the ritual are complete, the ritual is successful and it takes effect. Suffering too many complications while attempting a ritual can result in the ritual being miscast, producing an effect similar to the desired outcome but which has been distorted in some way that makes it unpleasant, painful or dangerous.
As a result, a ritual is a test of endurance as much as anything else; being able to withstand the strain of wielding that kind of magical power long enough to shape it into the form you desire. Those who aren’t true spellcasters can still attempt rituals, though their Power is likely to be lower, making the process somewhat slower and riskier for them. Many occultists, both spellcasters and otherwise, turn to other methods to fuel their rituals, offering blood, the lives of animals, or even the lives of other people to augment their efforts and boost their Power temporarily.
Of course, if you’re not the one performing the ritual, it can be useful to know how to stop them. Obviously, killing the practitioners is helpful: sorcerers do not function well when full of bullets. But that might not be enough, especially if the sorcerer has enhanced themselves or conjured protection. Fortunately, rituals are delicate, and player characters can spend actions and attempt skill tests to disrupt a ritual, adding complications to the outcome… and potentially causing the ritual to be miscast or to become too difficult to be completed.