By Bill Heron
When I received my sealed orders regarding the new 2d20 edition of Shadows of Atlantis from Modiphius HQ, I have to admit my first thought was “Eep! How do I do this?”
It’s a question I bet a lot of GMs ask when they look at converting past campaigns like this, particularly when they’re staring at a chunky original 320-page hardback.
Orders from above indicated that they wanted to strip away a lot of the historical detail and background, pick up the pace and give this campaign the cinematic pulp-adventure spin that characterises the new Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 system.
I went back to old session notes which looked like they’d been written by Alhazred himself. They didn’t contain any useful occult knowledge but they did provide a few ideas about how I could revise some of the existing plotlines and settings. I also wanted to help the GM and players understand the intricacies of the new Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 system. My solution became the “Basic Training” boxes you’ll see in the book.
Fast-forward two weeks, and my existing hardback copy of the original Shadows of Atlantis tome was now bursting with post-it notes and annotations. As I recall, I wound up using two full notepads!
There’s a difference between a book with dual stats, which the original Shadows had for both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds, and one designed to work with a specific system. It’s not just page counts for stat blocks, it’s how the system and the setting work together. I didn’t want to ruin the original plotline – so how to make it more 2d20? More pulpy?
I began by looking at the plot and tried to make each chapter a bit more episodic.
Lieutenant Archibald Strang, Section M’s genial briefing man provides the public face of what is essentially a government machine of boffins with libraries and experts and likely bonkers theories. The agents don’t have to worry about translating esoteric languages or German texts like Botho’s notebook – that’s what the boffins at Section M are for!
There’s a lot of travel involved in Shadows of Atlantis, but I didn’t want the agents to be bogged down with travel arrangements and haggling between coach and first class. Money, class, or income is less of a barrier when you have a secret government agency bankrolling the trip, or rather counting the pennies. Instead, the “roving red line” came into my head. Remember those bits in the Indiana Jones films where you saw boats and aircraft superimposed on a world map where a red line bounced from destination to destination? At that point I started hearing the music of the Raiders March in my head and it became a great deal easier.
In the new Shadows of Atlantis, there’s a lot of new material dealing with the city of Atlantis itself and I’ve expanded things to flesh it out a bit. In the original book there’s a little information on the doomed city and the disaster (or disasters, plural!) befalling it. There’s a clue to how events transpire on the cover of the updated version but suffice to say Blauer Kristall and the Blue Madness is involved…
The Atlantis episode was one of my favourite parts to write and there’s a few small links to the forthcoming Cohors Cthulhu setting too for those eagle-eyed amongst you. The idea was to create a city that was both alien and familiar in some way – even to the agents of the 20th Century. The Atlanteans go on to influence both the Greeks and Romans but their technology is so advanced and arcane that even the experts of 1939 might struggle with it.
The new episode set in British Honduras also offered some intriguing possibilities and the character of Captain Jacob Kempthorne was also extremely fun to write. I’ve been looking for a way to use this individual in an Achtung! Cthulhu campaign for a while. Who doesn’t need an undead pirate king sorcerer in their campaign? NPCs – especially villains – need to be more than cardboard cut-outs and fleshing out Kempthorne’s backstory and motivations was a really enjoyable task.
In terms of other changes, the major one is that Nachtwölfe has undergone a massive development between the old version and the new and their agents have access to some truly impressive new kit as a result. They’re far more a “…menacing machine thrumming with an inhuman growl and revving up for some terrible purpose.” to quote our own Professor Richard “Pasty” Deadman.
I also have to pay tribute to the glorious maps from Glynn Hall and the stunning new artwork from Carlos Cabrera, Boris Martsev, Shen Fei, Christian Quinot, Sam Denmark, and Nikita Vasilchuk. How these folk can create art from my demented scribblings is a constant source of wonderment to me.
Don’t forget, if you’ve any questions about Shadows of Atlantis or writing for Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 in general, I’ll be doing an AMA today at 5PM BST on the Modiphius Discord channel.
Don’t hesitate to report for duty and I’ll see you then!