By Douglas Seacat
I’m writing this at an exciting and long-anticipated time for those of us laboring in dark corners, typing paragraphs and scribbling notes to assemble a new game of adventure and cosmic horror, one set against a backdrop of epic heroism in the ancient world. At last, both the Cohors Cthulhu Player’s Guide and Cohors Cthulhu Gamemaster’s Guide are in editing, a crucial milestone in the process of becoming tangible books. As an RPG writer, this is one of the most gratifying but also terrifying moments in the process and it has me in a bit of a mood.
There’s still much to do, but things are coming together rapidly. Tons of amazing artwork is complete or well underway and the graphic designers are making incredible looking spreads and chapters. As you read this, the Cohors Cthulhu Quickstart Guide should be available to experience what the game offers. The 80+ page Quickstart includes abridged rules designed to play through a sizable adventure so you can dive right into the game and learn how to play on the fly. It features a diverse set of six pregenerated characters who will need to rely on one another to survive and solve a nightmare scenario.
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So what is Cohors Cthulhu? In simplest terms, this game brings the Lovecraftian Mythos to ancient Rome, existing as part of the same layered, immersive, and intrigue-laden reality as Achtung! Cthulhu. Initially set within the tense Germanic frontier, heroes in this game will confront unthinkable alien threats while also dealing with warring human factions and cults whose conflicts threaten to unravel concerted resistance. Meanwhile mysterious immortal patrons, including unhinged survivors of fallen Atlantis, pull puppet strings from the shadows, advancing plots millennia in the making.
We aren’t the first to depict Rome visited by the Mythos, but I think a special alchemy has happened with the combination of these elements in Cohors. The atmosphere and tone is entirely its own. This is no bleak or hopeless struggle against invincible enemies. Or rather, it might be, if things go poorly, but there’s an injection of heroic epic to provide a glimmer of hope that victory might be possible. PCs can eventually evolve into figures worthy of their own legends and take the fight to even the most terrifying villains. The favor of relatively benevolent gods can be earned, though they are fickle and their assistance often comes with strings.
The legends of the ancient world make so much more sense when examined in the context of struggles between the Outer and Elder Gods. Of course it was a callous and driven immortal Hyperborean survivor who wore the guise of Athena in the golden age of ancient Greece, manipulating hapless mortal agents into suicidal quests to confront the cults attempting to liberate Yog-Sothoth for Nyarlathotep. Her quest for vengeance becomes a dark seed planted in several civilizations that she views as little more than weapons in an endless hidden war. The same conflict that consumed Atlantis later shapes the rise of Rome. Though most are ignorant of these truths, the need to wage war against the Outer Gods has encouraged the empire’s imperialist agenda; schemers send legions marching forth with callous disregard for the cultures ground under the boots of their soldiers.
One of the most fun aspects of embracing the Lovecraftian Mythos set against the backdrop of human history is the timeless nature of these entities. Across all of human evolution and history, the Mythos has been there, often hidden, lurking with seething malevolence. Each era can reflect this menace in different ways, allowing for games and stories that feel related but distinct to their times.
Achtung! Cthulhu has the pulp action and war-based intrigue that feels right at home amid the conflicts of the second World War. But going back to the second century CE, with the Roman Empire at the height of its power, the Mythos takes on a different quality in Cohors. This is a time of people who believe in active gods and unavoidable supernatural forces, both light and dark. A time when wars against tribal cultures by an oppressive patriarchal empire opens up both sides to corruption by otherworldly beings who see them equally as fodder.
To the Germanic tribes, Rome is itself an existential horror—an all-consuming and ever-growing entity that would absorb their traditional gods and replace them with statues of Roman emperors. To the Romans, the Germanic wilderness is a terrifying embodiment of darkness and chaos, with themselves the sole bastion of law and sanity. Only by finding their shared humanity can the potential heroes of these cultures stand against the insidious cults answering the call of the Outer Gods.
And while the roleplaying game begins and is centered on the Germanic frontier at the edge of Rome’s reach and influence, there are so many other places in this era fertile for adventure that we intend to detail in the fullness of time. I can’t wait to delve into places like Aegyptus, Britannia, Hibernia, Parthia, or Byzantium and examine them more closely. Meanwhile, we have endeavored to allow for character creation even in the base game to be quite diverse, with PC heroes capable of arising from a variety of cultural backgrounds, castes, and professions. PCs are free to shatter or ignore the societal restraints and expectations of the historical era.
The 2d20 system feels perfectly suited to play the adventures made possible in Cohors Cthulhu, with its strong narrative focus and rules that allow for group cooperation and characters that can push beyond ordinary limits. As either a gamemaster or a player, it’s impossible to read through this material without imagining countless potential characters to play or adventure ideas to explore. I can’t wait for you to have a chance to experience this for yourselves.
Pick up a copy of the Cohors Cthulhu Quickstart Guide at the following: