2012 is in the bag and you know what that means – it’s time to look at the best the year had to offer in the world of tabletop gaming. 2012 might best be remembered as the year of the Kickstarter with franchises like Traveler, Swords and Wizardry, Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness (both new and old) launching some extremely successful crowd-funded projects. Of course it won’t be until this year when we see the results of a lot of those campaigns, but that makes this 2013 all the more interesting, especially when you realize that new versions of D&D, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu and more are scheduled to hit.
That’s not to say 2012 was solely in the realm of crowd funding. This was truly a great year for dice chucking and we saw a ton of great content from age old systems as well as a bunch of new high quality games making their debut. When all is said and done though, we’ve made our list of what we feel are the best releases of 2012 and we proudly share them with you now. As always there is room for debate and conjecture as tastes and opinions without the gaming community vary greatly. It’s our hopes that in reading this list you’ll find products you like, products you might not have heard of and are now willing to take a chance on, and even take the time to plug your own favorites of 2012. Now then, let’s pay tribute to the best of 2012.
BEST BOARD GAME
VIRGIN QUEEN: WARS OF RELIGION: ~1559-1598
Taking up from where Here I Stand left off, designer Ed Beach’s next effort in the series has been well-received by many gamers as an excellent blend of war game, card-driven strategy game, and a game of highly interactive tactics. The concepts of play are simple to understand, and the gameplay itself can become very deep thanks to the interaction of up to six European powers via Diplomacy, and movement across the land and waterways of not only Europe but also the Americas. The difficulty of assault by land, the strategy of holding key cities, and the supremacy of the sea help to make this more than just a war game, as more can typically be gained through ideas, marriage, diplomacy, and even the Arts than war.
While still too rich for the mainstream, or perhaps too historical or niche or whatever descriptor used to describe something that appeals to a particular audience, Virgin Queen is an excellent game and much awaits the gamers who dive in to find its rewards.
Runners-Up: Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep, Ardennes ’44: Battle of the Bulge
BEST GAMING MAGAZINE
Let’s be honest: 2012 was a TERRIBLE year for gaming magazines. Kobold Quarterly folded up shop, The Unspeakable Oath only got a single issue out (albeit it a high quality one), White Dwarf is well…White Dwarf and we’re still a few weeks away from seeing what Gygax Magazine has to offer. That doesn’t mean the year has been completely terrible for gaming periodicals. Sure the days of White Wolf Magazine, Dragon, The Duelist and all the other publications devoted to our industry have dried up in the wake of the internet, but a lot of ‘zines have taken their place. Tunnels and Trolls have a couple and I’ve seen a few for various super hero themed ones. Still the best of them all HAS to be Pathways by Rite Publishing. Sure the issues are a bit short compared to the golden era of gaming mags, but the quality of the articles are top notch and unlike a lot of the ‘zines out there, Pathways is in full colour and comes out on a regular schedule unlike most gaming publications these days. Best of all? It’s FREE, meaning each and every Pathfinder fan out there should pick it up on a regular basis. In a dark time for gaming magazines, Pathways recaptures some of the magic we used to have back in the 80s and 90s when there was a wide variety of high quality glossy papered publications to leaf through. That’s pretty damn good in my book.
Runners-Up: Kobold Quarterly, The Rifter
BEST TABLETOP BASED FICTION
CHARON’S CLAW: NEVERWINTER SAGA BOOK III
This year marked another chapter in Drizzt D’ourden’s life and another entry in the Neverwinter series. Where I thought the second book in the Neverwinter Saga was too much on the characters and not as much on advancing the overall plot, R.A. Salvatore returned true to form with Charon’s Claw: Neverwinter Saga Book III. A new upstart Drow house makes an appearance, looking to capitalize on events from the first book in the series and advance themselves. They get mixed up in the machinations of the Tieflings who have been trying to take over Neverwinter as their own under Herzgo Alegni, a team of Shadovar sent to take down Drizzt and Dahlia, and a revived Artmeis Entreri who’s looking to end the hold Charon’s Claw has over him once and for all.
While events have propelled Drizzt from who he was before, this book is far more true to form, and while not as gut-wrenching as the ending to Gauntlgrym or the series before it, Charon’s Claw recaptures that magic and energy that I loved in some of the earlier Drizzt books. You can tell that Salvatore has found a new place to write the character from, with him trying to find his place in the world, but also delivering a fantastic Forgotten Realms tale that made me want to jump back into the Realms again and leave Golarian for awhile.
Runners-Up: Shadowrun: Neat, The Masked Witches: Brotherhood of the Griffon Volume IV
SHADOWS OF ESTEREN: BOOK 1 – UNIVERSE
Sometimes a game just comes along and blows you away in all respects. This year, that game was Shadows of Esteren. It had a really unique system, an interesting world and most all there was the art. I’ve yet to encounter someone who wasn’t blown away by the art in the Shadows of Esteren books, even if they haven’t played the game. The level of detail in the pages of these titles is so gorgeous that even people I know that haven’t played a role playing game in their lives wanted to flip through the pages and take a gander at what Nelyhann brought forth.
I admit, I haven’t been this impressed by the artwork in a tabletop game since the early 90s when Timothy Bradstreet gave Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade pieces that are still synonymous with the game to this day. Shadows of Esteren does just give us the best art in a roleplaying book in 2012; I’d dare say it provides some of the best art we’ve seen in this industry for a decade or two. If Book 2 comes out in 2013, then we might just be seeing the French picking up this award two years running. While Shadows of Esteren might have slipped under your radar this year, go out of your way to pick up at LEAST Book 1: Universe, if the mechanics don’t win you over, the artwork certainly will.
Runners-Up: Shadows of Esteren Book 0: Prologue, Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition: Children of the Revolution
BEST OLD SCHOOL RENAISSANCE TITLE
DUNGEON CRAWL CLASSICS
2012 was the year Goodman Games officially moved their Dungeon Crawl Classics line from the Open Game License to their own homebrew system. Almost immediately OSR fans took note and fell in love with the DCC RPG. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen praise the character class system, especially the Level 0 characters. Companies like Brave Halfling Publishing and Purple Duck Games were quick to release adventures for the system and it took off to heights I don’t even think the publisher expected. I’ve personally had a lot of fun with the core rule book and the adventures everyone has put out for Dungeon Crawl Classics and in a year where Swords and Wizardry, Tunnels and Trolls, Myth and Magic and Castles & Crusades all made some major headway, it tells you something about Dungeon Crawl Classics when it was the easy and obvious winner for this award.
If you’re looking for a real fun system with some great adventures being put out by multiple companies, than Dungeon Crawl Classics should be a system ever OSR fan should be devouring. Although not in the same way your characters will inevitably be…
Runners-Up: Castles & Crusades, Adventures Dark & Deep
CTHULHU BY GASLIGHT, THIRD EDITION
There were a lot of neat remakes and re-releases that came out this year, but chief amongst them was Cthulhu By Gaslight, Third Edition. Sure Chaosium doesn’t put out much these days, but when products like this are the end result, we definitely see that the company still puts quality over quantity. What makes this edition so striking is that it’s not just a reprint of an earlier editon with some new art and reworded mechanics. No, the third edition of Cthulhu By Gaslight is a complete remake from the ground up. I went through this thing along with my first and second edition versions of the book and I can honestly say that very little materials is the same here. I myself found myself using both the second and third edition books in tandem for running a Victorian adventure for several of my staff earlier this year as the two complement each other wonderfully.
Cthulhu By Gaslight, Third Edition gives you some new character creation options, introduces the concept of Traits, gives you a truly wonderful and in-depth look at Victorian England and also ends things with two top-notch adventures. Every aspect of this book from the artwork to the formatting is of a quality we don’t always see these days. Cthulhu By Gaslight wasn’t just the best re-make of the 2012, it was one of the best RPG books of the year, period. Even if you don’t play Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu By Gaslight, Third Edition is well worth picking up for the “The Victorian World” and “Strange Britain” sections. Anyone running a RPG set in Victorian times will want this book as a research tool. Cthulhu By Gaslight is simply an amazing book from cover to cover and I can’t recommend it enough.
Runners-Up: The Mask of Death, Colonial Gothic: Second Edition
BEST NEW GAME
SHADOWS OF ESTEREN
Okay, Shadows of Esteren isn’t exactly new in 2012 if you’re a Francophone like myself, but the English language edition is brand new to this year and seeing as how Diehard GameFAN is a North American based gaming publication, we go by Western releases. As such, for all intents and purposes Shadows of Esteren is a new game by our standards and it definitely made an impact on everyone who encountered it.
Shadows of Esteren was described as being “Ravenloft meets Call of Cthulhu” when the Kickstarter for the English language edition first began. I’d personally call it more of “Chill meets Vampire: The Dark Ages,” but as I seem to be the only one that still brings up Chill in any fashion these days, I’ll happily acquiesce on this one. The only thing you really need to know is that Shadows of Esteren is one of the best low fantasy games I’ve ever come across. You’ve already read earlier how impressed I am by each and every piece of artwork in Book 1 and Book 0 so far, but the content is equally impressive, making Shadows of Esteren one of the best all around tabletop games I’ve ever encountered. The land of Tri-Kazel is a strange and ominous one, filled with monstrous Feondas, the magic of the Demorthen, the powers of One God and the strange steampunk technology of the Magientists. The character creation system is brilliant, and I can’t tell you how much I love that the game rewards you for having a low stat and can punish you for having a high one. The entire game puts story over dice and even though the core rulebook weighs in at roughly three hundred pages, you can’t help but feel these first two releases are but a taste of what all awaits you in this game. Four/five months after its official English release, I’m still drawn to Shadows of Esteren and keep recommending it to anyone and everyone I know that loves tabletop gaming. Come see why.
Runners-Up: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Kaijudo
BEST NEW MINIATURES/WAR GAMES RULEBOOK
DeepWars isn’t the most known miniatures game out there. Over the past two years, the Kickstarters for the game have come to under three hundred different backers. It’s a shame really as DeepWars is a phenomenal skirmish game full of wonderfully designed pieces and a very unique setting. The core rulebook if a fantastic piece with as much focus on setting the scene and mood of the game as it is on the mechanics, point values and everything we’ve come to know and expect from a typical miniatures rulebook. It’s a beautiful full color book with over one hundred-fifty pages of art and mechanics. Each of the four core armies (Fortune Hunters, Dark Mariners, Ancients of Atalan and my personal favorite, The Scaly Horde) are given equally attention and the stats for ALL the possible figures in the game are here in the core rulebook meaning that you won’t need to pick up oh, say a fifty dollar codex per army that you want to field.
DeepWars is such a fantastic setting. Four armies doing battle under the sea in a steampunky-Cthulhuoid world. By the time you are done reading the core rulebook, you can’t help but want to field one of these teams in addition to crafting a story behind your little pewter army of doom. It’s a fast fun game, with skirmishes lasting only about an hour (give or take depending on one’s familiarity with wargaming and/or the DeepWars rule set), but each battle makes you want to come back for more. I love the world put to pen in this book and the artwork in the book is fabulous. Even if I never ran through a quick game of DeepWars again, I’d want the rulebook around because it’s so much fun to flip through. In fact my only complaint about the game itself is that I’ve already got all the currently produced pieces. Now it’s just waiting for all the stretch rewards from the Kickstarter campaign to get made and then into my grubby little hands. I know they’ll be worth the wait. Seriously, if you’re a skirmish gamer, hunt this rulebook down and consider picking up a starter army or two. You won’t be disappointed.
Runners-Up: Warhammer 40,000: Sixth Edition, Goalsystem Delves
BEST NEW MINIATURES LINE
STONEHAVEN MINIATURES: DWARVEN ADVENTURERS
Wow. What an incredible line of figures. Stonehaven Miniatures had its first offering this year via Kickstarter and with their first shot out of the gate, they blew away companies that have been making minis for DECADES. This set of dwarven miniatures, consisting of twenty different dwarves and one of the best trolls I have ever seen, could have been yours for a paltry sum compared to most miniatures line. Did I mention these figures (except the troll) were all metal too? I can honestly say I’ve NEVER seen a line of dwarves this diverse or as well sculpted. That’s all the more impressive when you once again remember that this is the Stonehaven’s first ever offering.
If you missed the Kickstarter offering, that’s okay! You can still purchase all of the figures, either individually or in one of four sets, for only slightly more than the original crowd-funding cost. There’s something for everyone here. Want a Necromancer? She’s yours! Ever thought of playing a dwarven Bard? Now there’s a mini to represent him! Want to play a stereotypical Paladin, Cleric or Fighter? Stonehaven has you covered! The wide variety alone could have been enough to give this set of dwarves an easy win, but the fact the figures are so well sculpted just put them over the top. If you use minis in your fantasy roleplaying game, then there’s going to be at least one figure in this set you want for your very own. These miniatures are simply fantastic.
Runners-Up: Warhammer 40,000: Dark Vengeance, DeepWars
Pound for pound, this was my favorite release of the year from the gang over at Catalyst Game Labs. Although Parabotany is for everyone who likes to run a game in the Sixth World, this supplement showcases just how creative and innovative a game that’s been around for over two decades can be when someone puts their mind to it. This fifty-one page PDF was a wonderful example of what else Shadowrun has to over besides corporate espionage, backstabs from your Mr. Johnson and scheming dragons. Within these pages you’ll find Awakened flora like the Deepweed, which possesses three times the level of nicotine that tobacco has. For GMs looking to throw a wrinkle into a breaking and entering attempt by their players, you can thrown the Devil’s Breath – a beautiful but very carnivorous plant, at them. Want something truly weird? Try the Immortal Flower which is an Awakened “living stone” plant or the Sleeping Willow which causes humanoids to fall asleep and then records its dreams. There are fifty fantastic forms of plant life in Parabotany, all of which are a lot of fun to read about, and just as fun to throw into an adventure or campaign – as long as it makes sense. You don’t just want to randomly hand a rigger a Gomorrah apple when neither the player nor the character has any idea such a thing exists. However, being hired to find and capture a serial killer who USES Gomorrah apples is a whole other affair.
If you’re interested in seeing how outside the box Shadowrun can get, there’s no better single piece out there than Parabotany. The best part is that it’s as top notch as it outright weird.
Runners-Up: The Virtuous and the Vile: Morithal, Lord of Unceasing Hunger, #30 Haunts for Kaidan
VAMPIRE: THE REQUIEM: BLOOD SORCERY – SACRAMENTS AND BLASPHEMIES
I’m going to be honest here – I’ve never found Vampire: The Requiem to be as good as Vampire: The Masquerade and I’ve always found V:TR to be the weakest line in the New World of Darkness franchise by White Wolf. That said, when the writers behind V:TR put their minds to it, they come out with some pretty amazing work that impresses even the most skeptical of the line. Blood Sorcery is a perfect example of this. The sourcebook revitalized and enhanced what is one of the oldest concepts in Vampire: The Requiem and made it better in every way possible. You’re given completely new rules sets for using Blood Sorcery in a chronicle (optional of course), a section on Threnodies and a full chapter devoted to some truly memorable antagonists. The Ash That Devours is my particular favorite of the bunch.
As a sourcebook, Blood Sorcery Is a bit short, with a page count of only seventy-two, but everything single page is exceptionally well done and has content most V:TR players will fall in love with. I can honestly say without hesitation that Blood Sorcery is the best Vampire: The Requiem book I’ve read in a very long time (perhaps even since the inception of the line) and it really gives Storytellers and players alike some truly terrific ideas to play with. Theban and Cruac players rejoice, as White Wolf has given you the best sourcebook of 2012.
Runners-Up: Shadowrun: A Clutch of Dragons, Adventures Dark and Deep: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore
BEST ADVENTURE (SOLO)
AGE OF CTHULHU VOL. VI: A DREAM OF JAPAN
Here it is nine months later and I’m STILL blown away by this adventure. Age of Cthlhu, which is Goodman Games’ line of Call of Cthulhu adventures are always fun to flip through, but Age of Japan takes the mood and theme of a Cthulhu Mythos based adventure and drops all the tropes and stereotypes one finds in the majority of them. 1920s New England? Not here. Try Japan in one of its most warlike and xenophobic mindsets. Evil cults? They aren’t present. Some hideous indefinable monstrosity trying to cross over into our realm? Not in this adventure. Best of all? The antagonist has already accomplished its goal from the very start of the adventure and both the crux and the climax of a Dream of Japan has to do with how the Investigators deal with that revelation and the ramifications of all the actions they have already taken. Toss is a nice collection of Japanese folklore and actual historical locations that still exist today and you have a truly sublime experience. Sure the adventure tips its hat to locations like Arkham and the goal of the adventure is to find out what happened to a Miskatonic University student, but in a day and age where the majority of horror based adventures, regardless of system, seem to run together or lack that true fear factor, A Dream of Japan is a breath of fresh air in that it is undeniably creepy from beginning to end and with remain an adventure your gaming crew will talk about for some time to come after completing it.
In a year where Call of Cthulhu had had a consistent release of high quality adventures from multiple publishers, A Dream of Japan was not only the best of the lot, but it was the best overall adventure of 2012. If you play Call of Cthulhu at all, you want to read this adventure and use it as an example of how to keep things both fresh and frightening, even if you don’t actually run it.
Runners-Up: No Security: The Red Tower, Shadowrun: Assassin Nation
BEST ADVENTURE (COLLECTION OR CAMPAIGN)
SHADOWRUN: ELVEN BLOOD
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years working in the video game side of the gaming industry is that gamers seem to really dislike incentive based exclusives. Whether it’s pre-order exclusives, system exclusives or Kickstarter backer exclusives, the majority of gamers would prefer to see all content open to everyone equally. This doesn’t stop publishers from trying it though, showing the massive disconnect between the buyer and sellers of goods. This has come into play more with the advent of Kickstarter where creators will come up with the idea of exclusive backer content as a stretch goal, only to have it shot down by the backers who want it available to all. A good example of this was with Shadowrun Returns. I bring this up because the winner of this year’s “Best Adventure (Collection or Campaign) nearly fell into the tabletop side of exclusives…that being the dreaded convention exclusive.
Thankfully though much like Harebrained Schemes, Catalyst Game Labs listened to the fans, the very writer of Elven Blood and a certain reviewer who is NOT infected with HMHVV despite the jokes one can make about his name, and decided to make Elven Blood available to everyone. It’s a good thing too, because Elven Blood received almost universal praise from those that reviewed it. In my opinion Elven Blood is the best thing put out for Shadowrun this year, as well as the best bang for your buck. After all, you’re getting five, count them FIVE well written adventures for a whopping seven dollars. That’s approximately a dollar-forty per adventure. Where else can you get a deal that good?
Price isn’t the only thing. As I said earlier, all five adventures are extremely well done and well worth playing through. This little campaign, all of which takes place in or around Tir Tairngire has you engaging in everything from gang mediation to doing battle with a dragon. The adventures are quite diverse and you’ll never feeling like any of the campaign is filler. The end result is a solid all-around product that was impossible to beat this year. If you have the seven bucks to spend and you’re a fan of Shadowrun at all, definitely pick up Elven Blood – it’s best deal of 2012 and a solid collection of adventures through and through.
Runners-Up: Call of Cthulhu: Mysteries of Ireland, The One Ring: Tales From Wilderland
BEST CAMPAIGN SETTING
As I said in my original review, Mythic Iceland has to be the most intense campaign setting I’ve ever come across. Not only is the book big enough to kill another person with if used as a bludgeoning implement, but it’s nigh three hundred pages contain everything you could possibly think of regarding Iceland during the Dark Ages. My original review was three thousand words long and I still feel like I could have been more in-depth with my coverage. It’s insane how much content is in this piece and crazier still when you realize it was basically written by a single person. That’s damn impressive.
It’s a shame the BRP (Basic Role Playing) system is so under the radar of most gamers because they’re missing out on a truly great gaming book here. I’ll admit I tend to pass up BRP titles myself and I only originally picked this one up because it had a whole section devoted to using the book with Cthulhu: Dark Ages along with an accompanying adventure for that setting. I’m glad I did pick this up though because I think it’s THE single most impressive release of 2012 for a myriad of reasons. Whether it’s the folklore, mechanics, magic system unique to the setting or the adventure for the BRP system, content is king here. You get an extremely in-depth look at religion, geography, culture, folklore, combat, magic and even the legal system. If you can think of something related to Iceland in the 10th and 11th Century, it’s in here! Where else are you going to find a campaign setting that gives you fifteen pages just on how the legal system of the setting works? There’s essays on burial rights and a breakdown of the thirty-five most important locations on the island. Even now my mind is still blown every time I think of the sheer amount of content in this weighty tome.
Although Mythic Iceland is a setting only a small number of gamers will probably ever use, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be impressed by this book after reading it. It’s one of those books that is sure to be an underrated classic as years go by where people will sit on an internet forum talking about how great Mythic Iceland was even though half of them won’t have cracked the cover. In a year where we had incredible releases like Deadlands Noir, Mysteries of Ireland, Skaar: City of Orcs and more, it should tell you something when we say Mythic Iceland steamrolled over the competition. Don’t just stand there – go pick this up already!
Runners-Up: Deadlands Noir, Call of Cthulhu: Mysteries of Ireland
BEST CORE RULEBOOK
SHADOWS OF ESTEREN: BOOK 1 – UNIVERSE
Winning this makes a hat trick for Shadows of Esteren this year. Not too shabby, eh? 2012 did have a lot of fun and interesting core rulebooks this year. We ended up choosing Shadows of Esteren because it was the only one where that was equal parts style and substance.
First off, if you’ve seen a physical copy of this book, you know just how gorgeous this thing is. Whether you’re talking the regular or the limited edition, every page of this book is gorgeous. Now I’m not just talking about the artwork, as the book already won our “Best Art” award for that. Book 1 – Universe is made from high quality materials from the glossy paper that makes up its pages to the incredible cover. Just run your hand along the cover and feel the texture and embossing. If you’ve worked in the publishing industry at all, you’ll be able to spot just how well the book was put together in terms of materials and craftsmanship.
The making of the book aside, Shadows of Esteren is still amazing. Every piece of art in this book blew me away. You just don’t see this level of detail in most tabletop books these days. I know I said it earlier, but I haven’t seen colour art in a tabletop book this good since Nyogtha knows when! Whether it’s a full page rendering of a pre-generated character down to a small piece of weathered paper or even a candleholder, the art is second to none. Shadows of Esteren is a book that’s as fun to look at as it is to read or use to game with.
Content is king with any tabletop product though and this is another area where Book 1 – Universe hits it out of the park. One hundred-seventy three pages of the book are written “in character.” That is, from the viewpoint of various people who live and toll away in the land of Tri-Kazel. The fact so much of the book is written from this perspective really makes the book stand out from the pack. The mechanics are easy to learn and become almost instinctual. In my experience, you’ll rarely have to crack the manual to look up rolls save for the things that come up infrequently. Character creation is a blast and it’s so outside the box with how you treat stats (Ways in this book) that you can’t help wondering why this system hasn’t been thought of before. The Sanity mechanics are up there with those in Call of Cthulhu or the Terror/Horror checks of Ravenloft and they work wonderfully with the low fantasy world that SoE takes place in.
Basically, it’s hard NOT to fall in love with Shadows of Esteren. If books two through four are of the same quality than expect to see the Shadows of Esteren series in our awards for some time to some.
Runners-Up: Dungeon Crawl Classics, The Play’s the Thing,
SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
CALL OF CTHULHU
This was a really great year for tabletop gaming. Dungeon Crawl Classics came into its own. Shadows of Esteren made an impressive debut with only two books. Swords & Wizardry did crazy business. Legend and Traveller put out some impressive releases. Even 4E, which tends to be the whipping boy of our fandom at times, had some really fun books come out for it. When all is said and done though, no system had a better over all year in terms of quality and quantity than Call of Cthulhu. I know, right? After thirty-one year, the system still manages to get some incredible top-notch products put out for it by multiple publishers. When you take a look at everything that came out for Call of Cthulhu this year, it’s hard not be impressed. The only thing that could have made it better is if several projects scheduled for 2012 like The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man, Atomic Age Cthulhu, Shadows of Moscow and The Phantom of Wilson Creek – the latter of which actually came out on January 1st of 2013. Whoops. Still, all those pushed back projects means is that 2013 will be another great year for Chaosium’s baby, especially when you realize Seventh Edition and the Horror On the Orient Express remake comes out as well. So let’s take a look at just what made 2012 the year of the Fighting Cephalopods.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Chaosium’s releases first. A lot of people tend to forget that even though Chaosium is a very old company, it’s basically run by a skeleton crew. There are what, four to six people running the show there. There are indie companies or third party Pathfinder publishers with larger staffs than Chaosium. The fact they are able to churn out as many products as they do each year and keep a consistent level of quality is pretty damn good. Do they take on too much at a time? Yeah, just look at the early stages of the Orient Express Kickstarter, but as always, they seem to manage to turn things around and do a high quality job with their releases.
So what did Chaosium put out for Call of Cthulhu this year? Well, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Third Edition for starters. In all honestly, it’s one of the three best releases of the year along with Shadows of Esteren: Book 1- Universe and Mythic Iceland, the latter of which is another Chaosium product. I’ve yet to hear anyone have a real negative word about Gaslight as I honestly can’t imagine how they could have done a better job save for creating an companion with the adventures form the previous first two editions or something like that. There was the incredible Mysteries of Ireland monograph that was a runner-up for multiple awards this year. It’s tied with Children of the Storm for being the best monograph Chaosium has ever released. Like Gaslight, Third Edition, Mysteries of Ireland has so much content, it’s shocking. You get everything you could possible want to run a game in 1920s Ireland and three really nice adventures to boot. It’s a very thorough release that you can’t help but respect. They also gave us the Cthulhu Invictus Companion, which was a reprint of some content from the 2004 CI monograph mixed in with some new content and a full length campaign entitled Terror From the Skies. They also made some classics like Masks of Nyarlathotep and my beloved Children of the Storm available on DriveThruRPG.com, which doesn’t actually count towards their winning of this award, but it was nice to see some more back catalog show up over there. One of the more interesting things though came about with the Quick Start Rules for the system that were released this year. Chaosium charged money for them, when QSR are almost always free offerings by a company. I pointed this out in my review of the otherwise fine product (which also comes with a classic adventure) and Chaosium publicly admitted that was a bad move on their point and made the Quick Start Rules free to everyone, both on DriveThruRPG and on their company website. Rarely do you see any publisher in this industry admit they messed up One of the more interesting things though came about with the Quick Start Rules for the system that were released this year. Chaosium charged money for them, when QSR are almost always free offerings by a company. I pointed this out in my review of the otherwise fine product (which also comes with a classic adventure) and Chaosium publicly admitted that was a bad move on their point and made the Quick Start Rules free to everyone, both on DriveThruRPG and on their company website. Rarely do you see any publisher in this industry admit they messed up in this way, and NEVR do you see them correct their mistake with such alacrity. Chaosium really impressed me with this move. Finally, Mythic Iceland, which was a Basic Role Playing release, contained a full section on adapting itself to the Cthulhu: Dark Ages setting for Call of Cthulhu and even threw in an adventure to boot. A really fine offering from an already outstanding book that just pushed things even further towards a Call of Cthulhu win this year.
So sure, Call of Cthulhu could have been a contender for this award with just the one-two punch of Mysteries of Ireland and Cthulhu By Gaslight, Third Edtion alone, but Chaosium isn’t the only company that puts out products for this venerable system. It was a combination of the other publishers and THEIR Call of Cthulhu releases this year in conjunction with all of Chaosium’s outstanding releases that ensures that the stars were right this year.
Goodman Games’ Age of Cthulhu line put out some remarkable releases this year like The Timeless Sands of India and A Dream of Japan – the latter of which won our Best Adventure (Solo) award. We saw a rash of brand new publishers with Call of Cthulhu releases this year. Modiphius and their Achtung Cthulhu! series in one such example, although they did release their adventures for other Cthulhu oriented rulesets. Hebanon Games, another newcomer to publishing this year, had three incredibly well done releases for Call of Cthulhu like The Red Tower, Lover in the Ice and Bryson Springs. All three were not only memorable, but were FREE to the general public. You can also hear playthroughs of them over at Roleplaying Public Radio. Trust me when I saw it’s hard to decide which is best – reading the adventures, playing them, or listening to the recordings. Pagan Publishing shocked us all by FINALLY releasing Bumps in the Night and I think many of us found it well worth the wait. Arc Dream only managed to get a single issue of The Unspeakable Oath out this year, but I’d also say it was the single best issue of any gaming periodical this year. Hell if they could get back to a regular release schedule it could probably win our award for best gaming magazine some year. Cubicle 7 released Folklore which was something many Call of Cthulhu fans though would never see the light of day. It too was a solid all around release that I could easily recommend to fans of the system. Perhaps what is most telling is that usually an open system license allows for a lot of third party releases that are simply crap and drag down the overall quality of the line, especially when said purveyors are as prolific as they are terrible. We’ve seen this happen to Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, Traveler and in other years, Call of Cthulhu itself. This year however, I honestly can’t think of a single Call of Cthulhu third party release that repulsed me. In fact there were only TWO third party releases that I can think of that were disappointing. One was by a brand new company that made a survival horror adventure with Deep Ones, that was mediocre and the other was an adventure by Cubicle 7 of all companies where the issue was more that the adventure was short, highly generic and massively overpriced when it probably should have been a free download for what it was. When those are the two worst things you can say about an entire system’s releases for a year – that’s mind boggling; doubly so when you remember that the system isn’t controlled by a single company that vets every little release to ensure quality.
After all this, can there possibly be any doubt as to why Call of Cthulhu is our system of the year? It’s great to see that after three decades, a system this old still has a few tricks up its sleeves. Or tentacles. Or indescribable squamous psuedopod. Well, you get the idea. Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!
Runners-Up: Dungeon Crawl Classics, Shadows of Esteren
Tags: Tabletop Gaming Awards