I Might Need to Work on My Cockney Accent: Penny Dreadful Cthulhu



We're still finalizing plans and I'm giving my players a bit longer to weigh in, but in a recent email to my group I offered the possibility that a Pulp Cthulhu game could be slightly repurposed to take place a few decades earlier, in Victorian London of the late 1880s and the 1890s.

What would that mean for a campaign? To begin, the name would change a bit, from Pulp Cthulhu to Penny Dreadful Cthulhu. This isn't in reference to the recently ended Showtime series (which I'll need to view after finishing Ripper Street) but rather from the same source it got its name from - the cheap one penny serialized stories that tended towards sensational topics.

One nice aspect about the period is it clears away the impending event of World War II. World War I is about 25 years away from a start date of 1889. The Victorian Age itself comes to an end in the early 20th century but the Edwardian Age would absolutely be workable as well, with many of the same resources applicable. For example, while Sherlock Holmes is considered primarily a Victorian character, many of his canonical tales were written in the Edwardian Age and beyond - as far as 1927!

Many of the adventures I've been giving thought to are absolutely still applicable - for example, I've thought about a visit to an island akin to Skull Island in King Kong. I am still gravitating to something of a pulp feel - more a gritty pulp. I want the characters to still run from horrible monsters and still need to think twice before taking on a group of armed adversaries. Pulp Cthulhu introduces a number of additions to improve character survivability and competence:

  • Double the number of hit points
  • Archetypes which provide more skill points
  • Talents which serve as a sort of minor league superpower
  • Luck as a flexible resource to lessen the impacts of being hurt in combat and having one's sanity blasted
I'm mulling over each of those options. Pulp Cthulhu encourages experimenting with these dials to find what works best for a given group. I lean a bit for the lower pulp game that Pulp Cthulhu proposes which includes:
  • Keep hit points as standard (vs. doubling)
  • Use archetypes (I like the additional level of competence) but stay clear of psychic powers and weird science inventions.
  • While a standard pulp game provides players with 2 talents, a lower one goes with 0 or 1. I might be ok with 1 talent.
  • Prohibit Luck from being used to avoid certain death. I actually lean towards keeping this aspect of the rules - it costs all of your Luck points and is only usable above a certain threshold. I may keep Luck refresh closer to what it is in the standard game such that while Luck has a lot of power, it is a very finite resource.
I'll certainly play with these options to see what works best for our group. My hunch is it is easier to make things more pulpy as the game goes on - in a sense, allowing the players to "unlock" certain modes of play.

I do want to stay a bit clear of steampunk which probably explains my hesitance towards the weird science. I'd like the technology to be a bit more grounded, albeit with the strange devices of beings such as the Mi-Go. 

While London is the home base, a little bit of globetrotting is absolutely proper - both to unknown lands and to other settled places such as New York City and Arkham in the United States. 

And even if we do end up using the 1930s I'm still going to finish Ripper Street...

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