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Call of Cthulhu: Investigator Weapons

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue.

Investigator Weapons Volume 1: The 1920s & 1930s.
Investigator Weapons Volume 2: Modern Day
both by Hans-Christian Vortisch
Sixtystone Press http://www.sixtystonepress.co.uk
Both volumes available in Softcover or PDF

Volume Pages Softcover PDF Softcover+PDF
Volume 1: The 1920s & 1930s 132 US$21.99
Volume 2: Modern Day 240 US$30.99
Combined Bundle   US$38.23

Volume 1: The 1920s & 1930s

This review originally appeared on RPG.net in April 2012.

First and foremost, allow me to thank the publisher Adam Crossingham for gifting me a copy of this PDF for this review.

Gunporn… that is what this is. And, I am not afraid to say it. There has always been a segment of the Call of Cthulhu audience that has been obsessed with guns and the effects that they might have on the Mythos and the result usually entails the baddies getting even madder. As a result the character’s descent into madness becomes ever more acute.

Sixtystone Press has done a fabulous job here in culling together a sourcebook for Players-Keepers and historical enthusiasts alike. This volume deals with the so-called Classic Era (1920s/1930s) Call of Cthulhu where real world weapons of all sorts are stat’ed for the Basic Role Playing system. Subsequent volumes will address Modern and presumably archaic and maybe Future and/or exotic weapons. Currently, the work is only available as a PDF but I am given to understand that it will come in a print form later this year.

However, the breadth of this work and the research done is truly phenomenal, as it has meticulously researched the usage of weapons from not only the United States but Europe and Japan thus giving and laying the basis for globetrotting campaigns in which Keepers can use the right weapon for the right place. Note the use of term weapon, for not only do we have the standard array of pistols, rifles, machine guns, and shotguns (all good fun in any Call of Cthulhu game) but also some less than standard weapons that make their way into the game including the different forms of dynamite and flame throwers plus an array of cultist weapons, including silent and deadly ones like a blowgun. Each weapon is given a comprehensive history and their real world context – littered throughout are advertisements from the era giving an authentic feel to the material, as well as ready-made props for the Keeper to use. However, this creates a daunting task for this reviewer, as pages upon pages of gun history does cause things to blur – fortunately the author was aware of this downside and created a magnificently comprehensive index along with cheat sheets for the Keeper who just needs the stats. Making locating a particular weapon or part of the world where a particular weapon is commonplace so easy, the only thing is that it is currently a PDF and unless you have a tablet, using a computer might be a tad difficult as the pages are not hyperlinked.

Notwithstanding, if grounding Cthulhu in the real world was not good enough, it gets better. There are rules for everything and excellent rules that bring together rules from a variety of sources. Rules for bullet proof vests, rules for shooting underwater, rules for autofire, rules for shooting on mount/vehicle, rules for shooting in the cold, rules for shooting in a desert, etc. – rules that can cover almost any circumstance of the era that the players may find themselves in – thus allowing the Keeper to have the rules necessary to make that cinematic/pulp game a little closer to reality. Best rule – naturally, are the rules for recovery of gunshot wounds. There is also the nice touch of pairing different investigator occupations with particular guns – making NPCs a snap. Fortunately, again, the index does come to the rescue for these rules which are also nicely indexed.

Nevertheless, there is one slight drawback in all these rules is that they cross-reference a great number of the game’s canon including some pretty hard to get items from Pagan Publishing or the King of Chicago. I realize that the author does not want to be accused of plagiarism and hence must cite the source but it does become annoying a tad when there are references to products that I do not own nor can ever own. Nice background also on the regulation of weapons in the different parts of the world – allowing the Keeper to throw in a historical red herring or something for the players to consider before, they think that they can just go to the “gun shop” and cash out to kill some bad guys. Chances are the cultists are in league with the authorities or at the very least the gun shop owners and these facts give an excellent way of getting the players just where every Keeper wants them to be – screaming in abject terror and just not to have an easy run of it. This is Cthulhu kids, not, D&D.

The style of writing is witty and engaging with just the right tempo without reverting to a stiletto style. Lavishly illustrated with loads of real world photographs and period piece advertisements gives the impression that one is flipping through the Sears-Roebuck or equivalent from the day. So the criticism is noted in the review, many rules cite game books and supplements that are very hard to find and that the copious abundance of the information is ill suited for a PDF. The latter will be rectified once the deadtree rolls off the presses and will be an excellent addition to any BRP gamer’s collection and the former – there is enough detail that one does not need the source material – one can just play this just out of the box.

Volume 2: Modern Day

This review originally appeared on RPG.net in August 2015.

The earlier volume of this series, I unfairly categorized as “gun porn”, while this might be the view of some – this is, however a comprehensive and beautifully done sourcebook/catalogue of modern weapons. Building from simple handguns to rocket propelled grenade launchers (the other RPG) along with an assortment of what typically might be held in the hands of a cult. Furthermore, there is an invaluable guide to the laws in major countries and zones of the world that may aid or more often than not in the modern period hinder the player’s access to firearms. Very often, players, especially at conventions tend to view the weapons page like the cache in The Matrix. However, the real world does not work that way.

The weapons come with a standard stat bloc and then comes the detail, in which, one can learn a lot about the gun and its appropriate use in the game by reviewing its history. Contained within the history will be variants of the weapon. And, whether these variants make their way into one’s game is the province of the Keeper and player’s interaction. However, it does breed in a great deal of realism to the descriptions. Furthermore, the author makes an extraordinary connection with illustrating where in popular culture (usually TV or movies) the gun has been seen in use.

Each firearm comes with usually a photograph, thus, commentary on the level of art is unnecessary– it is realistic and gritty. Just what one needs in a sourcebook such as this. This book is a comprehensively explored treatise on the guns highlighted both from a historical and technical standpoint, and it is very clear that the author has intimate workings of many guns profiled here. Since the rules do not venture into fantastical but are grounded in solid gritty realism. That said, it is still an item that enhances play and should not be used as a real life guide.

And, while the guns and their description do carry much of the weight of the book, it is not to say that additional rules for firearms do not pull their own weight. For the author has culled together tons of useful guidelines from a myriad of other sourcebooks and putting them together in one place. I wonder once this series of books is complete that Sixtystone Press will be compiling the weapons together in Keeper Screen sheets, with the vitals available for quick reference.

Nor should these rules provide any discomfort for the Keeper, for all the rules are scalable and the author does go out of the way to assert the truism – what is true in popular culture may not be true in Call of Cthulhu, i.e., the proverbial shot to the head may not work on Cthulhu zombies or that given many telescopic gun sights utilize mirrors, it may render some forms of undead invisible. However, on the positive side, even though Deep Ones might have tougher torsos due to natural armour, a directed shot to their gills is likely to do the same damage as shooting a human in the larynx would.

Additionally there are rules that include how different levels of cover work, or shooting into or underwater, effects of fire and countless other tropes that can be found in any major film or action TV series brought to life. And, most importantly the treatment of said wounds can be played with greater realism than just “healing surges” and blooded wounds. Firearms, especially, modern firearms do have the capacity for shock and awe thus the very first rules are confusion and fright.

Once again, I am amazed and floored by the astonishing detail of research that went into the creation of this book. If there were to pick apart this book, one might find the occasional typo or misattribution but none of that should detract from the scale of the work. It is majestic and wonderful undertaking that makes modern games a snap. Thus, this book can be used for any espionage, technothriller, or near Future SF game that utilizes the BRP mechanic not just the Cthulhu family of games. Sixtystone Press has to be commended for bringing a volume like this to the light of day. It is certainly worth every cent and hoped that it will get wider distribution.