Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Quiet Hordes

Back in January, Brian C asked me -- because I’m always banging on about how much I like Call of Cthulhu -- for my thoughts on both the new Delta Green role-playing game and Kevin Crawford’s Lovecraftian Silent Legions. I had a look at Delta Green in March and here’s the belated follow-up.

In terms of game mechanics Silent Legions is more or less B/X Call of Cthulhu, although you won’t see that stated anywhere in the book, for legal reasons probably. You’ve got character classes, levels, hit dice, saving throws, and all that classic D&D stuff, only transposed to a modern day horror setting, and with a sanity system bolted on. There is a skill system in there too, and it looks a bit like the one from Traveller, but I don't have a lot of experience with the venerable space game, so I may be way off.

It all looks quite robust but it does little for me. I didn’t grow up with D&D and I’m not one of these people that tries to use one ruleset to fit every genre -- says the person who used Call of Cthulhu to run a Night’s Black Agents campaign -- so there’s nothing here that grabs me and makes me want to play it. It’s not a bad set of rules but I can’t get my head around the idea of 6th level librarians as anything other than a joke, and you’re never going to win me over in the Space Year 2017 with odd artefacts like descending armour class.

It’s a matter of personal taste, it’s probably irrational, and may even be hypocritical; there’s nothing inherent to Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu that makes them any more suited to Lovecraftian gaming than classic D&D, and I’d probably feel different if I had more of a background in the game. I don't, so it all seems a bit odd to me.

I'll stop going on about it now because the rules of the game only take up about a quarter of the book; the bulk of the tome is all about designing a supernatural horror campaign. To be more precise, it's about building a supernatural horror sandbox campaign, and this is what led to me backing the Silent Legions Kickstarter back at the end of 2014. Crawford has picked up a lot of acclaim for his campaign design systems in other releases like Red Tide and Stars Without Number, so I wanted to see what he could do with an investigative horror rpg.

What we get is a big, multifarious toolkit for designing a Lovecraftian setting, complete with gods, cults, monsters, and even alternate planes. There are procedures for designing the region in which the campaign will be set -- this could be something on the scale of Arkham County, or it could be the entire globe if you want to go full Masks of Nyarlathotep -- and the individual locations within that region. There are tools for such fine grade details as individual non-player-characters and even specific scenes.

All of this is presented as dice tables so it is possible to generate an entire random Xhoandhora Mythos. You can even roll up eldritch names, like I just did there. You can of course just pick the bits you like.

This stuff is all gold and while I'm indifferent to the ruleset in Silent Legions, I want to try the campaign generation tools right now. I want to generate cults, their histories, and their plans, I want to design pantheons of gribbly space gods, and I want to populate a map with blighted towns and sinister woods. Then I want to plonk a group of player-characters in the middle of it all and see what happens.

Perhaps the best bit is that aside from a couple of details, this vast chunk of the book is not tied to any particular system and you could use it in any horror game. It screams to be used and its utility is vast, cyclopean even, and it's well worth getting, even if you have zero interest in playing a 6th level librarian.


  1. I used it to generate a hypothetical campaign in 18th century Cornwall, and it threw up plenty of intriguing stuff. You end up with all the bones of a good campaign, and even odd rolls can leave you coming up with intriguing ideas you didn't think of. It took me one afternoon to do the whole thing. If I were to go further, I'd probably use BRP Renaissance rather than Silent Legions for this setting, but not sure if the notes are still lying around somewhere...highly recommended for idea generation anyway.

    1. Ah, I didn't realise you'd used it for that!

  2. Hi Kelvin - 6th level librarian Brian here. Thanks for your thoughts on Silent Legions. I did a lot of B/X D&D back in my day (huge fan of the Rules Cyclopedia) and I'm also a fan of Call of Cthulhu, so 'Silent Legions' hits my sweet spot, both in terms of system and genre. I know that you're not sold on the system, and according to Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine Publishing (creator of Silent Legions), he gets some push back on his choice of system. He's got a nice blog post explaining his reasons for going old school class & level for his games, and here is the link if you want to give it a read:

    System or no, the book is chock-full of wonderful old-school charts to help jump-start the imagination when creating sinister cults, weird monsters, strange spells, and so on. Anyway, thank you for your thoughts on Silent Legions.


    - Brian C. (yes I'm actually a librarian, not sure of level, so I'm going with 6th).

    1. I hope the review doesn't come across as too negative; perhaps I spend too much time on the system when, to be honest, it's quite easy to ignore. The real good stuff is in all the charts and tables in the other four-fifths of the book, and that's all great.

  3. Agreed - system or no, it's a marvelous book for Lovecraftian gaming.