Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/17/tabletop-review-call-of-catthulhu-deluxe-book-ii-unaussprechlichen-katzen-the-cat-herders-guide/
Call of Catthulhu is one of those games that has really taken on a life of its own. I’ll admit that, when I picked up the basic version of Call of Catthulhu in September of 2013, I originally picked it up because it was under five bucks and I thought my wife would find it really cute. Call of Catthulhu ended up being a very solid rules-light game and I found myself really impressed by it. Then there was the Call of Catthulhu Kickstarter, for which 783 backers enabled not only a deluxe version of the game, but multiple upcoming supplements as well as a deluxe boxed version. I even got all three of my pets (two cats and a rabbit) in miniatures form for the game! In April of 2014, the first book of Call of Catthulhu Deluxe, The Nekonomicon, was released, and it too was excellent. So of course, it was a long wait for Unaussprechlichen Katzen to be released. Okay, it was like six weeks, but it felt like a long time. Did the second release for Call of Catthulhu Deluxe continue the trend of awesomeness that is a game about cats dealing with the machinations of animal versions of The Great Old Ones and Elder Gods? Let’s find out.
Unaussprechlichen Katzen, the Cat Herder’s Guide is meant to be the game’s equivalent to a DM or GM’s guide – or at least that is what you would think from the name. That is a correct assessment of the piece. Since all the rules to play Call of Catthulhu were published in the Nekonomicon, you don’t have to worry about finding things like new mechanics, prestige classes or the like here. This makes Unaussprechlichen Katzen more of an optional purchase for those who really love the game rather than a book you NEED to play Call of Catthulhu with. As such, you could just pick up the basic game or The Nekonomicon and be able to play Call of Catthulhu just fine (and for under ten bucks), but for those that want a little more out of their game, Unaussprechlichen Katzen will definitely give you what you need and then some.
Part I is entitled, “Things About the World.” Here is where you will find a lot of background information about the Call of Catthulhu setting. If you go into this game expecting to see house cats fighting Nyarlathotep or Shoggoths, well, this is not that game. This a more light hearted parody of the Cthulhu Mythos. You have Catthulhu, Hastpurr, Doggone, Phatphroggua and more. So this is not a 1:1 transfer of something like Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark, Trail of Cthulhu or the like. Call of Catthulhu is its own beast, with its own setting, background and mythos. Cthulhu fans will definitely get all the in-jokes, but Call of Catthulu is definitely its own game and will play very differently, as well as distinctly, from other Lovecraft inspired games.
In “Things About the World,” you’ll learn of core concepts with the Call of Catthulhu base setting. You’ll understand how important dreaming is to the game, as well as the concept of Gods and their place in the Call of Catthulhu world. I should point out it is very different from most Lovecraftian games, as the gods here are more or less archetypes that primarily dwell in the unconscious collective as opposed to out and about. This alone changes the nature of the Mythos creatures and helps to really make Call of Catthulhu its own game. You’ll also get a lot of information on cults and how they operate in the Call of Catthulhu world. The chapter continues on, giving you an in-depth look at a dozen or so animal gods and two human gods. Here you will find information about how these gods think, what their goals are and the specific makeup of their cults. The chapter then concludes with enemies of cats, like the Shaggoth, Mew-Go and guns. It’s very cute and by the time you are done Part I, you really won’t have a problem looking at Call of Catthulhu as a fully-fleshed out, well defined game rather than a light parody.
Part II is, “Running the Game,” and it is chock full of advice for the budding Cat Herder. It spends a decent amount of space explaining how to introduce new players to RPGs in general, gamers to Call of Catthulhu and also running a game about house cats facing off against cosmic terrors for children. All three of these pieces are excellent and worth reading no matter how experienced a gamer you are. I do feel Call of Catthulhu, with its easy rules and cute motif of playing as cats, makes it very inviting to younger, casual and inexperienced gamers alike. It’s stacked in favor of the players, unlike games like Dungeon Crawl Classics, earlier editions of D&D and Call of Cthulhu, which is neither good nor bad as a whole, but it definitely makes learning a game helpful when you don’t have to worry about dying fifteen minutes into the experience. I have at least one friend and my wife who have never played a tabletop RPG before, but both of whom are excited for the boxed set to arrive because they really want to play Call of Catthulhu with all the physical bells and whistles. Neither have ever played an RPG before, but they loved the display Call of Catthulhu had set up at Awesome Con DC this year, both are women, both are in their 30s, and both will be taking their first RPG plunge later this summer when the boxed set arrives. That tells you something about the universal appeal of this strange little game.
“Running the Game” also talks a little more in-depth about rules mentioned previously. It also gives some advice on playing a cat. After all, a cat doesn’t think like a human or know what human oriented things like doorbells, wrenches or fire extinguishers are. Likewise, they see some dice and will play with them, but not in the same way a human would. These are very different creatures and this has to be kept in mind. After all, a feral cat who has never been inside a house will have no idea what a bathtub or a bookshelf are. Likewise, the cat herder is given advice on how to play all the various NPCs that a cat might encounter, along with a strong admonishment for Cat Herders who let the NPCs take center stage instead of the characters. It’s never good when a GM for ANY game has a pet Mary Sue style NPC that they whip out, and Call of Catthulhu tries to nip that thinking in the bud immediately. Another great chapter.
Part III is entitled, “Cattventure Time.” This chapter gives you advice on how to create adventures of your own, along with three already made adventures to run for players. There is some great advice on adventure writing in here that applies to any game, not just Call of Catthulhu. You also get a printable challenge sheet for a quick reminder of what the PCs will encounter and also an icon guide to help you read the published adventures.
As for the adventures themselves, I have to admit, I only liked one of the three. The first adventure, “The Buzz Downstairs” is a lot of fun. It captures the feel of a Call of Cthulhu like adventure from a cat’s perspective, while still being a lot lighter in tone and scope. It really showcases the mechanics of the game and makes an excellent introduction on how to play Call of Catthulhu. It’s really well done and one of the highlights of the book. The second adventure, “Bay City Krazy Kosmonaut Krash Down,” just didn’t do it for me. This adventure is set in the 60s and has cats dealing with a Russian Astronaut who brought something inhuman back with him during his failed descent (which also explains why he is in San Fran instead of, say, Moscow). It’s weird to be sure, but it never feels quite right. The flow always seems off and it’s hard to divorce player (human) knowledge from character (cat) knowledge with this one. It’s an interesting idea, but I feel like it needed to be fleshed out and/or playtested a bit more.
The third adventure, “Greener Pastures,” is – to be blunt – pretty terrible. It’s poorly thought out in idea, scope and execution and quite frankly, I’m surprised it was allowed entry into the book since it was by a third party author and the editorial team could have easily refused it or sent it back for more work. Essentially, the adventure is about a shelter going from No-Kill to Kill and the cats having to escape into the wild (so to speak) in order to live. This is just a bad idea on all fronts. This actually happens occasionally in real life due to the overabundance of animals that aren’t fixed. It’s one thing to have a fantastical adventure about cats doing crazy stuff. It’s another to have something this dark and realistic. I feel it completely misses the point of Call of Catthulhu as well as the tone it is meant to represent. It’s not an adventure to even think of playing with children or people who love cats, and the end result is kind of a mean spirited look at shelters and the people who try to give abandoned pets some kind of life. The conclusion, where all the cats are either killed or set free into the world where they will no doubt be eaten, hit by a car or starve to death because they have no foraging skills, is equally terrible. This thing really, REALLY needed to be thought out better in terms of scope, writing and mood. Really, REALLY disappointed here, as a lot of the target audience for this game will want to have nothing to do with this piece. I can’t say I will blame them.
Finally, the chapter ends with a section on “Other Settings,” which is essentially a collection of story/campaign seeds for an enterprising Cat Herder. These are all interesting, although a Cat Herder might be better off coming up with their own homebrew piece from scratch, just to flex those creative muscles.
The last section of Unaussprechlichen Katzen is actually a set of appendices. Appendix A is kind of a quick recap of Chapter I. Appendix H is “The Book of Two-Foots,” which gives more a look at the weirdness that is the human race. You get a look at how cats view people, their own vernacular for different ones, and even a look at how they appear in dreams. This is a very cute and very funny section.
Appendix K is, “The Book of Dogs.” I have to admit, when it was first announced as a stretch goal, I thought it was a silly idea at first. I mean, we don’t have playable rabbits, squirrels, sloths or komodo dragons, so why add the option to play as a race that is already adversarial to the core concept of the game? It seemed a slippery slope. The more I thought about it though, the more I liked the idea. After all, some people prefer dogs to cats, and this will allow the game to sell more copies as well as open itself up to a larger audience. Plus, it’s kind of (but not quite) like allowing a game of Sabbat vampires instead of Camarilla ones in Vampire: The Masquerade. Doable and a lot of fun, albeit it with a very different tone. That’s not to say that dogs are inherently evil in Call of Catthulhu – just that they have very different goals and thought processes from cats. “The Book of Dogs” really highlights their worldview and converts the game from one about Cat PCs to Dog PCs in an impressively short amount of space, complete with full character creation rules. You even get some story seeds. Practically everything you need for a canine version of Call of Catthulhu is in this Appendix, which is pretty awesome.
Finally we have Appendix N, which appropriately (if you know you RPG history) is a list of books, movies, and other RPGs which have a similar tone that fans of Call of Catthulhu might find fun or even inspire them in some way. Thankfully nothing by Richard Adams (Watership Down, The Plague Dogs, etc) makes the list. I really enjoyed seeing the list of RPGs, especially Toon and CAT. A great way to end a great book.
All in all, Unaussprechlichen Katzen was a great addition to the Call of Catthulhu line. While I found a pretty big dent in the armor of this one, it was done by a third party rather than the person who writes and designs the vast bulk of Call of Catthulhu, so I won’t hold it against the piece as a whole. The PDF version is a bit pricey at $14.95 compared to the basic game cost of $4.95 for the PDF or The Nekonomicon‘s price of $7.95, so gamers with less of a disposable income might want to wait for a price drop. Of course, you don’t NEED Unaussprechlichen Katzen to play Call of Catthulhu, so this purchase might be left in the hands of people who absolutely love the game. At the same time, for only five bucks more than the cost of the PDF version of Unaussprechlichen Katzen, you can get the Call of Catthulhu bundle. This gives you the basic game, both deluxe books and the character sheet for $19.95. It’s definitely the best way to go, and if you haven’t invested in Call of Catthulhu yet, this is certainly the route to go. The bottom line is Unaussprechlichen Katzen is a great addition to the Call of Catthulhu line. It’s not a must own and it is a bit pricey for the PDF, but you won’t be disappointed with it if you pick it up.