18 October 2020
We chat to Warcradle Studios
The nameless ones stir, taking forms that are familiar to us, but refracted through a lens different to the one we usually use. Welcome to the world of Mythos, which isn’t your usual Cthulhu
H. P. Lovecraft is a mysterious and ominous wellspring of strange and corrupting light for analogue gaming. It’s well used too. From the paranormal detective work of Call of Cthulhu, to the huge plastic monsters of games like Cthulhu: Death May Die, there’s a fascination with what makes these weird horror stories click in our heads.
And so comes Mythos, a skirmish level miniatures game inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, but with more direct conflict. While there’s plenty of combat in other games, there’s a focus on the mysterious monsters and unspeakable evils we’re facing being beyond comprehension – and the players themselves being entirely unmatched. Here, in this game from Warcradle Studios, we’re playing as factions in a Lovecraftian world where things are a little more evenly balanced.
Chris Pond, assistant studio director at Warcradle, introduces us to Mythos in the context of other skirmish games, “It’s a very narrative led game that allows people to really tell a story on the tabletop. I suppose what really sets it apart from other games is the fact that it’s a horror based Cthulhu game set in the 1920s. There are different ways that you can experiment within the world of H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos and you know, some of them are more pulpy, typical investigative, games. What we have here is more high adventure. It’s revolved around conflict, it’s got physical conflict at its heart.”
While Pulp Cthulhu might be the pin-up for punching things with tentacles for mouths in the RPG world, there’s something refreshing about being dropped directly into the action as we are in Mythos. We’re all used to having to actually find the cultist first, you know, before punching them. There may be monster hunting factions, but that’s just the start of how all of these creatures from Lovecraftian lore have trickled into this game. While there may be cultist-punching, but there’s also a strong chance that you’re playing the cultists trying to summon their nameless masters. Or, alternatively, a giant crab.
“I like to use analogy of a shattered mirror,” says Pond while talking about the factions, “you’ve got these reflections of the mythos as we understand it.”
Mythos is a sidestep away from what we might consider a direct translation of the Lovecraftian work, “no one faction is a direct reflection of anything that exists already. It’s all kind of through a lens and none of it is directly related,” says Pond, “There are no Mi-go flying around. There’s no Shoggoth. Cthulhu himself isn’t about to make an appearance on the tabletop. There are no deep ones, but there are hidden ones. And some may bear a striking resemblance to the inhabitants of Innsmouth. So, you know, it’s, it’s all very much our take on the mythos and our story.”
The closest we get to our protagonists from other Lovecraft-flavoured adventures is The Priory. A cell of monster-hunting adventurers that form what Pond tentatively refers to as the most ‘normal’ group on the tabletop. They’re not without flavour despite being what we might think of as our most ‘vanilla’ heroes.
“You’ve got Bertie with this flame thrower. Abigail as the professor’s assistant. The professor himself – you’ve got all these characters who feel like they’re straight out of the 1930s pulp comic. It’s interesting to see how they all interact with each other,” says Pond.
On the slightly damper end of the scale (or should that be scales?) are The Hidden Ones. And it’s a family affair, “they’re your tentacle beasts, your sea folk,” says Pond, “these are the inhabitants of Dunsmouth, a small family unit of interesting individuals.”
Of this family unit, Click Clack is probably the most famous. An enormous crab, his miniature is a joy to paint because of the enhanced textures added to the model. Others from this faction include The Dunsmouth Witch who is the matriarch of the clan, alongside the Fisherman King (a nod to the Fisher King) and Molly Malone whose model has tentacles feeling their way out from her cloak. The Angler is, like his brother Click Clack a monster of sorts, a mutant creature and obvious hybrid.
These first two factions might seem like the obvious ones to you, it’s the cornerstone that most modern Lovecraftian themed games are based on – investigators and tentacled aberrations. But Lovecraft’s work draws on many other sources of horror and tied these to contemporary concerns of the time. The discovery and exploration of the Egyptian pyramids had caused a great fascination with this ancient culture and its rituals. With that of course came the scope to turn to horror. Equally, evil has always had a part in corrupting nature in Lovecraft. These are themes explored by other games occasionally, but more often than not they’re left on the wayside. Mythos corrects this with a liberal application of both in two separate factions.
One, drawn from the possible scarabian horrors of a defiled pharaoh’s tomb skitter around, is the Custos Crypta. A warband centred around a large ancient insect mutant of the Crypt Guardian. “They’re a gang of ancient Egyptian, human enthralling, insectoid gribblilies, from not only out of time, but out of space as well,” says Pond, highlighting the way Mythos dives into parts of Lovecraftian lore often left on the table by other games. The faction’s flavour comes out in this power imbalance within it, the crypt grubs that can be mutated to spit acid, or have sharpened limbs or a thicker hide. All of this is in aid of the diversity of the stories we can tell with Mythos.
The other, on the corruption of nature, has vaguely druidic vibes, “The Wyldborne are all about nature. It’s a little coven of witches who are at one with the spirits of nature,” says Pond, even if it’s not quite in the way we imagine it. They’ve also got various fantastical peoples at their side, like Sernos, “He’s the embodiment of nature, the goat, the old man of the woods, the green man – any number of different variations on that theme. And you can draw any kind of mythology into these factions. It’s very much a melting pot of traditional witchcraft and a Blair Witch feel of things out in the woods – where you’re not really sure if there are eyes on you or who’s following you.”
All the factions are drawn together by common purpose, whether that’s family, or some other bond, “The Hidden Ones and the Odani travellers are families. The Brotherhood of Belial are a family in a certain respects, a vocational family rather than a traditional family. But essentially what all it means is that these factions have a close tie. The priory have a common goal – and whether that goal is as clean and as virtuous as people think is yet to be seen. Because there’s always a hand guiding them to where they go and where they end up,” says Pond. “It’s not like a military based game. But it is about this shadow war,” says Pond of the world we’re glimpsing at through this game, “this is a conflict in the shadows that all these factions are fighting and it’s only really the overspill that ever gets caught by the public.”
Rolling for the deep ones
The game is, mechanically, very fast. Using the alternate activation we’re all familiar with from wargaming, it runs on a simple 2D6 system. Pond elaborates, “So anything you’re trying to do, if you’re trying to attack somebody, you’re rolling 2D6 and you’re adding your attack value to that. Your opponent then rolls their defence, which is also 2D6. And then if you win as the attacker, you do damage based on the difference between the two roles. So there is a magnitude of when you’re defending that can have a huge impact.”
It’s a potentially brutal system no character in the game is entirely immune from a critical fail that leads to their death.
But being a game gently stewing in Lovecraftian themes, there are of course arcane spells and powers available to the players, which will come at a cost. And the true currency of any game set in this kind of world is, of course, sanity. Sanity in Mythos is a little like a much more interesting morale check, which, when failed through over-using your cool powers and expanding your mind beyond and non-euclidean angle, or through a sound beating, can result in a number of terrible outcomes.
“It’s not just about physically attacking and wounding your enemies to take them out. The more they use their special abilities there’s a chance that they start to go a little bit crazy. It’s a mythos game. You’re going to go crazy at some point,” says Pond, “It’s that choice – do I use these abilities and start to lose my mind, or play it safe a lose the upper hand?”
If you do go mad of course, it puts your characters into a less controlled state where chaos is likely to ensue, “you flip your card and you become ‘altered’,” says Pond, “then every round you make a roll to see what effect that has. It might have no effect. It might mean you absolutely lose your mind and just run screaming into the night, uttering the names of nameless gods.”
This is all in the service of narrative, “You’ve got these horror elements that are ingrained deeply within the mechanics and theme of the game that allow you to tell these really interesting stories.”
These stories emerge out of a ricocheting of character traits, madness, and the ties that the factions have together.
“Bertie, for example, he has abilities when he’s flipped because he’s a war veteran. There are certain things that he does when he starts to go down that path of permanent or temporary insanity that tell a story. He has an effect called ‘jumping at shadows’, so when he flips, he basically lets rip with his flamethrower at pretty much the closest target – friend or foe. Until he’s got no fuel left. And he’s got no fuel for the rest of the game and he’s down to just using his combat knife.”
“That’s a story within itself. But all of that will happen because of a number of different events,” expands Pond, “So he might be fighting the Hidden Ones. Click Clack might cause a fear check that causes him to lose his last sanity point, hitting his threshold, which causes him to flip. This means he blasts Click Clack with his flame thrower. He kills Click Clack with that blast, which means the Dunsmouth Witch becomes enraged. She flips as a result and goes off at Bertie without care of any objectives of the scenario and just wants to take him down in revenge of killing her precious child. So, you know, it’s those kinds of things, irrespective of the scenario you’re playing to give you that kind of narrative. It’s the type of situations that you can tell those stories for years to come.”
Mythos is game of creating these stories through unlikely victories and a series of horror-themed calamities.
Answering the Call
Mythos is designed to not only be fast to play, but fast to paint. Pond comments that the game is made for those with only a small amount of time for gaming in their busy lives, and even less time for painting. Here the small warband sizes make for speedy painting and a normal game of Mythos only takes an hour and a half to play. It’s quick and ideal for those of us who just want some fast, and sometimes silly, action in a rich and thematic world.
But what’s next for Warcradle? “Dystopian Wars is our navel combat game set in the dystopian age,” says Pond, “so it’s the same world as Wild West Exodus – this kind of steam punk setting. Although, we don’t like that term necessarily, it’s less about clockwork and steam and more about the super fuels that that allow people to have technology that’s far above and beyond the history that we know of the 1870s. We have ships of terrifying potential.”
As for Mythos, the four starter factions of Hidden Ones, Priory, Wyldborne and Cusatos Crypta are all available now, while the Path of Chronozon are available for preorder. Later in the year we’ll be treated to Brotherhood of Belial, the Odani Travellers and the Silver Venators. Until then, we’ll just have to go mad on our own terms.
What passes for heroes in this strange world. Set to remember the ‘old dangers’ this team of ex-soldiers, academics and investigators is here to keep the darkness at bay. We think, anyway.
The Hidden Ones
The tentacled faction, led by the Dunmouth Witch. Full of fishy, mutated and corrupted creatures like the giant crab-child Click Clack. Their arcane powers come from the deep.
The ancient Egyptian monsters, under the control by the giant insectoid Crypt Guardian. The faction offers mutating grubs and enslaved humans as its pawns, giving an highly evolved play style.
Nature, but not as we know it. From the position of our creature comforts this group of forest witches are aided by Sernos, the giant spirit of the dark found within the forest.
Brotherhood of Belial
A group of were-bat policemen who attempt to fight the chaos spilling out from the shadow war. But unbeknownst to them, Belial has other, more nefarious plans for them to unwittingly carry out.
The travelling circus act is all a clever ruse to keep moving from town to town across America. The group can see the future and is learning each generation that you cannot cheat the fates.
Path of Chronozon
Dedicated to learning and harnessing the shadow beasts of the abyss, this faction calls these creatures into existence. Its leader, Chester Barreman, finally becomes a vessel for Chronozon when his sanity is depleted.
Time travelling huntresses trying to steer the future back to where it should be as the Old Ones threaten to rip up the fabric of time itself. Able to already be everywhere, they are a deadly group.
Words by Christopher John Eggett