What Do I Know About Reviews? Assault on the Fuhrer Train (Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20)
I’ve reviewed a few of the Achtung! Cthulhu adventures that have come out so far. Most of them have been shorter one-shot products with pre-generated characters, with some of them coming out before the full system and referencing the Quick Start rules. These have been PDF only releases that skip around in the timeline of World War II. While previous iterations of Achtung! Cthulhu have featured larger campaigns, the 2d20 implementation currently only has the Shadow of Atlantis hardcover adventure available for pre-order.
This adventure, however, references the Forest of Fear campaign. This timeline of events has been mentioned in the overall timeline of the alternate version of World War II presented in the core rulebooks, but it isn’t up for sale yet. This campaign was available for some of the previous game systems for which Achtung! Cthulhu products were produced in the past. This adventure is also a little different in that it is a bit longer than some of the PDF only adventures, and is also available as a physical softcover adventure.
While I have received Achtung! Cthulhu products for review from Modiphius in the past, I purchased this product on my own for this review. While I have not run Achtung! Cthulhu, I have run and played several other 2d20 games, like Star Trek Adventures and Dishonored, and am familiar with the base system. I have not looked at any of the Forest of Fear products that existed as products for other game lines.
While this is a World War II scenario, it’s worth mentioning that this particular adventure describes Nazi paraphenalia and uniforms, and deals with elements that specific touch on the potential presence of Hitler, so if there are some lines about exactly what kind of WWII content you want to include, this is something to keep in mind.
This review is based on the PDF version of the adventure. This is a 52 page book, in full color. This includes a credits page, a table of contents, seven pages of handouts, and five pre-generated player characters for use with this adventure. If you have seen any of the previous products, the pages are formatted as worn file pages with blue borders, with various headers, sidebars, and stat blocks, in a two column format.
The Mission Itself (Spoilers Begin)
The adventure is set up with an introduction, an approach, and the main assault on the train. Before starting the adventure, there is GM facing material that explains the purpose of this adventure. In what might have been an unintentional cross-promotional moment, the sidebar mentions that this is somewhat of a Kobayashi Maru scenario, meaning that it may be setting the PCs up to fail.
This adventure assumes that the characters are part of a local, but successful, resistance cell, unaffiliated with the larger intelligence agencies that are countering the German supernatural efforts. It is set in 1944, post D-Day, and before the Battle of the Bulge. This is meant to set up The Forest of Fear campaign, which I can only assume is going to be available soon.
The adventure points out that the train that is the focus of this adventure is a fictionalized version of an actual armored train that existed to transport Hitler. In this case, the train has fewer cars than the real world version, but is also tricked out with the weird super-science developed by Nachtwolfe.
The set-up (in multiple ways) is that a member of the resistance cell was captured, and managed to escape. He brings information to the cell that the Hitler may be traveling on his special armored train through the region, and if the cell acts quickly, they may be able to capture or kill him if they can get onboard the train in this secluded region. Unfortunately, Phillippe has had his memory modified to forget that his escape was staged, and the train is actually a trap set by the Black Sun leader (for anyone that hasn’t looked at previous Achtung! Cthulhu products, Black Sun is the organization that deals with sorcery and other planar entities, while Nachtwolfe deals with superscience reverse engineered from Mythos based experiments).
Normally, I’m not a fan of “set the PCs up to fail, but make them play through it without letting them know it’s a setup” scenario. We’ll go into why that bothers me less in this scenario than some others where I’ve seen this approach employed.
Characters will have to travel through the forest to reach the weak point where the train can be boarded. The train will be traveling through a hill, and will be moving slowly as it prepares to climb a relatively steep portion of the tracks. This particular junction, without too many support troops around, is a tempting spot to strike.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t patrols and checkpoints between the PCs home base and the ambush spot. By default, the PCs are mainly just worried about the checkpoint, setting up the ambush, and determining how they are going to board the train. However, There is a sidebar with five or so more elements of the forest trip that a GM can slot into the adventure to flesh this section out further. Some of these utilize one of the game’s mechanics to good effect, as characters that fail some of their stealth checks don’t deal with consequences immediately, but rather generate more Threat for the GM to spend later in the adventure.
The train is obviously not just a reinforced transport. It has attachments that turn it into more of a grav train, hovering above the tracks. It is also equipped with a super science energy beam anti-aircraft cannon. The hovertrain aspect of the vehicle is a nice touch, but it exists mainly to counter the PCs trying to derail the train by destroying the tracks or setting off explosives under the train, as the mag lift aspect of the train lets it weather brief “hiccups” over cabooms or missing pieces of track.
I’m not going to lie, I like the trope of infiltrating a train and moving from car to car, working forward. The assumption is that the PCs are going to board the anti-aircraft car at the back of the train and work forward from there. They note that the anti-aircraft gun is shut down, so they can’t use it to fire on the train itself (but I really want the PCs to be able to try it).
There are seven cars on the train. As the player characters work their way forward, they move from the artillery car, to barracks, a kitchen car, a communication car, guest quarters, a strategic war room car, and Hitler’s private carriage for when he’s aboard.
While this train is set up as a trap, there are some fun storytelling elements that the PCs can encounter. There is a section where troops from Nachtwolfe and Black Sun are arguing about their leaders, and if the PCs stay hidden long enough, it provides you a good opportunity to not only summarize the two organizations for new players, but also to give them a look at the upper echelons of power.
There is an alternate encounter in the kitchen car that may let the PCs interact with characters that are civilian contractors, which gives them one of their first clues that Hitler may not be aboard. There is also a potential temporary ally in a German officer that disapproves of the weird science and sorcery of the special organizations, and is willing to act against the Black Sun leader present on the train.
Clues in the various cars also give hints of what is really going on, why the train is on this particular route, and a pronounced lack of Hitler to kill. It’s these clues, as well as the GM’s ability to direct how they spend their threat, that gives me some confidence that you could adapt this to a one-shot. For example, some sections call out spending threat for reinforcements, and some of the stat blocks have Escalation options. In this system, that means that by paying threat, they may have more dangerous gear or abilities available to them.
The GM can spend threat in ways that make the adventure feel like an emerging threat has appeared due to their actions or inactions, without pulling in more troops or making those troops more difficult to defeat, but if the PCs are plowing through the opposition, that’s always an option that’s on the table.
Over the Top
I really like the pulpy, action oriented feel of this product line. While it is based in cosmic horror, and a particularly horrific period of history, the action is often less about humans learning more than they should know, and more about humans learning what they need to blow up. I mentioned this earlier, but I’m an easy mark for “work your way up a train” style stories, although I think this adventure appeals to me most when adding in all of the optional NPCs that are detailed in the sidebars to give some more roleplaying hooks.
I like this adventure much more as a potential one shot than as something that might seem really cool to play through until you pull the rug out from under your players and you hit them with the “no, you were actually supposed to get captured” encounter at the end, to set up another adventure. Also, it’s hard for me to judge how excited I would be to run that adventure until I see it.
Additionally, I like that you can do things like modifying your Threat spends to regulate the challenge level of the game, but there are a few encounters that don’t have notes on how to change things up, leaving the GM on their own a bit more when it comes to making sure the PCs don’t get overwhelmed. Most of the train has additional notes, but the final encounter especially feels like it could do with a few more notes on “one-shot” versus “prequel” scenarios.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
I really like this as an introductory adventure. I just wish there was a little more guidance to show how to use it solely in that capacity, rather than as an introductory adventure that is also setting up a longer campaign arc.
Any game scenario that veers too hard into reminding the players that they only had the “illusion” of choice is going to be a potential bombshell to drop on them, and I would have felt better if this adventure had provided a few more bomb shelters for those instances when you don’t want to hit them quite so hard.