Achtung Cthulhu 2d20 Makes World War II Even Weirder


Modiphius comes full circle with the release of Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20. The company established itself with the Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter in 2013. The game was originally released with Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rules and a Fate version came a few years after. Now that 2d20 has become a calling card for the company, it makes sense that an adaptation into the house system would follow. I got a review copy of Achtung! Cthulhu Player’s Guide and Achtung Cthulhu! Gamemaster’s Guide from Modiphius and I was shocked to discover that this was my favorite version of the game yet.

Achtung! Cthulhu mixes Lovecraftian lore with World War II adventure tales. It’s a game where you punch Nazis with one fist and Cthulhu cultists in the other. Rather than the sanity blasting countdown clock of other Mythos games, this is more akin to action horror in the style of Evil Dead or Blade. The premise is fairly simple. Not only are the players trying to stop the spread of Nazi evil across the world in the 1940s, but they are also racing to keep the bad guys from exploiting eldritch powers to achieve those goals and beyond. What if the Ark of the Covenant was actually a way to communicate with the Great Old Ones?

This edition takes a further step towards the action direction by shifting the stories into something more akin to the recent Wolfenstein games or the first Captain America film (and its corresponding What If? episode starring Captain Carter). The game uncovers a secret war beneath the historical conflict featuring six factions. The British have Section M, run by an eccentric English noble with the money and the pull to get the government to entertain his notions of occult truth. The Americans have Majestic, who tend to discover ancient Mythos spells and artifacts, figure out just enough how to use them and then point the glowing end at the bad guys before they go off. The Axis powers are split between Black Sun, a Hydra style occult secret society that wants to use the war machine for a more insidious goal and Nachtwolfe, mad scientists enamored with using alien technology to win the war. The Mythos elements most directly involved in the war are the Mi-Go and the Deep Ones, though there are plenty of examples of the Great Old Ones getting their tentacles dirty in affecting the outcome of battles.

Characters are built by plugging together three blocks; what your character did before the war, what they are doing during the war and a defining characteristic. This process works well enough to get players ready to fight with a single character trait to hang on like old war movies, but I admit, with the rich history of both the Cthulhu Mythos and World War II, I would have loved to see something more akin to the lifepath setup from Star Trek Adventures.

While recent entries like Dune have leaned into more narrative directions, this version of 2d20 is more akin to earlier versions like Mutant Chronicles.There are some nods to more recent designs like choosing to fail and using Truths as modifiers, but the game digs into heavier combat and magical resolution. Weapons have both stress effects and other qualities that can affect them. The book details weapons in fine historical detail and offers some vehicular combat rules as well.Picking up equipment is handled via an abstract point system, supported by some mechanical support for finding weapons and equipment in the field.

Magic gets split into three categories; traditional, researcher (aka Mythos spells) and dabbler. Traditionalists hail from an expected magical background, such as druids or Viking rune masters. Researchers are more of the spellbook types that learned their magic more recently. Anyone can be or become a dabbler at the risk of learning a flawed spell that can fly out of their control on a bad roll. What I really enjoyed was the short section on how to make your own spells. That allows spells from earlier editions to be converted easily or even pulling favorites from other games.

The pulpier shift in direction paid off for me. The original versions started off with lengthy historical discussions of World War II that sapped some of the pulp energy out of the game for me. This one jumps into talking about the game assuming the reader is familiar with both the Mythos and history. I’ve been looking for a game like this since Captain America: The First Avenger and leaning into the dieselpunk trappings really engaged me in a way previous editions did not. I’m also fresh off a Fallout campaign for Theatre of the Mind Players, so I have a better understanding of how to run 2d20 tactically.

Achtung Cthulhu 2d20 is a great choice for fans who want the three P’s at their table: pulp action, punching Nazis and preventing Cthulhu.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

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This looks absolutely amazing and I just wish I could grok Modiphus rules.
If I did I would absolutely get this.
The basic rules are extremely simple for task resolution.
1. The GM sets the difficulty of the task, which is the number of successes needed, ranging from 0 to 5.
1. If you need to do a test, add the relevant attribute and skill together
ex. A character is doing a climbing test, and the GM decides it'll be Agility and Athletics. You have 11 in Agility, 2 in Athletics. That gives you a 13.
2. Roll 2D20. If you roll a 1, it's two successes. If you roll under the total but over 1, in this case 13, it's a success. If you roll a 20, it's a complication, which is something the GM sorts out - could be bad, could be even worse, really up to the GM and situational.

There's more, and momentum/threat tend to trip people up, but it's pretty simple.

Go get the free quickstart and give it a read:


If I may field a few questions...

1. What is the PC power level and growth?
Let's say...
Incompetent humans (WFRP ratcatcher)
Competent humans (most games nowadays)
Zero-to-hero (d20)
Street superheroes (Daredevil, Batman)
City heroes (flight, energy rays)

As for the growth:
Minimal (takes forever to advance)
Medium (in 10 adventures you take on epic threats)
Extreme (d20)

2. Character durability and plot armor.
None (bad roll, roll a new char)
Medium (can take a few wounds, and then it is weeks in a hospital)
Extreme (high level d20 - with enough hp and cure spells we are back on our feet immediately)
Narrative (brownie points keep you alive until they don't)

3. How's the fighting?
Please don't hurt me (fighting is the absolute last resort)
I`m too young to die (random, easily die due to bad rolls)
Somewhat realistic (sniping and ambush rule the day)
Hurt me plenty (heroes can take it)
Knee deep in dead (heroes like it)


I haven't read Achtung Cthulhu specifically so there might be points where someone who has contradicts me. But I'm familiar with multiple versions of the Modiphius 2d20 system and in general it is...

1. What is the PC power level and growth?
The 2d20 system tends toward a 'Pulp' or 'Action Movie' feel. Character who aren't explicitly superhuman, but who strain suspension of disbelief for what a human being can realistically achieve. Look at some of the other 2d20 lines- Conan, Star Trek, John Carter- and you start to get the idea. Batman and Daredevil are about right for experienced 2d20 characters.

How long it takes to get there varies by game, Star Trek had characters start hypercompetent but then advance little if at all (as per the TV shows) but Conan showed a more typical fantasy RPG rate of advancement. But there is no 2d20 game where a character starts at WFRP Rat-Catcher levels; maybe you might be a non-combatant, but you'll be good at something.

2. Character durability and plot armor.
Characters are pretty durable. There are different grades of character- Mooks/Goons/Extras and then Major Characters for PCs and significant NPCs, with Major Characters being harder to take out. PCs also have "Drama Points" that can further extend their plot armour- but not infinitely.

3. How's the fighting?
It's pretty action-oriented. Narrative mechanics are powerful, but not the only relevant thing. You can spend points to compensate for bad dice or poor tactics, but you get rewarded for good tactics by not having to spend the points and so having them for other things once the fight is done.


In that case I need to ask another question, and need an Achtung Cthulhu 2d20 answer (different 2d20 games do it differently):

4. Damage and healing.
Since I have the PDFs now, I looked it up myself and here's the short version of it:

Characters have a Stress track. It is mental stress, physical bruising and fatigue rolled together (like d20 HP, about 3rd level in terms of capacity).

Fill it and you get an Injury. Get 5 or more points at any time, and you get an Injury. Get 5 Stress and fill the track at the same time, and you get 2 injuries. Three injuries and you're Defeated (possibly dying or dead).

Armor and various can reduce Stress taken by small amounts.

Fatigue filling Stress track means you collapse Defeated, but without injuries.

Healing stress: If you have time to rest between scenes, recover all stress. My PDF does not put any requirements as to the minimum time or conditions that need to be met.

Healing injuries: Recover from one Injury per adventure. Again, no hard specifics. At the recovery make a test to avoid permanent effect (called Scar).

Pretty complicated, and also pretty scary - basically, all heroes can be safely hit once due to the size of the their Stress track. The second hit is dangerous if you're not fully geared or specced for combat. Third hit invariably brings you into a red zone (you may be still fighting, but you're already on the brink of being Defeated with bad conseuquences).


If I may field a few questions...
Here you go!

1. What is the PC power level and growth?
Competent heroes, leaning more into pulp action heroes - fairly broad competence, a cut above the average, and often special or unusual in some way to have gained the notice of the organisations they work for.

As for the growth:
Character advancement is done advance by advance, with an advance (an increase to skills, attributes, or a new talent, etc) every adventure or two. Characters tend to become more versatile and have more tricks and options, rather than just increasing in absolute power: even a hero with a few dozen adventures under their belt will still need to be wary of Panzers and Elder Gods.

2. Character durability and plot armor.
Medium. Characters can take risks, and have a short stress track that recovers quickly to represent stamina and actively avoiding harm, but they can also suffer serious injuries that impose penalties and take longer to heal, and which may even become permanent scars. As befitting a game where you face both the horrors of war and the nightmarish entities of the Mythos, some of those injuries and scars may be mental as well as the physical injuries of bullets, blades, and claws.

3. How's the fighting?
Somewhere on the divide between "heroes can take it " and "vaguely realistic". Ambushes and stacking the odds in your favour are definitely valuable, but the PCs are heroes and (especially combat-focussed heroes) can punch above their weight and pull off action-movie stunts when needed.

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