The Laundry RPG – Core Rulebook.

Some time ago I bought a copy of Charles Stross’ ‘The Atrocity Archives’, doing so unaware of the fact that it had undertones of Cthulhu Mythos – it was just one of those serendipitous events. I had previously been gifted a copy of “Halting State” and had thoroughly enjoyed the near-future, geeky  and technical elements.  I wasn’t to be disappointed with “The Atrocity Archives”

I read the book – a set of separate but related tales – in a single sitting, totally falling for the characters and the general premise.  In ‘The Atrocity Archives’, Stross creates a fantastic world in which technology and mathematics are the basis of magic, and with a little too much knowledge this can be used to open holes in the universe… Where as you and I know, there are things waiting to get in.

As I read the book I immediately saw the possibilities for roleplaying. We have Nazis, horrors from other dimensions, secret government departments, and a techie called Bob who’s just started Active Service with this top (and we mean TOP) secret department known simply as ‘The Laundry’. Bob Howard (a literary nod to Robert E Howard?), might not be your typical hero, more your typical sys admin – James Bond meets Dilbert maybe – but he does get the gadgets, the girl, and manages to save the world – All whilst maintaining an ISO 9001 accreditation, staying within budget for office supplies and keeping in the good books of inhuman resources.

Clearly I wasn’t the only person to see roleplaying potential in the world that Charles Stross so brilliantly outlined in ‘The Atrocity Archive’ and the subsequent novel ‘The Jennifer Morgue’.  Cubicle 9, a high quality UK games company with a fantastic present product line, have published a fully licensed RPG appropriately using the BRP rules system and really making the most of the groundwork laid out in the novels.

The marketing blurb gives a great flavour of what is to come:

“CAPITAL LAUNDRY SERVICES – WHAT NEEDS TO BE CLEANED UP?The Laundry RPG

There are things out there, in the weirder reaches of space-time where reality is an optional extra. Horrible things, usually with tentacles. Al-Hazred glimpsed them, John Dee summoned them, HP Lovecraft wrote about them, and Alan Turing mapped the paths from our universe to theirs. The right calculation can call up entities from other, older universes, or invoke their powers. Invisibility? Easy! Animating the dead? Trivial! Binding lesser demons to your will? Easily doable!

Opening up the way for the Great Old Ones to come through and eat our brains? Unfortunately, much too easy.

That’s where the Laundry comes in – it’s a branch of the British secret service, tasked to prevent hideous alien gods from wiping out all life on Earth (and more particularly, the UK). You work for the Laundry. The hours are long, the pay is sub-par, the co-workers are… interesting (in the Chinese curse sense of the word), and the bureaucracy is stifling – but you do get to wave basilisk guns and bullet wards around, and to go on challenging and exciting missions to exotic locations like quaint, legend-haunted Wigan, cursed Slough and Wolverhampton where the walls are thin.”

The book is available as a 288 page hardback, as a downloadable PDF, or indeed both together as a bundle.  The book is well made with solid covers and great cover artwork which hints at that James Bond- Dilbert- darkly humorous- Paranoia-come-Cthulhu world that waits within. There is a sample adventure tucked away in here as well, something I regard as a must have in any good RPG and something that I think can tell you a lot about a game and its writers – unfortunately, many are disappointing afterthoughts, though a few are pure genius and can ensure that your first real experience of the game is a positive one.  In this case the scenario is not only successful but is aimed at being a source on the Laundrys Dunwich based facility (that’s the real Dunwich, the one by the sea in Suffolk), so not only does it give you a ready to go scenario it actually continues to build out the body of material you have to work with.

The use of BRP rules make the game simple to pick up and play, featuring a ten step character creation process, simple skill choices and percentile rolls for success or failure. There are a few mods to the basic BRP rules worth a mention;

  • The inclusion of a mechanism for dealing with ‘major wounds’, (it feels like it started out life as a house rule for criticals, but as that’s the best way rules are born and I would have no complaints if this were truly the case).
  • Personality types all have skill bonuses that help define your ‘role’ in the team.
  • Assignment and training features supplement profession skills with specialist training.An improved and adapted magic system which has provisions for techno-occult devices, gadgets and gewgaws.

It’s so blisteringly easy that I wanted to play it straight away.  After all who isn’t going to love a game that brings you gadgets such as the Necronomiphone, and before you ask – yes there is an app for what you are thinking about…

I take my metaphorical hat off to authors Gareth Hanrahan, Jason Durall and John Snead for the superbly written book.  So often today the trend is for hastily released error laden products, but in keeping with the entire Cubicle 7 line (do check out their Dr Who series), the quality is excellent and is testimony to their editorial processes.  It most certainly deserves it’s nomination for UK Games Expo Best New Roleplaying Game 2011.

There is a group of my friends that I know are going to love this and I can’t wait to run it for them.

Ia! F’tagn!

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