Achtung! Cthulhu: GM Tips

By John Houlihan
Art by Boris Martsev


Gamemastering is both an art and a science and great GMs really enhance the feel and enjoyment of any table top session. Some GMs are just born, but plenty are made and formed by the experience they pick up along the way. With this in mind, we decided to take a quick look at what’s unique about gamemastering in Achtung! Cthulhu’s pulp world of adventure and share a few hints and tips for the prospective GM. Of course, it shares plenty of DNA with other TTRPGs, so some of these are a more general nature, but others are specific and unique to the setting but we hope you find them useful. Happy GMing!

Historical Inspiration

Achtung! Cthulhu’s Secret War takes place between around 1935 and 1945 which encompasses one of the most turbulent but fascinating periods in history. There are so many amazing and little known stories associated with WWII and they can prove a real inspiration for your own missions and adventures. Highlighting some of these untold tales can really shine a light for modern audiences.

You always have to be conscious of the heroism, sacrifice and even horror of real world events, but with a little sensitivity and appreciation this period is an endless source of material and subject matter. Achtung! Cthulhu’s secret War is fought beneath the surface of the main conflict, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t influenced by events in the wider war. Quite often we take inspiration by describing the battles fought on the fringes around the edges of historical events by asking questions like what would Black Sun be doing during battle of Stalingrad? How would Section M respond to an incursion in the Channel Islands? 

Factional Warfare

When the new version of Achtung! Cthulhu debuted we designed it with the major factions very much to the forefront. On the Allied side there’s the dauntless heroes and heroines of Britain’s Section M and the US’s Majestic and opposing them are the sorcerous might of Black Sun and Nachtwölfe. Then there’s the mythos factions of the Deep Ones and Mi-Go.  Some are firm friends, others only nominal allies, others deadly enemies, but it’s the interplay between them that can make for an intriguing mission or campaign. There are many shades of grey too and even great allies like Section M and Majestic sometimes find themselves at odds. With six factions each with their own competing aims and agendas, there’s near endless possibilities: temporary alliances of convenience, double crosses, duplicitousness, and all manner of cunning chicanery that is the lifeblood of pulp adventure. And that’s before you count the dark agendas of the gods and monsters of the Mythos themselves.

Everyone Needs a Turn in the Spotlight

This is almost a universal truth for GMs, but with agents who boast a diverse set of archetypes and skills, it’s important to give everyone at the table their chance to shine. It’s easy to fall into a narrow combat focus, but there’s many ways to crack a problem or challenge your players rather than a straight up fight. Infiltrators can help sneak around and prepare the ground, Con Artists can bluff their way through, Grease Monkeys and Boffins can provide alternative solutions, Occultists can deliver mystical insights and options. 

When you design and run adventures, try to keep your GMing and game design open rather than forcing agents onto a specific path. Set a challenge and give the players a chance to display their ingenuity and ability to work together as a team. Always be especially welcoming and accommodating to new players and make sure they get one decisive moment to contribute in their first session if you can. Everyone was a n00b once and remember you’re helping welcome aboard people who may become loyal and long standing players.

Lean Into the Pulp!

Embrace the rip roaring thrill-a-minute nature of the Achtung! Cthulhu universe. This is a world of dashing deeds and derring-do, so don’t be afraid to embrace it wholeheartedly. Devious recurring villains, square jawed heroes and heroines, dramatic reversals, femme and homme fatales, gratuitous car chases, fist fights on the top of burning zeppelins, nefarious cultists, mad scientists, strange entities from other dimensions, weird inventions, sanity-sapping entities, and above them all the towering gods of the Mythos themselves. The tropes of the genre are all there to be used or subverted as you see fit and it’s glorious. Don’t be afraid to punch evil in the tentacles and be proud of it!

Keep the Pace High but Don’t Be Afraid To Vary It

Pulp adventures are traditionally wild thrill-a-minute rides as your heroes and heroines leap from dramatic scene to high octane encounter, but don’t be afraid to build in some downtime, so everyone can catch a breath, recover and renew their energies and strategies for the battles ahead. Threat is a great tool for controlling the flow of a mission too, you can either use it to complicate the agents lives (in an interesting way), or delay gratification. Having your players nervously eye an increasing stack of Threat is a great way to build tension as they wait for a devastating denouement or a big bad to emerge.  

Design vs Improvisation

“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men … and gamemasters, Gang aft a-gley” as Rabbie Burns once nearly wrote. We’ve all been there, you’ve plotted and planned a mission, with an intricate scene and plot progression, lined up your villains, had a killer reversal ready to deploy… only for your agents to become fascinated by an incidental NPC and decide to spend an hour digging for their true meaning and purpose. Okay, it might seem frustrating, but try to roll with it, go where your agents want to go and look on it as a good opportunity to try out your improvisational skills. Sometimes following your players’ lead rather than your own can take you to some very interesting places. Don’t be afraid to let go of the wheel sometimes and go where the flow of the game naturally takes you. 

Don’t Forget To Have Fun Yourself!

Games are meant to be fun not only for players but wait for it … GMs too! Many and varied are the joys of GMing. Whether it’s designing interesting missions, crafting a great narrative, inhabiting great villains, deploying your acting and voice talents, encouraging your players to grow and learn or just sharing a fantastic social session with a bunch of friends. Don’t forget to have as much fun as any player… more so if you desire! 

Find out more about Achtung! Cthulhu’s amazing world of pulp adventure and the characters your create with it in the Achtung! Cthulhu Starter Set. This contains Basic Rules, an explosive three act campaign Among the Wolves, quick reference sheets, six pre-generated characters, six full colour maps, over 120 tokens, and an exclusive Elder Sign dice set! 


Or check out the whole Achtung! Cthulhu collection in the UK and US for the full core books, dice, accessories, missions, campaigns and much more!

You can also join a host of existing fans on our official Modiphius Discord Channel. There’s a friendly and welcoming fan group on Facebook and you can sign up for the newsletter to hear all the latest news and take advantage of some very special offers!

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