How To Make a Starter Set

By John Houlihan
Art by Victor Maristane


You probably can’t fail to have noticed that Achtung! Cthulhu’s Starter Set launched this month and it’s already been going great guns with some really decent feedback from reviewers and new fans. 

Dave Thaumavore’s RPG Review said: “This is a remarkable starter set… it teaches the game really effectively… it really drew me in and made me want to run this game… this is how you make a great RPG Starter Set.” 

Even the mighty Forbes linked it to The Ministry for Ungentlemanly Warfare said, “Achtung! Cthulhu lives up to its cheeky punchline of “Punch evil in the tentacles” thanks to a good system and a setting that blends action, horror and history together..”

If you haven’t seen it already, the fantastic High Rollers also did an awesome Let’s Play using the Starter Set as inspiration.

But just what goes into making a boxed set like this and what extra challenges does it pose as both a game and product designer? 

The first thing to consider is what’s the point of doing a starter set in the first place? Surely, there’s a Player’s Guide, GM’s Guide, a host of campaigns and missions already there to entice people on board? Well, that’s all true, but imposing 200+ page books can be daunting and our primary aim with this set was to expand our audience and bring new people on board. 

We’ve got a brilliant loyal set of fans and we love them, but every RPG needs to welcome a succession of new players on board to keep it viable. So how to entice people away from D&D and the other banquet of RPGs on the market today and get them to sample Achtung! Cthulhu?  

Fallout has a brilliant multimillion dollar TV series doing a lot of ambient marketing for it, while a certain Denis Villeneuve’s Dune 2 hasn’t done the RPG any harm at all, and there’s a host of immensely popular D&D live plays, shows and celebrities doing the hard lifting for them.

Our answer was to create as few barriers to entry as possible, with an easy-to-pick-up rules set, attractive components like tokens and maps that look great on the table and feel great in the hand with a compelling  adventure to bring both GMs and Players into the fold. 

Then promote it to a new audience in interesting and innovative ways.  

Starter Sets and all physical products are a marriage of the creative and technical and we began with a crucial starting frame which is the price point. We wanted a set that was great value, that would scream at people to take a chance on a new IP and would be exactly the sort of impulse purchase you might make at your local game store or RPG convention. We set that at £30 or around $35 which is pretty competitive. 

Once we had that nailed down it was a case of levering maximum value into that box. The two key beginning components were a stripped down Basic Rules booklet of as few pages as possible, which would be easy to learn but would give a real flavour of the game without getting bogged down by advanced mechanics. 

A meaty adventure was also a must but it had to work on a number of levels: it would begin by assuming both players and GM knew little to nothing about the Secret War, but would also be able to teach them rules and lore as they went along whilst immersing them in the story. It should also introduce as many Allied, Axis and Mythos factions as it could, so they could get a real appreciation of the factions and meta structure of the game. Oh, and finally it had to start at the very beginning of the timeline of the real conflict and feature an iconic location too. All those things  fed into the narrative design challenge.

Fortunately, Modiphius’s own Ben Maunder was up for the job and he wrote a cracking 60 page adventure called Among the Wolves which seamlessly transported players from the beaches of Dunkirk, through the heart of Black Sun camp, to the centre of an alien hive city. 

After that we honed it even further so that it would come with components like the 100+ tokens and six double sided maps which are used as battlemaps to play the combat sequences, and to add a sense of mystery and exploration to levels like the alien tunnel complex. Throw in six compelling pre-gens and a rules summary for each player and we were nearly there.

The finishing touches were to make the box double up as a GM screen with rules on the inside plus an awesome limited edition translucent green Elder Sign Dice Set—the real thematic icing on the cake. 

Design, art and marketing all came together to supply the finishing touches for launch. Using our newly acquired “Punch Evil in the Tentacles” tagline, we built on our existing pulp look to present an exterior which we hoped would not only look amazing but would prove irresistible to prospective fans. 

They may not have heard of Achtung! Cthulhu before but the cover art and taglines in the style of a classic pulp magazine (complete with Special Issue sticker) do a fantastic job of showcasing the pulp-influenced, action packed rollercoaster ride which Achtung! Cthulhu has become.

So, that’s more or less how we did it and it’s a tribute to the many people at Modiphius and beyond who were involved and contributed their time, passion, creative ideas, expertise and sheer hard work to make it happen. 

There was the odd hiccup along the way of course, not least having the launch delayed because of events in the Persian Gulf, meaning the ship had to divert around the horn of Africa and add a month to release time. 

 “Achtung! Cthulhu Starter Set launch delayed by pirates” was not something we ever anticipated —but it does sound kind of cool, right? 

Pick up a copy of the Achtung! Cthulhu Starter Set which 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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