Zeppelins? In Transylvania?

By Pat McNally

Greetings Agents,

Today sees the release of the latest in our series of ready-made adventures for Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20. “The Romanian Imperative” will see the plucky agents of section M journey from good old Blighty all the way to the mountains of Transylvania, in pursuit of a Nachtwölfe engineer and his latest wunderwaffen.

++Incoming Transmission++  Join Pat for a chat in the Modiphius forums today (9th November) if you have any questions about The Romanian Imperative or game design in general!

One of the great things about writing for Achtung! Cthulhu is the sheer variety of sources you can draw on for inspiration and ideas. The number of films, comics, novels, and other media covering World War 2 probably outweighs that of any other period of history, and that’s without adding in the mythos creatures, mad scientists and sinister sorcerers that make the Secret War of Achtung! Cthulhu so enticing.

For this particular adventure I came to my keyboard with one core idea - Zeppelins! For those who are not familiar with the term a Zeppelin was a type of airship invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. They saw use at the turn of the 20th Century and as bombers during World War One but, following the infamous Hindenburg disaster in 1937, they were all decommissioned.

But why Zeppelins you ask?

Firstly, because Zeppelins are just cool! What self-respecting evil genius doesn’t want a giant balloon as their headquarters? Filled with loyal troops, armed to the teeth, drifting menacingly through the sky, perfect. Secondly, using Zeppelins as part of the Secret War reinforces the difference between our own history and the fictional setting of Achtung! Cthulhu. Thirdly, despite being over one-hundred years old, Zeppelins still feel futuristic precisely because we don’t have them anymore. They are a mysterious “lost-technology” that really did exist, which works wonderfully in the context of the Secret War.

I also decided early on in my brainstorming that I wanted to send the players on a long journey, I wanted them to be out of range of support, isolated and alone. I also wanted to avoid the more usual settings of the western or eastern fronts and, having considered Crete, Greece and Finland, eventually settled on Romania, which at this time had not been involved in any heavy fighting and was only beginning to become involved in the War, in contrast to say, occupied France. By having the Players isolated from support in a foreign land I hoped to conjure up the feeling of a pulp action tale in the vein of “Indiana Jones”, “Kelly’s Heroes” or the British Commando Comics; a few plucky heroes against a seeming insurmountable foe, not knowing who else they can trust or rely on.

Having spent an alarming amount of time researching zeppelins, the political and military situation in Romania in early 1941 and calculating potential routes from England to Romanian based on the technology of the time, I realised that I should probably start writing an actual adventure. Now, everyone who has every written or run a role-playing game has done it in their own way, and our hobby is all the better for that. My own preference, usually, is to begin from the perspective of “what happens if the player characters never become involved in the story?”.

In this case I had already established a main character ([Redacted]), their mode of transportation (a Zeppelin) and their location (Romania). Next came the motivation for the main characters presence at the location (The Plan) and what resources that character had available to achieve their aims (Troops, Weapons, etc.). After that I begin to write the Players into the story, their briefing scene, and the journey across Europe, with some of the challenges they may face on the way. Writing in this way I feel more confident in being able to react to the actions of the players characters during the game itself because I understand what my characters want to do and how they could do it.

However, this led to my first major lesson in writing for publication, sticking to a word budget. After finishing the first draft of the adventure, which was light on game information but full of lengthy descriptive passages and meticulously researched notes on engineering, history, and geography, I realised I had more than doubled my word allocation for the project. Thus, I begin revising the draft with an eye to cutting any irrelevant text whilst also adding in the game information, such as stat blocks and difficulty ratings, that a Gamemaster would need. With hindsight the 2,000 words I wrote describing a timeline of what would happen if the players did nothing at all was probably never needed, beyond helping me predict where the weaknesses in the antagonists’ plan were. The 1,000-word background on the lead antagonist was also cut because, whilst interesting, it didn’t add anything to help a Gamemaster to run the game.

I don’t consider any of the cut material to have been wasted work however as all of it informed and enhanced the final product (and now sits in my slush folder for future use). A few things slipped through the cracks though. There remains an anachronism that I thought I had edited out (see if you can spot it?) and a subplot involving a mythos creature was excised for clarity, but a few echoes remain (can work out what it was?).

The afternoon I spent researching Romanian silver mining during the 17th Century was, as it turns out, a complete waste of time. I’ll admit that one.

Ultimately though my first foray into the Secret War has been a rewarding one, which I very much hope will not be my last. Join me on the forums, where I will be hosting an informal Q and A, if you have any questions, queries or just want to chat about any aspect of the adventure.

Or just go and watch “Zeppelin!”, a 1971 film starring Michael York. Because Zeppelins are awesome.


Pat McNally has been writing, running, and playing RPG and LARP games for over 30 years, covering more systems and settings than he cares to remember. “The Romanian Imperative” is his first published work and he’s pretty nervous about it. Pat lives with his Wife, Daughter and 3 Cats; making him the 6th most important person in his own house.

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