I originally wrote this review for In the Mouth of Dorkness back in June of 2016. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but it’s still on my list!
The first thing you’ve got to know is that chances are, you’ll be reading a newer edition of this book, and it’s meant to be for the Savage Worlds system. The blurb on the back says it’s for Cinematic Unisystem, and that all the rules are contained within. I’m assuming this is an oversight from when the new edition was printed. You will need Savage Worlds if you wish to use the book as is. That said, I don’t think it would take much effort at all to convert this over to any number of game systems, and dropping out any mechanics, it would work just fine as an alternate universe sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu.
That bit of bookkeeping out of the way, let me get on with it. Eldritch Skies is a slightly pulpy Science Fiction game that uses H. P. Lovecraft’s writings as a basis. It strips away most of the ever expanding “Lovecraft Circle,” writers who riffed on and expanded what we now look at as the Cthulhu Mythos. Instead, author John Snead tries to keep mostly with what the man himself wrote. Lovecraft often read like Gothic horror, but the content was often more in line with Science Fiction, so this works surprisingly well. The cosmic horror is still present, but it is not as gloomy. Humanity’s place in the universe is tenuous and unassured, but it isn’t destined for some immediate, ugly end. This might be a bit odd for many, more used to Call of Cthulhu’s darker, constant existential danger. An Eldritch Skies series need not end with everyone dead or insane. It could very well end up with folks in some pretty good places. But the universe will still be a dangerous place, filled with extremely alien threats, and like all life forms, Humanity’s time will pass.
In Eldritch Skies, the events of various Lovecraft stories, particularly The Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Shadow Out of Time, and some others have happened. Governments of the world became aware of aliens and the forces of the so called Mythos. They became aware of Deep Ones, the Great Race, the Elder Things, and more. And they began to explore the weird technologies, and weirder ‘magics.’ It didn’t take long for history to take a new path, culminating in the achievement of interstellar flight in 1996. The default time for this game is 2030. Humanity has been in space for some time. We’ve discovered some worlds, set up some colonies, made some enemies, and learned some new lessons. We share the dark with the malevolent and the apathetic. We scrounge resources and hunt down ancient artifacts to learn new sciences. It’s a big, dark, weird universe, and it doesn’t care. There is no light at the end of the tunnel; nobody waiting to rescue us or show us the way. Some of the life out there doesn’t even seem to know we exist, and that might be the best possible situation.
I love this setting. Lovecraft’s more Science Fiction side has often been my preferred, and those few authors who lean in that direction tend to make me happier. I like space based Science Fiction where the aliens are really alien. And I enjoy that while this game is dark, and there are dreadful dangers, it is not without joy or hope or excitement. It is much more how I actually see the universe, empty of the divine, but open for those willing to reach. And that’s a great place for roleplaying. It’s the stuff of drama and character.
Since first hearing about this book a few years back my imagination has run wild. It’s a setting I very much want to sink my teeth into. I’d love to play, but I’m much more likely to run something in it. There is so much potential, so much to explore. And that it’s rooted in one of my favorite author’s work, but taking it in such a different direction than is normally done…That’s exciting.