GTM #219 - Inside the Adaptation of a Strategy Board Game to an RPG
by Sandy Petersen, Petersen Games

Inside the Adaptation of a Strategy Board Game to an RPG 


Petersen Games is releasing its first RPG product!

It's a new project titled Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos – Pathfinder with over +100 Cthulhu entities, as well as rules for bringing Lovecraft (from the foremost experts of it) to the High Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery world of Pathfinder.

I have taken the carefully balanced, scary monster miniature-laden strategy board game Cthulhu Wars and created all the rules, characters, and scenarios for the perfect addition to your Pathfinder RPG portfolio.


Strategy Games vs. RPGs

One important consideration in adapting our strategy board game Cthulhu Wars into the world of RPGs was adjusting the number of minions from something balanced and fair (strategy game) to “more is better” (RPG).

For example, in Cthulhu Wars, the Black Goat only has two ghouls – this is balanced and fair for their faction, in board game terms. But if you are a Gamemaster sending a party of ghouls to attack your players’ characters, you’ll need to lay your hands on more of them.

I’d like to talk about two other specific cases in which we had to change things up better suiting the tactical RPG world.


Great Cthulhu

In Lovecraft’s mythology, the monster Cthulhu is mountainous in size. Though the figure we’ve provided for him in the board game Cthulhu Wars is almost eight inches tall, and seems huge, for a figure, he is too diminutive for the “real” Cthulhu.

In fact, no company has produced a figure of the appropriate size. By my calculations, a Cthulhu figure needs to be a minimum of six feet tall to match the 28mm scale, and maybe even bigger.

In the board game, there’s no problem. The figure is huge, easy to see, scary, and can stand-in for Cthulhu. But in an RPG, where sizes are supposed to be accurate, our 8-inch masterpiece obviously cannot be Cthulhu himself.

Many people don’t know that Cthulhu is just one of a whole race of creatures, called Starspawn. He is their high priest and leader, but millions of other “Cthulhus” like unto him wait under the sea. It’s possible, even likely, that he is the largest, but it’s never stated.

The Starspawn appear in Cthulhu Wars, as figures a little larger than a man, which is of course too small for the RPG, so they are renamed “Larval Starspawn,” and represent newly-budded individuals, still potent in a fight.

And we are including our Cthulhu figure, but we have renamed it “the Starspawn.” So, it is now simply one of Cthulhu’s species, smaller and weaker than Cthulhu, but still fearsome.

But where is Cthulhu in the RPG? Well, obviously we can’t include a 6-foot figure of the dude, but we DO want to include him. So, because of his terrifying size and power, we treat him like an environmental hazard rather than a tabletop enemy; i.e., there are rules laying out the effects of having Cthulhu in the area. Perhaps not as dire as “1d4 player-characters per round” but close to it.

Thus, we were able to parlay our too-small Cthulhu figure into three extra creatures for the Pathfinder game!


Lordy, Eight Polyps?!

In another example, the Shadows Out of Time set includes 8 flying polyps. Those familiar with the Mythos know that flying polyps are not mere sword fodder – they are one of the most terrifying species Lovecraft ever created, with a history to back up their reputation.

Lovecraft outright states they caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, the Permian extinction, and possibly many other major extinctions. They are genius-level predators with terrifying otherworld abilities.

However, there is method to our madness. Let me explain.


Flying Polyps don’t obey our laws.

Flying polyps shift in and out of visibility, and at any given time much of their existence is on other planes of existence (though they feed on creatures in our own plane).

Their polypous, gestalt nature means that the various parts of their form in our dimension don’t even need to be adjacent, which may help explain how they can emanate winds which suck a target back towards them (among other things).

In our new rules for the flying polyp, when one appears, the gamemaster rolls 1d8 to determine how many separate body parts that polyp manifests as. Thus, the eight models we are providing is for one single polyp! Thus, this one monster can surround a party, or try to split it, using its body parts as tools to this end!

I feel we have transformed the polyp into a dynamic tactical challenge. A creature with multiple bodies, each shifting in and out of existence? So, in fact we are only giving gamemasters one flying polyp. But really, that’s all you should ever need.  

So, while the work of taking an existing mythology previously used in our strategy board game and adapting it to a role-playing environment was challenging, my team and I feel it was worth it to make this amazing world more accessible to the RPG enthusiast.