I’ve been a fan of Kevin Crawford’s work since the release of Stars Without Number. I’ve kept an eye on his releases since then, even though I didn’t purchase one until recently when I decided to get the hardcover of Silent Legions. I wasn’t quite happy with Call of Cthulhu, and the new Delta Green hadn’t been released yet, so I wanted to check out this game and see if it would work for me.
On an initial flip-through, Silent Legions looks pretty old-school. There’s some black-and-white artwork sprinkled around (in the PDF it’s quite pixelated which sucks), otherwise it’s plain 2-column text. It’s easy to read, even if the tables, etc. don’t stand out too well. If you’re a fan of the newest Call of Cthulhu and/or Delta Green and how stellar they look, you’ll be disappointed. Kevin’s newest releases are improved, and one day there may be a new edition of Silent Legions.
Creating a Character
Like Kevin’s other games and unlike BRP-based games such as Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green, Silent Legions uses classes for the characters (Investigator, Scholar, Socialite, or Tough). Yes you can fine-tune your character with backgrounds and the skill system, but up-front you will have to choose what general kind of character you want to play. If you tend to play D&D or OSR games, this won’t be a big deal. If you’re coming from a BRP game, then this will likely be a bit jarring. I personally don’t mind, as the classes are fairly broad in scope.
Similar to Kevin’s other games and BRP-based games, Silent Legions has a skill system. It’s not as fine-grained as BRP games, but it is a nice overlay and I think for this kind of game it’s sufficient. Unlike BRP’s logical d100-based skills, Silent Legions uses 2d6 for skill rolls.
The Rules of the Game
This chapter isn’t too long, and it briefly covers most of what you’ll need to know to run a game of Silent Legions. First skill checks are covered, and it’s a quick 1-page overview. Next is saving throws and natural perils, followed by expertise. It’s a neat way to re-roll a skill check or use a special ability.
Combat is next on the agenda, and it’s also just 1 page! This is something I really appreciate in Kevin’s games. Look, I’m older, impatient, hard-pressed for time, etc. etc. I don’t have all day to put my mind into a game like I could when I was younger. And coming from a D&D/OSR background, these rules just make sense to me and are almost too easy to pick up and understand. ANYWAYS. After combat is encumbrance; luckily this is very brief and fairly logical, as I tend to hand-wave it for the most part. Next is madness, which I suppose is a more PC and logical name rather than insanity as used in Call of Cthulhu. This a little more involved, as it’s 2 WHOLE PAGES. Most of it makes sense to me, but as I don’t really like to lay on the insanity/madness that much in horror games I’m likely to not use very much of this.
Character advancement is pretty straight-forward, gaining hit die, lowering madness, and gaining skill and expertise points. The last section covers injury and healing. Just like Call of Cthulhu and OSR games, combat in Silent Legions is deadly and will likely kill those who foolishly rush into a fight. At the very end of this chapter is a 1-page quick reference sheet, and it’s something that really should be in every RPG!
Magic and sorcery is something I never really paid mind to in Call of Cthulhu, as I always felt it was something to be used by opponents and monsters, not the characters. Silent Legions addresses this in a way, as there are two kinds of magic: gray and black, the latter being almost too much to bear for players. I’m not sure if I’d use much of this chapter, but like always Kevin puts in some incredibly useful tables, and so I just may have to try it out and likely be surprisingly pleased with the results.
Creating Your Mythos
This is a big chapter, with lots of information and a very large number of tables. What creating a mythos includes is the gods, aliens, cults, and artifacts. Depending on if you’re planning a one-shot adventure using Silent Legions or an entire campaign that could span months or even years, only small portions or the entire chapter would be beneficial or deemed necessary for your game. I would personally start with just artifacts and perhaps aliens, and later on introduce the gods. Cults, as I’ve mentioned in numerous reviews, just don’t appeal to me and I wouldn’t likely use them.
Building Your World
This is another big chapter, but probably the most helpful one in the book. Compared to the broad strokes painted in the previous chapter, this one narrows in and makes you get up close with a fine-point pen. It’s time to really sit down and think about what you want to happen in your game, and as always Kevin presents a lot of information and tables to help you find exactly what you want.
First it covers regions and locations, specifically using what Kevin calls location tags. Some of these tags are worded quite strangely to me, and I’m unlikely to use most of them.
Next is working on the adventure itself, and that is accomplished through creating an adventure template and utilizing scenes. Regarding the latter there are many categories, including resolution (not sure why it’s listed first), investigation, introduction, hook, ambush, conflict, escape, and respite. These are far more useful than the previous location tags.
Next Kevin gives a section and table for challenges tailored specifically for each character class. I wouldn’t have thought to create challenges in this manner, but it’s an interesting take that’s easy to work with as well as create my own. I might even think about doing the same for other class-based RPGs.
The chapter ends with 2 pages for quickly creating actors and crime scenes, along with a location and template creation example. The last one I’m very glad to see included, as with the other examples it makes these rules far easier to understand and remember, and this in particular does help a bit regarding location tags.
In this shorter chapter, the game goes over an aspect of Lovecraftian horror that I never really got into. The aspect of cults is something that I never came across in my reading, and yet they’re in so many RPGs! In Silent Legion this is a decent-sized chapter, going over the nature of cults, anatomy, assets, and more. The last few pages and tables specifically go over assets.
This chapter is quite a bit smaller than I would have liked, although compared to Delta Green’s Agent Handbook I’m glad to get any at all! The intent is for the GM to create his or her own custom creatures, either completely from scratch or using the few included as starting points. A page is devoted to morale, which is odd to see as I’ve never seen it outside of B/X and derived OSR games. I do like that it’s included, and as noted it still wouldn’t be used by the most bloodthirsty or alien creatures. There’s also a couple of helpful tables, although I certainly wish there were more for this chapter.
Game Master Resources
As mentioned in the opening paragraphs this section was primarily due to the Kickstarter success for this book. While I think it’s nice other were able to support Kevin and have a say for thing they’d like to have included in the book, it also makes it sound like this section wouldn’t exist otherwise, and Kevin wouldn’t have even bothered to offer any more material. Coming from Stars Without Number, that would make this game appear to be a lot more bare-bones!
First is a Lovecraftian name generator. Garbled consonants, got it. Next is secret adepts of the world. Unless your game will heavily feature magic this won’t be of much use. Next Kevin covers using Silent Legions with other games, both of his own as well as Call of Cthulhu. This is certainly helpful, but aside from some monsters I’m not likely to try to combine other games and their rules. Next is an interesting bit called Dark Senses, whereas the players can suffer unique consequences as a result of their encounters with the strange and horrible. This is more of what I want to see! Next is an interesting item, an example society dedicated to human good. I think that’s a nice contrast to the typical evil cults and conspiratorial happenings that can be so prevalent in these kind of games. After that are a couple of example cults/societies, and again it’s something I’m likely to never use.
From there we finally get some more tables, these focused on mythos aberrations. There’s some interesting ideas in here, and may help you get some adventure ideas going. Next is another section regarding combining Silent Legions with other games. I’m not sure since this was a Kickstarter perk/add-on that it was put here rather than combined with the section in a previous chapter, so it does feel a little out of place, as helpful as it is. Next is another idea for potential hope and good in the world, and it’s something that I might include in a game that perhaps hints at otherworldly protectors and benefactors. Next is a section regarding running a game set in a university setting, namely Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. While I can see a certain appeal to this kind of game (and hey I’m a huge fan of Re-Animator!) it wouldn’t be my first choice, but I am glad to see this included. The last section is an obvious take on Delta Green called Unit 13. Of course in 1 page there’s not much that can be included, and like most of the other sections it feels like something that really could have been fleshed out into its own chapter. But even if this section was, I’d still would choose Delta Green over it for many reasons, but that’s for a certain kind of game/atmosphere.
This chapter ends with a Kickstarter patron list, a character sheet (just one page and art/frill-free, such a novelty these days!), and an index that seems to be pretty short but I still appreciate it was included at all.
So in the end, can this game replace Call of Cthulhu for me? I think it can. It can’t replace Delta Green; it has a far better and logical rule system, clearer writing, and a much more modern and clearer layout that makes it so easy to both read and reference. But I do think they can happily sit side-by-side on my shelf, and depending on what kind of game I want to run (and really, it’s more about what kind of characters the players would want to be) Silent Legions could easily become a go-to game, namely due to the simple and OSR-inspired rules. I would also choose this over World/Chronicles of Darkness for a “normal/mortal” horror game. I would certainly like to see more material from Kevin for this game, and I must also criticize the lack of any free and/or open-source license (namely the OGL) to allow others to create materials and adventures for this and Kevin’s other games.
This was also the first hardback I purchased from DriveThruRPG, and I’m pretty happy with it. Granted it’s not in color and not as sophisticated a design/layout as Kevin’s recent releases, but unlike the PDF the artwork is sharp. My preference is still paperback, but fewer publishers are offering it through DriveThruRPG, and that’s a shame, especially for larger page-counts.