Reports of horrors lurking in the shadows reach the newsdesk and one reporter returns from an assignment with a haunted expression and bloodied fists. He asks if he can head back to the streets to follow up on a lead, and slips a holy relic and a revolver into his satchel when he thinks nobody’s looking. One junior editor has been carted off to the asylum already this week and it’s only Wednesday.
Enough about the inner working of RPS though. I’m here to tell you about Daily Chthonicle [indiedb site], a free game about running a newspaper serving an Arkham-like town in the grip of terrible horrors. It’s splendid.
There are similarities the Arkham Horror boardgame, in that you’re assigning characters to investigate different parts of the town, but Daily Chthonicle is a fairly unique entity. In fact, it has much more in common with Sid Meier’s Covert Action than anything Lovecraftian I’ve seen before.
Your reporters are assigned to investigate areas of the town and then they report back, letting you know if they’ve found a clue or suspect to follow up on, or whether they’ve actually encountered something deeply unpleasant. One of my writers ran into the ghost of a teacher and managed to take a couple of photographs before taking it out with some arcane equipment. You’re always after the story rather than just trying to eliminate hauntings and monsters, so it’s worth risking life and limb (or perhaps just limb) to take a couple of snaps and dig deeper into the story.
The interface is a little obtuse at times but there’s a helpful tutorial (start on Easy to see it) and I’d advise jumping in and failing rather than worrying about getting everything right on your first attempt. People are going to die and people are going to be institutionalised – that’s how journalism works.
Everything is controlled from a series of static menus, with no time pressure, so you can always take time to decide whether it’s worth spending five bucks to send a weapon to your star investigative journalist who has just run into a horror from beyond the threshold while following up on a story in a graveyard. Why was he in the graveyard in the first place? Because the night watchman went missing and he was trying to find out what might have happened.
Stories are randomised and you’ll always be working to solve a specific case in each chapter of the game.
Each time, the story will be different. Sometimes, a werewolf is shredding innocent (and less innocent) victims to pieces and it is your task to unmask the creature. Other times, it will be a body stealing alien from outer space, a mummy that some misfortunate archeologist has excavated and is now haunting them. Perhaps it will be Jack the Ripper, still mysteriously alive and lurking in the streets at night.
In fact, you won’t really be solving the case yourself – your writers will. Your job is simply to assign them and to piece together the clues and facts into an issue of your newspaper. I haven’t played enough to work with special editions of the paper or anything of that sort yet but the game seems much richer than I imagined it might be. There’s modding potential as well:
The final version of this game will be almost entirely moddable. Certain things will remain “burned in” so to speak because they are too complex, messy and interdependent – the storyteller components, for example, I will just keep expanding on them. But monsters, items, spells, abilities, locations, events… are all pretty trivial to mod
If you’re interested in Lovecraftian horror, newspapers or unusual approaches to investigative games, this is well worth checking out.