All the way back in 1987, a group of Australian writers got together and decided to take Call of Cthulhu into one of the lesser fleshed out settings – Australia. Our fair shores were already featured in The Shadow Out Of Time, so it was no surprise that some tabletop fans would want to flesh out the sunburnt country a little further.
That RPG was called Terror Australis, and 32 years later a collection of writers have banded together to update the book for the latest core rules. But rather than just being noticed by Call of Cthulhu and tabletop fans, the work ended up getting the attention of a completely different organisation: the National Library of Australia.
In an announcement via their Facebook page, RPG publishers Chaosium Inc. revealed that the National Library’s acquisitions team had reached out to them.
As they explained, the team was looking for more local works “of national significance relating to Australia and the Australian people”. As part of that mission, they’d stumbled across the original copies of Terror Australis and the updated 2nd edition – and wondered whether the publisher would be willing to donate the works to the library’s collection.
“A month ago I stumbled upon the Convicts and Cthulhu fan-products, and asked the publisher if he would be willing to deposit copies with us,” Dr Brendan Whyte, the acting curator of maps in the National Library’s maps and research programs, told Kotaku Australia over email.
According to the publisher, the contact came about as a result of a Call of Cthulhu fanzine that was uploaded directly to the National Library’s e-portal.
“He noted that a Call of Cthulhu fanzine that had been deposited directly via the NLA’s e-deposit portal that mentioned our forthcoming ‘Secrets of Australia‘ book, and said he could find no trace of that book anywhere,” the publisher’s vice president and a fellow Aussie, Michael O’Brien, explained. “We explained that ‘Secrets of Australia‘ was a working title, and the book was actually released as Terror Australis – 2nd Edition.”
Here’s a shot of the cover for the updated edition:
And the original 1987 Terror Australis, which has also been donated to the national archives:
The publisher is still looking for a physical copy of the 1987 Terror Australis book, which has been out of print for ages. “If we can source a spare copy of that in reasonable condition, we will also pass that on to the [National Library of Australia],” O’Brien said.
Terror Australis isn’t just notable because it concentrates on Australia as an RPG setting. It’s an intriguing work because of how much it blends the Australian environment and climate, as well as Indigenous culture and legends, into the fabric of the game. There’s also a special chapter explicitly focusing on how to incorporate “the wisdom and learning stemming from Aboriginal cultural tradition” into RPG sessions. Along with separate rules and mechanics for quests based on the Aboriginal Dreamtime, coverage of indigenous artifacts and sorcery, the book also devotes space to highlight the discrimination and abuse suffered by indigenous Australians in the post-war period.
Here we focus on the history of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, as well as the white population, and contrast life in the urban and life in the rural environments. Special focus is given to Australian investigators, with new skills and occupations appropriate to for Aboriginal and white Australians. We round things out with brief biographies of some key Australians of the post-Great War period, who might be encountered by wandering investigators.
Known to some as “the Dreaming” or “Dreamtime,” the Alcheringa chapter focuses on how to incorporate the wisdom and learning stemming from Aboriginal cultural traditions into games, and features special rules and mechanics for running “dream quests” to gather important information to solve dire situations facing the investigators, as well as the rewards for “solving” a “Song-Line.” The stages of a Song-Line are discussed and presented with examples, such as the Story of Bigibila, which can be played as a scenario introduction to Alcheringa. Topics such as Aboriginal sorcery and artifacts are also discussed.
Terror Australis isn’t the only Aussie Cthulhu RPG to be a part of the national archives, though. A digital version of Convicts & Cthulhu, as well as the Tickets of Leave supplement, has also been donated to the library’s online repository. Written by Geoff Gillian and Dean Engelhardt, who both contributed to Terror Australis, Convicts & Cthulhu is a Cthulhu RPG set in the penal colonies of mid-1790s Australia, back when Federation was still a distant dream and the landscape was viewed as nothing more than a giant place to house convicts.
As for Terror Australis, a hardcopy edition of Terror Australis‘s second edition will be sent to the National Library’s collection later this month once it’s been printed. Ebook versions are already available through the Chaosium Inc. website. Both editions of Terror Australis have also been catalogued on the National Library’s website, although they’re only accessible within the National Library’s reading rooms.