Cubicle 7 once again returns to more soiled and blooded clothing to The Laundry, however the suit that emerges is spiffy and shiny. Cubicle 7’s Laundry RPG
is based on the world created by Charles Stross that mixes Lovecraftian cosmic horror with the claustrophobic and paranoid imaginings of 1950s/1960s spy literature with a Pythonesque appreciation of bureaucracy. The original book and book of adventures (Black Bag Jobs) perfectly captured this mood and I am happy to report that this supplement carries on (pun intended) milking this rich vein of dreadfulness, wittiness and the absurd. The writing is chockfull of abbreviations and code words that it would be nice if Cubicle 7 could provide a glossary for “Keepers only” somewhere on its website (or at least include a cheat sheet along with Keeper Screen) but then again, the book gets around to explaining them anyhow. So, if anyone is in need of a primer for spy talk – this certainly would not disappoint anyone. The writing remains as lyrical and whimsical whilst not quite as amusing as the adventure book (save in the rather caustic footnotes) it certainly as high-quality as the main rule book and that gets into the crux of what this book is. It would seem that this book is all those fiddly parts that could not be fitted into the main rulebook.
Therefore, one gets a discussion: Advice on tradecraft, tactics, and safe sorcery which are perhaps the norm in most contemporary Espionage RPGs. Nevertheless, as I do not own any Espionage RPGs other than Victory Games James Bond 007 & the Necroscope RPG this section was invaluable and as you would expect this section is up-to-date with all the latest methods and information gathering techniques and in keeping with the game includes those of the eldritch sort (glad to see that Lumley’s grotesque Dead Speak was not included). This section is very rules-lite and thus makes it more enjoyable and geared toward fast play. Thus, there are not rules for seduction just the mention of it and thus allowing characters to role play it. Similarly, rules for car and other chases are simply successive pursue, spot hidden, and hide rolls. All very simple and thus showing the elegant simplicity of Basic Role Playing (BRP).
Similarly, I was very impressed by the recruitment procedures and also rules governing the use of contacts. All was in keeping with a sinister secret organization dedicated to keeping the apocalypse at bay...for now.
Next up is section detailing new equipment and training courses for the spy, the game does borrow a bit from the Bondian literature and most certainly the Bond films with having a well stocked, even if one has get clearance from the Auditors in triplicate to get the toys from Q Division. So you have your standard spyware stuff but you also get items powered by sorcery. Problem is some of those things employing sorcery might not work so well in the field as they might seem to in theory. There is good Magic and bad Magic. Good guys using bad magic – well bad things can and might happen. Nonetheless, essentially, sage advice for the unwise, as in Call of Cthulhu to stay away from magic items...and not only the books but other things can be just as deadly. This does not stop the opposition from trying to use them against players in a firefight.
However, as players might be stocked with more mundane items there is a venerable plethora of guns and other weapons (which this book describes in loving detail) that might be used by players against the opposition including, nuclear weapons (although their use would be reserved for strictly end of the world scenarios) although, who would notice if Sheffield disappeared again. And, because, this is BRP combat is realistic and deadly – guns kill people, when used by people whose objective is to kill people. So, this section is somewhat out of wack with a regular Cthulhu game where firearms are relatively scarce (even in a Delta Green game) – true the horrors from the Stars may be better armored than the average sack of blood and bones (us, humans) which could easily lead to gun bunnies running amok in Laundry games. However, as all this is regulated by an omnipotent bureaucratic State – the British government – players are unlikely to get much support from their superiors should they pursue the Dark Young into the grounds of the American embassy using RPGs (no, the other meaning - Rocket Propelled Grenades).
Training courses, on the other hand, allow you advance up by gaining knowledge including forbidden knowledge through the spending of a simple mechanic. I found the section clever and innovative completely in keeping with the Laundry universe but not as nihilistic as I would like it. So, this section certainly was more Python than cosmic horror. However, it does serve to remind you that this is not Call of Cthulhu but a different game altogether.
Things with tentacles, some of which may be your co-workers, ghosts, Deep One hybrids (including very fetching ones) and zombies under the guise of Reclaimed Human Resources may all work for the Laundry. This melange of diverse life forms is in keeping with Stross’ wit but was one of the weaker parts of the book. I would have preferred that something like this come up in adventure and hence surprise the players. Notwithstanding, the section is well written and does offer up many interesting possibilities. More interesting was the section of alternative careers entry points for the Laundry – which one need not be strictly an agent but a professional from another field with expert skills that may be employed. Thus, allowing for a multitude and expansion of roles for players these ranged from a Conspiracy Theorist to a Politician – so, that might account for some of the “waste” in certain Council budgets.
Archival notes on the Laundry, including rules for running historical games presents the wider context of the Laundry – where it came from, conditions in which it evolved and ultimately to the default present (or at least approximately 2009) thus allowing for multiple eras of play. Also, noteworthy is other Agencies including the American Black Chamber, which, unsurprising from a British point of view specializes in the deployment of zombies rather than intelligence. It charts the uneasy relationship between the UK and foreign governments. While, this is a British game and set in Britain – I found this section a bit too UK-centric and there should have been more attempts at widening the circle. Just as you can have British civilians, it would be nice to see the drives and motivations of the other agencies out there without the British lenses making for a more powerful game. For instance, if the players want to play the femme fatale from the Indian Intelligence Service – there is no strong motivations or drives for players to do so. Or similarly, why Igor the ruthless GRU agent does what he does. However, I could easily see how Lumley’s Necroscope could be played in a Cold War Laundry game. That said there are nice restrictions on each era that make it both easier to play and a challenge. So, yes, players might know they have successfully avoided the apocalypse
Forms and documents form a nice conclusion either as a player’s aid or as a Keeper’s handout. These are nice selections of the commonly used forms and documents in any Cosmic Horror cum Spy game set in the UK.