Playtest Review of the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set

The Call of Cthulhu Starter Set suggests learning the game by playing a solo adventure, then playing with just one player, and then playing with a full group. If you want to give Call of Cthulhu (CoC) a try but don’t want to spend a lot of money to start, consider trying the starter set.
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I decided to playtest the rules exactly as recommended. Spoilers ahead. If you plan to run the starter set you can play the solo adventure (free Alone Against the Flames PDF) before reading my review of that adventure.

Alone Against the Flames started off strong. I really felt like it was the 1920s and I was in the middle of nowhere. The village was really creepy. I liked the art and the map.

However, all the rituals you uncover as secrets kill you. As do some of the mundane secrets. The way to survive involves making a successful strength roll and finding a random bike, fighting some villagers or a bear, or sneaking away. It wasn’t satisfying to me as a player looking for investigation and using uncovered secrets to survive.

I saw enough promise in Alone Against the Flames to buy the PDF Alone Against the Frost. It looks to be more robust and maybe will give me a better play experience.

I also saw a glimmer of what Call of Cthulhu could be. If the village contained secrets my PC needed to find to survive I’d be spurred on to investigate. The secret the girl at the boarding house provides a bonus die to break my chains later. In the boarding house basement I find evidence not only of previous doomed travelers but also the bicycle which I later use to escape. An approach like that would have hooked me.

After surviving the solo adventure, I found Paper Chase to be cheerful and light hearted. There is no real risk. The adventure made no sense to me. The PC meets a book reading uncle turning into a ghoul so he can have more time to read (the art shows the ghoul in clothes while in the adventure it is naked).

Now if the ghoul uncle had eaten someone? And the PC knew? That would be horrific. Make the PC make a hard choice concerning the ghoul, to kill it or trust it to banish itself, and make the choice cost sanity. But the adventure is benign and a bit silly instead.

I did like all the investigating the PC does. The binary pass/fail nature of each clue was sometimes offset by the chance to push rolls. Some clues were staggered with better results yielding more uncovered secrets.

I did not like Edge of Darkness which is an on the rails dungeon crawl. A dying sage asks the PCs to stop a monster he and some fellow sages summoned years ago but never banished. The PCs must travel to an abandoned ruin of rooms and corridors, find magic that beats the monster, and use the magic while fighting off zombies and the monster to defeat it. There are no secrets for the investigators to investigate.

I was so stymied by this adventure that I simply couldn’t run it. It didn’t have any of the Call of Cthulhu tropes I wanted: secrets, mystery, slowly building threat, and a horrifying monster reveal. I purchased Dead Light to run instead.

I did end up running Edge of Darkness because Dead Light was so short. The PCs already knew the monster was in the attic so the whole description of what happened if they went up there was wasted information. The rules on running the ritual were buried in text so I missed the rule and had to wing it. The monster seemed weak and it appeared that few shotgun blasts would end it without the need for a ritual. I also didn’t know that a revised Dead Lights and Other Dark Tales was available which might have helped.

Overall, I was surprised to find running Call of Cthulhu to be exhausting. Rules were hard to find and parse, adventures ran short, and the overall vibe varied wildly. I think CoC would be a fine game to run if I had a few more hours a week to prep and wasn’t already tired from work and life when I show up to GM. Right now though, it is simply too much work for me. I am holding off on buying the main rulebooks for now. Not the outcome I wanted and I wish the game had worked better for me.

If you don’t need the dice, I don’t think the starter set is worth getting in print. PDFs would work fine. The pregenerated investigator sheets are corrected in PDF form. Nothing in the box besides the dice is something you can’t just print or run from a screen. I recommend the starter set for trying out Call of Cthulhu. See how it actually plays without sinking a large investment into finding out. I’m glad I did even if I didn’t get the result I was hoping for.
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

The Big BZ

Explorer
I have the starter set and have played Against the Flames run Edge of Darkness and found them great. Having not played CoC in 20 plus years, the combination of both pretty much retaught me the rules. I love starter sets and actually think this is one of the best. Not a very well written review this in my opinion. It doesn't really give an overview of the product and would only really be of use to someone who already owns it.
 
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JeffB

Legend
This review made me upset/sad.

I think the current Chaosium, like with the new version of RQ, is making CoC more complicated and harder to engage with than it needs to be by having multiple books, stressing pretty books over functionality and then feeling the need to produce a starter set such as this- like it was D&D or PF. It's not needed and detrimental IMO..

Thousands and thousands of CoC gamers have been made with the classic and excellent "The Haunting" which has been in every edition. That, some pre-gens and the basics of the system in one small booklet/PDF has been available as the free Quickstart for years. It doesn't take lots of prep time, and it's easy to run, play, and it's a FUN adventure. Then you are directed to a single volume book that is aesthetically pleasing , fun to read, and a useful at the table resource without a massive price tag. This has been the way up until 7th.

IOW- Don't try to fix what isn't broke- The new Chaosium is trying too hard. The game sells itself without all the "bling" and extraneous page counts. It's become intimidating (AND EXPENSIVE) for new people. I'm still not sure even which books I would need to buy to run the game. I have stuck with my 3rd edition hardcover. It's still gives off a creepier vibe than the 7th edition volumes and all the fancy art and layout. Same with the new Runequest- two (three if you include the cut down setting book they also released) massive expensive tomes that make it more difficult to get into RQ and Glorantha than ever before.

I highly suggest you go download one of the previous free PDF Quickstarts- I think the 6E version is still around as well as 7th is available on the Chaosium page, Give your friends the pre-gens, stick to the rules in the PDF and have at "The Haunting" like so many people have before.
 

teitan

Legend
Call of Cthulhu only requires the one book, the Keeper book. It has everything in it. The original plan didn’t call for that and for character generation to be in the Investigator’s Handbook but that’s no longer the case. The Investigator’s book still has the chargen rules and there are more options but the Keep guide is a complete game like the older editions.
 

JeffB

Legend
Call of Cthulhu only requires the one book, the Keeper book. It has everything in it. The original plan didn’t call for that and for character generation to be in the Investigator’s Handbook but that’s no longer the case. The Investigator’s book still has the chargen rules and there are more options but the Keep guide is a complete game like the older editions.

Thank you for the clarification- That confused the H-E double hockeysticks out of me because I kept seeing people talk about both as needed.
 

Reaper Steve

Explorer
Picking nits and petting peeves, but I find the rise of the use of the term 'playtesting' when one is just learning a system to be annoying.

Playtesting is done by game designers, developers, and play testers during the design and development of a game. It's meant to find and correct issues and balance before a game is published.

Trying a game out to learn the rules and see if it satisfies you is just that... just playing the game.

Yeah, I'm being a tool; no offense meant. Just been seeing this a lot lately and this forum gives me a chance to comment about it.

I'll show myself out.
 

Picking nits and petting peeves, but I find the rise of the use of the term 'playtesting' when one is just learning a system to be annoying.

Playtesting is done by game designers, developers, and play testers during the design and development of a game. It's meant to find and correct issues and balance before a game is published.

Trying a game out to learn the rules and see if it satisfies you is just that... just playing the game.

Yeah, I'm being a tool; no offense meant. Just been seeing this a lot lately and this forum gives me a chance to comment about it.

I'll show myself out.

The word has two meanings, the one you describe and: "The word 'playtest' is also commonly used in unofficial situations where a game is being tested by a group of players for their own private use."

Meant in this case that I didn't just read it (which is a fine way to review) but also played it for several hours.
 


This review made me upset/sad.

I think the current Chaosium, like with the new version of RQ, is making CoC more complicated and harder to engage with than it needs to be by having multiple books, stressing pretty books over functionality and then feeling the need to produce a starter set such as this- like it was D&D or PF. It's not needed and detrimental IMO..

Thousands and thousands of CoC gamers have been made with the classic and excellent "The Haunting" which has been in every edition. That, some pre-gens and the basics of the system in one small booklet/PDF has been available as the free Quickstart for years. It doesn't take lots of prep time, and it's easy to run, play, and it's a FUN adventure. Then you are directed to a single volume book that is aesthetically pleasing , fun to read, and a useful at the table resource without a massive price tag. This has been the way up until 7th.

IOW- Don't try to fix what isn't broke- The new Chaosium is trying too hard. The game sells itself without all the "bling" and extraneous page counts. It's become intimidating (AND EXPENSIVE) for new people. I'm still not sure even which books I would need to buy to run the game. I have stuck with my 3rd edition hardcover. It's still gives off a creepier vibe than the 7th edition volumes and all the fancy art and layout. Same with the new Runequest- two (three if you include the cut down setting book they also released) massive expensive tomes that make it more difficult to get into RQ and Glorantha than ever before.

I highly suggest you go download one of the previous free PDF Quickstarts- I think the 6E version is still around as well as 7th is available on the Chaosium page, Give your friends the pre-gens, stick to the rules in the PDF and have at "The Haunting" like so many people have before.

I have looked at 6th edition and the quickstart, thanks. In this case, the starter set saved me lots of money that could have been spent on the rulebook. So no harm, no foul. I can't love every game I run.
 

Nebulous

Legend
This review made me upset/sad.

I think the current Chaosium, like with the new version of RQ, is making CoC more complicated and harder to engage with than it needs to be by having multiple books, stressing pretty books over functionality and then feeling the need to produce a starter set such as this- like it was D&D or PF. It's not needed and detrimental IMO..

Thousands and thousands of CoC gamers have been made with the classic and excellent "The Haunting" which has been in every edition. That, some pre-gens and the basics of the system in one small booklet/PDF has been available as the free Quickstart for years. It doesn't take lots of prep time, and it's easy to run, play, and it's a FUN adventure. Then you are directed to a single volume book that is aesthetically pleasing , fun to read, and a useful at the table resource without a massive price tag. This has been the way up until 7th.

IOW- Don't try to fix what isn't broke- The new Chaosium is trying too hard. The game sells itself without all the "bling" and extraneous page counts. It's become intimidating (AND EXPENSIVE) for new people. I'm still not sure even which books I would need to buy to run the game. I have stuck with my 3rd edition hardcover. It's still gives off a creepier vibe than the 7th edition volumes and all the fancy art and layout. Same with the new Runequest- two (three if you include the cut down setting book they also released) massive expensive tomes that make it more difficult to get into RQ and Glorantha than ever before.

I highly suggest you go download one of the previous free PDF Quickstarts- I think the 6E version is still around as well as 7th is available on the Chaosium page, Give your friends the pre-gens, stick to the rules in the PDF and have at "The Haunting" like so many people have before.

Like someone else mentioned, all you need for 7e is the core book. The investigator book is optional and give some more details for players. I prefer to run my CoC as Pulp Cthulhu, so that's an additional book that you do require.

I don't know why the 7e rules don't have The Haunting. They have two other scenarios, I haven't played or read them, but they looked ok.

The 7e rules themselves though are quite solid and not really that different from past editions. I do like the bonus dice mechanic which seems straight from Advantage/Disadvantage but with percentile dice.
 

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