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The Horror! Call of Cthulhu One Shot One Kill

Halloween is a great time to try Call of Cthulhu and run a horror one shot. Call of Cthulhu offers a deep delve into a fictional setting of ancient gods and horrific monsters all linked through ancient tomes and cults throughout the time of man as well as before and after humans walk the Earth. The more you play Call of Cthulhu, the more you immerse yourself in this primordial and eldritch mythology and the smaller and more insignificant your investigator feels. It is heady roleplaying and rewards long term play and investigation as well as working well for one shots.

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If you are an experienced GM who wants to branch out and try Call of Cthulhu for the first time, I recommend you start with the Keeper Rulebook and Doors to Darkness. The rest of this played it review explains why.

Basic Roleplaying and Call of Cthulhu are d100 roll under RPGs that are a toolkit and investigative/pulp action optional RPG respectively. PCs are more like normal humans with modest hit points, combat is deadly, and horrible monsters in CoC can lead to insanity. Optional rules in BRP and Pulp Cthulhu create sturdier PCs and inject more action into the game.

I started playing Call of Cthulhu with 7th edition after running a short campaign of Basic Roleplaying that I thoroughly enjoyed. This played it review does not reference previous editions at all since I never ran those. I decided I wanted to master CoC and I went with this edition. It is not without its minor challenges.

This review will be in three parts. First, why choose learn to run Call of Cthulhu. Second, what are the challenges to me doing so. And third, what did I finally do with CoC to start running it.

Why I Chose Cthulhu​


There is so much to enjoy. What Basic Roleplaying showed me is the ease of use and versatility of the BRP d100 system. What Call of Cthulhu offered was well researched historical settings mixed with horror and madness and matched with the option for pulp. When I ran BRP I used the extra hit point rules and other options to create a high action game. While I like investigative CoC the option to also have a high action version of the same rules really appealed to me. Finally, I want to eventually run Masks of Nyarlathotep and I want to use as least some or all of Pulp Cthulhu with the adventure. The historical settings so far include the1920s and1930s, Old West, Dark Ages, the French Revolution, and time spanning Carcosa. Settings cover Lovecraft country, globetrotting, Berlin, Harlem, Australia, Tibet, and Stalin’s Russia. Finally, I want to write some of my own work for PDF publication. Chaosium offers a mostly open license for BRP and a more limited one for Call of Cthulhu.

Challenges​

The Keeper Rulebook suffers from numerous easy to fix spelling mistakes and layout challenges. Not enough to make it unusable but noticeable. Combat in particular would benefit from clear reorganization as seen in the Basic Roleplaying rules and SRD. For example, movement in combat is under optional rules but fleeing is a part of core combat so you need those rules to know how far a PC can run. You have to do a lot of page flipping to get from core combat to movement in combat. The PDF has been updated so the spelling mistakes have been worked on for future printings. With Cthulhu Dark Ages I have seen a real improvement in quality of use and readability.

It was also extremely difficult to figure out where to begin. I had to do a lot of digging to figure out that the Keeper Rulebook is actually the core rulebook and that the Investigator Handbook is optional. However, I do think the Investigator Handbook could be crucial for Keepers who want to run long-term campaigns because of the 1920s world information and investigator group options.

Running It​

I reviewed the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set and my first foray into Call of Cthulhu. The starter set really did not work for me. Eventually, what I did to actually get started is consider the Keeper Rulebook the Core Rulebook and Doors to Darkness as my Keeper Guide. DtD details valuable Keeper advice as well as adventures that feel like Call of Cthulhu. This combination is much better for experienced GMs wanting to branch out into CoC than the Starter Set, which has much less helpful Keeper advice and examples as well as adventures with unusual tones. I also like that a scenario in both the KH and DtD involve Gla’aki which can be linked into a two shot adventure that delve deeper into the lore of this Great Old One.

Armed with the Keeper Rulebook and Doors to Darkness, I have scheduled some one shots to better learn the rules. I will make a combat flow chart based more on BRP to help with that part of the game. Once I have the basics understood, I will take a look at Pulp Cthulhu.

If I decide to write CoC material, Chaosium allows the use of the Keeper Handbook, Investigator Handbook, the Keeper Screen Pack, and Pulp Cthulhu. So I’m going to get used to working with those rules to start.

I think running Call of Cthulhu for Halloween is a great way to get started as a new Keeper. Armed with the Keeper Rulebook and Doors to Darkness, an experienced GM turned Keeper will be able to challenge and frighten her players. This, in turn, can lead to a deeper descent into the mythology of the Mythos and a gradual awakening to the true width and depth of the horror the Mythos universe holds for mere mortals.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Michael O'Brien of Chaosium was kind enough to send me an updated PDF of the Keeper Rulebook. I noted the update to spelling errors in my article.
 
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stadi

Explorer
Unfortunately the Keeper Rulebook and the Investigator Handbook both use the old layout. They are not ugly, but not as clean as the new layout that they use with all the new releases.

Also as you mentioned the Investigator Handbook is a strange thing, I don't like it the way it is now. I hope they will re-release the core books with the new layout, and maybe even split them up more logically.
 

Unfortunately the Keeper Rulebook and the Investigator Handbook both use the old layout. They are not ugly, but not as clean as the new layout that they use with all the new releases.

Also as you mentioned the Investigator Handbook is a strange thing, I don't like it the way it is now. I hope they will re-release the core books with the new layout, and maybe even split them up more logically.

I really do like CoC. But the layout does hurt my head a bit. Totally worth wading through it though.

I think the idea at first was to have two rulebooks, but the existing Keepers didn't like that. So the split went through but the Investigators Handbook didn't have much in the way of core rules. But it is filled with valuable 1920s info and actually building investigators that are well suited to a long campaign. I feel like a Keeper is really going to benefit from having the info in that book if she isn't running one shots.

Actually, Alien, as much as a I like it, also has info in some weird, hard to find places.
 




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