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Traveling The Black Seas of Infinity With The Call Of Cthulhu RPG


Call of Cthulhu fills an interesting niche in the role-playing hobby. Where many other role-playing games champion escapism, Call of Cthulhu has always been decidedly anti-escapist. Players create normal people who are thrust into terrifying and utterly alien situations. The end result is a game that is highly immersive, and more than a little scary. You’ll be happy to know that the good folks at Chaosium have continued this proud, if mildly sadistic, tradition with their latest offering: Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition.

As usual the artwork and overall production quality is fantastic. I found the full-color chapter illustrations especially evocative. However, I’m going to skip over the design and instead focus on the rules. In particular I want to talk about a couple of new additions that caught my eye. Namely the expanded investigator backstories and pushed rolls.

Crafting an investigator backstory has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of character creation in Call of Cthulhu. Watching the disparate stats and skills morph into a living, breathing investigator is always exciting. In the 7th edition rules, the investigator backstory rules have been expanded to include new occupations, handy guidelines, and my personal favorite: random tables!

It’s my humble opinion that any role-playing game worth its salt makes good use of random tables, and these tables deliver. Three of the tables (Ideology/Beliefs, Meaningful Locations, and Traits) help players round out their investigators’ personalities, while the other two (Significant People and Treasured Possessions) are essentially MacGuffin factories. These two tables alone provide savvy Keepers with enough steal-able trinkets and kidnap-able NPCs to keep their players neck deep in bad choices.

The rules for pushed rolls allow players to reroll failed skill checks, as long as they can provide the Keeper with a good reason for doing so. On the surface this may seem to lower the stakes, and perhaps even compromise immersion, but in fact the opposite is true. Pushed rolls actually tempt players into increasing the stakes! Failing a pushed roll can result in some nasty side effects, especially if the investigator who failed the roll is temporarily or indefinitely insane.

For example: Normally if a player fails an Appraise roll they are unable to determine the value of an item. However if they push the roll, and fail that as well, they could end up damaging the item or accidentally activating it. Better still, if an insane character fails a pushed roll they might develop an unhealthy obsession with the item, or become convinced that the item is cursed and try to destroy it. Each and every skill in 7th Edition comes with examples of failed results, allowing for tons of improvisation.

In the end, Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition preserves the successful formula from previous editions while adding a few new ingredients that enhance the experience. Personally, I can’t wait to run a game for my own group. Would you like to push that roll?
 

Comments

TerraDave

5ever
Interesting. And, 500 word limit?

Want to say a little more on CoC in general, maybe for those who have not played it so much? (I and some of the other grognards around here have, but the kids hanging out here might be another story).
 

Tyranthraxus

Villager
An issue Ive always found with Call of Cthulhu (and this likely applies to many other rpgs) is the sheer number of editions it has had. What I find happens is

) New or existing rpg company buys the license
)releases their own set of the rules or the existing rules with tweaks
)brings out or re-releases older products as new
)Sales bottom out or never materialise to the point promised
) Game fades away
)Only the NEXT NEW or existing company to buy the now probably overpriced rights and the cycle begins anew.

Its a rpg that people always state is a favorite or that they enjoy playing but sales figures either dont reflect that as the truth, or there are pockets of individuals who love it, but cant sell it to their gaming group.
 

J.L. Duncan

Villager
The Seventh Ed. Is something I've been looking at as well. I haven't pulled the trigger yet. Waiting for a sale, I want the Dead Tree.
 

trystero

Villager
An issue Ive always found with Call of Cthulhu (and this likely applies to many other rpgs) is the sheer number of editions it has had. What I find happens is

) New or existing rpg company buys the license
)releases their own set of the rules or the existing rules with tweaks
)brings out or re-releases older products as new
)Sales bottom out or never materialise to the point promised
) Game fades away
)Only the NEXT NEW or existing company to buy the now probably overpriced rights and the cycle begins anew.
Your findings are off-base as regards Call of Cthulhu; it's only ever been published by Chaosium since its original release in 1981*, and older books are re-issued primarily because the original editions are unavailable, not just to update them to the newest edition of the rules. (The only counter-example I can immediately think of is the second edition of Horror on the Orient Express, which uses the seventh-edition rules but also introduces an enormous amount of new material; it's not just a conversion of the long-out-of-print first edition.)

For all that it's been through seven editions, the game has remained backwards-compatible to a remarkable extent; the second through sixth editions are functionally the exact same game system with only trivial changes to skill names and base chances, and even the original first edition and the new seventh edition are close enough for an experienced Keeper to handle any required conversions on the fly.

Also, while I doubt CoC has ever sold in D&D-like numbers, the funded Kickstarters for second-edition Horror on the Orient Express and seventh-edition rules suggest that sales have not exactly bottomed out.

* = Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other RPG that's remained in print and actively supported by its original publishing company for 35+ years.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Ditto to [MENTION=67247]trystero[/MENTION] 's remarks - i own CoC 4th through 7th editions, and with a few minor exceptions they are 90% the same in rules content. The core mechanic hasn't really changed, even less so than D&D, and [MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION] who used to frequent these forums said once that CoC was a game so simple he actually ran games of it before he even read a copy of the rules. :)

As for 7th edition, I have yet to have a chance to run it, but I look forward to, it has a number of new neat rules (the chase rules, the pushing mechanic, minor changes to combat options, the advantage mechanic, etc.) that I think will only add to the fun.
 

Jiggawatts

Villager
An issue Ive always found with Call of Cthulhu (and this likely applies to many other rpgs) is the sheer number of editions it has had. What I find happens is

) New or existing rpg company buys the license
)releases their own set of the rules or the existing rules with tweaks
)brings out or re-releases older products as new
)Sales bottom out or never materialise to the point promised
) Game fades away
)Only the NEXT NEW or existing company to buy the now probably overpriced rights and the cycle begins anew.

Its a rpg that people always state is a favorite or that they enjoy playing but sales figures either dont reflect that as the truth, or there are pockets of individuals who love it, but cant sell it to their gaming group.
To echo some of the other comments, "edition" is a bit of a misnomer, printing would probably be a more accurate word to use. CoC 1-6 are essentially the same game. 7th edition did make a few small changes, but the differences between it and its predecessors are less than the differences between 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D or between 3.0 and 3.5. Dont think of the word edition with the D&D mindset. And CoC has only ever been owned and published by one single company.

What you are describing is more akin to what has taken place with Star Wars, although those have always sold well, or Middle Earth, which has had ups and downs in the RPG department, although Cubicle 7 is killing it with The One Ring right now, and I cant foresee them doing away with the licence/game for a long time.
 

Jhaelen

Villager
I'm unlikely to get it, precisely because there's been hardly any any changes to the rules over the past editions. The one I own is 4th or 5th...
But I enjoy buying CoC adventure modules, regardless of edition. They're always good and sometimes exceptional. And that's although I hardly ever played (or plan to play) the rpg!

The cover art for this 7th edition is btw. really amazing. One of the best renditions of Chaugnar Faugn I've seen so far.
 

Alex D

Villager
Interesting. And, 500 word limit?

Want to say a little more on CoC in general, maybe for those who have not played it so much? (I and some of the other grognards around here have, but the kids hanging out here might be another story).

Proselytize Call of Cthulhu, you say? Don’t mind if I do!


For any new, starry-eyed gamers out there who are curious about Call of Cthulhu, I’d first direct them to the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries (known collectively as the “Lovecraft Circle”). This circle includes authors like Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Robert Bloch.

Lovecraft wrote during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s for pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, and established what would later be called the Cthulhu Mythos— a cosmic pantheon of gods, aliens, monsters, and demons who have it out for humanity in a bad way. His short stories often feature woefully unprepared protagonists who stumble, almost accidentally, upon these malignant beings. They generally go insane soon after, but not before destroying all evidence of what transpired in order to protect humanity from the horrible truth they uncovered. Fun stuff.

The Call of Cthulhu RPG is set in the 1920’s in this Mythos-infused world. The players take the role of Lovecraft’s favored protagonists— college professors, private investigators, dilettantes, artists, and of course writers. Things start off nice and normal until you get a telephone call from a desperate friend, or a letter from a long-lost relative, or are mailed a mysterious artifact from an old colleague. Then things go downhill fast.

There's a lot of positive stuff to say about the Call of Cthulhu rules (which are a mod of Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying System— BRP for short), but one of the “intangible” things that makes Call of Cthulhu so fun is the interplay between player knowledge and character knowledge. As a player you know that these evil, inhuman beings exist. And you are aware that your poor investigator doesn’t stand a chance against them. And you are further aware that one of these beings is probably behind the door you’re about to open.

But your investigator doesn’t know any of this. So you open the door anyway.

These situations happen all the time in Call of Cthulhu. Telling yourself “I really shouldn’t be doing this!”, and then doing it anyway, is a lot fun and can result in some truly memorable, and scary, moments.

So my recommendation for you Call of Cthulhu newbies is to first read some H.P. Lovecraft. Everyone has their favorite stories, but The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, and The Call of Cthulhu are good ones to start with. Then play a game of Call of Cthulhu. Don’t worry about “winning” the scenario, or even surviving— neither of these are likely to happen. Instead try to immerse yourself in the ambiance of the setting and the mindset of your character. Dim the lights and put on a mood-setting soundtrack while you play. And if after the game you find that you’re having a bit of trouble falling asleep, you know you’re on the right track.
 

trystero

Villager
...my recommendation for you Call of Cthulhu newbies is to first read some H.P. Lovecraft.
I agree, with one caveat: be aware that Lovecraft was a virulent racist even by the standards of the 1920s and 1930s, and that you may feel a strong urge to retroactively punch the author in the face. I struggled a lot with this on my first readings back in the 1980s, and while I think the stories are worth reading anyway, I wouldn't recommend them to anyone without this caveat.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Proselytize Call of Cthulhu, you say? Don’t mind if I do!...
I would just add that the core rules, which date from the early 80s, are some of the most elegant in RPGs, focusing on the right dilemmas for the game and otherwise being very simple to play.

CoC has also done a great job as a care-taker of the setting. Pagan publishing has also done good work with their more modern day Delta Green.
 
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Pauper

Villager
Chaosium and their third-party publishers have always done a great job of evoking the feel of the Lovecraftian setting -- you don't get involved in Call of Cthulhu design unless you're already a pretty big fan, I suspect.

But I can't agree when I see the BRP rules referred to as 'elegant'; maybe it's just me, given that BRP is basically the old RuneQuest rules system, and thus CoC is effectively 'RuneQuest in the 20th Century', but I always have to fight to hold onto my immersion in the game whenever I have to deal with BRP's clunky, 1980's era percentile skill system. The state-of-the-art in RPG design has advanced so far since BRP that I suspect there are only two type of BRP players: those who grew up on the system and thus can be forgiven for attaching their love to it (heck, I loved the HERO system for many years until I finally figured out that an Excel spreadsheet shouldn't be a pre-requisite for playing an RPG), and those who put up with the clunkiness of the BRP system in order to get at the sweet, gooey setting material.

If I were going to start a CoC campaign today, I'd use either Realms of Cthulhu (Reality Blurs conversion of CoC to the Savage Worlds system) or Trail of Cthulhu (Pelgrane Press's conversion to the GUMSHOE system); I'd still pick up stuff like Delta Green and Horror on the Orient Express, simply because the setting material is so well done, but I'd drop the BRP stuff like an overcooked potato.
 

Michael McGuire

Registered User
IMHO, besides the setting and popularity of HP Lovecraft's original stories, the thing that makes Call of Cthulhu great is that the monsters are almost always plot devices in a problem-solving game, rather than a relatively mindless hack-and-slash rpg. That makes playing Call of Cthulhu a richer and more memorable experience; especially when you get to role-play going insane.
 

Jhaelen

Villager
If I were going to start a CoC campaign today, I'd use either Realms of Cthulhu (Reality Blurs conversion of CoC to the Savage Worlds system) or Trail of Cthulhu (Pelgrane Press's conversion to the GUMSHOE system)
Ditto, although the Runequest RPG system is indeed one of my all-time favorites.

I have been thinking about running a 'Trail of Cthulhu' game, too. Luckily there's plenty of conversions of great CoC adventures available.
 

Brandegoris

Villager
I'm several months into a very long CoC campaign right now.
Bullsh*t!!! LOL
There is NO way your original Players are still part of a campaign that has lasted that long! They are crazy or dead!
Also I am just kidding! LOL
( Well Kind of!)

I Love CoC!! SOOOOO good.

My favorite adventure of ALL time ( in ANY GAME) is "Mask of Nyharlathotep"
Entire 6 part adventure, Hundreds of pages long. FULL and Amazing campaign and the single best adventure in any game EVER written! Hands down ( My Opinion here obviously! LOL).
Problem is I have tried to run it many times and there is simply NO WAY players can make it through that adventure! Its deadly!!! and they are soooo fragile.
 

Brandegoris

Villager
I agree, with one caveat: be aware that Lovecraft was a virulent racist even by the standards of the 1920s and 1930s, and that you may feel a strong urge to retroactively punch the author in the face. I struggled a lot with this on my first readings back in the 1980s, and while I think the stories are worth reading anyway, I wouldn't recommend them to anyone without this caveat.
Sadly we find that a lot in history. I LOVE Robert E Howard but he also has his Racist Moments.

BUT I think it cannot be Overstated enough that It is almost a Prerequisite to read Lovecraft before you try and be a GAME Master. So Much going on with the Mood/Setting that it is incredibly helpful
 

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