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?