Apr 16, 2018
Interested in Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu? Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’re breaking down all the juicy, fleshy, pulsating bits of 6th edition. For our full thoughts, check out the potluck episode here.
We love the flavor of Call of Cthulhu. There’s something instantly appealing about cosmic horror. Maybe we just like to be reminded of how insignificant we are in the universe. CoC of course also lends itself well to historical fiction, being based off of stories primarily written at the turn of the century.
We also greatly enjoyed the sanity mechanics. It’s the one aspect of the game where the mechanics and flavor match up perfectly- it’s a great synergy. However, we felt other aspects of the game could have been switched out with other rules with little or no effect. The Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system doesn’t really have an effect on the game.
What BRP does have is skills. Lots of skills. 58-60 of them, in fact (depending on what time period you are playing in). On the plus side, being based on percentages makes it straightforward to understand how good you are at each of your 10,000 skills. BRP also has lots of tables. Which is fine if you like tables, but we noticed that the game can come to a screeching halt while the Keeper looks up the resistance table for a ruling. Another common complaint about BRP is something that happened to us quite often. If you miss your spot hidden check, for instance, you don’t spot the clue. Failing a role like that can also grind the plot to a halt. We do admit there is something elegant about the percentages though, you either do it or you don’t. No muss no fuss.
Character creation can take a long time and is designed to be from the bottom up (basing your character and occupation around the skills you rolled as opposed to assigning your rolls to what best fits your character concept), which we did not do. Though we all think it would be really fun to do bottom-up character creation next time. We enjoyed the fact that character creation pushed the fact that you are a person with various skills, like real people. You have occupation points to put into your skills, but you also have hobby points to put into them after you’ve picked your occupation skills. It makes your character well rounded. You took scuba diving lessons one time? You refurbish furniture on the weekends? Took a few Spanish classes? Hobby points! There’s no leveling up in CoC, but you can add points to skills by performing them well. A quick note though: it’s best to create a character who wants to or has a reason to investigate the mythos.
Combat feels like a different game. Combat is something you’re supposed to avoid, as it is supposed to be lethal is Call of Cthulhu. The book mentions that if you’re in a gunfight, you’ve done something wrong. But of course, the rulebook has multiple pages of tables dedicated to all sorts of guns. You can see the dissonance there. The nice thing is that it’s very straightforward: you have your initiative and you take turns, and there’s not much more to it. But here’s our hot-take to Chaosium and other game devs: your game doesn’t need to have combat.
Horror roleplaying itself is an interesting beast. Ideally, you yourself should be scared, but you also have to roleplay your character being scared. What CoC does right is adding mystery. Horror and mystery is a good combination, as you have an impetus for moving forward. If you’ve never played a Horror RPG, you’ll have a lot of new RP opportunities. Temporary insanity is something we didn’t get to showcase this time around but is a perfect example of that.
Would we play Call of Cthulhu again? Yes! However, due to the nature of the game and its time periods, we feel content warnings are a must. Be sensitive to other people’s triggers, especially if you’re the keeper. There’s a fine line between scaring and enticing your players and sending them into a panic attack. If you’re a player, let your keeper know if you have any triggers and if your keeper is a good person, they will adjust their plans accordingly.
Many scenarios take place in older time periods. Be aware of the realities of the time. You can choose to ignore them, or use them to your advantage. Time period shouldn’t stop your from playing a character who you want to play! Luckily, the genre has by and large moved on from its problematic origins, so just do the opposite of what Lovecraft would have wanted you to do, and you should be golden.
And that’s our take on Call of Cthulhu, 6th edition! If you like horror, we recommend it. It’s a cornerstone of pen and paper roleplaying games, for good reason. You can get Call of Cthulhu (6th AND 7th edition!) at chaosium.com or likely at your local game store.