GrogHeads Reviews Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition

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Avery Abernethy, 31 October 2016

Call of Cthulhu (CoC) role playing game was first published in 1981 by Sandy Peterson.   CoC was derived from the Cthulhu horror writings of H.P. Lovecraft and his successors. Lovecraft’s work was published in pulp magazines through the 1930s. Horrible alien gods are dead or sleeping but can become alive again when the stars are right. These gods would destroy all of humanity either without noticing or without caring. There are isolated cults of insane believers who try to awaken these malevolent forces. These horrific gods have spawn, alien races and other associated evils. The gods cannot be killed and their followers are often difficult to impossible to destroy. Mythos knowledge causes insanity.

In the CoC role playing game individuals take the role of investigators attempting to solve an evil mystery. Investigators thwart evil cults attempting to summon horrors and banish powerful summoned evil forces. Investigators have no super powers. Most scenarios are in the 1920s, but rules supplements have provided game backgrounds ranging from ancient times to the far future.

coc7ecover-1Unlike most role playing games, combat is usually not the focus of Call of Cthulhu. Investigators are easily killed mortals. Even seeing inhuman opponents can cause insanity. Human weapons (even nukes) don’t work against powerful mythos beings. Instead the games’ focus is solving a mystery in a horror setting.

The 7th Edition Rules significantly simplify combat and skill checks. Everything is converted to a percentile dice roll (d100). All skills have a “normal,” “hard, (half normal)” and “extreme (quarter normal)” number on the character sheet. All combat and skill checks are right there. The number of combat categories have also been greatly simplified. For most investigators combat skills are brawling (all hand-to-hand), probably one hand weapon, handgun and rifle/shotgun. If an investigator has a less common skill (like machine gun), it would have a separate entry. Almost all of the hand-to-hand combat sub-categories have been eliminated.

Likewise, chases and movement have been greatly simplified with the game master (Keeper) encouraged to tell a story. “Cut to the chase” is emphasized leading either to evasion or combat. The entire revision focuses on simple combat. Combat is deadly if weapons are brought into play or investigators get into the grips of most any mythos creature. Chases are strongly encouraged to heighten the suspense of the game. Players either have narrow escapes, exciting chases of cultists, or quick and deadly combat.

There is a laser like focus on building a horror setting and solving a mystery.

There is a laser like focus on building a horror setting and solving a mystery. The investigators hope to find out what is happening and thwart evil. But this is taking place (usually) in the 1920s where society frowns on breaking and entering or stabbing random people. “But officer, this cultist was trying to summon Cthulhu and had to die. I stabbed him to save humanity.” “Yeah right loony. Tell it to the jury before they hang you.”

Once the character sheets are drawn up and the keeper has the combat stats of the opposition, the combat part of the game flows fast. Likewise, the chase and evasion system should “cut to the chase” quickly. The focus is on telling the story and letting the random element of the dice rolls enhance the story, not be the story. With the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu seems to have gotten the balance right to have everything steer the role-playing. After all, even Chuck Norris cannot punch out Nylarlathotep.

The 7th edition rules provide an easy means of converting earlier versions into the current edition. Those owning earlier scenarios or homemade campaigns should be able to easily convert to the new simplified system.

To summarize, in Call of Cthulhu your character is easily killed or driven insane. Combat is not the focus of the game. The 7th edition rules simplify combat, chases and skill checks and put almost all of the dice rolling into setting up the character. Because the rest of the game is simplified, the Keeper can better draw the players into the narrative of the mystery and keep suspense levels high during chases and combat. The 7th edition changes are not massive, but they are elegant and are easily incorporated into older works and new campaigns.

For experienced Keepers and players of Call of Cthulhu, I strongly encourage buying the 7th Edition Keepers Manual. However, I think that earlier editions of the investigators handbook should do fine as long as the character sheets are from the 7th edition and the Keeper takes the time to do the conversion. A couple of quick combat examples and everyone should be ready to go. Also, early editions of the 1920s sourcebook or players guide can be found in ebook or pdf format from or other sources very inexpensively. Chaosium also has a free download “quick start” handbook for new players that should get converters and newbies through the new system.

I have a first printing of Call of Cthulhu and wrote a couple of tournaments played at conventions back in the 1980s. The combat and magic system were always pretty clunky and interfered with role playing the mystery. Opposed rolls required interpreting a complex matrix that took keepers minutes to decipher. I’m very happy with this revision and found my purchase to be worth the money.

Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University who met his wife via role playing games. They have been happily married for over thirty years.

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