Monday, June 13, 2016

Retro-Review Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu
by Sandy Petersen
Publisher, Chaosium
This is the fourth edition of the game released in 1989. First edition was 1981. The game is a softbound edition and after more than twenty five years it has held up to a dozen moves, time in storage, being lost at the bottom of a closet and re-found.

The contents are great it is based on the RuneQuest percentile system and is entirely skill based. No levels for these adventurers. However, I should note that most of your adventurers just aren't going to last long. You'll have fun while they last, I can guarantee you that but long, happy lives? Not in the cards.

I seem to remember the game came with two ten-sided dice but I could be entirely wrong, it was twenty plus years ago.

The players take the part of intrepid investigators and one player is the 'Keeper' or game master. The players investigate arcane mysteries. Usually very dangerous and deadly mysteries that almost always lead the character into doom, insanity, and death.

The skills offered and the sample character types cover about all you will need as an investigator of any kind that fits the genre. A scholar of the occult, a private detective or police officer, a scientist, or archeologist are all solid builds for this game. One thing you should not neglect is running skills.

Nearly everything in this game is immune to bullets, knives, hand to hand combat. Some can be budged with high-explosives or field artillery and there are rules for such. Better results are usually obtained by thwarting the evil critters' worshipers before they are able to summon whatever foul horror they are trying to unearth.

The game is absolutely chock full of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. It is true to the stories and the atmosphere. It give players and Keepers tips on how to roleplay the era and the type of stories that Lovecraft wrote. The illustrations are excellent and hold up even after all my abuse and time. The would fit in any game anywhere.

The game includes plenty of tips for a Keeper to set up a game and keep it taut and exciting. Doom should be just around the corner at all times. There is a list of horrific words to describe things in the Lovecraft mythos (squamous is a particular favorite). The creature list covers nearly every critter in the mythos and some that are just plain dangerous. Everything from an ape to a vampire can be found in the creature section. Vampires and werewolves and such are just in case the Keeper wants something low key and easy for the players to face after one of the Elder Ones.

The good things in this game just keep on coming. There's a size chart (players won't like it), some humor, a timeline of the Nineteen Twenties and so much more. If you can find a copy anywhere I still would recommend it. I have not played later editions so I cannot comment as to whether they hold up as well as this classic. At 190 some pages this is an information dense and very playable game. We even played a Hyborian age campaign using these rules and it was fun.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the most important mechanic that I believe that CoC introduced 'sanity'. Sanity is a stat just like all the others. You start with a certain amount of sanity and what you see and do affects your sanity (usually in a negative way). It is not uncommon for players to acquire phobias, suffer panic attacks, become unconscious due to the psychic shock or even become incurably insane). The sanity stat has been used in other systems by me an others and it works really well if your players are faced by anything 'man was not meant to know'. 

There is something in here for nearly any gamer, game master or game system. It's worth reading. A D&D game influenced by Call of Cthulhu can be tons of fun.

The Giant gives this game Two Mighty Thumbs Up.

Drop me a line in the comments especially if you've played any version of the game and follow the Giant's blog. It's lonely in these woods.


  1. I ran a modern day game for my college crew
    back in the day, but I had 6th Ed, not that there's much variance in BRP.

  2. It is the one game where I warn players they probably will need to make a new character every couple sessions. And while combat skills are nice running is better.