How to play Call of Cthulhu, 7th edition
November 24, 2019 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Wanted to get into cosmic horror roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu but thwarted by the rulebook? The 7th edition of the game makes combat a lot more rigorous where most attack rolls are opposed, adds more specific procedure to insanity, and beefs up a lot of other areas of the system. It can be a lot for a new player, so CJ has made an entertaining and informative animated series that lays out how the game works, with lots of examples.
1. Introduction — 2. Basic Rules — 3. Combat — 4. Firearms — 5. Insanity — 6. Character Creation — 7. Investigator Development — 8. Chase — 9. Magic

Most of his videos are about Dungeons & Dragons though! Here's his series on how to play D&D 5th edition, his guide to the character classes, and his series on how D&D is played around the world.
posted by JHarris (46 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hello! Remember when I used to make Metafilter posts instead of just Fanfare all the time?
posted by JHarris at 8:24 PM on November 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


Paging MeFite Ursua comiter, Ursus comiter to the blood-colored courtesy phone, please!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:38 PM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I miss this game unreservedly. My characters all tended to die in glorious or stupid ways, and I'm not sure we ever did combat quite as written, but I had a ton of fun with the investigative side of things and playing tongue in cheek.
posted by Alensin at 8:43 PM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


The gang over at Critical Role (with guests Erica Ishii, Phil LaMarr, and Ashly Burch) also did a one shot playing with the starter set for 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu.
posted by nubs at 8:55 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Quick Start rules, I believe, still contain the archetypal Call of Cthulhu scenario, The Haunting/The Haunted House. Bedheads represent!
posted by JHarris at 8:58 PM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


7th ed is good, it changes a few things arbitrarily (recording halves and fifths) and combat is fine, but a lot of work the first few times you run it. Though if I clocked the same hours I've put into 5e it would probably run equally smoothly.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Halves were always in the game as "hard" successes. Extreme was in the game, too, as the level of success needed for an impale result.

The most visible change is that your stats are now all in the range of 0-100 instead of 3-18, but that's mostly cosmetic, you still roll them the same way but you multiply by 5 to get a more game-ready value.

The biggest change for us was that, now, every melee to-hit roll requires two rolls, one for the Attacker rolling their weapon skill or Fighting (Brawl), the other for the Defender, either rolling a counter-attack or Dodge. Then, you figure out the level of success for both rolls, either Extreme, Hard, Normal, Failure or Fumble, and the greater level succeeds at what they were doing, except: if it was an attack or counter-attack, the greater result must have been at least a success to actually happen, and if both sides tied, if the defender counter-attacked the attacker prevails, but if the defender dodged then they prevailed. That's a lot just to let the defending side counter-attack. Oh also, each of those two rolls is d100, so most people will roll four dice to resolve every attack.

Beyond that, firearm attacks now all have "bonus" or "penalty" dice, the idea borrowed from D&D 5E's advantage/disadvantage system. There's a list of things that give bonus dice, and a longer list of things that give penalty dice, and you can have up to two, and they cancel each other out. In practice, this means you miss your shot more often, because it's easier to get penalty dice (you get one even if your target is just moving at at least MOV 8, or are firing more than one shot, or are reloading in the same round). The most common case for bonus die is point blank range. It adds up to needing more skill points in your firearm to be of equal effectiveness.

When you're fired on, if you see the shot coming you now have the option to Dive For Cover, a Dodge roll. Making it doesn't force a miss, it just gives the shooter (yet another) a penalty die, and it means you don't act your next turn. Melee combat now has "Build," which gives bonus or penalty dice for fighters much bigger or smaller than their opponent, with no attack possible at all if the defender is much bigger (you can't wrestle with a shoggoth, it's not going to work, you're just gonna get et).

Also, critical hits work differently now. Before you could only critical on an impale hit (which could only happen with certain weapons), but if you did (which required rolling equal to or under 1/5th of your skill or a natural 1 on d100) you got to do triple damage. The often-present chance of an impale was part of why guns are so dangerous in Call of Cthulhu. Now, all weapons can critical, which does maximum damage on the dice, with impales doing normal damage in addition. It averages up to being almost the same thing with an impale though.

What else major has changed? Some other skills sometimes take the form of opposed rolls, such as Persuade. There's a new mechanism for "pushing" rolls, where a player can offer to do something extra dangerous for a chance to succeed on a previously-failed roll (this can never be done in combat). There's a pretty good optional rule where you can spend Luck points on a one-for-one basis to succeed on a failed roll: you never get a check on a failed skill roll where you spent Luck, and doing this directly lowers your Luck roll. We like that.

Insanity seems a bit more complex now. Now there's "bouts of madness" with game effects. Character creation now asks you to create a more formalized background for your character, a rule we've ignored, but that might come up eventually the next time a character loses it.

Credit Rating has become a quasi-skill, which it always was, but now you can buy things by having enough Credit Rating rather than having to track money, and you also can never get checks in Credit Rating now. Investigator development now is slightly more than just rolling your checked advancement.
posted by JHarris at 11:14 PM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


I love how the expanded and more detailed combat rules are so true to the text and spirit of Lovecraft's oeuvre.
posted by happyroach at 1:58 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


I love how the expanded and more detailed combat rules are so true to the text and spirit of Lovecraft's oeuvre.

I genuinely can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, because as described by JHarris it sounds like the combat rules have gotten more tedious and made PCs less effective overall, which is kinda true to the text and spirit of Lovecraft when it comes to fight scenes, though maybe I'm misinterpreting how obnoxious these rules actually are to use. The opposed rolls thing does not sound fun to me.

Call of Cthulhu was always a blend of Lovecraft and pulpier noir stuff, and always influenced by Derleth and co. And it's not like Lovecraft doesn't have some action scenes of his own. He was just bad at writing them. In Dream Quest there are multiple battles between nightgaunts and ghouls and the not-men of Leng and their moon-beast masters, and "The Dunwich Horror" justifies the existence of the board game Arkham Horror, it's the same plot when boiled down the bare bones, and the police inspector in "The Call of Cthulhu" has his encounter with the Cthulhu worshippers in the swamp.

That said, I'm not sure I'm in the market for "more tedious combat to improve the sense of uselessness essential to a Lovecraft protagonist" so 🤷‍♂️
posted by The Sockpuppet of Vecna at 2:25 AM on November 25, 2019 [7 favorites]


I didn't find the opposed checks that clunky in practice, because from a player's perspective, you still roll your dice and see if you got a normal, hard or extreme success. Having the successes be comparing bands rather than straight numbers does a lot to make it flow better than, for instance, opposed checks in D&D - you've got a pretty clear idea just from the difficulty band how likely it is that your shot connected.

I think our GM played it so that defenders always dodged, just because 'defender breaks ties' is so much simpler than 'defender breaks ties on defense, attacker breaks ties on counter-attacks'.

The bonus/penalty dice is pretty clunky, and definitely less satisfying than D&D's advantage/disadvantage system. I'm not sure what would work better, but that ain't it.
posted by Merus at 2:49 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’ve played CoC for untold vigintillions of years, and I have a soft spot in my soul for it, although I play a lot more Trail of Cthulhu (better mechanics, especially for investigation), Cthulhu Dark (much speedier play, especially combat (get into a fight with a monster? you die)), Dread (which I don’t love, but it is a spectacle), and Lovecraftesque (the players play a lone investigator as a group). For movie-style horror, Dead of Night works really well. I come back to CoC for inspiration, but I tend to rely on different systems for the engine.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:13 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


Two mechanics in CoC 7 that I like a lot are:

1. Making Luck an expendable resource, slowly replenished by scenario completion/success. It adds another resource to track, increasing tension, and helps increase the momentum of play by allowing near misses to succeed in critical situations.

2. The Push system, which lets player reroll with much greater stakes.

The game style suffers from a simulationist approach to die rolls, leading to the common “everyone fails Library Use, you don’t find the Tome, the story stalls” situation rather than the “you search the collection, a successful roll gets you the Tome in x time, an unsuccessful roll gets you the Tome in 3x time, so you can’t also talk to the Scientist before she Disappears.” It’s an easy fix, but it eludes so many, based, in part, by listening to a lot of actual plays.

Paul Fricker, who I think was the driving force behind this edition, can be heard on the podcast The Good Friends of Jackson Elias.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:31 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


There is good and bad in 7E CoC. It should be remembered that, before it, Call of Cthulhu had survived mostly unchanged since its very first edition. There were tweaks here and there, but adventures from the very oldest days were entirely compatible with the newest in a way that would inspire wonder from D&D players. And for its changes, 7E does still remain compatible with those early adventures, you can still run, say, The Crack'd and Crook'd Manse, The Sanitarium or (of course) The Haunting in it.

It is unfortunate that the two-roll setup for opposed rolls became ubiquitous for combat, since it turns one of the quickest and simplest RPG combat systems of all into something kind of laggy, but it should be remembered that opposed rolls came about to replace the Resistance Table, which has taken up an entire page in the rulebook since the beginning. Basically, the Resistance Table was a grid of numbers laid out in a predictable pattern, matching a d20-scaled stat to a d20-scaled target, and telling what number you needed to roll on d100 to succeed. (All to avoid rolling a d20 instead, it seems.) I never used it; instead, I noticed how far short/over the target was the stat, and subtracted/added that times 5 to 50, and PRESTO, I just recreated a whole page of the earlier CoC rulebooks in one sentence. (Just to note how that works: in Call of Cthulhu, you roll under or equal to a number to succeed, not over as in D&D since 3E.) So much space to ease the worries of arithmetic-averse keepers, the same ones who usually, elsewhere, had to figure out half and one-fifth rolls in their heads on the fly.

Call of Cthulhu could really use a helper app. Enter a d100 number and immediately be told 1/2 and 1/5; enter two d20 numbers and be told a resistance table target; all of the firearms and their various numbers available at a glance. There is really very little math of CoC, but those two instances stick out in the memory. The app could remind what skills does a Dilettante have in this version, too.
posted by JHarris at 4:17 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd really rather see the Sanity system overhauled into something less, well, blatantly ablist. Discard Sanity as it exists (and it's also more faithful to the stories- Lovecraft characters don't generally go generically "insane" anyway, they mostly experience an exaggerated fight/flight/freeze/fawn trauma response to stimuli that they're not really built to experience. The people who see Cthulhu rise in TCoC don't become kleptomaniacs or arachnophobes, they either fall to the ground in fits or run in terror. People who see The Dunwich Horror (either Wilbur or his twin brother) are disturbed by how gross and outre and threatening it is but don't start speaking in tongues.) and replace it with a smaller Stability gauge that measures how together you are, fluctuating based on game events and with running out resulting in your character falling into one of those trauma responses. Or just relabel "Sanity" as "Stability" and run with the existing rules but with the consequences I've described instead of CoC's insanity system. This still works with Cthulhu Mythos limiting maximum Stability- as the piecing together of dissociated knowledge opens up such terrifying vistas of reality, it becomes harder and harder to keep it out of your mind and harder not to openly despair and panic about your (lack of) place and significance.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:47 AM on November 25, 2019 [9 favorites]


I just have a big box of mixed dice that I roll randomly while mumbling to myself.
posted by krisjohn at 4:56 AM on November 25, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm still building up the courage to run a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

My group is all D&D people (and I've only DMed a handful of times) so I'm really nervous about the change of mindset required from everyone. I've watched a few videos (the Critical Role one-shot being an example) but would love some recommendations of actual play podcasts that use Call of Cthulhu 7th edition as I still don't feel I have a full grasp on what the rhythm and flow of a game is...

(I will also take a moment to say that though often quite tangentially related to the RPG The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, as mentioned by GenjiandProust, is a terrific podcast about all things Lovecraftian horror. It's a delight and they're currently working their way through a comprehensive breakdown of At the Mountains of Madness.)

Also also, Seth Skorkowsky's primer set for 7th edition is super helpful.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:35 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


When NecronomiCon time rolls around, I sign up for a bunch of CoC games. This year, everything was 7th ed but I really didn't notice much because when it comes time to pick characters, I tend to defer to others at the table which means that those PCs with combat abilities/weapons tend to get picked first. This also means my survival rate tends to be pretty high - those with combat abilities tend to want to use them which in CoC means Bad News.

My PCs didn't escape unscathed - the farmgirl/hopeful circus clown ended up with a broken arm after falling through a church (better than being turned into a living scarecrow filled with candy that all the townspeople hunt on Halloween), the sheltered daughter of a New Forrest witch broke a nail while bashing a weirdo in the back of his head with a shovel (better than having said finger chomped off and chewed on, with full feeling, for eternity), and the disgraced photographer did drive her car through the front gates of a mental health facility in order to set up an extended stay (better than being the herald of a world rotting apocalypse). The fact that these last picked and least combat effective characters were women isn't great, but I hope I did them some justice.

slimepuppy - one of the groups I played with was heavily populated by cast from Into the Darkness, a live play YouTube group. I have not checked out their videos in depth, but from the play at the table, they seemed like good people.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:50 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


To anyone active in or familiar with the tabletop board gaming scene - assuming there is a general demographic "scene" and it isn't wholly YMMV based on the local scene - how open is it to newcomers?

I totally get that playing with someone who has literally zero experience would be frustrating and not-fun. I mean I love teaching newcomers my own hobbies but with games I feel like it's always at the expense of someone else's fun until I get far enough along the learning curve. And I don't know anyone already into tabletop gaming who I know would be willing to put up with my "lol idk what I'm doing" phase.
posted by ToddBurson at 5:59 AM on November 25, 2019


Also, remember when playing Call of Cthulhu: Burn the Books.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:11 AM on November 25, 2019


In my experience, groups tend to be pretty welcoming of new players. The only frisson I notice is that new players do tend to slow the flow a bit, so if you go in willing to take notes (index cards with Trump-sized sharpie notes 'HOW TO HIT' 'GOOD SPELLS TO USE IN A FIGHT' 'DON'T FORGET TO HEAL' etc) and just go with the moment, you should be okay. In my mind, the rules are the least important part of the experience - they just help keep everything consistent.

If you have a game store or cafe nearby, they probably have an open group or two. Checking out the gaming area at your favorite local nerd-adjacent convention is also a good resource. I would stay away from Adventurer's League style events as they tend to be pretty regimented and, uh, populated by people who cannot maintain playing in a group of their own.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:13 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd really rather see the Sanity system overhauled into something less, well, blatantly ablist.

1. The sanity system has definitely led to mental illness being played for laughs, which is flat out bad, especially the “random phobia/philia” thing.

2. It’s not particularly unLovecraftian, though. While his characters mostly catastrophically lose their sanity at the end of the story with few specific details, we do get characters with specific phobias (brick buildings and subways, if I recall). Lovecraft, of course, was an author traumatized by mental health issues rather than an expert, so copying him is maybe not the best plan.

3. The “Sanity Death Spiral” is one of the great RPG mechanics from a gameplay/tension aspect, so I’d hate to see it discarded, although dropping most of the “Temporary/Permanent Insanity” rules wouldn’t affect the impact of the base mechanic.

4. I think both Trail of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies handle mental illness with more nuance and “realism-ish” than CoC, but I’m not sure detailed mental illness rules are ever needed....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:50 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


As I've said under various user names and in various threads, this game IS MY JAM and I've been playing it since 1982's Second Edition boxed set. CJ's videos are wonderful and I would also recommend Seth Skorkowsky's videos (He recently won an Ennie).
My local gaming group only lets me run it about once every 6 months, so now I am dipping my toe into running a monthly one shot game via Discord. I'm not a brilliant CoC Keeper, but I aim to get better.
I highly recommend that you download the Quick Start Rules and then get the awesome Starter Boxed Set.
You will have a blast!
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 7:52 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Quick Start rules, I believe, still contain the archetypal Call of Cthulhu scenario, The Haunting/The Haunted House. Bedheads represent!

It does indeed!

I'm still building up the courage to run a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

Allow me to share some love for the Delta Green setting, a mashup of CoC with The X-Files-style government conspiracy weirdness. I've played all kinds of D&D, but the challenge of role-playing in the 1920s has always been, paradoxically, more difficult for me. Delta Green threads that needle by setting investigations in the modern era -- which Lovecraft himself did, more or less, for his time. The Delta Green setting is easily accessible for new players, and also supports the variety of character archetypes -- all kinds of professions work for the US government, and of them can wind up an Agent.

(Delta Green is available both as a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu and as a standalone game, but they're more or less compatible, I think.)
posted by Gelatin at 9:51 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


I really like the "pushing" mechanic and I think it's a great way to force players into a little roleplaying while also helping move the game along. A number of CoC adventures fall prone to the issue where if the players fail some key checks (like doing library research) then they hit a dead end. Pushing rolls helps prevent that from happening (although not fundamentally fixing it, a failed pushed roll now means both trouble and a dead end).

I saw the print version of the new expanded Masks 7th ed and oh god I want to buy it so badly, but am I ever going to run it? Probably not.
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


Hey @guyzero; you want to really go down the Masks rabbit hole?
Then how about a copy of this 610 page companion put together by the members of Yog-Sothoth.com to accompany the campaign?
It is magnificent and will make you want to run it even MORE.
I do believe that some parts of the companion were so good, they were built into the new 7th Edition of Masks.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 10:20 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


...one of the groups I played with was heavily populated by cast from Into the Darkness, a live play YouTube group. I have not checked out their videos in depth, but from the play at the table, they seemed like good people.

I used to be a regular member of that YouTube group! It's good to see that they are still around. There are definitely some good people in that troupe of players.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 10:23 AM on November 25, 2019


Pope Guilty, Trail of Cthulhu does go at least some way towards addressing the sanity concerns you raise. They even went with the name "Stability," for it, measuring temporary incapacitation where ToC's Sanity measures more radical exposures to those odd levels of reality and decreases quite slowly. It's not perfect, but I'd play either game any time.
posted by Alensin at 10:31 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Hey @guyzero; you want to really go down the Masks rabbit hole?

yes but no but yes.

I do believe that some parts of the companion were so good, they were built into the new 7th Edition of Masks.

yeah, this was done pre-7th ed Masks right? I think this is where they got some of the extra page count from.

Maybe I should just buy it and get over it. is this any worse than my multiple hardbound copies of Traveller 5? it is not.
posted by GuyZero at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


Maybe I should just buy it and get over it. is this any worse than my multiple hardbound copies of Traveller 5? it is not.
Oh man. TRAVELLER.
I loved that little black box of books when it came out. 1981?
Between Traveller, Top Secret and Call of C'thulhu, my 1980's were full of dang games that were not D&D.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 11:11 AM on November 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


Traveller is still alive, arguably well. Mongoose Publishing in the UK has a license for a version that is fairly similar to the original system and is doing pretty well. Marc himself is working in parallel in a 5th edition - well, he's been working on it for years, and it's something. He describes it as the "junior woodchuck handbook" which is to say, it's got everything and the kitchen sink in it. You can also still get ebook copies of all the GURPS Traveller supplements if you're one of the eight remaining GURPS players out there.

The only negative thing I could say about Traveller is that all the living versions is that they all remain very simulationist and that that mode of RPGs has fallen out of favour. Narrative-driven gameplay isn't super well supported by the game as written, although anything is possible. But it's still good fun if you want to live in a far future version of the 1970s.
posted by GuyZero at 11:20 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


The game style suffers from a simulationist approach to die rolls, leading to the common “everyone fails Library Use, you don’t find the Tome, the story stalls” situation rather than the “you search the collection, a successful roll gets you the Tome in x time, an unsuccessful roll gets you the Tome in 3x time, so you can’t also talk to the Scientist before she Disappears.” It’s an easy fix, but it eludes so many, based, in part, by listening to a lot of actual plays.

I find that making failures be 'yes, but' in these sorts of situations eliminates the one advantage that Gumshoe games like Trail of Cthulhu have, which is the story can't stall due to a dice roll. So you're left with just the disadvantages of Gumshoe.
posted by Merus at 1:38 PM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


I genuinely can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, because as described by JHarris it sounds like the combat rules have gotten more tedious and made PCs less effective overall,

Sarcastic? Moi?

Seriously, I can see why they might want to make combat more difficult, since one of the dirty secrets of CoC is that firearms were ridiculously effective against lesser mythos critters. I even know of one game where a Ref confidently pitted a shuggoth against an army platoon...and was really distressed when the people who made their San roles quickly shredded it.

But that said, I think the complexities of the new skill system is a more complicated attempt to duplicate the Unknown Armies system, which, simply is "The person in a skill contest who rolls higher- while still under their skill percentage, wins."

But honestly, I'd really go with something much simpler, along the lines of Powered by the Apocalypse, the stats perhaps being Hard, Cold, Knowledge and Weird.

I'd really rather see the Sanity system overhauled into something less, well, blatantly ablist.

Which again, leads us to Unknown Armies. The Hardened/Failed system takes a more nuanced approach to psychological stress, where making your sanity saves hardens you to that particular type of trauma-which itself isn't good. You don't want to be the guy calmly eating his lunch in the aftermath of a massacre...
posted by happyroach at 4:12 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


(Separate post, because we're talking a different game)

Traveller is still alive, arguably well.

Traveller is arguable going through a rennaisance right now, thanks to the Commons license and Drive Through RPG. Aside from all the old stuff being available in PDF, there's fascinating deriovitives such as the more generic Cephus Engine and a wide range of products based on it, and further derived simpler products like Cephus Light, and the ultralight Cephus Quantum, which honestly looks similar to a Powered by the Apocalypse product.

People in places like rpg.net have been going back to basic 3-book Traveller, and looking again at its assumptions, minus the massive background work that lead up to Megatraveller. What does it mean when you don't have books like High Guard? What does it mean to have a setting where spacecraft are relatively small? How can we work with and expand on the basics? There's been a lot of creativity coming from the new Traveller stuff.

And then of course if one wants a more narrative experience, there's Traveller-ish settings like Diaspora and Mindjammer.

So um, yeah. I should probably do a FPP sometime if there's the occasion for it. Now back to Call of Cthulhu. Did they change the skill system or something?
posted by happyroach at 4:31 PM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


So you're left with just the disadvantages of Gumshoe.

What do you have in mind?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:01 PM on November 25, 2019


if you're one of the eight remaining GURPS players out there

: (
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


I usually run our local Call of Cthulhu group (one other player has started running it sometimes). I have a reputation for being a softie, but I take to heart the realization that a dead PC means one player is out for the rest of the session, and a total party wipe just ends the story. That doesn't mean I let the players off the hook though, and a couple of weeks ago a player outright died when another player, trying to save him from an undead servant of Glaaki, fired into melee and rolled a fumble. Oops!

The relative effectiveness of firearms against various Mythos creatures is one of those things about the game. The book is careful to note that firearms are useless against greater Mythos threats, but how "greater" is a shoggoth? When you get up to army platoon size, you're outside the usual setting of the game, which is about individuals suffering from individual-scale threats. Remember: in the stories, even Great Cthulhu got dissipated for a short while when someone drove a ship through him. We once ran the Raid on Innsmouth, in a pulpy kind of style, and the players eventually managed to take down Dagon, but in the end Dagon is basically just a very big Deep One with some spells.

But then, Cthulhu can never be actually destroyed, Glaaki has 40 points of armor, Nyarlathotep has a thousand forms and whichever one you defeat turns into an even worse one to cause sanity loss, then there's glorious Azathoth, who attacks by doubling in size, and if the dice don't indicate that he's gotten annoyed and voluntarily departs in time it simply engulfs the whole world. The thing about the game is there's bad, and there's Bad, and there's BAD, and there's BAD, and there's 𝕭𝕬𝕯, and there's....
posted by JHarris at 6:28 PM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


Ⓑ̶̢̢̢̟͇̲̳̥̺̦̤̠̞̖̗̱͉̄̑̔̄͛̈̒̈́̆̓̾̕Ⓐ̶̢̢̢̜̲̘̟̖͚̭͔͕̾ͅⒹ̵̢̤̳͚̬̫̟̝͙͚̔̏́͋͛̄͋͋͛͊̈́̓̌̚͠ ?
posted by The Tensor at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


Tentacle Bae

I played CoC 1984ish with my dad and my little sister. Fun post!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:42 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


BTW, just wanted to add some extra rules we've been using at our table:
If a player rolls a natural 01 (on d100) on a skill, in addition to the usual experience check, I usually award one skill point in that skill. We've done this since we started, it having its basis in a D&D 3E house rule a previous DM used where if you rolled a critical 20 on a skill you gained a skill point in it. That seems overpowered to me, but a single skill point on a 1% chance is pretty small potatoes, so I have no problem allowing that.
Similarly, because POW is so important to the game, I award a POW point on a natural 01 roll on that as well, but this is somewhat suggested in the rules.
Because Luck is its own separate thing now, and of that optional rule that makes it malleable, able to be spent on improving rolls at the cost of lowering your Luck stat, I sometimes hand out single Luck points when players do something clever, entertaining or unexpected, like Inspirations in D&D 5E or the Perversity Points in previous-edition Paranoia, again on the basis that single points are very slight advantages. In fact, considering that those grants are rare in our game, I'm considering upping that to 1D4.
posted by JHarris at 3:06 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


What do you have in mind?

Gumshoe characters are pretty hard to differentiate, because the game tries to ensure that every skill is covered. If you run a mystery, players mostly have to show up and try and apply all their skills in alphabetical order, then move onto the next scene. (In practice, they'll still get the wrong idea and tear off to somewhere you have to invent on the fly. This isn't Gumshoe's fault, but it does suggest that Gumshoe's misdiagnosed why mystery plots often go off the rails.) There's not a lot of room for creative problem solving on behalf of players, because what works is usually decided in advance and the system hands out clues for largely academic skills. Depending on the mystery and the character build, sometimes one player will be way more useful than everyone else because they happen to have the combination of skills that the GM is leaning heavily on. No Gumshoe system has good combat, which can be difficult if you want a climactic encounter.
posted by Merus at 3:53 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Oh man... I very recently played some CoC 7e. My previous CoC was in high school, in the 90's.

At some point I decided that 20 sided dice have too much variance; d100 is even worse in this regards. Good ideas paired with mediocre skills will end in failure... Dumping all points in a couple specializations means you can do some things successfully, but will often fail to do things that fall slightly towards another skill's description. Spreading points more broadly means just failing at everything at random all the time. This seems suboptimal. But maybe I'm Doing It Wrong.

I'm pretty heavily converted to the narrative-forward games of recent years: An Apocalypse-powered CoC is much more my idea of a good time.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:40 PM on November 26, 2019


kaibutsu, it sounds like you're trying to do too much with one character. RPGs are generally played with groups so are designed so no one character can do it all. Instead, try to pick a few areas of expertise (probably along the lines of your Occupation to help you use skill points efficently) and some combat skills. Also, it's not really a secret that some skills get used much more often than others. Spot Hidden, Listen, First Aid, Medicine, a firearm skill, Fighting (Brawl), Dodge, Psychology, LIBRARY USE and Credit Rating are probably the most used. Also sometimes useful are Persuade, Fast Talk, Locksmithing, Mechanical Repair, Drive Auto, one or two Other Languages and Tracking. Individual arts, crafts and sciences can add flavor, and once in a while may come in handy, but you don't need to put in a huge number of points in those. If you find you don't have as many skill points as you want even then, you might want to consider trying for a higher EDU and/or a more relevant Occupation, and maybe more INT.
posted by JHarris at 1:41 PM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


But maybe I'm Doing It Wrong.

Nope, that's it I think. Characters have to focus otherwise they suck. But if you only have 3 skills, you also usually suck. Such is life I guess.

An Apocalypse-powered CoC is much more my idea of a good time.

bell curves vs flat probability distributions. also, yeah, narrative vs simulationist.
posted by GuyZero at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2019


So thinking of this idea of insanity and such... simulating it...

Is there a game where the rules "decay"? Or the effects of the die rolls don't just affect action results, etc... but also in the process makes the rules of the world change. I"m not sure how that could be done without being a complete clusterfuck but it makes the idea of a world breeding insanity to be that much more potent in the realm of an RPG?

If one reaaaaaally wanted to get into it there could be METAs where levels upon levels dive deep into the alterations and mechanics themselves, perhaps that mages and those working the dark corners of cosmic logic would be able to manipulate the underlying code to reality itself.

Maybe a cross of Mage and CoC? Somethign where madness lies and affects your perceptions/reality, but you also have the power to shape it and work with it - but the more you do so, the more mad you go the more changes and craziness results? IDK.
posted by symbioid at 1:52 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Gumshoe characters are pretty hard to differentiate, because the game tries to ensure that every skill is covered.

Hmmm. My experience is really different. My players pretty quickly adapted to narrating activities to uncover core clues and negotiating possible bonus clues without resorting to “reading the list.” The GM needs to keep the characters’ abilities in mind and build or adjust scenarios to suit. I’ve also had players do some fun things with spends. In a very complicated campaign, a player asked to spend Evidence Collection for a scene where he built a Red String Board and we reviewed the leads thus far to work out what they hadn’t investigated. After some practice, spends become very effortless.

And I like the combat system. It encourages players to think twice about fighting....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:41 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


bell curves vs flat probability distributions. also, yeah, narrative vs simulationist.

Which brings me to my other thing about CoC, which is that the mechanics were very clearly a response to D&D thirty-five years ago and what was fresh then is old and clunky now. Game design has (apart from the OSR/Sword Dream people) moved on, but CoC mostly remains in 1984.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:53 AM on November 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


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