Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
From: Chaosium Inc.
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition is a new RPG Core Rule Book from Chaosium Inc..
For a long time, since the late 80s, I have been playing Call of Cthulhu in its various forms, off and on. Some would say that it is one of my better games. I had gotten used to the idiosyncrasies of the simple and rather abstract system but found myself often wanting more structure and definition in the system. With games like 3rd edition D&D, followed by Savage Worlds and now 5th Edition D&D, it has driven my need for a little more “game” in my Call of Cthulhu game.
Call of Cthulhu has gone through six editions (of which I have 5 on my shelf) with very little change to the system or game structure. The game mechanics stayed the same. The lore expanded quite often and the focus remained on the story. I am all for the story focus but my yearning for more game continued.
From page # 10: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
Apparently I was not the only one because 7th edition is a huge change in the game system. What amazes me is that the game system remained backward compatible to the previous editions, something a lot of game system designers need to learn. This review will focus primarily on the changes made to the system and not Call of Cthulhu role play game product. I feel that it has been around long enough that people at least know what it is. If you don’t, you need to get out of your D&D or Pathfinder focused world and try new things.
The first of the biggest changes is the core task resolution mechanic. The previous editions had a simple mechanic based around a percentile roll. Center to that system was something called the Resistance Table. When the time arose where you had to pit a character’s stat against another – say Strength vs. Strength – you would use the Resistance table. Many did not like the table. Well, to those that didn’t, you will be happy to know it is gone. It has been replaced by a simple success level system that helps you measure how well you did at a task, something also missing from the old system.
Before I get into the new integrated Difficulty/Success system, I should also talk about the new characteristics and skill system. Everything is unified into a percentile system, even the characters’ ability scores. Gone are the classic old-school 3d6 values. Also a couple of the old characteristics are either modified or taken out completely. No more IDEA roll (replaced by a simple Intelligence roll) and Luck is significantly changed into a much more interesting mechanic.
The final major core change is the Difficulty/Success. Finally you know how difficult things are and how well you do. Difficulty is measured in 3 levels – Regular, Hard and Extreme. Regular is your base percentage in the skill, Hard is half and Extreme is one-fifth. Everything is measured in this manner. Levels of success can be conversely measured in this way.
These core changes are by far not all the only changes, but they are the the things that change what was Call of Cthulhu (CoC). I think unification of the game mechanic was probably long overdue. The 3d6 based stats were a throwback to old school days and CoC was in dire need of a modern upgrade. I can appreciate the intelligence that went into doing this and even though many old school CoC gamers might struggle with it, it definitely feels more natural now.
Core to any Call of Cthulhu game is Sanity and it is left untouched. The new edition does however add a few subtle nuances that enhance even the smallest loss of sanity. Maximum Sanity, Temporary, Indefinite, and Permanent Insanity are still in place but tweaked to some degree or another. Temporary and Indefinite Insanity are tweaked a little more with a new system of determining their effects – called Bouts of Madness. Integrated in this is some of the new aspects to the character sheet (called Back Story, explained later). Also, further manifestations of the madness may occur in real time (roll on a table for effects) or in summary (GM summarizes effects).
After the (usually) short term effects of the bouts, the usually more long term underlying insanity is dealt with. Deeper effects of insanity can develop manias, phobias, delusions and other fun stuff. An interesting addition to this is something called a Reality Check. This is used like the classic D&D “disbelieve” roll against illusionary or hallucinatory effects, primarily brought on by Insanity. If the person fails the Reality Check, they lose sanity and suffer from a Bout of madness. I found that interesting and useful.
From page 28: “Most demonical of all shocks is that of the abysmally unexpected and grotesquely unbelievable. – H.P. Lovecraft, The Outsider”
The remaining changes that stand out to me are basically what I would call add-ons to the system. Most, if not all, of these add-ons are well designed into the system and make sense. They enhance the system in a very positive and playable way. I feel there was some real thought and intelligence put into them.
Many systems today have worked in a way to either re-roll or add “advantage” or “disadvantage’ dice. CoC 7e has added something called Bonus and Penalty dice to the existing percentile system. Certain times in the game the keeper might say you gain a bonus or penalty dice. The player then rolls an additional 10-sider that acts as an additional 10s-place die. Depending on whether the die is bonus or penalty, you pick the lowest or highest respectively. I do like this new addition to the mechanic. It makes things much more dynamic without adding any more complication. This was obviously born of a need to make the CoC game more heroic and survivable. There are some that believe that you should have a chance to survive a CoC game (silly mortals). The nice thing about this is that you can be modular about it and choose not to use that rule if you don’t like it.
They also added an additional way to help the characters – the ability to Push your skill rolls. This is used in instances of dire need or when players really want to succeed. With the Keepers permission, the player may make a second roll on an already failed skill roll. The skill and the difficulty doesn’t change but it may be modified based on the situation. The Keeper must decide on possible consequences of the push, which may be more unfortunate than the simple failure.
As mentioned before, Luck is somewhat changed from the straight forward roll that most are used to. It is more integrated as a game mechanic. The original percentile roll remains the same; however, it has been converted to something like Sanity on a declining scale. As an optional rule, you can spend Luck points to modify rolls, on a 1 to 1 point basis. However Luck may not be spent on Luck rolls, damage rolls, Sanity rolls, or rolls to determine the amount of Sanity points lost. In sense, you get a game-based way to feel your luck running out.
Character Back Story is also a new aspect added to the character generation system and used in various places in the game system. Much like Fate and their aspects, the CoC 7e character generation system asks you to list various aspects of your character and provides a few tables to help you along the way. The six basic Back story elements are Personal Description, Ideology/Beliefs, Significant People, Meaningful Locations, Treasured Possessions, and Traits. This is not only used to flesh out your character but also can be modified, removed, and added to by various events within the game system.
The Magic System is not something I delve into in game that much. From what I can tell, there are a few minor tweaks but for the most part, the heart of the Magic is still in the game. It integrates the Push aspect of the new system and some other minor changes, but overall it preserves the essence of the original system.
From a layout point of view, I am really impressed on the book itself. The artwork is great, better than any other edition before.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic update to classic game in need of a major update. It has a much more modern feel to it. The changes are intelligent and the backwards compatibility is a breath of fresh air in an industry where new editions completely throw out old editions with one paragraph of rules.
For more details on Chaosium Inc.and their new RPG Core Rule Book “Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition” check them out at their website http:// www.chaosium.com, and at all of your local game stores.
Codex Rating: 19
Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
From: Chaosium Inc.
Type of Game: RPG Core Rule Book
Written by: Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis. Revised 7th Edition: Paul Fricker and Mike Mason.
Editorial: Scott Dorward, Badger McInnes, Mike Mason, Charlie Krank
Design Format: Badger McInnes and Mike Mason
Layout: Badger McInnes, Nicholas Nacario, Charlie Krank
Art Direction: Mike Mason, Meghan McLean, Daniel Skomorowski
Cover Illustration: Sam Lamont
Chapter Illustrations: Jonathan Wyke, Paul Carrick, Rob Gould, François Launet, Victor Leza, Charles Wong, Mike Perry, Nicholas Cloister, Antonio Luis, Kalli Schulz
Interior Illustrations: Rachel Kahn, Grilla, Chris Huth, Loïc Muzy, Paul Carrick, Scott Neil, Jonathan Wyke, Victor Leza, Sam Lamont, Celeste Burcham, Caryad, Antonio Mainez, Tom Sullivan, Marco Morte
Cartography: Steff Worthington
Number of Pages: 448
Retail Price: $27.95 (PDF) (US)
Reviewed by: Ron McClung