Enter the world of H.P. Lovecraft as an investigator dragged willing or not into the dark world of the Elder Gods. Call of Cthulhu pits humans with some skills against the awesome might of gods and their underlings – both human and not. Investigators will need to use their wits in order to solve mysteries while attempting to stay alive and stay sane.
This tabletop rpg stands out in its sanity mechanic and iconic Lovecraft world. Most often the goal isn’t to beat what your investigators face but to banish it while keeping their sanity in tact through the end. The game’s traditional setting is the 1920’s but scenarios and skills can be tweaked for any era.
Most of the game will focus around the investigations of the characters as they try to unravel mysteries before facing off with whatever beastie lurks at the heart of the problem. Even digging for clues can be hazardous to one’s health. While boasting many of the same stats and similar skills as many older tabletop rpgs, Call of Cthulhu focuses more attention on skills that will help the investigators seek out clues. The game also has sanity mechanic where characters lose sanity points for reading tomes of the Cthulhu mythos or encountering strange phenomena and creatures.
Losing sanity isn’t as terrible as, say, dying, but a character that has a break with reality will find themselves locked up in a padded room until they scrape together enough of their mind to venture into the world again. And that’s the best ending. Afterall a break with reality while dealing with an Elder God’s minion puts not only the investigator but the entire team at risk.
Call of Cthulhu requires a bit more study than other tabletops because there is extensive lore covered in the H.P. Lovecraft world and the rules will require some work to properly nail down. However, gameplay is fun and engaging with an emphasis on crafting mysteries and encounters that challenge the investigators mentally. If you don’t drive at least one of your player characters insane in a session or two, try harder.
There are three definite hurdles a GM will face. First off, getting a handle on the intricacies of all the rules if a GM hasn’t run a game with similar mechanics. Secondly, creating the air of creeping mystery and pervasive threat for the players. Each session they should risk not only their lives, but also their grip on reality. Campaigns instead of single adventures are useful for creating ever rising tension and despair. The final hurdle is a mix of the first two as it’s easy for the rules to get in the way of keeping the horror/mystery air Lovecraft’s works are known for.
Run some pre-packaged campaigns first to get a handle on the rules and idea for basic story structure. Once a GM feels comfortable, consider scrapping or tweaking rules that get more in the way than help gameplay. While the game suggests making characters roll for nearly everything, let a character’s skill set guide you in order to introduce narrative more often instead of mechanics.
Overall, Call of Cthulhu is suited to smaller groups of about five players so that they have chance of failure and therefore a chance to run into something really nasty unprepared. If your players haven’t played a game that has high chances of death or incapacitation, make it clear that Cthulhu is that type of game. It’s more in line with Silent Hill where even if a character survives, they might be more broken.
During the session I, Dame K, ran for the Dames and a kind Gentleman willing to put up with our tomfoolery, I found myself often needing to shift around information on account of failed dice rolls. Seriously, five failed Fast Talk and Persuade rolls in less than a minute. Be willing to do that so that your players are not forever locked out of a key piece of information that could mean they fail the entire scenario. The cards are already stacked against investigators in CoC in the form of health and mental well being.
Also, design something interesting to happen in case they do fail a scenario, but live to tell the tale. My intrepid, budding PI’s are in for a twist should they not meet the objectives of this particular outing. Failing any of that you can always spike the punch and then everyone will have a good time.
Buy the game:
And some cool accessories:
- Call of Cthulhu: Set of 7 Black and Green Dice
- H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
- Call of Cthulhu Playing Cards