The Game: Call of Cthulhu 5.5
The Publisher: Chaosium
Degree of Familiarity: I've played it a couple of times, but not recently.
Books Required: Just the core.
This is the first time I've cracked open Call of Cthulhu in several years. At one point, it represented the other side of horror gaming to the World of Darkness, a game of brave investigators carrying a spark into the mysterious depths. But something's changed, and now I really don't like it.
Maybe it's because the book opens with a picture of HPL and the words "Author, Scholar, Gentleman." Oddly, it misses out "Bigot". I mean, this is a man who believed that Jews hatched out of eggs rather than being born; a man whose fears of miscegenation went far, far beyond the norm for the time—the Dunwitch Horror is a very thinly-veiled screed on the subject—and yet the book doesn't mention any of this. Might be an idea.
Maybe it's because writers and RPGs have mined the Cthulhu Mythos until that seam is dry. Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and all the others aren't mysterious; pop-culture has transformed them into the universal shorthand for "Big gribbly tentacles", and in doing so has transformed the whole mythos into a joke. CthulhuTech has done for the milleu what GURPS: Cthulhupunk did in the late 90s, and a wide range of other games present the same kind of horror with or without the explicit call-outs to HPL's works. CoC is superfluous.
Certainly, the system hasn't seen a major update in over twenty years. Apologists claim that it "just gets out of the way", but it hasn't learned any lessons from the last 20 years of design. It's stagnant, and every time I encounter it I see a hundred little things that niggle at me. Unknown Armies did percentile systems far better than this, actually manipulating the fact that two dice are in play, not just a random number from 00-99. Unknown Armies also did madness far, far better than CoC's incredibly basic "psychological hit-points".
But, yanno, I'm not getting rid of my copy and I might play in a game one of these days if only for nostalgia purposes. After all, CoC was the first game written to a genre, even if clumsily so. Nostalgia is a powerful force.
My book was published in June 1998, though it looks like it's from the mid-80s. I just want to mention this, because the default means of creating a character is to roll 3d6 in order. This does not endear the game to me. Optional rules get around this system in a variety of annoying and clunky ways. For fuck's sakes. This game was published in nineteen ninety cockbadgering eight. Point buy is not an alien idea, you fucking idiots!
The stats are STRength CONstitution POWer DEXterity APPearance. My rolls:
SIZe and INTelligence are 2D6+6, coming out at
EDUcation is 3d6 + 3. Because how dare all stats be on the same scale with reasonable means of generating all of them?
SAN is equal to POW * 5. I've seen that one somewhere before... Anyway.
2. Determine Characteristic Rolls
Idea is INT * 5, Luck is POW * 5 (so why not say it's equal to SAN, or vice versa?), Know is EDU * 5. So 90, 70, and 65 respectively. So coming up with a clever idea is easy, but actually knowing anything is much harder. Cock that...
Damage bonus is STR + SIZ on a lookup table... 24 gets me 0.
Hold on. This game has a stat named 99 minus Cthulhu Mythos. Why not work this out on the fly? Especially as it means increasing one skill means altering another stat for no good reason! Grarh. Anyway. That one starts at 99.
Wait, that tiny bit of maths was a step? Wha?
3. Determine Derived Characteristic Points
So the basic bit of maths is in fact split into two steps. I don't have a name or a concept yet...
Hit Points are equal to half CON and SIZ, rounded up. Or 13. MP is equal to POW. Sanity Points are equal to SAN. And yet, SAN doesn't change unless POW changes. So I'm writing the same number a lot for no real reason that I can see.
4. Determine Occupation and Skills
Right. First, we find the era to discover how much we have to spend. I have to assume that the "present" as defined is the late 80s, as the values look fucked for any other time. Let's assume that this is a 1920s game, because anything else would be bloody annoying. So we roll a die. 3. $3500 each year, plus property equal to $17,500.
Next, I pick a Profession. This gives me a skill list, and 20*EDU points to spend on those skills. Annoyingly, they add to the default values, and the defaults have no set formula.
Anyway. With a stunning INT and a good POW and APP, we're talking about a clever bugger, bit of a looker. Not a great EDU, so not a graduate... a grifter would fit. Criminal is a bit of an all-rounder, but it fits.
Bargain 05, Disguise 01, Fast Talk 05, Handgun 20, Locksmith 01, Sneak 10, Spot Hidden 25, one other (Persuade, 15). 260 percentiles.
Well, those are a bit fucked. Raise Fast Talk and Persuade to 60 right off, that's 100 down. Bargain to 30, Locksmith to 41, Sneak to 60, Spot Hidden to 40. Handgun to 50.
Fast Talk 60
Spot Hidden 40
Now I get INT * 10 skills to spend anywhere. 180 isn't much, so let me think. I need a concept before I wank these away.
Genevieve Daudet, born and raised in Paris. Her parents migrated to the United States ten years ago, bringing her with them. She's late-twenties, with long dark curls spilling from her head. Born poor, she's happily lied, cheated, and (occasionally) stolen her way to a position of relative luxury by leveraging her natural cunning and the way most people assume she's just a girl. Occasionally, she's got involved with things she really shouldn't; everything from rare book deals to scamming spiritualists. One day real soon, she's going to fall in deep.
Despite not having much more than a normal income, she's good at raising working capital and appearing richer than she is, so let's bump Credit Rating up to 40. She can cook books, and read when people have done the same, so Accounting 30. She knows enough about the law to talk her way out of a dodgy situation, so Law 30. She speaks French as her native language (70), and English at 51. 55 points to go... Occult could do with some more, maybe 25—you learn something scamming everyone. She's also good at palming objects and making sure nobody can find them again, so Conceal goes to 50.
Credit Rating 40
Dodge 20 (free)
5. Determine Weapons
Wait, I thought this was a horror game... two separate skill-phases as one step, but buying guns is a whole other? The fuck?
Let's just go with a .22 short automatic, concealed in her bag.
6. Determine Additional Background
You mean like I just did back when I needed to work out where to spend skills?
Oh well, at least it was easier than Nephilim.
Damage Bonus +0
99 minus Cthulhu Mythos 99
Hit Points 13
Magic Points 14
Sanity Points 70
Credit Rating 40
Dodge 20 (free)
Fast Talk 60
Spot Hidden 40
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