Posted on July 4, 2008 by Flames
In the early 1900s, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft created a series of books and short stories set in a dark world beset by cultist, monsters and unfathomable “things” from space and other dimensions. These works collectively became known as the “Cthulhu Mythos,” named for one of the Great Old Ones that slumbered in the lost city of Rályeh, awaiting the end of the world.
Lovecraft’s works were filled with ordinary people confronting unthinkable horrors and a world torn between ancient arcane secrets and the threat of science without humanity.
Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu” horror roleplaying game captures the feel of Lovecraft’s writings and puts players in the roles of investigators bent on uncovering, and surviving, the dark lore of the Cthulhu Mythos.
The heroes in CoC are a bit different than those found in other games. Most are ordinary people who find themselves in the middle of a nightmarish mystery, and often times survival is more important than learning the terrible truth. In fact, the truth can drive you mad.
In addition to the standard physical and mental stats such as Strength, Intelligence, Constitution and Dexterity, investigators posses several Characteristics that aid them in their investigations. A character’s Education is a measure of their academic ability and knowledge. Power is a measure of the character’s force of will and also gives them the ability to use magic (if they can find some and are willing to pay the price). There also is Sanity, a measure of your characterás grip on reality.
Characteristics are used to make ability checks in different situations. Intelligence allows for Idea rolls, which are random bits of inspiration. Power allows players to draw on a character’s Luck. Education gives investigators the chance to Know bits of information, and Strength and Size can give big burly characters a bonus to damage in combat.
Characters also have a variety of skills they can draw upon, with most corresponding to the character’s chosen career, as well as an array of spells for those willing to give up some Sanity in return for power.
Games of CoC often are built around mysteries and dark secrets, asking questions that you might not want answered and trying to find the one bit of lore that might save everyone from a fate worse than death.
Knowledge is power, but in Lovecraft’s world knowledge has its price, and the price is your mind. Encounters with otherworldly beings, monstrous things, dark knowledge and sometimes mundane horrors cost your character Sanity. The more Sanity you have, the better your character can deal with mental stress and the more grounded they are in reality. Lose too much Sanity and you begin to go insane, reacting incorrectly to events and people, hallucinating and basically spiraling into insanity.
The life expectancy for most “Call of Cthulhu” characters is rather short. Chances are at least one member of the party will be driven insane, killed, eaten or even bushwhacked by one of their own companions during the course of an adventure. Often the more knowledge you gain, the more Sanity it costs you, and the person with all the answers is the one gibbering incoherently in the corner when the Big Bad finally appears. Very few games end with members of the group retiring peacefully, and even when they do there always is the cloud of doom hanging over them, because they know what fate awaits all of humanity.
But man, is it fun. There is a feel to CoC few games can capture, and players will find themselves delighting in both their characters’ survival and ultimate demise.
Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos have an incredible, pardon the pun, cult following. Chaosiumás library of CoC resources is legendary, with literally hundreds of books, some in print and some obscure, including more than 90 supplements, each adding to the Mythos and possible adventures. The modern CoC books divide into three main time periods: 1920s, 1990s and Now. Each presents a great deal of flavor and advice for running games in their respective timelines, but my favorite would have to be the 1920s setting, which provides some perfect handicaps for player characters when facing the unknown. After all, facing down a creature with a tommy gun sets a much different scene than firing a LAWs rocket at the horror from a half-mile away.
Chaosium’s Web site also has a wonderful section specifically meant to introduce new players to “Call of Cthulhu,” with a series of design articles talking about different aspects of the game. There are tons of fan resources on the Internet, and the game is easily accessible using only the main book and whatever your own dark, twisted mind can create.
CoC has been around since 1981 and is now in its sixth edition. There is a reason this game has lasted so long, garnered so much praise and developed such a devoted following: Once you enter the dark world of H.P. Lovecraft, you may find you donát want to leave.
For more information on “Call of Cthulhu” or other Chaosium products, visit www.chaosium.com.
Review by Michael Erb
Staff Writer – The Parkersburg News and Sentinel – www.newsandsentinel.com
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