Call of Cthulhu 7e
Playtest at MACE
At MACE 2012, I was given an opportunity by Chad Bowser to run Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. He sent me the PDF of the August (GenCon?) version of the playtest rules, which I printed out and attempted to cram into my brain in the two weekend before the convention.
When I first heard about the new edition, I dug deep using Google to find out what Chad said about significant changes to the system. I have been playing Call of Cthulhu since late 80s and enjoyed every session. I have always found it funny that it has gone through 6 editions with very little change. Each book is slightly different with some slight changes to minor details but the game itself has not changed at its core in over 30 years. That’s all about to change, apparently. Paul Fricker (author of the monograph Gatsby and the Great Race and the scenario Dockside Dogs, contributor to Cthulhu Britannica) and Mike Mason (editor of Cthulhu Britannica and the defunct Whisperer magazine) have authored a considerable tome that updates, streamlines and modernizes the game I have loved for so long.
Now, first off, I do not know how final this edition is. Whatever is published could be completely different then what I write about here. I am writing in part as a n after-action-report for Chad as well as general review for all those at MACE that did not get a chance to play in it. I do thank Chad for giving me this opportunity, although admittedly it was more out of necessity than anything else. Chad had to cancel his appearance at MACE for understandable reason but he graciously allowed me to run his table for him as it already had 6 players preregistered. Being the gaming coordinator for MACE, I really did not want to cancel that game.
The game I ran went well but we did not manage our time as well as we should have. We did not get to finish but we were close. I ran Amidst the Ancient Trees, an adventure in CoC7e PDF material. It was a simple enough adventure with some interesting twists but unfortunately I think I spent too much time explaining the changes to the CoC rules set to finish the adventure. But like I said we were close – like one major encounter away from finishing the adventure.
What is amazing to me about the rule set is that it backwards compatible. The majority of the changes are either additions that you can just about add to any RPG system or streamlining of the existing system. The essence of the game system is very well preserved while a lot of modern sensibility is injected into the existing core mechanic. These guys put a lot of thought into ways to use what existed already, and it is a little refreshing to see that approach.
Along with streamlining and simplifying the game, another design philosophy I see in the knew edition a stronger focus on long term campaigns. I have always felt that CoC was more attuned to on-shot or convention games and less about long term campaigns but these edition has mechanics and tools to help the GM maintain a longer term game of CoC. Although I did not concentrate on these areas (as I was running a one-shot and did not need to), I did see them through out the book.
I generated 6 characters for this adventure, converted from other characters I have used in the past for one-shot CoC. Character generation was very smooth and simple, as well as enjoyable. They added a few steps to it to give you more ways to flesh out your character and have a lot more fun with it. This is where some of the biggest changes occurred, although not THE biggest. Gone are the old-school 3 to 18 values for your ability scores or Characteristics. Although you are still rolling them, you are multiplying everything by 5 giving your Characteristics a percentile value right off the bat. This saves a lot of past in-game math and is a very smart move.
Additionally, one of the aspects I really liked in character generation was the concept of Connections. These is an abstract concept where you write a short sentence about a person, place, thing or concept connected to the character. The GM and/or player can then work with these Connections in game to help the story or bring new story in. I am a huge fan of (1) anything that fleshes our the character a little bit more and (2) anything that adds to the story.
Getting into the core system, by far the biggest change is the Resistance Table. It’s gone. Completely taken out and replaced with the simple Full-Half-Fifth approach to skills and characteristics. Everything with a percentage value is written in terms of Full (the total value), half (1/2 of the total value) and fifth (1/5 of the total value). These measure level of success. There are penalties and bonuses that shift your level of success up and down that scale, but these are significant changes to the players chances and are encouraged to be used sparingly. Some tasks are opposed (winner with the best level of success wins) while others are set against a difficulty (GM says what level of success the player must attain). Reading this new simple task resolution system, I really liked it on paper. I was very concerned on how it would play at the table. But as it turns out, it was amazingly smooth.
Coupled with the new task resolution system is the concept of Pushing. Only Skills and Characteristic tests can be pushed. Combat rolls cannot be. The GM must “Foreshadow” the dire consequences of the Push but it basically gives the players another chance at the skill or characteristic check. It also gives the GM an opportunity to put the beat-down on the players if they fail twice. This creates a little more tension in game, I noticed, which I am sure was the intent.
The Luck stat is also significantly changed in the new edition. Instead of just the abstract roll that the GM has to interpret how he sees fit (although that is still there), it is points you can spend to change the odds in your favor in task resolution. In an opposed roll, of both sides come up with the same level of success, the GM will ask both sides to secretly spend Luck points to decide the result of a tie. These are revealed and points are marked off the character sheet. Changing skill checks point for point is also a way to use luck. But Luck does not heal back. It is tied to the Connections concept previously mentioned.
Also significantly changed for the better is the ambiguous skill Credit Rating. Gone is the skill that is hardly ever used. Now it is a way to purchase stuff (much like the d20 Modern concept of Wealth check) and it also points you can spend (like Luck) as bribes or to gain certain items. Now it’s very important to have Credit Rating because it defines what you can spend regularly and also defines your social status a little more concretely.
Combat has changed significantly in that it is a little more tactical and less abstract. Although it still has its levels of abstractness, it has a little more structure so that the GM and players don’t just do what they want to do. It introduces Primary and Secondary actions. Within these, there are defined things you can do. Primary actions are what the name implies and are only limited by the length of the round. Here you usually do your attack or spell cast or whatever. But that’s not all you can do. Secondary actions, done at a penalty, is limited to a smaller list of things but you can do an unlimited number of them. Fighting back is one action you can take in either but it usually is done in secondary actions. This is a way to do damage while still being attacked in melee or unarmed combat. Damage is determined by levels of success. Getting a Fifth level of success replaces the old Impale rule, for instance. Combat
is very streamlined but also more structured.
The big change in relation to Combat is skills. They eliminated the multitude of skills for unarmed, melee and ranged combat and instead assigned two specific skills – Fighting (for both unarmed and melee combat) and Firearms (for ranged). Tied to these are something called Weapons and Firearms Training (much like the d20 feats). Each character gets a number of them free but as the character develops, the more Training the player can purchase with the points gained in character advancement.
Sanity is also changed slightly. Although the core essence of the Sanity roll is preserved, the consequences are more dark and roleplayable. They introduce a concept called Bouts of Madness, which are sudden break downs in the mental stability of the character as they lose Sanity. Temporary and Indefinite Insanities are still there but the Bouts of Madness introduce a much more tangible and dark way to manage and roleplay the slow fall into insanity that every character goes through.
There are other changes to the system that I did not mention but these are the major ones I saw while cramming for the game at MACE 2012. On paper they looked great. At the table, they worked fantastically. It is very practical, streamlined and efficient and definitely does not get in the way of the story of the game. At the same time, it actually helps to enhance the game play and story telling. I thoroughly enjoyed the system and look forward to investing heavily into it.