The Meeple’s Eye View is an in depth review of one of the many games in our board game library. As the Malted Meeple has become Northeast Ohio’s role playing game hotspot we have decided that it is time to start reviewing some of our favorite role playing systems as well!
This edition of The Meeple’s Eye View is brought to you by guest blogger and Dungeon Meeple Tyler Hudak.
There are few role playing games that can claim to have been around for almost 35 years like the horror RPG Call of Cthulhu can. Set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, this RPG has stood the test of time to delight, and horrify, thousands of players across the years.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote pulp horror fiction in the 1920s and 30s; most of which is collectively called the Cthulhu Mythos, named after the alien horror in his most famous story, The Call of Cthulhu. In Lovecraft’s stories, protagonists would often uncover knowledge that man was not meant to know, and in the process their sanity would be shattered. Call of Cthulhu is a horror RPG that attempts to emulate this.
In Call of Cthulhu, players take on the role of investigators who are called to solve a mystery, often with supernatural or occult elements to it. Players may find their characters probing the disappearance of a famous archeologist, the murder of a close friend, or the mysterious happenings at a house. As the investigation proceeds, the PCs discover the true horrors of the universe and their sanity erodes. By the end, the real nature of the mystery is revealed and the PCs often lose their minds, their lives, or both.
The game is run using Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying (BRP) system and is extremely simple to play. Each character has a number of attributes and skills which are assigned a value between 1 and 100 – the higher the value the better the PC is at the skill. The player rolls their percentile die when the GM, called the Keeper, asks for a skill check. If the roll is less than or equal to the skill’s value, they pass the check.
What makes Call of Cthulhu unique is that in addition to tracking the health of a PC, characters also track their sanity using sanity points, or SAN. When a character experiences something scary, unsettling, or disturbing, they will have to make a SAN check. This is another percentile roll that is compared to their current SAN. If the roll is equal to or less than the PC’s SAN, they pass; otherwise they fail and lose a number of sanity points. If the PC loses too many sanity points, they may go temporarily or permanently insane.
Call of Cthulhu scenarios are often deadly, and it is not unheard of for most, if not all, of the party to be dead or insane by the end of the scenario. However, surviving is absolutely possible – in the games at the Malted Meeple there are a number of players whose investigators have survived multiple scenarios. How jumpy those PCs are and whether or not you want them carrying around a cache of dynamite is another story.
The default setting for the game is in Lovecraft’s 1920s. However, the game is extremely easy to play in any time period. Source material has been written for almost every era imaginable, including World War II, Victorian England of the 1890’s, modern day, and the far future. Recently, a number of the Call of Cthulhu games at the Malted Meeple have been using the Delta Green setting, where PCs play agents of a clandestine conspiracy whose purpose is to ensure the true nature of the Cthulhu mythos is not revealed to the public.
Despite its long existence, there has been very little change to the Call of Cthulhu RPG. The 7th edition is the most recent version, and was released in 2015. The 7th edition has probably changed the system the most by modifying combat and turning all attributes into percentage-based values. What this means is that even though it’s been around for almost 35 years, a scenario written for Call of Cthulhu in 1981 is still playable in the latest version of the game with very few changes! Since Call of Cthulhu has the most source material available behind D&D and Pathfinder, this makes for a lot of material at the Keeper’s and player’s disposal!
I have been playing and running Call of Cthulhu for over a decade, and it is still one of my favorite RPGs. While the game can be deadly and unforgiving to PCs, this is part of the fun. As a player, you get to try and solve a mystery while at the same time watching your PC slowly descend into madness. Combat is also usually lethal, but as I say to my players, “Running is ALWAYS an option.”
While I think it’s a great game, Call of Cthulhu is not for everyone. If you don’t like horror or supernatural RPGs, or don’t like that your character will likely have a short lifespan, then the game probably isn’t for you. However, I would still encourage you to come out and try a session or two – we play most every month at the Malted Meeple.
We’ll be waiting for you!