Aside from zombies, the realm of horror is lead by the popularity of author H.P. Lovecraft. Enjoyed by generations of readers, a roleplaying game debuted in 1981. While Call of Cthulhu is Chaosium’s most well-known RPG and one of the most well-known RPGs period, it wasn’t one of the first releases from Chaosium, which included RuneQuest, designed by Steve Perrin and his team and set in Greg Stafford’s Glorantha.
Future id alum Sandy Peterson joined Chaosium and began work on what was originally to be a supplement for RuneQuest and utilizing the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Taking the underlying rules of Runequest, later to be known as the BRP, or Basic Roleplaying, he simplified combat as well as added mechanics for sanity and related skills. These came together to enable players to run games in the stories and tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, facing the unknown horrors among the highest stars and deepest seas and facing the consequences. These rules were quite a contrast to the popular D&D rules; in CoC players don’t choose a class, but instead have skills (something D&D would pick up in later editions). Players who survived could improve their proficiency in these skills, but they never became harder to hit nor tougher to kill. Just like in RuneQuest, combat was always brutal and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Over the decades Chaosium has released several new editions, first helmed by Sandy and later with Lynn Willis and Charlie Krank. The newest edition was lead by Paul Fricker and Mike Mason. As with past editions, Sandy and Lynn are still given credit which is nice to see. The image for this post comes from the cover of the 5th edition, which has become my favorite due to its fairly up-to-date rules as well as a very clean layout (something which suffered greatly in the 6th and 6.5 editions before regaining favor in 7th). Most of the editions have had few changes in the actual rules, one of the core strengths of BRP and lending to its continued popularity. The latest edition does have a few more changes, and far more pages.
Along with the many editions of Call of Cthulhu, there have been numerous supplements and adventures. Some of the more popular ones include Cthulhu Dark Ages, Beyond the Mountains of Madness, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Cthulhu Invictus, Mansions of Madness, Masks of Nyarlathotep, and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth.
As with my Magic World review, I figured someone else has done a better job of walking the viewer/reader through creating a character. For Call of Cthulhu, I like this video by frenzykitty (note there is a short part 2).
The game, as well as Chaosium itself, are currently in a bit of turmoil. After a delay in the kickstarted Horror on the Orient Express and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen have returned to the company, and have drafted the help of both Moon Design Publications and The Design Mechanism in regards to the future of their games, and their strengths in their developments of Glorantha and RuneQuest respectively puts these games and Chaosium into good and very experienced hands. I do hope the future of Call of Cthulhu is strong, as its flexible yet easy-to-learn rules and endlessly-fascinating setting should be fun and inspiration for many more generations of gamers.
If you’d like to try out this game, there is a free quick-start available. The newest one, based on 7th edition, is available here. There is an older version I’m found of; a copy of it can be found here.