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Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu
A Look at Chaosium's Horrifying Journey
into the Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, Part II
by Wayne MacLaurin and Neil Walsh

In the last issue, we provided an introductory overview of Chaosium's unique game system, Call of Cthulhu.  This time out, we'd like to introduce a few of the important supplements that Chaosium publishes for this game.

The Core Game System

Call of Cthulhu The only thing you really need to begin your Call of Cthulhu experience is the core rule book.  Currently in its 5th edition, Call of Cthulhu has come a long way since the days of the slippery and rapidly increasing descent into insanity which was the inevitable doom of virtually every player investigator of the first edition rules. 

Since its first appearance about 16 years ago, Call of Cthulhu has presented a playable and eminently enjoyable game.  Over the years, the game system has remained relatively stable -- a tribute to its viability as a game.  The rules have never required a complete overhaul, but they have undergone some useful fine tuning. 

Call of Cthulhu, 5th Edition (1992, with numerous reprints in succeeding years) includes such highlights as a revision of player character skills, new occupations, additional notes on combat and injury, expanded weapon tables, new Cthulhu Mythos and occult tomes, new spells, new monsters, some helpful material for each of the three important eras (1890s, 1920s, and 1990s) as well as for the Dreamlands, some useful information on forensic pathology in each of the three eras, and four complete scenarios.  And much more.  Call of Cthulhu, 5th Edition contains everything you need to get started -- except for dice and a pencil -- plus some very useful new material for any veterans who may still be using one of the earlier edition rule books. 

Other Worthy Supplements

The Investigator's Companion

Player Aids
The 1920s Investigator's Companion (August 1997) is perhaps the single best accessory for players in Call of Cthulhu.  Unlike the core rule set or the myriad of guidebooks and adventures, this publication is targeted more to the players than to the gamemaster (aka the keeper).  Certainly it has valuable info for both, but herein lies a wealth of knowledge to add to the player's ability to understand the 1920s and to role-play effectively in that era.  Broken into four main parts, The 1920s Investigator's Companion covers:  1) the background of the roaring twenties, 2) typical occupations for player investigators and their skills, special abilities, etc., 3) a resource section including equipment, arms, travel, and research, and 4) a section on tips for the would-be investigator. 

Just about everything is covered, from wardrobe options and standards of fashion to available handguns, from major news of the period to the price of a first-class ticket on a trans-Atlantic ocean-liner.  The sub-section on firearms is of particular amusement to experienced players and keepers, as it offers great detail about the various types of weapons, and yet fails utterly to mention the obvious fact that firing a shotgun into "a shapeless congerie of protoplasmic bubble... with myriads of temporary eyes [mouths, tentacles, and whatever else you care to imagine] forming and unforming" -- otherwise affectionately known as a Shoggoth -- is more likely to make the monster angry than it is to actually wound, much less kill, the abomination.  The futility of firearms is often stressed in keeper supplements.  Ah, well!  Players will learn soon enough...


The London Guidebook The New Orleans Guidebook There are several guidebooks covering various settings in great detail. Like The 1920s Investigator's Companion, the guidebooks give both raw material, like topical news articles and historical timelines, and site-specific info.  The New Orleans Guidebook (July 1997), The London Guidebook (June 1996), and The Cairo Guidebook (May 1995) are a few examples, each providing great background material on these specific locations, as well as a wealth of ideas for and leads into other adventures, and in some cases, mini-scenarios ready for play. 

The most recent of these publications, The New Orleans Guidebook, features a local history from the first French settlement of the area in 1718, information on local climate and social customs, detailed info about certain points of interest and several useful Non-Player Characters, a section on Voodoo including several new spells, and a scenario that climaxes at a ritzy Mardi Gras tableau ball.  There are, in addition, countless hints and ideas for keepers wishing to devise their own demented scenarios based in or around New Orleans. 

Campaign-Length Adventures
Masks of Nyarlathotep If you're looking for a full prepackaged campaign adventure, one of the best Chaosium publications still in print is The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep (December 1996).  Masks has been in and out of print for years, in various editions.  It's a classic not to be missed.  The Complete Masks is a revised re-release, "complete for the first time, with the lost Australian chapter and four new episodes."  Masks is a masterful work of mystery, adventure and terror.  It offers a globe-spanning, soul-wrenching, sanity-corroding challenge for even the most experienced players.  It begins innocently enough, with a horribly mangled corpse.  From there the players are rapidly sucked into a whirlpool of madness from which only two escape routes are possible:  one is certain doom; the other...

Classic But Out-of-Print

Sadly, some of the best Call of Cthulhu material is out of print.  We mention it here not to torment anybody, but in the hope that if Chaosium happens to reprint any of it (as they frequently do), or if you happen to run across a copy in your local gaming store, you'll realize that you might be looking at a true gem. 

Shadows of Yog-Sothoth is another globe-spanning full-length campaign classic.  A brief aside here to explain that an Elder Sign is a star-shaped symbol from Lovecraftian literature, which is reputed to deflect some of the malice of the demonic denizens of the Cthulhu Mythos, similar in effect to a crucifix versus a vampire.  Shadows contains the famous line, stating that should an investigator present an Elder Sign before the Great Cthulhu "the keeper is well-justified in permitting a small, star-shaped piece of the character's body to escape total destruction."  

Horror On the Orient Express -- what could be better than a speeding train full of murder, mayhem and horrible monsters?  This is another true classic and an adventure that few investigators will survive, let alone solve.

S. Petersen's Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters is just what everybody needs.  In-depth descriptions of all Lovecraft's worst nightmares, complete with pictures and, best of all, a "size comparison chart" so you can see just how big some of these critters are.  Yikes! 

Coming Up

Next issue, we'll be taking a final look at the Call of Cthulhu game system. We'll be covering some of the material published for Cthulhu gaming in Lovecraft's Dreamlands, Cthulhu in the 1990s, Cthulhu in the 1890s and Chaosium's relatively new line of Cthulhoid fiction. 

Copyright © 1997 by Wayne MacLaurin and Neil Walsh

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