Friday 3 June 2011

Running a Call of Cthulhu pbem - Part Ten

Do you like rules lawyers? Of course you don’t. Well, Call of Cthulhu is the game for you. It’s rules-light and atmosphere-heavy and that’s a good thing.

Firstly because, as you can imagine, the fewer rules there are, the less anyone has to nit-pick about. If I flick through my CoC rulebook, what do I see? Character creation runs from page 11 to 16 – that’s it. Five pages. And one of those is an example character sheet. Page 17 to Page 28 is the Game System and Skills. Twelve pages. Up to page 23 is the Weapons and Damage rules, 24 to 28 is the description of the skills and even they are subject to interpretation.

The very basic nature of the rules system for CoC means that players and Keeper can get on with what matters – the adventure. Establishing a protocol for the game before you start can ensure that the players are left in no doubt as to who has the final call on the interpretation of the rules, such as they are. If a dispute situation does arise, the general feeling (at least amongst our group) is that the current Keeper has the last call. It should also be remembered that rules that apply to PCs also apply to the baddies – or at least they should be - so the PCs are not being disadvantaged. If this fact is pointed out the players at the appropriate point, they should be satisfied or at the very least, mollified.

There is a slight downside to the brevity and simplicity of the rules and that is that it places a burden on the Keeper because maintenance of the atmosphere is down to them. If inspiration fails, there are few mechanics that the Keeper can fall back on for support.

However, overall, the CoC game structure and system means that it is easily learnable and indeed can be played without having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the intricacies of the game system. Would that all RPGs were like that. Indeed, a player can start to play immediately after rolling up a character and probably have just as good a time as someone who’s been playing for years, because the fun of the game, the experience of being an Investigator comes from the way that the players and Keeper interact in developing the feel and atmosphere of the game. And it’s the way in which atmosphere can be created that I’ll be dealing with next time.


  1. This is why Chaosium's d100 system -- specifically the Cthulhu variant -- is my favourite system. There's enough in there to deal with conflicts and tasks, but in general it gets right out of the way and lets the Keeper get on with it.

  2. I've never liked the neither-one-thing-nor-the-other aspects of CoC (the stats generate like D&D, the skills are percentile, and characters develop openly), but I do like how simple the whole thing is to execute. Telling, perhaps, that I cut my improvisational teeth on it...

  3. I agree with Kelvins point here - I can think of several occasions where I've just done away with task rolls after some of the results you three have had and just allowed you to act on an idea or course of action.
    The end result is the adventure itself bears almost no resemblance to the pre-pub I used as a premise at the beginning........