Let's take a quick look at a lovely little game of sanity, horror, and the cosmos.
Call Of Cthulhu has had a long, satisfying run, and though the major mechanics have pulled away from the influences of 4th edition and Pathfinder (like COC D20) in favor of more nuanced D100 play, the theming and expectations have stayed consistent.
Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: this is not a game of HEROES.
In fact, so much of what we see in play and in its surrounding lore supports and reinforces the idea that each of us, though a cut above the average human and exceptional in some way, are just regular people. And with that, subject to mental breakdowns, psychic attack, possession, and a quick, gruesome death. We are squishy, delicate bags of flesh just doing their best against forces we have little knowledge of.
This is ELDRITCH HORROR. Dark shadows, tentacle beasts, unexplained occult, and the energy of grasping at the very edge of understanding - just enough to be able to act - in the face of very likely doom.
And anyone who plays this game, KNOWS THAT. They know they might get decapitated if they take a wrong turn and roll badly; they know that their character's life is inconsequential to the grand scheme of the universe, and they're here for it. This is a game of atmosphere, immersion, PROPS, and cosmic horror.
So, noting the fact that I am alone in my den while my wife is at work pondering about my singular not-hero in a cosmic horror dystopia without the help of a Keeper (the GM)...I still find the best way to begin understanding a system is to comb through and make yourself an adventurer! ...I mean...INVESTIGATOR!
This is not your daddy's D&D. Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition utilizes 8 "pools" of specific characteristics for your Investigator, plus a Luck attribute. Each one is generated *a little* differently, but each one will use some combination of rolling some D6's and multiplying by 5.
We'll take a look at each one while we generate it:
STRENGTH (STR) - 3d6 x 5
My roll: 15 x 5 = 75
Strength is tied to one's athleticism and ability in hand-to-hand combat. Pretty straightforward.
CONSTITUTION (CON) - 3d6 x 5
My roll: 12 x 5 = 60
Constitution is your health, vigor, and vitality. Your resilience to injury, poison, and attack.
SIZE (SIZ) - 2d6+6 x 5
My roll: 9 + 6, 15 x 5 = 75
Size...worries me. It is supposed to represent height and weight as a single number, the higher it is, the bigger you are? Can...can creatures reduce that score? (Probably)
DEXTERITY (DEX) - 3d6 x 5
My roll: 11 x 5 = 55
Dexterity is what you think it is. Agility, coordination, flexibility, and quickness.
APPEARANCE (APP) - 3d6 x 5
My roll: 16 x 5 = 80
Appearance can be equated to one's "charisma" score, carrying with it both one's physical attractiveness and personality.
INTELLIGENCE (INT) - 2d6+6 x 5
My roll: 6+6, 12 x 5 = 60
Think of Intelligence in this case as a combination of Int and Wisdom; investigative ability, remembering and sorting information, and solving puzzles.
POWER (POW) - 3d6 x 5
My roll: 16 x 5 = 80 (woot!)
Your Power score also creates your Sanity score (at least for now!), so I feel good. Power, unlike Strength, is your force of Will. It's your mental fortitude and presence; personal, intrinsic, even mystical, power.
EDUCATION (EDU) - 2d6+6 x 5
My roll: 10+6, 16 x 5 = 80 (yay, I think)
Education is your book knowledge and level of, well, education! Higher the score, the more educated you are.
LUCK (Luck) - 3d6 x 5 (though later in the text it says roll 3d6 x 5...weird)
My roll: 8 x 5 = 40 (oops!)
Luck is used in the game to alternate the fickle hands of fate. Looks like I'm none too lucky.
What My Numbers Mean
Well above average strength, and approaching "one of the strongest people you've ever met."
Slightly above average healthy human.
Pretty tall and strongly built.
Average human. Sigh.
Exceedingly charming human.
Slightly above average human intellect.
Strong willed, driven, and possessing a high potential to sense and connect with the unseen and magical.
Master's degree held, and a Bachelor's to boot!
Unfortunately, we now make adjustments based on our Investigator's age. I'll keep mine around 35 to keep it simple. According to the chart, I need to make an Improvement Check on my Education, meaning I need to roll 1d100. If I roll higher than my current EDU score, I get to roll a D10 and add that to my EDU. My roll: 29. Guess I took a year off to get exceedingly handsome.
DAMAGE, BUILD, and HP
We add our STR and SIZ scores together first: 150
My Damage gets a +1d4 bonus, and my Build gets a +1.
If I add my CON and SIZ scores together (135), then divide by 10 and round down, I get my Hit Points!
...Remember what I said about being squishy?
There are a few other derived statistics, but let's keep going.
Now it's time to figure out my class! Yes! The best part...the best...
Right. This isn't going to work the same way, is it?
Not in the slightest! Let's go!
An Investigator's Occupation isn't their class, like in D&D. In fact, there's nothing of the sort. COC isn't a game about level progression or powerful features or capstone abilities. It's a dark, horror fantasy that is all about personal, terrifying storytelling.
The Occupation determines what Characteristics grant you Skill Points (for allocation), Credit Rating (more on that later), Suggested Contacts based on that Occupation, and the 8 skills that define the Occupation. There's an extensive list, and it's not even close to complete or comprehensive, because you're invited to MAKE YOUR OWN Occupation based on the time period you're operating in.
Because I don't know what I'm doing, I'll just pick a Diver.
Skill Points are your EDU x 2 + DEX x 2
My Skill Points: 110+160, so 270 (yay?)
Credit Rating: 9-30
Contacts: law enforcement, smugglers, coast guard
Skills: Diving, First Aid, Mechanical Repair, Pilot (boat), Science (Biology), Spot Hidden, Swim, and one specialty.
Allocating Skill Points
This is where I need to stop and ask some questions.
Do you only have access to skills tied to your Occupation, or can you take a skill not on your list?
--- You can take skills not connected to your Occupation. These are Personal Interest Skills and whose points are derived from your INT score x 2 (so 120 for me).
What is the benefit between Occupation skills and "untrained" skills? Can you even do a thing untrained?
--- Seems that I add the additional "percentages" to skills that have my Occupation? Unfortunately, it seems the RAW is particularly vague on this, despite it's apparent mechanical lynchpin importance! It clears up a few things by offering an anecdotal walkthrough, but why didn't they have that in the actual workflow of the rulebook?
For now, I'll place my points in what I know well, and allocate my personal ones in some sick brawling and knife fighting skills. As a diver, I'd assume I'd know how to at least defend myself against an eel or two, right?
Backstories and Equipment
Personal descriptions and backstories can be decided randomly by rolling on tables, or just used for inspiration. Here you decide your ideologies, people and locations significant to you, treasured possessions, traits, and any other backstory connections.
After that, your Credit Rating comes into play to give you an idea of overall wealth and lifestyle, also letting me equip a few things, but not much I need to go into here. I've got the important stuff, and after that it's up to my Credit Rating to explain away certain expenditures. Just like any other value in the game, it's something you roll for.
And That's Part One...
With my Investigator made, the next step is to deep dive and put the little sucker into practice. I am very much a kinesthetic learner, so experience goes a long way in amplifying a system and understanding it on my terms.
I'd apologize for the cliffhanger, but I don't actually care. ;)
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
Honestly, I write what I want when I want. Often monster lore, sometimes miniature showcases, and the occasional movie/show review.