Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick Start Rules

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick Start Rules
Publisher: Chasosium
Page Count: 46
Cost: Free
Release Date: 08/09/2013 (To Kickstarter Backers)/TBD (Everyone else)
Get it Here: TBD

As a Kickstarter Backer for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, I’m in line to get a ton of interesting freebies and releases long before the general public gets them. One such example is the 7th Edition Quick Start Rules, which is a great way to test the waters of the new edition. QSRs give you enough rules to make characters and run an adventure, and by the end it should let both the players and Keeper know if this is a game they want to play or avoid. Oddly enough, while the QSR for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition is quite long (coming in at forty-four pages), not only are there some important rules for play that are either missing or not fleshed out, but I’m also torn regarding my feelings for the new system. For every change I love, there is something I hate, and as it stands right now, 7th will definitely take a back seat to prior systems if the QSR is a true indicator of the final product. That said, CoC 7e is going to be two books and will obviously be far more fleshed out than this, so hopefully my concerns and dislikes will be properly addressed there, allowing me to enjoy 7e with the same gusto and joy I’ve had with the previous six editions, all of which line a bookcase in my study.

The QSR gives you a nice introduction to the system and how it primarily uses percentile dice, so players will know they need 2 d10s at the very least, and a sidebar lets newcomers know they will probably also need a d4, d6, d8 and d20. It also gives an explanation for your primary roles, what each character statistic means in relationship to the game and how secondary attributes (Damage Bonus, Sanity, Luck) and Hit Points are established in this new version of the game. Oddly enough, one of the most important secondary attributes, Magic Points, is left completely out of the guide in terms of how they are calculated, earned and lost. In previous versions of Call of Cthulhu, your POW rating equaled your magic points. With 7e, I’m assuming it’s POW divided by five, but again, there’s no actual indication in this QSR, which is an indication of the odd mix of quality and pure sloppiness that inundate the product, which I’m really hoping is specific to this QSR set and not 7e as a whole.

Character creation in the QSR is another odd duck. If the character creation rules are simply for doing a quick game and playing the enclosed adventure (The Haunting, which should come as no surprise to long time CoC vets), then it’s a great way to get a player into the game without having to scrutinize each skill and determine the best build for your Investigator. No min/maxing here, just throw a guy together and go. If, however, these are the rules for the fully fleshed out game, then not only will this be one of the worst character creation systems I’ve seen in any game, but it will also suck the soul and joy out of the character creation process as a whole and will ensure this edition tanks compared to previous ones. Basically, instead of rolling dice for your stats and freely distributing points for your skills, you are given EXACT numbers to plug into your character sheet. You can pick the order, so there is a slight degree of customization, but the end result is that the all characters will be quite similar to each other in terms of Stats, the only real variance will be with skills, and only then, because of the sheer number to choose from. As I’ve said, this particular system is wonderful for a Quick Start Rules set, as you learn the rules and can make a character even if any dice aren’t around. You’ll have an Investigator in less than ten minutes, and he or she will be fully fleshed out and ready to do battle with Mythos creatures. For a fully fleshed out game though, these rules rob characters of any real individuality, the chance for a player to role a truly terrific character stats-wise (that dies almost immediately due to a fumble) or see how far they can get with a very badly rolled character. In essence, these character creation rules rob the game of a lot of its character and make the process quick but exceptionally dull. Again, my suspicion is that this particular form of character creation is done simply for the QSR, especially since you still roll your Luck score in them, but previous CoC QSRs had full character creation rules, so even if turns out that there are normal character creation rules in 7e, we see yet another example of the QSR just not being of the same level of quality as previous editions.

Let’s talk stats. In previous editions, stats were rolled in a variety of different ways. You had 2d6+6 for one, 3d6 for others and so on. In truth, it was a bit of a jumble, but a fun one. Now, instead of character stats ranging between 3 and 18 for the most part, stats are done in a percentile manner. So instead of your strength being a 16, for example, it would now be an 80. At first glance, a long time CoC player might go, “Why change this? It wasn’t broken!” but in fact, switching to a percentile system makes a lot of sense, and will be far more intuitive to a new gamer. In previous versions of CoC, you would roll your stat times five on a percentile dice combo to see if you succeeded in a stat based challenge or not. Now, instead of doing the multiplication in your head, you already know what you have to roll. So instead of looking at your sheet and saying, “I have a 16 strength, so on this STRx5 roll, I need an 80 or less to succeed.” You just look at your sheet, see your 80 STR, and know what you need to roll instantly. This streamlines everything, helps the math deficient gamer immensely and everything just flows better gameplay wise. Now, like most long time CoC players, the first time you see a creature with, say, a STR of 200 I had a bit of culture shock, but it quickly subsides and you’ll realize the stats work better this way – you just need to break your longtime previous paradigm.

Unfortunately, we do see the sloppiness continue with the stats. One of the biggest changes with 7e is how Luck is now a burnable and replenishable stat, ala Sanity. This is abundantly clear on the character sheet provided with the QSR. However, the QSR rules do absolutely nothing to explain the new Luck system. You’re told how to get your starting Luck Points, how to do a Luck roll (same as any other in the game) and… that’s it. Nothing about how Luck is lost, gained or the like. This will leave new and old players alike confused, especially when they see how much space Luck Points take up on the new character sheet, and nary a rule on what to do with them in the guide. Not good Chaosium, not good.

A few sample occupations are given in the QSR to help players decide how to allocate their skill points, and I’m glad the game uses classic CoC style occupations like Antiquarian, Author, Detective, Dilettante and Professor, but then the guide makes the HUGE mistake of doing a SOLDIER as the sample character. Almost all of the skills of the sample character are combat oriented, which will give newcomers the completely wrong impression for how CoC works and what is really needed to survive a game,m and it also uses an Occupation not included in the QSR. It’s no surprise, though, that this occurred, as CoC 7e is primarily written by two guys from the Cthulhu Britannica line by Cubicle 7. I love those products and have given them stellar reviews, but I do have to agree that the biggest flaw with the CB line is that it is far too combat intensive a lot of the time, and thus misses the whole point, mood, theme and atmosphere of what Call of Cthulhu is about. So it’s a disappointment to see the QSR immediately start new players off on the wrong foot by showcasing a combat oriented character as the sample one. Poor Harvey Walters… now HE was a perfect example of what to do with a mix of roles and how to make a far more Lovecraftian PC. We also see the set percentages assigned to skills here, like character stats, which again, is an awesome way to do quick character builds for a QSR, but a horrible idea if this is actually going to be the character creation process in the main game.

Another interesting note that ties back to the previous paragraph is the change to the Credit Rating stat. Before, Credit Rating was more about how a character presented themselves in society and their reputation. Now, it’s a specific example of a character’s wealth. This is a fine change, and one that I think a lot of us did purposely or even unconsciously in previous editions. However, it does rob the game of character ideas, like the penniless charming con man who used Credit Rating similar to Fast Talk, or in Cthulhu By Gaslight where you could have the third son of a baron with a low Credit Rating even though he is of high class because of the scandals he was involved in throughout his life. As well, with the current character creation system, there is no way to play someone who is less than middle class. For skills, you HAVE to assign at least a 40 to Credit Rating during the character creation process, which, again robs a lot of creativity and character design from the game. Gone are hobo, welfare mom and minimum wage slave characters from Call of Cthulhu – at least with the QSR character creation rules. Again, yet another indication that these had best be limited to the QSR and not the full 7th Edition experience.

There are a lot of skill changes too. Some are welcome and make a lot of sense, like combining Punch, Kick, Headbutt and Grapple into Brawl or Art and Craft into one skill. Some make a little less sense, like combining Rifle and Shotgun into the same skill while leaving Handgun on its own, and others are just nonsensical. Why have Charm, Fast Talk, Persuade and Intimidate for example? Why add Sleight of Hand but get rid of Conceal and Hide, where the former is far more limited then the latter two? As you look at the character sheet, you’ll see it is FAR more oriented towards highlighting physical and combat skills than intellectual or scientific ones. Again, this is the Cthulhu Britannica influence, and as much as I like those as optional adventures for a more hack and slash group of players… I’m not so happy about seeing it seep into the core game.

The game system presented in the QSR isn’t really that different from how Call of Cthulhu has been played; it’s just that the rules are now official in the core setting. Previously in third party adventures, and more recently in Chaosium published ones, you’d see a call for a skill or stat roll to be halved, thirded or cut down to one-fifth. Well, these are in the core rulebook now, but with official wording and names like Hard Success and Extreme Success. So it might be a change if you’ve only ever used a much older core rulebook, but for the vast majority of CoC players, it’s been used so often, some might have forgotten these types of roles weren’t 100% official until now. The big change is that you can now “push” for these rolls. Say you fail your DEX roll to avoid being hit by a falling rock or something. Now you can push to get a second roll, but it will be halved. If you fail after a pushed roll, the Keeper gets to inflict something especially nasty to you. Risk vs Reward is now a big part of the game instead of a single role deciding all. People are either going to like or hate this, but I’m firmly in the Like camp, as I’m one that has always given players a second (or third) chance if they can justify another roll to attempt something. Seventh Edition also introduces a penalty or bonus die where you roll an additional “tens” die. For a bonus, you keep the larger of the two, and for a penalty, you keep the lower of the two. It’s an interesting idea, but the implementation is much too arbitrary going by the rules presented here, and I can’t see this new set of rules being used that often. It’s an interesting one, but something I see a lot of players and Keepers forgetting about rather than implementing.

Opposed Rolls are quite different now. Instead of a chart to use with opposed rolls, the two players (or characters) simply roll, and whoever gets the best success wins. In the case of a tie in terms of success quality, the lowest roll wins. This is a fine alternative. It’s neither bad nor good to me. Sanity is quite similar to the previous editions and it’s almost word for word the same as the 6e guide. Combat, too, is pretty unchanged, save for the combining of various skills. The new Normal/Hard/Extreme successes come into play here, but the guide does a decent job of showing examples of how that works in terms of dodging and attacking. Unfortunately, and this goes back to the sloppiness aspect of this QSR, the guide mentions nothing about ties and what happens with them. You can assume that it is similar to the opposed roll mechanics, but honestly, it should be that the defender takes it. I also love that combat includes a full damage chart which describes the type of injury, the die roll that would go along with it, and examples of each. That’s a wonderful idea, especially for a QSR.

Finally, more than half of the QSR is dedicated to the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure The Haunting, which is provided complete and for free as part of the guide. It’s worth noting just how much longer the 7e version is due to the change in mechanics and rules though. In the 6e QSR, The Haunting was eight pages long, and the same as it always has been for decades. The new 7e version is sixteen pages long! This right here demonstrates one very big difference between 7e and 1-6e, and that’s that 7e is far more about the mechanics and how much more space has to be devoted to them to make an adventure flow properly. Basically, this is going to be the biggest thing that determines whether a Keeper loves or hates the 7e rules, as there is more to keep track of, adventures will be far thicker and there is a lot more telling the Keeper how to run the adventure instead of just giving them the information and letting said Keeper do things his or her way. In this regard, running an adventure with 7e feels far more rigid and linear, but is easier for a newcomer to take on the role of Keeper. In reading this new version of The Haunting, I really could see how 7e Call of Cthulhu is basically doing the same things that 4e Dungeons & Dragons did for that RPG line – which is both good and bad, depending on how you feel about 4e.

So going off just the QSR, I think 7e is a mixed bag. There are some changes I don’t really care for and some I really like. That’s pretty much true of any edition change for any RPG line though. If you honestly think that one edition does everything 100% better than a previous or newer version, then you’re fooling yourself. There’s always room for change or updating rules – the key is making sure the updates are good ones and actually make the game better. What’s presented here is a mixed bag, and to be completely honest, the bad outweighs the good, but I have to make the caveat that the negative is more about the sloppiness of the QUICK START rule set provided here rather than Seventh Edition itself and the potential for the character creation process in the QSR being the new one for Call of Cthulhu across the board instead of a simple fast way to get characters made. Fix those two things, which are very easy to do, and the good will now outweigh the bad, and I should be pretty happy with Seventh Edition. As I’ve said, the changes here, such as managing luck as a resource instead of a stat and some of the changes to make the game easier on PCs will no doubt remind people of Fourth Edition D&D, but that’s okay, as a lot of people like 4e, and a lot of people hate it. Every new edition of a game adds a new layer of Edition Wars amongst the players. Do I prefer previous editions to 7e so far? Yes, but to pass final judgment on a product based solely on truncated Quick Start Rules would be insane and unfair. For now, I’m holding out hope that my concerns about 7e will be alleviated with the full length Keeper and Investigator rulebooks when they are released, in the same way many of the changes talked about in an earlier draft of 7e that I didn’t care for (such as the original plans for Hit Points) are complete gone now. I’ll just say that a little bit of editing and clarification could have gone a long way here, and I give the QSR a thumbs in the middle in terms of quality, but I’m still open minded for the final product and am looking forward to giving it a whirl.

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