Entry 48: Let’s talk Seven, The Keeper’s Handbook

Continuing my overview of the new edition of Call of Cthulhu, I go over the Seventh Edition, which gets into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the changes in the game, so to speak.
We start with another introductory chapter, and then go into an overview of H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. To some of the ongoing fans of the writer’s work and the game this may be superfluous, but this game is written to be inclusive for people new, not only to this game but to role playing games in general. It is a good condensation of the concepts and brings a Keeper to an understanding of the underlying premises of Lovecraft’s writing.
We have two chapters that are the Keeper’s side of Character creation, and goes into the mechanics of the process from a Keeper’s perspective.
In Chapter Five, we start to open the game mechanics, going into how Skill rolls work, and how the new functions of the game impact gameplay. Bonus and penalty dice are explored, and then an examination of the Investigator development phase, a post-scenario improvement development in the game.
In Chapter Six, we go into Combat, a system that explores the modified rules, the new system for opposed rolls and damage is explored. In my opinion, it is a smoother system than most games, and while on an initial read it is a bit more complicated than it used to be, it encourages more free flow combat and once used to it, I think it is a good and strong system.
In Chapter Seven, we explore chases, something that most games do but tends to be underused in play (at least somewhat a matter of player’s mindset to take potential combat as something to ‘see through’), but really is extremely well suited to Lovecraftian fiction, so well suited to Lovecraftian gaming. This system is a relatively simple system that actually, once understood, is well suited to Keeper improvisation as much, if not more, than pre-planning. A chase track can be created only a few steps ahead and played out with on the fly additions. It does require attention and focus, but gaming should, regardless. The possibility for multiple outcomes, including (to my personal delight), the party getting separated over the course of certain actions and speed variances, leads to the probability of greater in-game complications, which may force some new directions for a scenario, but again, as long as a Keeper is adaptable, this opens more vistas instead of closing off options.
Chapter Eight, Sanity is explored, and with no disrespect to the more realistic direction that some of the more recent editions had used, it borrows both from the earlier readings on Sanity, with an inclusion of more modern and realistic understandings of sanity and insanity, and a push to include a more cinematic few of insanity’s manifestations. This does try to include all concepts in a straightforward presentation that I found very applicable for gaming, a bit different from earlier versions, with a good feeling, and a tendency for insanity in a player character to have more longevity, not something that can be ‘treated and dismissed.’ Additionally, with the more in-depth background aspects of the character, the insanities a player character develops can become more a part of who the character is…by tying into who the character had already been.
Chapter Nine, the Magic system, brings the familiar concepts of magic in the game to the Seventh Edition. This section of the game ties the already existing concepts from earlier editions into the seventh edition rules, and also addresses various concepts that had been issues in earlier editions. The concept of ‘becoming a believer’ shows up in this chapter, and this is one of the biggest potential hazards for the more scholarly investigators in this game; if I were to offer any caveat to player characters in this system, I would make sure that Keepers keep this option available, but also warn Investigators to steer clear of it. The potential to increase the Cthulhu Mythos knowledge skill with minimal to no sanity loss sounds tempting, but once that line of belief crosses, madness is a given, and a major event.
Chapter Ten, Playing the Game, is a section where we get advice and suggestions on how to tie it all together, on gameplay itself, there have been variations on this chapter in sections in all the earlier editions, but here it covers also going into how aspects like pushed rolls and the more intense backstory aspects all can and should be blended into play. I think this chapter does a great job of integrating all of the aspects of play, and I think Keepers will probably want to pore this chapter over a few extra times, even when it’s talking about things you already know.
Chapter Eleven through Fourteen are where we get the ‘base data’, in turn through each chapters the Tomes where the knowledge and spells often lurks, the spells themselves, the alien technologies that players may encounter, and the entities of the Mythos (as well as more mundane potential threats) This area can be either the Keeper’s grimoire or diving board depending on playstyle. The books where the players can learn about the mythos, the spells they may uncover, the monsters they may encounter. Of course, depending on playstyle and Keeper inventiveness, you can use this information to make your own entities and books and spells.
Chapter Fifteen gives us two scenarios, both of which are excellent reads, and good examples of scenario construction. If I were to offer any criticism at this juncture it would only be that I would have loved to see at least one more scenario. But show me a Keeper that wouldn’t have made that comment.
The volume closes with a set of appendices, starting with a glossary, then conversion data for earlier editions, equipment lists, a weapons table, a summary of rules for quick reference, and we close with ‘the sanity quiz’ a nice little callback from, if memory serves me, its first appearance in The Cthulhu Companion.
I give my most hearty endorsement to this edition, I think that while it has its detractors, this is an excellent updating to an already great game.

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