Enty 47: Let’s talk Seven, Investigator’s Book.

I have been fairly quiet here or in the forums about the new Seventh Edition for Call of Cthulhu, partly because I had, as a backer for the Kickstarter, access to the pdf proofs before they were available to non-backers. The pdf format initial release for the rulebooks are now available at the Chaosium website, so I feel it is okay to begin talking about them. I’ve also had time to watch the initial reactions, look at what others have commented on and examine their issues, pro and con. Since this is a commentary on the entire game instead of a scenario review, I will be placing it in this blog.
First off, let me admit that in regards to horror gaming, I have a strong bias for the Call of Cthulhu game. While I have read other systems, I have to date focused on this system and Trail of Cthulhu as the two I have found personally resonate best with. There are simpler systems, but I do favor these so far. There are a few of the more recent ones I have not read yet, and I’m not trying to be in any way disrespectful of them. The game has considerably evolved over the decades since the first boxed edition, I remember bringing home that thick box in 1981 and reading it in an eager frenzy. The mechanics were based on the BRP system, and used several conventions of gaming at the time. The structure of the game, however, was new, the goals were different from other role playing games out up to that point, regardless of theme. Scenario design was stated as favoring the ‘onion layer’ concept, the game allowed players to increase in skills, but ultimately, they were fighting an ongoing battle against mortality and insanity as they confronted the horrors of the game. These two items alone set the game apart in huge leaps and bounds. Even other horror games remained largely based on player characters gaining in power and strength and becoming more and more capable of dealing with the threats they face.
In this, every edition has remained consistent, up to and including the Seventh Edition, and in this the game continues to shine. The mechanics in Call of Cthulhu, while recognizable to a large extent, have changed more in the change to this edition than any other.
The core game now comes in two core volumes, one for the Investigators and one for the Keeper. In this, the game follows some of the steps of other games through the years. A Keeper will still need to read both books, and there is no real reason players can’t read the keeper’s book out of session, but as in most games, probably a good idea for the Keeper’s book to be ‘keeper only’ during play.
The core mechanics regarding skills, their usage and advancement are, as they’ve always been, percentile based, and the current skill being a factor in whether or not skills advance. The character statistics have been shifted into a similar manifestation, with the core statistics, strength, intelligence, etc finally being a percentage rather than a number in or near the 3-18 range.
The numbers that end up least changed are magic points, weapons damage, and hit points. This is, I think, largely to keep combat results streamlined in play.
While essentially recognizable, the game is tweaked in almost every aspect, and the new books reflect if in a new smooth look that is simultaneously sleek and modern and appears a shade antique. This kind of ties into a modern perception of the art deco look which makes another connection to the classic Lovecraft era, the 1920’s and 1930’s. Chapters are laid out logically, with the text of one of Lovecraft’s owns stories (the Dunwich Horror) immediately following the introduction chapter. Some of the earlier introductions included the text of the story “Call of Cthulhu”, and some of the game’s fans are puzzled and annoyed by the change of story, but the rationale does make it a more logical change. Of all of Lovecraft’s stories, Dunwich Horror is more like how scenario investigations tend to play out than any of his others. Since we are talking about a game based on his fiction, elements of investigations can be found in most of the stories, but moreso here than in any other.
Chapters Three through Five of the investigator’s handbook are about character creation, and all have their parallels to the original process. In Chapter Six we open the concept of Investigator Organizations, something that crept into many campaigns (and a few suppliments) but was not part of the normal game, per se (with the exception of Delta Green, more or less). This can give an interesting additional touch of continuity to the game including a means whereby which replacement characters can be usually introduced into play without being overly disruptive. Chapter Seven is a guide to various things to reflect on about, as the chapter calls it “life as an investigator”. Tips for the characters, pointers on things that can enhance or hinder game play depending on how investigators choose to utilize the information in this chapter. Chapter Eight is a guide to the Twenties, a means of helping players get into the mindset of their characters if the “Lovecraft Classic” period is used. Chapter Nine gives tips and advice for players of the game more than the characters (To differentiate it from the information in Chapter Seven), and Chapter Ten wraps up the Investigator’s Handbook with assorted reference material for players.
More than the difference in statistics, players are encouraged to build backstories for their characters, create connections to their world, and give anchors for their character’s traits and stability. This woks both for and against the players in ongoing play, but it enhances the game completely, and makes everything that happens feel much more personal to the character.
I’ve read assorted critiques, but I find most of them to be simple variances in taste as far as the changes from an Investigator’s point of view are concerned. The deeper changes are in the Keeper’s Handbook and I will address them in that entry. However, I have to say I like the new system, I haven’t really got anything strongly negative to say about any of it. The game’s changes were designed to streamline aspects of play and in that I feel they succeeded, even when they did add new rules (again, the Keeper’s Handbook section will go into that more).

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