Call of Cthulhu: The Elder Gods Awake!
The stars have aligned. The portents have been read. The Arkham General Hospital has recorded twice as many miscarriages in the last lunar cycle. The nursing staff has been whispering about an abomination being born. What do all of these signs point to? The release of the d20 rules for Call of Cthulhu from Wizards of the Coast.
The stars have aligned. The portents have been read. The Arkham General Hospital has recorded twice as many miscarriages in the last lunar cycle. The nursing staff has been whispering about an abomination being born. The police have received reports from farmers of strange people and activities in the valleys and forest clearings on the outskirts of the town. What do all of these signs point to? The release of the d20 rules for Call of Cthulhu from Wizards of the Coast.
Ever since my first session of Call of Cthulhu, I have loved the game. The idea that characters were removed from play for insanity rather than death intrigued me. Learning that leafing through a musty tome rather than perhaps leading to the discovery of clues, could lead to the end of your character. Both of the reasons and more keep drawing me back to the game.
When I heard that Wizards was going to be releasing a d20 version of this classic game, I was a little nervous. Not as much as d20 Star Wars and my concerns over the Force rules, but a little. What upset me more was the thought that Chaosium had been bought up by Wizards and I hadn't heard about it. That fear was quickly put to bed when I researched a little and found that Wizards was only putting out the main book and Chaosium would be responsible for everything else. I still had a couple of more fears concerning the new edition, but I'll get to those each in turn.
Like a number of fans of the Mythos, I pre-ordered the book and eagerly awaited its arrival. I ordered it early enough to snag a free copy of the CD from the band "The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets". The CD, Let Sleeping Gods Lie, is a collection of 12 tracks from 3 or 4 of their albums. Unfortunately, I didn't order early enough to get one of the autographed copies of the book, but from what I've seen on the discussion boards I'm glad I wasn't counting on getting one.
The CD is ok. The band has a more metal sound than anything else, and I have to admit that I'm not really into that sound anymore. The Wizards website billed the CD as an excellent way to help set the mood for your game. After listening to the CD it's not bad, but I definitely don't think it would do anything to add to the mood of the game. For the most part, I actually think it would detract from the mood.
Wizards also came up with the idea of using the CD to create random effects for the players during the gaming sessions. Depending on the track, the characters could have a bonus to their morale or a negative modifier to their spot rolls. The best is the track "Please God No". During this track players are required to use only a d12 for attack, saves, ability and skill checks. Nice and evil, just the way I like my CoC games. I may not ever use that CD in my games, but I might be inclined to take their idea and use it with other tracks that I have chosen.
The new Call of Cthulhu is an interesting mix of the "classic" Chaosium system and the new d20 system. Since it is a d20 system, CoC now has a class and level system for characters. However, all classes follow the same experience point chart (like D&D), and the only thing differentiating each of the classes are the skill packs they have to work with.
Each class has a group of 12 skills to work with as their base set. This also makes it very easy for GMs and players to create a new class. All that needs to be done is to sit down and decide what 12 skills would best represent the knowledge of the new class.
All classes use a d6 for determining hit points as well. It took me a moment to think about it, but I came to the decision that this was actually an excellent idea. Since PCs in CoC aren't the world breaking individuals that PCs are in Dungeons and Dragons, the d6 makes sense. Also, since no matter what class a character is, they are all supposed to be plain-old humans, having the same hit dice makes sense.
During character creation, a player has the choice of being an offensive or defensive character. As an example, an archaeologist that chooses the offensive orientation would like Sam Neil's archaeologist from Jurassic Park. An archaeologist with a defensive orientation might be Professor Leakey off by the Olduvai Gorge. What these two choices boil down to are the progression of Base Attack Bonuses and saving throw progression.
I actually like this concept, as it can be used to bolster a character's background story. Even though your character is now an antiquarian, perhaps in his youth he was quite the hell-raiser. Choosing the offense option allows your 65-year old antiquarian to have the numbers to back up those hell-raising days when he spent his summers working as a longshoreman.
Skipping ahead to Sanity, the new version of Call of Cthulhu looks little changed from the Chaosium version. That's because it really wasn't. Monte Cook and John Tynes admitted in an interview I read that they felt the Chaosium system for sanity worked pretty well, and so they didn't feel the need to tinker with it too much.
There are some changes, but they are minor, and players of the Chaosium Cthulhu won't feel lost. How the game would be handling sanity was my primary worry for this edition, and it ended up being baseless.
The great tomes of Mythos lore are covered in the rules, but they seem to be a little weaker than before. I find myself agreeing with posters on the Cthulhu message board that the sanity loss for reading or actually studying these books needs to be increased a little more. The original Arabic version of the Necronomicon only has a sanity loss of 1d10 initially. If a character takes the time to study the book from cover to cover, the sanity loss increases to 2d10. Personally, I think reading the Necronomicon in its entirety should drive the reader a little more bonkers. 2d10+5 at least. Depending on the choice of spells that I stock the book with, it could even go higher.
The Mythos spells look like fun. Almost all of them cost sanity to cast, and many of them even require temporary ability drains as well. The ability drain (which can also be permanent for some really nasty spells) makes the spells feel like the forbidden knowledge they are. These aren't re-hashes of D&D spells either. I'm waiting for the first player I see who decides to cast a bunch of spells to help the party get through a battle. Then I want to see her face when she realizes her Con is drained to 6 and there was something even nastier waiting in the wings. -Insert evil laugh track here-
The book offers a pretty decent selection of creatures for Mythos adventuring. There are some creatures missing, but I have a feeling that Chaosium will be releasing those nasties with future supplements. I'm still not sure how I feel about some of the write-ups, like ghouls and zombies, but my dissatisfaction with them won't keep me from playing.
There are two scenarios provided with the book for players to jump right in. I won't make a spoiler and describe them too much, but they are pretty good. My only complaint with them is that one of them is suited pretty much for modern play only.
The setting is what bothers me the most about this edition of the game. There really isn't much of one included in the rules. The way the book is written gives a general assumption of modern era play. Unfortunately, playing Cthulhu in the modern era doesn't do anything for me. I have always enjoyed playing Cthulhu set in the 20's and 30's and really wish the new edition would have continued with this setting. Chaosium is scheduled to release a "Pulp Cthulhu" for the d20 edition this summer, and I hope it's what I'm looking for.
In defense of Monte Cook and John Tynes, there are a good 10-15 pages that run through the major eras decade-by-decade. They give a few examples of "traditional" storylines and how each one might be fitted into the different decades covered.
At the d20 website for Cthulhu (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=cthulhu), an extra adventure called "Jenkin Lives!" is available. The adventure is set in the modern era, but can be used in any era with almost no change. I liked it better than both of the adventures that were included in the book.
There are two sections at the back of the book that deserve at least partial mention. There is a section on how the Cthulhu rules can be integrated with the D&D rules so that your party of sword-swinging heroes can go up against the Mythos. One of my favorite pictures in the book is in this section. It shows the Iconic characters getting their butts kicked by the mighty Cthulhu. The other section gives tips on converting the Chaosium rules over to the D20. WotC did this with the Star Wars rules as well, and I'm glad to see it continued with Cthulhu.
So, in summary, I really liked it. The authors did a wonderful job of capturing the feel of the Mythos. One of the ways this was done was in the layout of all of the pages. When you see them, think back to the story "Dreams in the Witch House." Now, go get your copy and let go of your sanity.