Great Games You May Have Missed #1: Call of Cthulhu d20


This may come as a shock for those of you who know me or those of you who are familiar with my work, but I like horror. Horror in all its forms, with the exception of lame ass slasher flicks, is something I just really dig. When it comes to my tastes in gaming there's no difference: I just love to freak the shit out of my players.

This may come as a shock for those of you who know me or those of you who are familiar with my work, but I like horror. Horror in all its forms, with the exception of lame ass slasher flicks, is something I just really dig. When it comes to my tastes in gaming there's no difference: I just love to freak the shit out of my players.

When I think of horror, one of the names, both in and out of gaming, that immediately springs to mind in H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft presented a style of storytelling that told of unspeakable horrors beyond the comprehension of the human psyche. His tales never had a bright side or a hope of redemption. They were always coming and there was nothing we could do to stop them.

When I think of running a game like that, I get all filled with warm fuzzies.

Naturally I was excited when I discovered the Call of Cthulhu RPG published by Chaosium. I'm sure you can imagine the thoughts that ran through my head. No longer would I need to rely on systems not designed to handle Lovecraftian horror. No longer would I need to alter the already shoddy AD&D Ravenloft rule set or run stories in White Wolf that, while effective, still seemed hampered by the preexisting setting.

The CoC rulebook was bad to the point of absurdity.

So I ran out and dumped about $100 on the rulebook and two epic chronicles. I devoured the rulebook and soon began to notice some major holes in the rules system. I decided to give it a try even though it looked like it wasn't going to work. My friends were nice enough to go along with me on the experiment and soon it became apparent the rules system was not only bad, but really sucked ass. It was bad to the point of absurdity. I could not understand how this pile of Elder God fodder had managed to actually won awards. It was bad to the point of me wanting to throw it out and go play Rifts.

I tossed it aside and decided to ignore the rules and play the wonderful looking and amazingly epic campaigns I had purchased. It wasn't long before we discovered that while the White Wolf Hunter: The Reckoning rules worked great with the world, the campaigns were boring to the point of lunacy. I swear these books were actually ghost written by drunk Muppets or something. They were just bad. These books quickly joined the core rulebook on my gaming shelf between my dust covered Birthright Campaign Setting box set and West End's Star Wars RPG. To this day they are still there untouched.

I thought that a sad day had indeed come when Lovecraft's great vision was ruined among the gaming community worse than the film adaptation of The Unnamable, but then I saw a book that caught my attention. Displayed proudly between D&D 3rd Edition and Star Wars d20 was something that made those warm fuzzys begin jumping around inside me again.

There was Call of Cthulhu d20.

Immediately, I grabbed it off the shelf and dropped my hard earned money in the hand of the nerd behind the counter and ran off home to sit in a dark corner and devour this tome. The name of Monte Cook emblazoned on the cover made me ever more joyous.

After I closed the book I knew my expectations had been exceeded. The wonderful world of horror envisioned by Lovecraft was presented in the tried and proven and d20 system. Unlike the familiar power mad d20 characters familiar with D&D and d20 Modern, the Call of Cthulhu characters are wimps. The threats of death or madness are very real. However, the characters are not so weak as to die if they get hit just right by an errant spitball like some games I have played.

The threats of death or madness are very real.

Call of Cthulhu d20 also introduces a magic system very loyal to Lovecraft's world but still fluid and playable. This book includes some wonderful rules for converting the Chaosium rules to d20, so if you are fortunate enough to have a Chaosium Cthulhu campaign or module that doesn't suck, then you can easily and quickly convert it to d20 for play with a good rule system. This book features some wonderful artwork on par with what we have come to expect from Wizards of the Coast. The warm fuzzys went into overdrive when I neared the end of the book and there was a presentation for creating and running Lovecraftian D&D games.

My only complaint with this book comes during monster section. I think this material should not have been printed in the core rulebook every player in the game would be pawing through. Sure the monsters need statistics for use in game but the nameless horror loses most of it's horror when you can flip to the back of the book and see a beautifully rendered picture complete with name and clearly listed abilities. I feel this material should have been saved for later a supplement that would probably only be looked at by the GM.

Sadly this game line seems to be dead in the water. Beyond the core rulebook, Wizards of the Coast released only a GM screen to my knowledge. Wizards seems unlikely to add to this line any time in the near future as it is not even featured on their website anymore. Gladly this book is still in print and can be found at practically any gaming establishment.

I have heard it said, and have even debated with others, about the glories of the Chaosium system over the d20 version. I, for one, absolutely love this adaptation of the game and heartily recommend it to anyone who likes horror role-playing.

Dead? As well it should be. In a game seeking to emulate the Lovecraftian experiance, a d20 level-based progression for characters is not very appropriate.

"Yay! I'm level 4! Now I can take on those pesky CR2 Deep Ones two at a time! HOO-RAY!"

The only use I've found for the book is porting Lovecraftian elements into standard d20 fantasy games. The magic system in particular, treating spells as individual skills to be mastered by any character, works very well in rare-magic games where a "mage" character would have too much magic.

Of course, nowadays if I want to play a Cosmic Horror game, I just pull out the Kult.

Yeah, I have to agree with Kurlumbenus here. I prefer a more freeform system of advancement for my modern games (and future games). Well, actually, I prefer free form advancement for anything except DnD. It seems to work with the setting there, but not in Cthulhu or Modern or Scifi settings. Maybe Anime. I'll have to check that out.

But Cthulhu? Nah. Chaosium really nailed that one good. Just as a question what, specifically, did you not like about CoC:Chaosium? I'm curious. I like the system fairly well, especially the lethality you seem to disregard. Let's discuss...

well i totally agree with eaterofthedead here. the chaosium systems is just a crazed jumble of numbers and the d20 cthulhu is one of the best d20 products ever made. unfortunately it was never embraced. i imagine it offended the chaosium purists out there. i think the d20 system is brilliant both in its execution and in the way it allows one to cross genres using the same basic rule system.

however, a big mistake eater made in his review is the fact that this book is NOT in print. any game store that has this book is because they have overstock they never sold. luckily for most of us that means copies are generally available, however if a retailer doesn't have it or sells out i'd say you're out of luck. this line is deader than dead. it's is long buried. in fact, WotC no longer owns the rights to use the license anymore which is why you find no mention of it on their site. those rights have reverted to chaosium.

to detractors of the levelling system i say this: while the idea of an investigator hitting level 4 and becoming more powerful may offend you, it needn't. most investigators will continue to be overwhelmed by spells, sanity checks and sheer deadly encounters with the unknown in addition to the legal problems which often plague investigators. if you think the d20 system makes these "normal" characters mighty heroes you are sadly mistaken. you need to look closer at the rules regarding healing damage and specifically stabilizing. i'm using the d20 cthulhu rules in a home system of real people sucked into a fantasy world a la some popular anime. these normal people are then thrust into typical D&D type situations and they are getting slaughtered. even using the optional defense options in the rules these people are vastly outclassed. i really think you're giving these investigators too much credit.

any flaws in this system come from a preconceived mindset that this game needs to be run like d&d just because the stats are compatible. if you run a hack and slash cthulhu game it's obviously not going to have the same feel, but you can run the same campaigns with the new rules. considering you aren't hack and slashing through dozens of deep ones you're not even going to be racking up the xp needed to level on the fast track which is one of 3.0-3.5 d&d's major complaints.

overall i feel the entire book is excellent. the rule system is tight, the text is well written, and the graphic presentation is amazing, right down to the plush cover. overall a must have for cthulhu fans, gamers and non-gamers alike.

Personally the biggest flaw I found with d20 CoC is getting players into a horror mindset when (like all d20 products) they're scrambling to get the most pluses. This is even more true at lower levels where given that the skills ranks are level dependant the poor PCs can't even find the freaking plot. I still use the system, but only because I'm too cheap to buy the Chaosium and too lazy to teach people a new rule set.
The d20 system is just a bad one for horror. It comes with too much player and gamemaster mindset baggage.

I totally agree. I basically like d20, even while recognizing its flaws. And it's biggest flaw for horror (and every other visceral genre) is that it's left-brain oriented. Odd thing to say about a fantasy game, but it's true.

The more you want your players to share their characters' emotions (right brain function), the less time you want to see them thinking about numbers (left brain function).

If I was going to run a horror campaign, I'd want something smooth and streamlined, with as few calculations as possible. Something like Gray Ghost's FUDGE, or the West End d6 system.

Still firmly attached to its wargaming roots, d20 is all about meticulous quantification and record keeping. It trains players not only to view their characters' power numerically (i.e.: levels), but to meticulously track their progress between levels, starting with four digit numerals, and watching it ratchet up like the score on some bloody pinball machine.

I have some very happy childhood memories of my dungeon-crawl days, when I'd keep these monstrously long lists of gold and experience accumulated. I loved tracking my wealth and expenditures out to the last copper. I loved knowing I got 7 XP apiece for that little warband of kobolds I just trounced, even when I needed 42,265 XP to level.

It was fun -- a great beer-and-pretzels pasttime for those of you who like beer -- but it was never horrific, or anything close. The emotions turned up a notch when I graduated to GMing Hero System, but I never got really good at keeping my players on the edge of their seats until I switched to West End's d6.

Okay, you say it is a confusing jumble of numbers, but how so? It is far from complex. Rolling stats is a little confusing in that some stats are 3d6, some are 2d6+6 or whatever, but the equation is the same no matter what roll playing game you play. The number before the D is number of dice, the number after the D is type of die. Aside from that the entire system is percentile.

Roll D%. If it is equal to or less than the skill, you succeed. More, you fail. While there are modifers, there are no more than in d20 (less actually).

So I am still confused as to what exactly you find confusing. What is it?

Akodo Akira

WOTC never intended to keep the line going. From the get-go, they were only interested in printing the core book. Chaosium is publishing all supplements for D20 CoC. In fact, they have been printing updated versions of all of their old supplements.

I'm a huge fan of Chaosium's CoC system. It's simple, elegant, and takes the focus off number and stats so that more emphasis can be placed on the mounting sense of horror and insanity confronting the PCs.

I tried running a d20 CoC campaign, but after a couple of adventures we switched to the Basic Role Playing system (BRP) pioneered by Chaosium and never turned back.

I'm just getting back into D&D after a couple of decades, and I really like the d20 system for fantasy-themed games. But for modern horror gaming, nothing beats straight-up percentile-based CoC.

May Chtulhu bless you,


I actually dislike Chaosium's CoC because it is over simplified. I agree that a non linear character progression system is much better than a level based one. In CoC the percentile system just didn't work well. It's over simplification made it harder to use.

My friends and I set about the game as we do most games and approached a character like a 1920's Shadowrun. What we ended up with were characters that could roll an attack and allways succeed. It made the action predictable.

When I said that there was a lack of lethality I actually meant the campaigns I had purchased. I ran The Complete Masks Of Nyralthotep and Beyond The Mountians Of Madness. The campaigns were written so reading it as a game master it looked fun and exciting with plety of action and investigation. Well they both turned out that there were about 5 or 6 sessions of investigation and roleplaying before the very brief action scene. I felt like they could have been written so much better. I'm not a hack and slash gamer and I greatly dislike games with no story or investigation to roleplay. But those two campaigns were just bad like that. I wonder where the horror of death or madness are if the investigators never encounter anything that might make them dead or mad besides the module.

I wasn't aware that the d20 CoC was out of print. I appologise for that incorrect statement. Anyone who greatly enjoys horror roleplaying should go get this book before it's all gone.

d20 normally does have a very over the top feel to it which is why it works so well with a game like Spycraft. But the conversion to CoC really cuts back and gives it the feel that it should have. d20 does carry alot of mental baggage with it but if you don't bring anything to it like that I think you can see that the system does work well for horror.

As an interesting aside I was planning on staying with the CoC theme for the next couple installments and discuss Fantasy Flight Games' epic campaign for CoC d20, though it is easily adaptable to the Chaosium rules, Nocturnum and then discuss Steve Jackson's foray into Chaosium liscencing deals with GURPS Cthulhupunk, which makes available CoC conversion to the GURPS system..

"Well they both turned out that there were about 5 or 6 sessions of investigation and roleplaying before the very brief action scene."

That is how CoC is **SUPPOSED** to work.

Have you read the stories? The 'action scenes' usually consist of the main character coming face-to-face with an Unspeakable Sight, or a Horrible Truth at the very end of the story, usually after a lot of investigation and buildup. (Then running away, or going mad. Or on rare occasions, using some magical macguffin to make it go away. For now.)

In general, most of the story (and RPG content) is based on characters doing investigation, to get themselves into trouble in the first place. That's why most of the archetypes are professors, detectives, journalists, et cetera. It allows time for the characters to begin to realize exactly what kind of Eldritch Thingums they've mixed themselves up with. CoC is not the genre for car chases, gunfights, bar brawls, dungeon crawls, or gratuitous random encounters with Mi-Go. Heh.

"I swear these books were actually ghost written by drunk Muppets or something."

Funny, I felt a similar reaction to reading this review. At the very least, you should have presented reasons WHY you felt these products were bad, instead of just insulting the designers. Produce something better before you run your mouth like a child. It's nice of you to finally explain your viewpoint down here in the comments -- but it should have been in the review, instead of comments about drunk Muppets.

"My friends and I set about the game as we do most games and approached a character like a 1920's Shadowrun."

No wonder you had an unpleasant experience with the game if you used this approach: the system is designed to emulate a style/genre very different from Shadowrun's, with lots of investigation and foreshadowing followed by very brief and traumatic action sequences. This specific comment of yours is more or less like complaining that you can't run a decent modern action, gang-war, realistic game using the Nobilis system. Or, in a few words: CoC is not Shadowrun.

"When I said that there was a lack of lethality I actually meant the campaigns I had purchased. I ran The Complete Masks Of Nyralthotep and Beyond The Mountians Of Madness."

Never played BtMoM, but I lost two characters when I played MoN, and saw other players lose theirs (and we didn't even finish the campaign). The possibly lethal encounters are not very frequent, but those that exist are really, really dangerous: two 1d10/1d00 Sanity rolls separated by less than half an hour of gameplay does wonders to your character's sanity. In fact, I dislike MoN not because it's TOO lethal, not the other way around, and the character's actions don't have a lot of influence on that lethality, so you're screwed no matter what actions you take.

Well, to be fair, while it is easy to bump up your combat stats to 100% (or hell, even 80%) so you seldom miss, unless you know *how* to kill the beastie, it dosen't help. Most of the monsters in the system are immune to mundane damage, especially in the campaign moduals.

Investgation is the core of the genre. You have to know what you're fighting, how to hurt it, and if it can be dispelled. Even lesser ghosts and zombies are nasty because they can hit you once and it's done. You *have* to be able to waste them in the first shot or else you're done. And what happens if you have an auto-hit rate, but no knowledge of how to actually hurt them?

In one game we had a guy who played that way. He had 90%'s in all the combat areas. He shot the monster with a tommy gun, did no damage, and went insane. He then promptly turned on us and eliminated the whole party before the damn specter left. All he had to do was particpate in the ceremony, and we'd have no problems, but, alas, he did no research and ended killing us all. I dunno, in my experience with CoC, you never need combat skills above 70% (and that's high). What you need is every other damn skill at high levels.

I don't find Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu confusing - nor has any person I haveever introduced it to - I cannot say the same of D&D which some people find overly complex - but then it seems it needs to be (see below). The concept of having skills based on a percentage system seems quite intuitive to modern thinking, e.g. "there is a 45% chance of you successfully completing this task while under duress etc". So roll... done!

d20's roots are in wargames and this heritage still shines through - as Fiery Dragon's Battlebox product makes clear in its introduction: d20 is primarily concerned with combat.

and - Call of Cthulhu as a game, is not.

CoC is about true heroism, roleplay and characterisation. In Call of Cthulhu, victories are ultimately temporary, but you'll still have lots of fun playing.

It may explain why pro-rata, there's a seemingly higher percentage of women who play BRP Call of Cthulhu than play d20 D&D. While that's just conjecture, it's certainly true in my 20+ years of experience.

I'd like to make it clear that I have no problems with CoC d20, it's just that BRP CoC is my preferred system as I personally find it easier with BRP to keep the rules out of the way from the actual play. Many do run excellent d20 Call of Cthulhu games!

The BRP Call of Cthulhu system has remained most stable for over 20 years (I can still run supplements from 1981 with the latest printing of the rules - and vice versa), while D&D has re-invented itself 3 1/2 times already. :D

Food for thought anyway.

This thread pretty much sums up the discussions I have had in the past about CoC. Some people absolutely LOVE it which is fine by me as long as you're having fun that's great. But some people, like myself, just don't have any fun playing it and can't seem to make the system work well.

To Starhawk
Simply because your opinion is different from mine and your style of play is different does not mean that you need to insult me and my work. I agree that this is not the best thing I have ever written and I should have gone into why I disliked the system and the modules in the article itself. Oops, my bad.
"Produce something better before you run your mouth like a child."
In case you forgot exactly where the most blatant insult was.

So.... you don't like it when YOUR work is reviewed along with personal insults.

Why is it okay for you to do that to someone else?

The only thing that I liked about Chaosium's version was the sanity table and rules combining experience with sanity. That was cool. Other than that though the game had no redeeming features. The combat was the worst part of it. Even Palladium has a better combat system. Playing in any era other than the twenties was the second worse part of it.

I don't know squat about life in the twenties. Neither do any of my friends. So why should we play in that era? It be so much cooler to play in the modern era against Lovecraft's creatures...

What happens when you wanna play a character who is a Golden Glove Champion or knows Martial Arts? Nothing. Chaosium has no rules for hand to hand combat.

What about machines guns and explosives? Not much there.

Maybe your characters would last longer if they could fight.

Imagine a group of Navy Seals accidently stumbling across a Lord of the Deep?

I played this game for a couple of months before I gave up. I didn't put it on the shelf though. It wasn't good enough. I used it to start the grill instead. The best use I ever got out of this book was by using it to add some extra smokiness to my steaks...

"When you earnestly believe that you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do."

Those were some of the complaints I had with the system as well and one of the many reasons that I prefer the d20 version which has a system adaptable to any style of play you want to bring to it. If you want to play a modern setting then there is not really any work involved in changing the setting. If you prefer higher powered characters, or characters that go nuts and arm themselves to the teeth (which is precicely what happened to one of the characters in a game I ran) then the game can still support that character or that style of play.

"i imagine it offended the chaosium purists out there"

How true, just look at some of the comments here.

well i can understand that we all have our opinions about what we like or don't like in a roleplaying system. i can also understand being wary of something new. the d20 system is the new kid on the block and it does carry a stigma of sorts being associated with D&D specifically. hell, when 3.0 first came out i cursed it up and down. i was hardcore 2nd edition and no one was changing my mind. :P and yes, i did play and love the old BRP CoC. i had a blast playing 1890's and 1920's CoC, though the 1990's left a bad taste in my mouth. but even then i just wasn't happy with the system. i think it's a little too vague. leaves a lot to the discretion of GM to adjudicate. it's designed for some very specific tasks, skills, combat, sanity checks, but i think it breaks down on the whole. not everything you do is represented by percentile. and your stats are hard numbers instead of percentiles. i don't really remember every nuance of the BRP system as I never cared for it much so I'm sorry if i can't get really specific in the examples. though i must agree that the basic, you have a 45% chance of suceeding at this task to be very intuitive and an ease on new players. as to more females being into the game because of the system, i can see that. it is easier to learn the BRP as a player. but as someone who primarily GM's i think in the big picture d20 is a better system. and to that end i provide the following specific examples.

while it may not have seemed obvious at first the d20 is highly streamlined. i think anyone who made the jump from 2e to 3e can say that the game is much easier to adjudicate. now i'm talking about pure mechanics here. i'm talking about skill and ability checks, saving throws and attacks. the system boils down to this:

1.set a difficulty number for whatever the task is, save, attack, knowledge check, whatever, just define how difficult it is in hard numbers. this may not seem intuitive at first but if you take a cue from the old west end games d6 system you can see how easy this is by associating descriptive titles with target numbers as follows:

DC 5 - Very Easy
DC 10 - Easy
DC 15 - Moderate
DC 20 - Difficult
DC 25 - Very Difficult
DC 30 - Near Impossible

that's not a hard list to memorize. i know it's not as intuitive as a straight 45% chance of success but it pays off in the long run if you can stick with me.

2. roll a d20. it may not seem like much but this is a big deal. one die. you always roll it. no matter what you do, roll this die. i mean that's why they call it d20. it's the bedrock of the system. now i can hear you saying, but BRP just uses percentile. well yes, but d20 is better. why? because it's one die instead of two. and no a big d100 doesn't count, i think we all know that a die with that many sides is practically a ball and isn't an accurate tool of probability any more than a computerized random number generator is. so it's one die AND it's the biggest one there, the most recognizable. it may seem silly to veterans but as someone with a girlfriend who is a casual gamer at best it makes a difference. it just sinks in as to what she needs to do. whatever i need her to do, she just has to roll one die. which one? the big one, roll it and tell me what you get.

3. add any bonuses you have. whether it's skill ranks, ability scores, or saving throws it all comes down bonuses. everything is equal and thus everything can combine with ease. that might seem overwhelming. you may be saying i've got bonuses coming out of every orifice! :P so to speak. it's not that bad though. it comes down to anything you're good at,any talent or skill or ability or circumstance that has bearing on your situation provides a bonus and therefore the opposite is true as well, any flaw, detriment, etc has a penalty. (or negative bonus if you like to think that way) but they are all the same. if you are agile and there's a rock between you and you've "been in a few scrapes before" it all adds up to a series of bonuses to save your ass from incoming danger, i.e. a saving throw or a defense bonus to attack etc.

i think this system may not start as intuitive but it becomes intuitive. i can't think of how i would adjudicate that sort of situation in BRP. how do my stats, my skills, and my experience combine to make it easier or harder for a police officer to shoot me as i frantically try and complete the ritual that will banish unspeakable horrors from our world for a few days more? i imagine it would be something like a assigning a modifier to the police officer's percentile roll to hit me. but where is that number coming from? it seems like all too often it is the arbitary decision of the GM making that call. maybe that's fundamental difference between myself and my detractors, or rather our belief in our two systems. i feel that it is both more work for the GM to create those modifiers on the fly and less fair to the players. my group and i play by the rule that the dice will fall where they may. there is no fudging of die rolls to help or hinder anyone. that is an inherent element of the drame. none of us knows how a situation will turn out. we can modify those odds but there is always an element of anything can happen. maybe your character gets shot in the head at the last minute or goes irrevocably insane or maybe, just maybe you actual defeat the undefeatable hordes of alien intelligences. either way we know it's fair. we know that i was better or worse at this thing for a reason. i'm harder to hit? why? because i have a high dex, i'm a higher level, and i had cover. it's tangible along the lines of +2, +2, +4 = +8. what does that mean in the real world? i don't know. it's a game. the rules are representing, as best they can, "real world" situations in the context of a fictional game. and within that context, modifiers are represented as pluses or minuses to a dice roll.

i like that system. for me it feels right. it's something i can wrap my head around. it is a system based around combat, specifically miniatures combat. yes this is true, but it doesn't make it an invalid system. it's universally applied against all the rules. so you can think of a skill check as an attack on some difficulty. you can think of a swim check as and "attack" on the "monster" waves threatening to drown you. you are essentially defeating the waves much as you would a monster. it's an extended simile but i think it works. you don't have to think of it as an extension of combat, in fact i think most people don;t, not consciously anyway.

i also like the concept of levelling. i think it is a tangible expression of progress and growth as a character. you are learning new things. the more you experience the more you grow. i don't think levelling is instrinsically different from freeform advancement. i think we're just mincing words here. what the levelling does do is create balance. 3.0 and moresor 3.5 set out to create balance in the system, to both it's merit and it's fault. so look at it this way. you've been through a view adventures, you've faced adversity, you've "experienced" new things. you advance from level 1 to level 2. it's arbitrary, it doesn't exist as a demarcation line in real life. what is so special about 999 XP versus 1000? nothing. it doesn't mean anything, it's just a tool of the rules in order to allow the game to run smoothly. and i don't think there's anything wrong with that. i know that seems to bother people, i'm not entirely sure why, but people seem uneasy with game mechanics. sure we'd like our games to be as "accurate" as the real world, but any game has it's limits. it does the best it can in order to allow us to play the game. i think that this levelling creates a balance you don't see in BRP. in the examples other posters have listed, you can min/max your abilities to "crank up" your combat stats. you can't do that in D20. you can't just decide, ah forget about skills i'll jack up my base attack, you can't it's level based. it takes time and experience to improve. sure you can take feats to specialize and advance, but there's a cost involved. there are checks and balances. i can look at a d20 group see their average level and KNOW roughly what they can and can't face. i know what's going to challenge them. i don't need to see their character sheets to know generally how difficult i should make an advneture. i just look at their level. that's why it's there. it's an arbitrary or rather a specific measure of how powerful a group is. at level 4 i know characters generally have a range of +7 - +10 on skills, and about a +2 - +6 on attacks. so right there i know DC of 30 on a skill check is going to be near impossible for them to reach. and from that i can say well this encounter should or shouldn't be impossible for them and to what degree. a BRP character could be all over the board especially from character to character. how do i create a challenge for this very diverse, in the sense of ablity levels, group of characters? where is the built in level of balance you have in d20?

that leads into the standardization of abilites from genre to genre and game to game in d20. with everything at basically equivalent levels, in the sense that everything in every d20 game for the most part, affects the game in the same way, that is once again a bonus or penalty to a d20 roll. which means i can use cross genre, cross setting, cross company whatever, and i know it's balanced, it works. i can have jedi fighting steampunk musketeers fighting battleragers fighting deep ones if i really want to. and it's all done for me. no conversions. i think it succeeds where GURPS fails in making a truly universal roleplaying system.

as a few final notes, i love what they've done with multiclassing by, once again, making all things "equal" so you can just freely mix classes and abilities etc. i love the idea of feats and the gradual increase of ability scores. and i love prestige classes. i think they are great addittions to the game and they work well within the system.

that's my argument for the merits of the d20 system as a whole, my preference over BRP. i hope i've explained that adequately.

now my argument for how this system can work for CoC or any horror game, or any genre for that matter is much simpler. all the complaints everyone who has posted here seems to have with the d20 system don't really have anything to do with the d20 system. and what i mean by that is that the mechanics of how a d20 game is played, the rules, they have nothing to do with your complaints. it seems to me, that all the complaints of over the nature of power gamers out to get the latest and greatest bonus to hit, the awesome new power, the massive hoard of gold, the invincible character. can you do that sort of thing in d20? of course. but, you can do that in any system, though i imagine it's not as rewarding in some games as it is in others. i think a good example of that is the White Wolf Storyteller system. At it's heart it's a very basic system to promote roleplaying over stats and combat. but i've seen first hand min/maxing players out to get the most ranks in their vampiric powers or what have you. my point is that this is a symptom of bad players rather than a bad system. a roleplaying heavy game can be run using the d20 system. you don't have to emphasize combat in a d30 system. you don't have to be constantly yearning for the next level. it's not as if you have to modify the game system to do that. whether it is a BRP system, D20 system, d6, storyteller, SAGA, whatever, the GM, and the players to some degree, decide how often the rules need to be used in the game. if you don't want to be making swim checks every round for characters treading water after their boat sinks because the crew was driven insane by the chirping of the mi-go, YOU DON'T HAVE TO. the rules exist when needed. when you want the characters to outswim the deep ones are following them back to shore you CAN use the rules IF you want to. does it matter that the check is made with percentile or a d20? does it matter if we're talking about skill ranks or percentile skills? i don't think so. i don't think the system has any bearing on how players play the game or how GM's run it. if you're playing CoC D20 like it's D&D just because they share the same rules that because of your preconcieved notions. you're making these play associations with a specific rules set and i think being closed minded in a way. if you don't like the d20 rules, well okay, it's not your preference, but like i originally said in post give it a chance. you make the game more or less oriented towards roleplaying or combat or suspense or comedy or whatever. the rules are forcing your hand. i feel the d20 system can adequately handle any situation much more so than any other. i feel it is very streamlined at its basics. while specific incarnations may add additional rules that are more complex and may not be ideal for their intended situation i feel it is unfair to dismiss d20 as a whole.

the case in point is d20 Cthulhu. Cthulu is not a combat heavy game and you will see that expressed in the rules. the advanced combat feats simply don't exist in d20 Cthulhu like they do in D&D because there is no need for them. But a grapple check is a grapple check whether it's a fighter wrestling an orc or a gangster wrestling a moll. and if you need that in your d20 Cthulhu game, the mechanics are there. can you specialize in grappling combat in d20 Cthulhu? no and i don't think you would need or want to. on the other hand, if you did, well the rules are right there in D&D you can lift verbatim if you want that in D&D. i think it's giving us more choices rather than restrictions. i feel there is more "in" the d20 system than the BRP system. there is a versatlity that i can use or ignore at my discretion, but it doesn't "leave me hanging" on a rules call and i think my players can have more faith that a ruling is fair. i really don't understand why you can't create a horror mood with this system. though i could understand why you could create and action packed mood with BRP. and i see that as a major bonus on the side of d20 over BRP.

i appreciate everyone's input on this topic and i'm interested to hear more detail on why people feel BRP is right for them as opposed to d20.

and as a final thought on WOTC vs. Chaosium, i am aware of the bad taste WOTC leaves with many people who view the company with disdain and see the d20 system as a monopolizing and homogenizing of roleplaying games. Chaosium is the underdog catering to the devoted gamers etc etc. To be honest, I couldn't care less about the politics of the gaming industry and one company over the other. names and owners and systems will change. it comes down to me wanting a quality product for my money and frankly i've been disappointed in the quality of Chaosium products. My love of all things Lovecraft notwithstanding, I'm just not impressed with the bulk of Chaosium's products. Maybe they haven't aged well compared to the "slick new products of the 21st century," but i'd say it's a lot of hit or miss. this d20 Cthulhu is quality. it's a beautiful thing. concise, well written, well organized, high production value and a beautiful presentation. seriously, flip through the book and compare it to a Chaosium book. it's gorgeous. put it on the shelf and use it as a prop in your BRP game. :P i would have to say it is the finest roleplaying product i've ever seen. i just love the look of it. love it.

sorry to interject again, but in case it wasn't clear in my post, i never found BRP too complicated. if anything, i found it too simple and too vague.

I think that I have to agree with Starhawk on this one, all of the "complaints" that the reviewer has with the BRP CoC seems to be from a style of play difference. It seems that the reviewer seems to think that CoC should be something other than what it is, which would lead me to believe that it might just be that the reviewer either hasn't really read Lovecraft or doesn't "get" the stories. I think that the comment about playing it like "1920's Shadowrun" is particularly telling that the reviewer doesn't have a handle on the source material. The reviewer and those anti-BRP people can complain about it all that they want, but d20 (in any variety) isn't going to relplace BRP. As a matter of fact Chaosium considers Call of Cthulhu d20 to be an experiment that failed and have stopped any support for it.

I had to read some parts of this article twice. I had to verify that what I was reading was real. I think someone should be held accountable for what they write. The pure arrogance of this article is astounding. They shouldn't let people with OCD write articles.

For example:

"No longer would I need to alter the already shoddy AD&D Ravenloft rule set or run stories in White Wolf that, while effective, still seemed hampered by the preexisting setting."

Another example:

"I devoured the rulebook and soon began to notice some major holes in the rules system. I decided to give it a try even though it looked like it wasn't going to work. My friends were nice enough to go along with me on the experiment and soon it became apparent the rules system was not only bad, but really sucked ass. It was bad to the point of absurdity. I could not understand how this pile of Elder God fodder had managed to actually won awards. It was bad to the point of me wanting to throw it out and go play Rifts.

I tossed it aside and decided to ignore the rules and play the wonderful looking and amazingly epic campaigns I had purchased. It wasn't long before we discovered that while the White Wolf Hunter: The Reckoning rules worked great with the world, the campaigns were boring to the point of lunacy. I swear these books were actually ghost written by drunk Muppets or something. They were just bad. These books quickly joined the core rulebook on my gaming shelf between my dust covered Birthright Campaign Setting box set and West End's Star Wars RPG. To this day they are still there untouched."

I think his own words reveal his level of objectivity.

Maybe your the one who is shoddy and full of holes?

Yes, this is a personal attack.

There is only one other reason I could think someone would post this kinda stuff. Someone paid them to.

While I am a long-time fan of the original Call of Cthulhu game and the BRP, which I think is one of the most elegant rulesets ever created by anyone; while I think the setting and investigatory style of CoC lend themselves to finer roleplay than any other system; while my wife has been open-minded enough to try numerous gaming systems, including GURPS and the various flavors of d20, but has only expressed interest in further participation in straight CoC; and while, for all of the above reasons, I disagree very strongly with Eater's points in this review*, I also feel he is entitled to his opinion.

We writers for Gamegrene don't get paid. We write our articles purely for the joy of doing so: for some of us, it may be egotism, for others, it may be some sense of commitment to the larger gaming community, and for still others it may be some combination of the two. But it's something we do on a volunteer basis. Go on, savage Eater if you want. He's a big boy; he can defend himself. But don't accuse him of being a mercenary hack. He wrote this article in his spare time, and as a person with very little spare time of my own, I feel that sacrifice (if nothing else) is worthy of respect.

*I have said, on other topics on this board, that I don't understand why anyone would try to improve on the BRP by porting it to d20. I think the failure of d20 CoC more or less speaks for itself.

Bravo, sir. You get a second Amen from me for the day, for I agree with your typings.

And, if I may be so bold, one can tell by reading the Eater's posts and articles that he writes for the second reason you mention: his commitment / love for gaming. I've never read anything that would make me think the Eater is an ego-manic, unlike some others I could mention.

Furthermore, anyone who writes such a critque against a Gamegrene writer / poster should know better than to use 'your' rather than 'you're.' I've always been amused by the irony of the bad grammar that comes in so many critiques. Usually invalidates the critique from where I sit.