Aaaaand, we’re back.
Hope everyone has had a good holiday season. I know I have.
One of the big treats I had was getting my first taste of the new 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu. I’ve been playing CoC since 3rd Edition and it has been one of the mainstays of every gaming group I’ve been in since high school, so I jumped at the chance to try out the latest incarnation. Due to the production problems at Chaosium the book still isn’t loose in physical form, but our keeper has a .PDF copy. Unfortunately this means I didn’t get to thumb through the rules, so my impressions are based on my one session as a player, but even so I think I have a good handle on where the game has gone.
Call of Cthulhu is a tight, easy, excellent rules set and has had few significant changes over the years. New editions made some tweaks, but more often than not consisted of including additional source material and re-organizing the existing rules. With very little effort you can pick up an adventure written for 1st Edition and run it using 6th Edition rules. When I heard that 7th Edition would be making more changes than all the previous editions combined I was concerned.
However, making more changes than all the previous editions combined isn’t a very high bar to cross, and I am happy to say that I quickly fell right into the new system, even without having read the book myself. For an old hand at CoC, looking over the new character sheet is enough to clarify most of the changes and I’m pretty sure that I would be able to convert older edition material on the fly, with only a bit more effort than I could previously. This is the single most important thing I can say about 7th Edition, that it is still backwards compatible.
Changing the basic attributes to percentiles was a good move. It keeps them in line with the derived attributes and codifies the way many players were already doing attribute checks.This combined with opposed roles for tasks has replaced my beloved Resistance Table, but even I must admit that it does streamline the game. Plus the opposed role mechanic is such a staple in modern RPGs that it’s easy for gamers to pick up.
They also trimmed down the skill list on the character sheet, which was a good move. A lot of the entries on the old character sheet just took up space and were rarely used, and in traditional form the new sheet has plenty of blanks to fill in skills not already listed. I don’t know if the trimmed skills are still in the book or not, but pruning the list definitely cleaned things up nicely.
“Bad” is really stretching it. It’s more, “The Not Really Liked”.
The addition of a penalty die to rolls. Under certain circumstances, or if your character decides to try multiple actions, an additional D10 is rolled. This additional die counts as another “tens” die and the penalty means you take the lower of the two rolls for your result. For example, I roll two “tens” dice and get a 7 and a 3, with a 2 on the “ones” dice. My result is 32, using the lower roll. My guess that this mechanic, like the elimination of the Resistance Table, is meant to streamline the game so that you don’t have to look up penalties, but the impression that I had was that it makes the results a lot more swingy. It also makes it harder to determine what chances to take, which is an important consideration in a game like CoC. If you give me a 15% penalty on a roll, then I have a concrete figure to judge if the risk is worth it. But with a penalty die I have a harder time judging. I would love to see some figures on how using a penalty die changes the probabilities for your results, but that’s well beyond my own math skills to figure out.
I get the feeling that the penalty die was meant to offer more choices for the players, but on my initial experience with it I found it confounding.
Instead of being a set attribute, Luck is now a spendable asset pool. You spend them like Magic Points, but to adjust die rolls instead of fueling spells, and like SAN points you can regain them from surviving adventures. This is nothing new in game design and it does give the players an extra edge for survival, but was that necessary for a game like Call of Cthulhu? The place where I do see its value is for investigative skills, for those times you really want to nail the Library Use or Spot Hidden role so you can move an investigation forward. It’s in combat that it rankles my old school CoC heart. I am happy to say that in practice I don’t think it will remove the sharp fear of mortality that CoC players have known and loved over the years, death is still omnipresent, but it does blunt it a bit. That’s why I list this as a “meh” instead of “bad”.
They’ve also added a graduated success result mechanic. CoC has always had a critical success for combat rolls, via the Impalement result for getting under 1/5th of your skill. Making this an across the board critical success for all skills was a no-brainer and codifies what many of us were already doing in play. However they’ve added a Hard Success result for rolls under half your skill. I’m still learning all the implications of this, but it seems unnecessarily fiddly. I don’t see what it adds to the game. Maybe it’ll become more clear once I’ve played more, or once I read the manual, but for now I’m ambivalent at best.
All in all, I had a good experience with the game. There is nothing here that makes me want to run out and get a 7th Edition manual for myself, but I am happy that I’ll be able to sit down at any game of CoC and still know how to play, requiring only a glance at the character sheet to tell me which rules we’re using. I’m happy that I can buy new source books and know that I can use them with my pre-7th Edition rules. I’m happy that if I do switch to 7th Edition I’ll still be able to unleash horrors on my players from my library of older edition books.
My 3rd Edition tome, battered like the souls of my players.