Facing Cosmic Horrors in Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG

Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG Books

Tabletop RPGs tend to fall into one of a few categories (and I’m over-simplifying here for the sake of discussion). Some games, like D&D, have crunchy battle mechanics and room for role playing while staying on a certain track for narrative. Other games, like many Powered by the Apocalypse titles, encourage player improv and spontaneous world-buildings with less combat mechanics. Games in the third category emphasize narrative first with moderate mechanics and role play to round out the experience. Call of Cthulhu is the best example of this third type of game. CoC encourages role play and allows for dice-rolling combat but ultimately relies on pre-created adventures to drive the action. Thankfully Chaosium and Sandy Peterson are masters of this sort of narrative and you won’t be let down when it comes to story and product quality. 

Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG Sharing Nightmares adventure books spread

Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG

For over four decades, Call of Cthulhu has enthralled players with its H.P. Lovecraft-inspired horror, mystery, and investigation elements. As investigators, players confront otherworldly creatures and delusional cultists who piece together hidden secrets to save the world from impending doom. A distinguishing feature of the game is the sanity points system which simulates the characters’ mental deterioration as they encounter the terrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. The game’s mechanics foster tension and horror while the 1920s historical setting enriches the overall experience.

Call of Cthulhu emphasizes the unknown, with players acting as investigators who become entangled in bizarre and perilous situations. They must face monstrous creatures and cultists in a battle that could determine the world’s fate. Among the game’s most compelling mechanics is the sanity points system, which tests characters’ mental stability as they confront the horrors of the Mythos. Encountering terrifying events, deciphering forbidden texts, or facing monstrous entities can deplete sanity points, leading to characters unraveling.

Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG Characters

The Keeper

In Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG the Keeper, or game master, crafts scenarios and controls non-player characters and monsters as players navigate the story. The game relies on dice rolls, skill checks, and sanity mechanics to shape event outcomes and character actions. Players attempt tasks that may fail, like lock-picking or evading detection, by rolling a percentile die and comparing the result to the character’s skill rating. Attributes such as Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence influence characters’ starting skill levels and success chances.

Sanity Points

Sanity points track characters’ mental stability as they face the Cthulhu Mythos’s horrors. Loss of sanity occurs by witnessing horrific events, reading forbidden texts, or encountering monstrous entities. When sanity points reach zero, characters risk permanent insanity, amplifying tension and emulating the gradual descent into madness found in Lovecraft’s stories.

Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG Combat flow chart

Combat Mechanics

Combat mechanics rely on characters’ attributes and weapons, using a hit point system to determine incapacitation or death, with critical hits inflicting severe wounds or fatalities. The 1920s setting adds depth, reflecting the unease and paranoia following World War I. Players can tailor their characters’ skills and abilities, allowing for strategic customization.

Despite its age, Call of Cthulhu remains popular, with an ardent fanbase and numerous spin-off products. Its enduring popularity is a testament to Lovecraft’s mythos and the game’s capacity to create immersive and terrifying experiences.

Game designer Sandy Petersen, a legend in the gaming industry, is renowned for creating Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest, as well as working on Doom, Sid Meier’s Pirates, Quake, and Age of Empires. His passion for horror and gaming, combined with his religious beliefs, has resulted in an enduring legacy that continues to inspire and influence game designers worldwide.

Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG Monsters

Call of Cthulhu Campaigns

Chaosium is continually updating Call of Cthulhu campaigns which have a long history dating back to the early 1980’s. And while the game is currently in the seventh edition, the game is design so that older editions of the game can be easily adapted to the 7e version of CoC.

Horror on the Orient Express

If you are new to the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, it’s recommended that you start with a beginner-friendly campaign that will introduce you to the game’s mechanics and setting. One such campaign is “Horror on the Orient Express,” a classic campaign that was first published in 1991. This campaign is set in the 1920s and takes place on the famous luxury train as it travels from Paris to Constantinople. The players take on the role of investigators who must unravel a mystery involving a powerful and ancient artifact that has attracted the attention of the cults of the Cthulhu Mythos. The campaign is well-structured, with a clear plot and a gradual introduction to the game’s mechanics and setting. It’s a great way to get a sense of the game’s atmosphere and to learn how to play the game.

The Asylum and Other Tales

Another beginner-friendly campaign is “The Asylum and Other Tales” which is a collection of three short scenarios that can be played in a single session or as a mini-campaign. These scenarios are designed to be simple and easy to run, and they cover various elements of the game’s setting and mechanics. It’s a great way to get a taste of the game without committing to a long-term campaign. Both of these campaigns are well-regarded and are considered great ways to get started with the game. They are designed to be easy to learn and play for new players and keepers, and provide a great introduction to the game’s mechanics and setting.

Masks of Nyarlathotep 

Masks of Nyarlathotep is considered a classic of Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG and it’s still in print. It’s a challenging and immersive campaign that is highly recommended for experienced players and game masters looking for a complex and memorable gaming experience. The campaign is considered one of the most famous and well-regarded Call of Cthulhu scenarios, and is known for its complex plot, detailed setting and challenging gameplay.

The campaign is set in the 1920s and centers around the return of Nyarlathotep, a powerful and malevolent being known as the “Crawling Chaos.” Nyarlathotep has assumed many forms, known as the “Masks,” in order to carry out his plans to bring about the end of the world. The players take on the role of investigators who are drawn into the conflict and must race against time to stop Nyarlathotep and his cultists before it’s too late.

Masks of Nyarlathotep is a globe-spanning campaign that takes the players to various locations around the world, including New York, London, Egypt, Kenya, and Australia. The campaign features a complex and intricate plot, with multiple factions, hidden agendas, and twists. The players need to gather information, solve puzzles, and navigate political and social obstacles to uncover the truth and stop Nyarlathotep’s plans.

Sandy Petersen

Game Designer Sandy Petersen

Did you know that your favorite TTRPG designer was also involved with Doom, Sid Meier’s Pirates, Quake and Age of Empires? Sandy Petersen is a legend in game design who is famous for developing Call of Cthulhu and Rune Quest but his work extends across the mediums of video games, board games, and tabletop RPGs. 

Born as Carl Sanford Joslyn Petersen on September 16, 1955, in St. Louis, Missouri, Petersen’s love for dinosaurs started at the tender age of three. He pursued his interest in paleontology, studying zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. His fascination with horror and RPGs started when he was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft’s work while reading The Dunwich Horror and other Weird Tales in his father’s library.

Petersen’s interest in RPGs was piqued when he came across Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. Petersen joined Chaosium and authored several critically acclaimed RPG supplements including Call of Cthulhu, which was published in 1981. He co-authored the third edition of RuneQuest and wrote several Gloranthan supplements. 

Sandy Petersen Software Design

After his involvement with Chaosium, Petersen went on to work for MicroProse with credits on Side Meier’s Pirates and Sword of the Samurai. His passion for first-person shooter games next led him to join ID Software, where he designed 19 levels for Doom and later created 17 levels for Doom II and seven levels for Quake. His Lovecraftian influence was instrumental in creating the monster designs for these games.

Petersen left id Software in 1997 and worked as a game designer for several Age of Empires titles, including Rise of Rome, Age of Kings, and The Conquerors, at Ensemble Studios. He also taught game design courses at The Guildhall at SMU, where he took up a professorship after the closure of Ensemble Studios.


Call of Cthulhu FAQ

What is Call of Cthulhu based on?

Call of Cthulhu is a roleplaying game based on the works of American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, particularly his Cthulhu Mythos stories. The game was first published by Chaosium in 1981 and has since become one of the most popular and influential horror RPGs in the world.

The game is set in a dark and terrifying world where ancient, malevolent entities known as the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods lurk at the edges of human consciousness. The players take on the roles of investigators who are drawn into the shadowy world of the Mythos and must use their wits and skills to unravel sinister plots, confront monstrous creatures, and ultimately try to survive the horrors that they uncover.

What is Call of Cthulhu game about?

The central premise of the game is that the universe is inhabited by malevolent entities known as the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods, which exist beyond human understanding and have the power to drive people to madness or despair. The players must use their skills and wits to investigate and confront these otherworldly entities, uncovering the mysteries of the Mythos and trying to survive the horrors that they encounter.

Call of Cthulhu RPG is heavily focused on investigation, with players often piecing together clues and exploring locations to uncover secrets and unravel sinister plots. In addition to investigation, the game also features elements of horror, action, and roleplaying, with players developing their characters over time and making decisions that can have far-reaching consequences.

What type of game is Call of Cthulhu?

Call of Cthulhu is a tabletop roleplaying game that is typically played with a group of players and a game master. It is often described as a horror RPG, as it is heavily focused on exploring the world of cosmic horror created by H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos stories.

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