The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Web Magazine and Sourcebooks

[Home Page] [Contact Us] [Triskelion] [TechnoOcean] [Daily Space] [Store] [Site Map]

The Call of Cthulhu
"Stand By For Mars!"
The Call of Cthulhu

Why We Love Call of Cthulhu, And Why So Many People Suck At It

By: Matt Sanborn

See all of Matt Sanborn's Reviews and Articles

In my discussions with some of the top Call of Cthulhu players in America, I have asked them the same question: "Why do so few people enjoy the game?" Almost unanimously they agree that it is because it is a cerebral game where guns and martial skills are almost useless against the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. Many modern day role players are far more roll players, wanting nothing more than magic item acquisition, mega-battles, and experience points.

Story, character development, role play in these games quite often fall quickly to the side for players and game masters. Most fantasy, super hero, space opera and mutant games have become little more than video games done with paper and dice. Powerful characters are what these players crave more than anything else; never mind a well crafted, thoughtful story.

In COC, the characters immediately begin on the slope into madness and death, with only the wisest, (and luckiest) surviving. Truth-to-tell, the skill and intelligence of the old school players have been pushed aside for the new wave of power hungry, pseudo-video gamers. These people are bored and frustrated with the slow pace of the slowly unwinding horror of the game.

COC is an RPG where those who will pore through ancient, maddening tomes, examine building blueprints, trace genealogical trees, and observe rather than react, will be successful, as this RPG is for the cream of the gaming crop. The game stands out from all other role playing games for one single reason the intelligence and skill of its players and game-masters (Keepers). And this is the reason that so few people can play it, or play it well.

A veteran gamer once said to me about D&D: "All you need is six rolls and a sword and you're ready to go." Cthulhu characters must be layered, nuanced and well researched. A decent understanding of early twentieth-century American and in some cases world history is a must to play. Running the game requires a very capable grasp of this history. In any fantasy game, the GM makes up the past and the environs, but here it is fact, and the Keeper must not be found unawares, or it takes away from the entire playing experience.

Recently I had the misfortune to play a game with less-than skilled participants. One played a minister who tried not only to burn down a castle where people were being held hostage, but also drown an individual he didn't like. Another was solely obsessed with trying to learn spells so he could smite the opponent. A third placed all of his skill points into his arms skills; only to be disappointed --he never fired his gun once in three sessions. A perfectly good game, run by a very capable Keeper, was ruined.

And let me offer this example as well the person playing the minister claimed his character had done missionary work in Viet Nam. Nowhere on his sheet did the statistics reflect this. French was a common language, and due to his lack of research the player did not know this. He did not even know the country was known as French-Indochina at the time. This lack of attention to detail began to unravel the game immediately.

Character creation in COC takes many hours and some research.

Deep history of your character is vital in COC. One player had a former police detective. He had no idea where the person was born, what cases he was involved in, or what experiences he had undertaken.

This was in a game where the Keeper was more than willing to work on these types of things. Over the course of the game, these inconsistencies began to surface, again taking away from the play. Truly, this player just wanted to make a quick outline, hoping monsters and gun battles would follow quickly.

Not to sound too much like an old gaming grognard, but when RPGs first hit the public consciousness, (meaning moved out of Wisconsin), only the most sharpest, most intellectually curious individuals with great imagination and vocabulary were playing. Now anyone with dice, a few friends and a cellar can play games like Dungeons and Dragons, (which has been dumb-ed down considerably over its subsequent editions for mass appeal). No matter how foolish or incurious the players, all answers are at the end of a sword, and that is how today so many people like it.

I believe another reason came from a player in a COC game I participated in: "I'm just an average guy with an average job. Wife and kids. Why would I want to portray an average guy in a game?"

Although one can see the attraction of high-fantasy games, one needs to focus on the esoteric and creeping horror of a well run COC adventure. The slow descent into madness, as the more you know and the more aware of these cosmic terrors you become, the more insane and less stable your character. Over the next few weeks I will be writing some pieces discussing the intricacies and subtleties of the game Call of Cthulhu, and hope not only can I show why you should want to play this game, but to improve the play of those interested, but have yet to fully grasp this RPG's amazing potential.

[Home Page] [Contact Us] [Triskelion] [TechnoOcean] [Daily Space] [Store] [Site Map]

To see our animated navigation bars, please download the Flash Player from Adobe.

All text © 2006-2011The Thunder Child unless otherwise credited.
All illustrations retain original copyright.
Please contact us with any concerns as to correct attribution.
Any questions, comments or concerns contact The Thunder Child.