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Call of Cthulhu: How To Get The Most Out of Your Character

Six Sides of Gaming guide to making a great Call of Cthulhu character (without straight up min/maxing)



Me and some friends are starting a new Call of Cthulhu game in the next couple of weeks and I’ve been sorta getting refreshed on the game as it’s been a hot minute since the last time I played. As with almost all games, new editions or versions generally come with changes in game mechanics. Often, you’ll see skills/feats and things like that change; new game editions usher in new abilities and, sometimes sadly, remove some as well.

The latest edition of Call of Cthulhu (7th ed) was released back in 2014 so luckily it’s the same version I played. While it’s not as though I need to do a lot to get back into the swing of things, I still think it’s always good to do a little bit of planning when building a character for any game. The main reason being that it’s terrible to put skills into something that, for whatever reason, becomes utterly useless to your character. So here we are. I’ve compiled a list of tips for new and returning players who need a refresher just like I did.

Which Skills Are Best For You?

While the article does discuss the various editions, I’m hoping you’re looking at playing 7th ed. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that the skill tree has been completely overhauled; allowing for a more in depth, rich character creation. Call of Cthulhu revolves around skills and players get 260 point to put into professional skills and another 130 to put into personal skills. Seems like a lot of points, right? It most certainly is but you’re going to need all of them, and use them wisely, if you want to make a balanced character. So let’s take a look at some of the top tier skills and some to generally avoid:

Skills To Choose

Skills use a percentage based system to determine success or failure while succeeding at skills will, over time, make characters more proficient (example: repeatedly succeeding at persuasion will make you better at future checks). Also, very important: talk with the other players to intentionally diversify your skill set…not everyone needs to have Demolition or Intimidate.

  • Library Use (25%)
    • as investigators, it makes sense you’ll need to do some research before making your hypothesis as to why the world is slowly going insane and monsters are roaming the land. Taking points in this skill is vital to navigating and sifting through tomes of knowledge.
  • Pschology (5%)
    • Understanding the minds of those you interact with can offer subtle clues about their motives. The keeper will be rolling this for you, so don’t expect a smoking gun in terms of success or failure. It won’t work well on someone skilled in deception but offers lots of opportunity against regular joes.
  • Dodge (Dexterity X 2%)
    • This one is a no-brainer. “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”.
  • Credit Rating (15%)
    • A new addition to &th ed, characters can now either actually be in good financial standing…or bluff their way into making NPCs think they are. This is used for trying to secure a loan or maybe pass a bad cheque.
  • Persuade (15%)/Fast Talk (5%)
    • While these are two skills, they go hand in hand. Persuade allows you to implant an idea or thought on another character. Depending on the complexity of the idea, this could take several days. Fast Talk is used more in the moment and causes a target to agree with you for a short time: borrowing someones car, letting you into a building after hours, that type of thing.
  • Spot Hidden (25%)/Listen (25%)
    • Once again, these are two skills that share a strong common theme. As investigators, you’ll be…investigating…and you’re going to want to be able to find things and maybe overhear some muffled convesation or fleeing footsteps.
  • Other Lanuage (1%)
    • This skill allows players to attempt to specify, read, write or understand a language other than their own. This is a huge skill that someone in the party should have.
  • Firearms: Rifle (25%)/Shotgun (25%)
    • Call of Cthulhu is all about the tense story telling and macabre overtones….but you’re still going to need to blast your way out of situations at times. So grab your Boom-Stick and get to work.
  • Sanity
    • In a game where your sanity is literally being tested on a constant basis, taking points in something that keeps you grounded is never a bad call.

Which Version Is Best For You?

Now I’ve already mentioned the game I’m going to be playing in revolves around the 7th edition, that doesn’t mean you have to play the most recent iteration of the game to have a good time. You could likely find cheaper earlier copies of the game if you did some bargain hunting. If you’re completely new to the game, then doing some research into the changes found in variations could be useful in pinning down the system you want to use. Here’s a boiled-down version of what’s changed over the years:

1st To 3rd Edition

The earliest forms of CoC were released as one-off box sets. Each subsequent edition contained some minor errata but nothing major. The third release split out player and keeper books. While I’m sure there’s some nostalgic players out there, for most of us, these versions of the game would likely feel stiff, especially knowing that later editions contained more options for character creation. We also saw some power creep with skill points going from 180 to 260 between the 1st and 3rd ed.

4th – 6th Edition

The 4th edition saw little real change except some new scenarios being added and updated colour schemes. 5th edition and 5.6 saw a reformatting of the rules as well as some new sourcebook material.

6th edition is where things got interesting….and maddening for some. The beauty of Cthulhu is that the game mechanics were always simple. This is a game about story telling and allowing players flexibility to do things with simple checks and balances. The 6th release came replete with a ton of new game mechanics and saw skill points grow from 260 to 390. Bluntly put, characters slowly became too good at too many things…or at least that’s one complaint. It also creates more chance of character skill overlap which can make for less fun when everyone can do everything.

I do think players should have some loose discussions about who specializes in what specifically to avoid two characters competing for relevancy but I can also understand wanting games to have a certain threat level. Anyway, that’s 4th to 6th ed for you in a really tiny nutshell.

7th Edition

Well here we are! 7th edition. Easily the biggest overhaul Call of Cthulhu has ever seen. One of the most important things about 7th ed is that it is backwards compatible. This means you can use the new, revised rules on any earlier versions of the game. Some of the other major changes are the removal of redundant skills (example: you used to need skill points in Hide AND Sneak to go undetected. Now you just need stealth).

Skill Spamming and Conclusion

One mechanic both players and keepers agree is somewhat bad is skill spamming. Even when not intentional, certain skills are used more than others, and with each success, the skill improves. The best work around is for keepers to make it so that only meaningful successes will improve the skills being tested. No more search hidden checks for your shoes in the morning or spending a week at the target range to become an expert sniper with a shotgun.

If you’re like me, then it’s nice to get a bunch of opinions before making your own…especially with games that you might not be familiar with. Here’s a post by u/LakeDoom with a personalized tier list of skills. It is opinion based but offers a good starting point into character creation. Anyway, I hope you enjoy playing CoC and defeat the old ones or at least go insane…in style.

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