Call of Cthulhu is a horror fiction role-playing game based on H. P. Lovecraft's story of the same name and the associated Cthulhu Mythos. The game, often abbreviated as CoC, is published by Chaosium; it was first released in 1981 and is currently in its seventh edition, with many different versions released. It makes use of Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system, with special rules for Sanity.
|Call of Cthulhu|
Call of Cthulhu 1st edition box cover, 1981.
Illustration by Gene Day.
|System(s)||Basic Role-Playing (adaptations into other systems also available)|
The setting of Call of Cthulhu is a darker version of our world, based on H. P. Lovecraft's observation (from his essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature") that "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." The original game, first published in 1981, uses mechanics from Basic Role-Playing, and is set in the 1920s, the setting of many of Lovecraft's stories. Additional settings were developed in the Cthulhu by Gaslight supplement, a blend of occult and Holmesian mystery and mostly set in England during the 1890s, and modern/1980s conspiracy with Cthulhu Now and Delta Green. More recent additions include 1000 AD (Cthulhu: Dark Ages), 23rd century (Cthulhu Rising) and Ancient Roman times (Cthulhu Invictus). The protagonists may also travel to places that are not of this earth, represented in the Dreamlands (which can be accessed through dreams as well as being physically connected to the earth), to other planets, or into the voids of space. In keeping with the Lovecraftian theme, the gamemaster is called the Keeper of Arcane Lore, or simply the keeper, while player characters are called "investigators".
CoC uses the Basic Role-Playing system first developed for RuneQuest and used in other Chaosium games. It is skill-based, with player characters getting better with their skills by succeeding at using them for as long as they stay functionally healthy and sane. They do not, however, gain hit points and do not become significantly harder to kill. The game does not use levels.
CoC uses percentile dice (with a results ranging from 1 to 100) to determine success or failure. Every player statistic is intended to be compatible with the notion that there is a probability of success for a particular action given what the player is capable of doing. For example, an artist may have a 75% chance of being able to draw something (represented by having 75 in Art skill), and thus rolling a number under 75 would yield a success. Rolling 1⁄5 or less of the skill level (1-15 in the example) would be a "special success" (or an "impale" for combat skills) and would yield some extra bonus to be determined by the keeper. For example, the artist character might draw especially well or especially fast, or catch some unapparent detail in the drawing.
The players take the roles of ordinary people drawn into the realm of the mysterious: detectives, criminals, scholars, artists, war veterans, etc. Often, happenings begin innocently enough, until more and more of the workings behind the scenes are revealed. As the characters learn more of the true horrors of the world and the irrelevance of humanity, their sanity (represented by "Sanity Points", abbreviated SAN) inevitably withers away. The game includes a mechanism for determining how damaged a character's sanity is at any given point; encountering the horrific beings usually triggers a loss of SAN points. To gain the tools they need to defeat the horrors – mystic knowledge and magic – the characters may end up losing some of their sanity, though other means such as pure firepower or simply outsmarting one's opponents also exist. CoC has a reputation as a game in which it is quite common for a player character to die in gruesome circumstances or end up in a mental institution. Eventual triumph of the players is not assumed.
The original conception of Call of Cthulhu was Dark Worlds, a game commissioned by the publisher Chaosium but never published. Sandy Petersen contacted them regarding writing a supplement for their popular fantasy game RuneQuest set in Lovecraft's Dreamlands. He took over the writing of Call of Cthulhu, and the game was released in 1981.
Since Petersen's departure from Chaosium, continuing development of Call of Cthulhu passed to Lynn Willis, credited as co-author in the fifth and sixth editions, and more recently to Paul Fricker and Mike Mason. The game system underwent only minor rules changes in its first six editions (between 1981 and 2011); the current seventh edition, released 2014, includes more significant rules alterations than in any previous release.
|1st edition||1981||Boxed set||Includes 16-page Basic Role-Playing booklet in addition to main rulebook.|
|2nd edition||1983||Boxed set||Includes a single rulebook; minor rules changes.|
|3rd edition||1986||Boxed set||Divides rules into separate Investigator's Book and Keeper's Book booklets.|
|4th edition||1989||Softcover||Includes content from the Cthulhu Companion and Fragments of Fear: The Second Cthulhu Companion supplements.|
|5th edition||1992||Softcover||First version to credit Lynn Willis as co-author.|
|Edition 5.5||1998||Softcover||Reorganized and updated version of the 5th edition, with new cover art; "Edition 5.5" designator appears on title page.|
|20th Anniversary Edition||2001||Leather-bound hardcover book||Limited edition bound in green leather, with new "ancient tome" layout.|
|6th edition||2004||Hardcover, softcover, or PDF file||Same layout and content as 20th Anniversary Edition.|
|7th edition||2014||Hardcover, softcover, or electronic file||Rules significantly revised by Paul Fricker and Mike Mason. New cover art and full-color layout. Print version released spring 2016.|
For those grounded in the RPG tradition, the very first release of Call of Cthulhu created a brand new framework for table-top gaming. Rather than the traditional format established by Dungeons & Dragons, which often involved the characters wandering through caves or tunnels and fighting different types of monsters, Sandy Petersen introduced the concept of the Onion Skin: Interlocking layers of information and nested clues that lead the player characters from seemingly minor investigations into a missing person to discovering mind-numbingly awful, global conspiracies to destroy the world. Unlike its predecessor games, CoC assumed that most investigators would not survive, alive or sane, and that the only safe way to deal with the vast majority of nasty things described in the rule books was to run away. A well-run CoC campaign should engender a sense of foreboding and inevitable doom in its players. The style and setting of the game, in a relatively modern time period, created an emphasis on real-life settings, character research, and thinking one's way around trouble.
The first book of Call of Cthulhu adventures was Shadows of Yog-Sothoth. In this work, the characters come upon a secret society's foul plot to destroy mankind, and pursue it first near to home and then in a series of exotic locations. This template was to be followed in many subsequent campaigns, including Fungi from Yuggoth (later known as Curse of Cthulhu and Day of the Beast), Spawn of Azathoth, and possibly the most highly acclaimed, Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Shadows of Yog-Sothoth is important not only because it represents the first published addition to the boxed first edition of Call of Cthulhu, but because its format defined a new way of approaching a campaign of linked RPG scenarios involving actual clues for the would-be detectives amongst the players to follow and link in order to uncover the dastardly plots afoot. Its format has been used by every other campaign-length Call of Cthulhu publication. The standard of CoC scenarios was well received by independent reviewers. The Asylum and Other Tales, a series of stand alone articles released in 1983, rated an overall 9/10 in Issue 47 of White Dwarf magazine.
The standard of the included 'clue' material varies from scenario to scenario, but reached its zenith in the original boxed versions of the Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express campaigns. Inside these one could find matchbooks and business cards apparently defaced by non-player characters, newspaper cuttings and (in the case of Orient Express) period passports to which players could attach their photographs, increasing the sense of immersion. Indeed, during the period that these supplements were produced, third party campaign publishers strove to emulate the quality of the additional materials, often offering separately-priced 'deluxe' clue packages for their campaigns.
Additional milieux were provided by Chaosium with the release of Dreamlands, a boxed supplement containing additional rules needed for playing within the Lovecraft Dreamlands, a large map and a scenario booklet, and Cthulhu By Gaslight, another boxed set which moved the action from the 1920s to the 1890s.
In 1987, Chaosium issued the supplement titled Cthulhu Now, a collection of rules, supplemental source materials and scenarios for playing Call of Cthulhu in the present day. This proved to be a very popular alternative milieu, so much so that much of the supplemental material is now included in the core rule book.
Pagan Publishing released Delta Green, a series of supplements originally set in the 1990s, although later supplements add support for playing closer to the present day. In these, player characters are agents of a secret agency known as Delta Green, which fights against creatures from the Mythos and conspiracies related to them. Arc Dream Publishing released a new version of Delta Green in 2016 as a standalone game, partially using the mechanics from Call of Cthulhu.
Lovecraft Country was a line of supplements for Call of Cthulhu released in 1990. These supplements were overseen by Keith Herber and provided backgrounds and adventures set in Lovecraft's fictional towns of Arkham, Kingsport, Innsmouth, Dunwich, and their environs. The intent was to give investigators a common base, as well as to center the action on well-drawn characters with clear motivations.
In the years since the collapse of the Mythos collectible card game (production ceased in 1997), the release of CoC books has been very sporadic with up to a year between releases. Chaosium struggled with near bankruptcy for many years before finally starting their upward climb again.
2005 was Chaosium's busiest year for many years with ten releases for the game. Chaosium took to marketing "monographs"—short books by individual writers with editing and layout provided out-of-house—directly to the consumer, allowing the company to gauge market response to possible new works. The range of times and places in which the horrors of the Mythos can be encountered was also expanded in late 2005 onwards with the addition of Cthulhu Dark Ages by Stéphane Gesbert, which gives a framework for playing games set in 11th century Europe, Secrets of Japan by Michael Dziesinski for gaming in modern-day Japan, and Secrets of Kenya by David Conyers for gaming in interwar period Africa.
In July 2011, Chaosium announced it would re-release a 30th anniversary edition of the CoC 6th edition role-playing game. This 320-page book features thick (3 mm) leatherette hardcovers with the front cover and spine stamped with gold foil. The interior pages are printed in black ink, on 90 gsm matte art paper. The binding is thread sewn, square backed. Chaosium offered a one-time printing of this Collector's Edition.
On May 28, 2013, a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for the 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu was launched with a goal of $40,000; it ended on June 29 of the same year having collected $561,836. It included many more major revisions than any previous edition, and also split the core rules into two books, a Player's Guide and Keeper's Guide. Problems and delays fulfilling the Kickstarters for the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu led Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen (who had both left in 1998) to return to an active role at Chaosium in June 2015.
Chaosium has licensed other publishers to create supplements using their rule system, notably including Delta Green by Pagan Publishing. Other licensees have included Infogrames, Miskatonic River Press, Theater of the Mind Enterprises, Triad Entertainment, Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight Games, RAFM, Goodman Games, Grenadier Models Inc. and Yog-Sothoth.com. These supplements may be set in different time frames or even different game universes from the original game.
Shadow of the Comet (later repackaged as Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet) is an adventure game developed and released by Infogrames in 1993. The game is based on H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and uses many elements from Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. A follow-up game, Prisoner of Ice, is not a direct sequel.
Prisoner of Ice (also Call of Cthulhu: Prisoner of Ice) is an adventure game developed and released by Infogrames for the PC and Macintosh computers in 1995 in America and Europe. It is based on H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, particularly At the Mountains of Madness, and is a follow-up to Infogrames' earlier Shadow of the Comet. In 1997, the game was ported to the Sega Saturn and PlayStation exclusively in Japan.
In 2001, a stand-alone version of Call of Cthulhu was released by Wizards of the Coast, for the d20 system. Intended to preserve the feeling of the original game, the d20 conversion of the game rules were supposed to make the game more accessible to the large D&D player base. The d20 system also made it possible to use Dungeons & Dragons characters in Call of Cthulhu, as well as to introduce the Cthulhu Mythos into Dungeons & Dragons games. The d20 version of the game is no longer supported by Wizards as per their contract with Chaosium. Chaosium included d20 stats as an appendix in three releases (see Lovecraft Country), but have since dropped the "dual stat" idea.
A licensed first-person shooter adventure game by Headfirst Productions, based on Call of Cthulhu campaign Escape from Innsmouth and released by Bethesda Softworks in 2005/2006 for the PC and Xbox.
In February 2008, Pelgrane Press published Trail of Cthulhu, a stand-alone game created by Kenneth Hite using the GUMSHOE System developed by Robin Laws. Trail of Cthulhu's system is more mystery oriented and focuses mostly on interpreting clues.
In April 2011, Chaosium and new developer Red Wasp Design announced a joint project to produce a mobile video game based on the Call of Cthulhu RPG, entitled Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. The game was released on January 30, 2012.
In 2018, Metarcade produced Cthulhu Chronicles, a game for iOS with a campaign of nine mobile interactive fiction stories set in 1920s England based on Call of Cthulhu. The first five stories were released on July 10, 2018.
Mythos was a collectible card game (CCG) based on the Cthulhu Mythos that Chaosium produced and marketed during the mid-1990s. While generally praised for its fast gameplay and unique mechanics, it ultimately failed to gain a very large market presence. It bears mention because its eventual failure brought the company to hard times that affected its ability to produce material for Call of Cthulhu. Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is a second collectible card game, produced by Fantasy Flight Games.
The first licensed Call of Cthulhu 25-millimetre (1.0-inch) gaming miniatures were sculpted by Andrew Chernack and released by Grenadier Models in boxed sets and blister packs in 1983. The license was later transferred to RAFM. As of 2011, RAFM still produce licensed Call of Cthulhu models sculpted by Bob Murch. Both lines include investigator player character models and the iconic monsters of the Cthulhu mythos. As of July 2015, Reaper Miniatures started its third "Bones Kickstarter", a Kickstarter intended to help the company migrate some miniatures from metal to plastic, and introducing some new ones. Among the stretch goals was the second $50 expansion, devoted to the Mythos, with miniatures such as Cultists, Deep Ones, Mi'Go, and an extra $15 Shub-Niggurath "miniature" (it is, at least, 6x4 squares). It is expected for those miniatures to remain in the Reaper Miniatures catalogue after the Kickstarter project finishes.
Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game is a survival horror role-playing video game developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows. The game features a semi-open world environment and incorporates themes of Lovecraftian and psychological horror into a story which includes elements of investigation and stealth. It is inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Call of Cthulhu".
William A. Barton reviewed Call of Cthulhu in The Space Gamer No. 49. Barton calls the game "an excellent piece of work." He noted that there were some shortcomings resulting from assumption of rules details from RuneQuest that are not in CoC itself, but praised it overall, saying "the worlds of H. P. Lovecraft are truly open for the fantasy gamer., and calling the game a satisfactory experience.
David Cook reviewed Call of Cthulhu for Dragon magazine #61 (May 1982). He commented: "It is a good game for experienced role-playing gamers and ambitious judges, especially if they like Lovecraft’s type of story."
Lisa Cohen reviewed the 1986 edition of Call of Cthulhu in Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer No. 80. Cohen commented that "This book can be for collectors of art, players, or anyone interested in knowledge about old time occult. It is the one reprint that is worth the money."
Call of Cthulhu was ranked 1st in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. The UK magazine's editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Call of Cthulhu is fully deserved of the title as the most popular roleplaying system ever - it's a game that doesn't age, is eminently playable, and which hangs together perfectly. The system, even though it's over ten years old, it still one of the very best you'll find in any roleplaying game. Also, there's not a referee in the land who could say they've read every Lovecraft inspired book or story going, so there's a pretty-well endless supply of scenario ideas. It's simply marvellous."
The game won several major awards in the following years:
Arkham Horror is an adventure board game designed by Richard Launius, originally published in 1987 by Chaosium. The game is based on Chaosium's roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, which is set in the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and other horror writers. It was revised and reprinted by Fantasy Flight Games in 2005. In this game, players take on the role of investigators in Lovecraft's Massachusetts town of Arkham. Gates to other planes open throughout the town. If too many gates open, a powerful alien being will enter, likely destroying the town and possibly threatening the world. The investigators must avoid or fight alien creatures that enter Arkham through the gates, enter the gates themselves, survive the alien places beyond, return to Arkham, and close the gates.Azathoth
Azathoth is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of writer H. P. Lovecraft and other authors. He is the ruler of the Outer Gods.Call of Cthulhu Miniatures
Call of Cthulhu Miniatures is a line of miniatures published by Grenadier Models.Cthulhu's Dark Cults
Cthulhu's Dark Cults is an anthology edited by David Conyers, containing ten Cthulhu Mythos short stories set in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu role-playing game setting. All the stories take place during the 1920s and 1930s, the era in which the game is set.Cthulhu Live
Cthulhu Live is a live-action roleplaying game (LARP) version of the popular horror roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, based on the works of horror author H. P. Lovecraft. Created by game designer Robert "Mac" McLaughlin, the first edition of the game was published in 1997 by Chaosium. A second edition and four supplements were published over the following years by Fantasy Flight Games. Its third edition was published in September 2006 by Skirmisher Publishing LLC, which has supported it with a Companion CD-ROM, a number of ready-to-use scripts, and a section of the company's interactive forum.Cubicle 7
Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd is a British games company that creates and publishes tabletop games. Best known for its Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings games, Cubicle 7 offers titles covering a range of licensed and self-developed properties.Delta Green
Delta Green is a setting for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game created by Adam Scott Glancy, Dennis Detwiller, and John Scott Tynes, a.k.a. the Delta Green Partnership, of the Seattle gaming house Pagan Publishing. Delta Green is set in the contemporary era, revolving around a highly secretive organization known as Delta Green, tasked with protecting the United States from paranormal and alien threats. Delta Green takes the classic setting of the Cthulhu Mythos from Call of Cthulhu and mashes it with conspiracy fiction.
In August 2011, Arc Dream Publishing and the Delta Green Partnership announced development of a standalone Delta Green role-playing game. Funding began in 2015 and in 2016 the Agent's Handbook was released followed by the Handler's Guide in 2018. Arc Dream Publishing also made a partnership with Pelgrane Press to release a prequel named The Fall of DELTA GREEN using the Gumshoe System in 2018.John Scott Tynes
John Scott Tynes (born 1971) is an American writer best known for his work on role-playing games such as Unknown Armies, Delta Green, Puppetland, and for his company, Tynes Cowan Corporation. Under its imprint, Pagan Publishing, Tynes Cowan Corp. produces third-party books for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game under license from Chaosium as well as fiction and non-fiction books under its imprint, Armitage House.MetaArcade
MetaArcade is a Seattle-based independent game production company founded in 2016 by David Reid, focused on interactive fiction adventures for mobile platforms.
They have produced Adventure Creator, a platform which allows users to easily create interactive fiction adventures for mobile devices.In 2016, MetaArcade released Tunnels & Trolls Adventures based on the Tunnels & Trolls tabletop role-playing game The game won the MMORPG.com "Best Mobile MMO or RPG" award at PAX West 2016.In 2018, MetaArcade released the Cthulhu Chronicles, a campaign of several interactive adventures based on Call of Cthulhu (role-playing game).Mythos (card game)
Mythos is an out-of-print collectible card game (CCG) published by Chaosium. It is based on the Cthulhu Mythos stories of the horror author H. P. Lovecraft, as well as on Chaosium's own Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.Nocturnum
"Nocturnum" is a campaign setting in the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. It is one of the few materials produced for the ill-fated d20 version of the game, although it was first published for the standard CoC rules. It was published by Fantasy Flight Games.Pagan Publishing
Pagan Publishing is a role-playing game publishing company founded by John Scott Tynes in 1990. It began by publishing a Call of Cthulhu role-playing game fanzine, The Unspeakable Oath. In 1994, the company moved from Columbia, Missouri to Seattle, Washington where it incorporated. The staff at this time included John Tynes as editor-in-chief, John H. Crowe III as business manager, Dennis Detwiller as art director, and Brian Appleton and Chris Klepac as editors. Tynes, Detwiller and Adam Scott Glancy released the Delta Green modern Call of Cthulhu campaign setting in 1996. Pagan has released many other Call of Cthulhu products, including a foray into card games with Creatures & Cultists and miniature games with The Hills Rise Wild!.
Pagan is currently based in Seattle, Washington and comprises Adam Scott Glancy as business manager and John H. Crowe III and Brian Appleton as editors. It continues to occasionally produce Call of Cthulhu books as well as non-gaming fiction and non-fiction under the Armitage House imprint.Prisoner of Ice
Prisoner of Ice (also Call of Cthulhu: Prisoner of Ice) is an adventure game developed and released by Infogrames for the PC and Macintosh computers in 1995 in America and Europe. It is based on H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, particularly At the Mountains of Madness, and is a follow-up to Infogrames' earlier Shadow of the Comet. In 1997, the game was ported to the Sega Saturn and PlayStation exclusively in Japan.Shadow of the Comet
Shadow of the Comet (later repackaged as Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet) is an adventure game developed and released by Infogrames in 1993. The game is based on H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and uses many elements from Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. A follow-up game, Prisoner of Ice, is not a direct sequel.Shub-Niggurath
Shub-Niggurath, often associated with the phrase “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”, is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. The only other name by which H. P. Lovecraft referred to her was "Lord of the Wood" in his story The Whisperer in Darkness.
Shub-Niggurath is first mentioned in Lovecraft's revision story "The Last Test" (1928); she is not described by Lovecraft, but is frequently mentioned or called upon in incantations. Most of her development as a literary figure was carried out by other Mythos authors, including August Derleth, Robert Bloch, and Ramsey Campbell.
August Derleth classified Shub-Niggurath as a Great Old One, but the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game classifies her as an Outer God. The CthulhuTech role-playing game, in turn, returns to Derleth's classification of Shub-Niggurath as a Great Old One.Trail of Cthulhu
Trail of Cthulhu is an investigative horror role-playing game published by Pelgrane Press in which the players' characters investigate mysterious events related to the Cthulhu Mythos. It was designed by Kenneth Hite using the Gumshoe System, which was created by Robin Laws. Trail of Cthulhu is based on the Call of Cthulhu role playing game under license from Chaosium.
Media based on H. P. Lovecraft works
See also: Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture