Call of Cthulhu (RPG)

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Call of Cthulhu 6th edition rulebook cover

Call of Cthulhu is a horror fiction role-playing game based on the story of the same name written by H.P. Lovecraft and the so-called Cthulhu Mythos the story inspired. The game, often abbreviated as CoC, is published by Chaosium.


"That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die."

The setting of Call of Cthulhu is a darker version of our world, based on H.P. Lovecraft's observation that, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." There are three primary eras of the original (non d20) game: the 1920s, the setting of many of Lovecraft's stories; the 1890's Gaslight supplements, a blend of occult and Holmsian mystery and mostly set in England; and modern conspiracy (Cthulhu Now). Recent additions include 1000 AD (Cthulhu: Dark Ages), and Roman times (Cthulhu Invictus). The protagonists may also travel to places that are not of this earth, represented in the Dreamlands.

Play Experience

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 inevitably withers away (the game actually includes a mechanism for determining how damaged a character's sanity is at any given point). To access the tools they need to defeat the horrors - mystic knowledge and magic - the characters must be willing to give up some of their sanity for the greater good.

Call of Cthulhu has a perhaps-deserved 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, and players must often start again with new characters. While arguably being more realistic, it can also make it hard for players to bond with their characters.

For as long as they stay healthy (or at least functional), characters may be developed. Call of Cthulhu does not use levels, but is completely skill-based, arguably presenting a more realistic character-development system, as player characters get better with their skills by succeeding at them. Still, it is possible for a well-played character to last a long time, other factors permitting.



The original conception of Call of Cthulhu was Dark Worlds, a game commissioned by the publisher Chaosium but never published. Sandy Petersen, now best known for his work on DOOM, 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, using a simplified version of the Basic Role-Playing system used in RuneQuest. The game won three major awards in the following year.

The game is now in its sixth edition, but the rules have changed little over the years. In 2002, the Call of Cthulhu 20th Anniversary Edition won the Origins Award for Best Graphic Presentation of a Book Product 2001.

Early Releases

Given its roots in the RPG tradition, many of the early releases for Call of Cthulhu were still based in the framework of Dungeons and Dragons. They often involved the characters wandering through caves and fighting different types of horrible monsters. Nonetheless, the emphasis on real-life settings, character research, and thinking one's way around trouble gave it a wide audience.

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 the most famous, Masks of Nyarlathotep. Many of these seem closer in tone to the pulp adventures of Indiana Jones than H. P. Lovecraft, but they are nonetheless beloved by many gamers.

Lovecraft Country

1990 saw the release of the "Lovecraft Country" line of supplements for Call of Cthulhu. Overseen by Keith Herber, this provided background and adventures set in Lovecraft's fictional towns of Arkham, Kingsport, Innsmouth, and Dunwich, as well as their environs. The emphasis was on providing the investigators with a base from which to investigate, as well as centering the action on well-drawn characters with clear motivations.

With the departure of Herber as an editor at Chaosium, the line eventually came to a close.


Mythos was a collectable card game based on the Cthulhu Mythos that Chaosium produced and marketed during the mid-Nineties. 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. A second Call of Cthulhu collectible card game is currently being produced by Fantasy Flight Games.

Recent History

Since the collapse of Mythos, Chaosium has only released books sporadically, though it is hoped that this situation will change. Nonetheless, the release of books like Unseen Masters and Beyond the Mountains of Madness bodes well for the company.

Chaosium has recently taken to marketing "monographs" - short books by individual writers with editing and layout provided out-of-house - directly to the consumer. This allows the company to gauge market response to possible new works, though the long-term effects of this program remain uncertain.


Chaosium has licensed other publishers to create supplements, including Delta Green by Pagan Publishing. Other licensees have included Theater of the Mind Enterprises, Triad Entertainments, Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight Games, and Grenadier Models Inc..

On 1 March 2008, Pelgrane Press released Trail of Cthulhu (written by Kenneth Hite) - a licensed variant of the Call of Cthulhu RPG using the GUMSHOE ruleset which is focused on investigative roleplaying.

d20 Call of Cthulhu

See the main article, Call of Cthulhu (d20).

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 conversion of the game rules were supposed to make the game easier to play, a claim many doubt. 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 not supported by either Wizards or Chaosium at this time. The reasons for this are unclear, though lack of revenue might be a cause.

External links

Original Wiki source: Wikipedia