Call of Cthulhu by TombsGrave
A Little Bit Of HistoryOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Part 1: A Little Bit Of History
The year is 1981. Dungeons and Dragons is still in its first edition. Roleplaying games are young and new and the sky's the limit on what they can do! Games like Traveller and Gamma World show that you don't even have to hang around in dingy-ass dungeons scrounging for gold. One day which was probably glorious or maybe it was just okay, Sandy Peterson contacts Chaosium Inc. about writing a supplement for their game RuneQuest set in Lovecraft's Dreamlands. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know, the first horror roleplaying game is on the shelves: Call of Cthulhu, based on the life's work of a clammy racist from New England.
While nerds had been enjoying the works of Lovecraft for decades--and non-nerds even got to see a few obscure references to his work via Stephen King--arguably it's Call of Cthulhu the RPG that really put the mythos on the map. Lots of those nerds' in-jokes about the Mythos, from Cthulhu's ability to insta-kill 1d3 investigators per turn, to "this whole thing could've been solved by tossing dynamite by every well we passed," to Hastur the Unspeakable's name being able to call him forth like Beetlejuice either got their legs in this game or sprung up from derivatives, like the Deities and Demigods supplement for Dungeons and Dragons.
It's a fun game--a great one--and even today it holds up remarkably well. That said, it is also a game that hasn't seen too many real differences in mechanics. Mainly as it's gone along it's simply accumulated errata, new rules, and big chunks of material from old supplements like a snowball rolling down a really gross hill. Does the rulebook really need a lengthy essay about the linguistic origins of various words used in the Cthulhu Mythos? Is every specific plot-related spell from every adventure a must for the list o' spellz in the back?
And why the hell do we have magic points?
The gist of it is, while CoC BRP is fun, it's also creaky and old and weird and awkward. And just for contrast, as I go through this game, I'll alternate between it and this funky-fresh little successor from late 2001...
Call of Cthulhu d20 sounded a bit like a crass money grab, and honestly, it kinda was. d20 was new and squishy in 2001; this was before 3.5, when they still had Use Rope and 5 x 10 facing for horses. The launch of 3rd edition was a total mess, have I ever mentioned that? They had two supplements converting Diablo II to 3.0 rules and they were basically forgotten (and deservedly because they are terrible, even with that gigantic random-Diablo-style-magic-item generator). They needed more heft to show that the d20 system could do literally anything, and what better way to do it than to piggyback on the greatest, or at least first, horror RPG ever made? So away they went and made this. On the other hand, Chaosium evidently didn't do too badly from this book's sales either, and their end of the licensing agreement was downright fascist.
What I most remember was that, after a certain point, Wizards of the Coast was no longer allowed to keep references to CoC d20 on their website. This meant taking down a complete art gallery, errata, monsters and deities cut from the core rules (including the shantak-bird and Y'golonac, who goes unstatted despite having a prominent and infamous depiction in the deities section!), never to be seen again (unless I bother looking them up again). In the end, very little came of the mashup, with Chaosium barely putting out a handful of dual-statted supplements and Wizards only producing a GM screen and a Darkest of the Hillside Thickets greatest-hits CD, "Let Sleeping Gods Lie," which also conferred bonuses to the session in progress depending on which song played.
Yes, exactly like a hypothetical Munchkin mix tape.
Co-written by Monte Cook (feel free to groan here, but honestly, he did some good work with the conversions... and some weird work... and some inadvisable work... but we'll get to that--and he signed my copy!) and John "Delta Green/Unknown Armies/South Park Let's Go Tower Defense" Tynes, with whom you are hopefully already acquainted, Call of Cthulhu d20 is far better than a 3.0 conversion of Call of Cthulhu BRP ever should have been, and in places and at times exceeds its parent game by great leaping strides. And in some cases it falls into the same pattern of "why is this in the core rulebook again?", but that's just tradition.
Join me on a magical quest to the heart of horror roleplaying, or at least through the core rulebooks of the first horror RPG and a semi-obscure rules conversion.
Next time: Introductions and basics!
But First, Let's Read A BookOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Part 2: But First, Let's Read A Book
Sixth Edition Call of Cthulhu was printed in 2003, two years after Call of Cthulhu d20. Remember this.
CoC Classic opens with a dedication to H.P. Lovecraft ("Author, scholar, gentleman") and a foreward by Sandy Peterson. It's enough to give you the warm fuzzies! After that, it's the introduction to the game itse--
Oh, wait, no, it's literally the entire text of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu." Not an abridgement, not a selection, the entire thing over 15 pages.
In summary: This dude reads a fat stack of evidence about how this cult gets busted up by cops after some artists had creepy nightmares, and a cultist guy gets interviewed about his life philosophy and it's major creepy? And it turns out a bunch of sailors accidentally nearly-doomed/accidentally-saved the world by landing on a crazy island and running through a giant squid-man. And it's like, you know, ironic, because these cult guys totally wanted to end the world but some sailor guys accidentally almost end it or maybe are there to stop it from ending more or less by accident? And it ends with dude no. 1 saying "well, that could've gone better, I guess I should like hide this so some jerk won't read it WHOOPS YOU READ IT SO THAT MEANS... BAD THINGS, I GUESS? THE END!"
It's a good story, but it's hardly the Lovecraft story that gets your adventurer's blood pumping. It's been observed that "The Dunwich Horror" is more or less the platonic ideal of a CoC game, featuring bold, skilled, and somewhat lucky adventurers concocting a wild plan to take out a cosmic terror before bad shit goes down and destroys the world. "The Call of Cthulhu" itself is more, well, a tale about how humans lack any real understanding or ability to influence the cosmos other than by pure accident and only temporarily. It makes for spooky reading but isn't the best motivator for cracking knuckles and getting to punching.
Only after Drop Everything And Read ends do we get into the rest of the introduction. We get the rigamarole that goes with every roleplaying game: the "what is roleplaying?", the two types of player (regular players and the keeper, which is this game's name for the Game Master) and how this isn't a board game. Notable, however, is the section titled "Purpose of Play:"
Call of Cthulhu posted:
The purpose of horror roleplaying is to have a good time. Right down to pounding hearts and sweating brows, it's part of human nature to find pleasure in being scared, as long as being scared is not for real. For some, the relaxation after the scare is the most important result. For others, it is the scare itself. Call of Cthulhu is a vehicle for alternately scaring and then reassuring players.
The game is also a way to portray Lovecraft's dark philosophy of a humanity which can exist but not surpass, and for Lovecraft's now-dense, now-archaic language unwinding like pages from one of those ancient books of magic he described. We even can find as much pleasure in lampooning his ideas and motifs as in taking them at face value, for Lovecraft laughed about himself and wrote stories which satirized [the word you're looking for is "parodied" -- Ed.] his friends. All the time, however, he continued to write with increasing conviction and depth. As you play Call of Cthulhu, your enjoyment will also deepen.
Take note, grognards! Permission to do whatever the hell you want with the Cthulhu Mythos from the book itself! There's also a section on how player characters and players and keeper alike should cooperate and build off each other, since the only way to really lose the game is through "bad roleplaying." ... Okay, so that's a little more open to grognard out-of-context quoting, but it's a good sentiment. Old as it is, barely-revised as it is, Call of Cthulhu BRP has a sound philosophy of playing the game.
Following this is a basic outline of how a game gets played--the eternal cycle of "investigate something weird, scrounge around for clues, ready a plan of action, plans dashing futilely against the rocks of esoteric horror, repeat." There's also the admonition to not go into every investigation loaded for bear, since there are (theoretically) a large number of big bad mythos beasties who shrug off gunfire, gunfire can attract negative attention, and abusing the horribly broken automatic fire rules may lead to the GM having the enemies do likewise. Hint hint!
The chapter ends with a list of the types of dice you'll need, a glossary of terms you'll be using, some suggested reading material and resources for ideas, an invitation to join the Chaosium newsgroup, and a plug for the Mythos(tm) collectible card game, available now at a hobby shop near you!
Note: Mythos(tm) went out of print in 1997.
...is two pages long. And most of that first page is dedicated to a spooky illustration.
I suppose which one might prefer is academic. BRP's is much more thorough, even if you ignore the rerinted novella and the outdated references to the primitive internet and discontinued card games. It also has some fairly good advice right off the bat about teamwork and the "don't be a dick" philosophy of roleplaying. On the other hand, d20's gets the most salient points across in a concise manner, and there's a pretty picture on te left-hand page!
Alright, so there's not really much to report about this section. Next time, though, we'll be getting into character creation, and see exactly how the two systems differ! And, disturbingly, how they don't differ.
Adventures in Probability CurvesOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Systems
Part 3: Adventures in Probability Curves
Ah, character creation! While the Calls of Cthulhu have different basic systems, there's actually a lot of overlap in terms of mechanics, in part because BRP semi-cribbed from Dungeons 'n' Dragons for statistics. Both character creation systems, for instance, involve randomly rolling your stats and investing in pseudo-classes!
(By the way, if I hadn't mentioned it so far and it's not obvious, this is BRP Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition: Where All Your Dreams Come True(tm).)
The BRP Side
The Investigators chapter (as it's called) of BRP opens with this solemn reminder from the guys writing the book:
Call of Cthulhu BRP posted:
It is an accident of alphabetization tat the first skill on the alphabetical list of game skills is Accounting, yet it is also telling that the first skill is not something like Aikido or Attack (the first attack skill on the skills list is all the way down to the F's, Fist/Punch). Investigators are not fighting machines. The single extraordinary thing about most investigators is what they come to know.
The Call of Cthulhu philosophy is that it's more important to be able to rock and roll in the accounting room than with dual-wielded laser-sight-equipped Desert Eagles while karate kicking everything in karate-kicking range. Hypothetically. But that's for discussing later.
Call of Cthulhu BRP posted:
A player makes random rolls for characteristics for the same reason that tennis players use a tennis net--context creates meaning.
Those of you who dislike random stat gen and ability scores basically being worthless after character creation aren't going to be too happy with this, because step one is rolling up a bunch of characteristics that aren't going to be too terribly relevant from after character creation.
There are eight ability scores--they're called "characteristics" in BRP--and some of 'em are gonna look mighty familiar. STR, Strength, measures your physical muchness and ability to hit 'n lift. CON, Constitution, is your health and haleness. SIZ, Size, interestingly enough, your height and weight. They leave it up to the player to interpret an individual SIZ score--for instance, a high SIZ could be swoleness or the presence of damage-absorbing fat or just being crazy tall. It's also fun to say. SIZ. SIZ. SIZZZZZ.
INT, Intelligence, is how smart you are, and you might surmise from that bit at the beginning that this might be an important stat. POW is your force of will, your luckiness, how hard you are to drive insane, how good you are at magic, and how many magic points you have on you at any given time. Yes, BRP has magic points, why do you ask? Everybody knows that Wilbur Whately spent all his inheritance on blue potions and ethers.
DEX is in the middle of the other mental attributes instead of over there with the body stuff, heck if I know why, and yeah, it's Dexterity. It's one of a very few stats that directly translates to skill effectiveness--the starting percentiles for the Dodge skill is double your Dex rating. APP, Appearance, is either virtually worthless or unfairly important depending on how big a dick the keeper is. It doesn't add or apply to any skills, though the stat listing suggests that "some multiple of APP might be useful in social encounters," right before admitting "Appearance is a surface characteristic, however; initial impressions are not necessarily lasting." Way to undermine your own stat block, Chaosium.
And last but most importantly there's EDU. This is perhaps the single most brutally important skill to get high in the start of the game, and we'll be discussing why in a sec. It also sets your minimum age and your highest level of education or equivalent. Got a 12? Maybe you're a high school graduate.
The real fun of generating a character is that you can't just roll eight sets of stats and then fill in as you please, because they don't all use the same die roll. STR, INT, POW, DEX, and APP all use a straight roll of 3d6; SIZ and INT use a roll of 2d6+6; and EDU is 3d6+3. The default character creation method, by the way, is to suck it up and run with whatever you roll, no givesies-backsies . A header titled Alternate Ways offers several, er, alternate ways of generating characters. The first, "I Don't Like My Investigator," states that you could just roll up a new set of stats entirely.
So, by RAW, rerolling a character you don't like is optional.
The other suggestions: roll 2d6+6 for the 3d6 stats; roll all your stats and then rearrange them 'til they're what you want, even if you're cramming the result of that 3d6+3 EDU roll into SIZ or INT because you haven't gotten to the rest of the chapter; move up to 3 points from one stat to another, up to three times; and last but probably the most time-consuming, roll your stat points, add them up, and then spend them, putting no more than 18 and no less than 3 in STR, CON, SIZ, INT, POW, DEX, and APP, and no more than 21 in EDU.
Now, one way or the other, you've finally gotten your stats made, and now how are you going to use them? Why, firstly you're gonna derive your derivative stats, and by derivative stats "the main way in which you're going to use your stats from henceforth." You think only using the bonus for a stat is annoying? You don't even use INT for the majority of your character's career.
The derived statistics open with the single most famous stat in Call of Cthulhu gaming history: SAN, Sanity, which is POW x 5 and which sets your initial and "normal" Sanity rating. You can go higher, but no more than 99 minus your ranks in the Cthulhu Mythos skill. What that is, we'll discuss later. Luck (no caps for this one, or any of the rest!) is also equal to POW x 5, and is your general-purpose saving throw, both for things like dodging insanely dangerous attacks (instead of Dodge), not getting targeted first by the monster, "the ability to be in the right place at the right time," or pretty much anything else that could feasibly be the result of good luck. It is thus a somewhat excessively good roll.
Idea is equal to INT x 5, and is basically a pull on the clue roulette. "When no skill seems appropriate, this roll might show understanding of a concept or the ability to solve a pressing intellectual problem." If the players have screwed up in interpreting clues or the keeper screwed up in dispensing clues, this is your last best bet other than, sigh, a Luck roll to have them stumble on breaking new evidence.
Know, which is EDU x 5, is their equivalent of an untrained Intelligence roll, or the General Education skill in Unknown Armies, or the Common Knowledge ability from New World of Darkness... you get the picture. It evidently covers such semi-obscure but reasonably common lore like "if one puts sulfuric acid into water or water into sulfuric acid (whether or not ever studying Chemistry), or be able to remember the geography of Tibet (without a Navigate roll), or know how many legs arachnids have (and possess only a point of Biology)." So, it's for covering high school, college, and kindergarten level conundrums!
Damage Bonus is equal to STR + SIZ, and by that I mean you have to check a table to see how much extra damage you add to hand-to-hand combat weapons like bare fists, swords, or random bludgeons. It goes from +0 to +1d4 to +1d6 for humans, and to get +1d4 you need a total of 25 to 32 in your STR and SIZ--12 and 13, for instance--and a total of 33 or higher for +1d6--like 15 and 18, say! You're probably going to get +1d4 and will only see +1d6 if you're ludicrously swole or used one of those alternate creation methods up there.
And last but not least, you have Hit Points equal to the average of CON and SIZ and Magic Points equal to POW. HP makes sense and is easy enough to do for humans, but as we'll see later this starts to get a smidge wacky when it comes to monsters and gods.
Phew. That was a lot, but--oh, right, skills. How do you buy skills, anyway? Oh, that's easy. You first choose an occupation--stuff like Author, Doctor of Medicine, Lawyer, Professor, or, uh, Tribal member--which lays out which skills you have as profession skills. You get skill points for this equal to EDU times 20. ... Yep. After that, you get INT x 10 skill points to spend whenever, be it improving your profession skills further or just on whatever.
I'm... torn. On one hand, that's a pretty neat idea for having the focus of a class system--where every character has some kind of area of specialty--without being too restrictive about it and giving plenty of wiggle room even within "classes." On the other hand, you're basically throwing yourself on the mercy of random dice rolls even harder than before, and makes EDU and INT unfairly important as statistics, since sufficient EDU or INT means things like low DEX are less meaningful, since you can buy up a higher Dodge easy peasy. Damage Bonus appeals to my inner melee nerd who likes to roll more dice when smashing or slashing things, but for the flavor of Call of Cthulhu the damage bonus tends to be a little too good, even if it's extremely unlikely you'll be seeing a +1d6 damage bonus any time soon.
The stats themselves aren't entirely useless after character creation, but then again, by and large when a stat becomes important it's because of a semi-gimmicky event like "SIZ (x) characters can't fit through the hole!" or "APP (x) characters are targeted by the hideous mutant out of jealousy!" or some such like that. Or because you've just been pizzined by a Leng spider or gotten into a wrassle with a bunyip... but that leads to a whole 'nother bag of worms. We'll be getting into that later.
The d20 Side
This is perhaps the shortest character creation section I've seen in any d20 game, and outside of really simple games, one of the shortest character creation sections I've ever seen. They even blend together the Ability Scores and Character Creation and Character Class section that's in most d20 games, and include the whole "effects of aging" and "random height/weight tables" and a few alternate rules (including a defense bonus to AC to improve survivability slightly!). Of course, skills and feats and stuff take up their own chapters, but, continuing the pattern, this is a svelte and to-the-point chapter.
There are six stats here! Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Intelligence are all here and mean the same things as they do in BRP, but in lieu of POW, we have Wisdom, which is the stat for willpower keenness of senses, and common sense (for some reason), and Charisma, which is one's interpersonal ability and force of personality, not just how hot they are or aren't.
The stats are generated by rolling 4d6 and dropping the lowest die, making scores higher on average, and rather than being used to derive skill points or entirely dissociated (man, that feels bad to type in relation to an RPG all of a sudden) from the stat they're based on, they're used to derive bonuses or penalties. Stats higher than 11 or lower than 10 confer penalties; 12 and 13 are +1, for instance, and 9 and 8 are -1. The bonus goes up at every even number above 10 and down at every odd number below 10. Humans are functionally clipped at 18 and 3 for highness and lowness, though as they level up (yes, there are character levels) every four levels they get an extra skill point to spend as they please. It's a pretty minor bonus, especially without D'n'D's plentiful bounty of buffs and magic items.
And yeah, there are levels, with all the bullroar that goes into d20. Base Attack Bonus: is present! Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves: totally in! Skill points: Oh yes. Feats: Indeed. And hit points: A flat 6 + Constitution bonus HP at first level, with 1d6+Con bonus at each new level.
Note that weapon damage is pretty similar in both BRP and d20. Which means that a first-level CoC d20 character is more vulnerable than a starting BRP character. Especially factoring in a few facts from a future section, low-level d20 can be an even bigger meat grinder than the stereotypical BRP campaign.
There are two rough classes, Defense Option and Offense Option. Defense Option has poor, wizardly Base Attack Bonus, only a +1 bonus every other level, leading to a maximum base attack of +10/+5 at 20th level (meaning if they do nothing but shoot or stab wildly they can attack twice, once with +10 to attack, once with +5). They do have two "good" saves, however--they can choose any two of Fort, Ref, or Will, and they start at +2 and go go one higher every even-numbered level. Contrariwise, and naturally, Offense Option characters start with a BAB of +1, and an irregularly-improving attack that ends with a +15/+10/+5 attack bonus at 20, but only one good save (the others start at 0 and improve by +1 at level 3 and by another point every three levels after). If you use the optional Defense Bonus rules, they also have the worse AC.
However, both "classes" have the same number of skill points per level--8+Int bonus. They also have twelve "core" skills, which the player chooses, though there are some example core skills for different professions provided. These skills only cost one point to improve, with all the others taking 2 points to improve by 1. And they also can't go as high and... you know, I will give Pathfinder this: it has the right idea on how to handle class skills for 3.X. Mind, 4e still did skills better overall, but that's somebody else's FATAL and Friends writeup. Don't even get me started on skill points at first level.
Last but not least all characters start with two feats, which are sort of--do I even have to go over this? I guess I should, for the poor/lucky souls who missed out on/skipped out/lucked out of 3.X. Anyhow, feats give characters a modest bonus outside of class abilities, some of which are way more useful than others, especially in the 3.0 rule set that formed the basis of Call of Cthulhu d20.
As for skills and feats--that'll be for next time.
At Least "Fell Tree Accurately" Isn't In Either ListOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Part 4: At Least "Fell Tree Accurately" Isn't In Either List
Now that we've rolled the hell out of some stats, it's time to buy some skills--and for our d20 character, pick two feats! This is the first section where d20 is going to be on par in terms of entry length, and d20's page length is actually greater than BRP's. However, BRP's skill list folds in all kinds of spot rules which are amusingly semi-consistent, and thus easier to make fun of than d20's fairly straightorward list o' skills and what they can do.
Those Magnificent Investigators and their Percentile Dice
Before I get into the skill section, I'd like to note I'm skipping over the "Rules and" part of the "Rules and Skills" chapter for now. We'll get back to that once we're done with character creation.
So, after we scroll past a giant, ominous chart covered in numbers, there's a few paragraphs on Skill Definitions. Firstly, and continuing that running gag of games undercutting their own skills, they state that skills reflect the depth and breadth of their time period, so "a physicist of 60% in 2002 knows much more than a physicist of 90% in 1902." This is much more understandable than the APP thing earlier, though. They also state that a skill level of 50% is good enough to make a living off of.
Incidentally, 50% is the default rating of Fist/Punch, so if all else fails, every player character can make some money in the boxing circuit.
And now, the list of skills! The skills are listed in alphabetical order and every single skill has a different default rating, which you buy up from when spending skill points. Accounting is indeed the first skill and it starts at 10%, the description outlining why in hell you'd want to be an accountant in Cal of Cthulhu (so's you can suss out fraud, conspiracy, and under-handed dealings by running someone's books). I'll be highlighting individual skills and misplaced random-crap rules--like Accessories for Firearms right under Anthropology! And, uh.
Actually the next page is Spot Rules for Firearms, and then the Weapons Table across two pages. Seriously, editor? This couldn't have been put a few pages ago, before the skill section? Were there issues fitting the rules for guns in the section about rules for guns?
Anyhow. Skills of Note!
Computer Use starts at 1%, and to its credit is mainly used for programming and hacking, not surfing the internet or firing up WordPad to write out your post for FATAL and Friends. Although the very first line is "This skill is not needed to use microcomputers," so it's creaky as all get-out anyway.
Conceal starts at 15% and "Allows the visual covering up, secreting, or masking of an object or objects, perhaps with debris, cloth, or other intervening or illusion-promoting materials, perhaps by making a secret panel or false compartment, or perhaps by repainting or otherwise changing an item's characteristics to escape detection." It also reminds us to "Compare with the Hide skill." An early example of why they're (aiming to, and hopefully shall) consolidate the hell out of this skill list.
Credit Rating is another 15% and is "Narrowly, how prosperous and confident the individual seems to be," though it's also apparently used to get bank loans so it's also literally your credit rating, har-de-har. One of the weirdest-named skills in the book.
Cthulhu Mythos starts at 0% and operates differently from every skill in the book in that you can't voluntarily put points into it. Instead, it rises whenever you learn Awful Truths about the universe, usually through books of esoteric lore, or if you have a psychotic episode due to a supernatural event. The tricky thing about Cthulhu Mythos is that while it can be used to glean or intuit information about the Mythos, it also restricts your maximum Sanity, as mentioned before, and the information you can get out of it is spotty and imperfect at best because of the breadth and depth of how wacky this shit is. The description points out that even gods with 99 or 100% Cthulhu Mythos rating probably don't know or care to know about how wacky everything's shit is.
Also, the skill description specifically states "Whenever spoor or other evidence of Mythos monsters is found," so Cthulhu Mythos is literally the skill that allows you to discern how precisely wacky this shit is.
Drive Automobile / Horses is two skills, and one starts at 20% and the other at 1% depending on the era. Feel free to laugh at the sad sacks driving horses until the keeper converts a Captain Planet episode into an adventure.
First Aid begins at 30% and can be used to heal a person of 1d3 damage per injury sustained, so track those individual bite wounds and stabs! If used in the same round or subsequent round on a character who's died, it can be used to bring 'em back to life if you manage to bring them out of the negatives.
Grapple starts at 25% and comes with all its own spot rules. My two favorites are "Immobilize the target by overcoming the target's STR with his or her own STR, using the Resistance Table," because whenever I see that page I laugh the laugh of witches and fools, and "Knock down the target. If used, this option automatically succeeds." With a successful Grapple check, by RAW you can knock down your fellow men, six-legged polar bears, train-car-sized mounds of utility fog, or the omnipotent creator god of entropy. Automatically. No save.
Headbutt begins at 10% and benefits from Martial Arts training. Yes, Virginia, you can be the world's greatest headbutter, and actually do damage on par or better than most melee weapons while doing it. Once you find the unarmed damage ratings, anyway.
Machine Gun begins at 15% and helpfully reminds us that "The difference between assault rifle, submachine gun, and light machine gun are tenuous today." Almost as if they could see into the future and ascertain the future consolidated Firearms skill. Think they have separate entries for Handgun, Rifle, Shotgun, Machine Gun, and Submachine Gun just to hold on to that magic for one more edition?
Martial Arts is the only clue in the main body of the text as to how much damage a fist does, and that's 1d3 (because a Martial Arts fist deals 2d3 damage). It's rated at 1% and the way it works is if you roll an unarmed attack and it's under both your unarmed attack rating and your martial arts rating, you do double damage before applying your damage bonus. There is absolutely no listing of your unarmed damage in the main book or on the weapons chart--it's only noted on the full character sheet. Specifically, a punch deals 1d3 damage, a headbutt does 1d4, and a kick does 1d6. Martial Arts makes every unarmed attack on par with, or superior to, virtually every melee weapon you can expect to use under normal conditions. Try not to remind the keeper that martial arts often includes weapon training and just be glad you can deal greatsword damage with karate kicks.
Occult is 5% to start and measures your familiarity with real-world, i.e. "non-relevant," occult mythos. Surprisingly useful, though, given how many cults like to re-appropriate symbolism to hide their spooky Cthulhu affiliation, and hey, you never know when the bad guy's gonna be a bunyip.
The utility of Operate Heavy Machine (1%) should be immediately apparent, or else I don't even know you.
Own Language (EDU x 5%) is, sadly, not a skill that lets you purchase a language to hang up in your home, though it does let you metaphorically "own" your native language, literarily speaking.
Psychotherapy (1%) is not to be mistaken for Psychology (5%).
Spot Hidden starts at 25% and you would be a fool, or angling for a hilarious death, to not put more into it.
That about covers it for noteworthy skills in BRP, but what of those fools and wonders over in the d20 section?
Twenty-Sided Battle Maniacs
d20, for those of you born in comas, calls for rolling a 20-sided die and adding your bonus to it. While it's not as immediately apparent what a good rating in d20 is other than "higher is better," there's a chart that shows you, roughly, how difficult a particular task may be using the DC, Difficulty Class, rating. A Tough challenge is DC 15, and the example given is "disarming an explosive device." Likewise, a Heroic task would be "leaping across a thirty-foot chasm" and is, aptly enough, 30. Generally at 1st level you have four ranks in a skill, and hopefully a +1 to +3 bonus from the associated stat. Unless you're a fighter, in which you can climb (poorly, in armor) or swim (poorly, in armor) and like it. ... Ahem. So a Tough challenge would be one a trained investigator can handle about 50%-65% of the time, and a Heroic task literally impossible. There's no automatic success on a roll of 20.
Speaking of Jump DCs. On one hand, 30 feet is longer than the current world record for long jumps. On the other hand, according to the rules, your maximum jump length is equal to your height + 6 ft. ... So, uh, by RAW, Mike Powell is either a giant or a cheater. I guess they didn't want PCs to routinely break world jumping records by level 7, but they overcorrected a tad.
You can also make an opposed check, and while I apologize to BRP for jumping into d20's rules when we skipped past its, I have been waiting impatiently to lay out this one: the example for an opposed check is a guy named William having an impromptu jam with Ozzy "Orne," and handily succeeding with a 22 over a 19. Orne's bonus to the roll is unstated, presumably so metal grogs would not cry foul. I suddenly wonder what the overlap is between tabletop grogs and metal grogs.
Anyhow--so, high numbers good, most starting characters have bonuses of about +5, give or take. But what pray tell are the skills?
Animal Empathy (Cha) is on the list, because Handle Animal (also Cha) is sufficiently different in focus that clearly the two need to be separated into discrete skills instead of being combined into the same. I mean, sure, they use the same stat and it's virtually inevitable that somebody with Animal Empathy is also going to pick up some Handle Animal, but that just means it's important to model the statistical outliers who don't double-dip, right? Right??????
Balance (Dex) is a Dex skill that enables a function of dexterity, and is one of the key skills for some athletes! But if you want to be a rhythmic gymnast battling the Cthulhu Mythos, don't forget to get Tumble, because those are two different skills in 3.0 rules!
Concentration (Con, geddit?) lets you maintain concentration while casting a spell. Or, you know, when not casting a spell... This is a D'n'D-ism that's kinda hard to justify investing in before you even find your first book of evil witchcraft, and given that there's maybe a handful of spells you'd want to cast in combat, for once it's probably better to spend your skill points elsewhere and just, you know, operate like a team if you have to cast spells in battle.
Cthulhu Mythos (None) is sure to operate differently in d20, seeing as how it's not a percentile sys--wait, what? It's exactly the same ratings and everything? Huh. Wonder how they're going to handle the Sanity system. Because Sanity is definitely in--and it's still equal to a stat times five. So that means... no, that's impossible. Everything uses a d20 roll so far.
Disable Device (Int) is a separate skill from Open Lock (Dex), because it's 3.0!
Gather Information (Cha) eventually got rolled into Diplomacy, but consarn it, I like it as its own skill! If there is any part of d20, especially 3.0, which I legitimately grog out over, it's Gather Information being its own discrete skill. It just--it just feels right, you know? Make a check, chum up with NPCs, get into hilarious misadventures. The only thing that's matched its propensity for immenent delight in games I've seen since is the Marmot from Apocalypse World.
Through our sorrow, all through our splendor, don't take offense at my Innuendo (Wis). Yes, this is a skill. No, it's mostly for sending secret messages.
Move Silently (Dex; Armor Check Penlaty [sic]) is separate from Hide, because hey, that's the case in BRP too! They're being... whatchacallit... true to the vision!
Operate Heavy Machinery (Dex) is spoken for.
Performance (Cha) is the useless skill I love so much. I can't tell you the number of characters I've wasted points in Perform on. Is it so wrong to want to start a hit rock band that goes around the country solving Cthulhu mysteries?
Psychic Focus (Wis) is... wait, what? More on that in a moment.
Read Lips (Int) is a skill in 3.0. So is Innuendo. These are skills you could spend points on.
Spellcraft (Int) is an essential skill for magi in Dungeons and Dragons, and immediate grounds for questioning in Call of Cthulhu.
Use Rope (Dex) is a skill in 3.0. So is Read Lips. So is Innuendo. The difference being that one of my friends didn't use Read Lips and Innuendo to basically rope his way across an entire adventure I ran.
And last but not least, Wilderness Lore (Wis) is kind of weird-lookin' on this list, isn't it?
... But wait, there's more! There's FEATS. Feats are of selective utility in d20, some of them being virtually baked into the system for how vital they are, others existing purely to waste your time and ruin your builds. Call of Cthulhu d20 has fairly few feats (alliterative!), and sadly the majority of them are of the latter.
Specifically, the feats Acrobatic, Alertness, Animal Affinity, Athletic, Cautious, Gearhead, Nimble, Persuasive, Sharp-Eyed, and Trustworthy all give +2 bonuses to two related skills and nothing else. That's literally 1/5th of the skill list right there. I suppose they have some utility in a game where there's absolutely no way to boost your skills other than through leveling up and getting more points, but dang, son.
Outside of the two-skill-bonuses feats, there's a distinct paucity of non-combat feats. Those'd be Wealth to rake in the dough, kind of; Endurance, which gives you a +4 bonus(!) on skills and checks that require doing physical activity for a long time; Run, which is kind of a combat feat anyway, just a way to get the hell out of dodge instead of staying and fighting like, presumably for that circumstance, an idiot; Ambidextry, but it's really just here as a feat trap for what you're really here for, Two-Weapon Fighting , and yes it's still 3.0 and they're not rolled into one skill; Skill Emphasis, for stacking a +3 bonus on some skill or the other; and Track, which lets you find things to fight.
The other 30 feats? Are different ways to expand your ability to hit things, slightly. The number of melee-based feats is kind of disconcerting given how extremely terrible an idea it is to mix it up in close range--and yes, I know I just crowed about how the Martial Arts skill is so rad. That's because the Dodge feat (+1 AC against one thing trying to hit you, and yes, you have an Armor Class in this game, and no, it's not going to be very high) is in no way a substitute for the Dodge skill, and once we get to the monsters, you'll see why those BRP suckers have it easy. (Also, the Martial Arts feat just bumps your 1d3 subdual ["nonlethal," as of 3.5] unarmed damage to 1d4 lethal, so don't expect to monk your way through the Mythos this time.)
Just as an aside, while Weapon Proficiency anticipated 3.5's version of the feat by giving you extremely broad proficiencies, if you want to be be able to shoot guns in the correct direction you'll be taking a different feat for each of those firearms skills BRP gets (which, just to remind you, is Pistol, Submachine Gun, Rife, and Shotgun just for the common stuff, and that's not counting Thrown and Melee Weapon)--and if you're extremely lucky, you'll be seeing eight feats in your investigating career, and that's from level 1 to level 20, the level cap. Between you and me, don't expect to get anywhere near that.
No, Offense Option characters don't get a discount on Weapon Proficiency. They don't even come with it standard.
On the other hand, if you lucked into a high Charisma, you can, with GM permission, pick up psionics feats! Suck it, BRP! We're throwin' down the human+ gauntlet!
The psychic feats are actually pretty brilliant, all things considered. They provide definitive advantages that aren't decisive advantages. You can dowse for energy patterns, gaze into the past of an object, engage in telepathic nuttiness at a stiff, perhas overly so, Sanity damage ping, or other such modest, er, feats of extrasensory ability. I do have to wonder now, long after my d20 days, why the hell Psychic Focus uses Wisdom as a bonus when the feats are tied to Charisma, but weird bullshit like this was pretty common back in the day, especially when it came to brain powers. Ever see the original Psionics Handbook? Gruesome. They're useful, but not so much as to invalidate traditional skills, and that's more than most d20 games can say.
And now I wonder if Trail of Cthulhu includes rules for psionics in a similar vein. Because I can see these being adapted to a game like that without much trouble.
And that about wraps it up for character creation! Before we embark on the next section, we're gonna totes make two characters! I'll take a suggestion for a BRP character and a d20 character, and I shall try to make them as closely as the dice shall allow.
And then I'll make them for the other game, as best as I can. Oh yes. It's on.
Character 1: Madison Claremont, 1920s DilettanteOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Character 1: Madison Claremont, 1920s Dilettante
Do they still have dilettantes in 6E? If so, make a dilettante. Tease those pickles!
Halloween Jack posted:
"After getting out of rehab, Madison's parents sent her to Europe to study Anthropology, concealing things, and headbutts."
Now, we're going to do this the non-optional-rules way, so we're using the straight rolls the good dice lords have given us.
STR 13, CON 7, DEX 18, APP 11, POW 10, SIZ 16, INT 13, and EDU 19.
This tells us a few things about Madison. For positives, she's stronger than normal, near-Olympic-level agile, abnormally tall, bright, and highly experienced. She's not hard on the eyes, though not particularly handsome, and she's got entirely normal psychic potential and luck. She's only got one downside, but it's glaring: a lack of health.
This puts her at a minium age of 25 and gives her a whopping 380 skill points and 130 hobby points to spend. She's also got Idea 65, Know 95, an average 50 Luck and SAN, HP 12, and a respectable +1d4 damage bonus!
As a dilettante, or "dilly" if you prefer, comes with Art, Craft, Credit Rating, Other Language, Ride (on things with saddles), and Shotgun as their profession skills, but they can also choose any two other skills to be part of their profession. Following her parents' sage advice, she takes Anthropology and Head Butt. Anthropology starts at a humble 1%, and Head Butt at 10%. Let's put 80 points in Anthropology and 75 in Head Butt, bringing us to 81% and 85%. That leaves us 225 points to go.
Note that Ride is the skill for riding on saddled things... but hell, she's got to get around Europe somehow. Let's put 50 points into it for a 55% skill, plus 50 points into Other Language: French so she can class it up and hobknob, and 60 points into Credit Rating for a solid 75% rating. Since our heroine is not so uncouth as to use a crude weapon like a shotgun, and also because they wouldn't let her use sharp objects in rehab, she's put 45 points into Art: Painting for a 50% rating, and 20% into Other Language: German (for 21%) for the smattering of lingo she picked up from men with fascinating stories.
Now we only have 130 hobby points to spend. While she was in rehab, Maddy learned how to hide things better than she used to, and so plunks 60 points into Conceal for a 75% total. In her free time she also studied a variety of skull-based martial arts to the tune of 50 points and a 51% rating, and last but not least she bumps her delightful 36% base Dodge up to 56%, because the one thing Headbutt can't do is parry.
And here's what she looks like!
Madison Claremont, Dilly posted:
STR 13 CON 7 DEX 18 APP 11
POW 10 SIZ 16 INT 13 EDU 19
HP 13, MP 10
Idea 65%, Know 95%, Luck 50%
Damage Bonus +1d4
Anthropology 81%, Art: Painting 50%, Conceal 75%, Credit Rating 75%, Dodge 56%, Headbutt 85%, Martial Arts 51%, Other Language: French 51%, Other Language: German 21%, Ride 55%
In her younger and wilder days, Madison Claremont spent her weekdays on jazz cigarettes and hard liquor and her weekends on Peruvian marching powder and illegal imported absinthe. Being a tall, athletic gal, she shrugged off her staggeringly gigantic doses of all of the above and impressed her friends with her proficiency at darts and propensity for bashing things in the head with her head. One sad morning, however, when she hadn't actually slept the night before, she went a little too far and had herself a little heart attack.
While she was revived, she never was quite the same, and she's never been able to go the same distance as before. Her parents, concerned, sent her straight to rehab, where she coped with the lack of partying hard through painting pretty pictures (about partying hard). When she finally slouched out of rehab, shivering and sunglasses-wearing, her loving family decided that maybe she'd be better off taking a trip to Europe, furthering her education and staying the hell out of sight from neighbors who gossip.
Madison? Oh, she was bitter. But she was also clear-headed for the first time in her adult life, and the world was no longer a series of venues in which to wake up with a nosebleed and a pounding headache. Instead it was a venue to to learn about the arcane minuitae of human culture and history, and to give other people headaches by beaning them in the head with her head. She found a kindred soul in head-butting and they traded secrets and tips, eventually developin a proper style of combat. The things she could do with the crown of her head would be an inspiration to future martial arts masters. Upon her return to America, she was a different woman--still sickly, but confident, calmer, full of fascinating anecdotes about foreign lands and fascinating tales of ancient artifacts of civilizations lost to time and age.
She also learned to ride a horse because that's what rich-ass white girls did back in the day.
(As an aside, when she rolls under her Headbutt but over her Martial Arts, she rolls 2d4 damage. If she rolls under both, she deals 3d4. The heaviest normal melee weapons deal 1d8+1 damage. Handguns smaller than .357 deal 1d8 damage. Most SMGs do 1d10... Admittedly that's undervaluing Impaling, which doubles the damage of those weapons, but you can do a truly grotesque amount of damage consistently with Martial Arts.)
And now, let's use the official conversion rules to make her into a d20 character.
STR becomes Str, DEX becomes Dex, CON becomes Con, INT becomes Int, POW becomes Wis, and APP becomes Cha, perpetuating an eternal stereotype.
Str 13, Dex 18, Con 7, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 11. This means that our heroine goes from "big, sturdy, fast, but sickly" to "glass cannon," and losing her EDU also leaves her with her merely above-average Int bonus instead of her sky-high EDU for extra goodness. Personally, I'd have averaged SIZ and CON for the conversion, or used the higher, but that's just me. Alright, but how do we handle skills? Or, for that matter, character levels? Let's consult their guide!
Call of Cthulhu d20 posted:
The Skill Method: Take the highest rating the character has in a given skill. Divide this number by 10 and subtract 3. The result is the character's level.
The Attack Method: Take the character's highest rating in a combat skill... subtract the base skill rating... and divide the result by 5. This is the character's base attack bonus; use Table 1-8 or Table 1-9 to determine the character's starting level.
Her highest non-combat skill is 81% Anthropology, and her highest combat skill is Headbutt at 85%. By the Skill Method, she's level 5; by the Attack Method, she's... a level 20 offense option. (Well, she could be a level 19. But let's keep the numbers nice and even.)
Have I mentioned that I hate myself? Because I hate myself a great deal.
First, let's spend those five stat boosts she gets. Int 13 means she's only one point away from a +2 bonus, but that also means calculating her skill points differently from level (whenever) onward, and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. It's not as terrible as 3rd edition was about it, since there aren't a million different ways to boost your Int permanently and thus requiring you to track skills at different levels forever and ever, but my reflexive loathing of doing so motivates me to ignore it. Instead, let's pop 3 points into Constitution to buy off her most glaring weakness, pop one point in Str to get a 14/+2 bonus, and one point in Cha for a 12/+1.
As an Offense Option, she gets one good save. Let's play to her strengths and pick Reflex, since she's clearly a fast lady with Dodge aplenty.
As a dilly, she gets Diplomacy, Drive, Gather Information, Innuendo, Knowledge (art), Knowledge (local), Pilot, Ride, and Speak Other Language as core skills, plus three more of the player's choice. Let's pick Hide, (but not Move Silently because she didn't have that!), Handle Animal, and Knowledge (anthropology).
With Int 13, and 8 skills to start with, she has 9 skills she can raise from starting to maximum as she pleases. This was how I and literally everybody I ever played with in every single game of d20 ever played their character, and I see no reason to break with tradition now. For Mad20son's skizzles, let's pick Diplomacy, Gather Information, Handle Animal, Hide, Knowledge (art), Knowledge (anthropology), Knowledge (local: Paris), Ride, and Speak Other Language.
At level 20, she has 23 ranks in all these skills. I'll have their totals in the sheet below, and then we'll discuss some of the things she can do with them.
At level 20 she also has eight feats to pick. Let's scroll upward level by level.
Level 1: She picks Weapon Finesse to apply her Dexterity bonus to a single weapon (3.0, remember), specifically her Unarmed Strike (and her forehead in further specific), and Martial Artist to increase her unarmed damage from 1d3 subdual (or "nonlethal!") to 1d4 lethal or subdual as she desires.
Level 3: Dodge, to represent that skill she lost so long ago. It provides a +1 dodge bonus to her AC to one opponent.
Level 6: Expertise, to let her take up to -5 from her attack and add +5 to her AC likewise, again, to represent that Dodge skill she lost. Int 13 is a prerequisite for this, and she just barely passes!
Level 9: Power Attack, letting her take up to her Base Attack Bonus as a penalty to attack in exchange for a like increase to her damage. There's a prereq of Strength 13 for this one!
Level 12: Oh shit, I totally forgot Wealth. You get extra instant bonus cash equal to your starting rating, a rule so completely unnecessary and glaze-over-able that I didn't bother covering it in the chargen recap.
Level 15: Mobility, so she doesn't have to stop moving when she moves into melee range with a foe. Which is a thing. You can't charge past enemies normally. You have to stop when you get adjacent to any enemy.
Level 18: Last, Spring Attack, which lets Madison move a few feet, make an attack, and continue moving afterward! Hoo... hooray?
And, uh, while Weapon Focus seems to be like a good choice for her unarmed strike we're out of feats.
Now, let's finish this up by applying that optional bonus to AC and let's see how she looks!
EDIT: I forgot about skill synergy entirely. This was a Thing in 3.0, and my memories of 3.5 are dim enough that I don't remember if they were a Thing in 3.5. Basically, having 5 ranks in one particular skill gave you a +2 bonus to a related skill or skills, almost as if their locus of effect overlapped so much that you could combine them into one skill and not miss out on anything. Mysterious. Anyhow, the relevant synergy bonus is that her Handle Animal buffs her Ride by +2, and if she had Animal Empathy on top of it she'd get +2 to Handle Animal.
Madison Claremont, Offense Option Dilly 20 posted:
AC 19 (+4 Dex, +1 Dodge, +4 offense option)
Fort +6, Ref +16, Will +6
Base Attack Bonus +15/+10/+5
Unarmed Strike +19/+14/+9 (1d4+2)
Literally every other melee weapon +13/+8/+3
Literally every ranged weapon +15/+10/+5
Str 14 (+2)
Dex 18 (+4)
Con 10 (+0)
Int 13 (+1)
Wis 10 (+0)
Cha 12 (+1)
Skills: Diplomacy +24, Gather Information +24, Handle Animal +24, Hide +27, Knowledge (art) +24, Knowledge (anthropology) +24, Knowledge (local: Paris) +24, Ride +29, Speak Other Language (French) +24
Feats: Weapon Finesse (Unarmed Strike), Martial Arts, Dodge, Expertise, Power Attack, Wealth, Mobility, Spring Attack
To give you an idea of how rad she is at doing more or less anything: DC 30 is the DC for something virtually impossible. She can nail a DC 30 check 70% of the time. In one Diplomacy check she can turn a cultist who wants to wear her guts for garters into a friendly companion by rolling an 11 or higher, and she literally can't not talk them into being completely indifferent to her. There are no rules for not talking them into indifference/friendliness, headbutting several of them into oblivion, and then repeating the process. She's so good at handling animals she can train wild apes, boars, crocodiles, horses, leopards, lions, komodo monitors, snakes, and wolves automatically or near-automatically, and with a bit of luck she can train wild sharks and elephants like tame dolphins and dogs. Raising them to be domesticated? Automatic success with all of 'em. And it goes without saying she can ride each of them without even needing a roll; she has more skill rating than the highest DC listed in the book. Pity the Epic Level Handbook didn't have a section for CoC d20, because she could do some nutso stuff.
If she takes time, she can render an object literally impossible to find unless you're as good at finding things as she is at hiding and either luck out or take 20 (taking an extremely long amount of time to do something in exchange for treating it as if you rolled a 20) like she did. She's essentially a hyper-genius of anthropology and virtually can't miss a roll to learn some obscure fact. She speaks French better than 99% of actual Frenchmen, and if she didn't want absolute mastery of her language she could instead speak 23 languages as proficiently as a native.
When Mad20son went to Europe, she was a strung-out party girl in need of higher learning. When she came back, she was... something else entirely. Honestly, I'm kind of spent after Madison's original backstory and flipping through the d20 book so much. You guys think of something suitable... and bear in mind, this is what a brawler looks like at the peak of human potential and unkillability.
Next time: A teamster shall rise.
Character 2: Paul Gambi, Eartly Aughties InvestigatorOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Character 2: Paul Gambi, Eartly Aughties Investigator
You asked for it--nay, you requested it. And now, you reap what you have sown.
I want to see a character who specializes in Operate Heavy Machinery.
Paul Gambi Teamsters Local 555 and Amateur Occult Investigator
We'll go in the opposite direction with Paul--starting with Call of Cthulhu d20 and working him into BRP afterwards. Has such a thing been done before? Can any man truly be said to have converted a BRP character into Call of Cthulhu d20? We tread eerie and unknown ground, and we shall tread it alone.
Alone but for our dice, because step one is totally rollin' 4d6 and dropping the lowest, six times.
Our array of stats is as such: 6, 17, 14, 12, 11, and 17--or, for what really matters, -2, +3, +2, +1, +0, and +3.
Let's make Strength our dump stat, since hey, it's Call of Cthulhu! What kind of blithering idiot willingly wades into close-ranged combat with crazy stuff? Plus, forklifts are basically like mobile Strength 50, right? (I don't remember if there are any rules for vehicles in this game other than a brief blurb under the Drive skill. You and I are both about to find out.) Intelligence and Wisdom get our 17s, while Dex gets 14 (gotta be precise with that expensive equipment!) and Charisma gets the 12 (he's got a rough-edged charm about him, but he was never aces at debate club). Constitution is a good 'n safe 11.
For variety, and because I forget if vehicle combat uses the Drive skill or base attack bonus and also I forgot if there's any tips on how to fight vehicle battles period, let's make him a defense option, with solid Fortitude and Reflex (to minimize sick days and get the hell out of the way of accidents). We take a glance at the Blue-Collar Worker template: like the Dilly, it gets three skill picks of our choice, and in the meantime sports Climb, Craft (any one), Disable Device, Drive, Gather Information, Operate Heavy Machinery, Repair, Spot, and Use Rope. Glancing at the Detective template in the next column, let's take Sense Motive and Search, and cap it off with Knowledge (occult). I suppose we could swap out Climb and Craft for more useful skills, like Listen and Research, but in the interests of rigidly sticking to templates let's just keep those two in... and take Listen and Research as cross-class skills.
Oh yeah--we're going there. Cross-class skills cost double the skill points and have a stiffer minimum associated with them. There's also some incredible weirdness with how they improve from one level to the next, but I may be cross-contaminated by memories of Neverwinter Nights. Lucky Paul's only gonna be level 1, eh?
Let's go ahead and lay these out as Gambi's skills: Disable Device (knowing how to put them together is great practice for learning how to take them apart), Drive (gotta get to work somehow--and he's got a soft spot for classic cars), Gather Information (for detective work!), Knowledge (occult) (he's got the complete Golden Bough on his shelf in the midst of his manuals and encyclopedias), Listen (he could be better at it, but he's got some hearin' damage from a few too many stupid mistakes in his youth), Operate Heavy Machinery (because that's what he was born to do), Repair (gotta keep your tools in top form!), Research (he's not too good at it, he's got a bad tendency to get distracted by some tidbit or the other), Search (to find dastardly clues), Sense Motive (he's always been good at seein' through bluffs and bullshit), Spot (last thing you need is to have something drop on your head because you weren't payin' attention), and Use Rope (because tying one thing to another has utility like you wouldn't believe if you're clever enough, like that one time in that game I ran).
And now, dun dun dun, feats! These are easy enough--they don't call him Staplerfahrer Klaus for some reason for no reason. Skill Emphasis (Operate Heavy Machinery) gives him a +3 bonus to his trademark skill and Alertness grants +2 to Listen and Spot, compensating for his cross-class weakness in Listen and making him that much better at spotting incoming threats. Done and done!
Paul "Staplerfahrer Klaus" Gambi, Teamster and Hobbyist Occult Detective, Defense Option 1 posted:
AC 14 (+2 Dex, +2 defense bonus)
Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +3
Unarmed strike -2 (1d3-2 subdual)
Ranged attack -2 (by whatever he's throwing or shootin')
Str 6 (-2)
Dex 14 (+2)
Con 11 (+0)
Int 17 (+3)
Wis 17 (+3)
Cha 12 (+1)
Skills: Disable Device +7, Drive +6, Gather Information +5, Knowledge (occult) +7, Listen +7, Operate Heavy Machinery +10, Repair +9, Research +5, Search +7, Sense Motive +7, Spot +9, Use Rope +6
Feats: Skill Emphasis (Operate Heavy Machinery), Alertness
There aren't actually any OHM DCs given in the book. I imagine it's been left to our devices. Given the average DC of most skills is 15, he's about batting 50% with his lower skills and not too incapable of handling the tougher stuff with his higher-bonus ones, including and especially Operate Heavy Machinery, which can nail DC 20 a nice and even 50% of the time. Listen and Spot are going to be contested against his foes' Move Silently and Hide skills, so their success is going to vary based on his foes' proficiency.
But, I hear you say, how would he look in BRP?
Let's work the conversion rules in reverse. Str becomes STR. Dex becomes DEX. Con becomes CON. Int becomes INT. Wis becomes POW. Cha becomes APP. His highest skill rating is Operate Heavy Machinery--by reverse-engineering the skill method, we add 3 and multiply by ten! Which would give him ... Operate Heavy Machinery 130%.
Nevermind, let's just roll up his missing stats and work from there.
SIZ is the first--and it's a not-too-shabby 14. His EDU, alas, is a paltry 12. This gives him a sparse 240 profession points and 170 hobby points... and sets his minimum age to 18. I know I was imagining him as, well, not 18 through all of that. In these rules of ours, it's possible to age up an investigator by 10 years to get an extra point of EDU and more professional skill points. By gearing him up to 48 we can get him three extra EDU without sacrificing any stat points (because you start losing stat points at 50 and up)... but that seems like the cheater's way out, and young Paul plays it straight. He's a whippersnapper, but he's got talent!
The Engineer profession seems the best fit, and it comes with Chemistry, Electrical Repair, Geology, Library Use, Mechanical Repair, Operate Heavy Machine, Physics, and a free skill of our choice! Let's make that one Spot Hidden.
With 240 pro pointz, Operate Heavy Machinery's paltry 1% is our main concern. Let's crank it all the way to 81%, leaving us 160 points to go! Occult starts at 5% and he's still a hobbyist, so 60 points should do us good. Let's bring Mechanical Repair and Electrical Repair to a 50% rating in each, drop 20 points in Library Use for a measly 45%, and that's it for our profession points.
170 hobby points can go wherever we damn well please. 20 go into Spot Hidden for 45%, 60 go into Psychology for a 65% (since that's more or less the equivalent of the Sense Motive skill in BRP). His innate Dodge is 28% and he had a pretty good Reflex save, so 30 goes in there for a 58%. 30 points into Drive Auto for a nice and easy 50% chance to handle himself when things get outrageous there on the road, and the remaining 30 points go into Fast Talk, to represent that Gather Information skill he lost so long ago.
Paul "The Snapper" Gambi, Teamster Newbie and Rising Star in the Occult Sciences posted:
STR 6 CON 11 DEX 14 APP 12
POW 17 SIZ 14 INT 17 EDU 13
HP 14, MP 17
Idea 85%, Know 65%, Luck 85%
Damage Bonus +0
Dodge 58%, Electrical Repair 60%, Fast Talk 35%, Library Use 45%, Mechanical Repair 60%, Occult 65%, Operate Heavy Machinery 81%, Psychology 65%
Incidentally, by having 'Lectric Repair at 60%, he also has a 60% chance to successfully strike an enemy with a live wire for 1d8+Stun damage if it's 110 volt, or 2d8+stun if it's a 220 volt! Combined with our 81% heavy vehicle precision--well, I'll leave the logical combination of these skills up to you.
This so happens to be the perfect disparity between BRP and d20's skill philosophy. On one hand, Gambi20 is uniformly competent at what he does, with feats and his attribute bonuses giving him a good deal of competence at operating heavy machinery even for his level. (Remember, +10 Heavy Machinery is a little under half of what Mad20son can do with her level 20 skills.) His Int bonus adding extra skill points was useful, but it was ultimately a comparatively minor improvement compared to the 8 x 4 skill points he got just by showing up. His BRP conversion was kneecapped not by his d20 stats, but by the 3d6 roll for Edu being a totally unexceptional 10, and thus being forced to specialize. Being as broadly competent as his d20 self required sacrificing overall competence.
Likewise, we can see how the two systems handle stats pretty vividly. Madison lucked into having fairly decent stats before her d20 conversion, but as we can see Paul managed to walk away with four positive-rated stats, including two with +3 bonuses. In d20, Paul is the more broadly proficient and usefully proficient character; accounting for levels he'd be a better investigator than Mad20son would be a headbutter. However, he's merely a B-lister in BRP because Madison rolled well in the stat that counts the most--EDU--and his other stats are of limited application and entangled in arcane algorithms that render their stupendous height essentially meaningless.
We can also see that it's much, much, much, muuuuuuuch easier to be a badass in BRP than in d20, and not just because you only start with 6+Con bonus HP, and not just because of other things we'll be seeing later. d20's combat system is entirely decoupled from skills, your proficiencies are going to be few and far in between, and due to a lack of magic items and buff spells your enemies' AC is going to climb higher than your attack bonus quickly and permanently. Let's not forget that it took Mad20son 20 levels to be partially as dangerous with her forehead, and even with the no-proficiency penalty she'd do more damage with a tire knocker or antique longsword.
Contrariwise, in BRP, Paul Gambi wound up being dangerous with live wires pretty much entirely by accident, and that 58% Dodge means he's flat-out going to dodge 58% of incoming attacks when he's not attacking. If Gambi20 tried to combattle Mad20son, he'd get headbutted flat in a round or two. If BRPaul and Madison got into an even brawl it'd be a slugfest trading foreheads and live wires (or a tense chase with Madison riding her noble steed away from an advancing bulldozer. You know, Mad20son could feasibly teach her horse kung fu...).
There's one other thing to take away: Madison and Paul are natural fits for their home systems and weird and ill-at-ease in each other's. While there's weirdness and limitations to both systems, internally, characters are good fits for each other. The conversion rules are the real trap here; the average BRP character is going to wind up level 5 or 6 if you go by the skill method and anywhere from level 1 to level 20 by the attack (and a 100% puncher is only going to be level 10, whereas an 80% headbutter like Madison wound up level 20).
In the end--actually, wait, we're not even 50 pages into either of them (subtracting cruft and fluff from BRP). Let's save that for later, because the amazing adventures of Madison Claremont and Paul Gambi are just beginning! To end, repeatedly and horrifically, for our amusement.
Next time: the rules! And by "the rules" I mean "hitting things."
EDIT: Thanks to JamieTheD for pointing out the most glaring of errors.
Percentile Charts and Other DelightsOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Systems
Part 5, Act I: Percentile Charts and Other Delights
And now we get into the nitty-gritty of the Calls of Cthulhu-- doin' thangs.
For the first time in the review, we're going to be covering the two systems in two different parts, since we're handling big swathes of text and the meat of what makes the systems tick. We'll be reuniting for the Sanity system, but for now, each game flies alone.
Call of Cthulhu BRP posted:
Rules transform play into a game.
With those esoteric words o' wisdom, we delve now into the bits and bobs of Call of Cthulhu!
The Gist of It
The very first rule in the book, of course, and naturally, is movement rate. Long story short, all humans have the same movement rate and when a race or a chase goes down, "roll CON against CON, DEX against DEX, Swim against Swim, etc., on the Resistance Table, as the keeper finds appropriate."
The Resistance Table. Hmm. Now, I've been avoiding mention of this so far, but I have been hinting at it pretty strongly! I've said that characteristics are never used directly in Call of Cthulhu, and I stand by that. But then, you say, what about that "roll CON against CON" business? Let me ask you this: without any further context, how would you guess you handled stat vs. stat rolls?
Since this isn't a dialog I imagine you'd come to a conclusion like "multiply stats by some percentage, and then roll to see who gets highest/lowest under their skill". Or "roll 1d20 and try to roll lower/higher than the other guy," since stats range from 3-18 and this is an ooooooold game and such things were not uncommon. It seems a reasonable conclusion to make, right?
So, here's what actual happens: when two stats clash, the chance of success is 50%, plus the "active characteristic" times five, minus the "passive characteristic" times five. Then you roll, or maybe the GM rolls, and this single roll tells you if the "active characteristic" wins or not. To cut down on the math, in theory, there's an entire page taken up by a gigantic chart showing the match-up of stat levels from 1 to 31 and chance of success for each stat matchup, from assured loss to assured success. Except the "active" characteristic runs along the top and the "passive" the side, counter to expectation, something which tripped me up for a good five minutes when I tried to figure out how the different characters in that Call of Cthulhu game I'm going to run would resist being bitten by the venomous monsters in the game.
Frankly? It's balls. It's not that bad, but it's the single clunkiest mechanic in the game, and it has an extremely hands-off feel. I hate to say "disassociated mechanic," but that's what it feels like--not like your character is attempting to flex their STR or pitch their POW against the foul sorcery of a Fiend From Beyond, it's feeding your stat info and their stat info into a matchmaking computer and getting a printout saying "You bench more presses!" or "Your brain liquefies and runs out your nose! Sorry! D:"
I'm exaggerating a bit, but given this is what you do whenever one stat is matched against another. This is a basic mechanic and it's startling that it's gone this long without getting changed. 7th edition promises to have straight-up percentages for characteristics, so hopefully this will be the last we see of that chart.
Now besides that? Call of Cthulhu BRP is a fairly simple game, and other than the bizarre layout bungle for the skill section (and putting Movement rules before task resolution) it's pretty coherent.
As you might guess from the way skills are laid out (and the resistance chart being percent chance of success), skill checks are flat percentage rolls with percentile dice. Lower is generally better; in combat, rolling under 1/5th of your skill rating is an impale, doubling your damage with edged or, uh, impaling weapons, i.e. every sharp object and gun you can think of. A 100 is a guaranteed failure--and likewise even the most advanced skills have a 1% chance of success when defaulted.
Gettin' Worse Before and After You're Gettin' Better
Other than how to make a roll, they also cover how XP works: when you successfully use a skill, trained or at its default level, it gets a "check." At the conclusion of a story arc, or after a few adventures for a particularly long story arc, the GM will call for experience rolls; you roll once for each skill that's been checked (no, multiple successes does not lead to multiple checks). If you roll over a skill's rating, normally a failure, you get 1d10 points' worth of improvement in that skill. Further, if your skill climbs to 90% or higher, you get an immediate rush of satisfaction adding 2d6 Sanity points to your current total. (They point out, perhaps obviously, that Cthulhu Mythos is an exception... especially since if you've managed to hit 90% Cthulhu myths and not go permanently insane, you won't possibly see any benefit from the rush. But that's for next time.)
Damage and healing are likewise pretty simple. Hit points aren't just a countdown to going bye-bye... though they mostly are. If one takes half or more of their HP in damage in a single attack, they must succeed on a CON x 5 roll or else fall unconscious from shock. (What, no matching CON vs. damage on the resistance table?) If they're reduced to 2 or 1 HP, then they start to suffer from their injuries and operate in a reduced capacity. Most of the specifics are left to the keeper--hey, it works for Dungeon World--but the "spot rules for injury" include some examples, like burning in fire, burning in acid, or drowning (or as I like to call it, burning in water).
There's also a sidebar on how poison works; it's a roll on the Resistance Table (sigh) wherein the victim's CON is being attacked by the poison's POT. (Short for Potency, and nothing else.) A fat stack of sample pizzens is provided, from amanita muscaria mushrooms to sleepin' pills. And rohypnol. Let's not think too hard about that.
Automatic healing is at a rate of 1d3 per week, +1d3 if you're getting long-term medical attention, and +1d3 the first week if your wounds were treated by first aid before slumping off to bed or the hospital. That's an average heal rate of 4-5 hp on the first week and 3-4 afterward if your insurance covers instant gangrene, athame gouges, and acts of nameless gods. Getting the shit kicked out of you generally means about three weeks to a month in the hospital before getting back up to pre-shit-kicked status. A good time to catch up on some of the eldritch tomes we'll be covering later, since healing spells are light on the ground and will send you to the looney bin if you use it like a healer in a fantasy game. Oh, oh, did you see what I did there? I'm challenging your Dungeons and Dragons preconceived notions through the new and exciting lens of Call of Cthulhu(tm) Sixth Edition(c): Where All Your Dreams Come True! Am I blowing your mind?
(This is the kind of thing you put up with a lot back in the day, and by back in the day I mean from after the invention of the second roleplaying game to now and for the foreseeable future.)
Fighting and Setch
Combat happens in rounds "each lasting several to a dozen so seconds," loosely defined as however long it takes to do a meaningful action in combat. Initiative is equal to Dexterity--so Morgan is going to strike first and strike hard against most humans!--and ties are resolved by seeing who rolls lowest on a d%.
The gist of it: in your action, you can either choose to attack or defend, although melee weaponry and unarmed attacks get a free parry in addition to their attack, which is sort of like a dodge except that you're bringing your hardened forearms or sharp/heavy objects into the path of an incoming fist/head/foot/glistening set of talons, and also you can't parry bullets, Jim. You can dodge 'em, though! That's more or less the entirety of combat beyond the spot rules for guns and maneuvers and setch. In fact, I daresay the majority of the rules are for edge cases you won't be running into damn near every--
Wait, wait, what's this? There's more to the initiative section! What does it say, fair friends?
It says that there are two sweeps down the Initiative roster per round. Well, then. Those with firearms out and ready attack first, then we go around to hand-to-hand fighters and people who are drawing and firing and people who had guns out who have a rate-of-fire higher than one. And, uh, if you're rated at three shots per round, you also get an extra action at half DEX to point and shoot.
Well, that'd be a good reason to use guns. Melee weapons don't get multiple shots per round, even if they enjoy a free defense. I mean, it's not like they're trying to balance melee against guns... yeah, it's not like they wanna...
I mean, melee definitely has its place--blunt weapons and foreheads can attempt Knock-Out Attacks where you force an enemy to roll on the dreaded Resistance Table, your damage vs. their current hit points, or else get knocked out like a mook in a Bond film!
As an example: Madison rolls a 19 on a Headbutt roll against an unaware... probably-a-cultist, judging by the look of him and that big evil book he's reading. She swings 3d4 and deals a mild 5 damage. Against his 12 hp, this leads to a POT chance o' success of 15%. Everybody holds their breath. Nope, 61! He does take 5 damage, which prompts a "What the hell are you doin', lady!" as he's narrowly avoided a concussion. Faced with the choice of either fast-talking him ("Oh, I thought you were someone else!") or headbutting him, she sticks to what she does best. 32 to hit, and a tasty 9 damage! That's a 60% chance of knocking his ass flat, and--nope, 90% roll on that knockout. The cultist--actually a repairman the cultist called in to look at their wiring--is now at -2 hp and hits the ground with a soft thump as his brains leak quietly onto the ground. Can Madison save him with her default First Aid skill?!
Today is not Madison's day.
Uh... bright sides... she totally aces the roll to Conceal the corpse! And, wait, other bright sides! On the bright side, most enemy beasts are melee-only or melee-specialty, so a free parry is going to be quite helpful! But let's see some more of these fancy gun rules. Hmm, rules for laser sights (they have the exact same effect as telescopic sights or just taking your time to line up a shot), hitting large targets, hitting far targets, going all John Woo--
Call of Cthulhu BRP posted:
Fully automatic weapons, such as Thompson submachine guns, may fire a burst (multiple shots) on the shooter's DEX rank. For each shot fired in a burst, raise the attacker's chance to hit by 5 percentiles. No matter how many shots are fired, the shooter's chance cannot more than double.
Roll d100 for all of the shots fired against a single target. If the attack roll is a success, roll an appropriate die to determine the number of hits; thus if eight shots are fired, roll 1d8 to determine the number of hits. Per target, only the first bullet impales if an injuring hit is rolled. Some keepers ask that bursts occur only in quantities easy to roll, such as 6s, 8s, 10s, and so on.
Note that, by RAW, asking for an easy-to-roll number is optional, and they don't specifically exclude numbers like, say, 16, which would be easily achieved by rolling 2d8 (or 4d4...) to improve your average number of landed shots.
So, I do hate to disappoint our resident headbutter, but guns are definitely a force multiplier in Call of Cthulhu to the point of ridiculousness. Taking 1d10 hits of 1d10+2 damage from a Thompson (with a +50% chance to be hit if the guy's only got 50% chance to hit), and by the way that single attack roll means that if he doesn't jam on the first shot he's not going to jam at all...
Um--so hand weapons stick in the enemy on an impale and have to be pulled out before they can be successfully turned against one's foes again. That's another advantage martial arts has over sharp objects! They don't have to bother with annoyances like that! And, uh, it's not like you can freely dual-wield Desert Eagles with no penalty--
Call of Cthulhu BRP, Enabler posted:
One person can hold and fire two handguns during a combat round. Use the unaimed shots rule below.
The shots-per-round entries for firearms assume that a shooter has an earnest desire to hit a target, and thus aims with care. As a general guide, unaimed fire allows twice the number of attacks per round listed for the weapon on the Weapons Table. Reduce the shooter's chance to hit to one fifth of normal. If there is more than one target, determine randomly who gets hit. Impales occur normally. But given laser sight and training, and Handgun 60% and above, increase the chance to hit to normal.
So, if you have a laser sight and Handguns 60%, you can dual-wield Desert Eagles, and depending on how you read that you either get two shots per round at your full skill (and by the way there's no rules, spot or otherwise, for snapping your wrists off one-handed firing a 3d6+3 damage Desert Eagle, which does only one point less damage than a freaking elephant gun and doing more damage than every other conventional firearm that isn't a 12 or 10 gauge shotgun ) or four shots per round, doubling your rate of fire for both pistols. If it's only the first? You can always karate headbutt somebody on your second initiative pass.
Thanks to the vague wording, it also means if you're rated at 60% Handguns you can make casual unaimed shots with laser-guided assault rifles, shotguns, or miniguns. Did I mention that miniguns have a normal shots-per-round of 33, or 11 shots per initiative pass? I mean, alright, find one keeper who'll give you a shot at a minigun and then let you duct-tape a laser sight onto it, but. We're being hypothetical.
Mind, we're also being hypothetical about how many Mythos entities we can slay with these firearms. I mean, this is a game infamous for the bullet-resistance of its fiends. Surely not a plurality of beasts can be layed to waste with sufficient Desert Eagle rounds or headbutts.
And then it segues into the skill list we covered earlier. I guess that means we're done here--
Wait! A few pages ago! I saw a spot rule called Two Weapons! Maybe it's a way for melee weapons to reap some of that wall-of-lead action--
Call of Cthulhu BRP, Dashing the Dreams of Future Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles posted:
In a combat round, a hand-to-hand weapon might be held in each hand, but only one attack and parry could be made in the round. See also "Two Handguns" in the Spot Rules for Firearms.
Better buy that Handgun skill up to 60% and attach a laser sight to your Escrima sticks.
Next time: Doin' Thangs in d20.
Final Nitpicky Edit: Re-reading the knock-out rule has given blunt instruments and foreheads one tool in their arsenal that not even guns can take away: every single attack being a potential 1-hit KO. See, there is no other condition than "declare your intent" you are entirely capable of declaring every single blunt attack a knockout attack. Combine with martial arts and suddenly you trade critical hits for "they're knocked out, no questions asked." If the resistance roll succeeds--er, I mean, if your damage to their hit points successfully anti-saves--they take 1/3rd the rolled damage and go beddie-bye. If the whatever-you-call-it fails, they take full rolled damage. Which means they're now easier to knock out on the next round. Or, you know, bludgeon to death, whichever comes first. I suppose "I need to take them alive" would be a limiting factor. At which point just Grapple and start choking them.
But if "they gotta be livin'" isn't a problem, you can also make a knock-out attack with a grapple, which--if you decide to hurt someone--deals 1d6+db damage, as much as a kick. You can do this after you pin them--on a successful STR vs. STR matchup, they're held indefinitely until you choose a different option--perhaps after you automatically knock them down regardless of who or what they are and then take their weapon away with a Grapple skill roll. Other than pinning, none of these are opposed and so your enemy's skill and ability is entirely irrelevant.
Hey, maybe fisticuffsmanship isn't so bad after all.
A Kinder, Gentler Call of CthulhuOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Systems
Part 5, Act II: A Kinder, Gentler Call of Cthulhu
Are you ready to rumble? Ready to throw down? This is Call of Cthulhu d20, and we're gonna be [img=http://i.imgur.com/ZKRSwtD.jpg]doin' thangs![/img] Roll up your sleeves and get ready for murder, because Call of Cthulhu got migrated to the dungeon-stormin' dragon-stompin' mother of all roleplaying games in its glorious, flawless, perfectly elegant and absolutely unexploitable third point zeroth edition ! We're gonna take on those Mythos sons of bitches and be completely screwed because nobody can hit anything!
...Yeah, so. Uh. Funny story.
The core of the d20 system is that it all boils down to "roll a d20, add your bonuses, compare to DC (or AC if you're hittin' somebody)." That's not a bad system at all; it's simple, it's scalable. And... that's just about it for non-combat rules. There are plenty of situational rules, and by plenty I mean "shitloads," but for all intents and purposes "roll d20, add bonuses, aim high" sums it all up.
Combat, however, is a different story. It's a fairly complex affair compared to BRP, but the basics are pretty, well, basic: you start combat by rolling for initiative (1d20+Dex bonus, plus any feats or whatnot), and take turns starting with who rolled the highest and going through the list 'til you hit the one who rolled lowest, and then start a new round from the top.
There are a few subtle differences between regular 3.0 and CoC d20's implementation of the fightin' rules. In some cases it's a simple difference in naming: bull rushes are called bum's rushes, for example, and instead of getting a standard and move action in a combat round, you get an attack and move action (and a free action, but since there's no metamagic feats and special abilities to exploit the hell out of that free action it's a pretty loosely defined fluff action here). There are also no attacks of opportunity outside of "the tentacle rule," where if you try to run past a monster further than the 5' stop radius, but within reach of its natural weapons, it can give you a thump for your audacity.
A myriad of special moves and modifiers remain from 3.0, including fancy initiative tricks like holding your action to go off on a specific trigger, or "refocusing" to reset your initiative to as if you rolled a 20. You can duck for cover to get a bonus to your AC, or use smokescreens and the cover of darkness to make your foe have a flat percentage chance to miss regardless of skill or ability! ...Because, you know, the system was a little too consistent until now. Need to take someone alive? Use subdual (sic) damage, which is 100% nonlethal and incapable of killing somebody unless you wail on their unconscious body for several rounds after!
These make combat a little more dynamic, if a little fussier, and for those who really wanna go at it hardcore I imagine they'd be pretty handy. But, well, the thing about d20 Call of Cthulhu's combat is... it's largely unchanged from d20 3.0. This means the rules aren't written for comparatively normal people going in way over their heads, it's written for fantasy superstars who are also helpless babes quailing for a wizard to save them. You have way more options than in BRP, but you can't do any of them.
For example, you can make multiple attacks in a combat round, but only if you 1) dual-wield, and more on that in a bit, or 2) spend your whole combat round swinging or shooting away. Melee weapons can only get an extra attack with dual-wielding or by being high-enough level; ranged weapons can always make one or more free attacks, with auto or "multifire" guns being better at it. And by "better" I mean "with ridiculously stiff penalties, but just a smidge less of them!" If you wanna shoot twice in one round with a regular gun, you take -6 to each roll, and you can buy that down to -4 with the Multishot feat or exacerbate it with Rapid Shot to make three at a -8.
And then comes two-weapon fighting.
You can John Woo to your heart's content with 60% Firearms skill and laser sights and oh wait I forgot this isn't BRP. You can swing away at a -6 penalty to each attack, of course. If you have a light weapon in your off hand, and you have Ambidextry and Two-Weapon Fighting as feats, you can argue that down to a mere -2 penalty to hitting with your dual weapons. That you will have an additional -4 penalty on shooting because you used up both your feats at first level leaving none for proficiencies. Or you can have one or the other, and shoot or swing two weapons at a massive penalty but slightly less a massive penalty.
Call of Cthulhu d20 approaches self-awareness of its big issue in the example combat at the beginning of the combat chapter. Even back in the day I found it laughable: it's a direct transcription of the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 example o' combat, with the names changed to the four iconics (that is, the characters used as examples all throughout the rules text) of Call of Cthulhu d20. Iconics with such inspiring stats as AC 9 and to-hit rolls of +2. Look at this:
Call of Cthulhu d20 posted:
The ghouls continue with their attacks. Sam's Armor Class is only 11 (+1 Dexterity bonus), but neither charging ghoul hits him. "Their stained claws tear at your clothes," says the GM, "and you can feel the strength beind their blows, but somehow you avoid being hurt."
It ends with the four characters battered, bruised, and aware of just how insanely (har de har) lucky they were to make it out with all their bits and pieces attached.
Here's a preview of the monster section: ghouls roll at +4 to hit with their claws and deal 1d6+3 damage with 'em. When they can take a full attack (more on that in a sec) they can make two of those attacks and a bite at -1 for 1d6+1 damage. Without the defense-bonus-to-Armor-Class optional rule--and there's none for the example characters--that means humans are going to nigh-universally have an AC of about 9-13. Ghouls will be able to hit the majority of characters roughly 55-70% of the time, and hitting them for 1d6+1 damage, enough to halve the typical level 1 character's HP in a single blow or knock them on their ass straight out. If you start a combat round next to a ghoul, and they make a full attack, and you're level one, you're probably not going to see tomorrow.
And you know, it's a horror game, you say. And as we'll be seeing, ghouls in BRP are kind of wussy. But, and here's an important true fact, ghouls are easy. They're among the easiest enemies to face, period, among the easiest to hit (AC 14) and among the easiest to put down (13 hp). They're also CR 2.
Yes, Challenge Rating 2. The thing they use in Dungeons and Dragons to tell you how roughly difficult the enemies are. The ratings are a little exaggerated, as we'll see, but that doesn't take away from the little bitty tidbit that these enemies are designed for battling highly-skilled fantasy action adventure asskickers, not the actual player characters of the game you're playing. Having more levels helps, of course. I mean, Mad20son could show a ghoul the business. It's not like one slightly-above-average critical hit from a CR 2, 12-hp ghoul could force her to make a save-or-die she has a 45% chance of failing--
Massive Damage posted:
A threshold exists, called massive damage, at which a wound threatens death no matter how many hit points a character has. If a character sustains 10 [motherfucking] points of damage in a single attack, that character must make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 15). Failure means that character dies immediately.
Oh you motherfuckers.
Massive Damage was two things in Dungeons and Dragons 3.0: 1) set at 50 points of damage, and 2) usually ignored because screw this. Call of Cthulhu d20's combat... is not Call of Cthulhu d20's combat. It's the combat of Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 with an all-Commoner party in a low- or no-magic-item campaign running Tomb of Horrors unchanged but for stripping out every scrap of treasure.
Jesus Christ. I'd forgotten--or hadn't ever really grasped--how screwed everything is, mathematically speaking. We came here for doin' thangs and wound up doin' HORRIBLE thangs.
Fixes for defense and attacks were, shall we say, myriad back before the CoC d20 board disappeared into the ether. A friend of mine had "training feats" that took up both your starting feat slots but started you with class-like proficiency spreads and starting equipment appropriate for the training you had--being military or ex-military, for instance. His is the only example I can think of off the top of my head, exempting the rules kindly provided by Dwarf74, which look pretty solid!
Let's be fair, though. The d20 market was extremely young at the time Call of Cthulhu d20 was coming out, and much like the early days of Magic: The Gathering, nobody had any freaking clue what the hell to make of it. d20 Modern came out a year after Call of Cthulhu--so did Mutants and Masterminds. People didn't know you could totally rework the underlying system that much! It's a victim of the time, a game that skewed close to d20 as-it-was in order to appeal to the Dungeons and Dragons crowd and try to get them to expand their horizons. And here I am trying to do a summary when there's still a whole bunch of book to go.
But, you know, it's kind of nice to be able to step back and say, "the d20 version is so anathema to character aliveness you will want to avoid fighting at every opportunity; the BRP version is for people who want to shoot an onrushing ghoul 1d20 times for 1d10+1 damage a pop and +50% to hit."
Admittedly? Once we get through the system bits for d20, we are going to be getting to the fluff. If a BRP character could beat up a d20 character for their lunch money before stuffing them into a locker, d20 fluff gambled a stamp and gained the power of Muscle Mystery.
But mechanics are more to come--for next time, we shall dive into one of the most innovative and important game mechanics ever designed for a roleplaying game: Sanity, baby!
A Sobering Meditation on Mental Illness, With Bonus Brightly-Colored DiceOriginal SA post Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Part 6: A Sobering Meditation on Mental Illness, With Bonus Brightly-Colored Dice
Rejected titles for this section: C-c-c-crazy! A Suitable Case for Treatment ; Fa fa fa FA fa fa FA fa FA FA ; I Told You I'm A Psycho (Psycho, Psycho, Psycho) ; Purely Psychosomatic ; Does That Make Me Craaaaazy? (Probablyyyyyyy) , and I Wish They All Could Be California Giiiiiiirls .
The thing about horror roleplaying is this: no one said it could be done. I mean, getting together with your pals around a table rolling weird-looking dice and fighting monsters or crime or mutants or whatever, how can that be creepy? Hell, look at what I've discussed of BRP so far--you can stomp some heads with incredible efficiency. How is it that the ol' Call of Cthulhu got its reputation for deadliness and inevitable destruction if a quick burst of automatic fire can solve most of your problems?
Here lies the answer: the Sanity system.
The BRP Sanity System
It was revolutionary--a system that marked the inevitable decline of a character. Despite the postings of many a grognard, and the murder-and-arbitrary-trap-fests of classic Dungeons and Dragons adventures, before now there hadn't been a specific mechanic in games to mark your character's washing out other than through getting smashed to paste or disintegrated. A Call of Cthulhu character can be armed to the gills with gun and relevant scientific knowledge alike, but by virtue of how the game works, one way or another they're going to crack through the inevitable erosion of sanity loss.
(Of course, it also helps to have a good keeper who can keep the pace taut, the tension relentless, and the descriptions of Ye Liveliest Awfulness skin-crawling.)
Let's take a look at how the book itself describes the Sanity system:
Call of Cthulhu BRP posted:
Most of those who suffer from serious mental illness have done so from an early age, and will be dealing with the illness for their entire lives. Call of Cthulhu player-characters typically start sane and mentally competent. In the course of play, however, they confront knowledge and entities of alien horror and terrifying implication. Such experiences shake and shatter belief in the normal world.
Sanity in the game is modeled after the behavior of protagonists in H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, who more than a few times faint or go mad.
Right off the bat they set the ground rules that yes, this isn't a strictly realistic model of mental health and well-being, but based on how a florid New England author of weird fiction models mental health and well-being.
Recall that SAN stat? The starting value is a character's normal maximum sanity, also known as "characteristic SAN." We also know that maximum SAN can go down permanently through acclimation of Cthulhu Mythos points, to the tune of 99-Cthulhu Mythos points. Beyond that, however, there are current Sanity points, which serve as both current mental health and your save against losing more. Naturally, Sanity points tend to bottom out, and the book highlights specific ways they go down:
1) Through discovery of the Horrible Truth About the Universe.
2) Through casting spells and wringing one's brain cells in directions they were never meant to go.
3) Through reading Tomes of Eldritch Lore, which seems like it'd be conflated with no. 1 up there, but what do I know.
4) By seeing or otherwise perceiving (because apparently Chaosium got real bored of "why don't you just close your eyes?" gags) Big Nasty Tentacle Freaks and Assorted Nasties.
5) Through the normal ways life likes to throw your mental well-being outta whack: seeing terrible but mundane events like tragic death, gruesome accidents, stock market collapse, "and whatever else the keeper can devise as a challenge. In this category we can also lump our world's common supernatural events or agents, such as hauntings, zombies, vampires, werewolves, curses, etc."
(As an aside, even after all these years I'm still highly amused by the idea that vampires and werewolves are the Call of Cthulhu equivalent of killer bee hives: unnatural, unfortunate, and to be avoided, but nothing sufficient flame can't handle.)
Generally speaking, when something spooky happens, you try to roll under your current Sanity points. If you succeed, you take a lessened amount of mental damage, or none at all! If you fail, you take the full amount. For example:
Examples of Sanity Point Loss posted:
0/1d2: surprised to find mangled animal carcass
0/1d3: surprised to find corpse
0/1d3: surprised to find body part
0/1d4: see a stream flow with blood [I presume, like, "somebody's bleeding upstream!" not "this river is just blood! ]
1/1d4+1: find a mangled human corpse
0/1d6: awake trapped in a coffin [seems to be lowballing this a bit...]
0/1d6: witness a friend's violent death [ditto]
0/1d6: see a ghoul
1/1d6+1: meet someone you know to be dead
0/1d10: undergo severe torture
2/2d10+1: see a gigantic severed head fall from the sky [oddly... specific]
1d10/1d100: see Great Cthulhu [why d% and leave the possibility of a roll of 1 or 2 open, I do not know.]
You may be noticing a lot of zeroes there, as in "zero San loss, period." You may be noticing an unstable equilibrium. You may also be noticing there's not a lot of rhyme or reason to these ratings. You would be correct on all counts.
Here's an example:
Madison and Paul accidentally bump into each other while investigating. Paul catches Madison in the midst of posing a dead guy with a cracked skull like garden statuary, and Madison catches Paul with a pair of yellow-robed cultists impaled on his forklift's, er, forks. Madison freaks out because Paul just drove up with a pair of dead guys impaled on heavy machinery, Paul freaks out because he totally knows that guy, they get coffee at the same diner on Fifth Street!
Madison rolls a 65, and rolling 1d4+1, lucks out into only losing 2 Sanity points for seeing a mangled corpse all of a sudden, bringing her to 48 Sanity! Contrariwise, Paul rolls a natural 1 and thus ticks 0 Sanity points off his 85 for seeing a friend of his with a leaky brainpan having his death concealed by another friend of his. Them's the breaks, huh?
Wisecracks aside, it's not a broken system by any means--fiddling with the numbers and dice a little bit usually leads to satisfying results. I personally tend to add more 1-San-loss-on-successes since I usually run short-term games where they add up quickly and characters can start enjoying the benefits of the rest of the chapter. For a long-term game where characters are a little more persistent, the no-San-loss-on-a-success is about right.
There's also a rule about "getting used to awfulness." In short, if you face a lot of monsters in a given time, you generally can't lose more Sanity points in a given stretch of time than you could lose on a failed roll. Thus, if you visit Innsmouth and get freaked out by the fishy locals, you won't lose more than 6 Sanity points just from deep one exposure until the adventure ends and you've had time to drink the memories away, as recommended. Things that you do voluntarily, however, never get easier--so murdering people in their sleep and the aforementioned spellcasting will always hit your brain for full.
For whatever reason, the BRP book puts recovering Sanity before what happens when you lose gobs of it, so let's go ahead and read 'em. You get Sanity points back for completing an adventure successfully, by increasing a skill to 90% (as mentioned!), by defeating horrible monsters either in battle or by thwarting their plans (not necessarily by finishing them off as they lie on the ground twitching), by psychotherapy, or by psychiatric medications. The latter two are very slow--to the tune of 1d3 San per month, and none on a roll of 95-100, representing either a flub in the treatment or an intentional rebellion against advice and medication which results in 1d6 San loss and a break in the relationship with the psychiatrist. (For those of you players of newfangled system, think of rolling a 95-00 as rolling a miss in a *World game.)
Following this is a few pages of notes on treatment for mental illness throughout the ages, and let me tell you, it is more than a little trippy to see stuff you've read in a tabletop roleplaying game in a college textbook. To Call of Cthulhu's considerable credit these are fairly accurate if (naturally) abbreviated explanations of real-world treatments and their side-effects and effectiveness.
Let's pause the mechanics-talk for a moment. Call of Cthulhu 6th edition really goes the extra mile in all of this, and compared to, say, how the Malkavians are treated in Vampire: the Masquerade (at least stereotypically), this is a profoundly even-handed and sober meditation on the ins and outs of mental unwellness and how it's treated. There are few hard mechanics in here other than horrible disasters occurring on high rolls--it's almost entirely left for the players and keeper to roleplay, and that includes some soul-shattering stuff like winding up homeless and dying of sickness or violence.
Not even kidding, it is entirely possible to go from whatever you were before to a homeless person scrounging for food and ultimately dying not to the jaws of a horrid Thing or in battle with a maniac with a bewitched dagger, but just to the common forces of entropy and neglect and your own misfiring neurons, with little more than a percentile die roll every so often. ... Okay, putting it like that makes it sound like dying during character creation in Traveler. But Call of Cthulhu really does try to treat mental illness with an appropriately even hand. It even describes the actual, non-exaggerated symptoms and effects of the mental illnesses that you can contract!
Speaking of which.
So, if'n you lose 5 or more San in a single roll, you then have to make an Idea roll. You want to fail this one, because if you succeed it means you fail to repress what you see and lapse into short-term insanity, either via random roll or what seems the most appropriate response from the list provided. (Yes, you're making a... reverse... save... fail... thing. This is "poison rolling to anti-save" all over again.) Short-term insanity lasts 1d10+4 combat rounds, and ranges from things like "fainting or screaming fit" or "physical hysterics or emotional outburst" all the way to "homicidal or suicidal mania" or "stupor." I'd recommend picking from the list and circumstances, if only because it seems a bit of a dick move to let the dice decide if a character can maaaaaybe participate in the adventure, especially if it's something important like a fight in which falling into a stupor = instant hideous death. Following that there's a "longer temporary insanity," which lingers for a few hours to a few days after the episode. You could suffer from temporary amnesia, psychosomatic blindness or deafness, hallucinations, a sudden but temporary phobia, or just a compulsion to sit in the shower scrubbing yourself for hours on end and quietly sobbing.
If you should lose 1/5th or more of your current Sanity points in the space of an hour (in-game, not at the table), you get to enjoy a bout of indefinite insanity! Indefinite insanity lasts 1d6 game months and lacks an associated table because, quote, "a random roll on a table of lunacies trivializes the massive shock to the afflicted person." Instead the keeper or player are advised to ponder a suitable and fitting response to the trauma the character suffered and agree on a suitable form of mental illness as fallout.
And, of course, if your Sanity reaches 0? Permanent insanity! You're out of the game, overcome with a mental illness too profound and life-ruining to function properly. The game proposes that maybe an investigator so fallen may be able to contribute in the future, but don't count on it. Between the whole "no defense against any sort of shock or surprise" thing and the "by the way, we don't fuck around with mental illness in this game, best preorder your copy of DSM-5."
The chapter doesn't really conclude with this, but given I've leapfrogged around a tiny bit, our observation of the BRP rules for sanity conclude with the observation that...
Call of Cthulhu BRP posted:
The sanity rules prove to us our own fragility. All that which we thought strong becomes delusory and false, while madness sometimes becomes a necessary condition for truth. Humor and laughter around the game table become vital counterbalances. Good feelings promote harmony and cohesion during the darkest moments of the game.
...even the darkest and most stark of games of Call of Cthulhu are going to need some form of comic or emotional relief to keep things from getting too bleak. Given that the chapter actually concludes with the "dying homeless and alone" bit, it's a lesson worth taking away.
Actually, it concludes about fifty or so pages later, with several chapters in between, where they actually list mental illnesses likely to befall investigators. It's right after the chapter on the influence of the Cthulhu Mythos on terrestrial linguistics, which is itself right after the five-page biography of H.P. Lovecraft.
Suddenly I'm angry and I don't know why.
The d20 Version
...is exactly the same.
... No, really. d% rolls, 5 points or more, 1/5th for temporary insanity, dying homeless and alone, all of it.
They even have the same chart and everything.
It's not entirely recycled. The charts are, as is a sidebar about how a typical player character is going to come off to a trained psychiatric professional, but the rules themselves are the same. The most notable difference is that rather than a list of symptoms on the random indefinite insanity table, you get pointed to a type of disorder the character now suffers indefinitely. This table includes psychosexual disorders, but the section states, more or less, "while this is a thing that happens, it's probably too gross to actually thrust upon most groups of player characters." Though it also says "but hey, if you want a gross bad guy, look no further!" You win some, you lose some.
Some might cry foul. "But why in hell would you literally transplant Call of Cthulhu BRP's mechanics unchanged? The d20 system uses a d20 to do things! Hence the name!" The answer is because these Sanity rules work and because Cook and Tynes were lazy and it'd be less difficult to dual-stat adventures .
Frankly, I'm entirely okay with the rules being the same in both versions. They're solid, they're workable, and while more advanced rules have come out since (I heartily recommend the Madness Meters from Unknown Armies and NEMESIS), the Sanity rules have aged the best of all the rules in BRP so far and have no wonky or weird bits in the d20 version.
And speaking of weird and wonky, we are now at an impasse. We've got several mechanical bits to go before we get to the fluff bits that really make the games. What should I cover next? There are several possibilities:
1) Magic items and books of yore! This one is easy on me due to the amount of overlap!
2) Monsters, monsters, monsters, and also dogs! For what it's worth this is what I'm looking forward to the most, especially when I jogged long-dormant memories finally browsing through the fat list of stuff.
3) Stupid crap! This would cover the pointless fluff chapters in BRP and the needlessly ornate equipment chapter in d20.
4) Maaaaagic! Spells and such! There are some serious winners in the spell department, especially in BRP.
Most votes wins! Or any votes at all, really.
Next time: a topic you, the reader, decide!
Fine Heirloom-Quality CollectablesOriginal SA post
I am definitely more curious now about Legend of the Five Rings than I was before, even if it's just to hear horror stories about pet NPCs and the intricacies of trading card games.
Also, speaking of things that haven't updated in a little while...
Call of Cthulhu: A Tale of Two Games
Part 7: Fine Heirloom-Quality Collectables
There's just something about spooky artifacts that drives the nerdy soul onward. The Calls of Cthulhu are no exception, and both books include a chapter on the freaky stuff an adventurous investigator might stumble upon! Or rather, d20 has a chapter on the topic, BRP has the two halves of one logical chapter on opposite sides of the book, and the first half is included in the general Magic section. You know, I really appreciate Wizards of the Coast's editors at this point. Even when I was a wide-eyed newbie in the RPG circuit I knew that BRP's layout was a load and a half.
Anyhow--these sections have a lot of similarities between them, and, in fact, there's artwork in the d20 version clearly based on the artwork of the BRP! This, I believe, is not the case anywhere else in the art. It helps that the Alien Technology designs were very iconic and weird and generally not as goofy as the BRP monster designs, so when they were adapted to Artifacts in d20 the logical thing to do was upgrade the art to full color.
The gist of what tomes and artifacts do are straightforward: big ol' slabs of text on the Cthulhu Mythos will dispense arcane wisdom in the form of Cthulhu Mythos ranks and gen-u-wine castable spells! However, in order to reap these benefits, you have to leap a number of hurdles. There's one in common to both editions: you automatically lose Sanity reading these tomes, once when you start reading, and once when you finish comprehending what you read. Confusingly, in BRP these losses are listed with the same "success/failure" notation as Sanity checks; d20 is, again, much clearer about it. Until you start gawking at the big nasties, tomes are the surest way to lose your shit in Call of Cthulhu--even a high Sanity can't protect you.
In d20, the main challenge would be a yes-I'm-serious reading comprehension check, a test to see if you actually understand the material you're reading about. It's a check of your Int bonus+your level+the number of previous attempts you've tried to read what you're reading. These checks are nothing to sneeze at--there's a chance Mad20son can fail the highest ones, even if it's not a very likely chance, and most of them hover at around DC 20 or so, meaning low-level characters must either be seriously intelligent or seriously persistent to read these things in a timely fashion. Likewise you have to make repeated Language rolls to ensure you can translate a given chunk of illegible crazy-person rants... though I can't seem to find an actual difficulty for what these language checks should be.
In the olden days Call of Cthulhu BRP called for similar checks to get through books and reap the benefits. By sixth edition, however, the primary hurdle is time: these sons of bitches are huge, dense, and written by crazy people, and can take months of study to get through. You do have to pass an Other Language roll to get through books written in other languages, but it's only one check per book. d20 reading times can be pretty long if you fail your comprehension rolls (and it's pretty likely unless you're a genius with a few levels under your belt, but it's also possible to get things read in a time schedule that's conducive to adventuring.
While the games (naturally) have a lot of overlap in terms of artifacts, there's a couple noteworthy differences between the two. The most prominent, naturally, are one difference apiece.
The BRP version includes a page dedicated to Occult Books--that is to say, books on the occult which are not themselves Cthulhu Mythos texts and which boost the Occult skill instead of adding to Cthulhu Mythos. Two of these will damage your Sanity if you read them, and they're both real books : The Zohar , the foundational book of Kabbalah, which will hit your SAN for 1 at start and1d3+1 at finish, along with boosting your Occult by +7; and The Golden Bough , a 13-book-long encyclopedia of the arcane... which only boosts your Occult by +5 and damages Sanity by 1d2 when you're finished. Admittedly it's the second-highest behind Mr. Kabbalah back there, but still, thirteen volumes seems like it should be worth a bit more.
The d20 version includes a universal researchin' mechanic to let your investigators figure out exactly what the ominous black disc does. Notably, and predictably, this includes Table 7-1: Strange Events! These are either random weird crap that happen during research of a book or artifact, or things the GM cherry-picks as part of the item's innate nature (or sign of the influence of the whatever-it-is on the character's brain chemistry). There's no listed trigger for Strange Events in this part of the book--they could happen for no reason at all. While I should be rolling my eyes, I gotta admit, these give esoteric artifacts more bite and personality than the ones in BRP. They're open to interpretation and quite suggestively eerie. My personal favorite is "You catch a glimpse of the artifact moving under its own power and volition," which forces a 1/1d6 Sanity check. I heartily recommend this event for books and things which have no clear means of locomotion.
Reader's Digest: Esoteric Tomes Edition
And now we get into the meat of the chapter! First up: evil books. These are the meat 'n' potatoes of
The Necronomicon: The one everybody and their mother knows, the book everyone thinks of when you say "evil tome of arcane lore." The original version, Al-Azif, in the pseudo-authentic original Arabic, gives you a hefty +18 Cthulhu Mythos, hits you for 1d10 at start and 2d10 at finish (you heard me), and takes 68 freaking weeks to read in BRP. The BRP version teaches a laundry-list of god-summoning spells and some anti-monster countermeasures, while the d20 sports 4d6 spells as the GM sees fit for it to contain. There's also four other versions, each subsequent edition containing less arcane wisdom and fewer spells, but they never stop smashing your brains out with a wrecking ball. Only the Sussex Manuscript, a drunken Reader's Digest translation, hits you for anything else.
Nameless Cults: The dangerous text of unspeakable lore with a funny name! Unausprechlichen Kulten is its original "German" title, and let me tell you, my German teachers always found that name hilarious. It's basically the Necronomicon Jr., gradually pressing 3d8 Sanity out of your head and coming with a robust but less-fat stack of spells with which one may get into trouble. It also takes exactly one (1) year to get through! (Or 2d10 weeks in d20.)
The Book of Eibon: And we round out the trilogy of Big Name books with... the Small serving size of the above three. We go from 3d10 to 3d8 to 3d4 Sanity damage, a small smattering of sorcerous spells, fewer ranks and... okay, I'm gonna be honest here, the big-name books are essentially interchangeable because Lovecraft only went into fine detail on a handful of passages from like two or three books because they were just ominous names dropped in to give the impression that 1) the narrator was well-read in weird shit, 2) the weird shit in question was spoken of in ominously-named tomes, or 3) some dude read about weird shit in an old book and went nuts because of it. Neither book goes into interesting detail about 2/3rds of the Big Three; consequentially, it's the lesser-known tomes that get all the cool backstories.
Like the Eltdown Shards, a pamphlet printed with translations of dark-magic hieroglyphs! Massa di Requiem per Shuggay, an Italian opera pronounced as unplayable by knowledgeable musicians and which summons Azathoth at the successful completion of its performance. For those of you not in the know you'll see how fun that would turn out once we cover the gods and what have you later on. Long story short: you only play this once. Just like The King in Yellow, the famous god-summoning creepy play also listed but which specifically comes with no spells and doesn't say anything about calling up the god it's about in question once you perform the play.
Consistency! I love it.
...Or there's The Revelations of Glaaki, a multi-volume exegesis on the nature of a single specific deity, with a different follower composing each book. The R'lyeh Text was in the underrated PS2 roleplaying game Shadow Hearts! Azathoth and Others is a pocket-sized book of poimes about... well, neither game says, but doesn't the idea that a vanity press book of poetry could inadvertently revelate terrifying true shit about the universe catch your imagination?
I suppose there's a reason coming up with new and more interesting Mythos texts is everybody's favorite passtime: the existing ones barely have any flavor text to go with them, and the curt list of spells or dice codes for generating specifics aren't exactly strong frameworks. This has the semi-useful effect of the books' contents not being set in stone (other than obviously specific works).
Crazy Steve's Discount Box o' Horrors
You might expect the artifacts section to be chock-full of X-Files/SCP Foundation/Warehouse 23/Warehouse 13/Unknown Armies weird-and-cool shit, each more anathema to conventional physics than the last! Yooooooooou would be wrong, but points for trying. These aren't boring, far from it, but to modern eyes these things generally fail to capture a feeling of "wow, this is significantly wrong and weird." Some of them do serve as interesting plot hooks, though!
The d20 version lists the artifacts in alphabetical order; the BRP version lists the artifacts by what alien race uses 'em. Once again, another point for d20's organizational skills.
There are a surprisingly decent number of straight-up magic/hi-tech weapons available, though perhaps unsurprisingly most of them are weaker than mundane weapons. You've got the Mi-Go Mist Projector , which does 1d10 (BRP) or 2d6 (d20) cold damage in a 10' cone, either making a skill roll to use it properly (BRP) or forcing a DC 19 Reflex save (d20). The BRP version has limited ammo. You could zap some suckers with the Yithan Lightning Gun, which is described as looking like a fancy camera and is illustrated as looking like a fleshy lantern with an electric fan at the back and a feathery/membrane-y pistol grip. Both versions spend charges to deal Xd10s (BRP) or Xd6es (d20) of damage. Spend too much juice in one go and you run the risk of the thing blowing up in your hands. Inferior to a machine gun, yes, but these can successfully harm certain foes in a game where the only other way to reliably damage something with electricity is to Paul a live wire into them.
Defensively speaking, you have basically just the one option--the Mi-Go Living Armor , a membranous living suit of chitin that insinuates its way into your skin once you don it. It provides a whopping 8 armor in BRP and +6 natural armor in d20, with the caveat that every time you take it off you take 1 point of damage and the suit degrades by 1 point of effectiveness since your pasty skin doesn't secrete the proper nutrients (why Mi-Go flesh secretes nutrients we'll never know). The obvious answer is to never take it off and look exactly as crazy as you already are.
Many of the items are walking plot hooks. Representin' from the original stories of Lovecraft are the Ultraviolet Projector (in d20 only, because the BRP "Alien Technologies" chapter doesn't cover magical artifacts or human-derived tech and there's no section for it elsewhere!), which enables one to see extra-dimensional nasties and likewise for them to see you! Space Mead , a heady astrological brew that enables the drinker to survive the rigors of space travel without a suit. The Shining Trapezohedron is a weirdly-shaped gemstone which calls on "a hideous avatar of Nyarlathotep" if its handy box is closed at night. We'll be touching on this again later, so try to keep that phrase in mind.
Perhaps the most wide-open bait for plot hooks is the Yithan Stasis Cube , a device which keeps objects (or creatures) inside preserved in time--only one second passes in the box for every thousand that passes on the outside. If you aren't thinking of about a million different ways this could lead to some interesting or terrifying plot twists, you're not trying hard enough. Also, it's also the most subtle example of the "humans are meaningless" theme--you could miss out on the entirety of human civilization in a few seconds of camping out in one of these things.
There's a number of other devices, but not too many--mostly specie- or plot-specific stuff like the Lamp of Al-Hazared or Carotid Poison. The d20 version segues into spells at this point, while the BRP version heads into deities. But we, instead, are plunging directly into the heart of the things that make me tear my hair out: the stupid shit.
Next time: The stupid shit!