Call of Cthulhu d20
Call of Cthulhu d20 Capsule Review by Jeremy Reaban on 22/07/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Great conversion of Call of Cthulhu from BRP to d20.
Product: Call of Cthulhu d20
Author: John Tynes and Monte Cook
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Line: d20, Call of Cthulhu
Page count: 320
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Jeremy Reaban on 22/07/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Historical Horror Conspiracy
Call of Cthulhu d20 is the latest in the increasingly large number of games converted to use the d20 rules. It's the second game using the Basic Role Playing (or BRP) system from Chaosium to be converted. The first, Dragon Lords of Melnibone (DLOM), was a conversion of the Elric! game. Unlike DLOM, this conversion was done by Wizards of the Coast, and again, unlike DLOM, this was competently done. Competently is an understatement, actually. It's extremely well done, with only some minor flaws.
CoCd20 is produced under license by Wizards of the Coast, and was writen largely by John Tynes and D&D 3E co-designer Monte Cook. It's a hardcover book, both rather large (320 pages) and rather expensive ($39.95, I paid full price at my local-ish game store). While as mentioned it's expensive, it is largely in color. I say largely because while almost all the illustrations and pages are in color, it's somewhat sparsely illustrated. You could actually flip through it and not notice it was in color.
Call of Cthulhu, for those who haven't heard of it, it a game of investigating supernatural horror. Specifically the horror of the works of HP Lovecraft and those who had imitated him (which is a lot of people, actually.). Basically, it involves really ugly, alien, monstrosities, crazed cultists, and things man was not meant to know. (Cthulhu looks pretty much like a D&D Mind Flayer, only godzilla sized and with wings.).
The d20 adapation is pretty close to regular d20. If you know d20, you can play it right away. The major changes are that instead of many classes, there is just one. It's basically the NPC Expert class from regular d20, with 2 more class skills (12 instead of 10), and 2 more skill points per level. There are also some customization options for the attack bonus and saves. Hit points go up each level (d6), just like regular d20.
The other major change is spellcasting. Spells now cost ability damage when cast, and can be cast by anyone who knows the spell (working spells are hard to come by, though). Spells also cost points from a new statistic, one called Sanity. Sanity is actually ported from the original Call of Cthulhu untouched. It's a number from 0 to 99 that represents how sane a character is. The higher the better.
Besides spells, there is also a somewhat optional psychic ability system. It uses a combination of a skill and feats. There's a basic skill for using psychic powers, and several feats which are psychic powers. The typical range, though they are generally weak. Using psychic powers also generally causes ability damage and sanity loss.
Lastly, in order to make combat more deadly, the massive damage threshold has been reduced from 50 to 10(!). For those not familiar with d20, the massive damage rule requires a PC to make a fortitude saving throw or die when a certain amount of hit points of damage is taken in a single attack. It's not that high of a saving throw (a DC of 15, which means you have to roll a 15 or higher, including bonuses.), but there is always a chance of failure, especially for lower to mid level characters. There are also no attacks of opportunity, a welcome subtraction, though it's mentioned as a variant rule.
The cover is pretty ugly, and actually has little indication that it is a d20 game. The only tell tale signs that it's d20 is the d20 logo on the back and the last part of the back cover blurb. (The game clerk where I bought it actually didn't realize it was d20.) The margins are small - 1 inch on the outside margins, and about 1/2 inch on the top, bottom and inside. (I use a mage knight ruler, which is only marked in inches, so I have to guess for smaller than that). The text size is pretty average, so you get your money's worth, text wise.
The layout is actually a bit odd. Presumably to make it more atmospheric, much of the text in the book is laid out in 2 columns per page, with column size changing from top to bottom, rather than fixed. The outside column starts big and gets smaller, while the inside column starts small and gets larger. A bit tricky to read at first. The section on spells however, is 3 normal columns.
As mentioned, there doesn't seem to be all that much artwork at first glance. There's a large piece at the begining of each chapter, and then the occasional small piece, but it's very sparse. Now that I count it, it's actually 86 pieces, but that include 2 pieces used 3 times each, and most of the art appears in the monster section (pretty much every monster or god is pictured). The art is well done, though. Most of the art is clearly set in modern day, circa 2002 - the large number of bare midriffs on women really gives that away. I guess some of the artists are Britney Spears fans. (Not that I'm complaining. Just very different than regular Call of Cthulhu, which is largely set in the 1920s).
All in all, it's an extremely nice looking book. And heavy. Seems to dethrone the Kalamar setting book as the heaviest d20 book I own.
The book has 12 chapters, 2 adventures, and a large index of assorted info.
The first chapter is on character creation. It's 10 pages. Rolling ability scores and such. Works just like in D&D, only there is one character class. There are several Professions, which are just sets of prepicked skills. There's not one for a bum or a DJ, so making myself would require some work.
The second chapter is on skills. It's 22 pages. It's pretty much the D&D list, minus the fantasy ones, plus several modern ones, mostly ones also found in Dragonstar and/or Weird Wars. Also just for this game: Cthulhu Mythos and Psychoanalysis. Like the D&D PHB, there are several sample DCs given for each skill.
The third chapter is on feats. It's 8 pages. Nothing exciting, though it seems to borrow my idea of replicating martial arts by having a feat that allows the character to do physical damage fighting unarmed. It only does d3 - my system increased the damage (like a monk) when taken multiple times.
There are also Psychic Feats. These let a character become a psychic. Unlike the ones you see on TV (Miss Cleo and that Johnathan Edwards guy), characters with psychic feats are actually psychic. The psychic feats are: Sensitive (the initial one), Biofeedback trance, Remote Viewing, Dowsing, Mind Reading, Mind Problem, Psychokinesis, Psychometry, Second Sight, Telepathy, Scamming the Gullible.
The fourth chapter is on Sanity. This is something new to d20, though if you are familiar with the original CoC, the mechamics are pretty much unchanged. Besides the mechanics themselves, there's a great deal of info on various psychiatric disorders and their treatment. It's 12 pages.
Chapter 5 is on combat. Again, it's pretty much like D&D. But for those not familiar with D&D combat, it gives a full (but short) example of combat. The most interesting difference/addition is how it handles firearms. It's very very confusing, actually. It involves a rather large chart full of numbers. The chart also seems to be broken, because it only goes up to a Base Attack Bonus of 10/ 5, while characters taking the offense option can go up to 15/ 10/ 5. It's 34 pages.
Chapter 6 is on equipment. It's 26 pages. A variety of equipment is mentioned, mostly on tables, but a fairly lengthy discussion of firearms (and a wide variety of them). Most of the chapter is actually on guns. It has prices for both the 1920s and the 2000s, but the emphasis is on modern day.
The gun section is quite nice. It gives background on a couple dozen guns, and stats for several dozen. Gun damage seems based purely on round size, not kinetic energy (though not always), and so is perhaps somewhat flawed.
Pistol damage ranges from 1d4 for a .22 short to 2d10 for .50 AE round. My favorite handgun caliber, the .357 magnum checks in at 2d6.
Similarly, rifle damage ranges from 2d6 to 2d12. This is where I think some of the problem damages are. For instance, the M-16 only does 2d6 damage, the same as a AK-47. Yet it's widely considered that the Nato 5.56 round, while smaller than that of the AK-47, is much more damaging, because it's fired much faster (and thus packs a lot of kinetic energy). But it's something gun nuts like me worry about and few others.
Chapter 7 is on magic. It's 34 pages. As mentioned, spell casting in CoC d20 is slightly different from regular d20, in that spells cause ability damage (temporary) and sanity to cast. No spell slots or anything. But otherwise it's similar. There's a large number of spells introduced, mostly ones converted from regular CoC, but also some converted from regular d20.
Chapter 8 is on monsters and critters. It's 50 pages. It seems to have most the big name monsters from the Cthulhu mythos. Mi-Gi, Byakhee, Deep Ones (I swear, I used to know someone that might have been one of those. Had that "Innsmouth" look), Elder Things, Hounds of Tindalos. Also a couple new ones, such as the Shoggoth Lord and maybe the Star Vampire. For those using Green Ronin's Freeport, there's an entry for Serpent People (and Yig, later on).
Chapter 9 is on the Cthulhu Mythos itself. It's 14 pages. This could have been longer, I think. And might have made more sense if it were before the chapter on critters.
Chapters 10-12 are all on gamesmastering. They are devoted to how to run the game (setting the tone, etc), scenario design, and such. All together they run about 44 pages.
The first adventure is 12 pages. It's set in modern day, and revolves around a fiendish plot involving a movie theater, a monkey, and duct tape. Well, just the former. I didn't like this one much. It's an almost scooby doo-ish adventure.
The second adventure is also 12 pages. It's set in a sanitarium. It seems one of the player characters is having sleep problems, and so checks into a clinic for help. But much to his dismay, there is a fiendish plot at the clinic. This adventure is pretty good.
The appendix is something of a grab bag of stuff, and runs about 36 pages in length. The first 5 pages or so are on using this book and material in a D&D campaign (or vice-versa). Since CoC is 95% compatible with regular d20/D&D, it's not a very long section.
Next is a big section on the various god-like beings of the Cthulhu mythos. Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlthothep, Yog-Sothoth, David Hasselhoff, Chaugnar, Yig, etc, they're all in here. Most are illustrated. They're given in D&D style format, actually.
After that is a short (1 page) conversion guide for the BRP and d20 versions of CoC (BRP and d20 are extremely close, mechanic wise), and an inspirational reading list. There's also a page of sample characters (4), and a fairly detailed index.
This is an excellent product, and a very good conversion of a BRP game to Call of Cthulhu. How I wish Mr. Tynes and Mr. Cook had done the conversion of Dragon Lords of Melnibone (as a side effect of Chaosium's bungled effort on that product, they apparently now have cancelled one of their support modules). They manage to make the game extremely lethal, yet keep the compatibility with D&D/d20.
Another nice thing, is that it's essentially compatible with the d20 version of Deadlands, and with Weird Wars: WW2. Weapon damages are a bit different in those games, and those have classes, but they're still extremely compatible. It's also perhaps nice to have classes from those to use in Call of Cthulhu, because I personally think that some people should have more hit points than others, depending on their profession. Soldiers, Police, Operatives, etc, at least.
I do think the gun combat rules are a bit dodgy, so I just use the ones from Deadlands d20 (which are also used in Weird Wars/Dragonstar). But that is the only real flaw in this book.
Considering how much money I paid for this, and that I don't feel ripped off, and actually feel happy with my purchase, I think this deserves the highest rating. It's got some flaws, like an overly complex and somewhat flawed firearm combat system. But for the most part, it was a great job.
BRP vs. d20 Comparison
It's been a while since I owned the regular (BRP) Call of Cthulhu, I used to be into it about 10-12 years ago, but I managed to lose all my books for it (which was a lot of them). Long story. But basically, rather than start over from scratch re-collecting them, I just moved on to other games, as it would have cost me $100s to replace (which I didn't have).
BRP and d20 are very similar on a lot of things. The stats are mostly the same, with Appearance replacing Charisma and Power replacing Wisdom. BRP also has a size stat, which is averaged with a character's constitution to determine a character's hit points. Both games use the same Sanity system.
The combat system is the main difference. Since BRP's hit points are fixed, it's combat has both attack and defense skills. Side A attacks , and if successful, Side B makes a defensive roll - either parry or dodge. And if the roll is made, it's a miss. d20 combat is pretty much offense only. If you roll to hit and are successful, you do damage. d20 characters tend to have more hit points, but only at higher levels. So combat for d20 CoC is actually more deadly than BRP CoC until about 3rd level, because d20 characters get hit more often (since their AC is generally pretty low. Especially in the 1920's era, where body armor is non-existent).
Though the skill system is basically the same, mathmatically, I think the d20 system, in which the target number is fixed and much be equaled or exceeded, is more intuitive than the BRP system, in which a character has to roll under this skill level, modified (sometimes) by a difficulty modifier. Especially when you factor in d20's diceless skill mechanics - taking 10 and taking 20.
On the other hand, the core BRP Call of Cthulhu book seems to cover more ground, time wise. Though mostly on the 1920s, it also covers the 1890s and 1990s (at least in later editions. The early ones were 1920s only, with sourcebooks for the two other time periods). d20 CoC mostly covers the 2000s, with another sourcebook for the 20s for it coming from Chaosium (which I'll believe when I see, given their track record).
BRP Call of Cthulhu also seems to have more mythos critters and gods than d20 does. Though I can't swear it, I think d20 CoC is missing some of the more obscure gods and such. d20 CoC also has much fewer mythos books listed in it (ones that the PCs read). The major ones are listed, but I think they missing a lot of the minor ones.
d20 CoC seems to make magic a bit more costly than in BRP CoC. BRP CoC spells only cost magic points to cast, with the occasional permanent draining of POW (The Power stat, which is fairly easy to regain). This is perhaps fitting the genre more. d20 CoC also adds psychic powers, which BRP CoC doesn't have (at least the version I used to have didn't). I'm not sure about those. They seem to add flavor, but might be a bit too powerful. For instance, Psychokinesis has so many potential uses that aren't obvious at first glance, but something a devious person could exploit.