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Are you a new Keeper? Here's some options!

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If you are a new Keeper to Call of Cthulhu, whether a veteran role-player or new to the hobby, you may be wondering what the "tiers" of engagement are for the game. Here is my view of what I recommend at different levels. There is a lot of experience on this board, so CoC vets, please feel free to chime in.

Also remember that if you purchase any of these products directly from Chaosium.com, you get the PDF for free with your purchase. Chaosium is really good at packing boxes so it will stay safe.

What should I get first?

Whether a veteran role-player or new to the hobby, you should pick up the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. It contains everything you need to get started, plus more. You'll get dice, the basic rules of the game, a solo adventure to help you to start prepping character creation, three scenarios, handouts, character sheets, pre-generated characters and more.

If you want to see what's inside, here is my Unboxing of the Starter Set:

Veteran role-players may say: "Why should I get a Starter Set? Starter Sets are dumb and not useful." Chaosium is reinventing the Starter Set for the role-playing hobby, in my opinion. This isn't like Starter Sets you've seen for other large RPGs that shall remain unnamed, with a lot of flash and little substance. This Starter Set has depth. The scenarios are all classic scenarios, but with two key changes: 1) the production values and art have been upgraded tremendously and 2) the writing has been massaged to progressively teach Keepers and players how Call of Cthulhu "works" as they play through these scenarios.

Two key differences between Call of Cthulhu and other role-playing games are that CoC is investigation-focused, not combat-focused. That means that even experienced role-players are going to find something new with this game. Rather than "gearing up" for an encounter you "knowledge up" in CoC. This also means that CoC is a handout/clue-focused game in which players are handed papers and objects that add to the immersion. The Starter Set includes models of what this is like so you, as Keeper, whether veteran or new, can see what the "prep" looks like for this game. There is more prep than most role-playing games, but that prep is VERY rewarding when you see players reacting to the immersion.

What scenarios will help me continue beyond the Starter Set?

 I recommend these two scenario collections as being excellent for new Keepers: Deadlight and Other Dark Turns and Gateways to Terror

If you only have one Keeper and one player, the one-to-one scenario collection Does Love Forgive? is tailored to you.

Doors to Darkness is also designed for new players and Keepers. These scenarios work well as is for new Keepers, and experienced Gamemasters will see opportunities to flesh them out even more.

Ok, we played and really enjoyed it! What next?

The Keeper Rulebook, for sure. This is the Core ruleset, and will also give you a very rich introduction into the Mythos, how it works, and what your players could encounter (or try to avoid!).

The Keeper Screen Pack is another great resource that is also a good value. A solid Keeper screen, two scenarios, a gorgeous map of Arkham, plus more.

I'd also recommend that you check out Seth Skorkowsky's YouTube Channel. Seth is, I think it is fair to say, the preeminent Call of Cthulhu YouTuber. He has an 11 Part series walking you through the rules of the game, with tips on how to make them "pop" for your players.

Also CJ Leung's videos on How To Play are excellent!

After that?

Well, that's up to you! By that time I think you'll be developing your own tastes of what you like. Explore Chaosium.com and see what's available.

The beauty of Call of Cthulhu is that there is nearly 40 years worth of material to draw from. Everything produced in the past for CoC is compatible with 7th edition with very little conversion time. This game isn't about stats so much as characters and situations. Out of this huge past catalogue, I think a solid intermediate scenario collection is Mansions of Madness.  It also just got the first part of a 7th edition release! Mansion of Madness Volume 1: Behind Closed Doors.

One of the great challenges of Keeping any role-playing game is how critical the use of description is to immerse players. The Malleus Monstrorum is indeed great as a collection of Cosmic Terror monsters and deities. But I'm going to recommend it here because it contains some great advice about how to provide evocative descriptions to your players. Doing your best with those descriptions can really make or break your ability to help your players get into the terror and squirm in their seats.

Check out licensees like New Comet Games and Golden Goblin Press. Check out Seth Skorkowsky's Channel or Bud's RPG Review, or Dethstrok9, or my Channel (RPG Imaginings) for more product unboxings, scenario reviews, product overviews and Keeping advice.

Daniel Harm's The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is an invaluable resource for Keepers wanting to understand the lore of the Mythos better. 

There are also two major Podcasts with an incredible backlog of tips for running the game: The Good Friends of Jackson Elias Podcast, and The Miskatonic University Podcast. Both have major authors/designers of Call of Cthulhu as hosts.

Most of all, feel free to ask questions here. We would love to help you get started!

Edited by klecser
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That is all fantastic and solid advice. I would also add a couple of other resources, the Miskatonic University Podcast, and the Good Friends of Jackson Elias Podcast.  

Each of these excellent podcasts discus ways to run your Call of Cthulhu games. If I don't mind saying so myself, each podcast is hosted by a roundtable of guys with years of experience running Call of Cthulhu. They're witty, sarcastic, and imaginative. I think fans of the Call of Cthulhu RPG greatly enjoy both podcasts. 

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Or maybe you can go on Ebay and just pick up an old 5th Edition copy of the rules (or even older) for about £20 and maybe some of the older scenarios or campaigns for about the same price and away you go. There is no need to buy all of the new recently released stuff from Chaosium. You will soon get the hang of the rules. There is tons of stuff out there. Some about 40 years old but it is great stuff.

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On 5/8/2019 at 11:38 AM, JonHook said:

That is all fantastic and solid advice. I would also add a couple of other resources, the Miskatonic University Podcast, and the Good Friends of Jackson Elias Podcast.  

Each of these excellent podcasts discus ways to run your Call of Cthulhu games. If I don't mind saying so myself, each podcast is hosted by a roundtable of guys with years of experience running Call of Cthulhu. They're witty, sarcastic, and imaginative. I think fans of the Call of Cthulhu RPG greatly enjoy both podcasts. 

If they posted transcripts it might be of use.  Podcasts have pretty much ended a lot of games up where i play.  getting spare time to game is rough, spending valuable time listening to people talk on the off chance they drop a nugget of useful info is a no go these days. 

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1 hour ago, Spence said:

If they posted transcripts it might be of use.  Podcasts have pretty much ended a lot of games up where i play.  getting spare time to game is rough, spending valuable time listening to people talk on the off chance they drop a nugget of useful info is a no go these days. 

Sorry to hear that, Spence. 

As one of the co-hosts of The Miskatonic University Podcast, I can attest that publishing transcripts is not possible, since ours is not a scripted show. 

Should you discover time in your day to listen to entertaining audio media while you're relaxing or doing some other task that doesn't require your full attention, then I hope you rediscover the fun of RPG podcasts. 

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On 5/13/2019 at 1:25 PM, JonHook said:

Sorry to hear that, Spence. 

As one of the co-hosts of The Miskatonic University Podcast, I can attest that publishing transcripts is not possible, since ours is not a scripted show. 

Should you discover time in your day to listen to entertaining audio media while you're relaxing or doing some other task that doesn't require your full attention, then I hope you rediscover the fun of RPG podcasts. 

It's possible.  Maybe once I retire and suddenly have spare time measured in hours 😜

For me I want to usable information that I can read in 5 minutes or so.  What products are in the pipe and when do they expect to hit the shelf.

With the love affair with pod-casts no one appears to be able to succinctly impart information anymore.  

Now I am not in anyway saying that people should not watch or like pod-casts. They are entertainment.  Do you like the show?  The only difference between a pod-cast, a TV show or a movie is what the watcher finds interesting and what they are willing to spend 30 to 90 minutes of their free time to see it.   But if you like the show, then watch/listen to it. More power to the people that are pod-people. 

 

 

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I find myself that podcasts are easier to fit into my schedule than YouTube channels -- I only have a short commute to work, and a bit of workout/running to let me eat chocolate like I used to, so I listen to podcasts during that time. In comparison, YouTube channels require your full attention. But there are also written-word feeds you can follow if that's more your jam -- I follow some filtered version of RPG.net and ENworld news, and receive the newsletters/follow the official blog feeds from Chaosium and other usual suspects (Pelgrane Press, Arc Dream, etc.).

Back to the OP, I think another good book people might buy pretty soon after the Starter Kit and Core Rules book is the Pulp Cthulhu book. I've seen people get into Cthulhu with the wrong idea: they thought you could create characters with magic powers from the get go, or they didn't think it would be as hopeless and bleak (expecting action/horror instead of cosmic horror for instance). I think the Pulp Cthulhu sourcebook lets non-HPL/cosmic-horror fans still have tentacle-rich fun, and that's probably an option they need to know about early on.

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On 5/11/2019 at 6:38 PM, Eddy said:

Or maybe you can go on Ebay and just pick up an old 5th Edition copy of the rules (or even older) for about £20

Normally I'd agree with this. I have a fifth edition rules set and have played a lot of CoC over the years. I've never seen the need to upgrade as basically in my mind versions 1-6 are the same. However this changed when I watched Mike Mason, one of the 7ed authors run a game on Penny Arcade: 

It was great, as the game unfolded the 7ed rules looked better and better! So I got the CoC Starter set and ran the first adventure last night with two players. The rule book is very small, but has all the needed stuff. The new rules really changed the way the game was played, % characteristics, regular, half and fifth rolls, when you fail a roll you can push if you want - do a re-roll with a consequence, and there are now bonus and penalty dice if needed. The only thing that annoyed me was that the new luck rules aren't in the Starter set (I don't have the full 7ed rulebook) the new luck rules were the first thing that caught my attention in the video.

Disclaimer - I work for Chaosium and know Mike. That aside as a gamer I was really impressed with the show, the Starter set and the 7ed rules.

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Yeah I have only GM'ed one short adventure with the 7ed rules so far, but it's the first time ever that I feel CoC has a "proper" system. Before, I would usually use a different system, with house-rules for making sanity rules feel "CoC-y". But now, with 7ed's better combat system, better fleshed out magic system, and all kinds of other tweaks, I actually want to use the rules as written.

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On 5/22/2019 at 8:43 AM, lordabdul said:

Yeah I have only GM'ed one short adventure with the 7ed rules so far, but it's the first time ever that I feel CoC has a "proper" system. Before, I would usually use a different system, with house-rules for making sanity rules feel "CoC-y". But now, with 7ed's better combat system, better fleshed out magic system, and all kinds of other tweaks, I actually want to use the rules as written.

While I won't say 7th is the first time I thought CoC worked since I have played it on and off for years since 1st Ed.  I will say I was very very pleased with the changes that 7th added.  I won't say it "fixed" anything, but I will say it definitely "smoothed over the last rough spots".

 

I also like Pulp being broken out into its own book.  Though I do think people still misunderstand what CoC Pulp is when compared to "Action Pulp".  I have read a lot of pulp era horror/mystery/thriller pulp stories, and they are not Indiana Jones.....

 

And Down Darker Trails is just Awesomeness incarnate 😁

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Truly wonderful advice! 

 But I have one thing to add. No matter if your a Keeper or a Investigator, the one thing all role-players need is imagination. At the end of the day, statistics aside, all RPGs are collaborative narrative exercises and you need to understand how a story or character works. One should discover all the richness of storytelling first, then purchase all the rulebooks and supplements. Learn about character arc and the three act story, solid backstory and world building, and anything else you can! Life is short, don't waste it on a sub-par role-playing experience. Actually read ALL of Lovecraft's available fiction. Learn about the three stages of horror.

 After you have learned the basics of story development, you should move on with the starter set and the Keeper Rulebook. This is the best RPG system I've ever played, and there's no way you can go wrong with these products. Also, unlike wizards of the coast and hasbro, Chaosium actually cares about their customers and is a company I am proud to support. "We are all us."

 

 

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Edit: Updated to switch PDF Links of above to physical product. Added PDF of 7th Edition Mansions of Madness Volume 1, since I explicitly mentioned the prior iteration as a solid intermediate scenario collection. :)

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Big Edit adding a lot of different resources. Daniel Harm's Encyclopedia, references to Good Friends and MU Podcasts, and Malleus Monstrorum as a great resource for how to play creatures.

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On 5/11/2019 at 1:38 PM, Eddy said:

Or maybe you can go on Ebay and just pick up an old 5th Edition copy of the rules (or even older) for about £20 and maybe some of the older scenarios or campaigns for about the same price and away you go. There is no need to buy all of the new recently released stuff from Chaosium. You will soon get the hang of the rules. There is tons of stuff out there. Some about 40 years old but it is great stuff.

Inspired by this message I propose a different approach, which I find more reasonable. Why? If you sum up the prices of just pdfs of the books mentioned by klecser in the first post (I ignore "After that?" paragraph and use current DriveThruRPG values) you get $88. If you constrain yourself just to pdfs of the Starter Set and the Rulebook you get around $38. Probably in the USA it is a fair price, but people in poorer countries might not be able to spend that much on their hobby. Especially, not knowing much about the game, not sure if they will like it after all, if they can find interested players, if the official adventures suit their style of playing etc. etc.

So, to those who ask themself "Do I really have to spend so much, if I am just starting my adventure with CoC?" I tell: do not despair! There is a light of hope shining on the horizon!

My approach requires $0 from you:

  • Download and read Quick-Start Rules. There are all the rules you need for the start and one classic scenario. You can also watch an introduction by Don't Stop Thinking on YouTube.
  • Download free solo adventure Alone Against the Flames. Play it through once, to get a flavour of the rules.
  • Find one friend that wants to play with you. Before playing with larger group, try one-on-one sessions in more controllable conditions. Start with the scenario from the Quick-Start Rules booklet.
  • If you like the mood, story, rules etc. and want to play more, try another one-on-one scenarios from this excellent free collection: Monophobia.
  • If you are ready, gather a larger group of friends and run some of the free one-shot adventures by Chaosium: Scritch Scratch ot The Lightless Beacon. There is also a free adventure by students of the Taylor University: Refractions of Glasston.
  • If have not already, read some of the Lovecraft's fiction stories, which can be found at The H.P. Lovecraft Archive. If you feel capable, adapt some of the stories to RPG scenarios, and play them with your friends.*

I think this is what you need as a New Keeper. Going through this list will entertain you for several weeks, during which you can decide if you want more or not. Do not trust anyone who says that you need to spend money to start playing a game that requires just... imagination. However, if you enjoy it, I encourage you to buy the Rulebook and other supplements from Chaosium.

*How to make a scenario out of Lovecraft's story? Here is an example algorithm for lazy folk (for free!):

  • Read the story.
  • Identify the mystery/ problem.
  • Identify a set of information that was crucial to solve the problem.
  • Identify a set information that served as a hint to solution, but was not crucial. Assign some skill rolls to the process of obtaining them.
  • Identify who is the investigator (main character(s)). Your players will take his/ her/ their role.
  • What pushed the investigator to solve the mystery? This will be a role-playing hook for your players.
  • The rest of the characters are NPC. Copy their descriptions from the story. Divide information about the problem between them.
  • Prepare handouts, put some information there as well. Was there some handout description in the story (of a book, journal, letter)? If yes, just copy it.
  • Identify the locations, copy their descriptions from the book. They will serve as a stage for your scenario.
  • Identify the main events of the story. Divide them into two groups: those that happen irrespectively from the investigators, and those that can be altered by the investigators. This will build a rough time frame of the scenario.
  • Use stats for NPC and monsters from the free sources that I mentioned above.
Edited by Tranquillitas Ordinis
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5 minutes ago, Tranquillitas Ordinis said:

Do not trust anyone who says that you need to spend money to start playing a game that requires just... imagination.

I mean, Klecser made a very useful tool for newer Keepers which could be helpful, but I know what you mean.

Aside from that, awesome collection of resources! Yes indeed you can play with just the free stuff, and have fun while you do so:)

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27 minutes ago, Tranquillitas Ordinis said:

Inspired by this message I propose a different approach, which I find more reasonable. Why? If you sum up the prices of just pdfs of the books mentioned by klecser in the first post (I ignore "After that?" paragraph and use current DriveThruRPG values) you get $88. If you constrain yourself just to pdfs of the Starter Set and the Rulebook you get around $38. Probably in the USA it is a fair price, but people in poorer countries might not be able to spend that much on their hobby. Especially, not knowing much about the game, not sure if they will like it after all, if they can find interested players, if the official adventures suit their style of playing etc. etc.

I respect the fact that you are contributing free options. Everyone's financial situation is different and it is up to anyone to decide how much they are willing to spend on role-playing games. I think that it is worth mentioning that this is the official message board of a game company. Game companies have to make money to survive. They don't sell product, the game doesn't grow. My goal in creating this post was two-fold: 1) As an information resource to help prospective Keepers. I think it does this. Note that I suggest several free resources as well. and 2) To showcase some of the products available for sale that, as an experienced gamer, I think could be useful to people. 

You seem to be making the argument that I'm being disingenuous in making a bunch of suggestions for people. I am not saying to buy all these things.  The post starts with "Pick up the Starter Set." The PDF costs 10 USD and the physical product is 25 USD. I then follow with a variety of options. I'm trusting the reader to make some informed judgments on their own. 

I recognize that you also may be interpreting the word "need" literally.  I'm using "need" in a very casual way here. When I talk to gamers they ask "What do I need?" and I suggest several options to them.  

Edited by klecser
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1 hour ago, klecser said:

I recognize that you also may be interpreting the word "need" literally.  I'm using "need" in a very casual way here. When I talk to gamers they ask "What do I need?" and I suggest several options to them.  

Dear klecser,

My message was not intended to offend/ accuse anyone, and especially not to assign any wicked intentions to you. I apologize. I indeed took word "need" literally, assigned a negative logical value to the statement "You need those things..." and replied with a counter-suggestion. There are several reasons why I think this statement is false, but I suppose this is not a good place to discuss that. I think the word "need" should be replaced by something else. I think the claim: "Do not trust anyone who says that you need to spend money to start playing a game that requires just imagination" is true, also for several reasons, but now I also see that it could have been understood as an emanation of malice. I apologize again, I will send you a longer private message, and I wish you a good day.

 

Edited by Tranquillitas Ordinis

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Hi, I saw there was a thread with any errata updates on some of the products. Do you guys know if the physical products are updated in regards to this?

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2 hours ago, Fred said:

Hi, I saw there was a thread with any errata updates on some of the products. Do you guys know if the physical products are updated in regards to this?

They are, they get reprinted and updated.

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On 7/19/2020 at 2:22 AM, Dethstrok9 said:

They are, they get reprinted and updated.

Thanks. Is there anywhere where one can see/follow when they have updated a physical product?

I hope they update the core rule books, and the bigger products fairly often (thinking once a year) like Masks and the Grimoire, which have quite long lists with errors but still should be easy to correct. But it doesn’t seem that it happens often at all from the errata thread. 

Edited by Fred

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@Fred every book has an errata/corrections thread. I don't think that there is an announcement whenever there is an update. Like most errata documents, the last date of update is listed.

I reorganized the original post to put some short scenario collections right after the Starter. This includes the addition of "Does Love Forgive?" one-to-one scenarios. I haven't read them yet, but they were released with the Polish version so I expect that they'll be good. I think being explicit about a one-to-one option is important here for people trying to find any way to play. Folks in rural areas or who are very busy with jobs/family frequently seek out one-to-one play options.

Edited by klecser
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