Call of Cthulhu 7 is finding its way into letterboxes all over the world. Not mine yet, but that's what you get for failing to even be aware of one of the largest Kickstarters in RPGs ever.
Still, I've been inspired to sign up for the Chaosium organised play and see what happens. The more people playing Call of Cthulhu the better.
Why is that?
Well I'm pleased you asked! I hope you’re sitting comfortably.
In original RPGs your character was less of a character and more of "piece" you moved about the place. They represented your interests in the game but were not characters as we see them now. They weren't, in general, extensions of yourself that you could get emotionally attached to. You might feel sad at their loss but only in the same way that you might if your team lost game seven of the Stanley Cup.
For the better, games in the early nineties, like those from White Wolf began directing people's attention inwards to really focus on a character’s personal arc. This sort of investment in backstory brought a welcome facet to RPGs. However, dealing with one of these characters dying, even mechanically, could not be dealt with in the same way as just re-rolling the fighter that got killed by a giant rat in the first passageway.
A consequence of this was that GMs had to either change their style to accommodate interactions that were less lethal or tell stories that had limited deadly interactions. I mean, I guess they didn’t “have” to but consider this…
In these games a player spends a whole lot of time, hours rather than minutes, rolling up and then fleshing out a character. As a GM you’ve encouraged this, at the very least by offering to run a game which encourages it, but maybe even by entering into email/play by post back-story development and integration. Once this has all been done, it would then take a pretty special kind of player to be okay with a character they’d developed in this way getting killed by a metaphorical giant rat in the metaphorical first passageway.
This isn’t me railing against letting the dice play their part, I’m all for it, but I believe there’s a social contract that should be honoured.
This brings me to Call of Cthulhu.
Unlike other RPGs, except, perhaps Paranoia, everyone knows that once a Call of Cthulhu game begins, nobody is getting out “alive”. Just playing the game means you’ve accepted that your character is going to die, go mad, or both. That is tremendously liberating. Players willingly embrace the downward spiral in a way they rarely do with games like Vampire.
It’s the necessity of accepting your character’s mortality, and then looking for the most interesting, entertaining, and fulfilling choices, rather than the safest, that makes Call of Cthulhu the most important roleplaying game written.