Character Building

I absolutely love Call of Cthulhu and one of the most important steps of playing is building yourself an investigator. Today I’m going to focus on the 1920’s Era Investigator as it is my go-to Cthulhu setting. Many times when you buy an adventure module, the starter box or other Call of Cthulhu products from Chaosium there will be blank investigator sheets or even a selection of pre-made investigators within the pages for your own use. For example; picking up the booklet “Missed Dues and Blackwater Creek” there are 13 different characters already pre-made that are usable. Before I go into the whole Character building process please know that as a Keeper I view Call of Cthulhu as a high role play game and using a pre-built character is a valid way of engaging in a game. I personally prefer building a character to play but there are lots of pre-made options to get the same playing experience.

There are different character sheets available to help build a character for whichever Cthulhu game you are in. Chaosium Inc. in honor of the 40th aniversary that occurred October ‘21 the company came out with a range of PDF character sheets free to download for their 1920’s standard, Modern & Pulp, 1930’s, Down Darker Trails, Dark Ages, Reign of Terror, Gaslight, Future, Dreamlands, End times, Invictus and Mythic Iceland adventures. Chaosium is also on DriveThruRPG and you can get character sheets from there as well for free. It is one of these character sheets that I personally use to build my characters on when using paper copies, otherwise I enjoy using the PDF off the Chaosium website as it lets you type in your numbers and does some of the math automatically for you. Once you have a character sheet (digital or paper), a pencil, some scratch paper, and dice you’ll be ready to go.

What do I have at the table to build a character:

  • Character Sheet

  • Pencil (and eraser)

  • Scratch paper

  • DICE

Books and Resources I use during the Character Building Process:

  • Call of Cthulhu Investigator Handbook

  • Call of Cthulhu Keeper Rulebook

  • Call of Cthulhu Introductory Rulebook (From the Starter Set box)

  • Call of Cthulhu Quick Start Rules (Download for free:

Before creating a Character:

Think about what type of investigator you want to play in your game. Call of Cthulhu is all about secrets, solving mysteries and trying not to lose your sanity as you come across different horrors. This game is all about role play and playing a character going through the scenario. My word of caution, Call of Cthulhu can be brutal to sanity and combat is usually lethal. Unlike other Table Top Role Playing games, it’s not recommended to get TOO attached to your character as they usually will only last a scenario or two depending on what game you are playing or how tough a keeper you are playing with.

Let's Begin: Characteristics

In the Call of Cthulhu game there are eight main characteristics that appear at the top of your character sheets. Here are what they are and what they mean. Note that some of these attributes have direct correlations to other parts on your character sheet.

STR= Strength is the physical power your character has and the “muscle” ability.

CON= Constitution regards to the health of your character and how durable they are in a fight.

SIZ= Size is just that, the height and weight of the player. This comes into play if there are small holes to crawl through or how big you are vs. the things you are hiding behind.

DEX= Dexterity is the physical agility and speed. Can your character dodge the incoming vehicle, or the tentacle that just came up from the well.

APP= Appearance is based on how well your player looks in their physical appearance.

EDU (know)= Education in the sense of knowledge you have gathered through schooling, formal education, hands on training, etc.

INT (idea)= Intelligence as in logic, intuition and ideas. This for me is does the lightbulb turn on above your players head.

POW= Power is three things combined: your character's strength of will, their spirit and how mentally stable your character is. The amount of sanity points that your player has to start with is equal to your POW statistic. Your magic points available to your investigator is ⅕ your POW value.

Move Rate is also under the characteristics box. Depending on how your keeper works, “All human characters have a move rate of 8” is stated on pg. 7 of the Introductory Rule booklet or you can go to page 49 of the Investigators Handbook to look at that chart. Movement rate is in yards (or meters) and tells you how far your investigator can move in a round (which is up to five times your MOV value in one round). The difference in using the chart for MOV is if your age is above 40 you get penalized and deduct points from your MOV score, otherwise depending on your STR, DEX, and SIZ the investigator has a MOV score between 7 and 9. At my tables I like to make it where my players have that movement rate of 8, as I personally do not like to penalize players based on the age they feel is appropriate for their investigator.

Rolling the Dice...or Not

The way that this fox prefers to allocate numbers is through the rolling of dice. However if the dice are not rolling in your favor you can also allocate the following numbers into the eight characteristics: 40, 50, 50, 50, 60, 60, 70, 80.

Remember, in Call of Cthulhu the numbers that you roll on your dice to see if your action or skill check is a success needs to be equal or lower than the numbers in each of the skill boxes. Higher numbers are more favorable to players as there is less of a chance of failure. I personally let my players roll the dice, and if they roll terribly I still allow them to use these fixed numbers to be used instead.

In call of Cthulhu the percentile dice are king. When you are rolling dice you will want to roll a percentile that is equal to or lower than the number that is in your skill or characteristic boxes. The higher the numbers the easier it is for your investigator to succeed, the lower numbers make it more difficult to succeed. Keep this in mind when going through character building.

Let’s get rolling!

The way that I like to roll is by putting stats together by roll type and then allocating to the different areas. What I mean by this is Strength, Constitution, Appearance and Power all require (3d6)x5 rolls. I roll the (3d6)x5 four times and then place the numbers I create into those for spots. Likewise Size, Dexterity, Education and Intelligence all require (2d6+6)x5 rolls so I do that type of roll 4 times as well and place into the slots I deem fit.

Why do I do this? Call of Cthulhu is a very role play heavy game and as a Keeper I want my players to be able to play a character that they enjoy and can do the skills they want. By rolling the number groupings together I can create a player that is more customized to the investigator role/occupation I had in mind. If I roll 3 low numbers for the (3d6)x5 groupings and one high number, I want to be able to put that number in the spot that I deem most important rather than creating for example a mafia investigator with a high power and low everything else. I would put the high roll in Str or Con.

The way I roll (grouping) is completely optional. Your keeper may ask you to roll each characteristic as they appear on the character sheet. Just make sure to keep track of which stat you are rolling whether it is 3d6 vs 2d6.

Adding Things Together

Hit Points- To figure out how many hit points your character has you will add Size and Constitution together. Taking the number of them added together you divide the total by 10. Remember to round down to the nearest whole number.

Combat Box

On the classic investigators sheet there is a combat box. There you will find Damage Bonus, Build and Dodge. Your dodge is half of your dexterity and is also listed under the investigator skills section. To figure out Damage Bonus you add your strength and size together and consult a table (the table is on pg. 8 of the introductory rules, pg. 7 of the Quickstart rules, and table 1 on pg. 48 of the investigator handbook).

Skills and Occupations

Though player characters are referred to as “investigators” there are so many jobs, occupations and tropes that you can have your character become a part of. Each occupation has a variety of skills that are attached to that occupation. Examples of this are professor gets library use, other language, own language, psychology and four other skills as an academic/personal study; whereas private investigator has skills in art/craft (photography), disguise, low, library use, one interpersonal skill (charm, fast talk, intimidate or persuade), psychology, spot hidden and any one other skill (such as locksmith, fire arms, etc.). The beauty of Call of Cthulhu vs. other ttrpgs is you are not limited to just a selection of a few classes. Any occupation available during your C.O.C scenario setting is available to you. Looking through the list of occupations and not finding something you like, you can create a new occupation or a more specified occupation with your keeper! In the Investigator's Handbook you can find over 110 occupation options in pages 68-93; anything from accountant to zoo keeper.

When looking at each of the different occupations you will find the credit rating, suggestion contacts and eight skills attributed with that occupation. The last bit of important information that is given with each occupation is how many skill points you get. Different occupations have a different way of figuring how many skill points you will get to use. An example of this is an Acrobat gets skill points equal to (Edu x 2) + (Dex x 2) but a Hacker gets points equal to four times their Edu. You use these points to increase the base numbers in parenthesis for your occupation skills and credit rating. You then get a second pool of points to spend of personal skills which is calculated by Int x2, to give you a pool of skill points that you can put into other skills that you want to increase to round out your character or give them flavor.

“Auto Buy”

If you do not want to do point allocations here is the quick and easy list of numbers that you put into your skills list. These numbers you put into the larger of the three boxes next to the skills that you pick in relation to your occupation skills (and credit rating): 70%, 60%, 60%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 40%, 40%, and 40%. These numbers go into the biggest square and does not add the numbers in parenthesis behind the skill names.

Next you then also get to pick four non-occupational skills and boost the base values of the skills (the percentages behind each of the skills) and get to increase the base values for them by 20%. An example of this would be picking jump would put it up to 40% as it has a base value of 20% or picking locksmith could boost it to 21%.

Any skills that you do not put points into you still have the base number that is in parenthesis behind the skill name. This makes many skills hard to be successful completing but it still allows everyone a chance in game to attempt, try and possibly succeed in skills that are not your occupation or personal interest based. Remember that you need to roll your percentile dice to be equal or lower than the number required. Some of the standard percentiles is 1% if you don't add any points to it. Not all investigators have to be good at all skill checks, pick the things that make the most sense for your investigator.

The Fox's Rules on Credit Rating

Credit Rating is something that deems how much money a player has available to them. Rules as written state that a player starts with a Credit Rating of 0 (penniless) and then is determined by the character's chosen profession (for example Gangster Boss has a Credit Rating (CR) of 60-95). Occupational skill points can then be used to build up their characters CR into that range. I personally have a homebrew rule where a player at my table can start with a CR equal to half of their Intelligence Score as a free boost. I am not a fan of making players use a chunk of their precious skill points to boost credit rating out of penniless (unless that is the type of character the player is looking for). After that half Intelligence Score boost, players can then decide whether or not they want to put more points into their CR to boost it farther. Why half their intelligence score? In Call of Cthulhu the "Average" CR is in the range of 10-49. Many of player's intelligence scores will put them into that range to start and in my experience that is good enough for them (only once has players boosted themselves up to wealthy). If using the "Auto-buy" system I do not allow the half-intelligence as they can put a base 40% in that slot instead.

If you would like to read more about skill descriptions you can reference pgs. 10-12 in the Introductory Rules, or pages 96-121 in the Investigators Handbook and pages 56-79 on the Keeper Rulebook. Occupation lists and descriptions can be found in the Investigator Handbook pgs. 68-93. Sample Occupations can also be found in the Keeper Rulebook pgs 40 &41.

Half and Fifth Characteristic Values

At this point, as you are filling in your character sheet you may have noticed that next to each of the big boxes where you have written in your numbers there are also two smaller boxes next to them. These are where you put the half and fifth values. Depending on the skills, tricks or rolls asked for by your keeper there could be situations that are more lethal or challenging to your player. The keeper can call for a Half Value Roll for difficult (Hard roll) tasks or Fifth characteristics when there is a very slim chance ti success (Extreme Roll). Many of the published tools from Chaosium have a quick reference chart for figuring Half and Fifth values [I personally have a scanned copy of pg 23 from the Introductory Rules set in my Keeper binder for quick reference] but you can also grab a calculator and do the math yourself. These values are rounded down as required.

Let’s talk about Luck:

One of the mechanics that I like about Call of Cthulhu is the use of Luck points. Luck points can be spent by an investigator to make a failed roll a success or even used to make a success a critical success. There are also times where a Keeper may ask a player to roll their Luck, and just like a skill you will need to succeed with that number or lower.

Luck is determined by another 3d6 x 5. This number is circled on the character sheet and then depending on how much luck is used, the number can get smaller. More about luck will be able to be found in the mechanic's article. Once it is written it will be hyperlinked here as well.

The Rest of the Sheet

There are a lot of spaces on your character sheet that goes beyond the rolling of dice. Call of Cthulhu is very role-play based as a game and there are many ways that you can make your investigator unique to you. From describing what your person looks like, their ideologies and who is "significant" to them are all things that you the player get to write on your character sheet. If you are at a loss you can roll on some of the many tables for inspiration or things to write down on your character list. There are even percentile charts (pgs. 54 & 55 of the investigator handbook) to help you create period styled names. Backstory things can be completely from your imagination or can also be done in collaboration with your Keeper to give you advantages/ knowledge of the locations of your scenario if you are a local.

Remember, that there are also a ton of pre-made characters in the scenarios as well. If you are looking to see what the scenario thinks is important for a player in that scenario specifically you can look at these for inspiration. Again, there is also no reason for you to not use a pre-made character if that is what feels best for you. Other backstory pieces could be done in a session zero if you are trying to get all of your players connected (as either family members, members of the same society/university or even investigators that survived other scenarios together). Motivation and secret goals can also be fun to give to your investigators to help guide their game play.

Campaign vs. Scenarios

While creating your characters it is also important to figure out whether you are playing in a Call of Cthulhu Campaign that will take many hours and many sessions or if your are playing in a shorter scenario (one / two shot). If you are playing in a long term campaign having intricate backstories that are more tied to the game could be more important. You can work with your keeper to see if there are any people specifically in the campaign that you can add to your "Important People" list that you may have interacted with before. I personally am more careful in my game play if I know my player needs to last numerous sessions. If I'm playing in a scenario where my character will be done at the end of a few hours of game play, I am usually more of a risk taker with pushes and luck rolls because if I die or go insane there is less of a consequence.


Lovecraft, H. P., Petersen, S., Willis, L., Fricker, P., & Mason, M. (2019). Call of Cthulhu: Keeper rulebook. Chaosium.

Petersen, S., Mason, M., Fricker, P., & Willis, L. (2015). Call of Cthulhu: Investigator handbook. Chaosium, Inc.

Lovecraft, H. P., & Mason, M. (2018). Call of Cthulhu: Starter set. Chaosium.

Petersen, S. (2013). Call of Cthulhu: Quick-start rules. Chaosium, Inc.

The game Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition was created and published by Chaosium Inc. This article was made with love in hopes to navigate new players through the complicated process of making a new character so others may also come to love this table top role playing game. Game mechanics all belong to Chaosium.