Starting Down the Path of Madness
Fear the Unknown
I was first introduced to this game in 2019 through Critical Role's Taliesin Jaffe acting as the Keeper of Arcane Lore for "Shadow of the Crystal Palace." I watched the video the day it was posted on YouTube and the next day I was off to the local gaming shop (The Gamers Den) to buy my own starter box set for 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu. It was love at first unboxing.
What is Call of Cthulhu you may ask?
Call of Cthulhu is a tabletop game that is based on Lovecraftian horror where your sanity is played with along with your investigators skills. This game is based on percentile dice rolls and strong role-playing skills.
The starter set is a tool that allows you to see whether you like being a keeper or investigator. It gives you all of the basic tools and rules needed without spending a lot of money (in the off chance that Cthulhu is not your thing).
What's in the Box?
The Starter Set comes with a bunch of goodies to help anyone (keeper or player) learn how to play Call of Cthulhu. This box comes with the following:
Three booklets- one that is an introductory adventure that can be played without the need of a Keeper; the second has all the introductory rules and important things you need to know about how to play the game (without purchasing the hefty Keeper Rulebook or Investigators Handbook); the third has three scenarios that can be run with a small group of friends to play Call of Cthulhu.
A booklet of Handouts from the three scenarios that can be used as props while playing the game
Five Pre-Made character sheets to help you run your first games
Blank investigator sheets so you and friends can make your own characters to run
Dice- there is one set of dice to be used in your game (side note: the pretty green dice shown on the cover and inside sheet was not what was in the box. I got a grey set of dice inside)
Bringing the Game to Life: Props
The Starter Set comes with a packet of all the handouts that are used within the three scenarios of Book Three. This book made it easy to make copies that could be cut out and given to the investigators at the proper times. Props can vary from maps, pictures and documents, along with other things necessary to help your investigators be successful. Sometimes you can add additional props to what the scenarios give to you.
When I was running the starter set scenarios I added other props to the table such as candles, the mystery brown powder and the ritual supplies for Edge of Darkness. Music is another great addition to bring ambiance. Youtube is a great resource to find music from the 1920's (or which ever setting your are playing your game). I personally enjoy the recordings that include the gramophone sounds in the tracks.
Bringing Your Own Flare
Hand outs and props are an amazing way to take your game to the next level and add your own personal flair. I will admit that a lot of time and research went into what types of props I could use to make Edge of Darkness the best I could make it. Sometimes handwritten letters bring more personalization than the printed versions, or if there is a book/manual mentioned in the scenario having a printed version for the investigators to hold is more memorable.
I made a handout to help keep track of all the things that happen in the ritual for The Edge of Darkness. If you would like to view it or make a copy of your own click here.
Places such as DriveThruRPG.com, dmsguild.com and Cthulhu Reborn are also great resources to see what other Keepers have made for props and handouts.
My Experience with the Starter Set
I had a very good experience with the Starter Box Set. First I ran myself through "Book One- Alone Against the Flames" three times. Each time you play you can have a different outcome based on which investigator you use, how the dice treat you, and the actions you choose from the pick your own adventure sections. The first time I ran myself through it I died pretty quickly in a terrible way mostly due to a majority of failed rolls on my part. The second time I made it farther but still died. The third time was me goofing around to see what happens when I don't listen to my gut and I made it the farthest and had the best dice rolls.
After reading through Book One and the Rules of Book Two I knew I wanted to be a Keeper. Messaged some friends and a month later (we had a session zero for character building in between) we started playing through Book Three's Scenarios. Paper Chase was a very good starting scenario to get players used to the mechanics of Call of Cthulhu. It was 17 pages of a missing persons case with a twist. I liked how it had a lot of friendly notes for beginning keepers on what types of skill rolls can be used in each of the situations. There were a variety of places the investigators could explore but it wasn't an overwhelming amount. There was Sanity rolls that were made and even an intro to the fighting/dodge mechanics. Overall my players and I enjoyed learning through this scenario. There was even a good learning curve for my players on not pushing their push rolls (one of my players almost died from failing rolls running down a flight of stairs). Only one investigator by the end needed medical help for their sanity.
Scenario Two: Edge of Darkness was our second session with the group. It was a longer scenario and this time I went to Good Will prior to gaming to pick up props for the game. In the 31 pages a lot happens with plenty of handouts and many avenues to research. This was the scenario where I used the things I talked about above in Bringing Your Own Flair.
Scenario Three: Dead Man Stomp. One thing I loved about this one is that there are a lot of different topics that are covered in this small scenario. This one in particular focuses on racism (Black, Jewish and Irish), Jim Crow, and a mob run area during the Harlem Renaissance. All of this combined with giving players an intro to a big part of Eldritch Mythos: Nyarlathotep.
Who Are You?
I really like that the starter set giving the pre made character sheets. For first time players it is great to have something pre-made so all focus can be on learning the rules and playing the game.
When you are ready to jump into playing your own investigator there are a few things to consider when making a player character. In Book Two: Introductory Rules on page 7 it talks about making a character. You can allocate numbers into the investigators characteristic slots, picking from 40, 50, 50, 50, 60, 60, 70, and 80. The other way is rolling your statistics using your dice.
The other factors that makes your investigator unique is their occupations and skills. You can also make a backstory that can tie all of those pieces together to make your investigator 100% special to you.
I would highly recommend the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set as a great resource for players and keepers alike who are learning how to play Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. Not only do you get three scenarios to play, the introductory rulebook is a great boon to have no matter where you are in playing Call of Cthulhu.
The top two reasons why I recommend the starter set is 1. It's a good price for lots of resources and 2. It is an excellent intro into Call of Cthulhu for newbies entirely and those learning 7th edition.