When I started my recent Call of Cthulhu campaign I had every intention, as a good old-school curmudgeon, of sticking with my second edition rule book. That resolution didn't last very long. My curiosity quickly got the better of me; I cracked under the strain and bought the current sixth edition rules.
'New editions' have come to be a euphemism for 'completely unrelated game system bearing the same name' such as Wizards of the Coast regards them, or 'marketing tool to force people to buy the same game every four years' such as Games Workshop regards them. It was refreshing and reassuring, therefore, to see that Call of Cthulhu has changed little over the past three decades and the sixth edition resembles the first edition so closely that the adventures for each are fully compatible.
The various editions of Call of Cthulhu have not changed the game so much as refined, elaborated upon, and expanded it. It's the same game I've loved for decades, but with more spells, more weapons, and more creatures. The skill list has been consolidated: zoology and botany have been replaced by biology, and where once there were two separate skills for reading and speaking a foreign language, you can now do both with a single skill rating. Finally, there are now rules, skills, and equipment for running games in 1890's, 1920's, or modern settings. So the sixth edition rules are the culmination of more than three decades of excellence in Lovecraftian role play.
It is also, unfortunately, a badly laid-out, disorganized mess. The book's designer indulged in an orgy of excess. The heading fonts are overly-elaborate and difficult to read, a condition which is exacerbated by embellishing them with drop-shadows. The text is too small, and is often underlain by watermark images including, Nodens save me, latin text that makes reading the book a torturous ordeal. Especially bad are the 'spot rules' side-bars which consist of white text printed in a miniscule font on a black background. And then, just because the page isn't already busy enough, it is further embellished with faux burn marks along the margins and between the columns. My poor aging eyes were bleeding after five minutes. By the time I was done reading it I'd failed two consecutive SAN checks was gibbering madly.
The material is also very badly organized, making it very difficult to look things up even with the help of the index. The insanity rules, for example are spread throughout the book instead of contained within a single chapter. It would be ironic, but not surprising, if the insanity rules actually drove some Keeper insane.
I took sixth edition out for a spin at my last session and several times failed, after five minutes of fruitless searching, to find a given rule. I then picked up my second edition rules and found what I needed in less than ten seconds. Every time.
So, in a nutshell, Call of Cthulhu, sixth edition, is an excellent rule system flawed by incredibly poor design choices that make the book an absolute nightmare to read and use. I'm glad to have the new rules, but hiring Abdul Alhazred to do the layout probably wasn't the wisest choice. Hopefully, the forthcoming seventh edition will be designed to be read and used as a game book should be.
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"