Grognard Reactions

Proposed changes to 7th edition Call of Cthulhu rules has upset a few people. Hardly surprising given the RPG Site members’ strong D&D interest and negative reaction to 4e.

Before I’d listened to the podcast I was in two minds about the changes. Does changing the system change the game? Some people definitely feel System Does Matter, and to those people making sweeping changes to an iconic RPG property they’ve loved for 30 years will feel like betrayal. Also there have been Cthulhu adaptations to other systems, so no real need for Chaosium to cater to an audience that wants to play Cthulhu differently.

On the other hand, no game survives in its original form. And although the new authors have dared to streamline some of the rules, the changes are no more significant than those found between Runequest and Stormbringer editions. Change in Cthulhu is long overdue, and the changes are backwards compatibile. Is it a big deal?

Some of this fear – and I do mean fear – comes from brand dilution. This is what has happened with the reboots of D&D, WFRP, and the World of Darkness. In all cases they drew (mostly unfavourable) comparison with the incumbent product from brand loyalists. And it’s the loyalists who care about the change. The brand agnostics won’t care because they own a ton of games already; the new rules might attract them, but since they know little about the game’s previous incarnations they’re unlikely to get excited about differences. They’ll buy on the strength of the game premise, which probably hasn’t changed much: and if it didn’t appeal to them twenty years ago, will a lick of paint and some new Hit Points rules change their mind?

Making a statement that your new version of a cherished title involves major changes does one thing: it forces your customer base to think about why they play your game. Some of those customers will conclude that they don’t want to buy the new version. That doesn’t make the changes not worthwhile, but it has to factor into Chaosium’s economic decision to make that change.

I hope the changes do happen. They’re benign; from what I heard in the podcast, they’ll do little to change the percentile-feel of CoC while adding a lot of value. Really they feel like a bunch of house rules, polished up to publishing standard. Not bad at all.

The Unspeakable Oath has a nice summary of the changes. One or two bits I don’t care for (expressing INT as a percentage‚Ķ why not just have no stats and assume average performance where no skill applies, the way FATE does?) but overall some very playable changes. But for the record I did the negative HP thing, and the variable levels of success (half skill, one-fifth skill, etc) several years ago in Elric of Rlyeh.