Character Concepts in The Call of Cthulhu

I’d like to expand on my Tatters of the King Call of Cthulhu campaign. I’ll be using mostly a cut down version of the BRP Goldbook rules; Basically I’ll be taking all the wound tables out, as the last time I used them the party was maimed and crippled after the first adventure.

The hard part of making a character for the Call of Cthulhu is it doesn’t work if you don’t make a character that obeys genre conventions. Simply put: there is no sane reason why people would ever participate in a CoC adventure. A common complaint is that people make sceptics or other individuals who have no reason to seek out the things which lie beyond the world, then complain when they can’t get their characters involved. So I will put it bluntly; You need to make a character that has a reason to get involved in the adventure. Lovecraft was writing in the 1920s and wasn’t writing modern conflicted heroes. His characters were either thrust into the adventure, too curious for their own good, or obsessively driven to solve a mystery. Don’t rely on the first one; it works sometimes, but often it backfires and leaves a character emotionally uninvolved in the adventure, as they have no real reason for their character not to have simply gone home and had a nice stiff drink and forgotten about the whole mess. Even Lovecraft often had these characters trapped in a situation to force them to resolve the mystery, a situation that only works once.

Some examples of good characters;

  • A Mafia thug who witnessed one of his friends abducted from the docs in his youth; has believed in things beyond his understanding since.
  • An archeologist whom has for years been wondering at the strange trends he has seen across the art of several widely dispersed cultures.
  • An occultist, bent on proving he is right
  • A private detective, who can’t stand by when he sees people in danger.

Basically; Don’t create a shy college student that has no reason to get involved with the adventure. Also don’t create someone only motivated by money; it gets really repetitive having to pay you each time, as CoC assumes characters are already members of the wealthy upper class.

In specific for this adventure I need at least one of the characters to have at least 60% in Psychotherapy or Medicine, preferably both. Additionally, all members must begin the game in London, going to a rather avant-garde play; They can be members of the upper crust of society, going to the allure of the supposedly quite risqué play, or an art critic, or anyone else who would happen to be attending a performance. Once I have some players I’ll write up the rules for character creation.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “It gets really repetitive having to pay you each time…” Haha~ Sooooo true!

    A firm hand is needed at the beginning to really bring about agency, connection, investment, and immersion later. Good call.

    • I’ve tried setting up an agency people can contact in one of my games, but the campaign really hasn’t had any sessions since.

      • Agencies, secret societies, extended families with legacies of action against the Old Ones, and the like are all useful tools (in moderation) for helping players create motivated and internally consistent characters fit for engaging in and persevering through a CoC campaign. My comment was about ‘player agency’ though.

        I meant that giving players strong direction from the beginning about character options and requirements allows them to develop a character with confidence. That confidence can translate into greater immersion in character, greater investment in the character and the setting, and an increased sense of agency as they are more willing to act/interact due to their surer footing in the campaign and in the shoes of their character(s).

        • Interesting idea: Do you have any suggestions on how one would go about it?

          • I have written a few blog posts around the subject, namely on the Generation or Legacy Game style, and on planning for the longevity of a CoC campaign. If you are interested, you could take a look at them. This post ( Come Strange Eons, even Cthulhu Campaigns May Last) includes links to two others on generation games. I have to start work now, but will return to discuss ideas about setting up character options with you later on~

            • In your post you hit the core of what you need to do, in my opinion. When it comes time to sit down with the players, try to embrace the limits you are setting as positives, to support satisfying play and enhance focus, not as punitive measures to prevent them from doing it wrong. Frustration can colour our perspectives when we set up a new game approach in reaction to a less than satisfying one, I find.

              You have a clear idea (Tatters of the King) in mind and so know all the specific skills, resources, connections, and capabilities that it will take for the characters to successfully encounter the environment where that story will take place. What is harder, is helping the characters focus on items of character and outlook which, once they are in the presence of these main story threads, encourage them to move forward toward resolving them, as opposed to walking back out of the story…. without giving away too many clues about what is ahead of them. Again, in your post, you nail a good entry point, I think: The characters need to be someone who would see plays in general, and that play in particular. That aspect of personality has to be as strong a requirement as any of the skills that you have on your list. The second half of that equation is getting them altogether to discuss character relationships and backgrounds which they can draw upon in play to form a bond in-character, bolster each other, and trust each other, as well as to motivate them to seek to protect others, perhaps even sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

              You might want them to identify the depth of heroism they want to have develop in their characters, and work it out as a group for added dramatic overtones. One or two might be willing to go for full-on altruistic sacrifice, while others will need some convincing to overcome their natural fear and do what they know in their heart of hearts is the right thing to do. A good side-effect of this process is that you can outline the degrees of activity which are appropriate for the game. Your lowest level of heroism needs to be the minimum you require to get the tasks the story requires done. Guide the process just by referencing the available options for play.

              If you get a lot of resistance, it is unlikely that they will enjoy the game no matter what sort of character they choose to play.

              • Thank you very much for your advice, it all sounds quite useful for the next time I run a game.

  2. I think creating a character with a good reason to be involved in the adventure is sound advice for any game.

    • True, I just have had far more trouble with it in Call of Cthulhu then any other RPG, since there are no built in rewards to the adventures. In D&D there is typically gold, loot and fame, while in CoC there is madness and a high probability of death. I think this needs a follow up post.

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