http://tabletalkrpg.tumblr.com/post/64145352825/table-talk-dare-you-heed-the-call-of-catthulhu For the original link. Now to share the review itself.
“Through all this horror my cat stalked unperturbed. Once I saw him monstrously perched atop a mountain of bones and wondered at the secrets that might lie behind his yellow eyes.” – H. P. Lovecraft
Halloween is coming. Let’s review something spooky. Well, at least somewhat spooky.
As many of you know, Howard Phillip Lovecraft is a very well known horror writer from the early 20th century. He was also a fairly bigotted douche who pretty much hated anyone who wasn’t English or a cat. And no, the cat part wasn’t a joke. The man was actually quite fond of cats, even though he evidently saw nothing wrong with naming his favorite black cat after a Racial Slur Which I Shall Not Name. (Oh how I WISH I was making this up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rats_in_the_Walls#Literary_significance_and_criticism See here for evidence.)
Anyways, Lovecraft’s stories of the Cthulhu Mythos has long been an inspiration for other writers such as Clive Barker and Stephen King, not for his social attitudes but for his ideas of a genuinely uncaring universe that may or may not be actively malignant, where gods only see humanity in the same light that humanity sees insects. His works also appear to have influenced mainstream media as well, including one episode of Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated where the Scooby Gang investigate a mystery dealing with what’s supposedly an eldritch abomination, or a time when the Justice League took on Icthulhu. For you older video gamers out there, the term “Splatterhouse” might ring a few bells; while not properly Lovecraftian, the games did adopt elements from Lovecraft’s work before it became trendy. Newer gamers might recognize semi-obscure titles like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The thing here is, Lovecraft has been very influential to both horror and to mass entertainment.
For many tabletop gamers, our introduction has been with the very first Horror themed role playing game, Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. One man, Joel Sparks of Faster Monkey Games, has created a variant game that mixes cats with the Cthulhu Mythos for parody purposes. This game is called Call of Catthulhu.
Well, variant would not be the right term. The sixth edition of Call of Cthulhu is 320 pages, with 80 of those pages dedicated to describing a simple yet comprehensive and detailed rules system itself and almost everything else being reference material. Call of Catthulhu, on the other hand, is a 28 page PDF (with an option to also buy a print edition) counting the covers, with a rules system that is hardly there at all.
Well, it’s time we stop pussyfooting around and dive into the game. Get on your paws and take an Elder sign in your mouth, because we’re venturing into a world of terror and possibly some comedy from a feline perspective in Call of Catthulhu! As the book says, “Mia! Mia! Catthulhu ffft-hackin!”
Call of Catthulhu is a 28 page PDF, but you can also purchase the book version (which I do not yet have, but in a couple of weeks, I will have a printed copy by mail, along with another physical book of another game that I may review soonish), counting the outside and inside covers. The PDF’s dimensions seem to suggest that it might be a digest-sized manual with dimensions befitting a normal book (save for its length in pages) as opposed to the 8 ½ by 11 inch pages of most RPG manuals. The physical book looks like it will have 24 pages, not counting the covers. The front cover depicts what looks to be a cat’s front half, and the back half is made up of tentacles, a classic sign of Lovecraftian monstrosity. (Fun trivia fact: Many of Lovecraft’s monsters share characteristics of aquatic life, and this is believed to be a consequence of his own quite severe seafood allergies.) I suspect this kitty is the Great Catthulhu or any other feline abomination you may conceive of. The author refers to it as an Octopussy in the acknowledgments.
To go by the back cover blurb, cats are secretly the defenders of humanity. We, the humans, are unaware of the supernatural, transdimensional threats that seek to enslave and deprave us adorable humans and interrupt our all important pattern of feeding, petting and changing the litter for cats.
One participant is called the Cat Herder (that’s the Game Master in most other RPGs. And given my experience in gaming, that’s a fairly good description of what I usually do with my players). All other participants play as cats. Meow. These are not anthropomorphic cats, either. They’re the normal cats we see in our daily lives.
The first think I noticed is that there’s no introduction. The game has some credits and a table of contents which is serviceable, but nothing to explain what a role playing game is and no further detail on the setting yet. Setting stuff is actually spread through the text, however, and it’s probably not anyone’s first RPG, so this is certainly forgivable.
Well, after the table of contents, you actually get a page of quotes. Five of them, in fact. The first and last of which have been used in this review.
And now we get to the first important part. Kitties!
To create a cat, you need to know a few things. First off, what role does your kitty take? There are five roles, as follows:
Catcrobat: This is the athletic, agile cat.
Pussyfoot: Even as an adult, this cat is still as cute as any kitten. This has given the kitty a highly pampered, even spoiled life and expertise in manipulating others.
Scrapper: This rough and tumble kitty is all about brute strength, combat skill and intimidation.
Gratuitous Reminiscence: I actually had a cat like that who once hospitalized a highly aggressive German Shepherd (he believed the dog was threatening to cause harm to my brother and I) and was able to intimidate him since by simply perching on the roof of his doghouse.
Tiger Dreamer: This kitty may be napping a lot, but in his or her dreams, wisdom is found which may help the other cats against such foul things as Mutt-Thra, the Monster Dog or the dreaded Shaggoths.
Twofootologist: This intellectual and curious cat is an expert in how things work for humans, as well as an expert in how simple human devices work.
Next up, you get to choose a cat’s background. Is he a Feral cat with no home at all? Or does she live in a home and chase mice? Or maybe it is a sheltered show cat (but not necessarily a Pussyfoot if you don’t want to be one). Furthermore, how experienced is your cat at hunting?
After that, your cat needs a physical description. First off, you need a breed (Purebreds are more noticable but also more prone to health problems, while Mixed Breeds have a better chance of blending into the crowds and are overall healthier), your cat’s fur (short, long or none? What color?) and your kitty’s eye color. Other characteristics are optional, but help to set up a little extra flavor. After that, your character has been made.
The Powers That Be
As the book says, every story needs bad guys. As such, this chapter is pretty much a bestiary.
First, there is some talk about the Animal Gods.
Cats, the secret rulers of our world and protectors of humanity, have been manipulating us humans into building a society that cats can find comfort in. They worship the god Ptar-Axtlan (The Leopard That Stalks In The Night, The Tiger Father, and The Cat Who Walks By Himself).
Dogs, while friendly to humans, wish to replace cats as the most loved of pets and venerate Mutt’Thra, The Monster Dog, who sounds more in place with the Toho Mythos. ([i]Godzilla Versus Cthulhu[/i] might sound awesome if it weren’t a rip-off of the also awesome [i]Pacific Rim[/i].)
Fish and other sea life plan to change reality as well and worship the shark-like deity Doggone (who is not very popular with the followers of Mutt’Thra for evident reasons).
Frogs and toads want to flood the world until all mountains are reduced to mud, and are the depraved followers of Phatfroggua.
Many creatures of the wild venerate the spirit Snarlathotep of Many Shapes, who has his own villainous plans for the world of humans as well.
And in addition, the door is open to introduce other foul and horrifying gods.
Next up are some of the Cats that have gone bad, and are known as Bad Kitties.
And because this kind of joke is obligatory, given how many video gamers I seem to have attracted to this blog, “Ninjas have kidnapped your humans! Are you a Bad enough Kitty to rescue your humans?”
Anyways, we have the flying fungal Mew-Go from Yuckoth, who live on a horrible world of freezing cold, constant rain and no housing; and like to collect human and feline brains. It’s for various experiments.
Next up is Hastpurr of Catscosa, once a worshipper of Catthulhu, and now a damned spirit worshipped by the depraved and abused with plans to destroy all of humanity and create a civilization by and for cats. Beware his visions of Catscosa, for they are visions of a feline afterlife which subtly imply that you will be better off dead.
After that, we have Shed-Nappurath, the Mother Of A Thousand Kits. The mate of Great Catthulhu and a sickening perversion of the mother cat; with dozens of seeping nipples and massively bloated with litters upon litters of monsters to be born. She may also be the mother of the cat god Ptar-Axtlan. Thankfully, she and Great Catthulhu are known to be VERY heavy sleepers.
Shaggoths are the living hairballs coughed up by Shed-Nappurath, seemingly formless and constantly turning anything they touch into goo. As cats cannot confront them directly, Shaggoths can only be dealt with through clever means.
The Catnip Out Of Space is a toxic influence that seeps through grass and water and comes to Earth via meteorites. It causes cats to lose control of themselves and lose their sanity, eventually taking of with their minds (not the brains, the minds, though it might have a rivalry with the Mew-Go).
The Great Catthulhu is an ancient god whose whiskers can grip better than any human hand or feline jaw, and has no sympathy for any species. He does not want cats to be comfortable, for such comforts are all junk to be swept away, as is any species that opposes him. The good news though is that he’s a heavy sleeper.
The Big Cats, lions, tigers, panthers and the like, seem to not share the Cats goals of a hedonistic society where humans serve them. Some worship Great Catthulhu, while many just don’t care.
There are no stats given for these creatures. For scrapping purposes, it really is the Best Guess of the Cat Herder.
You might get this feeling that cats are somewhat bastard-like, as they basically want us humans to do everything for them. You just might be right. And guess what? The rest of the world is not exactly friendly either. Save for the dogs who still want our attention. Sucks to be us!
So, you might have noticed that nothing about character creation involves actually putting numbers on your character sheet. That’s not an omission on my part. There are no numbers during character creation. How do the rules work with this?
Well, by using logical extrapolation and following a process of four questions to determine how you should resolve something. First, the Cat Herder must assess, based on a player’s justification, if the character is the right cat for the job. Secondly, if it’s dangerous or urgent, then it’s considered a challenge. An appropriate cat can always succeed at a standard challenge, but it takes a roll of 3 or more on a six sided die to succeed for an inappropriate cat, (about 67% chance to succeed). A difficult challenge means an appropriate cat must make the same roll, but an inappropriate cat must roll two dice and score 3+ on BOTH dice to succeed. (This is approximately a 44% chance to succeed.) For a Dire challenge, an appropriate cat must make that same kind of roll, but an inappropriate cat cannot even try without automatically failing.
Dire challenges, by the way, are not there to add excitement, so a Cat Herder should never plan an adventure around them. They actually say that in the rule book.
If one die does not meet that 3+ range, the cat simple fails. If two dice fail (only possible where you roll at two dice), you not only fail, but can get injured or lose one of your nine lives (at the player’s discretion.) Injury means a cat is always inappropriate for the rest of the adventure. Two injuries means the cat is disabled and cannot do anything strenuous for the rest of the adventure. Three is fatal and costs one of the cat’s nine lives.
For opposed actions, the opponent has to roll 1 die and try to cancel one of the cat’s successes.
Scrapping, combat, is a somewhat different matter. Opponents may roll multiple dice if they are sufficiently big or tough. Also, conditions can be inflicted on the loser, such as Cowed (shocked or scared), Dodged (past opponent’s reach), Gripped (grappling) or Injured. There are also rules for multiple opposnents (only once can you inflict a condition, but you can defend as often as you like).
Finally, you have one page describing typical challenges for each role.
You might notice that this system is highly subjective and may, for some gamers, seem utterly unplayable. After all, moreso than any other system I have seen, there’s a lot of guesswork that goes into seeing if you can even try an action. This seems to fit nicely for the Narrative Agenda, however. Not so much for the Competative one, though, as there is pretty much no balancing mechanism in place at all.
This is where you can find information on how cats interact with the world at large. Here, you learn about interactions and about other dimensions. This information is actually pretty vague, and the bestiary does more to provide a look at the cat’s world, but it can give a creative Cat Herder a good place to start.
Following this, there are four pages describing locations and providing adventure seeds. One that’s particularly interesting is called “LOL of Catthulhu,” and it concerns the notion that cat pictures and cat videos on the internet may be putting little holes in our reality that welcome malevolent spirits, or which might quite possibly lead to the birth of a machine god who, as per the Lovecraftian mold of nearly all gods, is quite nasty and has designs that are not convenient for any mortals.
The author states that this game was in part inspired by a note from a similarly themes RPG, Cat, by John Wick (who I will always remember for creating Legend Of The Five Rings, a fantasy RPG inspired by Feudal Japanese history with a few other parts of Asia thrown in as well). Cat, however, was about pet cats protecting their owners from spirits based on human sins like avarice, gluttony or wrath. If you want to swat the bogeyman, play Cat, but if you want to save the world from animal cultists who seek to bring their cruel gods into the world, the you’ll like Call of Catthulhu. And, Joel (the author) even suggests mixing both if you want.
There’s also some acknowledgment of Call of Cthulhu, with an admission to having a different tone, but both games are still meant to be fun. Cthulhu is about expecting to lose, but Catthulhu is geared so that cats win more often.
Then, some thanks to various folks.
Finally, there’s a one page ad for a Kickstarter geared towards creating a Deluxe Edition of Call of Catthulhu, with more gods, more cats, more world information and more adventure.
Frankly, this appears to be the only game with a nearly-nonexistent rules system that seems to actually look like I can make it work, and that alone gives me a bit of a fondness for it. I would say this game is a must have for anyone who loves to play games where there’s little need to interact with the rules. The rules are hardly there, after all. However, if you are the sort of person who feels the need to interact with the rules frequently, you are going to need to look elsewhere. This simply is not a robust-enough game system for anyone who wants a balanced system. Too much guesswork is needed.
If you want to form an opinion for yourself and read it, here’s a link: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/117755/Call-Of-Catthulhu?term=Call+of+Cat
The PDF is currently only $4, which is a bit steep dor what you get in my opinion, but when I purchased it, I’m also getting a print version for a bundle price of $8, not counting the shipping and handling costs.
So, I hope you have a happy Halloween, everyone. And remember: Yay Kitties! Unless you’re allergic, in which case, sorry. Either way, go have some fun. Save the world from imaginary animal cultists and get back home for some nice ear scratchings from your imaginary human. Meow!