Call of Cthulhu is easily one of my most favorite roleplaying games. Top 3 without a doubt. So in this article, I wanted to provide a step-by-step look at the Call of Cthulhu character creation process for 7th edition.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play the game with its original author Sandy Petersen and with Chaosium’s Lynne Hardy, the Associate Editor for the Call of Cthulhu line.
Hopefully, I can inspire you as well to try and face Lovecraftian horrors on your way to the inevitable bouts of madness.
Below I will provide you with the different steps you take during the character creation process. I will also add an actual example of me creating a character so you can easily follow along.
Let’s start the Call of Cthulhu character creation process!
Before you create your character
While the game is often played in the 1920s, the era in which Lovecraft wrote his horrifying tales, there are actually quite a number of settings in which you can play Call of Cthulhu.
You can play the game all the way from the Roman Era, through the Middle Ages, up to modern times, and even in the future.
It’s therefore important to check with your Keeper of Arcane Lore which setting you’ll be playing in, in order to prepare a representative character for the chosen era.
It’s also always a good idea to talk to the other players and see what their ideas are for the characters they want to play.
While technically it’s perfectly possible to play a game of Call of Cthulhu with a group of 4 mountain climbers, a more well-rounded selection of skills is probably welcome.
The Call of Cthulhu Investigator Handbook has a chapter detailing several investigator organizations, providing you and the Keeper with a great aid to finding a common goal for the characters.
This should hopefully help avoid the situation where a dilettante, a hobo, and a tribal member walk into a bar and …
Although if you like a challenge, you are certainly welcome to give that a try too.
Once everyone has a basic concept of what they want to play, we can start rolling dice. The first step in the Call of Cthulhu character creation process: determine characteristics.
Valerie wants to play Call of Cthulhu for the first time. She asks Keeper Ralph in which era the game will take place. Ralph tells her they will play in the classic era of the 1920s.
The other players are Koen and Steven. Steven would love to play a gritty and tough private investigator while Koen prefers an older gentleman, probably a professor.
Valerie has no clue yet about all the professions and decides to let the character creation process spark her creativity.
There are actually several different ways to determine the characteristics of your character. I will first highlight the main way that is used in the Investigator Handbook, and then provide a quick overview of some alternatives/optional rules.
In Call of Cthulhu your character has 8 characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Appearance, Intelligence, Power, Education. Additionally the character will also have a Luck score.
For most of these characteristics, 50 is considered an average score. For example, the strength of an average human being is 50.
Let’s take a look at them one by one.
The strength score determines your character’s physical strength. A high score in strength could result in a damage bonus for hand-to-hand combat.
Strength is determined by rolling 3D6 (3 six-sided dice). Multiply the result by 5 and you have your strength characteristic.
The constitution score determines your overall health and resistance to diseases or poisons. Your constitution score also affects the number of hit points your character has.
Roll 3D6 and multiply the result by 5 to gain your constitution characteristic.
Your size score is a representation of your height and weight. Size will impact your hit points and possible damage bonus.
For your size characteristic you roll 2D6+6 and multiply the result by 5.
Dexterity is your nimbleness and agility. The higher your dexterity score, the earlier you can act during combat.
Roll 3D6 and multiply the result by 5 to get your dexterity characteristic.
Your appearance characteristic is not just your looks. It also includes your personality.
For your appearance characteristic you roll 3D6 and multiply the result by 5.
Intelligence represents your memory and analytical skills. Your intelligence score is used to determine the number of skill points that are available for your personal interests. Its value also equals your Idea score.
To determine your intelligence characteristic, roll 2D6+6 and multiply the result by 5.
Power is used to determine your willpower. Your power characteristic also equals your sanity score. On top of that, it’s useful for casting or resisting magical spells.
Your power characteristic is gained by rolling 3D6 and multiplying the result by 5.
Education measures your formal education. It differs from intelligence in that it determines your factual knowledge, while intelligence governs the usage of that knowledge.
Your education score is used to determine your occupational skill points and your know score. Roll 2D6+6 and multiply the result by 5 to get your education characteristic.
Let’s be honest, if you’re facing Mythos creatures, you might need some luck here and there. To get out of hairy situations you can use a luck roll.
To determine its score, you roll 3D6 and multiply the result by 5.
Valerie rolls the dice and comes up with the following results:
- STR: 50
- CON: 50
- SIZ: 40
- DEX: 40
- APP: 60
- INT: 75
- POW: 70
- EDU: 80
- LUCK: 70
Looking at the results of her rolls, Valerie notices that her physical characteristics are mostly average. Her character will shine however when it comes to her mental characteristics.
She’s thinking of a studious character, perhaps one of the first female professors at Miskatonic University. “They have a restricted collection of books, right?”, she asks. Keeper Ralph just nods and smiles.
Alternative ways of generating characteristics
Page 58 of the Call of Cthulhu Investigator Handbook provides 5 optional rules. These are basically other ways to generate the characteristics.
The first one is to scrap the dice rolls and start again. Now this may seem super obvious to some of us, but believe me, it’s good that it’s literally printed in the book.
Another option is to modify the low rolls by rolling an extra 1D6.
In the original method Valerie used above, the rolls are linked to the characteristics in order. A third optional way is to roll all the dice first, and then to decide which roll goes to which characteristic.
There’s also a point buy method to generate your scores by dividing 460 points amongst the 8 characteristics.
Finally there’s the Quick Fire Method as described in the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Quick-Start rules. In this method you allocate the scores 40, 50, 50, 50, 60, 60, 70, and 80 to the different characteristics.
Check with your Keeper which method they prefer to use and move on to the next step.
Aging your character
The Call of Cthulhu character creation rules give you the option to age your character.
Remember that 70-year old professor you dreamed of playing?
Depending on the age you choose you will get to make a number of improvement checks for your Education characteristic.
It does however also mean that the older you start, the more points you’ll have to deduct from you physical characteristics like Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Appearance.
After all, the chances of your 70-year old dream character outrunning that Byakhee are quite slim. Although to be fair, that might be the case for your 20-year old character as well.
Valerie decides that her character will be 31 years old.
That means she can make 1 improvement roll for her Education characteristic and will suffer no penalties to her physical stats.
She rolls a 33 which is below her EDU score, so no adjustments are made.
“At 31, even in high heels, I’ll be outrunning that Beakie-thing”, she exclaims.
The characteristics that you rolled in the first step of the Call of Cthulhu character creation process will determine a number of derived attributes.
Sanity & Magic points
Your Sanity Points are equal to your Power characteristic score and your Magic Points equal your POW score divided by 5.
Your Hit Points are determined by adding together your CON and SIZ scores and then dividing them by 10. Fractions are being rounded down.
Damage Bonus & Build
Exceptionally strong characters might get a damage bonus in melee combat.
Add your STR and SIZ scores together and consult Table 1 on page 48 of the Investigator Handbook to find the result for your damage bonus and build.
Your movement rate determines how many yards or meters you can move in a single round. To determine the movement rate, check the following:
- DEX and STR < SIZ : Movement Rate 7
- DEX or STR >= SIZ : Movement Rate 8
- DEX and STR > SIZ : Movement Rate 9
If you have aged your character in one of the previous steps, you might need to deduct points from your Movement Rate.
Your Dodge score starts are half your DEX score. It is a skill however, so you can increase your Dodge score by spending skill points in the Skills section of the character creation process.
Valerie’s POW characteristic is 70 so she starts with a very healthy dose of 70 Sanity Points. This also means she starts the game with 14 Magic Points.
“No more running in high heels”, she says, as she makes a few arcane gestures with her hands.
Her smile quickly vanishes though, as she realizes her character will start the game with a mere 9 hit points.
A score of 90 doesn’t provide her any damage bonus or build modifier.
Comparing her DEX of 40 and her STR of 50 with her SIZ of 40, we can determine that the movement rate of her character will be 8.
Her Dodge skill starts off at 20 points.
Valerie is curious about all the other skills in the game and wonders if a 1 in 5 chance to dodge will save her (and her high heels).
Choosing an occupation
Chapter 4 of the Investigator Handbook details all the different occupations you can choose from.
The book details a list of over 100 occupations. Occupations like Journalist or Dilettante are indicated as ‘Lovecraftian’ as these occupations often appear in Lovecraft’s stories.
Others like the Alienist occupation is categorized as ‘Classic’, meaning that it’s only available in the 1920s period. Same goes for occupations like the Hacker which obviously is in the ‘Modern’ category.
Each occupation comes with a brief description, a number of Occupation Skill Points, a Credit Rating, Suggested Contacts, and 8 skills that define the occupation.
“There’s so much to choose from!”, Valerie pouts.
She makes a list of occupations that appeal to her: Antiquarian, Antique Dealer, Book Dealer, Librarian, Occultist, or Professor.
As Koen indicates he would like to play a professor, Valerie removes that option from the list.
Continuing on her character’s studious nature and her own love for books, in the end she chooses the Book Dealer.
She feels the Librarian is just working for an institution and she would like her character to be an independant woman that has her own business.
Having a book shop would also allow her to ‘filter out’ the occult-themed books for her personal collection.
As a Book Dealer her Occupation Skill Points equal 4 times her EDU score, so 320.
These points she can allocate to the following skills: Accounting, Appraise, Drive Auto, History, Library Use, Own Language, Other Language, and one interpersonal skill (Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate, Persuade).
Her Credit Rating will be between 20-40.
The Book Dealer occupation gives her a few suggested contacts such as bibliographers, book dealers, libraries and universities, and clients.
This gives Valerie the option to link her character to Koen’s professor, being a possible university contact. Perhaps Koen’s professor has asked her to track down a certain book.
“Does the book’s name end in -omicon?”, she asks.
Once your occupation has been chosen, it’s time for the next step in the Call of Cthulhu character creation process.
Let’s determine how many Occupation and Personal Interest Skill Points you have.
For most occupations the Occupation Skills are determined by a multiple of the EDU characteristic. Some occupations however, also add in other characteristics.
You can now divide your occupation skill points to the 8 skills that define your occupation.
The number of Personal Interest Skill Points is determined by doubling your INT characteristic.
These points can be assigned to any skills you want.
A few pointers I would like to add:
- Check with your Keeper if you can just total all the skill points together and then allocate them to the various skills, or if they want you to keep the occupation and personal interest skills separate.
- Check with your Keeper if they have a maximum number of skill points that can be allocated to a single skill, in mind. Some Keepers might not want a starting character to have a skill of 95% for example.
- Try to have the allocation of skill points make sense for the character you would like to play. There should be a REALLY GOOD explanation why your librarian has the Demolitions skill, or 80% in Firearms.
- Don’t forget to add skill points to your Credit Rating skill, and if needed, to your Dodge skill.
Using the Quickfire Method
The Quickfire Method was introduced in the Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start rules supplement and is repeated in the Investigator Handbook as an optional rule.
To use the Quickfire Method you allocate the following values to the 8 Occupation Skills and the Credit Rating skill: one at 70%, two at 60%, three at 50%, and three at 40%. For occupation skills you ignore the skill base value when assigning these percentages.
For your Personal Interest Skills you choose 4 non-occupation skills and add 20% to them. For personal interest skills you add the 20% to the skill base value.
Valerie’s character will have 320 Occupation Skill Points and 150 Personal Interest Points. As Keeper Ralph is a stickler for the rules (ahem), she will allocate the skill points separately.
Valerie decides to start allocating the Occupation Skill Points first:
- Accounting: Base 5 + 35 points = 40%
- Appraise: Base 5 + 50 points = 55%
- Credit Rating: 40 points = 40%
- Drive Auto: Base 20 = 20%
- History: Base 5 + 50 points = 55%
- Library Use: Base 20 + 50 points = 70%
- Own Language: Base 80 (EDU)
- Other Language (Latin): Base 1 + 50 points = 51%
- Persuade: Base 10 + 45 points = 55%
Going with the independent woman angle, Valerie decides that her character will have at the very least a basic knowledge of accounting to understand as much as possible of her business finances.
As a book dealer she wants to be capable at appraising rare tomes and maxes out her credit rating as she wants to be known as a reputable seller.
Her studious nature has given her a pretty good understanding of history and of course library use will be her ace in the hole skill.
As Valerie teaches Latin in her day job, she decides to have her character be fluent in the language as well.
Being a woman entrepreneur in the 1920s, she learned the hard way that being persuasive is a golden skill to have.
She then continues allocating her Personal Interest Skill Points.
- Art (Singing): Base 5 + 45 points = 50%
- Listen: Base 25 + 10 points = 35%
- Occult: Base 5 + 60 points = 65%
- Spot Hidden: Base 25 + 25 points = 50%
Valerie decides to divide the remaining 10 skill points between Appraise and Persuade to bring both of those skills to 60%
As a singer in a metal band, she decides to pour more of her own qualities into her character. Inspired by Mamie and Bessie Smith she decides that her character will be a competent blues and jazz singer.
Seeing how she has been obsessed with the arcane part of the game during the whole character creation process, she decides that a thorough knowledge of the occult is required.
Creating your character’s backstory
Once we’ve completed all the previous steps, it’s time to fill in the details.
Pick a name for your character and fill in the personal details at the top left of the character sheet.
If you’re wondering about period specific names, the Investigator Handbook has you covered with a handy table on page 54. Pick one you like, or roll a random result if you are more daring.
On the back of the character sheet you will find room for a personal description, an ideology, significant people, meaningful locations, treasured possessions, and traits.
Use these to further detail your character’s background and behaviours. If you get stuck, you can always consult the tables for each section in the Investigator Handbook.
You might have a strong feeling already on how you want to portray your character. Adding these details will help flesh them out.
The daring among you that rolled their names randomly, might want to leave these details up to a random roll as well.
It can make for a nice challenge to roleplay a character that is far removed from your own personal tastes.
Being the daring metal singer she is, Valerie decides to go for a random name. She rolls on the table in the Investigator Handbook and ends up with Claudia Kasper.
That name has quite a nice ring to it so she decides to keep it. It’s a great stage name as well should she decide to go after a singing career.
She fills in the rest of the details on the front of the character sheet. As the game will take place in Boston, she decides she’s a resident. She grew up in Mississippi though.
When it comes to the back of the character sheet, Valerie will mix random rolls on certain tables with her own input in areas in which she has a clear view of the character.
Claudia is a bookish, smart, independent entrepreneur.
The best protection any woman can have is courage.
Here Valerie decides to roll on the tables and gets ‘A non-player character in the game’ and ‘A feeling of regret’.
Keeper Ralph and Valerie talk it over and decide that Claudia grew up in Mississippi in her grandmother’s care. She ran away from home to move to the ‘big city’ and has never returned to her roots.
Claudia deeply regrets cutting all ties with her family but is too ashamed to go back. She wants to ‘make it’ first so she can return with her head held high.
Without a doubt this is Claudia’s Classics, the bookstore she owns.
After some Google magic, Valerie comes up with ‘All six volumes of a History of Woman Suffrage which are prominently displayed in her shop’.
Allergic to being told she can’t do something.
When he reads this, Keeper Ralph smiles and says “Maybe we should just name your character Valerie?”.
Key Backstory Connections
Then it’s time to tie it all together.
Keeper Ralph, Koen, Steven, and Valerie talk about the different possibilities with regards of their characters and come up with the following connection:
Several books on the study of the occult have gone missing from Boston University’s library.
The university has enlisted the help of Enoch Heminger, a local private eye played by Steven.
Koen’s character is Douglas Fillman a professor of anthropology at the university of Boston, and a regular customer at Claudia’s Classics
He has asked Claudia to be on the lookout for these books as the thief might try to fence the stolen books in her shop.
Your character portrait
When it comes to finding a picture for your character there are a number of ways that I like to use:
- A google search for 1920s + your chosen profession
- Pinterest has great lists as well
- Rolling Boxcars has a great overview of yearbook pictures
- And of course the british library has a veritable goldmine of resources on flickr which happen to include loads of portraits.
Valerie’s Google magic also came up with the perfect picture for her character.
Equipping your character
The final step in the Call of Cthulhu character creation process is determining your cash, assets, and equipment.
For your cash and assets you can refer to the table on page 57 of the Investigator Handbook.
Equipment can be found from page 238 onward. There’s a veritable plethora of items from clothing and personal care to shotguns.
With her Credit Rating of 40, Claudia will have an average living standard. She will be able to spend $10 a day without requiring any record keeping.
Her available cash will be twice her Credit Rating, so $80. Her assets will be 50 times her Credit Rating, so $2.000. These assets are mainly tied up in her business.
When it comes to equipment, Keeper Ralph goes with the ‘Reasonable and Logical’ approach. This means characters can own things that are required for their professions or hobbies without having to meticulously record every single item.
Optional character creation rules
On top of the optional methods of character creation that have been mentioned so far, the Investigator Handbook highlights two more at the end of the ‘Creating Investigators’ chapter.
Capped starting skill values
This optional rule coincides with a note I made earlier about checking with your Keeper if there’s a limit to the skill level of a starting investigator.
The Investigator Handbook then discusses Experience Packages that can be used to create an investigator that had some sort of career, prior to hunting down Byakhee in high heels.
The experience packages that are available are:
- War, for investigators who served in the first World War;
- Police, for investigators who have served on or retired from the police force;
- Organized Crime, for investigators with a bit of a shady past;
- Medical, for investigators that have spent time in the medical world;
- Mythos, for investigators who might have had some brushes with unspeakable horrors in the past.
Each of these packages comes with age requirements, skill and/or characteristic increases or decreases, possible scar and phobias, and more.
Call of Cthulhu Resources
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