Call of Cthulhu Starter Set
I've been wanting to write a review for this for awhile, simply because the thought and practicality that went into it is really impressive. With the Call of Call Starter Set, Chaosium has addressed what I think is a difficult hurdle in the RPG industry: Cost vs. immediacy of use. On average, an RPG core rulebook of any game nowadays is going to run you about $50. You pay that much money, you're probably going to want to play the game pretty soon. Not weeks from now, but as close to now as you can get.
The Call of Cthulhu Starter Set can have you playing the game probably within a week. It's set up to provide the basic rules implemented in the game for both Keepers and players, scenarios to get you started with, and even a solo scenario that provides a practical lesson in how the game works. Pre-generated investigators are provided, as well as dice and blank investigator sheets. Everything you need to get your feet wet is in this box.
Book One: Alone Against the Flames
The Starter Set gets you into learning the game through immersion. The first book in the set is a solo scenario that teaches you the basics of creating a character (Called an "Investigator) throughout the first part of the scenario. You learn how the dice work, what the investigator characteristics mean and how they work, skill usage, what Sanity does, all the basic mechanics to play the game. Everything is taught through using them in the scenario, so by the end of it you can have a good starting knowledge to play an investigator.
The scenario itself is a simple yet fun journey through the small town of Emberhead in New England. It provides a very important lesson regarding Call of Cthulhu beyond game mechanics; how lethal the game can be. I went through three investigators until one of them finally lived to see the sunrise. I also came away with a good grasp of gameplay.
Book Two: Introductory Rules
The introductory rules book is fantastic in laying out the need-to-know rules to play Call of Cthulhu in a structure that can be read within an hour. It's a 22-page booklet covering the premise and inspirations of the game, a deeper understanding of investigator creation you learn in Alone Against the Flames, and how the Call of Cthulhu game system works. Once you and your friends decide who's going to be the game master (also called a "Keeper") and who are going to be the players, this book has everything you will all need to start.
Book Three: Paper Chase and Other Adventures
Once you learn the rules, you're going to want to use them. The Starter Set comes with three scenarios tailored to to different group sizes. Paper Chase is a one-on-one scenario between a Keeper and a single investigator that can be played in 2-3 hours, perfect for a night's entertainment.
Paper Chase revolves around a young man who inherited his uncle's house discovers that someone is breaking in and stealing his uncle's books, and it's up to the investigator to find out who is doing it and why. It seems like a simple burglary case, but can prove to be a glimpse into the dark world the game revolves around.
Once you're familiar with the scenario, Paper Chase is a fantastic way to introduce friends to the game with little preparation. I've ran my girlfriend through it once then another friend to teach them what the game is about. It's disturbing with low chances of death while still leaving the investigator creeped out and probably very entertained at the end.
The second scenario, Edge of Darkness, is a longer scenario for two to five investigators that can take up to three play sessions to get through. The investigators learn that a friend of theirs had an incredibly misspent youth, and he asks them on his death bed to rectify his mistakes. Various horrors, one of them being truly insanity-inspiring, await them. It's a good one for getting you into them habit of looking forward to the next game night.
The third and final scenario, Dead Man Stomp, is jazz-fueled horror in 1920s Harlem. Call of Cthulhu is a game that has scenarios for many different time periods; the Dark Ages, the Wild West, modern day, and even the far-flung future. The majority of scenarios and campaigns available for Call of Cthulhu, however, take place in the 1920s. This scenario deals with the actual horror of racism, and gives an opportunity to explore and confront that horror in a potentially enlightening way.
If you and your friends want to play quickly but don't want to bother with rolling up your own investigators just yet, the Starter Set comes with five different pre-generated, diverse investigators that can be used right away. All of them are well-balanced and interesting, complete with backstories that easily get you into the role-playing spirit.
Personal tip: Lois Russo, the Engineering Student, is a complete badass. She is downright scary in her capabilities. A friend of mine used her in her first game and wound up taking out a Serpent Person with a switchblade knife with one stab. She's scary.
Blank Character Sheets
When you or other players are ready to create your own investigators, there are blank investigator sheets for you to use. When you run out (And if you get into the game trust me, you will run out.) You can download more for free from the Chaosium website.
One of the fun parts of Call of Cthulhu are the notes, maps, and letters that you find along the way to help piece together the mystery behind whatever unspeakable horror you're moving towards. Handouts are included for Edge of Darkness and Dead Man Stomp that the players can examine and reference as they play the scenarios. The handouts are a valuable tool in the scenarios, as they can be referenced again and again throughout gameplay, quite often resulting in the discovery of new clues that weren't there a minute ago. Call of Cthulhu is both a horror and an investigative game. Piecing together the mystery is one of the tasks of the investigators quite frequently. The handouts provide great tools towards that end.
The Starter Set comes with a full set of the dice you will need to play Call of Cthulhu. If you get bitten by the bug to continue playing, you and your friends will probably want to buy your own sets. In the meantime, these are provided to be shared.
All in all, the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set is a beautifully put together, carefully thought out collection that allows people interested in the game to learn the game easily and relatively quickly. Priced at under $25, it is a relatively inexpensive way to learn what can quite easily become a new hobby for you and your friends, as well as a proven way to make new friends. If Call of Cthulhu interests you, this is currently the best investment you can make.