Power Attack the Shoggoth

As noted previously, I’m a huge fan of the d20 Call of Cthluhu book. With it, I ran my favorite campaign of all time, and the rules were exactly the level I wanted them. At all levels, PCs were fragile. (In fact, it seemed like the primary motivation from them for leveling up was to regain 1d6 Sanity.) Characters could have roughly identical skill sets and still not feel useless compared to another character. And most of all, the rules buy-in was already taken care of: these were people very familiar with D&D, and that translated very easily for each person to know what their character could do.


The feat selection sucked. Keep in mind this was the early days of d20- even the designers (the book was co-written by Monte Cook) didn’t have as much experience with the ins and outs of the d20 system as they would in years to come. Thus, the feat chapter was lifted almost directly out of the D&D Player’s Handbook, and featured primarily combat feats, with a few new psychic feats thrown in. So every 3 levels, the characters in my d20 CoC game got to pick stuff like Power Attack, despite the fact they never wanted to be in melee.

That game concluded years ago, but the problem stuck with me. That’s why I was eager to get my hands on Shadows of Cthulhu, a new supplement for the d20(ish) system True20. Shadows of Cthulhu adds in all the character stuff to True20 that lets it feel like a Cthulhu RPG. Plenty of backgrounds for Investigators (including some unusual ones, like having a not quite pure bloodline…), additional options, and feats. Just the Benefit feat alone, which lets you gain different social benefits, adds a huge amount to playing an Investigator. And of course, what Cthulhu game would be complete with out Sanity checks? Here, it’s more like a Sanity save, but the idea is still there.

The biggest benefit is the use of True20, which for those who don’t know, is something of a streamlined version of 3.5 era d20, designed as a generic base system not tied to a genre. The classes are purposely generic enough to encompass a variety of concepts (with more showing up in Shadows of Cthulhu). It tosses out a bunch of the D&D-legacy rules to form a better generic and easier to play core system. At its heart, however, it’s still d20. While there will still be a learning curve, it’ll be much easier to explain how to play then switching to an entirely new system. There’s just some automatic familiarity among roleplayers when they see Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha on a sheet.

So when I decide to give 4e D&D a rest for a bit, or even if I just want to run a one-shot (I never finished running my d20 version of Kringle in Time, after all), I’ll probably give Shadows of Cthulhu a whirl- possibly grafting on some of the clue mechanics from Trail of Cthulhu on for good measure. There’s never been a better time to drive your players insane.

Want to learn more about Shadows of Cthulhu? Read on…

Drop by RPG Now to pick up your copy today!

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.


  1. My favorite campaign of all time was also a d20 Call of Cthulhu game. It happened years ago, but it is always the one I bring up in conversations about past campaigns. I really enjoyed how most of the rules meshed with how a CoC game is run.

    “My name is Julius Sumner Miller, and physics is my business.”

  2. I JUST recently (two days ago) read the majority of the Shadows of Cthulhu book, and it definitely kick-started my CoC crave again. Now I just need to convince some victims, err, players to give it a try. Maybe even try out the story I framed up that’ll be linked in the CommentLuv.

    Mad Brew´s last post: Tidings of Thule

  3. I have to say that reading through this PDF definitely got me excited to play an investigator WAY more than any other Cthulhu RPG has before. The character backgrounds that they’ve added in to True20 are really inspiring, interesting, and I think add a lot to the character and gameplay that will result from them.

    Hopefully we get to play this sooner rather than later.

  4. Dark Young says:

    I must agree that in CoC d20 there was definitely a lack of quality feats. I know when I played all of my feats went into various skill emphasis or improved save types since that was what the core of the game was played with. While in DnD that was often considered a “waste” of a feat I always found it worthwhile in CoC. It limited my options but I still found them useful. It’ll be interesting to see what Shadows of Cthulhu has brought to the plate in that respect.


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