Cathulhu: Velvet Paws on Cthulhu’s Trail
“The Cats of Uthar“, H.P. Lovecraft tale about a towns’ cosmic cats, that can jump to the moon and “Felidae” a novel by the German author Akif Pirinçcia about a cat who investigates the brutal murders of other cats in his new neighborhood, inspired Cathulhu the alternative setting for Call of Cthulhu. In this alternative setting, players will notice a bit of a difference in their investigators. First off, they walk on four legs and their bodies are covered in fur. They tend to sleep a lot and spend a good amount of the day grooming themselves. They are always on alert for the sounds of a motor mixed with the scent of fish, chicken or beef, signaling that their “Can Openers” are preparing their meal. Yes, in Cathulhu, players are cats who investigate the strange and unusual.
Cathulhu has gone through many incarnations over the years. It first began as an article called “Katzulhu: Mit Samtpfoten auf Cthulhus Spur” by Ingo Ahrens; originally published in the German-language magazine Pegasus Spiele’s Cthuloide Welten, issue one, in 2001. The article introduced the alternative setting of cat investigators for Call of Cthulhu. In issue two of the same magazine, Ingo expands on Katzulhu. He added different breeds of cats for players to choose from. In 2006 Ingo Ahrens along with Adam Crossingham and Daniel Harms developed Cathulhu, an English-language version using the original Katzulhu which was translated by Bill Walsh. Cathulhu was published in issue four of Worlds of Cthulhu magazine. Along with the original content of Katzulhu, additional material by Julie Walsh was added. The addition of this new material added Sabbat cats, Bast, and the cults that worship the feline god throughout the ages. Three years later in 2009, the original Katzulhu material from both Cthuloide Welten magazine articles was compiled and distributed by Pegasus Spiele on their website. Finally, in 2014, Sixtystone Press reprinted the Cathulhu rules from issue four of Worlds of Cthulhu magazine and is sold at DrivethruRPG. No other Cathulhu material was produced until just recently. Golden Goblin Press earlier this year launched a Kickstarter to produce a collection of Cathulhu scenarios. The Kickstarter met its funding goal and is slated for a 2019 release. It should be noted that Cathulhu was written utilizing the 6th edition Call of Cthulhu rules and will require conversion to run under the current 7th edition ruleset.
As we have already established players take on the persona of cats in Cathulhu. But in addition to a cat’s normal abilities, cat investigators possess an innate ability to understand the human world around them. Some cat investigators go so far as to be able to read the human language and can communicate with their humans. Since sleeping is the number one past-time event of cats they also have the ability to travel to the Dreamlands. Let’s take a moment and look at what makes up a cat investigator.
When creating a cat investigator, players start with rolling their stats in a similar fashion to character creation in Call of Cthulhu, but the amount of dice used is altered to reflect feline statistics. Players will notice the stats are the same to Call of Cthulhu except Sanity (SAN) is now called Sentience (SEN). Sentience is different from Sanity in that it represents the cat’s ability to act and understand the human world around them. When Sentience loss is taken it causes the cat investigator to regress to a more feral state of existence where the inner animal takes control of the cat’s cognitive mind.
Once the ability scores are established the player’s next choice is to decide which breed of cat to play. There are two types of cat a player can play; a common Domestic Shorthair or a Purebred. Purebreds have the advantage and disadvantage of having a special ability and a drawback, where the Shorthair has none. Most cats are the simple Domestic Shorthair which is your common house, alley, and farm cat. The purebreds are separated by the three established eras of Call of Cthulhu: Gaslight, the 1920s, and modern. Each cat investigator possesses two special tricks. A player who chooses the Domestic Shorthair will choose two tricks from a list, while a Purebred is assigned one specific trick with their breed and then they are free to choose their second. Some tricks are bred specific or require a prerequisite. A flow chart is provided and will help the players select the tricks available to them. Tricks are added bonuses to either stat abilities or learned skills.
Now it’s time for players to allocate skill points to their cat investigators. Skill points are similarly calculated like they are in Call of Cthulhu just without the separation of occupation and background point. A single formula is used to determine the number of points available to spend. Cathulhu has its own list of unique skills oriented for the cat investigator. Some of those skills are Dreaming, Hiss, Human Lore, Scent, Scratch, Wash, and more. These and other newly introduced and familiar skills are defined within the Cathulhu rules.
Our cat investigator is shaping up nicely and it’s now time to pick a name. Looking at the top of the character sheet we find our cat investigator has three names: Daily Name, Particular Name, and Secret Name. This trio of names is inspired by a poem by T.S. Eliot called “The Naming of Cats“. In the poem, T.S. Eliot points out that a cat has three names. The daily name which the owner most commonly uses like George or Connie, a second name which is fancier and sweeter sounding and can be only used for a cat, like Munkstrap or Jellylorum, and a third secret name, known only to the cat and no one else.
The final step is to create your cat investigator’s backstory. How many siblings do you have? Favorite place to sleep? Did your “Can Opener” invite a strange bald human in your home named Jackson, who had tattoos up his arms, magnifiers over his eyes, a shaved strip along his cheeks separating his beard from his Mutton Chop Sideburns, carried a guitar case filled with toys that looked like a bird dangling on a string from the end of a telescoping stick, with the plan on training your human? Whatever your home life is like this is the time to flesh it out and let your keeper know.
Now, not every player playing Cathulhu will have first-hand experience in understanding the ways of a cat. For those players, there is a special section called “How to play a Cat”. Just as the title insinuates, it gives these players some insight on what life is like from a cat’s point of view. This section discusses the socialization within cat communities, the very nature of cats, vocal communication and other senses cats utilize, and of course, napping.
The next two section covers additional rules and setting material to use within the game. Some of the subjects covered are Catnip, purchasing additional tricks, attacking in mass, casting spells (the mechanics actually appear earlier in the rules but this section discuss the practicality of casting), and gives your cat investigator the ability to cheat death nine times. There is also a section on conditions for temporary and permanent disorders when your cat investigator goes feral from a large amount of Sentience loss. Lastly, there is a large section on Bast and cats wishing to worship her.
Following the above section is a catalog of creatures to use in Cathulhu scenarios. They range from earthly creatures to Cthuhlu horrors. Each one is statted out and most have a colorful illustration. Finally, we end the rules section with a how to create a Cathulhu scenario. With the setting being so unique, from the point of view of cats, this section is a useful tool in creating further gameplay in the world of Cathulhu.
Finishing up the book is a beginning scenario titled “The Black Cat” for 3-4 Detective with Paws and Claws, written by Ingo Ahren and translated from German by Bill Walsh. It’s long enough for a good one-night session and a good introduction into the setting. After that, there is a bibliography and recommended reading and viewing for inspiration. Lastly ending the rulebook is an appendix covering the History of the Bubastis Cult.
As a Keeper and player of Call of Cthulhu, I find this alternative setting a real breath of fresh air. I have not had a chance to play or run a Cathulhu scenario but by just reading through the pages of this rulebook I can see this will be a fun deviation from my group’s regular Call of Cthulhu sessions. Cathulhu’s rules are easy to follow and integrated well into the 6th edition rules. For those who don’t mind spoilers, Skype of Cthulhu, an actual play podcast recorded their playing through of “The Black Cat”.
The negative side of Cathulhu is the lack of support material. At the back of the rulebook, an ad for “The Cat Army of Uthar: Cats, Uthar, the Moon, the Enchanted Wood and… Zoogs. Lots of Zoogs. ” teases an upcoming release that has yet to be released. No other information is available. Golden Goblin Press will be the first publisher to add support material for the setting.
Are you a Call of Cthulhu players/keeper or cat enthusiasts with a love of Cthulhian horror? If so I highly recommend picking up Sixtystone Press’s Cathulhu, or Katzulhu from Pegasus Spiele for your next game night.
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