4-Bit Characters Volume 1 – A Miskatonic Repository Review [Call of Cthulhu]

Four-Bit Characters Volume 1

Author: Aaron Vanek
Publisher: Chaosium [Miskatonic Repository]
Available Format: PDF (DTRPG) – $5

Building non-player characters can be daunting for some. It is easier and quicker to use pre-generated characters instead. Thankfully help is available.

Four-Bit Characters Vol. 1 provides 10 non-player characters mirrored off historical personalities for the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. Two NPCs from the Gaslight era, six from the Classic Era, and two from the Pulp Era. Each one comes in digital PDF fillable formats, black and white, and full-color versions. The black and white character sheets are specifically designed for printing. The color versions are for digital viewing only due to their reliance on infinite characters in document text boxes; content requires scrolling, and hidden text is not printed.

Blank character sheets for each era are also provided in the same formats as the pre-generated. Their text fields are fillable and will calculate derived characteristics similar to the official character sheets produced by Chaosium. The sheets esthetically revive each era’s thematic appearance which Chaosium chose to remove with their widely panned, sterile, Call of Cthulhu 40th Anniversary character sheets. Back are period border flourishment and era themed typefaces, large areas for Sanity, Luck, Magic Points, and Hit Point tracking with numerical tables. Though, without a doubt more appealing, the character sheets do have some faults. The box sizes for Half and Extreme skill values are extremely small. One would need a precision writing utensil and excellent dexterity to write in their values with any legibility. Even if added digitally through the sheets onboard calculations, the type size is no larger than 6 point type.

The historical personalities provided are as follows:

Gaslight era (the 1880s)

    • Ida Tarbell – American writer and investigative journalist for McClure’s Magazine
    • Granville Woods – The first African American mechanical and electrical engineer (post Civil War) and inventor

Classic era (the 1920s)

    • Wilfrid Voynich – Polish revolutionary, antiquarian, and bibliophile
    • Mildred Mathias – American botanist
    • Sonia Greene Lovecraft – American pulp fiction writer, amateur publisher, businesswoman, and former wife of H.P. Lovecraft
    • William “Pussyfoot” Johnson – American Prohibition advocate and law enforcement officer
    • Bashford Dean – American zoologist and expert in medieval and modern armor
    • Hiram Bingham III – American academic, explorer, and politician

Pulp Cthulhu (the 1930s)

    • Bessie Coleman – American civil aviator
    • Richard Halliburton – American travel writer and Adventurer

On the backs of each are investigator hooks, personal descriptions outlining degrees, awards, associations, accomplishments in addition to the standard character background information found on the official Call of Cthulhu character sheet. They are ready to use with one exception. Their luck values are left empty for the keeper to fill in. Additional historical material for each personality is provided in the introduction PDF in the form of reprinted newspaper clippings, photographs, and other related material. The introduction PDF also included an essay on The Spanish Flu and about incorporating it into a campaign.

Final Thoughts

If time is of the essence or creating NPC is too much work, products like this are a great resource. Four-Bit Characters Vol. 1’s NPCs are ready to use straight of the box. Each is a separate file which makes digitally passing them to players convenient but a hassle on their initial download; 27 individual files. They are designed to work with Adobe Acrobat, just like the Chaosium version. Using another PDF reader might cause the added functionality of the PDF not to operate as intended. The three-era specific blank character sheets are more appealing than Chaosium’s current offering, which is bereft of flavor. Players may opt to use these NPC characters in place of their own investigators; however, I must preface that at least one character features a skill below the standard investigator level. Another possesses a specialized write-in skill that will most likely go unused—often found with some NPCs. At the cost of $5, it’s a low buy-in at 4-bits—fifty cents per character (hence the title) to forgo researching and creating your NPCs for your Call of Cthuhlu game.

~Stephen Pennisi

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