Heinrich’s Call of Cthulhu Guide to Character Creation
I say it regularly; I am always looking for new and exciting tools to add to my gamer toolbox. Recently, I caught wind of Heinrich’s Call of Cthulhu Guide to Character Creation by way of a Call of Cthulhu Facebook group. Knowing little more than what is available to consumers through the DriveThruRPG page, I took the plunge.
Heinrich’s Call of Cthulhu Guide to Character Creation, hereafter Heinrich’s Guide, is an alternate investigator creation method that provides a rich backstory upon which a player can further build. It takes inspiration from the Central Casting series of books from the late 1980s. Like those earlier books, Heinrich’s Guide comprises random tables designed to help Call of Cthulhu players create diverse and exciting investigators with meaningful backstories.
Written and published through Chaosium’s Miskatonic Repository, Heinrich’s Guide is intended to wholly replace the investigator creation methods provided in the Keeper’s Rulebook, Investigator Handbook, and Pulp Cthulhu. Therefore, commentary on those mentioned above will be kept extremely limited.
As designed, this can be a solo or group exercise in investigator creation. Players will need a set of polyhedral dice, an investigator sheet, the handy backstory sheet located at the back of the book, and one of the game’s core books to reference.
The process of creating an investigator is simple enough. Players work through predefined phases—childhood, adolescence, and adulthood—of the future investigator’s life until becoming a character ready for play.
Mechanically, there are deviations from the standard investigator creation you may be accustomed to. Characteristics and occupation skills have preset ranges of values that will be assigned during the investigator creation process. Non-occupation skills have a fixed value that is added to the starting value of the skill. Unlike traditional investigator creation methods, no characteristics are assigned up front, and skills values are appointed and determined at differing times. In fact, some may be assigned during the different life phases of the investigator.
Also, many random table entries include bracketed notations such as [T] or [ML]. These notations represent areas on the official investigator sheet where you should note this specific information. For example, [T] means Traits, and [ML] means Meaningful Locations.
Every good character needs an origin story, and your investigator is no exception. Therefore, that is where character generation begins—determining country of origin, ancestry, social status, and potentially a variety of other secondary information. From here, players work through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood to determine precisely who and what has influenced their budding investigator. Remember that the backstory is more a collection of bulletized information that screams to be fleshed out further by the player after completing the creation process.
As the investigator’s backstory takes shape, some of their characteristics and skills might also. Additionally, some experiences or the direct impact of their upbringing may generate a list of potential occupations they will later choose from when arriving at that step.
The meat and potatoes of the book is the vast array of seemingly random tables, but there is order to the arrangement. Tables literally run the gamut from events specific to the life path of an investigator to all the interconnected and necessary tables such as romance, military, (mis)fortune, traits, secret government agencies, and the list goes on and on.
If you need images for your newly created investigator, check out our curated collection of yearbooks.
I ran two players through the basic building blocks of creating investigators and their backstory to see the results. I was curious if Heinrich’s Guide would produce plausible or outlandish, nonsensical results. And while the process was a little slow as we moved about the book from table to table, the emerging results were rather interesting.
One of the two had a more plausible and interesting investigator in the end, but both were fully table-ready. The less plausible one had events in her backstory that led to additional table rolls that ended with her death date being revealed to her. As a result of that knowledge, the player commented that there would be no reason why she wouldn’t play this investigator recklessly at the table under the assumption that what her backstory revealed wasn’t factual to her investigator. As such, the investigator was going to live on the edge!
When asked, both players were very pleased with the results generated using Heinrich’s Guide. So much so that one of them who had previously purchased the digital version commented that the entire process of creating two investigators with the physical book was quicker than using the digital version. Therefore, she would buy the physical version for future use.
Heinrich’s Guide is available in standard color in both digital and soft and hardcover through DriveThruRPG. Its form factor is U.S. letter size. The fore edge of the pages uses color to differentiate one chapter from another, making locating information a little easier. The color palette used for the copious amounts of art is either sepia tones or muted pastels—all of which are used to good effect. However, the cover art leaves me scratching my head a little. While I think it is cool art, I fail to see how it embodies the book’s title. Furthermore, it is very dark in color; most details are hard to discern.
Alex Guillotte nicely executes the layout of the book. Each chapter is easy to locate. All tables are individually presented and isolated from others on the page by borders, quickly drawing the reader’s eye. Information on the tables is clear and cleanly presented. Anytime the result from one table directs a player to another table, the new table’s name is emboldened for easy identification.
When evaluating resources for my gamer’s toolbox, I look at how the product in question could be used beyond its intended purpose. Heinrich’s Guide quickly and easily goes beyond its stated purpose; the thematically arranged tables have various uses. Beyond creating their backstories for Call of Cthulhu, players can just ignore the Call of Cthulhu references and use the backstory for any character and any game system. They can just as easily use the tables to generate “on-demand” information about their character. Gamemasters might easily use the tables to stitch together NPCs and scenarios. I’m not suggesting Gamemasters randomly generate scenario ideas, but that could be fun exercise.
What I liked
- Alternate investigator creation method
- Easy to follow instructions
- Endless tables
- Interconnected tables
- Plausible results
- Usability beyond Call of Cthulhu
- If you don’t like a table result, ignore it!
What I didn’t care for
- The cover art is nice but doesn’t scream Heinrich’s Guide
- The possibility exists of ending up with an implausible backstory
- Purpose-built for Call of Cthulhu, using outside of that game will take a little work and creativity, but nothing too difficult
Heinrich’s Call of Cthulhu Guide to Character Creation is a fun alternate investigator creation method that goes far beyond its intended use. I am glad I made this purchase and will be using the guide when creating investigators from this point forward. I will also be mining it for information as a resource in my “toolbox.” Having requested access to the product-specific worksheet, I am happy to say the author has since made it available for those of us purchasing just the physical book. Talk about customer support!
Bottom line… Heinrich’s Call of Cthulhu Guide to Character Creation is a must-buy!
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