I've been taking a deep dive into Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, as I'm going to run a campaign, starting sometime this Summer. I wanted to present my thoughts on the modernization of what is a class, and seminal horror RPG.
So far, I've purchased three titles: Keeper Rulebook, Investigator Handbook and S. Petersen's Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horror.
One big caveat: I haven't run the game yet. Only read it. So take this with a grain of salt.
There are some changes I do not recall from previous editions of the game. There's now a bonus and penalty dice mechanic. That is you add a 10s die to a roll and keep the higher (for penalty) or lower (for bonus). There are some cases when up to two penalty/bonus dice may be awarded/inflicted. And one bonus die will cancel out the presence of a penalty die, and vice versa.
One of my biggest criticisms of older CoC is the "swinginess" of percentile dice systems (much like d20 systems). Because bonus and penalty dice are rather common, this, I think, will address this concern.
Secondly, there are now difficulty levels. Normal is rolling your skill or stat as-written. For Hard Difficulty, you must roll at or below 1/2 skill. For Extreme Difficulty, you must roll at or below 1/5th of skill.
You can also attain degrees of success using these same fractions, and this mechanic is put to good use with opposed rolls and combat rolls.
They've also added a "push" mechanic to deal with players asking to make re-rolls when they fail their first roll. This is basically a push-your-luck mechanic. The player must describe how they're "pushing" the roll to justify the re-roll. This might be taking a different approach, making a second attempt regardless of physical danger, etc.
If this second roll is failed, the player suffers what is essentially a critical failure, consistent with the ramifications of their second attempt.
This feels like a pretty good way to allow second attempts, which will help with the swinginess of d%, but also helps deal with abuse, as the failed result will have ramifications. The book also suggests foreshadowing the repercussions of a failed roll, which seems very fair to me.
For instance, the player, having failed a roll to pick a lock, might push and say they're going to use more force with their lock picks.
And the GM can tell them, "yes, you can make a second attempt, but you might bend or break your tensioner."
There are things I like about combat, and there are things I don't.
For ease of learning, combat mechanics are slow-rolled throughout the combat chapter. I'm not a fan of this, but I do understand why they did it.
They start by describing the fist fight (unarmed melee) rules. Then they introduce melee weapons and finally firearms.
While I get why they did it this way, it's going to make the book less useful as a reference during combat, as you need to flip around to find exceptions and specifics when using weapons (firearms especially).
When I made my combat cheatsheet in my OneNote doc, I found I had to reorganize it once it was completed, so I wouldn't have jump back and forth in my cheatsheet.
They've included flowcharts for combat and damage, which will no doubt prove useful, but also illustrate what I feel is an overly complex combat system.
Even though it adds to the combat, I do like the "fighting back" option when a character (or monster) is being attacked. Essentially, fighting back is a defensive option, like dodge, but if the defending character wins the opposed roll, they inflict damage to the attacker.
This does something I applaud: it essentially provides melee combatants potentially two attacks per turn, which will definitely speed up combat, and I'm always in favor of that.
Armor is subtractive, as it should be in any good combat system.
Where it gets a little clunky is in firearms combat. Perhaps it's unavoidable, but there are numerous options with firearms, and these can add bonus and penalty dice.
I especially like the "dive for cover" option, as it allows a target to have an opposed dodge skill roll vs the attackers firearms skill. Winning this roll lets the target avoid being shot, but it also inflicts a penalty on the diving character through the next turn. This seems like a good balance for essentially dodging a bullet.
Because CoC is so different from other RPGs, there's a lot of valuable advice on GMing: from advice on describing the horrible-ness of the monsters, to conveying insanity to players of insane characters.
There's also an entire chapter on chases. At first, I thought this was an eye-roller, but after thinking about it, it makes perfect sense to have such rules in a Horror RPG. The chase rules seem very streamlined and abstract, relying heavily on narrative.
All-in-all, I think they did a good job modernizing the game. IIRC (it's been a LONG time since I had a version earlier than 6th), this edition really tries to improve the game, rather than just fix problems.
It's also been entirely re-typeset. They layout is great and pretty, and the art is fantastic (and there's a lot of it). It's an expensive book (US$54.95 where I bought it), but considering the quality of the layout, art and printing, I can't begrudge the price.
I don't know if every player would need to have this text (again, it's pricey), but it would be handy to have at least one copy at the table.
It duplicates the chargen rules from the Keepers Rulebook, but also includes advice for players, a timeline of the 1920s, a list of investigator organizations and a list of equipment (for both 1920s and modern).
Petersen's Field Guid to Lovecraftian Horrors
I should have paid more attention when I flipped through this at my FLGS.
While the production quality is great, I'm not sure how useful this book will be in my game.
The book is written "in-narrative." That is, it's written as if it were an actual field guide the PCs might find at some point.
But it's existence kind of runs contrary to the GMing advice in the Keeper's book.
Here's what I mean:
I would never announce, "you see a Deep One emerging onto the shore." Rather, I would (and the book suggest) describe what the PCs see -- much like you'd do in any game when the party is confronted with a never-before-seen monster.
I identifying the monster seems counter-intuitive to building tension and evoking fear.
And identifying is exactly what this book is for. It's literally a field guide. It provides illustrations, physical descriptions and ways to distinguish between similar horror.
In fact, there are no stats for the monsters (they're all in the Keepers book).
It's a nice book and fun reading, but I don't see how I'd put it to use in-game. Thought I suppose the players could find a single page of it in some madman's diary.