Are you looking for a good horror-based tabletop RPG to play that isn’t a modified version of Dungeons and Dragons?
I was once in the exact same boat as you, and that’s why I ended up turning to Call of Cthulhu. If you only have familiarity with more well-known tabletop games like DnD and Pathfinder, though, you might not be prepared for how different Call of Cthulhu’s system is.
Making characters is one aspect where this game diverges from most others. If you’re wondering how to make a character in Call of Cthulhu, I’m here to guide you.
I’ll walk you through the process in this guide. If you still have more questions, I’ll also post links to the books I recommend getting.
Anyway, let me get to the important stuff now…
An Overview of the Character Creation Process
As usual, I want to start with a quick disclaimer. I’m using the seventh edition to guide you through making a character in Call of Cthulhu. This is because that’s the edition I have access to at the moment, and it’s the one I’m most familiar with.
Aside from the rulebook I linked to previously, I strongly recommend grabbing The Investigator’s Handbook. It will give you all the information you need to make a character, including an extended list of professions to choose from and sample pre-made characters for you to look at for comparison.
In seventh edition, players have three main methods of making a character: the quick fire method, point buy method, and just rolling a character. There are some optional additional methods and experience packages described in the book that I won’t touch on here.
Before you get to the nitty-gritty stuff, though, I recommend thinking about the type of character you want to play. For instance, start thinking about if you want to be an intellectual person, if you want to be prone to combat, or if you want something completely out of the left field.
I’ll break down the process of developing a character concept later on. Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, I suggest choosing your character’s occupation. Choosing an occupation is a bit like choosing your character’s class in other systems, because it will determine the sort of skillset you have.
Then you start figuring out what your character’s stats are. This is, by far, the most technical part of the process. However, even this part can be done fairly quickly.
If you don’t want to read this whole guide, you can also watch this Call of Cthulhu character creation video. Don’t Stop Thinking has made a whole series of Call of Cthulhu videos that I’ve found particularly helpful in the past. This is his character creation video, which you can follow along with as you build your own characters.
How to Make a Character in Call of Cthulhu
The following process I’m going to describe is what I do every time I choose to make a new character. You may find that moving the steps around is easier for you, so feel free to complete your own characters in a different order.
With that in mind, here is what I do:
Start by developing a character concept.
The very first step I take is considering a character concept. I feel the phrase, “character concept” is a little vague, though, if you’re new to the world of tabletop RPGs.
So here’s how I define it: “character concept” is the seed of a vision you have for a character. It can be as comprehensive or skimpy as you like at this point.
For instance, you might think to yourself, “I want to play someone who’s good at fighting.” On the other hand, you might get super-detailed and decide that you’re looking to play someone with a background in psychology and the occult who works in local asylums.
This is tied heavily with choosing your occupation, actually. If you are having a hard time drawing up even the slightest details for a concept, you can skip onto the next step and go from there.
Otherwise, try asking yourself these questions:
- How do I like to play? (IE, Do you enjoy combat? Do you prefer solving puzzles? Do you like being an in-game socialite?)
- What types of backgrounds am I comfortable role-playing?
- What timeline is my campaign taking place in? (Most Call of Cthulhu campaigns take place in either the 1920’s or modern era)
- Does it matter to me if my character is wealthy?
- How do I want to resolve conflicts?
- Are there any themes I’m interested in? (Such as mafia-related, religious, etc.)
- Is there a type of character that’s missing in my party? (If everyone else is playing an intellectual, for instance, maybe it’s a good idea for you to consider someone more socially or physically adept.)
Choose an occupation that fits with your concept.
Whether or not you’ve been able to pin down a basic character concept, you can choose an occupation. In fact, if you find yourself stuck on the first step, I find that just moving on and picking an occupation helps. Sometimes, everything else falls into place once you have your character’s profession picked.
An occupation sounds boring, but the closest parallel I can compare it to is a class in Dungeons and Dragons. The skills your character has will be a reflection of your occupation.
You can find a list of occupations in the core rulebook/Keeper’s book, but I think the Investigator’s Handbook is superior for this part. Its list of occupations is much more comprehensive, and you can find them starting on page 68. Some examples of interesting occupations include assassin, antiquarian, book dealer, or occultist.
Before you pick one, make sure you consider your campaign’s time period. It wouldn’t make sense for you to choose to be a computer programmer if you’re playing in the 1920’s, for example. Fortunately, modern professions are labeled as such so you understand which ones are a better fit for your game.
Do you have a character concept in mind and don’t see an occupation that would fit it? No problem! You can create your own occupation, as well, if you feel comfortable doing so. This does mean you’ll need to think of eight skills that apply to that occupation and you’ll need to determine an appropriate credit rating for it.
Read Next: Call of Cthulhu – Where to Start
Create your character’s stats.
Now with your concept and occupation selected, it’s time to actually discuss stats. Stats are the attributes that mirror your character’s in-game qualities. You can see them on these Chaosium character sheets.
There are eight basic characteristics you’ll need to fill in, and then five more you calculate after those eight overarching characteristics. Here they are (along with quick definitions):
- Appearance: How attractive your character is and how likeable they are. Think of it as charisma in Dungeons and Dragons.
- Constitution: Your character’s level of healthiness. (Note: this is different from HP. HP indicates how much damage your character can take, and Constitution instead references their overall vitality.)
- Dexterity: Represents your character’s level of grace and finesse.
- Education: Your character’s schooling. Keep in mind that high education doesn’t necessarily equate high intelligence, and vice versa.
- Intelligence: Your character’s ability to put the pieces together and solve problems. In some ways, Call of Cthulhu punishes characters with a high Intelligence characteristic, because these characters are likelier to understand the gravity of a situation and lose Sanity as a result…so think carefully before you make a genius.
- Power: This characteristic is the strength of your character’s willpower. In other words, it’s essentially the same state as Willpower in DnD.
- Size: It’s kind of a weird one, but this characteristic represents your character’s overall size. A lower Size characteristic means you’re too slender, short, and frail. On the flipside, a high Size characteristic can mean you’re a heavily muscled bodybuilder.
- Strength: This one is obvious – it’s just your physical strength. It affects how much you can lift and how much damage you can do if you were to, say, punch someone.
After the aforementioned traits, you’ll be able to figure out your remaining characteristics. Those characteristics are the following:
- Sanity: It wouldn’t be a Lovecraftian game if there weren’t consequences. Sanity is the starkest representation of those consequences. It portrays your character’s mental/emotional stability, and can be lost or gained in a number of ways.
- Luck: Luck is the “x factor” in Call of Cthulhu. You can spend luck points to raise your rolls and reroll a failed roll as long as it isn’t a sanity roll. Your Keeper may even have you roll Luck occasionally to see if you succeed in random tasks.
- HP: HP stands for “hit points.” These indicate how much damage you can take before being incapacitated or killed.
- Movement Rate: Your movement rate shows how quickly your character can move. Honestly, this is an underrepresented stat, and likely won’t come into play unless you’re moving in combat.
- Damage Bonus + Build: Here’s where a good Size and Strength come in handy. You’ll use them to calculate your character’s Damage Bonus and Build, which indicate how much damage you’re capable of doing and how your Size impacts movement in hand-to-hand combat.
It’s important to mention Credit Rating here. Credit Rating isn’t a stat, per se – it’s actually listed among your character’s skills – but it kind of functions more like a static characteristic. Your Credit Rating illustrates the wealth of your character. If you’ve chosen an occupation from the book, you’ll be given a range of Credit Ratings to choose from.
Now that I’ve described your stats, let’s get to the important stuff: determining the values for those states. There are three different methods of doing so, which I’ll discuss below:
Rolling Method (Advanced)
If you’re an experienced tabletop RPG player or you’re willing to leave everything up to chance, then you’ll probably want to go with the traditional method: rolling your characteristics. With the rolling method, you’ll be rolling a number of D6s depending on the characteristic and then multiplying the result by 5.
Here is the number of D6s you’ll roll and then what you’ll multiply the result by for each characteristic:
- Strength: 3D6 x 5
- Size: 2D6 + 6, then multiply by 5
- Dexterity: 3D6 x 5
- Appearance: 3D6 x 5
- Constitution: 3D6 x 5
- Intelligence: 2D6 + 6, then multiply by 5
- Power: 3D6 x 5
- Education: 2D6 + 6, then multiply by 5
- Luck: 2D6 +6, then multiply by 5
Your Sanity, Hit Points, Damage Bonus, Build, and Movement Rate will all be determined by rolls made for previous traits.
Let’s start with your HP. Unsurprisingly, it comes from your Constitution and Size characteristics. Add those together, then divide by 10 to get your hit points.
Movement Rate is dependent on your Dexterity, Strength, and Size characteristics. It will be 7 if your Dexterity and Strength are both less than your Size, 6 if either your Strength or Dexterity are equal to or greater than your Size, and 9 if both are greater than your Size.
If your character is age 40 and up, you’ll decrease your Movement Rate by 1 point for each decade beyond 40. For example, it starts at -1 for your 40’s, then -2 for your 50’s.
Last but certainly not least, there’s your Sanity. This is equal to whatever your Power characteristic is. It will fluctuate throughout the game, so don’t be alarmed as it goes up and down wildly.
As far as your skills go, you’ll need to determine how many points you get based on your occupation. Refer to the occupation section again, which starts on page 68.
Every single occupation in the book has a section called “occupation skills points.” This will usually tell you to add your Education characteristic and then one other characteristic after multiplying them. Sometimes, you may even be asked to multiply a single characteristic value by a number rather than adding it to another characteristic’s value. The result is the number of points you get to divide between your skills.
As an example, pretend you’re playing an antiquarian, which is described in more detail on page 71. Its occupation skill points section says, “EDU x 4.”
This just means you should multiply your Education by four to get the number of points you can dedicate to skills. If our fictitious antiquarian had an Education of 80, he or she would have 320 points to put into skills.
You should see small boxes next to your characteristics and skills. These are half and fifth values. If you use an auto-calculation version of the character sheet, these boxes will automatically fill in.
Otherwise, you’ll need to fill them in manually. You do this by finding half of the characteristic’s or skill’s value and a fifth of its value, then adding them to the boxes. Half and fifth values are used for rolls that are at a higher difficulty; your Keeper may require you to make a role beneath those values in demanding circumstances.
Please note that you cannot put any points into the Cthulhu Mythos skill during character creation. This skill can only increase as you interact with Lovecraftian elements on your investigations. Of course, your Keeper may make exceptions to this rule at their discretion.
Quick Fire Method (Easy)
If you’re a beginner or you don’t have a lot of time to make a character (say, for example, if one of your characters had died in the campaign and you needed another one now), the quick fire method is your best bet. It’s not as fun for experienced players because it assigns values for you to plug into your stats, but it works fine enough.
For your reference, you can find it on page 60 in the Investigator’s Handbook, but I’ll describe it briefly here.
You’ll have eight numbers: 80, 70, 60, 60, 50, 50, 50, and 40. Assign one number to each of your eight main characteristics. As a reminder, that includes your Appearance, Constitution, Dexterity, Education, Intelligence, Power, Size, and Strength.
Think carefully about where you want to put each number. If you’re playing a highly educated and intelligent individual, for instance, you may not want to plug that 40 into your Education or Intelligence characteristics.
After applying those values, you’ll need to determine what your secondary characteristics (Luck, Sanity, Movement Rate, etc.) are. You can check out the end of the previous section for information on how to generate those. If you’re using an Auto-Calc sheet (which you can download for free on the Chaosium site), those things will mostly be generated for you.
Assuming you’ve chosen your occupation, you’ll have eight skills related to that occupation at hand. Here are the nine numbers you’ll put into your eight occupational skills plus your character’s Credit Rating: 70, 60, 60, 50, 50, 50, 40, 40, and 40.
Now you get to choose four more skills that are more like your character’s hobbies. Choose any four you like, as long as they are fitting for your campaign’s era. Add 20 to each of these skills’ base values (the number already listed by the skills as a default).
Point Buy Method (Advanced)
I recommend the point buy method for all you min-maxers out there. It also works well for those people who have a very specific character in mind and don’t want to leave it up to chance or be stuck with the preset values from the quick fire method.
With point buy, you’re given a budget of 460 points. You can allocate them however you like among your eight characteristics.
Your Sanity, Luck, Movement Rate, Damage Bonus, and Build are all things you’ll be able to calculate once you’ve allocated your original 460 points. You can refer to the end of my section on the rolling method for how to calculate those values. (An auto-calc character sheet will do some of the legwork for you, though.)
The values of your skills will be generated through the same way used by the rolling method. Check at that section of this guide for information on how to figure out how much you can put into your skills.
Apply age modifiers.
Picking your character’s age in Call of Cthulhu has much more import than it does in other systems. Depending on your character’s age, their Education stat may go up or their Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity may go down. Sometimes, both things occur.
You can find a quick overview of the necessary modifications you’ll have to make to your stats depending on your age on page 64 in the Investigator’s Handbook.
If you’re playing the youngest possible character (anywhere from 15-19), you’ll have to remove 5 points from your Strength, Size, and Education. However, you do get the benefit of rolling your Luck stat twice and picking the better value.
Characters from 20-39 have to make a single Education improvement check. This means you will roll a percentage die, and if it’s higher than your current Education stat, you get to add 1D10 points to it.
If you’re between the ages of 40-49, you’ll make two Education improvement checks. The drawback is that you’ll also subtract five whole points from your Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity. That’s five total points – not five for each characteristic. Your appearance also drops by five points.
The reduction to your Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity increases by 5 for each decade after your 40’s. Similarly, the amount your Appearance decreases also goes up by 5. You also get to make one additional Education improvement check for each decade after your 40’s.
Fill in your character’s background information.
Now all you need to do is put the finishing touches on your character sheet. You’ll have a second page to your character sheet with several large fields for you to fill in. I’ve put a picture of it above.
You can do this on your own if you want. Anything within reason can go within those boxes, so feel free to get creative here and add some fun details. They might not even be important in-game; they may only come up on occasion while role-playing.
But if you find yourself feeling uninspired, that’s okay – Call of Cthulhu actually has a system in place for developing a skeletal background for you.
Turn to page 53 in the Investigator’s Handbook. You’ll find a series of sections you can roll a D10 within to develop random traits. For instance, there are tables for determining your character’s religious beliefs, important people, and important locations – all with a roll of the die.
Once you’ve gone through all these steps, you’ll have created a character that’s ready to play. Now all that you need to do is actually try your character out! I know that, at a glance, this seems like an extremely detailed article. There are some things I didn’t go into, though, such as the full list of occupations. There are even alternative ways of building your character that I didn’t mention here for an attempt at brevity.
If you want even more information on building your Call of Cthulhu character, I strongly recommend the Investigator’s Handbook. It will give you absolutely everything you need to know about creating compelling and fun characters.
Now, what if you’re going to be the one running the campaign? I suggest taking a look at my list of Call of Cthulhu keeper tips to help you build a campaign for your players.