I’ve been holding back a good Call of Cthulhu rant for some time now. Let’s get into it.
One of the changes in the new 7th edition rules is the removal of categories for Mythos monsters. In older editions, each creature was accompanied by a short descriptor to indicate where it fit into the Mythos – Lesser Independent, Greater Independent, Lesser Servitor, or Greater Servitor. That they have done so is not unexpected, as writers and players alike have wondered for years what purpose they were supposed to serve.
Nonetheless, I would assert that they did serve a purpose, and that it was integral to the structure of the game.
Earlier versions of the game include the following example for the Cthulhu Mythos skill:
Harvey Walters has worked his Cthulhu Mythos up to 15% and sees a smeared spot on the road, heavy with goo and slime. He makes his Mythos roll and is told that whatever made the smear was at least a major monster. Harvey goes in the other direction.
This example may reveal the fundamental intent behind both the monster categories: to gauge the strength of the opposition. Players could encounter signs of a Mythos creature, and, with a successful Cthulhu Mythos roll, get some idea of what they were in for. They could then make a decision about whether they wanted to proceed, if backup was needed, or if they should simply give up and run away. Further, this assessment could be done without giving away the mystery of exactly which creature they were encountering.
As it did so, it also confirmed the importance of the Cthulhu Mythos skill in the game. Increasing it gave players an increased chance of avoiding danger, but it also decreased maximum Sanity, leading to a lesser chance of dealing with such encounters. As such, the decision to read a tome brought with it difficult choices.
One of the key difficulties with this approach is that – to my memory – it rarely entered the scenarios themselves. This led to two difficulties with the game. The first was the confusion as to what exactly those categories were supposed to do, but this would prove minor. The second was to unmoor the Cthulhu Mythos skill from any particular relevance in the setting. Sure, it’s nice to know that Cthulhu or Glaaki is involved in a given situation, and that might contribute to the mood by giving a delicious frission to the players. Nonetheless, little mechanical advantage exists for the skill, and the original rules indicate it was once otherwise.