Saturday, August 31, 2013

Call of Cthulhu characters in a video game

Despite never having played Call of Cthulhu (I'm too self-conscious for role-playing), I do like the concept and possibilities, and often think of ways it could be translated into the realm of video games. One of the key aspects I would love to see is the character creation system. There are many games where you can create your character, but in most cases, you can still do anything any other character can do. Where I see potential in the Call of Cthulhu system is that it is random, for one, but also that one character might not be able to do something due to a trait of their's, and would hence have to find another way. As an example, say the player needed to get into a sewer. If their character has high strength (STR), they might be able to just lift up a manhole cover, whereas if their character had low strength, they would instead have to find another way in. This variation in play, based solely on character statistics fascinates me, as it's something I have never seen. I'm guessing this might exist in an RPG game somewhere, but the games I'd like to see it in are first- or third-person action/adventure games. If such a system was put in place, nearly every playthrough would be different, and would greatly increase replay value. Not only that, the multitude of necessary options would add to the interest and creativity applied to level creation.

As a demonstration of how this could effect play, I'm going to run through some possible character stat combinations...

Strength and Constitution

Strength (STR) is pretty self-explanatory and can easily be transferred to the video game medium. It's basically muscle-power, and would effect such activities as lifting, pushing, pulling, throwing, as well as hand-to-hand combat. Constitution (CON) is analogous to fitness, or stamina, from what I've read. As many games already implement, stamina determines how far you can run before becoming puffed. In Call of Cthulhu, however, it also determines a character's resistance to drowning or suffocation, as well as poisons or diseases. If a single attack takes more than half their hit points (HP), a CON roll is used to determine whether they fall unconscious from shock. CON also factors into maximum HP (averaged with Size). Imagine starting a game with a third of the hit points you had the last time you played it! It's this variability that I think computer games are sorely lacking.

As a guide of sorts, I created this little table to show the different types of characters such variation can create (as well as the chances of getting said combination):

STR Low Average High
CON 3-7 8-13 14-18
Low Bookworm Couch Potato Bear
3-7 2.6% 11.0% 2.6%
Average Lean Average Weekend Warrior
8-13 11.0% 45.7% 11.0%
High Health Nut Athlete Gym Junkie
14-18 2.6% 11.0% 2.6%

I think each type is pretty self-explanatory, but if there's any that leave you scratching your head, just hit me up in the comments. As you can see, however, each character type would play a little differently to the others. For instance, imagine there was a door, barricaded from the other side, with only a gap of about a foot. A "Bear" might not be able to squeeze through, whereas a "Bookworm" would. To add even more variety, there is the next major trait...


Size (SIZ) is said to be an average of height and weight. The manual says it determines whether a character can see over something, or how easily they can hide, but I think it would be more complicated than that. In my mind, a short, obese character could be the same size as a taller, thin one. Hence, the taller character would see over objects easier, but would probably have more trouble hiding. This disparity lead me to create another table to help me wrap my head around the concept. I listed the 95% range of real-world height and weight figures against the 8 to 18 range of the game and then averaged where they intersected. To help decipher the numbers even further, I overlaid colours representing the Body Mass Index (BMI) of each intersection. In the end, I think it came out as a pretty useful little graphic that might even be helpful to players of the RPG:

Click to enlarge

I use this table in combination with the STR and CON one. Say your character has low CON and STR. This means they would be scrawny and unfit, so probably underweight. You then find their SIZ line on this table and head to the "underweight" end (upper orange or red). Conversely, if your character is a "bear", they're going to be obese, so you would head to the dark red end of their SIZ line. Where you land then determines your character's height and weight. Make sense? If height and weight were actually realised in a game context, it would open up even more game possibilities. Imagine that a floorboard is weakened, breaking under the weight of a heavier character, dropping them into a secret room that a lighter one wouldn't have found, or a tall character being able to reach a ledge that a short one couldn't.

There are several other characteristics used in the game, but I just wanted to mention two more of them here as they are ones I don't think I've seen used in a game before:


Appearance (APP) is obviously how attractive a character is, or whether they present themselves well. This is useful for social encounters in Call of Cthulhu, and I can imagine it would be the same in a video game. Very low APP might result in stares from NPCs, or even audible judgement from rude ones. Alternatively, high APP might result in smiles or wolf-whistles. Not only this, APP might play a part in conversation trees. If a pretty character asks for information, an NPC might be more forthcoming with information than if the character is ugly.


In Call of Cthulhu, Education (EDU) is the number of years of schooling the character has, and as such, signifies the knowledge they possess. In a video game context, I imagine this as affecting the dialogue of the character more than anything. As an example, say the player discovers a book written in Russian. If their character has high EDU, they might say, "Look's like Russian," whereas a character of low EDU might respond with, "It's in some other language." Or if they find a map displaying Africa, a low EDU character might say, "Is that South America?" As with APP, it could also play into NPC conversations. A character of higher EDU might have more options, knowing different tangents to enquire about. EDU also determines the number of points a player has to distribute to Occupation Skills, which is something I'll discuss next time.

If you're still reading this, I'd just like to say thank you, and feel free to comment about anything discussed here :)

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