Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/21/tabletop-review-cathulhu-velvet-paws-on-cthulhus-trail-call-of-cthulhu/
Cathulhu originally appeared several years ago in the German Call of Cthulhu publication Cthulhoide Welten, under the name Katzulhu. It would be translated into English as Cathulhu for the Worlds of Cthulhu magazine that has been out of print for some time. Sixtystone Press has gathered those original articles and compiled them, along with some new material, into this new supplement for Call of Cthulhu. This game should NOT be confused with Call of Catthulhu. Both games features cats doing battle with Lovecraftian abominations, but that is really the only thing the two have in common. Call of Catthulhu strives to be more welcome to families and very young gamers, while Cathulhu is the same old dark and somewhat gory Call of Cthulhu, except you are playing felines instead of hairless apes. Call of Cathulhu has its own mechanics and rules, while Cathulhu is a supplement for Call of Cthulhu (using Sixth Edition rules), so you’ll need that core rulebook to use it. Which is better? That’s all personal opinion. Both are inspired by John Wick’s Cat to varying degrees, but they are indeed their own beasts, so to speak. I really enjoy them both, and I think you will too.
So what is in Cathulhu? Well, you get character creation rules, two articles on how to play the game differently from Call of Cthulhu, two articles on Bast, a small bestiary of foes (many of which merely forward you to other Call of Cthulhu products), a pretty long introductory adventure called “The Black Cat,” and a two page character sheet. Everything in the supplement is well written and interesting, but it is pretty pricey for what you get, especially for a third party Call of Cthulhu release. You can generally get something with twice the page count for the cost of Cathulhu. Still, it’s a fun and fascinating supplement that really turns Call of Cthulhu on its ear, so it may be worth picking up, especially if you are a completionist.
The character creation rules are pretty fun. It’s worth noting that, because it uses Call of Cthulhu rules, Size + Strength ensures that all cats have a negative damage bonus. You really can’t get around this, so expect combat to be even more ineffectual than usual. Cathulhu also replaces Sanity Points with Sentience, which makes sense. They work in the same manner. It’s just instead of going insane, you become more feral. Cat Investigators can develop insanities though, so keep that in mind. You’re also given sixteen breeds of cats to choose from. Think of these like the profession for your investigator. The default is Domestic Shorthair, which is very similar to the Caitiff in Vampire: The Masquerade. Each other breed gets a bonus and a drawback, along with a “trick” that is inherent to that breed. For example, our Maine Coon, Shelly, would get +1 to STR and CON, no drawback and the Bruiser Trick. Meanwhile, our Domestic Shorthair, Malice, would get no bonuses or drawbacks and would get to pick her trick from the list of fifty-two options! All cats gets “Leap to the Moon” and “Nine Lives” tricks for free. Then you get to pick one off the list (so Domestic Shorthairs get two), so your character will have a total of four tricks. After that, you assign skill points to the various categories. Instead of the usual Investigator skills like art, punch, physics, electrical repair and Latin, you have very cat oriented ones like cuteness, yowl, scratch, wash and human lore. It’s all very well done and the game can be as serious or comedic as you want.
The section called “What Do Cat Adventures Look Like” is only two pages long, but it’s worth discussing, if only because a lot of people will end up playing their cat as they would a human, which just doesn’t work. Cats have better night vision, can hear and see things we don’t, and their sense of smell is superior to ours in every way. Meanwhile, they can’t drive, operate doorknobs or read tombs in classic Greek that provide the spell which will banish the Mythos beastie of the week. The same can be said about “Additional Cathulhu Rules,” which details how insanity works in cats, flight or flight responses and how your cat can learn new tricks.
The adventure “The Black Cat” takes up roughly a fourth of the supplement, and it is a rather grisly feature about someone or something who has been killing local cats by ripping out their hearts! Like I said at the beginning, Call of Catthulhu this is not! The adventure introduces the Cat Investigators to the Cthulhu Mythos, specifically the Dreamlands, and a creature from that plane of existence which has been brought to our own world against its will. You get a nice taste of the occult, and the adventure teaches not only the basics of Cathulhu but Call of Cthulhu mechanics as well. It’s a great look at how very different an adventure for cats is from an adventure for humans. I will say that people for whom cat violence is a trigger should probably not play this adventure and stick to Call of Catthulhu, as it is a more forgiving and lighter in tone system.
I have to admit, I really enjoyed Cathulhu in its new incarnation, and it is great that the piece is now widely available again. Letting one purchase the PDF on Chaosium or RPGNOw’s websites is a lot easier than tracking down old copies of Worlds of Cthulhu for the average gamer. Although the supplement IS overpriced compared to other Call of Cthulhu supplements and similar releases, the content here is very well thought out, and is a lot of fun of CoC gamers to read, even if they never actually use it with their own gaming group. The artwork/pictures in the piece are especially charming and they might be worth picking up Cathulhu for on their own. I’m excited to see that this Cathulhu supplement won’t be a one-time thing, as the back of the book announces an upcoming release entitled The Cat Army of Ulthar. I personally am really looking forward to that! I would never have thought that there would be room in our industry for two “Cat Vs. Cthulhu Mythos” games on the market, but it certainly seem that way. Cathulhu is a fun and outside the box addition to the Call of Cthulhu gaming system, and who knows, it might just be a gateway for some new or younger gamers into the realm of Lovecraftia!