But first, a few caveats! This is being reviewed from the viewpoint of a player. I have never actually seen the rule book for longer than a few seconds, I don't know everything I could about the system, or anything like that. I've only made one character (Although I'm about to make another, since my dentist was just eaten by a shoggoth. He is a REAL doctor, damnit!). So this is not a real review, but more a relating of my of my experiences playing.
This is, admittedly, my favorite part of the game. Call of Cthulhu features a percentage roll-under system. Ha, I always wanted to say that! It's actually pretty simple. Each character has an exhaustive list of skills, from Accounting to Other (fill in your own). Each one has a percentage next to it. You roll a percentage and d10 dice to simulate a d100. You must roll underneath or equal to the percentage. Modifying the difficulty is also very easy. Is it a really tough check? Cut the percentage in half. Easy check? Double it. I've always been a proponent for a bit more math in RPGs (I'm not saying calculus, I'm talking about multiplication and division with addition and subtraction), so I was actually pretty excited. The system doesn't require the GM to constantly figure out a target number. Just roll, you'll know what you get! If you critically hit (1/5 of your target percentage) you put a check mark next to the skill. At a point determined by the GM you may roll your dice, hoping to get over the target number. If you do so, roll a d10. That's how much your skill increases by. No experience points that make you level up things you never used. If you used it, you'll level it. It's a great concept, and it works out really nicely in the game. I found that things I had forgotten to put points into did get better as time went on, even if I sucked at them.
Combat Initiative is based off of static Dexterity stats. This is, admittedly, where the game gets a bit alien. Your Strength and Size scores make a damage die. Why this isn't a static bonus I have no idea, but it removes a bit of control from the player in this area, especially if the GM's the only one with the book. Your HP is RIDICULOUSLY low, meaning that one or two good hits and your character is dead. This actually makes the game an action RPG. Why? Keep reading.
The primary stat you have to worry about, of course, is your sanity. This is your Power (magic) stat times five. The stat constantly fluctuates, but it has one inevitable direction. Down. Each time something freaky happens your character is forced to make a Sanity check. Succeed? Lose 1 sanity. Fail? The GM rolls and tells you how much Sanity you lose. I've seen people lose as much as 6-7 at a single pop. And these checks come up all the time. You also lose Sanity for casting spells, having spells cast on you, for killing innocent people (even if by accident), etc. As far as I know there's only way to regain sanity: kill monsters. It might kill you to try, but if you don't kill those monsters you won't gain sanity back. There's a lot more to the system than that, but that's the basics. Now take all this stuff, and hand it to a bunch of college-aged guys, and what happens?
You get the awesomenest action game ever made. Surprised? So was I. But think about it. Lovecraft was always about how the weird and alien's gonna swallow us all, and we're only staving off the inevitable. You are going to die or go insane, possible both at the same time. What's this translate to in man?
As one of the guys I was playing with said. "I'm gonna die anyway. Fuck it!" Since then this particular dude has take on a monster solo with a shotgun and won. Another of the characters has been soloing monsters and being a general bad-ass because the rest of us weren't around to save him. The rest of us are starting to ignore the non-combat professions, because if we're going to die anyway we're going to go out with a bang. Essentially, we've made the 1920's version of Gurren Lagann! I don't think that was intended, but I think I'm going to make a martial artist as my next character and constantly say this:
Is this what the designers intended.
But is it fun?
Oh well. Who the hell do you think I am????