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I'd like to get into Call of Cthulhu. Which books do I need? I have a limited budget, so I'd prefer to get as few as possible.

Specifically, tell me:

  1. How useful will the core book be on its own?
  2. Which other books do you think are essential, if any?
  3. If I had to get two or three other books, which would you recommend?
  4. Are there any non-essential, but particularly good, books that you'd recommend?

I've read all the Trail of Cthulhu stuff and lots of Lovecraft, so don't bother about those. I'm generally more interested in sourcebooks than campaigns, but tell me about any particularly brilliant campaigns.

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The core book is pretty complete in its own right, although I find that BRP works better the less of it you use, and plenty of it can be ignored once you've got the basics down (very easy). Nothing else is really essential: it even has some short scenarios, although which ones depend on the edition. By the way, I don't think it matters at all which edition you get. The rules have had some minor adjustments, but nothing you couldn't house rule - and BRP is very much a house rule-friendly system. Get whatever is cheapest, preferably 2nd hand.

For a few books more, it really depends what setting you had in mind.

For Lovecraftian New England in the 1920s, the Arkham and Kingsport setting books are very good, and the Investigator's Companion has useful period details. I don't have Dunwich, but I hear that's pretty good too. But if you were thinking of setting stuff in the UK, then very little of that will be useful.

If you like the UK Victorian period, I would recommend waiting for the next edition of Gaslight, due out soon. It throws out a lot of Holmesian stuff and adds a lot more period detail, and some pretty decent scenarios. Unless you really want lots of info on how to incorporate Holmes into your CoC, which I think is mostly pretty obvious anyway.

As Viktor says, if you want modern day, than Delta Green has to be worth a look, although it's not something I've ever used.

Other good period choices also exist, but are less well supported at the moment, although 1770s should be a fun alternative when Sixtystone Press get to publishing their planned series of books.

Dreamlands is very much a Marmite thing. I enjoy it, but lots of people don't. I think it's stronger when mixed in with something else. Not recommended initially.

Regarding campaigns: Masks is a blast, so long as you like things a bit pulpy. I haven't run BTMoM, but it has amazing potential if you can get players who will commit to a game of that length and enjoy the (very) slow burn. I enjoyed running Horror on the Orient Express and Spawn of Azathoth, but there are things about them that need fixing. There's a lot of love out there for Tatters of the King, but I have yet to run it, although it looks very promising. Ditto Escape from Innsmouth, unusual for its troupe-style play (that one is more of a mini-campaign compared to the others).

You will already know from ToC that Ken Hite is an amazing source of inspiration and advice. Almost anything of his is worth a look. Dan Harms' Encyclopedia Cthulhiana is also handy for instant info on Mythos canon, if you can find an affordable copy.

Beyond that there are plenty of history books I've found useful over the years. But it does depend on the setting, obviously.

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Agreed that all you need is the core book. Other books are nice to have and all, including adventures if you want to run adventures, but the vast majority of CoC games I've been in haven't used more than the corebook. – mxyzplk Nov 13 '10 at 0:14
A couple of non obvious of acronyms in here - would you mind expanding them please. – user4075 Nov 7 '14 at 15:51

Assuming you want the pulp era as your epoch of choice, the essentials:

  • Call of Cthulhu main rulebook

  • 1920s Investigators Companion (assuming you get an edition that has the host of extra professions described)

  • A book of adventures (I recommend Mortal Coils from Pagan Publishing, or The Great Old Ones from Chaosium, now sadly out of print, I think)

  • A campaign book (Masks of Nyarlathotep is the classic, Curse of the Brotherhood which was Fungi from Yuggoth is perhaps easier for first-timers, but also may be out of print)

I also recommend the Byakhee character generation software, but it runs only on Windows, I believe.

If you want to use the modern era as your epoch of choice, the essentials:

  • Call of Cthulhu main rulebook

  • Delta Green and Delta Green: Countdown from Pagan Publishing, or

  • Cthulhu Now (campaign book) and The Stars Are Right (adventure book) from Chaosium

If you want Victorian Era, the essentials:

  • Call of Cthulhu main rulebook

  • CoC Gaslight (out of print campaign set) and Sacraments of Evil (out of print adventure book) or Dark Designs (in print adventure book, but I don't think as good as Sacraments of Evil)

For the bare minimal approach: I'd say the main rulebook, the 1920s Investigators Companion, and Curse of the Brotherhood -- the flow of that campaign is a little hitchy, and it's fairly linear, but most of the adventures are excellent set pieces that are not too challenging for players to the game, and it surveys the game's mythos background well. Masks of Nyarlathotep is better, I think, but also more demanding.

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All you need is the basic. This is a great breakdown of the best books beyond that. – anon186 Nov 12 '10 at 19:44
@Jeremiah -- Generally, I agree. I understood the request to be "what are the books you'd minimally get after the core rulebook", so I tried to list what I thought was that first tier of books. In my opinion, the best overall 1920s adventurebook is The Great Old Ones, but Mortal Coils is also really good and in print. So if you're restricted to "just one book beyond the core rules" it'd be one of those two, unless you knew you wanted campaign play in which case Curse of the Brotherhood or Masks (depending on how you assessed the abilities of your table to handle it). – Viktor Haag Nov 12 '10 at 19:48

I've read and used both 4.0 and 5.0 and I think the core book alone does a good job of presenting the system and setting. You can use it without any other materials, although a good grounding in Lovecraft and the Mythos will be useful, of course. I wouldn't say anything else is essential.

If I were to add two books to that, I'd choose a collection of short adventures and one of the sprawling campaigns like Trail of Tsathoggua, to give you an idea of structure and format for building your own adventures and stealing the good bits.

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  1. The core rulebook is, in our experience, more than enough for years of adventuring, provided you and your group are relatively "well-versed" in the Lovecraftian eras and you have your own story ideas.

  2. Essential? I know it will sound strange to some, but I'd say none of the other books is essential. You really don't need more than the core to get the full fhtagn experience. :) This, of course, doesn't mean a number of the extra books doesn't provide you with a wealth of further, excellent ideas and background info. But the game is already complete without them (unlike D&D without a DMG, for example.)

  3. Two or three other books? I'd say go for the following "era" books, to expand your options as a Keeper (alternate time periods and their crossovers can bring a lot to a CoC campaign): For 1890's "Sherlockian" adventuring, get Cthulhu Gaslight. Get to know the basic 1920's setting with the 1920's Investigators' Companion. Bring on the conspirational paranoia of the 1990-2000's with Delta Green.

  4. See my second and third points combined. :) Books listed under 3. are, imo, non-essential, but well worth buying. From here on, expand your collection in the period your stories proved the best for your group.

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Perfect answer, thank you. – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 1:23
:) I'm glad I could help. (Do consider accepting one of the answers officially, please, if you're not waiting for further replies. Thanks!) – OpaCitiZen Nov 19 '10 at 14:18

I personally recommend using a core book only, and preferably one of the older ones. Best value for money IMO would be the hardback 3rd edition which can be gotten off Amazon for reasonable (less than current rrp) prices, and which includes half a dozen scenarios between the covers. 4th ed and "5.0" are also decent.

Post edition 5.0 I feel the rulebook becomes problematic to the new CofC GM for a variety of reasons (while still representing reasonable value for money).

Disclaimer: I've run CofC since 1981 (1st edition) and I own all but one (5.1) of the regular editions (as opposed to the special, rebound anniversary versions).

As for other publications, they fall into three broad categories: Settings (Delta Green, Lovecraft Country books, Streets of New York etc), Milieu retooling (Cthulhu Invictus, Dark Ages, Gaslight etc) and campaign settings.

I recommend playing in the 1920s.

The fabulous 1920s campaign "Masks of Nyarlathotep" has just been reprinted. I recommend it highly.

Adventures in the 1920's are well represented in such publications as "Mansions of Madness", which I also give five stars.

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The books I always grab from my shelf at the beginning of every session:

Classic Era:

  • CoC Core rulebook
  • Malleus Monstrorum
  • 1920's Investigator's Companion

Modern Era:

  • CoC Core rulebook
  • Malleus Monstrorum
  • Delta Green

Malleus Monstrorum isn't really necessary if you're using published scenarios, but I often find that extra information on the beings involved is very important, as my investigators are really persistent in their research.


Scenario Books I Couldn't Live Without:

  • Mansions of Madness (classic)
  • Unseen Masters (modern)
  • Tatters of The King (classic campaign)
  • Masks of Nyarlathotep (classic campaign)

These aren't necessary to start play, of course, though Mansions of Madness is an EXCELLENT starting point. I would however recommend you pick these up over time.

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