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I know that Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu is essentially the official Cthulhu RPG, but I've also heard a lot of good things about Trail of Cthulhu (using the GUMSHOE system). They both seem to be well-liked but don't appear to be related mechanically, so I would like to know how they compare before deciding on one of them.

What are the main mechanical and stylistic differences between Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium and Trail of Cthulhu by Pelgrane Press?

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Well The Trail of Cthulhu wiki page describes a pulp form where you are not as prone to going insane or dieing... thats a change. –  Chad Aug 4 '11 at 16:37
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

This interview with Robin D. Laws might clarify some of the differences.

Basically, your investigators won't be denied essential clues throughout the course of the game. GUMSHOE prevents the awkward "Oh, you really missed that investigation roll. Your seasoned detective manages to completely miss any clues in the well-stocked library with a post-it note on one of the books that says 'READ ME'".

I really like the flavor of the Trail of Cthulhu book. Instead of giving you how many hit points Yog-Sothoth might have, it gives you several scenarios for what Yog-Sothoth might be, and what it's intentions may be. So even players intimately familiar with the Mythos may not know what is really going on.

Overall, it's a refreshing take on Call of Cthulhu, and is definitely worth checking out, even if you don't decide to use the mechanics.

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Thanks for the interview link! Could you also summarize the mechanical differences? For instance: Which game is more rules-heavy? What are the main differences in character stats between the two systems? –  Jakob Aug 5 '11 at 16:46
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I'm no expert between CoC and Trail, but there is a conversion guide in the back of Trail of Cthulhu that starts with "Ignore STR, CON, SIZ, INT, POW, DEX, APP, and EDU.", so if that's any indication for you... ;) –  CraigM Aug 6 '11 at 3:53
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I'd say ToC is much lighter than CoC. I found I didn't like the way the CoC rules worked on my initial read through. That's a personal preference though, so take it for what it is. Pelgrane also has some awesome conversion material on their site for various adventures: pelgranepress.com/site/?tag=download&cat=10#conversions. Overall, I'd say Trail is less rules-heavy than CoC, and that I prefer the way Trail handles the rules it has. That said, I think both systems compliment each other nicely. –  CraigM Aug 6 '11 at 3:55
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This isn't a bad answer, but you'd do a lot better to go to yog-sothoth.com and read the forums there, particularly the dedicated ToC one. This question has been discussed a lot there. –  Dave Hallett Aug 13 '11 at 8:54
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