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I'm familiar with the very basics of BRP system and I have 6th edition CoC corebook, but right now my schedule doesn't allow me to even glance through it. Aside from the obviously essential skill checks and sanity checks, what other rules do I absolutely need to run a traditional CoC game, and which can I safely ignore as unnecessary? By traditional I mean:

  • One-shot game, highly dangerous for characters
  • A few of the investigators probably dabble in occult arts
  • Very light on combat; investigators are encouraged to do whatever they can to avoid straight confrontation. They only have a chance to actually beat the enemy versus humanoids
  • As with combat, not much action going on, though I can see something like one really good and appropriate car chase
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Contrasting @BESW's opinion somewhat, I'd say the answer to your core question, namely: "what other rules do I absolutely need to run a traditional CoC game?", is, simply:

None.

You don't need any other rules besides the obligatory skill checks (have a skill of 0-99, roll d100, if the result is equal or smaller than your skill rating, you succeed, if not, you fail) ...if you're not very bad at rule-improvising, and your party is willing to accept your judgment.

I'm talking from hard experience here. We've been playing CoC one shots in a variety of half-official, half-homebrew settings (ranging from the 1890s to the 2390s) for almost a decade with such a super-minimalist, rules-be-damned approach, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we checked some rule (like piercing) in the book.

Of course, this means you'll have to improvise some rulings -- but the "how likely is that to happen (in percentages)? well, roll that now!" rule of thumb works 99% of the time for practically anything.

Let me repeat: I'm talking from years of real experience of running CoC one shots here. (And I'm not trying to boast here -- what would be the point in that? --, I hope that's obvious. I'm not even saying my solution beats any other, nor that everyone would like our stories. Who knows? Maybe they'd be considered plain bad by some. But we've been having fun for years. So, for some, a similar approach may work.) Practically a d100, and a good and fair gut sense of approximating the chances of something is all you need. :)

To add a few thoughts on the points the Q raises, at BESW's request:

  • One-shot game, highly dangerous for characters

    Danger is inherent in most stereotypical CoC encounters. Besides good storytelling (which is the primary device of raising a sense of being endangered in any horror game), adding tough but just and appropriate (negative ;)) modifiers to a d100 skill roll is well enough. If you decide to keep the HP system, scaling lethality to your needs is a breeze: Personally, I'd recommend keeping the current HP (and, possibly, Sanity) of the players' characters a secret from the players, issuing warnings and subtle reminders about their condition and its changes as the story progresses.

    "You raise your gun with a swing, trying to aim at your poor brother's head, but you just can't keep your arm up. Adrenaline rush or no, it's most likely broken. You might try and use your left, of course."

  • A few of the investigators probably dabble in occult arts

    Use Sanity as designed, if possible. The Q itself says it's essential, so I'm assuming OP knows these rules. If not, though, you can go for a simple improvised d100 roll here as well. After all, on the grand scale, Sanity loss is the mental equivalent of suffering physical injury.

    "Your head is still spinning from what you've seen on the terrace. But what was it? You don't want to remember that. Not now. Not ever. You want to stay inside for the rest of your life. Inside is safe. Outside is your brother who's become the shadows. All of them. Even though that's impossible. Even though it's your own doing. So, are you going to lock the doors?"

  • Very light on combat; investigators are encouraged to do whatever they can to avoid straight confrontation. They only have a chance to actually beat the enemy versus humanoids.

    See above, under danger, mostly. Roll your skill to hit, if successful, tell and note the effect it has on the opponent. If possible, keep current HP and roll damage in secret. Tweak the damage values of weapons etc as you see fit.

  • As with combat, not much action going on, though I can see something like one really good and appropriate car chase

    Again, use your sense of drama and the core mechanic, a d100 test, with appropriate modifiers. :)

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Instead of trimming down and modifying systems that are designed for playstyles you're not interested in, consider using a game system that's already doing what you want.

BRP and CoC assume combat, and are generally geared toward multi-session campaigns. It's possible to hack them into compliance with your needs, but that's gonna take some effort. Even then, the remaining rules will require a relatively significant amount of time to become familiar with, and your time is limited.

So try Cthulhu Dark.

is free, and small, and it does exactly what you want. The core rules are a single front-and-back page, with two more pages of optional rules and scenario creation guidelines.

  • One-shot game, highly dangerous for characters. Cthulhu Dark is designed for one-shot games as its default mode of play, and that support the "anyone can die" element because there's no metagame about extended narrative. Cthulhu Dark sessions have a center-stage place for that palpable sense of Investigators struggling to defeat the Horrors before they lose their minds.
  • A few of the investigators probably dabble in occult arts. You can easily dabble in the occult arts: while you can't roll your "humanly possible" die for obvious reasons, your Sanity die is begging to get rolled for spellcasting, and your Profession die is available if it's in your job description.
  • Very light on combat; investigators are encouraged to do whatever they can to avoid straight confrontation. They only have a chance to actually beat the enemy versus humanoids. One of the Cthulhu Dark rules is: "If you fight any creature you meet, you will die." Roll to hide or escape instead. My group has wondered whether "any creature you meet" should include ordinary humans or not, but ultimately the rules should be interpreted whichever way your group prefers according to your desired game experience.
  • As with combat, not much action going on, though I can see something like one really good and appropriate car chase. The core mechanic--being extremely simple and quite robust--is sufficient to model most any kind of scene. The optional rules include (slightly) more complicated ways to run investigations, and have some good generic advice for applying the mechanic to other sorts of scenes.

Investigators in Cthulhu Dark regularly risk their Sanity; while my games rarely have Investigators die outright (though that has happened more than once!), it's common to have at least one go so totally insane that he must be retired, and the player starts a new Investigator. It's a tense, high-risk game and if you follow the scenario creation guidelines you're basically guaranteed to keep players on the edge of their seats.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for your answer! While I'm probably going to start with CoC because of my pretty irrational desire to do things in an 'old school' way, i'm in no way rejecting your excellent suggestion. Pretty confident this system will find its way into my sessions. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Dance Dec 25 '14 at 15:34

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