Unlike many fantasy RPGs, magic is not something to be taken lightly in Call of Cthulhu. Most of the time, Investigators will find themselves on the receiving end of the weird and dangerous powers used by the cultists and minions they’ll encounter.
What is Magic?
Call of Cthulhu goes into surprisingly interesting detail on the nature of Mythos Magic, and how H.P. Lovecraft came to describe them. The “universal” nature of it is a sign of how it works on a greater reality than the feeble minds of mankind can ever truly understand.
Often, Magic is learned through study of Mythos Tomes. While the study of such things is the province of the mad, often, Investigators find themselves having to resort to the study of Mythos Tomes out of sheer desperation.
Of course, nobody usually keeps such things in easily digestible formats. Often written by mad scribes and such, the tomes require a great deal of effort to obtain, preserve, translate and study.
Reading Mythos Books
Reading (and studying) Mythos Books is a tricky process, and Call of Cthulhu offers an option to do an Initial Reading of the text, and a Full Study. Initial Readings are faster but not without risk, a successful reading roll gives an idea of the contents of the book but still incurs Sanity loss! Success also means gaining greater insight to the Mythos.
A Full Reading is a process that takes months as it involves careful research and study. No roll is usually necessary for this, but again, Sanity Loss is inevitable. This study grants much more insight to the Mythos, and may occasionally impart additional skills.
Mythos Tomes also contain spells that the Investigators may choose to study and learn. Once learned through the books, they can actually go teach each other how to cast it. Learning Mythos Spells doesn’t incur Sanity Loss. That happens when casting them.
As mentioned above, casting spells takes a toll on the caster’s sanity. However, it doesn’t rely on Sanity as a cost. Instead, the spell consumes Magic Points, a resource determined by an Investigator’s POW stat.
This is on top of all the other requirements of the spell such as strange reagents and long-winded chanting and ceremonies necessary to enact them.
Call of Cthulhu continues it’s trend of making everything risky and dangerous, players should always feel like their Investigators are on the edge of peril, and the magic system ties in wonderfully into it. The Mythos Tomes are a source of possible salvation or damnation, with spells that could save their lives, or drive them to madness.
Few games have ever managed to pull off that moment where the player is cursing himself for having to learn magic, knowing full well that he’ll probably get shafted, but does it anyway because anything is better than nothing when dealing with the Mythos!