The Descent of Skills

(or more properly, “The Descent of Skills, and Selection in Relation to Call of Cthulhu)

So, the other day I was busy converting an old, old scenario across to work with one of the newer editions of the Call of Cthulhu rules. I’ve done this a few times and I am always amazed at how little change there has been to the core set of skills that Sandy Petersen dreamed up for the game over 30 years ago. In all that time, while there have been some additions and modifications to the set of non-combat skills, overall much more has stayed the same.

But, there are a couple of notable cases where things have just dropped off the radar completely … and one of these (Linguist) was something I stumbled across during my scenario conversion. That got me wondering … just how many tweaks and changes have there really been to the CoC skill set over the past 30 years? How many things have, like Linguist, sort of just disappeared never to be seen again. Curious, I embarked upon some research — pulling out a bunch of books and character sheets and lining them up against one another. Based on this I found I could draw up a nifty (if large) “family tree” for CoC skills, like this:

CoC Skill Family Tree(click on the image for a larger JPEG version)

Because it’s hard to see much detail when zoomed right out, here’s a close up section of the “family tree”:CoC Skill Family Tree (section2, sml)

So … what does this family tree say about the way in which Call of Cthulhu has evolved over the years? Well … I guess it largely confirms what I thought. There are a whole bunch of skills that are in the current edition (and even the forthcoming 7th edition) which hark all the way back to Sandy’s 1981 version of the game. A couple have gone through some minor but weird changes — who would have thought “Spot Hidden” was originally “Spot Hidden Object”? It used to be much easier to Dodge in 1st Edition CoC (base chance was DEX x 5 not DEX x 2).

How many things — other than Linguist — have gone the way of the Dodo? Well, not many really … Operate (other) died early on. Pick Pocket seems to died out with 5th Edition rules in 1992. A number of things have merged and changed name too.

I also discovered a few oddly persistant skills lurking somewhere around the periphery, occasionally dropping in and out. The weirdest one I noticed was Sailing: this was suggested in the 1920s Guidebook that came along with the 2nd Edition back in 1983, but never really made it onto any character sheets and was not carried into the 3rd Edition (1986). But in the same year, when the first Gaslight came out, Sailing was in there … but it dies out again when we come to 4th Edition (1989). Then, almost a decade later, Delta Green resurrects it again in both the core book (1997) and in Delta Green: Countdown (1999). Talk about a skill that just won’t give up and die!

Anyway … in case anyone has any use for this poster of the CoC Skill “family tree” … you can use either the larger image version obtained by clicking the image above. Or you can grab one of these PDFs:

  The Descent of Skills (as a single, gigantic page)

  The Descent of Skills (split over 12 pages, ideal substitute for wallpaper)


6 responses to “The Descent of Skills

  • London Kingstarter endgame; also, Dean Engelhardt is nuts « Tomes in Progress

    […] Dean Engelhardt, who is clearly a lunatic, graphed the evolution of the skills of the various editions of Call of Cthulhu.  It’s huge (and fascinating, frankly) and definitely worth a look.  I’m really […]

  • Look To The Future . . . | Cthulhu Reborn

    […] series of interviews with some of the most influential Lovecraftian game designers, mapped out the evolution of Call of Cthulhu skills, created a family of insane handwriting fonts, and … er … a whole bunch of other […]

  • chadbouchard

    Hi! This is incredibly cool and an excellent, efficient visualization. Thanks!

    What’s your source for the 7E skill list? Is that list from the Quickstart Rules? If so, are you confident it won’t differ from the final release?

    • deanadelaide

      Hi Chad! Glad you like the skill chart. As for my source for the 7E skills list … well, if you look around other pages on Cthulhu Reborn you’ll see mention of the fact that I am lucky enough to be designing the character sheets for Chaosium’s 7E books — in order to do that, I needed some basic info about 7E skills. Of course it *could* change before the books get published.

  • csmithadair

    Fantastic chart, Dean! It’s lovely to see all the changes in one handy reference. It was pointed out to me on a Facebook thread from Aaron Vanek asking about changes across editions. So, I haven’t dived into completely, but I noted your mention of the Pick Pocket skill becoming obsolete. In the 5th edition notes on converting older characters, it stated that the skill was now glossed as a DEX roll. Now that we’ve had 7th edition for a while, we see that it has returned, combined with Conceal in Sleight of Hand (it’s interesting that they didn’t just combine Camouflage and Pick Pocket into Conceal in the first place.) Also, Boating and Sailing were subsumed into Pilot.

    • deanadelaide

      Hey Christopher, glad to hear this chart is continuing to prove handy to folks. You are quite correct in pointing out that some of the changes that have been proposed when skills are “retired” aren’t anything as clean as “Skill X is now rolled into Skill Y” or “Use Skill Z for this situation”. For the purposes of having a (vaguely) readable chart I needed to leave out mentioning a few of these more unusual cases — perhaps I should have done footnotes 🙂

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