It being October, I figured it was finally time to air a long hidden Horror-ible confession.
I do not like the game Call of Cthulhu.
In fact, I'll go so far as to say I find it deeply flawed in many aspects, and I'm mystified at the popularity it has. But its one of the grand old institutions of the hobby, so I don't often find that position something I can bring up without fearing ostracization. I swear, this isn't entirely an outsiders opinion. I've played CoC a handful of times, even took a hand at running an adventure. And all my actual-play experience just reinforces my criticisms.
*A significant portion of the concrete rules of the game, and the statistics of both PC's and NPC's are about combat, but combat isn't just the least important aspect of the game, its actively discouraged.
*The discouragement of combat is not actually explicitly mentioned in the corebook. Weapon stats are. So are monster stats. its casually easy for a referee to see shotgun stats on one page, and how many hit points a ghoul has on another, and assume the game is about investigators applying the former to the latter.
EDIT: So can the players. When I ran the game, one of the players, entirely new to CoC, put all his skill points into gun skills. Not because he had munchkin tendencies, but ... why wouldn't he? There wasn't anything indicating that wasn't how the game was played.
*The other mechanical stats of the characters outside of combat are just as meaningless. There's a group of "Find Clues" skills, which get cycled through serially every clue-based encounter until at least one character gets a success that lets them get the clue token. There some physical stats that don't matter, because most of the antagonists of the game either ridiculously overpower them or have special abiliities that circumvent them. Then there are miscellaneous skills that seem to exist mainly to get players to say things like "hey, I have horsemanship, I go find a horse to ride ... on this steamship."
*My impression is CoC gets its good reputation because its consistently attracted high-energy story-minded GM's. People who blow through the system's paltry mechanics to dazzle the players by telling the story they were going to tell anyway. Actual experience with GM's and writers of the game has not dispelled this impression.
*This is the pattern of every single CoC adventure I've been in: I'm handed a pre-gen of modest ability and indifferent knowledge of the supernatural. For the first third of the adventure, I and the other characters get to poke around as we choose, regularly handed clues by the GM we were mandated to find anyway. This is justified by rolling dice, though there does not always appear to be causality. In the second third, we are informed bad shit is moving around us and our direction becomes constrained. Defensive tactics will be formulated, which will prove meaningless, and there might be a fight with mooks, which won't actually change anything. In the final third, the GM quickly takes ever more narrative control, extolling what horrible things are happening around you while you just stare at them helplessly. Depending on how we acted in the earlier parts of the session, we are informed of the different ways are characters are doomed. I assume clues found in the first part are shown to have some kind of relavence by the end, but by that point I'm usually too bored to notice.
*This is also the explicit pattern of every pre-written scenario I've read.
*I'm actually okay with the Sanity mechanics in theory, but in practice they encourage farcical player behavior. Competing for who achieves the coolest madness symptom. Debating who has enough remaining SAN points to open the ominous door. Maneuvering for what are, essentially, "Cure Light Madness" buffs.
*Probably the biggest issue: I find investigation and mystery scenarios in a role-playing context inherently boring and problematic. Its a established narrative structure, so anyone with even the slightest genre awareness knows how things will play out already. Unleashing a team of typical ingenious players on such a scenario, who are willing to try any and everything to solve the mystery as directly as possible, pushes the GM to rely on fiat to preserve the mystery until they're ready yo end it. Its a set-up that breeds adversarial GM'ing.