By Christopher Helton
Chaosium Games is one of the very few tabletop roleplaying game companies from the early days of gaming that is still in operation. Probably best known for Call of Cthulhu, the first tabletop horror RPG (and the game responsible for the Lovecraftian influence on gaming, whether in tabletop or video gaming), Chaosium has also published throughout its history the fantasy games Runequest and Stormbringer, based on the works of British fantasy author Michael Moorcock. Throughout the last few years, Chaosium has been plagued with Kickstarter delays, lost licenses and internal issues. The company has staggered along, a shadow of its past self.
Last night an announcement was made, first through the updates of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter and later on gaming-related forums and blogs, that the founder and original President of Chaosium Games, Greg Stafford had returned to the company. In the announcement, Stafford said that he was once again President and CEO of Chaosium and that he was "puttin' the band back together."
Stafford went on to say, "We have pressed the reset button… In 1975 Chaosium started out as a quirky boutique game company. We were all about creativity, artistry and craftsmanship. With every game we provided you with new realms of imagination and entertainment. Over the last few years we forgot that, and lost our way."
This brings up the question: how friendly of a return was this? Just last weekend a Chaosium employee talked about meeting with UK-based Call of Cthulhu licensors at the UK Games Expo convention. No word then of changes, and American licensors expressed surprise at the news. It is rumored that the changes in staff that come with this takeover will be sweeping and total.
Two pending and delayed Kickstarters look to be at the heart of this, both for Chaosium's Call of Cthluhu franchise. A 2012 Kickstarter to reprint the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign Horror On The Orient Express successfully raised over $200K, but still has a number of unfulfilled backer rewards. The 2013 Kickstarter campaign to relaunch Call of Cthulhu with a new edition raised over $500K and has still not seen a print edition (PDFs of the core books were delivered to backers), and a number of other back rewards.
In the announcement, Stafford said that Call of Cthulhu creator Sandy Peterson would return to overseeing the game, and getting the 7th edition out to backers and gamers. Peterson said "I am excited to return to active participation in the Call of Cthulhu line, and I'm eagerly looking forward to working directly with Greg again. We are Chaosium's original team from the 1980s. My first focus is going to be the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter campaign."
Another, as yet unanswered, question that this takeover raises is what will be status of the Stafford owed properties that had once been published by Chaosium. With his return to the company, will Runequest, the fantasy game whose system laid much of the foundation for the company house Basic Roleplaying Game system, or Pendragon, the innovative roleplaying game that focuses on generational play in the worlds of King Arthur, find their ways back to the Chaosium banner? Or will the recently relaunched Magic World come to the forefront and get the push from the company that it deserves?
In the announcement Stafford also said that the company would "[r]eturn to regularly making awesome new games." What does the future have to hold for Chaosium?
Gen Con is in just a few months, and you can bet that I will be talking with the new old regime at Chaosium Games while we are all there. Stay tuned for more as it develops.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics. Christopher also has a fundraising page to help offset the expenses of convention season coverage.