Q&A with Greg Stafford
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Post Posted: Tue Jun 27, 2006 2:21 am 
 

Greg,

First, let me say I'm glad you've stuck around after what was, I'm sure, an unsettling introduction here.

My question:

I've always been curious about whether the designers and industry leaders from, say, the mid- to late-70s, knew each other and what their level of communication was.

You mentioned a fairly strong gaming scene in the Bay Area ... but did any of you guys know anyone in the "Phoenix group" (the Tunnels & Trolls gang)? Were the names coming out of Lake Geneva just shadowy legends, or did you actually know some of them? Were you familiar with Howard Thompson and Steve Jackson down in Texas?

And, in an era of no internet and no e-mail, I'd imagine conventions were a big key, as much a social gathering as a chance to sell games. Would that be accurate? Also, the magazines from that era: it seems like a lot of you guys designing games actually took the time to contribute to each others' magazines — is that how you remember it?

Finally — and this will sound lame — but did you write a lot of letters back then?** I mean, I'm not sure I can remember my last letter that wasn't actually an invoice I was sending out. E-mail has made me pathologicially lazy in that regard ... :) I'm curious as to the level of so-called "snail mail" that you sent out.

Thanks in advance.

+++++

** [late addition: that should have been re-worded somehow to reflect that I'm only really asking about gaming-related correspondence ... your personal letters, of course, are none of my damn business. :) ]

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Post Posted: Tue Jun 27, 2006 2:59 am 
 

Xaxaxe wrote:My question:

I've always been curious about whether the designers and industry leaders from, say, the mid- to late-70s, knew each other and what their level of communication was.

As many of my English teachers said throughout the years: "That's not a question." :)

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Post Posted: Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:16 am 
 

Thanks for the information, Greg!

Xaxaxe, you might be interested in this thread:

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=1 ... ge=1&pp=10

in which I and others discuss the early years of gaming in the Bay Area...there was a really interesting big meta-group. These years of 'open gaming' had their drawbacks, but having started out in the tail end of this period on the West Coast, I remember there were some great things about it too...in some ways it seemed like everyone was playing the same game, just with different rules. (This is I think one reason for the ambiguity D&D/FRP/RPG that persists to this day, the other being D&D's overall market dominance of course.) IYou could easily bring the same characters from table to table even though the published rules in force might be very different at each one.

Greg,

Oh yea, look in one of his spell lists too, for somethign about "Staffor'd Selective Rainbow" or somethign, which drops people out of the sky when they least expect it.
 

This is actually a subtle bit of humor I never noticed, not knowing the story. In The Arduin Grimoire we find:

Name: STAFFORD'S STAR BRIDGE Level: 9th Mana Cost: 18 plus 1 per minute after 10 minutes Range: 120' Area Affected: Variable  Effects: A rainbow-hued bridge of coruscating light 5' wide and 20' long per level over level needed for use. It will carry any weight, cannot be hit by non-magikal things, and can be keyed to support any single type (or more), letting all others fall through selectively.

If the story behind this is as you say it's a rather sad and poetic lament, after its fashion: here you were, offering 'the bridge to the stars', but Dave had been let fall through 'selectively.'

Local then, are you? Great article, eh? Moria Johnson, it was. She wrote that thing to make me a hero of RPG and Dave a villian (remember his comment about bodybags? He was never very tactful)


I know that Dave also read it that way and was very hurt by the article, but actually reading it as a ten year old kid it made me want to play with both of you (even as a kid I wasn't much for the 'family' concerns that she raised about Dave's game and which he went to so much length to combat by getting a 'Christian' endorsement for The Arduin Adventure later on, which is actually a rather nice rules-lite fantasy game off the basic template). I remember lying in my grandmother's guest bed dreaming of exploring Snake Pipe Hollow with your players...

He was surprised, but sent in a sort of Cthulhu dungeon. It was almost rejected, but I wanted it in even though it was really contrary to the game.


The infamous Black Devil Mountain if I recall correctly. It's quite a good dungeon in its way, but the problem of course is that Call of Cthulhu isn't in most applications a dungeoneering game. As I recall that same volume had another one by Hargrave, Dark Carnival, which was a little more in the CoC spirit. I always loved reading his writing and actually solod some out-powered characters through BDM, so it did get some use.

Your analysis is pretty good, though his "bursts" could be pretty sustained.


Oh, I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. You and M.A.R. Barker were always the models for integrated world-builders, but there's a lot of pure gold in Hargrave's stuff. So many of those spells, magic items, treasures and the like exhibit a kind of raw creativity which was a real gift of his and which have a wonderful sort of old-school S&S feel. Also, the lists he published of inns, calendars, NPCs and so forth were a big influence on me and many other GMs (some now with famous published worlds) - copying this stuff was a practical route to making your world come alive in a time when there basically wasn't much like that out there unless you were reading the 'zines. And then, also, his general GMing advice and 'take a troll to lunch' philosophy seems ever more important to me the way that RPG gaming seems to be going, with these highly managed product lines and intricately interconnected systems. I know that my DMing style owes as much to Hargrave's writings as anyone else's, even though I tend to run more low powered and aesthetically unified stuff.

Those first three Grimoires sold a great number of copies and influenced a lot of people - as just one example Jon Tweet and Monte Cook both paid homage to them not long after 3e was published.

Thanks for the stories about Dave's GMing. I had a chance to play in one of his games once, but I didn't know the middleman very well and being a South Bay product and underage with no car I didn't feel comfortable trying to make my own way out to Concord or whatever it was. I'll always deeply regret not following up on that, since there aren't going to be any more chances now.


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Post Posted: Tue Jun 27, 2006 4:26 pm 
 

Calithena wrote:Thanks for the information, Greg!

Xaxaxe, you might be interested in this thread:

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=1 ... ge=1&pp=10

Holy guacamole — check out the guy with 29,000 posts! 8O

That's more than even Al's total. :)

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Post Posted: Tue Jun 27, 2006 4:39 pm 
 

Xaxaxe wrote:
Calithena wrote:Thanks for the information, Greg!

Xaxaxe, you might be interested in this thread:

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=1 ... ge=1&pp=10

Holy guacamole — check out the guy with 29,000 posts! 8O

That's more than even Al's total. :)


Quite a few LOL's in there I am sure.  :)

  


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 8:51 pm 
 

MShipley88 wrote:I wonder if you have any recall of the early versions of Stormbringer.
The first box was two inches thick.  
The second box was a one inch box and the contents had been combined in a single book.
As far as I can tell, the two versions were published very close together.
Can you recall why the change between editions, or any other details?

Well, to be frank, it was for the money. In those days we had pretty good autoships (that is, automatic shipment to the distributors (and there were a lot more of them in those days too). A new edition of a game sold as well as a new game. So of course, when a game sold out we did a new edition rather than a reprint.
We also wanted to lower our cost per unit. The two inch box was much more expensive than a one inch--I seem to recall it being 50% more, though that seems incredible now. Whatever the actual price, it was significently more. And it was cheaper to print a larger book than two smaller ones, and also easier to collate it together. Finally, it was easier and cheaper to sent 1" boxes.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:10 pm 
 

Xaxaxe wrote:First, let me say I'm glad you've stuck around after what was, I'm sure, an unsettling introduction here.

Eh, not so bad really. I made a mistake, and had a chance to explain things.
An I'm glad too. This is a fun forum for me.
My question:
I've always been curious about whether the designers and industry leaders from, say, the mid- to late-70s, knew each other and what their level of communication was.

Ah, the Golden Age. I am being filled with golden nostalgia now.
You mentioned a fairly strong gaming scene in the Bay Area ... but did any of you guys know anyone in the "Phoenix group" (the Tunnels & Trolls gang)? Were the names coming out of Lake Geneva just shadowy legends, or did you actually know some of them? Were you familiar with Howard Thompson and Steve Jackson down in Texas?

Yea, we all knew each other. Heck, for several years Scott Bizar of FGU was my brother-in-law! Gary, Dave, Steve, Howard, Pete. For one thing, we were all just so thrilled to have a bunch of other game geeks to talk to! Just about everyone was young, ambitious, creative.
And, in an era of no internet and no e-mail, I'd imagine conventions were a big key, as much a social gathering as a chance to sell games. Would that be accurate?

Absolutely. Man, they were really a blast since it was the ONLY time we'd all be in one place. Not that everyone was friends, since there were some perosnality differences, but we all were friendly. Well, not all. Some guys were pretty "high and mighty," especially the old board game folks (Dunnigan at SPI comes to mind) who were as resentful of the RPG taking over the market as the RPG guys later when CCGs ate us alive.
Also, the magazines from that era: it seems like a lot of you guys designing games actually took the time to contribute to each others' magazines — is that how you remember it?

That's how it actually was. There were not many companies, not many magazines, and everyone wanted to contribute to the entire industry and publicize our games. I dont recall much rancor or jealousy, either. TSR were the gorillas of the time, and somewhat arrogant, but still most of the creative guys were in the same boat.
Finally — and this will sound lame — but did you write a lot of gaming-related letters back then? ... I'm curious as to the level of so-called "snail mail" that you sent out.

A fair amount. Most of my correspondance was with contributors, though, not so much with other publishers. If I needed some information I'd just pick up a phone and call. I'd guess the letters might still be in dusty old boxes over at Chaosium somewhere.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:17 pm 
 

Calithena wrote:Thanks for the information, Greg!

My pleasure. Truely. This forum is a lot more interesting than most of the interviews I've had in my 30 years in the biz.
Thanks for the stories about Dave's GMing. I had a chance to play in one of his games once, but I didn't know the middleman very well and being a South Bay product and underage with no car I didn't feel comfortable trying to make my own way out to Concord or whatever it was.

Ah, too bad. You'd've loved it.
I'll always deeply regret not following up on that, since there aren't going to be any more chances now.

Carpe diem, my friends. We do not have any practice runs in life.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:27 pm 
 

Hi Greg,

Glad that you are here taking a few questions.
There has been speculation that Chaosium will be reprinting Beyond the Mountains of Madness.
Is there any target date on that or is it merely speculation from anxious players and collectors?

Thanks!
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Post Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:40 pm 
 

jasonw1239 wrote:There has been speculation that Chaosium will be reprinting Beyond the Mountains of Madness.
Is there any target date on that or is it merely speculation from anxious players and collectors?

I'm afraid I'm unable to help you here, Jason.
I left Chaosium amost eight years ago, and have not been privy to their publication plans since then.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:58 pm 
 

Thought it might be worth asking. Nobody seems to know and I just thought that there might be a miniscule chance that you had an "inside scoop".  :)

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Post Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2006 12:24 am 
 

jasonw1239 wrote:Thought it might be worth asking. Nobody seems to know and I just thought that there might be a miniscule chance that you had an "inside scoop".  :)

Actually, however, slightly less than miniscule. :)
And it is always worth while to ask.


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Post Posted: Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:48 pm 
 

Hi, Greg. Thanks for the great answers to my Hargrave queries.

I had a Glorantha question. I was wondering where the Trolls came from: specifically, did the Broken Sword have an influence on the early iterations of the world? I've often thought the elves/dwarves/trolls/goblins basis had more legs than the elves/dwarves/hobbits of Tolkien, and sometimes I think I see the traces of this in Glorantha here and there.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 15, 2006 11:37 am 
 

Calithena wrote:Hi, Greg. Thanks for the great answers to my Hargrave queries.
My pleasure. Thank you for provoking the memories.
I had a Glorantha question. I was wondering where the Trolls came from:
Trolls were not really fleshed out until Trollpak, in 1982. They had existed, but not so clearly. The RuneQuest years really gave me reason to focus on the nonhumans and bring them into focus. Sandy Petersen, fresh from graduating with his degree in biology, was instrumental in describing the physical characteristics (I'd never heard of dental patterns, for instance) and in contributing to the social characteristics.
I really wanted to indicate that these were more than just monsters. Steve Perrin had discovered the word "trollkin," and my catch phrase became, "trolls have kin too!" I basically thought up their characteristics by extrapolating from their mythical powers of devouring, obscuring and surviving. Then I investigated details when my original RQ group interacted with them in the Sazdorf ruins.
specifically, did the Broken Sword have an influence on the early iterations of the world?
I presume you mean Poul Anderson's novel by that name.
I don't think it did. At least not consciously. Upon reading your letter I had to go and read some reviews of the novel to recall what it was about, and frankly, still don't recall having read it.
I didn't discover fantasy or science fiction until after I'd begun writing my earliest Gloranthan materials. I remember picking up one of the first books I ever saw, which (fortunately) was The Hobbit, and quite naïvely thinking, "Damn, someone else already invented a made-up world." However, once I discovered these books I did read them voraciously and I may well have read it so that it entered my subconscious mind.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:06 pm 
 

So, Glorantha was a creation that pre-dates fantasy reading!

How far back was Glorantha in your mind?  Can you think of a year or other chronological even with which the rough outlines of Glorantha coincides in your mental landscape?

(I think the concept of fantasy worlds is very interesting.  In fact, we role-players all share memories of places that do not even exist...often with the vividness of real places.  The ruined moathouse outside of the Village of Hommlet is an excellent example.)

Also, since your concept of Glorantha preceeds your encounter with Tolkien, it must also preceed your encounter with fantasy role-playing.  How did Glorantha become a role-playing project?

Mark  8)


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Post Posted: Fri Jul 21, 2006 11:48 pm 
 

Hmm, once again I was not notified that a message was here...
Sorry to take so long to respond!
MShipley88 wrote:So, Glorantha was a creation that pre-dates fantasy reading!

Yes, absolutely. I was, however, well versed in European mythology. I had read Beowulf, a version of the Iliad,  Le Morte d'Arthur, many retellings of Greek and other Norse mythology.
How far back was Glorantha in your mind?  Can you think of a year or other chronological even with which the rough outlines of Glorantha coincides in your mental landscape?

1966. My freshman year at college (Beloit college, in WI, if you are curious). I remember quite clearly sitting down at my desk to write a vignette. I still have that first page, in fact. It's framed. That led to an explanation, which led to a story, which led to the blossoming of Glorantha.
(I think the concept of fantasy worlds is very interesting.  In fact, we role-players all share memories of places that do not even exist...often with the vividness of real places.  The ruined moathouse outside of the Village of Hommlet is an excellent example.)

A real comment on the human imagination.
Also, since your concept of Glorantha precedes your encounter with Tolkien, it must also preceed your encounter with fantasy role-playing.

Yes, of course. Fantasy roleplaying didn't exist until D&D came out in 1975, the same year I released White Bear & Red Moon. I'd released that board game as a "do it yourself epic," wherein I supplied the setting and the characters, including vast and exotic armies; and then each play of the game was the plot.
I encountered D&D early (the first copy ever sold by TSR) as I think I've related on this list, and some time afterwards met my next door neighbor who was playing it. I played some, but didn't like the game much. Much too... well, homogenized and bastardized. I was quite offended to see swarming hordes of kobolds ready to be hacked to pieces.
How did Glorantha become a role-playing project?

First some effort was made by Hendrik Jan Pfeiffer, the neighbor with whom I played my first D&D game; and two of his friends, Art and Ray Turney, to make some D&D stuff out of WB&RM.
Then I was at a party at Paul Zimmer's house, called Greyhaven. It was a fairly regular party swarming with science fiction folks. (It's where I first met Poul Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana Paxon.)
Also I met Clint Bigglestone, who told me some friends of his wanted to do some D&D stats on the board game. I told I didn't like D&D, but would talk. I then met his D&D players, Steve Perrin, Steve Henderson and Warren James. They were all bit SCA fans, charter members. They told me they didn't especially like D&D either. I sketched out the requirement I'd want for a Gloranthan RPG, and from the original team only Ray Turney wanted to continue on and so he joined that team (he worked most of the magic system out). The result was RuneQuest.
I had sensed hat RPG was a better vehicle for fantasy than board games They worked hard on it, missed deadlines (of course. Who knew what a job i was going to be?). One day I told them the book was done enough for me and we rushed it into publication to get to Origins (maybe GenCon, but I am not sure GenCon existed in hose days). We were so hurried that we actually misspelled Glorantha on a map, and misspelled Chaosium on the back cover.  :oops:
Well, it was enough. We were off and running.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 1:47 am 
 

Interesting how Wisconsin figures so much in the start of RPG's.

How did you come to know so many well-known fantasy and science fiction writers?  What, for instance, were they doing in Wisconsin?

Also, could you relate any details about the forming of Chaosium?

("forming of Chaosium"...almost a deliberate irony?)

Mark   8)


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 10:51 am 
 

MShipley88 wrote:Interesting how Wisconsin figures so much in the start of RPG's.

I think it must be due to the cheese. :)
Or else it's just so boring that it precipitates flights of fancy.
But the place that I feel is a strange center of RPG is Minneapolis/St. Paul, from whence came Dave Arneson and M.A.R.Barker
How did you come to know so many well-known fantasy and science fiction writers?  What, for instance, were they doing in Wisconsin?

They were in CA, actually. I left WI in '68, and have done little more than visit there (mainly for the old for GenCons) since.
As for how I met them--a combination of luck and cojones.
LUCK: I believe that I got to the Grayhaven party through Isaac Bonewitz, who I had met through pagan connections at that time. But when I learned that it was a gathering of SF authors, I went even though I knew next to no one there.
COJONES: I'd ask "Where is Poul Anderson?' until someone pointed him out, and then go up and humbly introduce myself, and try to start a conversation. I did the same thing at SF conventions. Heck, one time I called up Harlan Ellison out of the blue.
I learned that a lot of those folk were pretty darn stuck up., or just too busy for a fan boy.
Also, could you relate any details about the forming of Chaosium?

The company was formed when I lived in one of Oakland's ghettos, east 14th St., if you know the area--over near the Oakland Coliseum. I lived in a four room apartment with my wife, two very young children, and then some dear friends (2 adults, 2 kids) from Chicago moved in with us "for a few days. until we find our own place." They stayed for months, and it was all chaos. (Get it? Coliseum of Chaos = Chaosium)
WB&RM had already been accepted by a couple of publishers, but the first company (I forget its name now) went out of business. Then the second, which was Battle Flag, went out of business, too. Then my local game store owner (Gary Grady) said he'd like to do it, but then decided to get a divorce and so he couldn't start a new game publishing business and complicate that further. (He did later start a game company, and published those very successful early Sherlock Holmes party games.) The good part was that each time someone had accepted the game they made suggestions for changes that improved the game.
I was wondering what to do about getting it published. We didn't like living in the dangerous part of town, either.
One day I did a Tarot Card reading and got absolutely explicit results, clear as day. As a result of that decided to publish it myself. I went out and the next day got a job working in surgery at Providence Hospital. My parents took the kids into their house for a year (very sad, that) so both my wife and I could work, and after a year we moved out of Oakland to Albany, CA.
I saved about every penny and started Chaosium on the $10K I earned that year. I got my friends, with whom I was doing a fanzine called Wyrd at the time, to help out. (Steve Swenston, art; William Church, map. Bill Johnson, who did the editing, was not in on Wyrd. I'd met him while working at the hospital.)
I went to a SF convention in LA, gave a copy to a dealer there who was selling games, and next day he ordered some from me and gave me a list of other distributors.
"What are you sales terms?" he asked me.
"What are sales terms?" I asked back. Whatta business man I was!  :)  
I never put out a job search for employees. Whenever I needed someone, there was someone right there that I could hire. So my first employee was Tadashi Ehara, who did business; then Lynn Willis, who I initially hired to layout his own boardgame (Lords of the Middle Sea), then signed him on permanelty; later Charlie Krank, Steve Perrin, Sandy Petersen, etc.


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