Q&A with Greg Stafford
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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 3:03 pm 
 

Obviously, RuneQuest followed soon after the board games....or did it?  Was RuneQuest the company's first role-playing venture?

Where do the All the Worlds Monsters books fit into the timeline...since the first edition has sometimes been refered to as pre-dating Chaosium itself?

How did the partnership with Avalon Hill to print RuneQuest items come about?  Was it really a partnership, or something else?

How did the Midkemia products become Chaosium products?

(Lots of questions, aye?  Hope you don't mind!)

Mark  8)


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 3:07 pm 
 

MShipley88 wrote:How did the partnership with Avalon Hill to print RuneQuest items come about?

And why did AH suck the life right out of Runequest like a ... like a ... damnit, what were the "vampires" in RQ called again?

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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 5:56 pm 
 

MShipley88 wrote:Obviously, RuneQuest followed soon after the board games....or did it?  Was RuneQuest the company's first role-playing venture?

Soon? Well, Chaosium had been in business for three years before RuneQuest came out. We'd done a number of boardgames: White Bear & Red Moon, Nomad Gods, Elric, (all by me) Raiders & Traders, Troy (both by Don Dupont) and Lords of the Middle Sea (by Lynn Willis). I think those all came out before RuneQuest. Afterwards we did King Arthur's Knights (me again),  and Stomp (Tadashi Ehara and Lynn Willis) and Panzer Pranks (Lortz brothers and Lynn Willis). I hope that's all of ‘em.
Where do the All the Worlds Monsters books fit into the timeline...since the first edition has sometimes been refered to as pre-dating Chaosium itself?

The ATWM were Chaosium's first roleplaying venture. The first volume came out in 1977. Steve Perrin was already working on RuneQuest, but he had previously been very active in D&D, especially in Alarms & Excursions, working with Jeff Pimper to collect new monsters for the game. ATWM came out before the official TSR Monster Manuel. We did two more volumes of it before concentrating on only our own product.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 6:01 pm 
 

MShipley88 wrote:How did the partnership with Avalon Hill to print RuneQuest items come about?  Was it really a partnership, or something else?


Xaxaxe wrote:And why did AH suck the life right out of Runequest like a ... like a ... damnit, what were the "vampires" in RQ called again?

Vampires.  :)
The Avalon Hill story is an epic of what a small company should not do. It was an uneven "something else" from the start.
Now, it'd been something of a lifelong goal of mine to have Avalon Hill produce a boardgame done by me. I had bought U-Boat, an AH game, in 1959 or so (I still have the game, though I will probably eBay it.) It was the first "realistic" war game I'd ever seen, though I'd played Conflict avidly before that (unrealistic, because your unit movement depends on dice rolls.) In 1962 I moved to Illinois from Connecticut, just before my freshman year of High School. I had two friends: one was a war gamer, and the other was a juvenile delinquent, so I spent half my time playing wargames. They were all Avalon Hill, of course: Tactics II, D-Day, etc. So I'd always dreamed of them publishing one of my games.
When we were successful with RuneQuest we'd decided to stop producing boardgames. They took twice as long to produce, cost twice as much to manufacture, and sold half as much. So Tadashi and I went to Avalon Hill to see if we could sell them our board games. We met Eric Dott, who was a pretty unlikable old guy. Cantankerous, foul mouthed, crude and one of the leading slum lords of Baltimore. The game business seemed to be an appendage to the printing business, which seemed to be the day job front for Eric.
The interview went well enough, and Eric agreed to purchase Dragon Pass (the new title for WB&RM) and Elric which they did eventually produce. So my dream came true.
Aft closing that deal, Eric told me that what he really wanted was to publish RuneQuest. Now, as I said, it was one of our moneymakers, but we'd reached a business plateau by that time. It was clear we needed to have a full time marketing guy to expand our market and keep up with the rest of the market, which was at that time getting larger and increasingly professional. But no one had miraculously appeared to be hired.
Well, I told AH I'd sell them the game, which was what they wanted, for a million dollars. And I would have, too. So they discussed, instead, a license deal.
Back home we discussed the options, and decided that AH might be just the right ticket to do the manufacturing and marketing for us. They were still one of the largest game manufacturers in the industry. Chaosium, meanwhile, would do the acquisitions, writing, design and layout—all our strong suits. Looked good!
We worked out a contract where they promised to spend such and such in advertising, etc etc. Looked great!
Of course, they wanted a new edition. We seized the chance to do a new edition and threw in every house rule we had, plus some more. The result was RQ3. One thing that I did insist on was keeping a close grip on the Gloranthan content. We didn't license that to them. Thus the core game came out and was set in Fantasy Europe, a setting we planned to develop at length.
When we got the color proofs back for the first release of the game I hit the ceiling. In direct violation of the contract they'd taken the designer's names off the box! I protested to Eric, who simply aid, "We don't do that at Avalon Hill. Want to kill the deal right now?" I should have said yes, but I chickened out. I backed down. Big mistake. From "dreamcome true" to "nightmare."
And from then on things just got worse and worse. They ignored our expertise and kept making demands that we tried to meet, and it never clicked. We put out the character sheets, they demanded it be in a box, and then they complained that it cost too much. They demanded product come quickly, even it was to be reprints, and then complained that they were reprints.
At one point Eric revealed he was going to have three RPGs available through AH, and RQ would be "the Cadillac" of the line. He sent me a manuscript of Powers & Perils and asked for an honest assessment. I told him it was awful, neither original nor well written. He accused me of professional jealousy. Go find a copy yourself and make your own mind up about that.
Relations got worse and worse. They weren't spending the promised money on promotion, etc. Finally I told them Chaosium was going to withdraw from the deal. I sent a letter stating the contract violations they had committed, and we stopped working with them. They tried to do a new edition of RQ, which never got into print for various reasons, but I had already forbidden then to use any Gloranthan content in their game.
It ended up with bad feelings all around. It was a business disaster for Chaosium, because we ended up pouring a lot of our energy into it and not getting as much out of it as we would have if we'd just done our own product. Thank the gods that Call of Cthulhu was a success for us, so we stayed in business.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 6:03 pm 
 

MShipley88 wrote:How did the Midkemia products become Chaosium products?

Back in the days when the industry was still relatively small I made the acquaintance of the Midkemia people. They were all A1 folks. (I played in a game GM'd by Ray Feist, where everyone had their own character form their own game system. We had RQ, D&D, T&T, and maybe Rolemaster too. The game went without a hitch. He was a great GM.)
There were only a couple of products that I thought were good enough for our line. The Midkemia products were in that list. They wanted to create rather than manufacture, so I offered to take their materials on. By that time we wanted everything to be a BRP product, so they did some conversions and we did their product.


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 6:48 pm 
 

How did the Thieves World project come about?  For instance, how did Chaosium become involved with Robert Asprin's shared world project?

   What kind of impact did Thieves World have on the RPG genre?  Did it sell well? Were there any conflicts with Gamelords over their Thieves Guild products? ("Haven" and "Sanctuary" seem too coincidental, for instance.)

    Also, how did FASA come to publish a series of Thieves World adventures?


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Post Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006 8:16 pm 
 

MShipley88 wrote:How did the Thieves World project come about?  For instance, how did Chaosium become involved with Robert Asprin's shared world project?

I had met Robert at a game of SF convention. He told me how his TW project had come about because he had played roleplaying games. One day he and a bunch of writers were complaining how difficult it is to make up a new fantasy setting every time they wanted to write a story, and he suggested the series, with him as the co-ordinator (GM) and everyone could contribute, as long as they followed the rule (i.e.- no killing each others main characters, etc.)
Well, I thought, "Hey, let's turn it back into an RPG then!" I worked with Bob and Lynn and got the license. I wanted to keep the whole spirit of cooperation, and I knew it could be a fantastic example of the "early days" of RPG if I did it right. I wanted it to have all the major systems extant at the time, so later folks could compare them and write a master's thesis or something, after RPG gaming took over the world entertainment. :)
The industry was small in those days. I knew everyone involved, and set to to get licenses from everyone. I got ahold of almost all the original authors of the products to contribute. But I nearly had a breakdown with all the hassles, though. Seven companies, nine games, nine game authors, five fiction writers, a bunch of artists, and just about 300 egos. I've related above how I managed to get the then-impossible TSR to let me use their license.
Thieves World is one of my proudest achievements from the early days. It was the first multi-game product, and encompassed just about everyone, and a pretty nice product.

  
What kind of impact did Thieves World have on the RPG genre?  Did it sell well?

It was very well received. Maybe because everyone in the industry was in on it, :) or perhaps for its high quality. It sold really well. TW was a hot book at the time, which certainly helped. We had information in the game supplement that was not available in the books, including the map. I think it won a couple of notable awards.

Were there any conflicts with Gamelords over their Thieves Guild products? ("Haven" and "Sanctuary" seem too coincidental, for instance.)

Nope, none. I didn't think it was a threat to our product. Things were pretty friendly among us all, even to the extent that when we released our RQ Borderlands supplement another company also released one with the same title. We just laughed over it and had a picture taken with both of us holding our product, and it ran in some newsletters.

   
Also, how did FASA come to publish a series of Thieves World adventures?

FASA was pretty new then. They may have licensed it from us at first. I remember not liking their decision to use the same illo on all the covers—too much product confusion. I probably would not have had any reaction if we had not been connected to it somehow. But you can see, it was not a big thing then since I remember so little of it now.


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Post Posted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 11:12 pm 
 

What is the etymology of the name, "Issaries?"  How did Chaosium come to split into three companies...Issaries, Chaosium and Wizard's Attic?


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Post Posted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 11:58 pm 
 

Mark, you are a great interviewer! Keep it coming, I knew almost nothing about Chaosium & reading all of this history is fascinating.

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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 12:00 am 
 

MShipley88 wrote:What is the etymology of the name, "Issaries?"  

Issaries is, of course, the Gloranthan god of trade, so when I started the new company I chose that. I always figure it is easier to name a company with an original word than it is to do a title or TM search to not conflict.
For most Gloranthan deity names I start with a known terrestial deity name and play with it over and over until I discover the one I want. I believe that Issaries began as Hermes, a similiar entity of terrestial origin.


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 12:21 am 
 

MShipley88 wrote:How did Chaosium come to split into three companies...Issaries, Chaosium and Wizard's Attic?

Four, actually. You omitted Green Knight.
It was a matter of money.
We made big money with the CCG Mythos. It is a great game, being much, much more than just two teams bashing each other. Charlie did a great design job on it, and he did most of the artist assignments and coordination. I handled the administration, getting investors and so on. It is REALLY expensive to make a CCG. But it paid off, and we were all very, very happy.
But we had differences of  opinion about what to do as a follow up. I lost the discussion, and several supplements and extensions were made for the game. I was very, very unhappy with the resultant financial situation.
Debtors came a-knocking, and when the other partners decided to give away the Pendragon line rather than pay off the paltry debt that it was being used as collatoral for, I decided to leave Chaosium, the company I had started. I negotiated to take out with exactly what I came in with: Glorantha and its games. I left everything else to them.
However, other debtors came too, and rather than go bankrupt or engage in long and fruitless legal battles, the decision was made to pay off the major debtor (Eric Rowe) by giving him the retail end of the business, Wizard's Attic.
Thus Green Knight was formed, to publish Pendragon.
Issaries, Inc. was created to publish Gloranthan materials, which culminated in HeroQuest.
Chaosium continued with its lines, of which Call of Cthulhu has continued to be the flagship.
Wizard's Attic acted as the retail outlet and Fulfillment House for all three of us, and also then expanded to be the fulfillment house for the multitude of d20 products that subsequently flooded the market.


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 1:08 am 
 

Ok...let me check my facts:

   The four-way split of Chaosium must have taken place in 1998. (Which was eight years ago, as you have mentioned and is the year that Green Knight was formed.)

    I believe that you have described the split as amicable...there was even a sort of breakup party...and at least three of the companies were located near each other for a time on a former military base.

    Of the four, Chaosium is still publishing both Call of Cthulhu and what is left of the Stormbringer line from San Francisco.  The current incarnation of Chaosium appears to be a partnership that is very active in promoting Call of Cthulhu.  The main people at Chaosium appear to be Dustin Wright, Lynn Willis and Charlie Krank.

    Peter Corless is still publishing Pendragon titles for Green Knight...although the Pendragon line has been sold to Arthaus (White Wolf)...and Green Knight is also located in San Francisco.

    Issaries is still distributing HeroQuest and Glorantha materials out of the Berkely area.

    But Eric Rowe's Wizard's Attic has gone under quite recently...within the last year or so.  The collapse of Wizard's Attic stranded at least one Stormbringer project...the Corum and Hawkmoon titles published by Darcsyde.

    How are my facts so far?  

    Was the split really amicable?  Was Issaries located for a time very near to the other two businesses?  Did anyone from Chaosium go with you to Issaries, or did you become a staff of one?


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 1:26 am 
 

I notice that you have always taken steps to defend the Glorantha world setting.  You protected it from Avalon Hill and you seem to have formed Issaries for the specific purpose of keeping control of your creation.  Clearly, in your mind it is your foremost creation.

    Was the protection of the Glorantha setting also one of the reasons that White Bear Red Moon was inspired by the Glorantha matierals, but not actually set in Glorantha until you published it yourself?  Were you making sure that your core creation was not sold to a game company along with that game?

   Dragon Pass was a successor to White Bear Red Moon and was actually published by Avalon Hill.  Did your contract to publish Dragon Pass specifically protect Glorantha as your intellectual property?

    Also (yes...I have many many questions), how does Lords of the Middle Sea connect to the Glorantha materials?


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 10:25 am 
 

MShipley88 wrote:I notice that you have always taken steps to defend the Glorantha world setting.  You protected it from Avalon Hill and you seem to have formed Issaries for the specific purpose of keeping control of your creation.  Clearly, in your mind it is your foremost creation.

Actually, that would be my children.:)
I've been working on Glorantha since 1966, so yes, it is quite important to me.
Was the protection of the Glorantha setting also one of the reasons that White Bear Red Moon was inspired by the Glorantha materials, but not actually set in Glorantha until you published it yourself?  Were you making sure that your core creation was not sold to a game company along with that game?

I guess I must have not been clear before. I initially designed a non-Gloranthan fantasy game, but White Bear Red Moon became Gloranthan in its first iteration. I had submitted it as a Gloranthan game.
   Dragon Pass was a successor to White Bear Red Moon and was actually published by Avalon Hill.  

Just for the record, Chaosium retitled White Bear Red Moon to be Dragon Pass  long before we licensed it to Avalon Hill. No one seemed to be able to remember what was white and what was red. I am pretty sure that it was used for the first version that had the rules developed by Bob Corbett.
Did your contract to publish Dragon Pass specifically protect Glorantha as your intellectual property?

Probably not specifically, but the contract probably prohibited them from meddling with the game or using it for other products. That was pretty common in our contracts at the time.
Also (yes...I have many many questions), how does Lords of the Middle Sea connect to the Glorantha materials?

Not at all.
Lynn Willis had had a couple of board games previously published by, I think, Metagaming and Game Designers Workshop. We met at a convention and he showed me a test copy of Lords of the Middle Sea that he was shopping around, and after a reading and test play, we decided to publish it.


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 11:15 am 
 

MShipley88 wrote:
Ok...let me check my facts:
The four-way split of Chaosium must have taken place in 1998. (Which was eight years ago, as you have mentioned and is the year that Green Knight was formed.)

I believe that is correct. Green Knight was started a bit earlier, hence got product out by '98. The first Issaries issue, Hero Wars and Glorantha, were in 2000.
I believe that you have described the split as amicable...

I left Chaosium to maintain my friendship with Charlie Krank. We are still friends, although because we don't share the company anymore, we see each other less. But on occasions when we are together, we are friends.
there was even a sort of breakup party...and at least three of the companies were located near each other for a time on a former military base.

No, no breakup party. We did have a party when we moved into new quarters on the old Oakland Army Base. All four of us, in fact. The space was large, and pretty cheap. I didn't work at Chaosium but I got in there and scrubbed the oil off the floor of the old motor pool to get it into shape. And then we had a party after we moved in.
Eric's Wizard's Attic was warehousing, selling and billing for all of us. Basically, Issaries had one large office, Green Knight one, Chaosium one Huge one, and Wizard Attic a huge office, a really huge warehouse space for wholesale, and another smaller one for retail. Green Knight shared its space with whatever company Dana Lombardy was running at the time, too, and for a little while there was another outfit with a tiny office there, though I never was quite sure who they were. A regular little gaming ghetto!
Of the four, Chaosium is still publishing both Call of Cthulhu and what is left of the Stormbringer line from San Francisco. The main people at Chaosium appear to be Dustin Wright, Lynn Willis and Charlie Krank.

Chaosium is now in Hayward, a little town a couple of cities south of Oakland. Four-way partnership? Yes, those three are 3/4 of the staff for Chaosiu, as I understand it.
Peter Corless is still publishing Pendragon titles for Green Knight...although the Pendragon line has been sold to Arthaus (White Wolf)...and Green Knight is also located in San Francisco.

I'm not sure exactly where Peter works out of. He is south of here, somewhere between Oakland and Hayward because he has a 650 area code. I ran into him at my local (Berkeley) grocery store recently, and we were both at a couple of local events.
I understand he is still publishing the Green Knight Fiction line, and yes, White Wolf now has my dear beloved Pendragon game, for which they have hired me to do some fantastic new product.
Issaries is still distributing HeroQuest and Glorantha materials out of the Berkeley area.

Almost correct. First, right in Berkeley, my apartment, to be precise. And we no longer produce. We are a licensing outfit, with licenses to Moon Design and Mongoose. I don't manufacture anything anymore. I write.
But Eric Rowe's Wizard's Attic has gone under quite recently...within the last year or so. The collapse of Wizard's Attic stranded at least one Stormbringer project...the Corum and Hawkmoon titles published by Darcsyde.

The collapse of Wizard's Attic brought down a lot of small companies. Eric's ambition outran his good sense. He was a mainstay in allowing a LOT of the tiny d20 companies to be in business. But of course, it seemed that a glut of inferior d20 product was choking the market anyway, so perhaps it was inevitable, and a good thing. I only have opinions and rumor to base this on, not real facts. Darcsyde was one of those little companies, though not d20 of course and not inferior, that was sucked under in the maelstrom of Wizard's Attic's subsidence.
How are my facts so far?

If this was Pendragon, I'd say, "Check your Intrigue skill."
Was the split really amicable?

If we are measuring it on an "amicable or not amicable" scale, it was amicable. Of course, there are degrees of amicability. When businesses fail, crashing the decade-long dreams of the participants, feelings are often hurt. But although I cannot speak for anyone else, I do not have hard feelings for anyone anymore. And although, occasionally, we may have rubbed each other the wrong way a bit in our independent paths, I don't think it has been enough to rupture old friendships. Charlie and I are on good terms, Peter and I are. Eric has moved to New Zealand, so who knows how he feels?
In my life, I don't really have time to waste by being angry.
Was Issaries located for a time very near to the other two businesses?

In the Bay Area, nothing is really too far from anything else. San Francisco is a 20 minute drive from Berkeley, which is on the north Oakland border, which is 30 minutes north of Hayward.
Did anyone from Chaosium go with you to Issaries, or did you become a staff of one?

I was a staff of one. I had an employee for a while. I am a staff of one now.
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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 3:36 pm 
 

The Call of Cthulhu line is remarkably extensive, with branches into mutiple subject areas and even multiple timelines.  

    There are even branches of the game into the writings of the other members of the Lovecraft circle, modern Cthulhu writers (Ramsey Campbell, for instance) and some of Lovecraft's own influences, such as Robert Chambers.

    How did the idea for a  Call of Cthulhu RPG come about?  (I mean, when I say a "Call of Cthulhu RPG" it makes me wonder what I'll be doing besides burning all the books, running away from things and refusing to read the notes of missing professors.)  What was your first thought when the idea was presented?

    How did Chaosium acquire the license for for such a huge literary phenomenon?  Was it negotiated directly with Arkham House?  (And, did the people at Arkham house have scary voices or extra appendages?)

    There must be some potential for real problems in dealing with a writing project shared by so many well-known and little-known authors...?

    How does a company like Chaosium decide what to do next with such a successful publishing project as the Call of Cthulhu RPG?  Also, do you have any recollection of average print runs for some of those editions and modules?

Mark   8)


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 3:51 pm 
 

Hi Greg, out of curiosity, are you gonna go to SoCal GenCon this year?

  


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 4:23 pm 
 

In the Bay Area, nothing is really too far from anything else.


Unless they're separated by the Bay Bridge at rush hour.  :evil:

This is great stuff, Greg. Greyhaven! That brings back memories - I used to date a woman who was a regular at those parties...another thing I never went to, like Hargrave's game...damn. Never been to gencon either. Someday I'll actually leave the house.


Looking for your old-school fantasy roleplaying fix? Don't despair...Fight On! Check it out at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FightOn.

  
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