Call of Cthulhu Classic: An Interview with Rick Meints (Chaosium)

Chaosium has a new Kickstarter bringing back a set of old products, Call of Cthulhu Classics. Having reached six figures of funding as of this writing, I was glad when Chaosium President, Rick Meints, shared his reasons behind bringing these boxed sets back, what’s new in them, and some of their upcoming projects.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for talking with me about the 40th anniversary of the Call of Cthulhu RPG and your newest Kickstarter. What inspired you to bring back these boxed sets?
: Like many of the long-standing fans of Call of Cthulhu, I played the game almost 40 years ago when it first debuted. I experienced the magic it generated when our Keeper, Tim, opened that 2” boxed set, firsthand. Combine that with being someone who seeks out older, out-of-print material, frustrated with the option of paying substantial “collector” prices based only on scarcity, we had to find a way to solve the problem. Thus, just like we did with the RuneQuest Classics line of reprints, it was time to do likewise with the Call of Cthulhu Classics. We’d rather have people enjoying books from the Golden Age™ of roleplaying than just wishing they could afford them.

EGG: That’s more than reasonable. These aren’t straight reprints, correct?
: Being the keeper of the Chaosium archives, and being a bit of a collector myself, the team took the almost mint condition copies of the originals we had available and scanned them in, OCR’d them, and created new text files. We also cleaned up and restored the art, tracked down additional “bonus” material, and put all of those pieces into a slightly updated layout that was consistent across all of the books. Of course, we corrected some glaring and embarrassing typos from the originals and incorporated all the errata from back in the day. We didn’t update the material for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition (it’s easy enough to play as is). Players and readers want this material as it was back in the day. As for bonus material, to make this a bit of a “director’s cut”, we found a number of magazine articles written by the original design team, to add as designer’s notes, not to mention some of the material cut from the first edition that didn’t appear in the second. This is an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. There’s also the matter of what we are creating for the stretch goals, most of which is in the same theme as the original, but also missing from the original edition.

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EGG: I’m very curious about the “designer's notes, bonus scenarios, articles from various sources, some history” that you’ll add to these books. Can you share any of the highlights?
: Some of these things we prefer to talk about in detail as the Kickstarter unfolds. The days after the first two or three days of the beginning and the last two days of a Kickstarter have been referred to as “The Plateau”. As the frantic pace of a Kickstarter inevitably slows down after the first few days, you search for enticing updates and other information to provide that can maintain interest in the campaign. We’d rather not reveal too many of those things now, but here’s a few tempting examples. The first edition had two short scenarios that didn’t make it into the second edition. They are called “Shadows over Hollywood” and “A Beginning Scenario for a Campaign”. Those are back in.

EGG: I have two why’d-you-done-did-this-this-way questions. First up, it’s the 40th anniversary which begs the question, why share a 2nd Edition product instead of a 1st Edition?
: The first edition of Call of Cthulhu was only in print for a little over a year. Even during its brief time in the sun, the first print run of 5,000 copies quickly sold out. The second printing included a fair bit of errata for things they realized they needed to improve. The brown ink first edition gave it a very distinctly different feel to other RPGs, but it made the artwork, little that there was, look washed out. Fortunately, they had the master talents of Gene Day on hand to supplement the second edition with additional artwork, including the iconic arcane symbol “star elder sign”. We have plans for making sure all the first edition material is part of the Kickstarter, via stretch goals.

EGG: That’s a win. This campaign offers two boxed sets; why offer two instead of one?
: The first edition of the game had multiple printings, and the 2” and 1” boxed sets came about in very rapid succession. We decided that we didn’t need to limit the opportunity to just one of the two boxed sets. Why not let our fans buy whichever boxed set appealed to them the most, or also get both. There are actually FIVE variations of the 2” and 1” boxed sets, all of which happened with a few short years. At least we just went with bringing back two of them. J

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EGG: You’ve created a conversion doc to bring these 2nd Edition products to 7th Edition. In your opinion, how easy/difficult is it for Keepers to convert the material?
: One of the greatest strengths of Call of Cthulhu is that they got so much right 40 years ago. Call of Cthulhu turned so many roleplaying game assumptions on their head. Players start out as normal people. They are thrust into situations beyond their understanding and often end up damaged and broken by it, if not worse. There is little accumulation of wealth or power. Many characters might not even last a single session if they make foolish choices… As for the conversion doc, it is a free PDF download on the Chaosium website, as well as being in print towards the end of the Keeper’s Handbook. In most situations, conversion can be done on the fly.

EGG: What can you share about the 40th anniversary Deluxe Handout Set?
: Chaosium has partnered with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society for many years. We always defer to those that know their craft the best. We are creators of game systems of supplements. The HPLHS are masters at creating deluxe prop sets: their Masks of Nyalathotep Gamer Prop Set actually won Product of the Year in the 2019 ENnies. Long before this Kickstarter launched, we knew they were best placed to provide that portion of a totally immersive experience. Instead of slim pieces of paper they have almost 100 props being created for the many scenarios included in the 2” boxed set.

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EGG: You’re redoing other classic CoC products, correct?
: When you have four decades worth of material to deal with you face a curse of abundance. A choice we constantly face is focusing on creating new material or keeping older material in print by updating it. In this case, we have two teams that between them do both. The Call of Cthulhu Classics production team was largely separate from the 7th edition production team. They work in parallel. One of the reasons we did this Kickstarter was to hear suggestions about which older out-of-print material we should bring back into print. We seek that input. We will be reprinting a number of additional early supplements after this Kickstarter is over. If we could, we would bring them all back into print, over time. Some original editions are of a lower priority though. We recently redid Masks of Nyarlathotep for the 7th edition as a slipcase full of books and handouts. Similar treatments for Dreamlands and Gaslight are fairly far into their updates as well and will be debuting in the near future for the 7th edition.

EGG: What other plans do you have for the 40th anniversary?
: Our organized play team is arranging for a marathon of game sessions later this year very close to the actual anniversary date. We also have a deluxe 40th anniversary leatherette limited edition of the 7th edition Keeper rulebook debuting this fall. It includes historic perspectives by a number of the original design team, plus a bonus scenario at the end of the book.

EGG: Beyond Cthulhu, I know Chaosium has a lot going on. Let’s cherry pick a few options. First, I spoke with Michael O’Brien about Rivers of London (and my peer, Charles Dunwoody, spoke with Lynne Hardy and Ben Aaronovitch), so let me ask about how Rivers of London is progressing?
: The latest thing the team just reviewed and approved is the cover art. The core book is largely written and playtested, and is being reviewed by Ben before going through final editing and proofing. Most of the art has been commissioned as well. Layout should get underway in a few months.

EGG: I spoke to Michael about selling the HeroQuest trademark. How is the process of rebranding the RPG as Questworlds going?
: Being a long time Glorantha fan, like many others at Chaosium, we were torn over whether we should sell the HeroQuest trademark. Greg Stafford had been working on and announcing his HeroQuest game as “coming soon” for over a decade when Milton Bradley (now part of Hasbro) published their HeroQuest game in 1989. When Hasbro decided they wanted to get that game back into print after a 20 year absence, we decided to try something new with the branding of our game. The rebranding to Questworlds is well underway, and should be done later this year.

EGG: Thanks for all of the updates. Where can fans follow this project and Chaosium?
: Our website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch TV, [and] our forums.

Call of Cthulhu Classic from Chaosium, Inc.
  • End Date: Sat, July 24 2021 7:00 PM EDT.
  • A boxed collection of Chaosium's classic Call of Cthulhu products from the 1980s.
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