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Rivers of London and Chaosium – Talking to Michael O'Brien

A crop of novels are coming to your gaming table: Altered Carbon, Broken Earth, Dune, The Witcher, and more. For their part, Chaosium joins the party with an amazing entry, Rivers of London. Between that and Jonstown Compendium, their community content program for RuneQuest and Greg Stafford’s Glorantha, Chaosium continues to demonstrate why they dominate at the ENnie Awards. After returning...

A crop of novels are coming to your gaming table: Altered Carbon, Broken Earth, Dune, The Witcher, and more. For their part, Chaosium joins the party with an amazing entry, Rivers of London. Between that and Jonstown Compendium, their community content program for RuneQuest and Greg Stafford’s Glorantha, Chaosium continues to demonstrate why they dominate at the ENnie Awards. After returning to his home in Melbourne, Australia from Dragonmeet 2019 in London, Chaosium’s VP, Michael O’Brien, talked to me about their plans as well as shared a bit about the late Greg Stafford.

[NOTE: This interview was conducted before the Australian bushfire crisis. To help in this time of need, Chaosium is offering the RuneQuest Glorantha Bestiary as an incentive to anyone that donates to Australian bushfire relief charities.]

Ben Rivers.png

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. During Dragonmeet 2019, Chaosium announced the creation of an RPG adaptation of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. For readers who have not read the Rivers series, what’s it about?
: Rivers of London is Ben Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy series, featuring a London policeman called Peter Grant. He gets recruited into the Folly, a secretive branch of the Met that deals with the supernatural. There are some seven novels in the series so far, plus short stories and comics, and recently a TV adaption was announced. Ben Aaronovitch is a well-known author and screenwriter. Apart from the Rivers of London, Ben’s writing credits include Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.

EGG: How did this license come about?
: Chaosium’s associate Call of Cthulhu editor, Lynne Hardy, is a big fan of the Rivers of London series. When Lynne started reading it a few years ago, she immediately saw the setting’s marvelous potential for an RPG. Then, about a year ago, Ben Aaronvitch did a book signing in her hometown of Newcastle, UK. Lynne took the chance to broach the idea with him, and Ben was intrigued.

Among the various hats I wear at Chaosium, I oversee licensing matters. In April this year, I was already going to Dubai as a guest of the Middle East Film and ComicCon – an amazing experience! – and so arranged to go to London for a few days as well. Lynne came down from Newcastle, and Ben, of course, is a Londoner. Ben hosted us at one of his favourite restaurants, the atmospheric Booking Office at St Pancras station. Over the course of a very convivial lunch we began discussing what a Rivers of London roleplaying game might look like.

Licensing deals take time, but fortunately we had arrangements finalized in time to announce it at this year’s Dragonmeet convention in London late last [year, November 2019]. It was great to have Ben along to be part of that. And we also had another lunch at the Booking Office to bring things full circle: and we paid this time!

EGG: You’re using a version of the Basic Roleplaying system, correct? What alterations from the version you use for Call of Cthulhu or RuneQuest are you contemplating?
: Rivers of London is urban fantasy, with its own inventive take on Newtonian magic and the strange powers wielded by the rivers and other supernatural beings. Basic Roleplaying (BRP) will be the core of the game, but we’ll be creating bespoke rules to reflect how the paranormal works in the series. It helps that as a long-time gamer, Ben says he already had BRP and Call of Cthulhu mechanics in the back of his mind when world-building the setting for Rivers of London.

EGG: You’re still assembling the creative team for this. Can you share any of the early members?
: Lynne Hardy is the project lead, and we’ve bought on Paul Fricker, one of the co-authors of Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, to write the rules. Another writer attached to the project is British horror and fantasy author, Keris McDonald.

EGG: How involved will Ben Aaronovitch be?
: Our Rivers of London team will be working closely with Ben on the development and presentation of the game, and he’ll also be writing some introductory sections. Fortunately, Ben is a roleplaying gamer from way back – since the original White Box D&D, in fact – and a huge Call of Cthulhu fan, so he understands RPGs.

EGG: What are the possibilities of crossing over Call of Cthulhu and Rivers of London?
: The Rivers of London RPG is going to be its own thing, but with BRP as its core, crossing over between the two games will not be much of a stretch. In fact, we say that if you have played one BRP-based game – which includes Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest – you've in effect learned to play the others too.

EGG: Chaosium took the CoC RPG to another level with the exquisite gamer paraphernal you, and several third-party licensors, created. Are there any opportunities to bring that same level of artistry to the RoL gaming accessories?
: We like to think we’ve really pushed the envelope with our handouts and maps and the like in recent products such as Masks of Nyarlathotep and the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack. But, if anything, our licensees have kicked things up ever further: the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set by our friends at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society even won ‘Product of the Year’ at last year’s ENnies. And our friends at TYPE 40 have made bespoke items for Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest that are truly exquisite. Gamer paraphernalia isn’t something we’ve thought about yet for Rivers of London, but the potential is definitely there.
EGG: Switching gears from RoL, you have a new community content resource on DriveThruRPG titled Jonstown Compendium that supports RuneQuest and Greg Stafford’s Glorantha, correct?
The Jonstown Compendium is a way for independent creators to publish and distribute their own original content set in Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha. It is very similar to D&D’s Dungeon Masters Guild, the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, and the other community content resources at DriveThruRPG. Creators can offer their work free of charge, set a price, or offer it as pay-what-you-want, and it contains original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, stats for NPCs and monsters, and more, exploring the mythic universe of Glorantha.

EGG: You launched with a few projects available through Jonstown Compendium including Tales of the Sun County Militia, The Armies and Enemies of Dragon Pass, This Fertile Ground, Yozarian’s Duck Bandits, and The Throat of Winter. What made those the right projects to launch with?
: We wanted to have some titles ready to go when the Jonstown Compendium launched, and put out a call to creators on our channels, including our forums at BRP Central. These five are the titles from those creators who responded in time, but there are many more in the works that we know of. It was pretty cool to see that within 24 hours of launching these became the top selling community content titles on DriveThruRPG, and one of them, The Armies and Enemies of Dragon Pass, was even the #2 best-selling product overall on the entire site.

EGG: Will free stock art and templates for the setting be available on the digital storefront?
: We haven’t got any stock art up yet, but have made the Argan Argar Atlas available free for Jonstown Compendium creators. This is a comprehensive set of 120 maps of the world of Glorantha, originally created as a companion volume to our Guide to Glorantha. Creators have the right to incorporate these maps into their own Jonstown Compendium products, and can even overlay details of their own on them, such as adding new trails, locations, etc.

Ben, MOB and Lynne at The Booking Office April 2019.jpg

EGG: With the many tributes from Chaosium and yourself, it’s clear that Greg Stafford’s passing carried an immense weight and left an empty seat at the gaming table. If it’s not too much, can you share a favorite story about Greg?
: Like my colleagues Rick, Neil and Jeff, who now run Chaosium with me and also “grew up with the company”, Greg’s sudden death last October came as a great shock. Like them, I’ve known Greg for over thirty years, and he’s had a profound influence on my life both as a game writer, and as a wise and knowing friend and mentor. My colleagues and I attended a family memorial for Greg in Arcata, CA, where he spent his final years. As there was to be a bigger, more public commemoration in San Francisco a week later, only a small handful of games industry folk were in attendance. But it was fascinating to meet so many other people in Arcata who said Greg was one of the most interesting, charismatic and inspirational people they knew. They spoke of the impact Greg had on their lives, yet were unaware of his role at Chaosium. Some vaguely knew Greg had something to do with “designing games”, but many didn’t even know he was a game designer at all, let alone one of the greatest game designers of all time. Such was Greg’s humility, and the richness and breadth of his interests and passions, which apart from games included mythology, shamanism, Oaxaca, King Arthur, roller derby, and much more.

EGG: Thank you for your time. For fans interested in following Chaosium, where are the best places to keep up with your work?
: You can check us out at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and we also have Chaosium Twitch TV and YouTube channels. Plus, our Ab Chaos newsletter is a great way to keep up with our latest releases and news.

NOTE: This article includes affiliate links to DriveThruRPG and Amazon. As a DriveThruRPG Affiliate and an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry


Always nice to read about how things come together at one of my favorite gaming companies. :giggle:

If you’re an old(er) fart like me and are not thrilled by all of this newfangled “social media“ stuff (ye Gods, how I miss pre-AOL Usenet News), keeping up with Chaosium and their games is also very easy (and entertaining) by reading their blog at www.chaosium.com/blog/, or lurking in the official forums at BRP Central - The Chaosium forums.

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