The Delays Of Cthulhu

Chaosium Inc’s Call of Cthulhu is one of the best-known RPGs in gaming with numerous official products as well as third party expansions to the franchise. While the majority of these produce outstanding products, some of those third party publishers have collected money via crowdfunding, then gone months between backer updates, and have yet to fulfill their commitments. Around Gen Con 50, Chaosium made announcements that addressed several of these unfulfilled third party products.


What are third party products? The Call of Cthulhu RPG is popular and Chaosium cannot produce enough material to meet the demand. To fill that void, they grant other publishers licenses to produce CoC-compatible materials. For most of these agreements, the third party develops their product based on CoC with only limited input from Chaosium, and Chaosium collects royalties from the third party’s sales. This system usually works well, producing some innovate extensions to the CoC franchise; however, some companies have obtained a license, crowdfunded revenue, but failed to deliver the agreed upon products to their backers.

In a move that might reflect concerns about these delays, Choasium updated their licensing policies in June to address commercial licenses. The revised language canonizes “release and revenue targets” and requires “regular reporting, and close work with our line editors”.

What was late? Per Chaosium’s website, they cite four Call of Cthulhu products by three different third party publishers that collected money through Kickstarter between 2012 and 2014.

  • Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu and BRP Gaming by Miskatonic River Press. Launched 2012-11-19 and collected $13,564 from 280 backers. Their original promised delivery date was August 2013.
  • Call of Cthulhu: The Writhing Dark - Playing Cards and Tarot and Call of Cthulhu: The Writhing Dark - Extended Edition by Shane Tyree. Launched 2013-11-12 and 2014-05-02 respectively. They collected a total of $131,304 from 2,027 backers. Their original promised delivery dates were April 2014 and August 2014.
  • Horrors of War Kickstarter: A Covenant with Death by Scott Glancy of Pagan Publishing. Launched 2014-08-01 and collected $26,823 from 525 backers. Their original promised delivery date was February 2015.

What are the third party publishers doing to fulfill these products? Per posts on the Chaosium website and the individual Kickstarter campaigns, each of these projects is moving forward at a slow pace. Miskatonic River Press, who collected revenue for Punktown, have ceased operations and hired Chronicle City to complete this project. Shane Tyree campaigned for both CoC: The Writing Dark projects and, “he has taken delivery of the core rewards (the card sets) and is actually in the process of fulfilling, albeit very slowly as his constrained finances permit.” The Horrors of War Kickstarter revised their delivery projection to 2018.

What has Chaosium done to address these undelivered products? As Chaosium stated on their site about The Writing Dark campaigns, “We are well within our rights to terminate Shane's agreement. But we don't want backers to be prevented by Chaosium from getting what they paid Shane to produce. Because he has the actual product in hand and sincerely states that he still wishes to deliver, we have instead issued Shane a special license extension. ...” Based on the press releases, this appears to be Chaosium’s direction, to allow the third party publishers more time to fulfill these Kickstarters so the backers get what they’ve paid for.

What’s occurred since these updates from Chaosium? For Punktown, there was “a Beta PDF of the entire book” sent to backers on October 20th. I spoke to Angus Abranson of Chronicle City (and EN World) and he shared his timeline for completing Punktown, "all feedback is due back by 20th November. Hopefully we'll be getting the final PDF to backers in early December and have a print proof back back early-mid December. If all is good with the print proof then physical copies will start being ordered and shipped to backers." Shane Tyree of The Writing Dark posted an update on Kickstarter and in the comments his wife, Christina, added, “I'm trying to fit a little bit into the budget to send some [backer rewards] out every month now that we're starting to get our heads back above water. I can't promise it will be a lot going out, but we're trying to keep doing what we can.” The Horrors of War Kickstarter states that Pagan Publishing should have a sneak peak PDF ready by Christmas and “the full Horrors of War manuscript can, I believe be done by GenCon 2018.” However, the next update was promised by the end of September, but there is no additional information on the campaign page as of this writing.

Will these projects deliver and will Chaosium’s policy change prevent this from occurring in the future? Unfortunately, there’s no way to know at this point, but we will continue to report on these situations.

​contributed by Egg Embry
 

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

Note that not all of the Mythos is PD as Ramsey Campbell and other authors are still writing Mythos stories. If you use anything written by these authors without approval then you are infringing their copyright. Chaosium has arranged with these authors to allow their work to be used in the CoC game. So licensing makes sense if you want to use this work.
 

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trancejeremy

Adventurer
It probably is worth the license, but there is actually a generic version/retro clone of CoC: G.O.R.E. Since most of the BRP system was released as open content by Mongoose via their Runequest version and the sanity rules by WOTC in Unearthed Arcana you basically have the whole BRP engine, if not the name (people use d100 instead).

There was also a recent CoC style but not official CoC game, Raiders of R'leyh (which had its own delayed Kickstarter, I think 2 years but is finally out).

Also while I love Ramsey Campbell's work, it definitely has a more modern/sordid/sleazy tone that fits the time it was written (60s/70s) but feels out of place in the 1920s (even though they were just as licentious if not more so than the 60s/70s, we just don't see it as much except through some of the "spicy" pulps) and most other modern authors aren't worth including.
 

RainOfPeace

First Post
The thing about Kickstarter is that most people are terrible at planning. That is, the folks who launch a Kickstarter and imagine creating a product to be delivered are often woefully unaware of how much time it will actually take to complete even the core product, much less the stretch goals. They will also probably underestimate the amount of resources in terms of money or people they need to be successful and these can interact to worsen the time estimation problem. This is termed the planning fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planning_fallacy). Therefore, the best predictor of future meeting of goals for a Kickstarter project is the past performance of the same person/organization. If they have a history of hitting, they will hit. If they have a history of missing, they will miss again. Be very skeptical of new Kickstarter launchers. Look to people/companies that have a history of hitting targets for successful Kickstarters.
 


Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
Any discussion of overdue CoC Kickstarters should mention Ben Patey's disastrous campaign for Masks of Nyarlathotep props. I don't know if it technically counts as overdue anymore since Chaosium terminated his license a while back, but I do know it's one of the few Kickstarters I pledged for that I will never ever see anything from.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16120292/masks-of-nyarlathotep-prop-set/comments

MOB from Chaosium here. Yes, we terminated Ben Patey's license. He failed to fulfill his Kickstarter. He went silent to his backers, and didn't respond to our messages for over a year. He also never paid the royalties owed to Chaosium. It became clear Ben Patey no longer had any intention of following through, which is very sad for everyone.

We did not want to end up at similar outcomes for the other long-overdue licensed Kickstarters mentioned in this article. All of these had been contracted years ago by the previous Chaosium management, and were all way past their delivery dates. Nor were the creators adequately communicating with their backers.

We contacted each project creator, and all three responded to us promptly which was a positive sign. We were able to discuss how they could best get their projects finished and delivered, and the likely timeline to completion. With their agreement, this information was then posted in statements on our website (as noted in the article). The creators also followed up with Kickstarter updates directly to their backers on progress. Since then Punktown, the most delayed Kickstarter of the four, has delivered a completed PDF to all backers and intends to produce the print version by the end of the year. This is great news. We have high hopes the others will deliver in due course, and will continue to keep their backers in the loop until they do.

Chaosium now has a new three-tiered licensing model, and we are more judicious in who we grant licenses to, especially commercial licenses that allow crowdfunding on Kickstarter. The terms and scope of the license are better defined, and we have a more formalised process which involves a detailed business plan. As everyone is no doubt aware, we appreciate (and have experienced ourselves) the challenges of fulfilling Kickstarters, and we don't want another Ben Patey situation arising again.

So far, the new policies are working well. Over the past year or so, there has been a succession of licensee projects delivering more-or-less on time (and if they've missed their delivery date, the creators have at least kept their backers well informed about progress). Recent examples of licensed Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter projects completed in a timely fashion include the ENnie-award winning The Things We Leave Behind from Stygian Fox, Dark Cult Games' Star on the Shore, Golden Goblin's Cold Warning, Delphes Desvoivres' sculpture projects, Darker Hue's Harlem Unbound, and others. Weird 8's Sun Spots Kickstarter is just about to deliver too.

Michael O'Brien - Chaosium Inc.
 
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Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
I should also add that Chaosium has also worked extremely hard to get our own house in order in regards to Kickstarters.

Geek & Sundry has covered what the new management did to turn around the Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter (and the company itself). It's a worth a read if you haven't seen this. The final product to deliver for CoC7 is the "Temple Edition", printed on goatskin (!), for a very small number of top tier backers (who, along with everyone else, have already received all other rewards due to them). We got some very good news about the completion of the Temple editions at Essen last week which we will share with those backers very soon.

The Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter is officially done. As a gesture of thanks for their patience and endurance, we sent every Horror on the Orient Express backer a free PDF copy of the new 20th scenario for HotOE by one of the original authors.

All the core printed rewards for the RuneQuest Classic Kickstarter were delivered to backers in a timely fashion, though we are still to deliver on some PDF stretch goals.

Our last Kickstarter was in January this year, for our Reiner Knizia game 'Khan of Khans' (Chaosium's first boardgame in 23 years). It had an estimated delivery date of August 2017, and we indeed commenced delivery in August as promised. Backers have received absolutely everything.

We've decided we don't need to use Kickstarter for our main product lines any more (Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest). But going forward we will continue to use Kickstarter for our new boardgames line as we continue to gauge and build the audience there, and maybe for some special projects.

MOB - Chaosium Inc
 

Dreamscape

Crafter of fine role-playing games
Classic RuneQuest has some very slow releases so far - I'm awaiting on the Companion and the TrollPak myself, and there really isn't any indication when they will get here. There seems to be much more effort going into the development of the new edition
The main printed rewards went out reasonably quickly, although the premium "playtest manuscript books" didn't start shipping until a year later. 7 of the 13 PDF stretch goals have been delivered so far, almost 2 years after the initial January 2016 delivery date. Admittedly they are doing more than providing decently-scanned and OCR'd PDFs (although I would actually have been happier with those than the new layout decisions that were made), but it's not like there was still content to be written or art to be produced. The base materials were all there.

Given the amount raised through the Kickstarter ($10,000 to $15,000 per stretch goal PDF) it's disappointing that those funds do not seem to have been spent on getting those PDFs to the backers in a timely manner. Chaosium is indeed making the right decision not to rely on Kickstarters in the future given not only their 3PP but also their in-house fulfilment record (and Moon Design's Guide to Glorantha was also quite late, so it's not like the team has a better pre-Chaosium track record).

Luckily my interest in RQ in general, and in Glorantha especially, has waned to the extent that the occasional arrival of the latest stretch goal only arouses a mild interest at best, so it's not like I'm desperately awaiting those outstanding campaign packs so I can restart that Prax game.

Trippy, I hate to break it to you, but we didn't breach the stretch goal floor for Trollpak. But I'm sure you were joking, right? I mean, who needs another Kygor Litor write-up? Right? B-)
 
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jajudd

First Post
MOB from Chaosium here. Yes, we terminated Ben Patey's license. He failed to fulfill his Kickstarter. He went silent to his backers, and didn't respond to our messages for over a year. He also never paid the royalties owed to Chaosium. It became clear Ben Patey no longer had any intention of following through, which is very sad for everyone.

We did not want to end up at similar outcomes for the other long-overdue licensed Kickstarters mentioned in this article. All of these had been contracted years ago by the previous Chaosium management, and were all way past their delivery dates. Nor were the creators adequately communicating with their backers.

We contacted each project creator, and all three responded to us promptly which was a positive sign. We were able to discuss how they could best get their projects finished and delivered, and the likely timeline to completion. With their agreement, this information was then posted in statements on our website (as noted in the article). The creators also followed up with Kickstarter updates directly to their backers on progress. Since then Punktown, the most delayed Kickstarter of the four, has delivered a completed PDF to all backers and intends to produce the print version by the end of the year. This is great news. We have high hopes the others will deliver in due course, and will continue to keep their backers in the loop until they do.

Chaosium now has a new three-tiered licensing model, and we are more judicious in who we grant licenses to, especially commercial licenses that allow crowdfunding on Kickstarter. The terms and scope of the license are better defined, and we have a more formalised process which involves a detailed business plan. As everyone is no doubt aware, we appreciate (and have experienced ourselves) the challenges of fulfilling Kickstarters, and we don't want another Ben Patey situation arising again.

So far, the new policies are working well. Over the past year or so, there has been a succession of licensee projects delivering more-or-less on time (and if they've missed their delivery date, the creators have at least kept their backers well informed about progress). Recent examples of licensed Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter projects completed in a timely fashion include the ENnie-award winning The Things We Leave Behind from Stygian Fox, Dark Cult Games' Star on the Shore, Golden Goblin's Cold Warning, Delphes Desvoivres' sculpture projects, Darker Hue's Harlem Unbound, and others. Weird 8's Sun Spots Kickstarter is just about to deliver too.

Michael O'Brien - Chaosium Inc.
Out of curiosity, who is watching these now? The Writhing Dark Tarot had it's last update almost three years ago and no one has logged in to the creator's account in almost two years. Some backers supposedly received things many years ago, and some were able to receive some things (but not the Tarot cards) by paying shipping charges again, but for the most part the backers were given nothing.
 

Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
Out of curiosity, who is watching these now? The Writhing Dark Tarot had it's last update almost three years ago and no one has logged in to the creator's account in almost two years. Some backers supposedly received things many years ago, and some were able to receive some things (but not the Tarot cards) by paying shipping charges again, but for the most part the backers were given nothing.
Chaosium's statement about Writhing Dark here: Statement about Writhing Dark Kickstarters
We are well within our rights to terminate Shane's agreement. But we don't want backers to be prevented by Chaosium from getting what they paid Shane to produce. Because he has the actual product in hand and sincerely states that he still wishes to deliver, we have instead issued Shane a special license extension. This is strictly limited to fulfilling the original Writhing Dark and Extended Edition Kickstarter rewards and expires on completion. No additional or new material of any kind is permitted under this license.
 

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