A stalwart of the gaming industry, Lynn Willis is the longest serving member of the Chaosium staff. Lynn's involvement with Call of Cthulhu
has steadily increased over the years and with the release of the fifth edition CoC
rules he effectively became co-author. Here Lynn talks about the history, prehistory and future of the game.
How long have you worked for Chaosium/How did you join?
Since the summer of 1978. I had designed boardgames for Metagaming and Game Designer's Workshop, both long defunct now, and was attending a con to talk to a TSR (now folded into WotC) rep about a new game proposal. As it happened, TSR was out, and I stopped at the nearby Chaosium booth, where Greg and Tadashi frantically warned me that TSR was "the bad guys". This was sort of a joke, though not quite, but I enjoyed it. For better or worse, Chaosium got the game. I hung around the office, creating the components for it, and got full-time status at a tiny salary in June or July of that year, doing boardgames.
What originally attracted Chaosium to the Lovecraft licence?
The most important component was Sandy Petersen's great enthusiasm for the HPL stories. That only he could bring, and he arrived reasonably soon after Call of Cthulhu
was published. Perhaps more importantly, CoC
and Lovecraft fit the formula. CoC
and most of the company's RPGs thereafter were founded with reference to an earlier rpg, RuneQuest
fused a set of mechanics (as Steve Perrin spun them) with an already-existing literary universe, Greg Stafford's mostly unpublished cycle of tales for Glorantha. Now Sandy contributed another literary universe in game form, and more would come - Stormbringer
with Michael Moorcock, Ringworld with Larry Niven, even from supplements such as Thievesworld
. The mechanics stayed relatively unchanged, but the subject matter could vary widely.
YSDC: Call of Cthulhu
originally received treatment from another author before being passed over to Sandy Petersen. Is there anything left of the original treatment?
There was an earlier ms., but of that Chaosium has nothing. When we moved a couple of years ago, all the oldest project bundles and financial bundles were recycled. One of the Lortzes might have a copy. I believe Dark Worlds
was not closely tied to HPL, if at all. The submitted ms. was 6000 or 7000 words, as I recall. That's more than twenty years ago. Greg quickly lost faith in its practicality. Sandy Petersen, still in Utah then, took on the project, and did very well with it.
Why do you think Call of Cthulhu
has been so successful?
Among other things, Cthulhu
is about emotional states. To play it rewardingly requires a certain freedom of mind. That lessens the number of people willing to play the game, but players tend to have rewarding, memorable experiences. The rules of course have always been on the simple, transparent side - a good thing - but frankly very few people would notice if we suddenly started churning out elaborate tables - the game is in their hands, and we want to keep it that way.
Do you have a favourite CoC
supplement / scenario?
Anything I work on, as a practical matter. Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep
. Horror's Heart
. Arkham Unveiled
. Beyond the Mountains of Madness
, A Resection of Time
, Unseen Masters
. For the first three I got to do considerable writing. The second three came in complete enough that in a manner of speaking all I had to do was applaud. Favourite page spread: the Mi-go braincase rules in Resection
Do you still play Call of Cthulhu
? Any house rules?
I've stopped playing all games, for personal reasons. Charlie Krank's been talking about re-doing a boardgame, Arkham Horror
- that would be a good excuse to start playing again.
What is your favourite era (& why)?
Oh, 1920s. That's where the rules and the literary universe best connect and cohere. Present day games are entirely satisfactory, though technology and organization tend to rob the game of some of the fog of war . . . factionalism tends to get substituted, to the same end. I've never been very happy with the 1890s, because I don't see a good way to inform most players about the huge amount of work it took for a lower class person to get by in the world. The reality gets fudged greatly, seems to me.
What do you think of other eras not officially licenced by Chaosium (Dark Ages, Elizabethan etc)?
Any era, or epoch, or year is a good one for the game, since time does not change the philosophic imbalance of the Mythos. I recommend playing whenever a game sounds interesting.
Do you still receive a lot of correspondence over Call of Cthulhu
Yes, much more now than ever before, and more carefully thought out.
Have you noticed any change in the demographic of CoC
fans over the years?
No, I believe that has not changed since the game appeared in 1981. We lose opportunity with most of the teen players, then retain a goodly proportion of the mid-twenties (and later) players.