My Board Games
These games were all designed by me and published by Chaosium. You can see a list of Chaosium board games designed by others here.
White Bear & Red Moon (1975)
by Greg Stafford, 2nd edition rules by Bob Corbett
White Bear & Red Moon is Chaosium’s, and my, first game published. It is a board war game, with counters to represent the various army units and played upon a map laid over with a hex pattern to facilitate movement. Combat is done by comparing the values of opposing stacks of units, rolling a die for randomization, and consulting a Combat Results Table to find the outcome.
My intent upon creating it was to make a “do it yourself epic.” All stories have a setting, characters and plot. I would provide the characters and setting, and when played it would discover the plot. I wanted to include elements from the great epics of legend, which meant having armies as well as individuals, exotic beings and creatures, magic both low-level and devastating. And quests—yes, it had to have quests.
Thus burst Dagon Pass and the Red Moon; barbaric, heroic Sartar and the vast Lunar Empire into Glorantha. Once the game setting was established in Glorantha, the participants in this epic began striding forward from my imagination to populate it in profusion. Sir Ethilrist, the dragonewts, Cragspider, the Pharaoh, the Wasp Riders and the animal-riding nomads of Prax the rest became real.
Very early in its development I realized that all of my ideas would not fit into this game, and so I broke it into three parts. The first part became White Bear & Red Moon, with its epic warfare; the second Nomad Gods, set in Prax, to the east; and third (with the quests in it) Masters of Luck and Death, in the south.
It is set in the magical land of Dagon’s Pass and is the struggle between the invading Lunar Empire and the defending barbarian kingdom of Sartar. Many independent nations and tribes inhabit the map and can be gained as allies by one side or the other. Most units are of standard infantry and cavalry, but here too are a plethora of magical organizations. Armies and some of the independent powers have Leader units, called Heroes.
When I designed this I wanted the two sides to be as distinct as possible. Thus the empire has many units that are regular in their type and values, while Sartar has a hodge podge of different values. Another major difference is in the magic, wherein the Sartarites have units that provide “steady state” power, but the Lunar Empire gains their magic from the waxing and waning moon, and thus has units whose power rises and falls.
This game is largely responsible for defining the part of the world that has been popularized in subsequent gaming. As I mentioned elsewhere, the game was not even originally set in Glorantha, but after working on it for a while I realized that it fit very nicely into a large blank spot on my previous maps. Thus it was the first time that I discovered the Lunar Empire and Sartar. Thus the game established one of the distinct tropes of Glorantha: the red moon. Because of the movement distances, and one of the tactical problems I wanted to introduce for the Lunar player, the cycle was set at seven days.
The first edition of the game had a rule book of 8½” x 11”, was in a printed manila or white paper envelope, and had thin, die-cut counters. The unit counters had pictures of the units, all done by William Church, who also did he map. The Heroes were not drawn, but instead were represented by runes. The purpose of these was to be revealed in the third game, wherein the runes could be used in various ways to “spell out” magical effects that would gain allies and allow progression towards the exalted status of Pharaoh of the Holy country.
It was an instant hit. I was quite astonished, pleased and gratified at the reception of the game. Greg Costikyan, at the time a review but shortly to become a pre-eminent game designer himself, raved over the quality of the mimeography. He might have called it the ultimate effort in the craft. He also pegged its popularity by saying (and I paraphrase), “Games are popular because they have great designs and rules, or because they have great charm. This one has great charm.”
I was astonished that it sold so well, pleased that it was well received as a game (though not without criticism), gratified that my creativity was acknowledged and admired. It sold out quickly, and I decided to do a second edition and a follow up game.
The second edition had a rule book printed on legal-sized paper and folded over, being 8½” x 7” in final size.. This was easier to make into a book, and saved some money. I mimeographed this edition, too. The board was the same, but for unit counters I found a professional box-making company that would mount the unit counters on thicker cardboard and die cut them. This raised them to the quality of standard game counters. Also, I upgraded the container to be a resealable zip lock bag instead of paper envelope.
By the time of the third edition the industry and company had changed considerably. For one thing I was tired that no one seemed to be able to remember the correct name of the game, and also realized that it cold jus be catchier and thus more salable. We changed it to be Dragon Pass. The company was viable, making money even, and the print run would be larger. Thus the rule book (still in the 8½” x 7” size) was printed in offset, instead of mimeographed. Also, the original map, which had something of an archaic look to it, was redone by William in a glorious full color format that entirely matched the pictures he’d done for the counters.
And I now had a game company.
Nomad Gods (1977)
By Greg Stafford
Nomad Gods was conceived as part of my initial fantasy board game series. I wanted to make a game that had no fixed territorial objective. I’d never seen such. I had recently read a book about the nomadic peoples of central Asia, and was considering a game in which the nomads were the antagonists, and the empires of Rome, the Middle East, India and China were just targets to be victimized. I transferred ideas from that to the fantasy game.
This game was my first exploration of Prax, its peoples, and of the lost city of Pavis. I had wanted to make the nomadic tribes distinct, and decided that differentiating the creatures they rode would be a good way to individualize the tribes. Once again, the board game defined a large part of Glorantha and established the ground upon which 30 later years of Glorantha publication has grown.
We never reprinted this game, which had perhaps 2000 copies of the first edition. We were just too busy with other projects. The French company, Oriflam, did do a fantastic edition in 1994, called Les Dieux Nomades, It uses the later Dragon Pass rules and its components were far superior quality to Chaosium’s (as was usual with the French publications of our games.)
By Greg Stafford
I’d been a fan of Michael Moorcock’s Elric since I first read some of the stories in 1966. When I was doing board games I thought that an homage to the series would be fun. The colorful setting and characters are the focus of the game, alongside the great war that is essential to the epic.
The balance of Law and Chaos added a factor unseen in other board games, and I liked the combination of personalities and armies.
I know that a lot of people just hated the personality pictures where you stack he units with leaders, but I rather liked them. They matched the unit counters on the board. The REAL trouble with them, for me, was they took up so much room!
And once again, William Church made a gorgeous map.
King Arthur’s Knights (1978)
By Greg Stafford
I love King Arthur, I wanted to do one based on the legend.
William Church did the gorgeous map. It’s a pretty simple quest game, and you get to choose what kind of knight you wish to play: beginning, regular or superior.
You march around the board and choose cards for the encounters at each region. The cards are opponents that remain there afterwards, roll dice to fight them. If you defeat them you take the card off. It has special places, etc., and you play until someone gets enough points to win.
The farther north you go, the tougher the opponents are. Beginning knights have to stay south. And to prevent the tough knights from mopping up the south, and depriving the beginning knights of their natural adventures, there are really powerful women there who can disable the powerful knights, but who can be ignored by beginning knights. Game balance, you know.
The flaw in the game is that you have to leave cards on the board, so that that pretty thing gets all covered with cards. This is easily solved by just putting them to the side, and shuffling the deck when you need to start over.
This one of those really “old time” games that came packaged in a plastic zip lock bag.
Dragon Pass (1981)
By Greg Stafford and Robert Corbett
Chaosium went truly professional with this one. It was our first boxed war game, able to stand on a shelf right next to any comparable product. It was a real step up and only the first of many boxed products.
Robert Corbett was a local guy who’d occasionally come by for test playing. He was a computer studies major at University of California when I first met him. He loved the White Bear & Red Moon game but was absolutely appalled at the dismal rules. He submitted a revision of them done in a flawlessly organized style appropriate to a man of his future profession. I was kind of sunned by them at first, but after some play came to appreciate that they really are flawless. Though seemingly complex, they are actually simple if you simply do what they say. At last, the quality of charm had been married to quality of rules.
A French language edition was published by Oriflam under license from Chaosium under the name La Guerre des Héros in 1993. They also did a great version of Nomad gods, similarly boxed and of very high quality.
A couple of years later the same game, with a different box, was released by Avalon Hill in 1983. I am not sure, but maybe a Japanese language edition was published by Hobby Japan, though I never saw a copy. If anyone has seen one, let me know.
Dragon Pass won the 1981 Strategist's Club Award for Outstanding Boardgame, the 1982 the Games Day Award for Best Fantasy Boardgame, and the 1983 Games Day Award for Best Fantasy Boardgame.
Getting Rid of Board Games
Around the time we were doing Dragon Pass, Chaosium was also rip roaring and establishing high standards for the art side of the roleplaying game field. We did some cost analysis and realized that producing a roleplaying game of comparable price took us about half the time, cost us about half the manufacturing costs and sold twice as much. And, frankly, more fun. The decision was swift and simple—we would concentrate on roleplaying and not do any more board games.