Revolutionary Roleplaying

Chaosium’s first roleplaying game was RuneQuest, but RPGs soon became our mainstay. The first published RPG was Dungeons & Dragons, shortly followed by some other imitative games. Chaosium, however, was never content to imitate but published games that were original in style of play, content and design. We quickly became renowned for our originality and creativity, and were responsible for introducing many things to the hobby that are standard today. Below is a quick rundown of the titles we published and the awards they won over the years. Some are still active and producing product today.

I did not develop the games below, but as President of Chaosium, I “green lighted” every one of them and supported the authors and development team however I could. It is a legacy I'm very proud of.

 

All the Worlds Monsters (I) (1977)


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By Steve Perrin and Jeff Tibbits

Shortly after the birth of roleplaying came the fanzines, and especially memorable to me was the APA Alarms & Excursions. It was the 70’s version of a blog, way before anyone had personal computers. Multiple contributors sent X-number of page sets for their contribution to a central point, which then collated it and sent it out to all members and subscribers. Contributions were usually mimeographed, and each contributor chose their own color paper. The result was to get a stapled book of variable page count and color full of everyone’s excited ideas about this new D&D thing. Historians of the genre should mine this for early impressions of the birth of an art form. 

Steve and Jeff put these together from contributions, largely from A&E for the first one. Later editions II and III probably had other contributions, but in truth, I never read these, because I didn’t play D&D. 

 


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RuneQuest (1978)

By Steve Perrin, Ray Turney, Steve Henderson, Warren James; setting by Greg Stafford 

RuneQuest was our first roleplaying game, and for years was our flagship product. It was the first really innovative RPG on the market, throwing aside most of the standards used for D&D, such as character classes, levels and experience points. It was also the first appearance of the fantasy world of Glorantha in a roleplaying product, and the birth of the core system of Basic Roleplaying, which became the core of the company's entire line of roleplaying games until Pendragon presented a new system. 

My involvement with the design of RuneQuest was to tell the writers what kind of system we wanted. Thus I determined that there would be two types of magic, cults, etc. Steve Perrin did most of the system and Steve Henderson did a lot of the combat system, with Steve. Ray Turney wrote most of the magic systems. Warren James did test playing, and also created the RQ snakes. 

Because of its intimate association with GloranthaRuneQuest is the game that I most closely worked with for many, many years. I still, after all, had some administrative duties to fulfill as president of the corporation! 

INDUSTRY AWARDS

  • 1978 Strategists Club Award for Outstanding Miniatures Rules
  • 1983 Games Day Award for Best Role Playing Game
  • 1984 Games Day Award for Best Role Playing Game

See here for more about RuneQuest.

 

Basic Roleplaying (1980)

By Steve Perrin, extracted by Greg Stafford and Lynn willis

It was easy for us to see that there was a core mechanic in RuneQuest that could be extracted to be the skeleton for other genres. We pulled it out to be its own product, a nifty little 16-page booklet that was a complete starter game in of itself. 
We sold this as its own product, and included various forms of it in several of the early games that were based on it. We thought this would make people aware of the fact that they could learn any one of our games and know how to play any of the others. After a while we realized we didn't need to beat our fans over the head with this — they were smart enough to already know it. 

Since my departure, Chaosium has reissued this in a vastly extended form, basically including all the genres into it. 

 


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Stormbringer (1981)

By Ken St. Andre 

I had earlier acquired the game rights to Michael Moorcock's wonderful series about Elric, the albino, vampire-sword-wielding sorcerer of Melniboné, for the board game Elric. It was natural to expand this to include roleplaying. Ken St. Andre was established as a rpg designer (starting with Tunnels & Trolls, published by Flying Buffalo Inc.) He turned the manuscript in on time and after the usual editing, layout and printing, we had a new game. It was well received. 



INDUSTRY AWARDS

  • 1981 Game Designer's Guild Select Award
  • 1982 Games Day Award for Best New Game.

See here for more about Stormbringer.

 


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Thieves’ World, 1981

Masterminded by Greg Stafford 
Contents by Dave Arneson, Eric Goldberg, Marc Miller, Steve Perrin, Lawrence Schick, Greg Stafford, and Ken St. Andre 

Thieves’ World was one of my proudest accomplishments. It is was the first pan-game supplement ever published. It includes data for AD&D, Adventures in Fantasy, Chivalry & Sorcery, DragonQuest, D&D, The Fantasy Trip, RuneQuest, Traveller, and Tunnels & Trolls.

INDUSTRY AWARDS

  • 1981 Game Designer's Guild Select Award
  • 1982 Origins Award for Best Role Playing Adventure 

Learn more about Thieves’ World here.

 

 


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Call of Cthulhu (1981) 

By Sandy Petersen, et al.

Call of Cthulhu was the first horror RPG to be published, and was an instant success. This was due to the fact that it was a great game, especially with its innovative SAN (sanity) statistic. It was genius to make maximum SAN equal to 100 minus one's Cthulhu Mythos knowledge. It quickly became our flagship product. 

I knew this one was going to be a success when we began to receive unsolicited scenarios that were complete and well written. Normally I had to make assignments and coax the authors along. This had tapped into a deep, fast-flowing stream of creativity from contributors. It subsequently became the strongest line, with the most number of new supplements, and in several improved editions which, nonetheless, did not lose the flavor of the original. 

Call of Cthulhu was also licensed as a computer game, but due to internal conflicts I foolishly withdrew it. That game came out as In the Dark. I say "foolishly" because I did it to assuage an employee whose opinion was, I felt, utterly wrong, and we really could have used the money. Later on it was licensed to another company that took so long to release it that the platforms it was made for had become obsolete, effectively killing the market. Oh well, you win some and lose some in the computer biz.

INDUSTRY AWARDS

  • 1981 Strategist's Club Award for Outstanding Game
  • 1981 Game Designer's Guild Select Award
  • 1982 Origins Award for Best Role Playing Game
  • 1982 Game Designer’s Guild Select Award (Shadows of Yog-Sothoth)
  • 1984 Games Day Award for Best Roleplaying Adventure (Shadows of Yog-Sothoth)
  • 1985 Games Day AwardBest Roleplaying Adventure (Shadows of Yog-Sothoth)
  •  1985 Games Day Award for Best Roleplaying Game
  • 1986 Games Day Award for Best Contemporary Roleplaying Game
  • 1986 Games Day Award for Best Roleplaying Adventure (Masks of Nyarlathotep)
  • 1987 Games Day Award for Best Other Roleplaying Game
  • 1987 Gamer's Choice Award for Best Roleplaying Adventure (Spawn of Azathoth)
  • 1987 Origins Award for Best Graphic Presentation (M.U. Graduate Kit)
  • 1987 Origins Award for Best Role Playing Supplement (Cthulhu By Gaslight)
  • 1987 Gamer's Choice Award for Best Role Playing Accessory (Cthulhu by Gaslight)
  • 1989 Origins Award for Best Role Playing Supplement (Creatures of the Dreamlands)
  • 1989 Origins Award for Best Graphic Presentation (Creatures of the Dreamlands)
  • 1989 Origins Award Best Graphic Presentation (Guide to Cthulhu Monsters)
     

See here for more about Call of Cthulhu.

 


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Worlds of Wonder (1982) 

Written by Steve Perrin

I wanted to expand the potential of the Basic Roleplaying System. Steve Perrin had initially developed the great system for RuneQuest, but we’d already also used it for Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu. It was easy to see the potential in expanding it. 

We did Worlds of Wonder as a generic system. The intent was to have a whole series of little 16-page booklets for every possible setting, all riffing slightly off of the BRP core. We figured that a couple of examples in the box would set the example and the rest would just flow on in. So we had a super hero setting, a science fiction setting and generic fantasy setting. When it was released out it was our best selling game. I am pretty sure that had to do with the great commercial cover. But we were too short-staffed to follow up on it properly, which is a shame. It could have been, and was intended to be, like GURPS. This is another case of us failing at the business end to properly exploit what we had. 

I liked playing it as a “big mix" game, when people could bring any character they wanted. I remember one where there were characters from Superworld, a couple from RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu and a “realistic” army guy from no game at all, just created using the system. All very chaotic, very fun.

We did publish a supplement for WoW called Questworld.

Later on, the “Magicworld" booklet from the package was licensed and published to a Swedish publisher and released as Drakar Och Demoner, in 1982.

 


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Superworld (1983)

By Steve Perrin

To exploit the basis of Worlds of Wonder and sort of guide potential authors we published this title. Steve had always had a fond place for superhero games (he played the Heroes system pretty regularly) and we were glad to give him this outlet. 

See here for more about Superworld.

 


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Ringworld (1984)

By John Hewitt, Rudy Kraft, Sherman Kahn, Lynn Willis, Sandy Petersen, Charlie Krank, Ed Gore, Jeff Okamoto

We wanted a science fiction game for our BRP line, and we were approached by an author who was hot to do Larry Niven's Known Space setting. I acquired the rights and after considerable publishing adventures we released Ringworld.

See here for more about Ringworld.

 

 

ElfQuest (1984)

By Steve Perrin 

Richard Pini himself approached me one Origins and told me he'd been getting a lot of requests from the fans of the Elfquest comic that they wanted to play an rpg based on it. He did research, eh said, and everyone agreed that Chaosium was the outfit that would do the best job for him. He gave me a complete set of the comics to that date, and after reading them on the plane trip home assigned the task to our Mr. Reliable, Steve Perrin.

For some time this was our best-selling game, outselling even Call of Cthulhu.

See here for more about ElfQuest roleplaying.

 

King Arthur Pendragon (1985) 

By Greg Stafford 

I love the stories about King Arthur, and after several years of writing and development Chaosium released this game of mine based on the legend, books and movies. It was well received, even garnering some academic appreciation, and is still the rpg that I play and continue to develop. 

Pendragon was a departure from our regular BRP system. I thought that the combat system was too long and tedious for my new game, and we didn't need the magic at all since it was about knights and the only magicians would be NPCs. It presented many really radical concepts, many of which are still far ahead of the normal gaming community. Among those are a system for quantifying behavior, and a dynastic system wherein characters will all die one way or another before the campaign is over, so knights get married and have families so sons and grandsons of the original character carry on the family traditions. 

Learn more about King Arthur Pendragon here.

 


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Hawkmoon (1986)

By Kerie Campbell 

We certainly wanted to keep the ball rolling with Moorcock's other wonderful tales of the Eternal Champion. Hawkmoon was written by Kerie Campbell, and thus this was the second RPG to be published that was written by a woman. 

See here for more about Hawkmoon.

 

Prince Valiant (1989)

By Greg Stafford 

I had been wanting to have a very, very simple roleplaying game for years before I wrote this. It's got a 1-page rule system, uses coins for deciding success and makes every layer into a part-time GM. It was waaaay ahead of its time.

It is based on the famous works of Hal Foster. I always loved the comic strip, though many contemporaries dismissed it with a simple "Way too many words." I thought that the license would enhance its sales. I was wrong. It probably hurt sales and kept the book in relative obscurity. One thing about this game — I could always tell when a reviewer had not played it. 

Learn more about Prince Valiant here.

 

Elric! (1993)

By Lynn Willis 

Stormbringer seemed old and creaky, and so Lynn decided to revamp this. It increased sales a little bit. 

See here for more about Elric!

 


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Nephilim (1994)

By Fabrice Lamidey and Frédéric Weil; Sam Shirley, Greg Stafford

We were searching about, somewhat desperately actually, to find a new game to capture more market. We decided to translate this game from the French. This was, I believe, the first European game to be translated into English. It had been released in 1992 by the French company Multisim, written by the company officers. Multisim was a very successful French RPG company, with many English-language games translated (including the best of the Chaosium line) as well as original French product. 

See here for more about Nephilim.