As I write this it’s late April 2023, the Covid pandemic is still going on even though most people pretend it’s over, airline companies are still cutting costs by reducing leg space centimetre by centimetre, and the United States is an increasingly dystopian and depressing place. So what can possibly make me take a flight to the US and spend time at some crowded indoors event? Well, it’s ChaosiumCon of course!
Don’t Go To The Basement
A couple weeks ago was indeed the second iteration of Chaosium’s own convention, held in Ypsilanti, Michigan, near Chaosium’s Ann Harbor HQ. And by “HQ” I mostly mean Rick Meints’ house, I guess.
All packed up for gaming, I flew from Vancouver to Toronto, followed by a short flight from Toronto to Detroit… that second plane led me to the bowels of the Toronto airport, and at some point I wondered if I would step into some sort of urban portal fantasy…
Unlike last year, I didn’t stay at the Marriott hotel, where the convention is held. I was instead hanging out with my friends from the Sons Of The Singularity, at some Vrbo house that they rented for the occasion.
Sons Of The Singularity, or SOS for short (I’m not sure what happened to the “T”) are fairly well known in the Call of Cthulhu community for producing well researched historical campaign and setting books such as The Sassoon Files (horror in 1920s Shanghai!) or Journal d’Indochine (horror in French colonial Vietnam!) I wrote a scenario for the latter (look for it in Journal d’Indochine Volume 2, it’s called “The Parchments of Tam”) and did a few maps and illustrations. Their current project is the currently crowdfunding Blessed And The Blasphemous, set in North Africa shortly before the Second World War… think Casablanca, but with some Mythos in it. And they also recently released Between The Devil And The Deep, a GUMSHOE-based supernatural pirate roleplaying game.
Anyway, we had this very nice house located in a rather, ahem, picturesque neighbourhood, complete with run down houses, roaming pitbulls, chain link fenced backyards, and leftover Republican election signs. High five to the person on the next block with a US flag featuring the slogan “kneel for the cross, stand for the flag“. When you also consider that our house had a weirdly empty and possibly recently painted basement floor, whose door had a lock on the outside (the kitchen), we were getting some strong Barbarian vibes, here.
Of course, for a while we were thinking of playing a Call of Cthulhu game in the basement.
Last year I was happy to have hung out extensively with the Gloranthan crowd, but I was also a bit sad I didn’t get to spend much time with the other part of the Chaosium fandom. This year I managed to spend more time crossing these boundaries, especially while hanging out with the SOS guys, but of course now I’m sad I didn’t get to chat with fellow Gloranthan nerds for very long. Oh well.
This year’s convention was a day longer and started on Thursday. I wasn’t registered for any games since I landed in Detroit in late afternoon, so I went straight to the “social mixer”. Last year was a proper banquet with seats around tables and all that. This year was more of a buffet with standing tables, allowing more mobility between people during the evening.
As always, this social mixer is good to catch up with people you’ve met last year, and to put a face on those you’ve only ever talked online with. The highlight of that evening was probably getting a great rib-crushing hug from Bridgett (whom we interviewed once), one of Chaosium’s community ambassadors. I’m sure that’s the only kind of hugs she gives.
While the vendor hall was getting setup, I got to say a quick hello to Dustin, the ever-so-nice customer service guy for Chaosium. I hope everybody was nice to him too!
The hall had the usual things: a sizable booth for Chaosium themselves, another sizable one for Petersen Games, and a few other stands for various other third party publishers. Once the hall opened for business, it looked more like this:
There were many good things to be had, from fancy HPLHS prop sets to print copies of things like Bayt Al Azif, and more! I know what you’re going to ask and yes, the Prosopaedia was indeed on sale, along with the Meints Index to Glorantha and Rivers of London:
You could also, if you were lucky, dig through a Pendragon 6th edition Starter Set boxed set, but these were only sample copies or contributor copies. It wasn’t on sale yet, but the fact they’re printed means it should happen soon! And yes, it looks gorgeous!
The next day started with me being on a panel alongside Jeff Richard to get people to “stop worrying and make Glorantha theirs“. But there weren’t many people in the room, probably for two reasons: first, most panels scheduled at the same time as game slots were poorly attended in general (compared to panels scheduled at other times), and second, anybody attending a Glorantha panel at ChaosiumCon is bound to be well versed already in Glorantha anyway! But we did rant about varying Gloranthas, RuneQuest house rules, and more. I don’t know if it was useful for anybody, but it happened.
There was also Rick Meints’ usual “All Manner of Chaos” panel, in which he talks about the history of Chaosium through anecdotes and trivia, in his signature friendly and affable tone. Some of the stories had already been told last year, and some were new. It all depends on what questions the audience asks, so if you ever attend one of Rick’s panels, don’t hesitate to speak up!
In the afternoon was my RuneQuest game, “The Bloody Banquet“. I had run this last year already, but I slightly tweaked it to improve the finale. Here’s the game blurb to save you a click:
You are Telmori Wolfbrothers, from the fierce tribe of werewolves who live at the edge of Sartar. You have a strained relationship with the other tribes of the Kingdom, but the Dragonrise ushered a time of turmoil that you can use to your advantage. Your tribe wants to take back the hunting lands they lost to both Lunars and Sartarites over the past couple generations, and that requires negotiating with the neighbours. The problem is: you were invited to a banquet and you blacked-out. Now, you’re waking up, covered in blood, surrounded by corpses. What happened? How are you going to fix this? What are you going to do?
I think it went well? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my players! I will probably release the adventure on the Jonstown Compendium in the distant future, since it’s almost all written up by now.
As always, I had some cheat sheets and references in case there were any newbies, but of course everybody was already a RuneQuest and Glorantha expert… so much, in fact, that we ended the game more than 30min ahead of schedule, since we spent zero time explaining the setting or the rules.
Saturday morning was fairly open so I looked for games with open spots at the last minute. I could have gone to some of the RuneQuest seminars, such as the one on the upcoming Cults of RuneQuest books, but like I said I wanted to meet more of the Call of Cthulhu crowd. So if there was a scoop to be had during those panels, I didn’t get them! What are you reading this blog for again?
I ended up in an absolutely great game of Call of Cthulhu, as we played through Paul Fricker’s My Little Sister Wants You To Suffer. It was a lot of fun and… well I won’t say anything to spoil the scenario but I won! Yes, it’s an adventure in which you can “win”. For a certain definition of “win”… I’ve already said too much!
Around lunch time there was an announcement from Sandy Petersen that he’s writing some Call of Cthulhu material again, including a Cthulhu-focused campaign. I didn’t stick around and instead had a lovely hour playing a very short demo game of Rivers of London with Lynne Hardy.
I really like how the BRP system (which, you might well know by now, I’m not a big fan of) has been really streamlined to an almost minimalistic level. It’s even simpler than Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. Of course, it was a short teaser adventure that is meant to leave you hungry for more, and it succeeded on that front.
Having some spare time before the next thing, I visited some more vendor tables. One of them was a demo of “Elder” the AI-driven VTT assistant for Call of Cthulhu, which Chaosium announced just after the convention:
It was pretty good, and you can definitely see how ChatGPT-like software can help run games… you could ask it for stats of Mythos monsters, rules clarifications, random afflictions for bouts of madness, and even descriptions of creepy locales.
There was also someone from Aetherworks showcasing some upcoming RuneQuest miniatures. They are really gorgeous plastic miniatures, with nice fine detailing. They are planning a Kickstarter for them, with the first offering being miniatures of the Starter Set pre-generated characters. The plan is to also have some variant miniatures for mounted/on foot versions, and to soon go into monsters and other NPC miniatures.
Last but not least was the lovely Katrin Dirim, who was on the podcast once (but we’re hoping to get her on air again!) She was selling prints of her equally lovely art. I got a few of them, as my luggage allowed!
The main event of the afternoon was of course the Chaosium auction, in which Rick Meints and Mike Mason expertly presented various near-mint items from Chaosium’s warehouse with funny anecdotes and personal stories.
Like last year, a few “professional collectors” were in attendance, decidedly snagging many items at outrageous prices. After all, these items were in much better shape than anything you can find on the second hand market, including some shrink-wrapped items. If you just want a reader’s copy, you might not need to pay the premium of a near-mint condition at Chaosium’s auction… still, the presence of these wealthy bidders was, at best, controversial among the rest of the crowd. I had spoken to one of those collectors at Thursday’s mixer, so I knew what their motivations were, but I also understand the frustration of those who can’t get any of the items on their wishlist.
I still managed to snag a few things, including a copy of the much reviled RQ3 Eldarad: The Lost City. Many people asked me if it came with a lighter… if you don’t get the joke, email me! But no, it did not.
The auction ran late which pushed my second panel a bit, as it was hosted in the same room. This was the Podcasting 101 panel, which featured Seth Skorkowsky, Arthur Rothfuss, Mike Diamond, and… errr, me. Mike recorded it for The Old Ways Podcast so you can watch us here:
All these people have much better and popular podcasts than our little humble God Learners podcast here, so I’m not sure if any of my contributions to the discussion were of any help to the people in the audience wanting to start their own podcast? I have frankly no idea what I’m doing most of the time, but it still more or less works out so I guess that was my main point: don’t worry about it, and don’t let it become a source of stress or hurdle.
It was a busy day so I only have a quick stop to see Nick and Bridgett selling Jonstown Compendium POD books. I’m told they did sell quite well! Plus, Nick and Bridgett really know how to celebrate other people’s work, the mood was very positive and supportive around the creator community. Even my SOS friends noted how little ego there was to be seen anywhere.
In the evening I played a game of Pendragon with Bryon Ross (who makes a lot of RuneQuest reviews and commentary on YouTube, some of which we linked to from our weekly newsletter). It didn’t start well: we almost had a TPK during the first encounter! Luckily, things went better after that and, although my knight died heroically fighting an ogre, the party managed to complete all the quests.
Disclaimer: my knight might not have actually “died heroically”. He might have died after taking a bench to the head while trying to cowardly sneak out of a castle. But the tales will totally say he died heroically!
The rest of evening was spent hanging out with many people from various crowds: Gloranthan nerds, 7th Sea cosplayers, Call of Cthulhu gamers, and many other random people. Like I said, I ended up not chatting that much about Glorantha, which was a bit sad, but then again I also got to meet more varied people and talk about more varied things, which is good!
On Sunday I only had time for one game before heading out to the airport, and luckily I got a spot in a 7th Sea game that proved to be totally awesome. I believe that we even completely sidestepped the adventure, and the gamemaster ended up improvising half of it.
We fought thugs, met a ghost, broke a nun-fighting ring (yes), got swallowed by a giant sea serpent, and more!
After that I hung out in the lobby with a few cool people for an hour or so, and headed out to the airport for the long way home.
Loot And Achievements
I came out of ChaosiumCon with some cool loot, a mix of new books and auction items plus a few extras, like some prints of Katrin’s art, or a copy of Khan of Khans, a super great Gloranthan board game that Chaosium is getting rid of for free since their licensing agreement with the designer expired:
Second, I’m happy to have completed the achievement of playing every single currently published Chaosium game in one week-end: RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, Pendragon, Rivers of London, and 7th Sea. 13th Age was a bonus.
Oh and if you want to nitpick this and say that, I don’t know, Superworld is still officially published, I’m going to say…. “LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU“. Come on. I did it. Let me have this.
Finally, after much flying and waiting around in airports, I was greeted with the familiar Pacific Northwest native art of the Vancouver airport… I was home! And now you’re done with this report! As the saying goes: “sorry, I didn’t have time to make it shorter“.
If you want some better and shorter reports of the convention, check out:
- Paul Fricker’s ChaosiumCon 2023: The Way It Was
- Bayt Al Azif’s ChaosiumCon 2023
- Propero House Publishing’s ChaosiumCon II: Totally Mad(re)cap
- Bucho’s ChaosiumCon 2: The Eldritch Buchaloo
Hopefully, see y’all next year!