Those of us in the English-speaking world who play (or write) Call of Cthulhu books tend to think of our hobby as being made up of a community of publishers in the US and UK who produce all the wonderful books we know so well. BUT … this viewpoint does conveniently ignore the fact that in addition to all those books we see being published in English, these days there are also a whole bunch of original Call of Cthulhu titles being published in other languages by European game publishers. While the current French CoC licensee Sans Detour has nabbed a bit of attention recently with its snazzy-looking books … it may surprise some that by far the most active non-English publishers of Cthulhu material is actually German licensee Pegasus Press. Since taking over the German-language license for Call of Cthulhu in 2000, Pegasus have put the publication of original (i.e., non-translated) Cthulhu material serious on steriods … to the extent that there is now a vast array of products and even a successful German-language magazine devoted to Cthulhuoid gaming.
One of the goals of the State of the Tentacle interview series is to try to get out and talk to as many people who make creative decisions about the future of Lovecraftian gaming … no matter what flavour. To that end I am absolutely delighted to be able to speak today with Heiko Gill, the current chief editor of the Cthulhu roleplaying line at Pegasus Press. Pegasus, like several of the European Cthulhu game publishers, have earned an enviable reputataion for the quality of the books they create. Their translations of Chaosium titles like Horror on the Orient Express have set new high watermarks for art and other production values, and their original German gaming material … well to someone who only slightly speaks the language, I’d have to say it sure LOOKS enticing and exciting. So, with all this in mind, I was very keen to see what Heiko — the guy at the helm of this enviable engine of creativity — thinks is important to the future of Lovecraftian gaming!
Heiko Gill is a long-term member of the International Cthulhu Cult. Born in 1962, Heiko first encountered the writings of H.P. Lovecraft in 1979 but by the end of 1980 had already read every piece of Lovecraft fiction that had been translated into the German language. By chance, during a holiday to San Francisco in 1985 he stumbled upon the 2nd Edition of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Ever since that fateful day he has been a Keeper in an ongoing gaming group that has played *a lot* of Cthulhu roleplaying.
Heiko got involved with the “other side” of the CoC world (i.e., producing game material) in the early 1990s by writing an adventure called “New Eden” which centred around some very nasty goings-on during the Boer War. He then submitted a scenario to an adventure-writing competition (a nasty piece about German mass-murderer Fritz Haarmann) and won. Subsequently he was recruited by Pegasus Press in 2002 as a freelance writer, later joined the editorial staff … and since the end of 2011 has served as the chief editor of the Cthulhu product line produced by Pegasus.
Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?
Heiko: The greatest “Plus” that Call of Cthulhu has maintained over the years is the continual backwards-compatibility of its published material. Using the current rules, you can easily still play stuff from decades and decades ago … What other game can you say that about? I think of this as an “ongoing-milestone”. Individual milestones were the great campaigns (Day of the Beast, Orient Express and so on) and the development of the whole Lovecraft Country setting.
In Germany the greatest milestone was, of course, the granting of a licence to Pegasus Press, which allowed a whole bunch of enthusiasts to create lots of useful stuff.
A Mis-step, if you can call it that, was the late 1990’s slowdown in the rate of new material being published for the game (not felt so much in Germany, which by that time was already producing a significant amount of its own original German-language material to fill the gap).
CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?
Heiko: As a representative of a Chaosium licensee I must confess, that I have only very limited insights in the other “new” Lovecraftian RPGs, because we are bound exclusively to Chaosium’s set of rules. (Which, in the spirit of backwards-compatibility, is no problem at all.)
It seems to me that these other versions focus individually on other aspects of the game than the “mother-ruleset”, but that is okay, as long as the players are interested in the same kinds of things as the people who designed those games (e.g., Gumshoe and its strong focus on clues and detective work).
Right now, there’s work going on to make a “7.0 ruleset”. From what I know of this material (and I was a playtester last year), there are great improvements possible, but also – maybe – some problems with respect to my Holy Grail (which, as you may know by now is backwards compatibility with earlier material).
CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?
Heiko: I wish I could say something ethical, esoterical or simply philanthropical, but I think the main factor shaping something is money. If you can make more money by leaving everything as it is – you will do that, if you can make more money by changing, you will change something. My personal position is, that there is always room for a change, if it enhances the gaming-fun of the players/Keepers (therefore in Germany we’ve had over the years a series of “optional rules” to try this out).
CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?
Heiko: Backwards compatibility. Nothing else. That must be a part of every change. It is the one and only unique characteristic of Call of Cthulhu.
CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?
Heiko: I’d love to see more of the German-language Call of Cthulhu stuff translated into English. Ok, that sounds selfish. But it wasn’t meant to be.
And I’d like Cthulhu Stuff set in WW2 (though in Germany you couldn’t do that because of the problems you may run into by using the obvious Nazi-background). That may be on its way already with “Achtung! Cthulhu”.
CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?
Heiko: I see an established 7.0 Rulebook and in a perfect world (as we live in) it will be backwards compatible.