Last week I posted here on Cthulhu Reborn, asking readers what they thought about some of the challenges and options facing small-scale publishers of Lovecraftian RPG material. Since then I have received rather a lot of feedback from a variety of different corners — it’s actually been quite insightful.
Because some of the same issues likely affect other small publishers — and people who are contemplating taking a future step into the world of publishing — I thought it might be useful to summarize some of the key points that readers have been mentioning in their feedback.
The Importance of Independence
Perhaps the most common piece of feedback we received was that readers place a huge amount of value on the fact that Cthulhu Reborn is an independent (albeit very small-scale) voice in the tapestry of Lovecraftian RPG publishing. Anything that moves us away from that position of independence, would risk Cthulhu Reborn becoming irrelevant to readers.
I guess this is not too surprising given that most players of Lovecraftian RPGs are well aware that there are several different publishers and products, each of which has its own distinctive take on “gamifying” the works of HPL, and in most cases a fairly healthy catalogue of published titles. If Cthulhu Reborn were publishing material that was exactly like any one of those existing publishers, people would naturally ask the question “why should I download your books when I could the same kind of thing from a well-established, large-scale publisher?” To be useful, we need to be doing something a little bit different — perhaps filling a slightly different niche.
This becomes more relevant in relation to fears voiced by a number of readers that hitching our wagon too much to Chaosium (e.g., by formally becoming a commercial licensee) might threaten that independence. I don’t honestly know whether it *would*, but there are certainly some people who are concerned that it might.
The Importance of Game Systems
One of the things I was most interested to get feedback about was how wedded our readers are to the Call of Cthulhu system, the game which we have (more-or-less) exclusively focussed to date. One thing I’m sure every game publisher fears is that a decision to support a slightly different system, or indeed release systemless material, might alienate their audience, leaving a lot of people behind.
I’ll be honest: I was half expecting the overwhelming response from readers to be “our group only plays Call of Cthulhu; if you shifted to other systems your material would be useless to us.” But that wasn’t what most people said. Instead what the vast majority of folks told us was that, for Lovecraftian games, they viewed the system as the *least* important part of the final product. If a scenario or setting is well-written, evocative, and has the requisite atmosphere, tone, and number of scares — people seem to be saying that they would be more than willing to do a bit of system conversion to use it with whatever game they ran for their group. I think that’s an interesting trend, and while not universal (there actually *were* a few people that told us they wouldn’t be able to use anything that didn’t have CoC statistics) it suggests to us that the choice of which system(s) to support is perhaps not as significant as we first thought.
In terms of specific systems that people suggested we *could* consider if we were to (partially-or-fully) move away from Call of Cthulhu, there wasn’t a clear standout recommendation. Each of the following had some supporters:
- Gumshoe / Trail of Cthulhu
- The new Delta Green RPG (Arc Dream)
- Savage World (“Realms of Cthulhu”)
- Cthulhu Dark (whose glossy hardback edition is being Kickstarted right now)
- The forthcoming “King in Yellow” RPG (Pelgrane)
- Cakebread & Walton’s “Rennaisance” system (based on BRP)
- Greg Stolze’s “Nemesis” system (based on Godlike)
- Cthulhu d100 (currently only available in Spanish)
- Lamentations of the Flame Princess
A few folks (perhaps cheekily) suggested we could make our *own* system … but with all those to choose from, I’m not sure why we would want to go to that amount of trouble.
A World Beyond Systems
Interestingly, several people directed us to a handful of previous efforts that have been made to create systemless supplements for Lovecraftian games. While I was already aware of one (Gary Sumpter’s book “Tainted Legacies”) I wasn’t aware of other similar efforts which have more explicitly targetted multiple game systems via systems of more generic notations which can be easily translated into different systems. One of these is the “Dark Symbols” created by Brennen Reece and Graham Walmsley (and used for the generic scenario “Sukakpak” by Jason Morningstar, published in The Unspeakable Oath #21).
So, What Next?
We are still sifting through all the mountains of intriguing ideas and options that you, our faithful body of readers, have provided us. Some of the points that have come out of this exercise have already proven very insightful to us — and have changed our perception about what folks *want* from a small-scale publisher like Cthulhu Reborn.
There’s still some amount of pondering (not to mention reading up on various different licensing approaches used for different systems) to be done before we have a clear way forward … but, once we have a clear direction we will certainly share it with you. In the meantime, if you have any *further* insightful feedback — feel free to use the form below. I do feel, however, that you guys have already been extraordinarily generous with the feedback you’ve given us (so, thank you for that!)