This article is part of a semi-monthly column on the history of roleplaying, one game company at a time. However, just looking at singular companies doesn’t always give the whole picture, and so this article is the first of a series of occasional interludes, which tries to tie the history of gaming back into a larger picture.
This article was originally published as A Brief History of Game #7 on RPGnet. Its publication preceded the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011).
The last four articles in this series have looked at Chaosium, and three of the companies most associated with it: Green Knight Publishing, Issaries Inc., and Pagan Publishing. Together these articles begin to paint a picture of a portion of the industry which is deeply interconnected.
Not every company in the industry works regularly with others. The next article in this series, on I.C.E., will cover a company that largely went it alone throughout the 20 years of its original history. However Chaosium is a fine example of the opposite inclination in the industry, with almost a dozen licensees, three successor companies, and several other connections. Even one of its licensees has successor companies!
This article attempts to briefly codify all of the interrelated companies, and show how they were improtant to each other. There’s also a neat chart at the end that attempts to show some (but not all!) of these connections. If you get bored with the words, scroll down to the picture.
The question of whether to allow licensees has traditionally been a difficult one in the industry. Chaosium seems to welcome them, while other companies like TSR worked hard to protect their IP and keep it for themselves.
Avalon Hill: The owner of RuneQuest rights for many years, and also a publisher of Glorantha during that period. They stopped publishing RQ in 1995 and were purchased by Hasbro in 1999. They’ve since become a brand name for Wizard of the Coast’s board game line, while the RQ rights have reverted.
Darcsyde: A one-off licensee who published the Elric! supplement Corum in 2001, after Chaosium had otherwise shut the line down.
Fantasy Flight Games: Probably Chaosium’s most financially successful licensee. They got off the ground publishing Call of Cthulhu adventures, but pretty soon they’d put out Twilight Imperium too and they were off and running toward becoming a big-name board-game manufacturer. Their Call of Cthulhu (and Cthulhu Live) lines just lasted from 1997-2001, though today they’re still publishing a CCG based on Call of Cthulhu and the board game Arkham Horror. They also do tons of other CCGs, their own RPG lines, piles of board games, and are even working on an RPG movie based on one of their lines.
Games Workshop: In the mid 1980s, creativity was really flowing both ways across the Atlantic. US publishers were actively reprinting the British Fighting Fantasy books while UK publishers were reprinting lines like Tunnels & Trolls. Games Workshop wanted to get in on this, and so from 1985-1987 they published high-quality versions of Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, and RuneQuest for the British market. They also did a few original supplements for Call of Cthulhu that were sold on both sides of the pond. Then Warhammer miniatures ate their soul.
Grenadier: Grenadier was just one of several miniatures licensees (also including Lance & Laser, RAFM, Ral Partha, and Trollkin Forge) and that category of licensing isn’t generally listed here. However, Grenadier also put out a single Call of Cthulhu module in 1984, probably in an attempt to tell more people about their miniatures.
Judges Guild: Chaosium’s first licensee, and at a time one of the most frequent publishers in the industry. They’re best known for their (official) AD&D supplements, but they also did a half-dozen RuneQuest supplements. Only one, Broken Tree Inn, is notable, because it contains material originally intended for Chaosium’s Snake Pipe Hollow.
Mongoose Publishing: A licensee of Issaries rather than Chaosium, who now has rights to publish RuneQuest and Gloranthan content. They’re also making open-gaming-style licenses available for their new RuneQuest which should lead to many connections to them in the years ahead. Already a few PDF publishers have taken them up.
Moon Design: Another Issaries licensee, originally licensed to reprint old RQ2 books, but they’ve since taken over Issaries’ HeroQuest line as well.
Pagan Publishing: A Call of Cthulhu licensee already well discussed in their own article. Particularly notable because its principals have gone on to form other companies and publish other games, totally separate from CoC.
Reston Publishing: A publisher of hardcovers for some of Chaosium’s books, plus The Adventurer’s Handbook. A Prentice-Hall Company, and thus an early attempt to move RPGs into the mass-market.
Theater of the Mind Enterprises: An early Call of Cthulhu licensee who put out some well-respected adventures and later published a single Stormbringer adventure too. They’d go on to publish Tekumel for a time as well.
Triad: A short-lived Call of Cthulhu licensee who put out half-a-dozen books, but was entirely overshadowed by Pagan Publishing at the time.
Wizards of the Coast: Chaosium licensed Wizards of the Coast to publish the d20 Call of Cthulhu game, which was in turn partially designed by Pagan Publishing. Wizards also has numerous other connections, spreading like a spider web. When they hired John Tynes, it was what caused Pagan to move (and thus Biohazard Games to form). They later offered Tynes the Everway game before it went to Rubicon Games and later Gaslight Press. Several companies on the chart (including Chaosium, Fantasy Flight, and Mongoose) have taken advantage of Wizard’s d20 license, and finally, Wizards now runs the Avalon Hill division of Hasbro.
The successor companies of Issaries and Green Knight have already been discussed in their own articles, while Wizard’s Attic was briefly touched upon in the original Chaosium article, and Biohazard Games, Hobgoblynn Press, Eos Press, and Arc Dream were also touched upon in the Pagan Publishing article.
A few other unique Chaosium connections include:
Fantasy Games Unlimited: This old-school game company, from the same era as Judges Guild and others, published a one-off game called Other Suns, which used a BRP-based game system.
Multisim: One of many foreign licensees of Chaosium (who have not been included here), and a pretty notable one because they created the Nephilim game which Chaosium later tried to publish in the United States.
Target Games: Originally Äventyrsspel, and another notable foreign licensee for their translation of Worlds of Wonder as Drakar Och Demoner, which was the best-selling Swedish RPG for a decade, though it slowly left behind its BRP roots.
West End Games: Chaosium designed the Ghostbusters RPG for them, which provided the d6 game system which later became the core of their game line.
With all that said, here’s the chart, showing how interconnected just this corner of the gaming industry is, even without detailing every single connection: