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Women in Tabletop Gaming Month #3: Chaosium interviews Marion Anderson

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 5th Jun 2018

Lynne Hardy interviews Call of Cthulhu writer Marion Anderson for Women in Tabletop Gaming Month

Cairo Guidebook by Marion AndersonSerious ones first:

1. What is your background? 

My day job for the past 30 years or so has been involved in one aspect or another of tertiary education. When I first started freelance game writing I was employed as a researcher in mechanical engineering; currently I am employed as a geoscience lecturer and my research involves aspects of Martian planetary geology, and landing site selection for Mars rovers. I run the first year units in Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at the Uni that I work at, usually teaching about 350 students per semester. I’d love to spend all day researching and writing scenarios, but the freelance pay scale for that is still a bit low. As a consolation prize, at work I get to change the way my students see the world—in some ways quite similar to scenario writing and GMing.

2. How long have you been gaming? What attracted you to it in the first place, and how were you introduced to it?

I have been gaming since I started my undergrad Uni degree. I joined a D&D game at Uni when they needed an extra player back in 1979, and have been roleplaying almost weekly/monthly since then.

I didn’t get into electronic gaming when I was at Uni, as at that time the only gaming machines around were Pong and Asteroids, and I didn’t have the spare change to feed into their incessantly hungry maws. Once on-line and console gaming matured a bit more in the early to late 1990s, I started getting involved in MUDs (world design and character design), and then maxed out many characters in a number of on-line RPGs (e.g., City of Heroes, World of Warcraft). I have played more hours than I care to think of in many digital and pen & paper worlds.

I love the world creation and shared story-telling of gaming, and that is what keeps me involved. (I also find that the escapism of gaming helps to de-stress after a day at work, and it is much more socially acceptable to bash digital heads in a WoW dungeon, or hunt monsters in D&D, than it is to do so in real life!)

Fearful Passages Credits

3. How did you get into the gaming industry?

At the prodding of a friend, Mark Morrison, I went to a few local gaming conventions in the early 1980s, and then in conjunction with my husband and other friends I began to co-author tournaments for some of the conventions in the mid to late 1980s as part of a loose group of local writers that became known as the “Cthulhu Conglomerate.”

As a courtesy, we sent a number of our Call of Cthulhu tournament scenarios to Chaosium. Members of the group were quite surprised when we were contacted by Chaosium and invited to work on a number of freelance writing projects that later became Fearful Passages, Terror Australis, Horror on the Orient Express, The Cairo Guidebook, and Beyond the Mountains of Madness, and many other game scenario books in their Call of Cthulhu, Elric, RuneQuest and Stormbringer lines.

4. What was the first gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity? 

My first commercially published work was actually some map design and research work in Chaosium’s Terror Australis book, followed by scenario co-writing in Horror on the Orient Express, more in Fearful Passages, and then a book all to myself: The Cairo Guidebook.

Terror Australis

5. What was the last gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?

The latest RPG scenario I have co-written is awaiting publication as part of a new Chaosium Call of Cthulhu Australian sourcebook—a grand adventure set in the Australian outback in the 1920s. It involved two years of detailed background historical research, and about four months of writing.

6. What has been the most challenging gaming product you’ve worked on, and why?

Horror on the Orient Express was the most challenging product I have worked on. This was written before the internet, so historical research for it involved many hundreds of hours of Library Use rolls, locating ancient tomes and winkling out their secrets, and poring over yellowed and musty newspaper volumes. This is my idea of fun!

7. What has been the most enjoyable/rewarding gaming product you’ve worked on, and why? 

The most enjoyable product I have worked on was a Cthulhu Conglomerate tournament scenario "Tales from the White Heart", set in Antarctica. The historical research for that had me reading almost all of the journals written by Antarctic explorers from the heroic age of exploration and beyond. Parts of that research were later used in Chaosium’s Beyond the Mountains of Madness, while other parts of the research were considered by the editor to be too weird for many people to believe. Did you know that Admiral Richard Byrd had more straight jackets on one of his voyages to Antarctica than there were members of the expedition? And for a true tale of a descent into madness over an Antarctic winter, you should read his book Alone.

And now for some more frivolous ones:

8. Just how large is your dice and/or stationary collection?

Huge! Too many dice, too many pens, and simultaneously, not enough of each… The eternal search for the perfect dice and writing implement continues.


9. What is your favourite gaming snack?

Briezles: You take a Cheezel (see, and stuff the centre of it with a small wedge of good quality triple-cream brie cheese. Place in mouth, and chew slowly and lasciviously. Repeat until you run out of one of the two ingredients.

Why are you laughing? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! 

Note: there are no suitable or correctly flavoured and textured USA substitutes for Cheezels – either order them on line, or visit Australia!

Marion Anderson

10. What’s the most unusual/exotic location you’ve gamed in? Or that one of your games has been played in?

I once ran a Call of Cthulhu tournament scenario on a dinosaur dig in the velvet dark of night in the Gondwanan Cape Otway forests.

I also have long-term plans to run my (as yet unpublished) Call of Cthulhu Mars scenario in about 20 years as an evening entertainment at the Valles Marineris Mars base. If you want in on the game, meet me there!