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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where did the company name come from?

A: Greg Stafford founded "The Chaosium" in 1975. He and his wife were living in a tiny apartment at the time, which they shared with another family. This "house of chaos" as they called it was near the Oakland Coliseum, so Greg combined the words "chaos" and "coliseum" to create the word "Chaosium".

Q: Isn’t H.P. Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos in the public domain?

A: Because H.P. Lovecraft died over 70 years ago, his individual writings are now in the public domain. However, the Mythos was/is a shared creation—even in HPL's lifetime ("the Lovecraft Circle"). Many of the writers HPL collaborated with lived on much later into the 20th century, e.g. Clarke Ashton Smith (d.1961), August Derleth (d.1971), Robert Bloch (d.1994), etc. Certain elements of the Mythos are theirs, or have been created by other still-living authors including Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, Sandy Petersen, and others. What these writers created in the Mythos won't enter the public domain until they have been dead for 70 years.

Q: So you're not trying to claim you "own" the Mythos?

A: We make no claim that we "own" the Mythos, never have. We don't claim to own the Mythos in general, although certain elements of it including storylines, names, creatures, characters, descriptions, and depictions are Chaosium IP. We do own the Call of Cthulhu RPG, and are obliged to protect it. We also have agreements in place with living authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley, as well as the estates representing Lin Carter, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and other important Mythos creators.

Q: Wasn't H.P. Lovecraft a terrible racist?

A: Yes, he was. Lovecraft was a complex and troubled person in life. He was a wonderful writer with a wondrous imagination, a friend to many, and part of a corresponding group of writers (that included Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and others) that created the genres of horror and heroic fantasy as we know it. He also wrote things that were racist, and anti-Semitic, and probably misogynistic as well. His fear of the "Other", "infecting" the body of "old stock" definitely influenced his writing, and can be seen in things like Shadows Over Innsmouth, The Horror at Red Hook, and The Thing on the Doorstep. But these were also major anxieties of his time, shared by many others—Lovecraft's horror is many of the deep fears of the modern world (and includes the fear that not only is there no benevolent God but that the "gods" are outright malevolent and hate us). Lovecraft's cosmos is a howling abyss and none dare stare too long into it without becoming a monster.

Q: So how can we esteem or promote the works of such a terrible person?

We don't think it is possible to formulate answer to this more eloquently than the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has already done:

It is true that Lovecraft wrote some offensively racist things and held some very regrettably racist views. It is also true that his opinions changed over the course of his life, and the ugly things he said in his youth were somewhat mellowed by age and experience. But he's been dead a long time, and there's nothing we can do to change him. We can only recognize his flaws, and enjoy those parts of his work that do appeal to us: his fantastical imagination and worlds of ancient mystery. The HPLHS does not subscribe to Lovecraft's racial, political or sociological views, and does not support or promote them in any way.
http://www.hplhs.org/faq.php

We are in full agreement with the HPLHS (who are great folk and do amazing work—check them out!: http://www.hplhs.org). To reiterate, Chaosium and the Call of Cthulhu RPG does not subscribe to Lovecraft's racial, political or sociological views, and does not support or promote them in any way.

Q: What is the Sanity ('SAN') mechanic in Call of Cthulhu?

Sanity (abbreviated as 'SAN') is the game mechanic in Call of Cthulhu that models the behavior of protagonists in Mythos fiction when confronted with incomprehensible physics and monstrous entities from beyond space and time. The cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos defy safe or easy comprehension. When faced with such terrors, the human mind attempts to rationalize them but may be corrupted by the experience. The acquisition of Cthulhu Mythos skill points in the game reflects an investigator developing a human-centric understanding of the Mythos, while the loss of SAN points balances this acquisition with the cost associated with this new, but terrible knowledge. In this sense, SAN is a corruption of human morals, behavior, and personality.

"Sanity" is the game’s register of the investigator’s mental resilience. It is not designed to model or make light of real-world mental health conditions, in the same way that hit points (and the loss of them) in most RPGs do not make light of real-world physical trauma and injury.

Q: I have a rules question about one of your games.

A: Rather than contact our line editors directly, please ask in the appropriate forum at BRP Central.

For answers to fan use and licensing-related questions, also see our Fan Use and Licensing Q&A.