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.
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: Speaking of the HPLHS, is that Nick Offerman's likeness in the Call of Cthulhu Classic Gamer Prop Set?
A: Indeed it is. As Sean Branney of the the HPLHS says, "HPLHS Headquarters was located in Nick's wood shop in South Glendale from about 2003 to around 2010. We shot part of Call of Cthulhu (the movie) there." Nick Offerman is a member of the HPLHS; he and Sean and Andrew Leman go way back to roleplaying in Call of Cthulhu LARPs at college.
Says Nick of the HPLHS: "It’s simply bonkers how much high quality original content they have cranked out over the years, even as the quantity continues to rise as well. Perhaps their secret lies in the company motto: Ludo Fore Putavimus, or 'We thought it would be fun.' Heroes."
SANITY / SAN
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: What is Chaosium's stance on AI Art?
A: There's literally been hundreds of talented artists contributing to our company's success since 1975. We're concerned about AI Art's impact on their livelihoods, and their ability to maintain control of their own work. Plus all the tenebrous ethical and legal issues AI Art conjures. So we’re updating our art contract templates to include the provision that AI art programs are not to be used: the work needs to be the product of a human artist who can vouch that they created the piece and that it does NOT contain unlicensed derivative use of someone else’s work. See our full statement here.
Q: What about AI Art and community content (e.g. Miskatonic Repository, Jonstown Compendium, Explorers Society) on DriveThruRPG?
A: For now, DriveThruRPG has their own policy regarding the matter. See the relevant section of their Product Standards Guidelines.
FUND RAISERS, CHARITIES, WORTHY CAUSES
Q: I am planning a fund-raiser for a worthy cause (e.g. a charity, a convention, a campaign) - can I get Chaosium support of that, and under what terms?
A: We receive requests from charitable causes frequently, and we cannot support them all. We review all such requests carefully, and would want to see that the charitable activity you are undertaking is properly registered where it is taking place, and that we are broadly simpatico with its aims.
Some of the charities and charitable causes we’ve supported recently include Worldbuilders (Geeks Doing Good), the Transgender Law Center, the World Wildlife Fund of Australia Bushfire Emergency, the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 Solidarity Fund, the World Food Programme, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, National Bailout Organization, Herefordshire Mind Mental Health Charity, ZERO Prostate Cancer, among others.
PDFS WITH YOUR PURCHASE
Q: How do I get a free PDF with my Chaosium book purchase?
A: Purchasers of physical products at Chaosium.com get the PDFs for free. When you add a physical book to your shopping cart, we add the PDF at no extra cost.
Q: If I buy just the PDF from Chaosium.com and later want to upgrade to the physical product do I get the discount?
- If the PDF is released first, you'll get the full price of the PDF off as a discount when the print version comes out. We'll send you a coupon by email on the day the physical book is released.
- If a book is already out in print/PDF and you've bought the PDF, we'll still deduct the cost of the PDF when you buy the physical book from Chaosium.com later on. Drop Dustin a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and he'll send you the discount coupon.
Q: Why is the deal where you get the price of the PDF off the cost of the physical book only for purchases at Chaosium.com? Why can't you offer that for DriveThruRPG customers too?
A: There are several reasons why this offer is only for Chaosium.com purchases:
- DriveThruRPG doesn't provide us with sufficiently detailed buyer data to automate the process. This means every coupon transaction from DriveThruRPG – literally hundreds when we launch a new product – would have to be processed manually. We don't have the resources for that.
- Furthermore, the revenue from a PDF sale at DriveThruRPG is significantly less than the sale of the same PDF product on our own website. This means we would either have to offer a lower discount (which would be confusing) or wear the cost of the difference (which we can't afford).
All told, unfortunately it is too difficult and would be too costly for us to offer printed book coupons for PDFs sold elsewhere.
Q: If I buy a physical book from a friendly local game store, or online seller, or Amazon, will you give me a free copy of the PDF?
A: We don't offer free PDFs for purchases made at Amazon, or other online sellers, or made at stores that are not part of Bits and Mortar initiative.
Q: I want to buy my Chaosium products at my Friendly Local Game Store and get the PDF included in the price.
A: Then make sure your purchase is from a FLGS that belongs to Bits and Mortar.
Along with many other TTRPG publishers, Chaosium is part of Bits and Mortar, the pro-retailer, pro-brick-and-mortar, pro-PDF initiative. This means if you buy a Chaosium physical book from any of the hundreds of participating local game or book stores world-wide, you'll get the PDF included at no additional charge, direct from the store.
(If your FLGS is not part of Bits and Mortar, do ask them to join up as a retailer – it's free!)
Q: How do I access the PDFs I have purchased from Chaosium.com?
A: You can download a PDF immediately on purchase. Later on you can download your PDFs again at any time via your Chaosium account.
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.
OPEN GAME LICENSE
Q: How is Chaosium and its games affected by the Dungeons & Dragons' Open Gaming Licence controversy?
A: Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Pendragon, 7th Sea, Rivers of London, Questworlds and the rest of the Chaosium family of games are utterly unaffected by whatever happens with Wizards of the Coast's D&D OGL.
Q: What about the D20 version of Call of Cthulhu?
A: The D20 version of Call of Cthulhu is now l-o-n-g out-of-print and the license expired. In any case, the credits page included the statement, "This WIZARDS OF THE COAST® game product contains no Open Game Content."
Q: Does Chaosium have its own Open Game License?
A: We issued our own (non-WotC) Open Game License for the Basic Roleplaying System in 2020, enabling designers to create their own roleplaying games using the Basic Roleplaying rules engine, royalty-free and without further permission from Chaosium. At the time, we raised concerns about serious deficiencies and legal uncertainties in the WoTC OGL, especially if it was being used for non-D20 games.
FAN USE AND LICENSING RELATED QUESTIONS
For answers to fan use and licensing-related questions, also see our Fan Use and Licensing Q&A.