Home / Interviews / People Profile #4 Part 2: Michael O’Brien, Vice President of Chaosium Inc.
People Profile #4 Part 2: Michael O’Brien, Vice President of Chaosium Inc.

People Profile #4 Part 2: Michael O’Brien, Vice President of Chaosium Inc.

In the second part of our interview with Michael O’Brien, Vice President of Chaosium Inc., we find out more about some of the exciting new games in the pipeline from Chaosium. Also, Michael tells us what it’s like working as a top level adviser for a sheikh, and why colouring books for adults are actually quite awesome.

Games vs Play: Now, I want to get back to nitty-gritty gaming stuff again. You wrote some scenarios, you said, for RuneQuest.

Michael O’Brien: Yes.

GvP: So I guess you’ve also been a gamesmaster as well as a player.

MOB: Yep.

GvP: Which do you prefer?

MOB: Oh, I much prefer playing. I love playing! But sometimes you don’t get that opportunity. You might have to be the gamesmaster. [laughs] I also really enjoy live action games, In the world of Glorantha we’ve had a number of fantastic live action games, some of them involving many players. There was one called “Home of the Bold“, which was actually run here in Australia twice back in the ‘90s, with 80 players and 40 players. There was another one called “Life of Moonson“. Probably my favourite was “How the West was One” and – have you ever heard of the game Credo?

GvP: Credo? No, I haven’t.

credoMOBCredo is a card game simulation of the Council of Nicea, which was where the Christian creed was formulated, which we are doing a new version of. This is by a very talented designer called Chris Gidlow, who did the original game. It was published by Chaosium many years ago, but to be honest Chaosium didn’t really do the game justice in terms of its production quality. So the new version we’re doing is going to be amazing.

GvP: It sounds fantastic.

MOB: Oh, it’s awesome! It’s the game of duelling dogmas. Now, “How the West Was One” was a LARP based in the western part of Glorantha, and it was about formulating a creed. So it was a bit like a live action version of Credo. I was wearing a pope suit for that.

GvP: Of course you were!

MOB: That was awesome. I’ve been in that one a few times. But I almost had a ten-year hiatus of not playing games regularly because I lived and worked in the Middle East, and my entire life was a live action roleplaying game.

GvP: [Laughing] Can you explain what that means? If you are able to.

MOB: Well, I worked in higher education management for a university in the Middle East. My big boss was a sheikh, so I was often having to go to his palace for lunch and dinner.

GvP: Like you do.

MOB: The excitement wears off after the 30th or 40th time of having to do that. I just never knew what the next exciting thing was going to happen in that job. It was a fairly challenging environment as well. The institution I worked for had 18 campuses, and I worked for the central authority. In some ways it was like 18 semi-independent warring fiefdoms rather than an institution. It was an interesting challenge.

GvP: Sounds like you probably had a skewed work-life balance?

MOB: Yeah … but I really enjoyed the job. Actually it was the 80-20 rule – I really enjoyed 80% of it, and 20% drove me nuts. And occasionally I’d have 20-80 weeks, for sure. But yeah, that was ten years of my life, working in the Middle East.

GvP: And you remained in character the whole time as a LARP player.

MOB: In character, yes!

GvP: What was your character?

MOB: I was portraying someone in senior management working at a university. I pulled it off quite well too, I think.

GvP: I don’t doubt it! You must’ve had some good crit rolls in there.

MOB: There were some! I came very close to fumbling a few times and getting myself into strife. But I managed to leave with my boots on. In between times I would often go to games cons. There’s a fantastic convention in Germany called EternalCon, in a castle.

GvP: Well, Germany has the castles.

khanofkhansMOB: They do. I went to that quite a few times, and really enjoyed it. But I didn’t do lots of regular gaming whilst I was living in the Middle East. But since I’ve come back I’ve grabbed it with both hands, and away we go. One of the key things I’ve been working on at the moment is a boardgame called Khan of Khans. [hands me a mock-up copy]

GvP: What’s it about?

MOB: Well, it’s a boardgame we’re doing with German boardgame design genius Reiner Knizia.

GvP: Oh yes, very well known boardgames designer, very prolific.

MOB: So we’re working with Reiner on a boardgame set in the world of Glorantha. It’s a family game, it’s a game you can play with kids.

GvP: [looking at box cover] So, this is set in Glorantha?

MOB: Yep. It’s a game all about stealing cows. [laughs] It’s called Khan of Khans, and each of the players is a khan of one of these tribes that all ride these fantastical animals. So you can see there’s a bison, and there’s a high llama and an impala, and so on. And you go around stealing cows off each other.

GvP: It’s a card game, did you say?

MOB: Yeah, it’s a card game. It’s loads of fun. And it’s great, you can play it with small kids as well.

GvP: So, how soon before that comes out?

MOB: We’re going to be launching that in Essen, in Germany, in October. 

GvP: It looks fantastic, even just this copy you’ve got here.

MOB: This is a mock-up that we had made so we could show it off at Gen Con. This may not be interesting for the interview, but we had this made by a crowd called Ad Magic in the US. I was wondering how much they were going to charge us to do a full mock-up demo, but it was only $39 – and they did it in 2 days!

GvP: Oh really? It’s very professional.

MOB: Oh, it’s fantastic, I was really amazed. Anyway, Khan of Khans will be out in October. We’re gonna Kickstart it, and we’ve already got some exciting ideas for expansions, because this has the five great tribes of Prax, but there’s a whole lot of minor tribes like the Rhino Riders. Everyone’s saying, “Oh, you’ve got to have the Rhino Riders in it!” So of course we’ll be throwing them in as a stretch goal.

GvP: Everybody loves expansions.

MOB: So that’s one of the key things I’m working on at the moment. I’m also working on the new edition of Credo, which we just talked about. So once I’m finished off [on Khan of Khans] I’m back to Credo, because we really want to get that sorted out.

GvP: And there’s also a colouring book for adults coming out?

MOB: Yeah, this is really exciting. The colouring book is really awesome. So what happened is, we actually worked with a very talented artist called Jacob Walker, who was doing a Cthulhu-based colouring book. He was doing an art book, actually. A stretch goal of his Kickstarter was a colouring book, and he was using a lot of creatures and settings from the Call of Cthulhu game. So we were helping him promoting that, and his Kickstarter was a great success and his colouring book was terrific. And we got into thinking, “We should do a colouring book too.” Because colouring books are really popular at the moment for adults.

GvP: And with good reason. It’s very relaxing.

cthulhucolouringbook1MOB: It’s very relaxing, it’s creative, it’s fun. I was scratching my head about how to do this, and Tor.com, which is the science fiction website had a post of this Russian guy’s artwork, saying “Doesn’t this look like the most amazing artwork from a Cthulhu colouring book?” And I looked at it and thought, yeah, it really does! [laughs] So I tracked the guy down, which took a little bit of doing, but I eventually found him through DeviantArt, got in touch with him and said, “Hey, let’s do a colouring book!” And he was super keen. So we’re now doing a colouring book. I’m now working with the artist, Andrey Fetisov, in Moscow, so I occasionally chat to him every few days. So, the way we can make this business, this “international mega corp” work, is by Skype. I think back to when I did Tales of the Reaching Moon with David Hall back in the 1990s, and we did use email, but originally we actually wrote letters to each other.

GvP: Like, by hand?

MOB: Well, maybe I’d type them. But I still did actually print them out and put them in an envelope with a stamp.

GvP: I’m actually having trouble imagining that.

MOB: Yeah, well –

GvP: I’m being facetious. [laughs] I am old enough to remember that.

MOB: [laughs] Well, really the only way we can make this whole thing work is spending a lot of time on Skype. Skype and Dropbox are two really useful things in how we work.

GvP: Dropbox is the creative’s friend for any big project.

MOB: So you know, I’m working with Andrey at the moment in Moscow, so he’s just popping everything as he’s doing it into a Dropbox. I then have a good look at it, we talk about what we do next. So at the moment he’s doing some key illustrations from three of the most iconic, well-remembered Call of Cthulhu supplements from way back – for “Fungi from Yuggoth”, “Masks of Nyarlathotep” –

masksofnGaps: A classic!

MOB: – and “Horror on the Orient Express“.

GvP: Even more classic!

MOB: What I really liked about that is, they are iconic and classic releases, but if you go back and look at them the artwork is a bit up and down. There’s some good pieces in there, but there’s some other stuff that really we wouldn’t use these days. So what I thought, let’s draw some of the iconic pics or iconic set-pieces from those, and Andrey can do it again.

GvP: Fantastic. I find it really amazing how Call of Cthulhu the game has contributed so much to keeping Lovecraft alive. He’s huge now. I went to Providence in 2007 –

MOB: Oh, wow.

GvP: But there was nothing there. I remember catching a cab with my partner – who’s a librarian and has Lovecraft’s books in her library – and we were going to the cemetery where Lovecraft is buried. And the driver was like, “Why do you want to go to the cemetery?” because we were Australians, and he was a bit confused. So we were like, “Oh, no reason.” And then he said, “I heard there’s this famous Broadway playwright buried there?” and we had to say, “Er, no … that was actually H.P. Lovecraft.” And I had to tell the driver about him. This is what it was like back then – but now Lovecraft is huge in Providence.

MOB: I think you have to say that Call of Cthulhu has had an instrumental part in that. A lot of people have come to a love of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos through the roleplaying game.

GvP: That was a big part of my entry to it.

MOB: And then I think a lot of people have gone on to enjoy the literature. But for a lot of people that’s their first entry to it. Next year we’re hoping there’ll be an even bigger means of entry, because we’re working with a French company called Focus Home Interactive to produce a console game called Call of Cthulhu, the official video game. So we think that one will be really successful. Or we hope it will. Oh – so another part of my job is looking after the social media side of Chaosium.

GvP: Yes, you’re very active online.

MOB: Because that had been something that the company had not been doing very effectively at all. I’ve been really trying to push that. It’s quite time consuming, but I think the important part of that is that we’re trying really hard to re-engage with the fans who are out there who remember Chaosium well, and get them to know about all the new things we’re doing. So it’s worthwhile doing that. But you know, we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve done a lot of work on Facebook and Twitter, and built up the numbers there. We need to do Instagram next, because I was looking and my twelve-year-old son has more followers on Instagram than Chaosium does. And his posts are about his soccer boots. So that’s my next challenge.

GvP: Maybe he could be a consultant for the company?

MOB: Yeah, I might have to talk with him about it.

GvP: But I’m sure it’s going to happen, because already you can see that things are changing, and people are so much more involved. It’s really great to see Chaosium going from strength to strength.

MOB: Well, we’ve got a long way to go still. We had to sink a lot of money into the company to get Call of Cthulhu back on track. Fortunately it’s been very successful critically, and it’s been very popular as well. We’ve had to do a second printing, which has just come out.

GvP: That’s great news, always a good sign.

MOB: And the way things are going we might have to do a third printing as well!

GvP: Ok, thank you, I think we’ll finish up now. But I always have one last question that I ask people who have anything to do with Cthulhu. We’re doing a tally to see how people pronounce it. How do you say it?

MOB: Oh, I say “Kuh-thool-hoo.”

GvP: So you’re a “Kuh-thool-hoo”?

MOB: Yes, “Kuh-thool-HOO.”

GvP: Alright, that’s good to know.

MOB: I know there are other ways people say it. “Kuh-TOOL-hoo” is one I’ve seen. A lot of our German friends pronounce it that way.

GvP: Oh, right? Because they don’t have the “-th” sound so strongly …

MOB: Ah, I don’t know. But I’ve heard that over there. Yeah, that’s a tricky one. I think H.P. Lovecraft, if you read somewhere, I don’t think he pronounced it “Kuh-thool-hoo,” did he?

GvP: No, no. He said it was something like “Kuh-too-loo”, I thought.

MOB: Yeah, it had one less syllable or something.

GvP: It was actually 4th Edition Call of Cthulhu that gave me the sense that was how you say it, because they had a pronunciation guide. I read that and said, “Oh yeah, that’s how you say it!” But it’s how I always thought you’d say it anyway. So there you go.

orientexpressMOB: Well, I’m off to play “Horror on the Orient Express” this weekend. We’ve finally made it to Milan. It’s been a long campaign. [laughs]

GvP: Well, may your investigators survive until Istanbul!

MOB: We shall see. We shall see.

GvP: Alright, thanks very much Michael, it’s been really great talking to you. Congratulations to all the great work you’ve done in just over the last year since Chaosium has entered this new phase. It’s really great to see – I wish you the best of luck, and will watch everything keenly that you do.

MOB: Thanks, terrific.


You can read Part 1 of Michael O’Brien’s interview hereGames vs Play would like to thank Chaosium and Michael for permission to use images appearing in this post. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, you can like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play! 


About Martin

Martin is a writer and blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about Martin by clicking here.