Friends, family, colleagues, and fans have spent the weekend mourning the passing of Greg Stafford on October 11th, 2018. Stafford founded Chaosium Inc. in 1975, making it one of the oldest roleplaying game publishers still in existence. Chaosium has become synonymous with Call of Cthulhu and keeping the works of Lovecraft alive through play. Stafford had a hand in the creation of that classic RPG, but he also created several other games that changed what tabletop roleplaying games could be. His visionary designed helped RPGs grow beyond dungeon crawls and piles of imaginary gold and pushed into the realms of storytelling and oral tradition. We’ve collected some of his most influential designs in this article for fans that may have played these games in the past who want to spend some time honoring Stafford with new tales in old settings as well as new fans that never got a chance to see the artist in action.
Chaosium began as a way for Stafford to publish White Bear and Red Moon, the first game set in his expansive Glorantha universe. Most roleplayers know Glorantha from a variety of RPG incarnations including RuneQuest, Hero Wars and HeroQuest. Glorantha is a beloved fantasy world that rivals Middle Earth in depth and development. While early editions of Dungeons & Dragons focused on low fantasy and emulating medieval worlds of adventure, Glorantha drew its inspirations from Bronze Age mythology and high fantasy. RuneQuest players walked with gods, battled sentient dreams and became the center of tales it took D&D characters dozens of levels to get to. The setting offered players who loved luxuriating in ideas for their own worlds a veritable waterfall of them in each book. The most recent game to enter the world was 13th Age Glorantha which combined the shared creation of 13th Age with a setting uniquely created to bend.
We covered this influential RPG in a recent article, but it bears mentioning that Stafford along with most of the design crew from Chaosium at the time were hired by West End Games to create the game. Ghostbusters pioneered many modern day game elements like dice pools but it’s the rare blend of influential game that’s easy and a ton of fun to play to this day. Hilarious, spooky adventures are also a perfect fit for the season as the cold creeps in and Halloween looms on the horizon.
Stafford’s life long love of the Arthurian myth caused him to create a pair of role-playing games using those tales as backdrop. Prince Valiant The Storytelling Game was created with kids in mind, using a simple pair of statistics (Brawn and Presence) and coin flip to determine the outcomes of character’s action. The Hal Foster comic strip veered more toward the King Arthur of pop culture and the colorful adventure epics of mid-century Hollywood and the RPG followed. A second edition came out this year featuring a full-color corebook full of Foster’s fantastic art along with new content created by several modern designers that considered this game a major inspiration.
If any design was considered Stafford’s magnum opus it was 1985’s Pendragon. This game steeped in Arthurian lore that took a dynastic look at knights during the rise and fall of King Arthur. Stafford used Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory as the basis for this game featuring players as knights in the legendary king’s court. Characters are defined by their passions with their actions shifting those passions between two extremes such as Mericiful and Cruel or Just and Cowardly. These values put the emotional core of the character front and center of the game instead of how strong or skilled a character was in battle. A second game also layered on top of regular adventures as knights managed their households, aged out of adventuring and passed their lineage on to their children, also played by the same players. The most recent edition of Pendragon showed that Stafford never stopped thinking about the game by offering some additional rules refinements and clarifications.
In 2007, Stafford took the dynastic element of the game a step further with the release of The Great Pendragon Campaign. This massive tome featured an 85-year campaign that stretched from before Arthur was born until after his death. Stafford’s meticulous eye for detail allows for the book to help Game Masters with minimal knowledge of the legends weave a tale that feels like it’s a lost chapter of Mallory. It also offers great advice for how to handle players that want to elbow famous characters out of the spotlight and become more central to the myth.
Everyone at Geek & Sundry offers their condolences to the Stafford family and Chaosium for the passing of this historic designer.
What’s your favorite moment from one of Greg’s games? Let us know in the comments!
All hail the Once and Future King!
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Images Credits: Rob Wieland, Chaosium Inc. Nocturnal Media
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. His Twitter is here. You can watch him livestream RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.