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Interview with Robert McLaughlin

Posted on December 16, 2003 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

I first got into gaming with AD&D… must have been around 1981. Absolutely loved it. Was a huge AD&D fan for several years, although also dabbled a bit with Traveller, Gamma World and Top Secret. I picked up Call of Cthulhu when it first came out in 1983 and it just got me hooked. By the time I was in college, I was just down to Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing. Of course… post-college I really dropped out of regular table-top gaming. In late ’93 and early ’94 I started on Cthulhu Live and did a little work with Pagan Publishing in their Delta Green sourcebook.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the gaming community today?

I think the biggest challenge facing conventional role-playing games are the growth and advancements in computer games and on-line gaming. Not that I’m against computer games; I love them and spend way too much time on them. The ease of firing up a game at any time of day or night, playing as long or as short a time as you want, and the ease of interacting with a national or even international community of online gamers are the great strengths of computer gaming. It’s these same strengths that pose a threat to traditional dice and paper RPGs and LARPs. It’s hard to replace the personal touch and social aspect that conventional gaming provides, but I think all game masters of table-top and live action games need to recognize that the bar has been raised. The gaming experience prepared for table-top RPG and LARP players must always be something special and maintain certain elements that can never be duplicated in computer-based games.

How did you get into Lovecraft?

Through the old AD&D Dieties and Demigods book. The original hardcover that had the Cthulhu Pantheon and a few others that were pulled from the later copies. I thought the mythos sounded intriguing, so I read a few stories and decided I liked them. Within a year, Chaosium released Call of Cthulhu and I was hooked from the beginning. While certainly Lovecraft’s contributions to modern horror stand on their own, I think the importance of role-playing games in spreading awareness and interest in Lovecraft’s work can never be understated. Quite simply, the gaming industry exposed a whole generation to Lovecraft who might otherwise have never come across his work.

How did Cthulhu Live evolve? Where is it going?

When I was in college I attended a convention in which I played a couple sessions of a live-action Cthulhu game. I loved it. I started working on a crude rule system and ran a few games with friends before I graduated. Hardly touched it for several years after that, until late ’93. I was telling a friend about this crude Cthulhu LARP system I was running in college and he asked if I could write the rules down for him. Once I got started, I kept going, working to further refine and polish the system with the intent to submit it to Chaosium. We published the first edition in 1994, with a second edition following several years later from Fantasy Flight Games. We also produced a series of four sourcebooks through Fantasy Flight, a CL Players Companion, a sourcebook for film noir and action/adventure pulps, a book delving deeper into cults and playing cultists as player characters, and our Delta Green sourcebook with the cooperation of Pagan Publishing.

Cthulhu Live definitely has a cult following of players, with a great online mailing list in which we regularly trade game scripts, prop materials and stories of recent game events. We’ve also been delighted to see a lot of the same players seeking us out year after year at some of the bigger conventions to take part in our events. Nevertheless, Cthulhu Live is and will always be a niche market within a niche market. We have begun discussing the development of a third edition of the game which would include some significant restructuring of the core rules set and consolidate some of the best developments of the sourcebooks and from the past several years of gaming experience from players in the US, UK, France and several other countries.

In your opinion, what makes for a successful LARP session, what can Players do to make a LARP session a success?

Player interaction and elements that assist a general suspension of disbelief. You’ve got to make sure there is a reason the players need to interact with one another. Many times, your players may not know one another and be a little shy, or they may be new to LARPs and self-conscious about getting into their role. If your storyline maintains several cross elements of conflicts and needs, this helps bring players out to interact with each other much quicker and helps to give them a series of goals to focus on from the onset of the game. You’ll find that many great subplots tend to develop on their own once the players are in their roles and start driving the storyline. For this reason I personally prefer to use pre-generated characters in my games, which allow us to construct more of these jump-starts to interaction within the character backgrounds and goals. I think this is harder to find, although not impossible, when all players just show up with their own characters or generate them individually for the game with minimal direct tie-in to the main plot or to sub-plots created to stir the mix. I think costuming and some great physical props always are a great thing to contribute to a game, helping the players more easily slip into their roles and the reality of a game. Cthulhu Live players tend to be fanatical prop builders and local games and big conventions are always a great time for us to show off our latest tomes, scrolls, statuettes, relics of arcane magic, weird science constructs and whatever other strange things we’ve been working on late into the night.

What advice do you have for those writers and artists trying to get into the gaming industry?

Be persistent and don’t give up if you really want to get into the game business. But always remember a few things to keep you focused. You need to be prepared to do it for the love of the game. Don’t expect you’re going to make much money in the field. Some people have, and you just might become one of them that makes it to the top, but be prepared to see it through even if it’s just for the sheer love of the game. If you get a couple checks in the process, so much the better. You also need to be very critical of your work and look at it through the eyes of a business person. Will it sell? Is it something that really does something new, or addresses an old subject in a new way? So many game concepts have been done to death that really breaking in something new can be a challenge. You’ve got to be sure there is something really unique about what you’re putting together, yet appealing enough that a publisher may pick it up. I’ve got to say, however, that there have been terrific advances in digital print-on-demand services. Through one of these printers, and the use of online book sellers such as Amazon, it’s fully possible that an ambitious game writer can print and sell a small to medium sized run of his work and make enough to break even or see a little profit. It may also be a chance to “prove” the concept of the work to a larger publisher.

What’s next for you?

I enjoy gaming although it’s not my full-time profession. It still always seems like I have a lot of irons in the fire. We normally attend several large conventions each year to run Cthulhu Live events. GenCon is coming up again this summer and we’re looking to do a big Cthulhu Live event in Memphis this April. A few of us are involved in getting NecronomiCon in Providence rolling again in 2005. Two other friends and I put together Skirmisher Press, a small game publishing group that is producing some excellent D20 supplements and is in the process of expanding into a few new directions. We’re doing some work with new writers looking to get their books in print, as well as printing some materials that we’ve developed in the past. As I mentioned earlier, we’re also looking at Cthulhu Live: 3rd Edition as a future project, that will certainly keep me busy for awhile. If I could make some sort of dark pact that would allow me to not require sleep and net me a few more hours each day, I’d consider it.

Any offers?

To find out more about Robert McLaughlin, visit the Cthulhu Live website at

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