Tales of Mythic Adventure Episode 06

GUEST: Sandy Petersen

‘The Only Old One’ 0:00 – 3:20

Jeff and Michael introduce Sandy Petersen, the ‘Only Old One’ – cue realistic applause. MOB explains that while he and Rob the Producer are in different parts of Melbourne, Australia and Jeff is in Berlin, Sandy is beaming in from somewhere near Dallas, Texas, in the suburb of Rockwall to be precise, named after a giant stone wall that meanders all over town. The interesting thing about this wall is that it not only predates Columbus but predates humanity in Texas, in a suitably Lovecraftian way.

Cthulhu Wars Genesis 3:20-9:03: Five kilograms of solid muscle

Cthulhu Wars is the most recent publication of Sandy’s eponymously-named Petersen Games: the game is described by Jeff as an “awesome, miniatures, end-the-world, destroy-the-world, Cthulhu board game.” MOB goes further, describing it as not only “one of the best (but also) “heaviest games to have been produced in recent times”. Sandy concurs, calling the game “five kilograms of solid muscle”.

Cthulhu Wars was meant to be Sandy’s final project as an independent game developer before going to Work for the Man. ‘Working for the Man’ in this case being creative director of a digital games company based in India. The India deal was signed, he was going to live in Bangalore and have his own chauffeur, but then he put together the Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter as a swansong of coolness, with the only aim raising enough to finally make the giant Cthulhu monsters he’s always wanted since he was eight years old. However, the Kickstarter incredibly raised over a million dollars. He had to ring up the Indian company and apologise, and the swansong became a phoenix!

Petersen Games has had further Kickstarters for the games Theomachy, and Orcs Must Die!, and one coming up for The Gods War (which is the game that Jeff has been waiting for since he was eight years old). Rob the producer interjects to say that Orcs Must Die! is such an awesome title he was sold on the Kickstarter by the name only. Sandy also points out that this is not just a cool name but also undeniably true – the game has orcs swarming up to be killed by the players and their skulls are used as currency.
Sandy is very pleased to be staying in board games; in fact, during the interview he says he is sitting surrounded by boxes of Cthulhu figures from Cthulhu Wars.

Cthulhu Wars Versus Gods War (‘a knife fight in a back alley’) 9:04-17:47

Cthulhu Wars, says Sandy, is like a “knife fight in a back alley. Very streamlined, very nasty, with everyone being the biggest jerk they can be”. Jeff agrees, saying “nobody is your friend in Cthulhu Wars”. “Gods War”, on the other hand, continues Sandy, “is more like a formal duel, with a council phase where you actually have to help people.”

While there are many similarities between in the rules in the two games, Gods War feels more elegant. Sandy’s son Lincoln, who happens to be passing, feels that Cthulhu Wars is a barroom brawl versus Gods War is more like playing poker with bluffing.

Jeff feels that in Cthulhu Wars it is not possible to be too aggressive, but in Gods War the aggression has to be more focused. This can also be seen in the main heavies of the two games, with Cthulhu beating up on everybody around, while in Gods War Orlanthi is “strong against strong foes, (but) weak against weak ones”, which gives weak foes a bit of a breather.

There are also cataclysmic events in Gods War that are beyond the player’s control. The game starts in the Great Darkness, and ends with the Dawning. The Spike starts on the board – as an impressive 3D prop – but at an early pointin the game it explodes, killing everything on it. The Spike gets turned over, becoming the Rift, sucking the world into it. Eventually the Rift closes, and then in the Council phase the players try and arrive at the Great Compromise, at which point the game ends.

There are four factions: Chaos, Darkness, Storm, and Sky. The game starts right at the beginning of the Lesser Darkness: the Sun God is in Hell, and the trolls are migrating out of there. All other Gods have to be summoned into play, but the Sun God has to bargain to be let out of Hell (and that ain’t easy!)

Miniatures Of Gods War (“you could kill someone with these”) 17:48 – 31:40

The tallest God figures in the game are going to be 190mm (nearly 7½ inches, which means they are not so much miniatures as big-atures. Jeff and Sandy’s Art Director Rich have been working very hard on the look of the figures, and Rich has been playing in Sandy’s campaign since 1993, so he has detailed knowledge. The figures are not so much like Gloranthan descriptions of the Gods, but more like their “actual” beings.

Each of the factions is being done by a different artist, to give them a unique feel. Jeff talks about how terrifying the figures are. MOB realises that the Phoenixes he saw at Sandy’s Gen Con Gods War demo last year were mere substitutes, brought from a games store. (They were actually LOTR Eagles. MOB did wonder why one the figures had Hobbits on the back…)

Long, loving and ornate descriptions of the various figures follow: one of the more complex figures is made up of 12 parts, although Sandy is at pains to point out that the figures are delivered assembled. You can choose to paint them, but they need to be washed in soapy water before paint is applied, as grease is used to lubricate the mold.

Gods War is going to be as large as Cthulhu Wars, but there are somewhat fewer figures per faction. This means that the cost for the base game will be less.

The ETA for Gods War will occur at the end of the Cthulhu Wars fulfilment, with the Kickstarter hopefully this (American) summer. Sandy is hoping for an “entirely new set of manufacturing problems.” He then describes the process of getting a sculpture into Jeff’s hand. This starts with the concept art, which is then sent to a sculpture studio in England. Two resin sculpts are sent to Sandy, who keeps one to show at conventions and sends the other one to China, where the factory makes a silicon mould, then a porcelain master, that is then used to make a metal mold. The figures are then cast, sent to a fulfilment house that puts the game together, and is then sent to post offices all over the world.

The New Kickstarter Era 31:42 – 36:33

MOB says that this long and involved process is only made possible by the ‘Kickstarter era’, which allows games to be produced to a high level on the first run. Sandy emphases that he is not complaining about the complexity of the process. It is just the way things are now. He says he never could have done Cthulhu Wars without crowd funding. Also, with modern methods of communication, individualists like Sandy can find their own niche audience without having to adapt it to a mass audience. This has led to Sandy’s, “If Sandy likes it, there will be an audience” theory . This allows the quirky and unusual to be funded, and reach people who “share his psychosis.”

There are three audiences for Gods War. Fans of Cthulhu Wars, Glorantha Fans, and fans of fantasy strategy games that are not Warhammer. There is then some palaver about how long the games last, with Sandy questioning Jeff’s estimates on the grounds that ‘Jeff’s group adds a lengthy recriminations phase after each turn’. The final estimate is ninety minutes to two hours.

‘Sandy’s Psychosis’, or how he stopped worrying and developed Cthulhu 36:34-53:30.

Back in the 70’s Sandy saw a copy of White Bear Red Moon, the first Gloranthan thing ever, and built it up from there. Then Runequest was published. Sandy continued to play D&D, but his Glorantha interest developed further. He contacted Greg Stafford, and the rest is history.

1978 brought Runequest 2, and then in 1979 he took a copy of Ballastor’s Barracks on his honeymoon (as one does). He supported himself during graduate school by being a typesetter for Chaosium, and then dropped out of graduate school and became a games designer full time for Chaosium.

He typeset Cults of Prax, Ringworld, and everything else from 1981 to 1988 (except for the Avalon Hill stuff). Sandy was famous for editing while he typeset, a skill now literally lost to the world. He would insert new paragraphs while typesetting, and rearrange chapters . He did Trollpack with Greg Stafford.

Sandy then discusses the process of developing Gloranthan lore with Greg. Greg always had the impulse to invent new stuff, and Sandy always wanted to find something to fit that already existed. Each approach had issues, but they worked very well together.

Sandy begged to be allowed to work on the original Cthulhu game, and for his sins he was assigned to develop the project. This became Call of Cthulhu. Sandy was responsible for developing the Sanity Point, perhaps Cthulhu’s most original feature. This makes Call of Cthulhu a contrarian game, because in other RPG’s one tries to increase one’s skills, whereas in Call of Cthulhu it is pretty much a given that you start weak and defenceless and it only gets worse (much worse…).

Conclusion 53:31-1:02

Rob the Producer compares Sandy and Greg Stafford to Sibelius and Mahler, possibly the first time this has ever been done. He then asks if Sandy starts with an algorithm, or a dramatic situation. Sandy goes with theme first, but feels that is unusual for games designers.

Maximum Game Fun Questions

Q: What does Sandy do better than the average gamer?

A: Think on the fly and pretend that stuff he has just come up with is pre-planned

Q: What does he do worse?

A: Actually play. He is always thinking from the perspective of the DM, and so tries to help the monsters.

Q: What does everyone know about him?

A: He has a large painting of Cthulhu is his living room, which he bought with his Microsoft money from the buyout of ID software.

Q: What does nobody know about him?

A: He is a devout Mormon, and did his two year mission in Los Angeles in his youth.

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