Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Interview with Tom Lynch of Miskatonic River Press

Longtime readers of the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope know that Call of Cthulhu is one of the titles on my short list of favorite RPGs. It's also one of the titles that I very seldom get the chance to play. In fact, during the past year, I've had exactly two chances to stand up against the forces of the Great Old Ones, which is far less than either myself or the fate of humanity requires.

Although my opportunities have been limited, I've had the benefit of walking away from each session with more than just a few hours of entertainment to show for it. The first session, which took place back in November at my FLGS "Cthulhu Day" event, introduced me to Tom Lynch, the president and managing editor of Miskatonic River Press. Tom ran the group through a playtest of the scenario "Engine Trouble," which resulted in the deaths of all involved.

The second CoC game I had the opportunity to play in was back in March at I-CON, the local scif-fi convention here on Long Island. That game was run by MRP partner Oscar Rios and served to introduce me to longtime Call of Cthulhu contributor and editor, Scott Aniolowski, who graciously agreed to be interviewed for this site.

At I-CON, Tom Lynch also agreed to answer a few questions about Miskatonic River Press, writing material for Call of Cthulhu, and the difficulties of running a small gaming company in the 21st Century. Despite attempts by the servants of Things That Should Not Be to scuttle that interview, it at long last sees the light of day. I still have a copy of Our Ladies of Sorrows sitting on the slush pile, waiting for a read-through. Maybe I'll actually get to that by Halloween of this year.

Interview with Tom Lynch, President of Miskatonic River Press

What was your introduction to role-playing games in general and Call of Cthulhu specifically? Were you familiar with Lovecraft’s work before you encountered CoC?

Oof…okay, role-playing games in general would be Dungeons & Dragons in 6th grade. I wasn’t one of the cool kids though. They all had characters who were gods. I had a thief named “Tarken.” When he died, I had another thief named “Tarken.” I got better at that over the years, but drifted away from DnD when fewer and fewer friends played.

Then I went on vacation to a place up in the Vermont woods (!) where I happened across a couple guys about my age (I was 15 at this point) who were playing DnD. They asked if I wanted to join them, and I did. Suddenly, I was playing rpg’s again! The two introduced themselves: Alex, the inn-owner’s son, and Paul. Carrick. The epic Cthulhian artist. Yeah…I met him then. About 25 years ago (ack!).

I continued with DnD through high school and into college. My sophomore year, my roommate (a gamer, of course), introduced me to another game. We played Cthulhu Now. A friend down the hall in the dorm, ran us through some Classic CoC. That friend turned out to be best friends with none other than Paul Carrick! (Small world.) So we went to visit him at RISD in Providence and played some Call of Cthulhu in Providence. Very fitting indeed.

I’ve never looked back…it’s been CoC since and is still today.

As to Lovecraft, I learned of him through the game. I’m descended from a line of people who love a good scare (my grandmother loved her nightmares to the point where she figured out a position to sleep in to give nightmares). I picked up his writing, and some others, and have continued my quest for a scare through Call of Cthulhu.

Did you have any experience writing game material before your involvement with MRP?

Professionally? No. I’d done my share of writing, but I’d never done anything for publication. I have reams of notes though, from all my past outline-style scenarios and adventures.

In the short time I managed to work with Doc, though, I learned an immense amount. Let’s just hope it’s enough.

Miskatonic River Press was the brainchild of Keith “Doc” Herber. How did you come to know him and get involved with the company?

Heh. Funny story, that. If you listen to the interview he did at (Yog Radio #34:, he says I “literally crawled out of the woodwork,” and so I did. He announced that he was starting up his own thing, and asked if people would be interested in participating (writing, illustrating). Now, I knew I was competing with others who’d done much more than I had, so I figured I’d try the direct approach. Doc listed his AOL Instant Messenger account on YSDC. So I used it! I introduced myself and struck up a conversation.

Doc, being the gentleman he was, chatted with me daily, until he told me it was official, he had a name and papers and everything. I pointed out that was an available domain on the web, and I suddenly found where I’d be useful. Doc was designer, but had never thought of how to get the web aspect going, so I offered up some free hosting, and built the web site.

After all this, he named me his partner, and the rest is history.

MRP hosted a panel recently on operating a small publishing company in the 21st century. Could you talk a bit about some of the challenges MRP has faced and how it has overcome them?

Ah challenges. Well, there are many and varied challenges these days.

One of the topics we covered at I-Con was being a tiny but global company. We have people working for MRP on four continents. Five if you count our super-secret bunker in Antarctica….ooops. Staying in touch with and on top of people that widely dispersed is very difficult. What I suggest here is have documentation up front. Have contracts. Have written agreements: who’s doing what and by when. Establishing that will alleviate much stress.

Another huge issue with the economy and how people are in general these days is money. MRP has been blessed by meeting people willing to help simply because they believe in the future of the company. Add that to the fact that the partners don’t get paid a cent, and you discover that you *can* run an RPG company with almost no budget.

The final challenge I’d like to share is the issue of will power. There are times that this is crushingly difficult to do. The money is terrible (ie – there is none), the hours stink (you’re doing it whenever and wherever you can), and there are no benefits (except for the company car and corporate jet…yeah right). Sometimes you just have to step back and take a break. That’s okay! You’ll come back to it. If you’re not having fun doing this, it’s not worth doing! (So long as you come back to it.)

Many of my readers are familiar with the Open Game License created by Wizards of the Coast , allowing third-party publishers the opportunity to write game material for Dungeons & Dragons and other d20 titles. They might not be as cognizant with Chaosium’s policy regarding third-party publishers. Could you explain how MRP is allowed to produce Call of Cthulhu material?

Doc acquired a license to produce four BRP Call of Cthulhu game titles per year. After Doc passed away, Charlie and I documented the fact that the license has now passed from “Keith Herber” to Miskatonic River Press. That way, the license is in the name of the company. So we are permitted to make these books, and we send a portion of our print run to Chaosium, for them to sell.

If anyone is interested in attaining a license, I encourage them to contact Charlie [Krank, president of Chaosium]. Quick hint about that: use the phone. He’s inundated with email and will probably never, EVER catch up. But he is usually the one to pick up the phone at Chaosium headquarters.

MRP has managed to entice some well-known Call of Cthulhu writers like Scott Aniolowski, Fred Behrendt, and Kevin Ross under its banner. You’ve worked with some fairly new writers as well. What’s your submission policy in case some of the readers are interested in playing in Lovecraft’s sandbox and producing new Call of Cthulhu material?

To give credit where it’s due, Scott, Fred, and Kevin, as well as Gary Sumpter, Todd Woods, J. Todd Kingrea were all pals of Doc’s. When he told them he was back in the biz, like the Great Old Ones, they awakened from their slumber and started writing again. MRP is truly blessed to have people like that to call on not only for content, but to bounce ideas. These are the guys who were writing for this game when we all first started playing, so not only have they seen it all…they’ve *written* it! Having access to their knowledge and expertise is a great thing.

As to our submission policy, it’s pretty open. If you have an idea, shoot it over to us! If you have a completed scenario, hey, we’ll look at that too! No guarantees, of course, since we have our own plans as to what books we want to do and when, but as I learned, the only way to get into this business is to take the chance and raise your hand. Take that chance:

What is planned for the future of Miskatonic River Press? Any upcoming releases you’d care to plug?

Well, sure…if you want to drag it out of me, we have three projects currently underway in varying stages of completion:

More Adventures in Arkham Country – MRP brings the players back to Lovecraft Country in the 1920’s, and hosts the triumphant return of Call of Cthulhu great Scott David Aniolowski. Incidentally, this one’s available for pre-order now if anyone feels the need ( At this point, that book should be out this summer.

The Legacy of Arrius Lurco – MRP partner and prolific CoC author Oscar Rios will be sharing a full length Cthulhu Invictus (Cthulhu in Ancient Rome) campaign with the world.

Tales of the Sleepless City – New York City. 1920’s. What else do I need to say? Okay, well, I’ll offer that Scott David Aniolowski will be joining us again for this book of scenarios, as will Dan Harms author of The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia.

I'd like to offer my thanks again to Tom for agreeing to take the time out to answer a few questions. As both of fan of CoC and someone who has experienced the trials and joys of producing gaming material simply for the love of the hobby, I'm always interested in hearing about how others go about the same process. Tom and Oscar both run a great game; if the opportunity ever presents itself, do yourself a favor and sit in on one of their sessions. You won't be disappointed.

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