I learned of the inaugural ChaosiumCon at GenCon in September 2021 and anxiously awaited the official date for months. This would be the first official Chaosium convention and held auspiciously during the company’s 40th anniversary year. The fact that this historic convention would be held in the Ann Arbor area further fired our enthusiasm since we live nearby in the Detroit metroplex. We looked forward to running and playing games just down the road from our house and meeting Chaosium fans from near and far. The week approaching April 8 ran exceptionally slow. Final preparations and home games helped distract us until the day before the convention.
Thursday, Day 0
But we couldn’t hold out forever. Taking the full day off from work the day before the con allowed me to drive over early in the afternoon, lend a hand, and check out the Eagle Crest Convention Centre and hotel. Before even setting foot in the venue, the boundlessly enthusiastic Chaosium Community Ambassador Bridgett Jeffries greeted me outside the door as they set up con signage. Her excitement carried me right into the building, where I found President Rick Meints making final adjustments to the registration area. With permission, I took a quick peek at the offerings in the vendor hall and caught a first glimpse of the much-anticipated Cults of Cthulhu and A Time to Harvest hardbacks. Moments later I found myself helping Ain’t Slayed Nobody’s Keeper Cuppycup test fire Nerf pistols for his swag-rich booth. Shortly after, Al Smith, author of Miskatonic Repository’s “Field of Screams” wandered into the room appropriately attired in a Cubs ballcap. After a round of target practice, Bridgett led me, Al, and Heinrich Moore around the gaming space on the second floor. The rooms were spacious and contained just a few tables, a welcome change of pace from the larger conventions.
After the tour, I took Al on a brief trip around Ypsilanti to check out some of the local highlights before returning to the hotel bar as guests began to arrive and socialize before the banquet at 7 pm. The ample space in the hotel lobby allowed for plenty of room to talk at tables and comfortable seating areas. The mood was boisterous, but not overly loud. Getting to meet community members, especially online acquaintances, in this setting was a true highlight of the convention. After pre-gaming for a couple of hours, a sizable crowd moved to the banquet while others broke off for smaller dinners and games.
The banquet allowed folks the opportunity to spend quality time with the Chaosium staff. I ended up pulled towards Bridgett’s infectious fun, and sat with her and several of her collaborators from The Old Ways and Ain’t Slayed Nobody podcasts, including Keepers Michael Diamond and Cup. Rick Meints offered some welcoming words and short optimistic remarks about the aims of ChaosiumCon, before allowing the banquet guests to quickly resume engaging conversations at their tables.
After the banquet, people returned to the bar for more drinks and discussion. Though ambitious plans were laid to run a session of Scott Dorward’s “Murdershack,” we set our aspirations a bit too high. Despite plans to get out of the house by 7 am, I ended up hanging out well after midnight and struggled to extricate myself from the good times. Too excited to crash, I logged about three to four hours of restless sleep before giving up at 6 am.
Friday, Day 1
Was back at the conference center just before 8 am to catch the opening panel featuring line editors Jason Durall (RQ), David Larkins (Pendragon), and Mike Mason. They discussed upcoming releases including the Pendragon Starter Box, The Prosopaedia: An Encyclopedia of the Gods of RuneQuest, and Regency Cthulhu. Hoping I can deploy Regency to get my wife back at the game table again. I ducked out during the Q&A session to go to my 9 am game. For more on Pendragon, check out Dirk the Dice’s recent interview with Larkins for the Grognard Files.
I joined Jim Lowder, Chaosium’s Executive Editor, for his Call of Cthulhu adventure “Nightmare City,” which kicks off in a Southside Chicago speakeasy. The scenario is part of a trilogy based on some of his short fiction. I played S.E. “Easy” Samuels, a jazz cornetist based loosely on the legendary Bex Beiderbecke. The plot moved smoothly, but the mystery remained gripping until the stunning (and perfect) conclusion. My fellows players were fantastic and included Aaron Vanek, who ran the forthcoming Dreamland RPG later at the con, as well as Kent, a Cirque de Soleil performer and digital sculptor, who makes some wild Mythos monsters available through his Patreon—VoidRealm Minis. I spent some time after the game talking to Jim about his writing and editing experience. I couldn’t resist getting him to sign my old beat-up copy of Prince of Lies, a Forgotten Realms novel. Jim served as line editor for TSR’s Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, and Dark Sun fiction during the days when I was just chewing through Dungeons & Dragons paperbacks. He oversaw the publications of some of my absolute favorites.
With little time left for lunch, I just grabbed a sandwich and ran up to the conference room for my first session as Keeper. I signed up to run three sessions of my Detroit-based scenario, “The Death of Superstition,” which is set on Halloween night and coincides with Houdini’s untimely death in the city. The first group included two new Call of Cthulhu players, as well as two locals from Southeast Michigan. This group loved to split the party, so they kept me on my toes throughout the session. I had the pleasure of sharing a room with Lurking Fears leader Matthew McCloud for several sessions, and the enthusiasm from his games spilled over onto my table.
After wrapping the game, I stopped by the lobby for a quick chat with Mike Mason. I have to emphasize how friendly, outgoing, and accessible the Chaosium staff are at this event. These people produce the games we love, but they are fans and players. They enjoy talking about what they do and engaging with their audience. I chatted with an online friend and fellow Michigan resident at the bar. We never had the opportunity to meet before this, as we’ve only interacted on the Good Friends of Jackson Elias Discord previously. Again, conversations like this marked a high point for my con. I met so many people I look forward to gaming with in the future.
While sitting at the bar, I gently strong-armed a group of folks into trying Detroit-style pizza from the local chain. I’m confident I won them over, and I demanded Jon Hook take the rest back to his hotel for breakfast. Feeling responsible, I headed back home relatively earlier for a solid six to seven hours of sleep before 12 hours of gaming on Saturday.
Saturday, Day 2
My day kicked off with another session of “The Death of Superstition,” and another phenomenal group of players, which included a honeymooning couple from Spain, and one-day con attendee Lee Adam, who runs the Cthulhu Files for DiceLore. This group needs to come back next year for a sequel adventure as they unexpectedly decided to take off for a foreign land in pursuit of answers.
After my game, I recruited one of my fellow investigators from “Nightmare City” and her husband to join my 7 pm “Death of Superstition” game slot. With a little over a half-hour before my next game, I subjected Jon Hook to more Southeast Michigan cuisine by dragging him and his roommate Ian MacLean over to Leo’s Coney Island where we talked about Jon’s “Tomb of Doom!” Pulp Cthulhu scenario he ran for Ian earlier in the morning.
I felt tardy for class when I arrived a couple of minutes late for “The Goat Man is Coming” with Lynne Hardy. This was my much-anticipated opportunity to try the new Rivers of London game. I studied ahead of this session by reading four of Ben Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy novels, and I strongly recommend them to Anglophile fans of magic, mysteries, and police procedurals. In addition to playing an excellently crafted scenario, Lynne shared all sorts of details about the forthcoming product. We were sworn to secrecy, but the maps, art, and character sheets are all perfectly thematic and enrich the established fictional world. It’ll be a great product for fans of gaming and the novels, alike. Our group consisted of an avid fan, myself, and someone who had never read any of the series. I typecast myself as consultant physician Jordan Schneider. For those familiar with Call of Cthulhu, it takes less than a minute to grasp Paul Fricker’s streamlined mechanics. I greatly appreciated the simplicity of nine common skills, which brought things like Spot Hidden and Listen, as well as taste and smell, under a broader “Observe” umbrella. With such easy-to-learn rules, I got plenty of schooling on HobNob biscuits, bedsits, British driving licenses, and cheese puffs (no, not Cheetos, silly American). Everyone left the table thoroughly satisfied with the experience. In addition to seeing this adventure in print, Lynne assured us a book of additional Folly case files is forthcoming.
After a check-in with my wife, I managed to track down David Larkins and get him to sign my copy of Berlin: The Wicked City, which never leaves my desktop these days. We talked about his experience writing the authoritative Weimar sourcebook, and he kindly offered to take a look at some of my work. Once again, the Chaosium staff astounded me with how approachable and friendly they were to their fans.
I snagged a sandwich and headed back up to Conference Room E for my final game. We ended a player short for the session, so our team lacked the chaos agent investigator. It did not matter one bit. They ran around Detroit with a mixture of delirious energy and measured caution before reaching a dramatic conclusion involving a police standoff. Poor Cece, the artist, found herself straitjacketed in a magician’s cape and handcuffed by her compatriots, while Clarence the scientist found himself floating in a dark dimension. I stubbornly refused them an Idea roll as they reached a fitting conclusion to their wild ride. It was a great way to close the convention. Every single group I played with at ChaosiumCon was just packed with fun and entertaining roleplayers. I would happily invite anyone I gamed with at the convention to my table again.
I staggered back to the hotel bar for some final goodbyes. The mood was a mixture of goofy and wistful. The weekend was too short. People recounted their weekend experiences, expressed awe at the enduring influence of Greg Stafford, and listened in amazement to the bartender recount his experiences working the recent furry convention. I wished everyone a safe journey back home and headed back to my bed to faceplant.
I’ve gone on far too long and could say so much more. There are so many people I met, but didn’t name, but everyone was an integral part of the experience. That is my first takeaway, the people that come to ChaosiumCon are phenomenal. The people that run it. The people that create for the company. And the people that love their products. It was a small convention of around 300 people, but it was a truly international affair with folks from all over. I met people from Spain, Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands. Per my conversations with Rick Meints, the convention will be returning to Ann Arbor, and may formally expand to other international locations in the future, such as the UK and Australia. He envisions ChaosiumCon remaining a smaller, intimate affair with high-quality offerings. I found it a wonderful change of pace from the larger annual conventions. It’s an event where each return visit would allow you to form deeper friendships with your fellow gamers while meeting great new people. Participants ranged from first-time gamers to 1st edition veterans. I gradually deepened my understanding of RuneQuest lore by talking to some scholarly Gloranthaphiles—they simply loved to share their excitement for the game. I don’t think there is a better place to experience Chaosium and the complete gamut of individuals involved in their games.
As an inaugural convention, Chaosium approached the event with cautious optimism. They set expectations appropriately, which allowed them to handle some minor hiccups without too much difficulty. They aimed for a shorter, two-day convention, but I’d love to see additional scheduled events on Thursday or Sunday next time. In the end, I felt like I did a lot, but missed even more. I only managed to attend a single panel due to a busy gaming schedule. I wonder if sliding additional panels into the hour slots between games would help. It was great getting to see John Sumrow and his art on display, but it would be phenomenal to get more artists and cartographers displaying their work. Of course, I love the location, as it’s in my backyard, and I would be happy to see ChaosiumCon continue in the company’s hometown. The facilities were excellent, and there were plenty of food options nearby. Very much looking forward to 2023, and hope to see you all there.