I've talked at length about my long love affair with Call of Cthulhu before. I don't intend to plow that particular field again in this post. Instead, I wanted to talk not about the greatness of Call of Cthulhu as a roleplaying game, but about its greatness as a product.
Take a look at the image of the cover to the right. You can see that it's the game's sixth edition. If you follow the link to my original post, you can see the cover of the first edition box. Look carefully at each and you'll see a couple of interesting things. First, there's the logo. The one that appears on the 2004 6th edition is nearly identical to the one that appears on the 1981 1st edition. That may seem like a small thing, but it's not, for reasons I'll explain momentarily. Take a look too at the credits on the cover. Both editions credit Sandy Peterson and Lynn Willis as the primary authors. On one level, that might not seem that unusual, except that Sandy Peterson hasn't worked at Chaosium since the late 80s and, unless someone can correct me on this, hasn't actually been involved in the development of the Call of Cthulhu RPG in close to 20 years. Yet Chaosium still credits him as the game's author. Why?
Here's the reason: it's essentially the same in 2009 and as it was in 1981, when I first bought the thing. Yes, there have been some changes: APP replaced CHA (a change I still dislike), the introduction of Magic Points, slight changes to the skill lists, etc. Most of those changes happened a long time ago (2nd edition?) and, in any event, are so minor as to be insignificant in play. I can still use my 1st printing of Shadows of Yog-Sothoth with my 20th anniversary edition of the rules with ease. The various editions of the game are mostly just reprintings that incorporate errata and minor rules fixes rather than complete overhauls of the system. The only reasons to buy a new edition of Call of Cthulhu is if your old copy is falling apart from use, you want to get a copy for a newcomer to the game, or you feel you ought to support Chaosium's efforts. But there's never any sense that one must buy a new edition and, if one did, you'd quickly realize how mistaken you were in thinking this, for, as I said, the changes between editions are quite minor.
Having the same logo for nearly 30 years emphasizes the continuity between the editions, just as crediting its original authors does. That's an amazingly commendable thing on many levels. I'm hard pressed to think of a roleplaying game that's been as stable and consistent as Call of Cthulhu over as long a period of time. Can you imagine if other RPGs had followed the same path? I can already hear the objection that Chaosium is far from a model business. If their approach is so good, why aren't they a bigger and more successful company?
To that there are many answers, but, ultimately, I think any gaming company that's managed to be in business for over 30 years despite its many mistakes is definitely a "successful" one. No, they're not a subsidiary of a multibillion dollar megacorporation, but so what? I can still go into a game store and find a copy of Call of Cthulhu to purchase, take it home, and play it with my friends, some of whom own copies from two decades ago. We'll be able to play together with no problem. From my idiosyncratic perspective, I count that an amazing success, one that almost no other game in the history of the hobby can match.