Interview: Ian Starcher (Petersen Games)

Ian Starcher is the brains behind Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos for Pathfinder (on Kickstarter for one more day). He graciously agreed to answer a couple questions for us…

Tell us about where you’re from. Where you grew up, and what kind of hobbies besides gaming you had as a kid.

I grew up on Whidbey Island, which is located in the Puget Sound of Washington State.
Throughout my primary years of childhood he fought an illness that had me miss a lot of school and social activities. So I didn’t have a lot of hobbies per se. I did play soccer in organized leagues and then found gaming, which became my primary passion.

I grew up in a ‘gamer’ household, although they’d never saw themselves as such. We always had board games about which I’d play with one of my brothers. My father loved cribbage and acey-deucy (a variant of backgammon) we played those together a lot. My parents really set the example of ‘gaming’ as a couple too. When family came around, they’d often play card games and my parents would get together with another one or two Friday evenings a month to play canasta. So the ‘Friday night game’ was modeled for me at a young age as well as games are great as a family and for couples. I’m blessed that all my kids at one time or another got into gaming of some sort. I’m even further blessed that my wife enjoys RPGs and board games too.

When did you first get into gaming as a serious hobby and what types of games were you first enamored with?

Other than games I played with family, I didn’t get into ‘table-top gaming’, as we call in now, until I was about 10 years old. Somehow (and I don’t even remember how) I got my hands on as a gift or something the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. It couldn’t have been out for very long because this would have been around 1977, which is when it was released.

I was immediately hooked. My mom tells stories of me having my rulebook and a dictionary so I could look up the words I didn’t understand. It was the about a year or so later that my gamer friends and I into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Around this time I also got into chess. In fact I won the chess championship at my school when I was in 5th grade. Sadly, I’ve never gotten any better than a 5th grader. LOL.

We played AD&D for the next few years until I found Runequest in around 1981. We all loved it. It had hit locations, combat was far more dangerous, and you weren’t limited by character classes Anyone could fight AND cast spells. It was awesome. Switched over to Runequest and later added Stormbringer to our mix of games we played.

I was about a year or so later my childhood illness has pretty much wiped out my public school career. By that time we’d moved to Bellingham, Washington. Through a set of bizarre circumstances, which is a lengthy story unto itself I ended up testing out of going to high school and was living with college students off campus and was a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Club at Western Washington University. Those were my ‘golden years of gaming’. I played everything I could get my hands on, but Car Wars and especially Champions (a superhero rpg) where my favorites at the time. In fact I’d established a Champions campaign that had over 20 people in it. It was a ‘real’ universe like Marvel or DC has with bunches of superheroes. Of course we never all played simultaneously and I had nothing but time to goof off playing games. Good times.

When did you start in the gaming industry and what was the first project you worked on?

Technically I actually got into the industry while I was living in Bellingham. My parents loaned me some money to start a retail store with one of my roommates as my partner. It was a tiny, tiny store that we named Mindwarp Games and shared a retail space with a comic book store. I was 15 at the time and sooo naïve, but it was a great learning experience. About a year later I gave my half to my partner so I could formally enroll into college fulltime.

However I’d say my real start in the industry when I started at Chaosium. It was 1984 and I’d been just elected president of the student government at my college. My mother was in absolute heaven. Here I was, in just a couple of years or so, having gone from flunking out of school because of absences to being in college and succeeding. She was so happy she let me go to Origins in Dallas with some of my friends from Bellingham. That was a pivotal point in my life.

I meet my ‘heroes’ at Chaosium. It was upon returning to Washington that I made the manic decision to move down to the bay area and work for Chaosium. Mind you, I wasn’t invited. I just assumed they’d want me.

To make a long story short, I did eventually get hired on by Chaosium. After my stint at Chaosium I decided to go into the ‘corporate world’. I eventually worked for a business consultancy based in Seattle, which lead me to starting my own businesses.

I’ve done projects on and off in the gaming industry since then, including owning another hobby retail store.

What are some of the major positive ways the industry has changed?

Technology. When I started in the manufacturing we used Osborne computers with CP/M OS (pre-pre-Windows, pre-DOS) using Wordstar. Typesetting was done on a typewriter. Print outs where on slllloooowwww dot matrix printers. Typesetting was done on a typewriter. Layout with with manual cutting and laying out using a light table. Basically pre-Desktop Publishing.

More choices than ever. Right now we have excellent board games, card games, miniatures, and RPGs. When I started it was when only RPGs where ‘on fire’.

International community. At Petersen Games we have artists from all over the world, including Eastern Europe, which wasn’t even dreamed of in the middle of the 80’s of Reagan and Gorbachev (for those that remember those guys).

What types of games do you prefer now and what games are you excited to play with your family?

I prefer the games I can play with friends and family. Which is a broad grouping. I play Magic: the Gathering with one of my sons, I’m in multiple Pathfinder games, I’m in a classic Runequest game, and of course I play a lot of Cthulhu Wars board game and just started playing the Theomachy card game. Both published by Petersen Games.

But my favorite game in the gaming industry – is the gaming industry. I love commerce and I love being involved in the business side of Petersen Games.

There’s been a lot of changes in the industry over the last thirty years. Primarily how games are published. But the core is the same. Hobby games are a positive investment in hours of fun and a great way to spend with family and friends.

The Cthulhu Mythos, clearly seems to be one of your favorite themes in gaming. What drew you to that universe?

In a name. Sandy Petersen. I hadn’t even heard of Cthulhu until I met Sandy. What got me so intrigued by the Cthulhu Mythos is it’s fundamental basis that reality is nothing what you thought it was.

Can you tell us about any future projects that you’re thinking about or involved in?

Hopefully things with Sandy Petersen. When I first met him I thought he was a nice guy with a killer work ethic and great ideas. Now that I’ve been working with directly, I’m first hand experienced brilliant he is. I mean I don’t to sound like a fan boy. I’m not coming from that prospective. Just how quickly he can come up with original, truly innovative ideas. Plus his deep understanding of balancing game mechanics. Of course he’s been doing game design, and on some huge titles, for about 35 years.

As I’ve mentioned before, the game industry is my favorite game. So I’m very satisfied being the business manager at Petersen Games. I get to play my favorite game all the time.

Photo Source: Gamerati Facebook Page

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