The Return of Horror on the Orient Express

The Return of Horror on the Orient Express

Horror on the Orient Express-smallIn 1991, more than 23 years ago now, Chaosium published the most ambitious Call of Cthulhu adventure ever created: Horror on the Orient Express.

It was a huge undertaking — a complete campaign that  spanned the European continent, crammed into a box containing four lengthy books, numerous player handouts, a European route map; cardstock plans of the train that could be laid end-to-end; scrolls, and even luggage stickers. It wasn’t merely a high water mark for CoC; it was a template for how mega-adventures could be created.

The box retailed for $39.99, a lot for a role playing supplement in those days, and it didn’t really sell that well. It wasn’t long before it went out of print, and Chaosium — which invested heavily in the failed Mythos card game in the mid-90s — ran into financial difficulties and broke apart a few years later.

As a result, Horror on the Orient Express got lost in the shuffle. It was never reprinted and it rapidly became almost impossible to find. It was still talked about for many years by dedicated fans, however, and the combination of scarcity and its status as the pinnacle of CoC adventures meant it gradually acquired a legendary status.

Well, you know what happens to those rare game supplements (or books — or anything, really) that even determined fans can’t get their hands on. They become a holy grail for collectors. And that’s exactly what happened to Horror on the Orient Express. I started to see copies selling for $200-$300 and up, on those rare occasions I saw one at all.

Here’s a snapshot of the front and back of the 1991 edition box set (click for bigger versions):

Horror on the Orient Express Handouts Horror on the Orient Express First Edition 2-back-small

And here’s a rare, 1991 edition box set, complete with all the goodies:

Horror on the Orient Express First Edition

As I mentioned, Chaosium split into several companies in the late 90s, each focusing on a different product. Runequest co-creator Greg Stafford founded Issaries, Inc. to publish Glorantha-related product, like the HeroQuest RPG, and James Lowder took the Pendragon license and founded Green Knight Publishing to focus on Arthurian fiction, like The Merriest Knight. Wizard’s Attic, a fulfillment house, was the third spin-off (it closed its doors a few years later.)

Chaosium itself survived, re-focused on Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, and Basic Role Playing product lines.

Horror on the Orient Express, Second Edition (back)
Horror on the Orient Express, Second Edition (back)

The fine folks at Chaosium, who have gradually been reprinting classic Call of Cthulhu supplements like Shadows of Yog-Sothoth and Masks of Nyarlathotep, realized there was a lot of demand for a second edition of Horror on the Orient Express. But the economics of publishing have changed a lot in the last two decades, and it’s much more expensive to produce a deluxe boxed adventure than it used to be — especially one with a fairly small print run and so many quality color components.

Chaosium made it clear that they didn’t want to do a sub-standard reproduction, and so Horror on the Orient Express remained out of print for over two decades.

Until we entered the Kickstarter era.

Chaosium launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a premium second edition in the summer of 2012. It was their first Kickstarter and it was as ambitious as the original project had been nearly a quarter century ago, with a $20,000 goal and a string of stretch goals that went all the way up to a lofty $100,000.

By the time the campaign closed on September 30, 2012, it had raised $207,804, over ten times the original goal. Additional stretch goals were added, including a custom-made metal medallion, an Orient Express tee-shirt, an embroidered 3″ sew-on patch, and even a box of Strangers on the Train Orient Express Miniatures.

The original delivery date for the project was August 2013. That date came and went. But Chaosium were working hard on the project, posting over 100 updates with progress on the design work, maps, and numerous stretch goals. By the time the second anniversary of the campaign close rolled around in September of this year, Chaosium was confidently giving a new ship date, and on December 7, 2014, to much fanfare, Horror on the Orient Express was officially published.

The new edition is gargantuan: over 1,100 pages contained in seven booklets (compared to the three that came packaged with the original), in a massive box some three inches deep and weighing nearly 9 pounds. Kickstarter backers at the deluxe level also received a ridiculous number of extras, including a tote bag, cards, printed invitations, maps, and much more (see below for the complete spread, including a glimpse of the new boxed set).

Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter extras-small

I did not back the Kickstarter, so I missed out on all the extras. But the new boxed set is more than sufficient all on its own, with player handouts, a European Route Map, luggage stickers, postcards, passports, a bumper sticker — and even re-designed train plans that can be laid end-to-end, same as the original.

Madness on the Orient Express-smallI plan to order a copy this week, and I’m really looking forward to finally holding a copy in my hands.

Chaosium has made several items — including a tote bag, Keepers Screen, and Orient Express Coffee Mug — available on their website. Most intriguing to me, there’s also a tie-in anthology edited by James Lowder, Madness on the Orient Express, containing sixteen Lovecraftian tales set on the Orient Express. Authors include Dennis Detwiller, Kenneth Hite, Elaine Cunningham, Robin D. Laws, Ari Marmell, Cody Goodfellow, Christopher Golden, Darrell Schweitzer, James L. Sutter, and many others.

Here’s the new description for Horror on the Orient Express, taken from the back of the box:


A puzzling headline begins a front-page article found in The Times of London. Three men, all identical in identification, were found dead in the same room of the Chelsea Arms Hotel. All were dispatched in a similar manner stabbed through the heart.

Then the home of a valued friend burns to the ground, severely injuring him in the process. An odd summons, a surreptitious meeting, and a thousand-mile journey begins on the legendary rail service carrying the investigators to Constantinople, the Gateway of the Orient.

Horror on the Orient Express contains a massive and legendary campaign, of up to nineteen adventures and more than 1100 pages, for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Beginning in 1920s London, the investigators journey to Paris and thence to the ancient city of Constantinople. With luck, they also return home.

Optional episodes are set in ancient times or special places (Roman-era, Dark Ages, Gaslight-era, the Dreamlands), so that the players can experience the founding, creation, and discovery of crucial elements of this campaign. Also included is a modern-day coda to the storyline, an alternate ending for those wishing a shorter campaign, and a built-in survival guide to aid beleaguered investigators.

These books are encased in a 9″ x 12″ x 3″ deep box containing seven perfect-bound books and more: the Campaign Book, Through the Alps, Italy & Beyond, Constantinople & Consequences, Strangers on the Train, and The Traveler’s Companion. In addition, there is a book of handouts for the investigators, a European Route Map, three era-inspired luggage stickers, two era-inspired postcards, a matchbox, the Scroll of the Head, four U.S. passports, a bumper sticker, six pages of train plans that can be laid end-to-end, the Mims Sahis ceremonial knife, and fragments of the Sedefkar Simulacrum collected along the journey.

One interesting aspect of the new edition is that it’s advertised as including “instructions for 7th and 6th editions of Call of Cthulhu.”

7th edition Call of Cthulhu? The latest I have is the 6th edition. How did the 7th slip past me?

It hasn’t — not yet, anyway. It turns out that Horror on the Orient Express was so successful that Chaosium went back to the Kickstarter well in 2013, with a campaign to fund a 7th edition of the rules (obviously, I need to pay more attention to Kickstarter). It blew past its $40,000 goal almost immediately, and by the time the campaign closed on June 30, 2013, it had raised an extraordinary $561,836.

The original delivery date for the project was October 2013. We’re now a year past that date and the print version has not yet arrived. But Chaosium has released the cover art for both the rulebook and the Investigator Handbook, and they’re currently selling PDF versions of the 7th Edition rulebook on their website for just $27.95.

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition

The other Chaosium boxed sets we’ve covered include:

Thieves’ World
Pavis and Big Rubble

Horror on the Orient Express Keepers Screen-smallWe’ve covered several excellent Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu adventures and supplements over the past few years, including:

Shadows of Yog-Sothoth from Chaosium (1982)
Cthulhu By Gaslight from Chaosium (2012)
Achtung! Cthulhu from Modiphius Entertainment (2012)
The House of R’lyeh from Chaosium (2013)
Out of Space from Pelgrane Press (2013)
Eternal Lies from Pelgrane Press (2013)
Cthulhu Britannica: Shadows Over Scotland from Cubicle Seven (2014)
Horror on the Orient Express (second edition) from Chaosium (2014)
Mythos Expeditions from Pelgrane Press (2014)
Punktown from Miskatonic River Press (forthcoming)

Horror on the Orient Express was written by Geoff Gillan, Mark Morrison, Lynn Willis, & divers hands, and published by Chaosium on December 7, 2014. It is priced at $119.95, or $59.97 for the PDF version. Learn more at the Chaosium website.

See all of our recent Game coverage here.

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[…] That was fun. Plus, it was a great excuse to wax nostalgic about the brief period between 1981 and 1986, when Chaosium released some of the finest RPGs and RPG supplements ever created. Published in handsome boxed editions, they started with Thieves’ World and continued with Stormbringer in 1981, Borderlands (1982), Worlds of Wonder (1982), Superworld (1983), Pavis (1983), Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984), Cthulhu by Gaslight (1986), H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands (1986), Spawn of Azathoth (1986), Arkham Horror (1984), Ringworld (1984), Elfquest (1984), Hawkmoon (1986), and the fabulous Horror on the Orient Express. […]

Joe H.

Someone please get HBO working on the miniseries.

[…] Cthulhu Britannica: London Boxed Set by Dominic McDowall, which rivals the legendary boxed set Horror on the Orient Express. The London Boxed Set raised £90,412 on a £15,000 goal and will include three books, four large […]


Thanks John for that awesome article…

DANG do I wish I’d caught those Chaosium Kickstarters! :-/

[…] The Return of Horror on the Orient Express […]

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