It was always our intention to dedicate this new edition of Horror on the Orient Express to Lynn Willis. The idea for the project was Lynn’s: in the late 1980s Christian Lehmann and I pitched a Continental European Sourcebook for the 1920s, and Lynn responded that he would rather see an adventure set on the Orient Express. We took the challenge, recruiting others to help us. Lynn was a responsive, supportive and insightful editor, and under his vision it grew into a deluxe boxed set.
Lynn infused our first draft manuscript with history and humanity, evoking uncertain times lived on the precipice of a troubled past. Europe of the 1920s and the luxury of the world’s greatest train came alive in his edits, and as authors we were honoured by the enhancements he made. All of the ideas for the deluxe handouts and inclusions were his, and the art direction was flawless.
Lynn retired from Chaosium in 2008 and had been in poor health in recent times, but he has been in our thoughts every day of late as we rediscover the scholarship and wit in his prose. Only Lynn could add as an aside that a deceased archaeologist, when handed a book to assist in translation, would “pause to admire the concision” before getting on with the task at hand.
We’ll still make that dedication, but sadly Lynn will not see it. Charlie emailed on Friday morning to say that Lynn’s struggle with illness was over at last.
His legacy is enormous. On his watch, Call of Cthulhu was first published and then aged through five editions steeped in research and concision. His 1984 collaboration with Larry Di Tillio Masks of Nyarlathotep remains his masterpiece, perhaps the greatest RPG campaign of all time. But beyond the books, Lynn answered every letter he received about the games he worked on, and inspired a generation of gamers with his unfailing encouragement and wisdom. He also mentored scores of artists and authors, myself included. As I write this, I can still hear his voice, with that tone of knowing amusement. He still makes me smile across the intervening years.
In Call of Cthulhu, investigators step up to the mark when heroes are required; we all hope we can do the same. One such hero was Lynn’s partner Marcia, who stood by him throughout. No biography of Lynn is complete without her. Cthulhu may be fiction, but love in this world is real.
Farewell, Lynn; may you lie dreaming. We’ll think of you every day as we guide your train home again. Here are some photos of happier times.