Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Saturday, 25 October 2014

David Hill Jr interviewed by David McWilliam about 'V20: Dark Ages'

David A Hill Jr is a writer, game designer, editor, and whatever else people will pay him for. He's currently developer for the Vampire: The Dark Ages line for Onyx Path Publishing, as well as Changeling: The Lost developer. He's worked all over the place, on Shadowrun, Dragon Age, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Leverage, Pathfinder, and all manner of stuff. Some of it won Ennie and Origins Awards. He lives in the mountains of Japan with his wife and an absurd number of Gundam model kits. He thinks that makes him a cyberpunk. You can check out his independent games at Machine Age Productions.

V20: Dark Ages is currently on Kickstarter.
 

DM: What is V20: Dark Ages and how does it relate to Vampire: The Masquerade?
DH: V20: Dark Ages is a spinoff of Vampire: The Masquerade, and Vampire: 20th Anniversary Edition in specific. It's a complete, standalone game set in the mid-thirteenth century. You're playing at a time of impending upheaval and change. In Dark Ages, we're looking over the hills ahead to the Anarch Revolt and the events that cause the formation of the Camarilla and Sabbat. In the modern nights, the Camarilla represents a sort of cultured, ‘proper’ order, whereas the Sabbat represents fanaticism and chaos. The Camarilla is a conspiracy to deny the existence of the impending end of the world. The Sabbat fights that impending end with fire and fury. Without those inherent structures, Dark Ages characters have a lot more room for individual interpretation of our world. We're in a time that redefines what it means to be a vampire clan, because old clans are falling, and new ones are rising.

1243 is a good time to be a vampire. Of course there are no cell phones or mirrorshades, but the lack of modern forensics and mass media empower vampires to make really hard choices. V20: Dark Ages isn't about whether or not you can kill those that cause you problems; you can. But should you?

DM: Does this create a sense of impunity with regards to the treatment of mortals? For instance, can vampires openly rule cities and raise armies with which to wage war?
DH: It can mean that. What it really means though is, humanity is able to shepherd itself. If you do something egregious and obvious, you’d better have the might to back it up, because there’s always someone ready to knock you down. Maybe it’s a rival vampire. Maybe it’s a witch hunting organization. Maybe it’s just an unruly mob. So yes, some vampires openly rule. But those are typically exceptions, and typically very temporary. The human spirit does not like being broken.

DM: How did you become the developer for the new Dark Ages line?
DH: I've been working with White Wolf/CCP/Onyx Path as a freelancer for about eight years now. I got my start with Werewolf: The Forsaken. Over the years, I've developed a few books, edited a few, and written a ton. There's not much of a grand story behind how I became V20: Dark Ages developer. I've just always had a passion for Dark Ages Vampire, and for Vampire: The Masquerade. When our annual pitch session came up a couple of years ago, I put together a pitch document explaining my vision for a relaunched Dark Ages line. The powers-that-be liked it enough to put me at the helm of the project.

DM: Does the historical setting fundamentally alter the ways in which vampiric society sees itself?
DH: Our historical setting, as I noted, is different in that it redefines clans and sects. It's a time of flux and upheaval. You don't have a Camarilla and Sabbat. We're not entirely sure what clan means, or what it's going to mean. Instead of huge, world-spanning conspiracies, vampires are held together by "Roads", which are religions or philosophies that help them stave off their deeper monstrosity. For example, characters following the Road of Kings believe vampires are better than humans, and that hierarchy is the only true way to order and reason. They believe some vampires are followers, and some are leaders. They just believe they are the natural leaders. Characters following the Road of the Beast are their polar opposite. They believe structure is a way to keep down the spirit, and oppress the perfect predator within every vampire’s heart. So they eschew law and order on principle. Then we get vampires on the Road of Heaven, who believe vampirism comes from divinity, and that every vampire has a higher purpose in their god’s great plan.

Another big difference is, there's no New York. There's no Chicago. London had less than 40,000 people at the time. Half the major cities in Europe were in the Italian peninsula. This means you can't have vast cities with 200 vampires. Everything's very personal, very visceral. You can't have a gang of ten vampires hating you, because that probably means the entire city is against you. There's also a sense of wonder and exploration we can't really experience in the modern world. V20: Dark Ages is set primarily around Europe. But new trade routes are opening, and with them, new parts of the world open to our vampires. We see vampires coming in from places unknown, bringing their own customs and exciting stories.

DM: To what extent will the core V20: Dark Ages book support storytellers and players who find the setting appealing but are largely unfamiliar with the historical period? Do you recommend any history books for those who really want to immerse themselves in the Dark Ages?
DH: We actually provided some tools for building a believable, authentic-feeling world. As well, I’d consider one of our chief inspirations, Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones’s Medieval Lives and The Crusades. They did a great job of showing what night to night, day to day life in the medieval world was like for the random person, not just for the romanticized nobility.

DM: Given the centrality of Christianity to European culture during the Dark Ages, does religion play a greater role in terms of threats and the mythology of the World of Darkness in that era?
DH: Christianity is a very important element in Vampire: The Dark Ages. The church sometimes acts as a balancing force against the vampires. Sometimes, vampires wield the unknowing church as a weapon. The Crusades are particularly hard on vampires, because there’s a lot of fire, and a lot of daytime fighting. Vampires are urban creatures, and the Crusades destroyed cities. For example, the vampires of Constantinople aren’t that lucky in this era.

Then again, we want to express that while Christianity is a dominant force in this time and place, it’s not the beginning or end of vampiric existence. After all, many vampires in this era are old enough to remember a time before Christianity. Many have seen stark changes in church doctrine, so they view mortal religion with a cynical eye. We also have influence from pagan cultures, Celtic witchcraft, Slavic animism, classic Egyptian mythology, Islam, and numerous other topics.

DM: Does vampiric magic play a greater role in a period when belief in the supernatural was far more prevalent than modern nights?
DH: Remarkably bigger. In fact, our section on blood magic is huge, and in the Kickstarter, we’ve been able to nearly double that space into a whole glut of sorcery. If you’re interested in magic of all stripes, you can get it in the Dark Ages. From strange Egyptian rituals, to rituals for digging up the unholy blackness of the abyss, to demon summoning, to spells to mitigate problems with medieval travel.

DM: What are the unique horror role-playing experiences that V20: Dark Ages will offer players and storytellers?
DH: This book asks questions which evoke horror. And in places, different questions than your classic Vampire game. What does it mean to be immensely, frighteningly powerful? What does it mean to be alien and withdrawn from the world? What does it mean to be able to end a life the way a normal person could cut a rope? What does it mean to live without consequence? The questions we’re asking with V20: Dark Ages are all about immersing yourself in this terrifying body that you are both in awe of, and feel sorry for.

DM: How has the release of work-in-progress chapters from V20: Dark Ages through the Onyx Path website influenced your design process?
DH: It’s been wonderful. While sometimes it can be challenging to navigate signal through noise, it changes the process entirely. Usually when you develop a game, it’s a one-way street. You write, design, write, design, edit, and publish, and hand this product out to the world. With this method, it’s a back and forth process. You can gauge thematic elements and really feel out what people are interested in.

DM: What are your plans for the V20: Dark Ages Kickstarter? How would you like to develop the line beyond the core book?
DH: What we’re doing is building two companion books. The Tome of Secrets is basically a companion volume of rules and new material for the game. Right now, it features a ton of new sorcery, rules for mass combat, words on vampire knightly orders, and other weirdness. It also features letters in the game universe between characters, showing off the era and setting. The other companion volume is a fiction anthology. Every stretch goal we hit either adds a story to the anthology, or more rules content to the Tome of Secrets. Right now, every backer on the Kickstarter gets whatever they pledged for, as well as the Tome of Secrets and fiction anthology. So it’s a great buy-in, you get at least three books if you even just spring for the PDF level.

Beyond the Kickstarter, I’d really like to see Dark Ages grow into a full line. I have ideas for setting guides and more material for Asian and African vampires. I’d also like to build on the world with a Dark Ages Werewolf book, Changeling book, maybe Mage and Inquisitor, and other stuff. But that all depends on how successful we are. This Kickstarter’s the first real hand out to the community to find out just how viable a Dark Ages line might be.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Twisted Tales of Austerity

The politics of austerity are intrinsically connected to fear. In order to redirect anger at worsening living standards in the wake of the economic crisis, scapegoats continue to be identified and persecuted. The current rolling back of the welfare state is justified by politicians stoking outrage at benefit fraud while a largely complicit media distorts the extent to which this actually occurs. Cuts to public services are combined with sanctions for those out of work, raising unemployment while also demonizing the unemployed as a morally reprehensible underclass. Twisted Tales of Austerity will explore how the Gothic can critique the current mainstream political consensus surrounding poverty and the welfare state.

Join us for readings by authors from Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, a horror anthology for our hard times, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. Co-editor of Horror Uncut, Tom Johnstone, claims this anthology ushers in a ‘new era of socially engaged but entertaining and darkly funny horror fiction, which may not change the world but will, I hope, change the way we look at it’. From supernatural body horror to systemic acts of cruelty, this event will both challenge and entertain.

Authors:
After reading stories about the dismantling of the NHS by the late Joel Lane in the magazine Black Static and The Fourth Black Book of Horror, Tom Johnstone suggested they collaborate on an austerity-themed anthology. The result was Horror Uncut (Gray Friar Press), the first book Tom has worked on as an editor. Tom will be reading the story that inspired the anthology, Joel’s ‘A Cry for Help’, which offers a darkly satirical representation of someone complicit in the privatization of the NHS.

Laura Mauro’s ‘Ptichka’ offers insight into the devastating consequences of anti-immigrant rhetoric, tying the isolation and alienation created by government policy to a very intimate tale of pregnancy and body horror.

Rosanne Rabinowitz’s ‘Pieces of Ourselves’ starts with a demonstration against austerity that builds to violent kettling by the police. One activist escapes with a light wound, but his growing anxiety manifests in the transmogrifying skin that peels away from it.

Twisted Tales of Austerity will take place from 12noon to 2pm on Friday 24th October 2014 at:
Waterstones Deansgate
91 Deansgate
Manchester
M3 2BW
United Kingdom

Tickets can be booked here.

Facebook event page can be found here.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Darker Days Radio (Mike Andryuk, Chris Handley, and Bryce Perry) interviewed by David McWilliam

Darker Days Radio is the premiere World of Darkness (WoD) podcast, exploring the new (nWoD) and classic World of Darkness (cWoD) role-playing games. The podcast was created by Vincent Florio and Mark Hope in the summer of 2009 and, in spite of changes to format and hosts, has maintained its mission of providing gaming insight, news, and entertainment for the past five years. Darker Days is a listener-driven podcast; their Darkling series allows listeners a chance to contribute audio segments and provide their own insights into the World of Darkness. Darker Days also contributes to the World of Darkness community as a media and publishing outlet, frequently interviewing World of Darkness writers, giving them a way to inform fans of their new work, and also explain the design decisions from previous books.

For more information, visit the Darker Days Radio website.

DM: How did you become presenters on Darker Days Radio?
Mike Andryuk
MA: I began as a listener of Darker Days when the very first episode was released and soon after I submitted a Darkling episode discussing the card game Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. When Darker Days was going through a rough spot as Vince left the show, I stepped up to the plate to become a host.

CH: My involvement with Darker Days started initially with the forums, suggesting various ideas for WoD games, and ideas for the Secret Frequency segment. One of note was the Devil Dog myth that is attached to my home town, and is also the origin of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. When the show was undergoing some changes in host line up I contributed a number of recordings of ‘Rapid Fire Game Summaries’ which covered almost all of the nWoD games. I was going to record one for the Ghouls book for Vampire: The Requiem, but it was deemed easier if I just be a guest on the show to talk about that book. And that was the start of my own regular appearances. Since then, Mike and I have shared responsibilities with regards to recording the show, editing, and managing the social media aspects of the podcast. And, when time permits, I've done some video editing for the show, and edit the fanzine.

BP: I've been a listener to the podcast since episode 3 or 4, following a post on a White Wolf fan forum by then-host Vince. After Mike and Chris took it over, I started pestering Mike about the show needing someone with a stronger focus on the cWoD lines. Eventually, he agreed and they asked me to join as the voice of the cWoD.

DM: In what ways has the podcast evolved over the past five years?
MA: We've evolved primarily through experimentation and a lot of it has actually worked! The two most successful experiments have been the introduction of Forgotten Lore, a WoD ezine, and our foray into actual play episodes. Intriguingly, actual plays are role-playing game sessions released as downloadable podcasts - a format that Chris and I both dislike. However, the two actual plays we've released have been noticeably more popular than our normal episodes, so listeners can expect a few more of those in Season 6.

CH: Darker Days has to a degree diversified, both in terms of segments and topics, plus a push to be more diverse in terms of contributors to the show. It's no surprise as gamers that we dabble in a lot of things, so we share things, both games and media, that sit well with the theme of horror gaming. Plus we have done a number of Darkling shows that strive to address topics that perhaps the main show lacks the space for. But, even with all, that Darker Days has remained focused on content for cWoD and nWoD, and finding the intersection between those settings.

BP: Darker Days has grown from a tightly-focused podcast covering the cWoD and nWoD game lines to a broader and more diverse - both in terms of topics as well as guests and presenters - outlet covering gaming of all types through the various Darklings we produce while still managing to remain the premiere WoD podcast on the main show.

DM: What are your views on the state of the horror role-playing scene in 2014?
MA: Horror role-playing games are quite strong and will continue to be. Games like Vampire and Call of Cthulhu highlight the benefits of a tabletop role-playing format compared to video games, movies, and novels by providing an experience tailored to the players. Other static formats can't compete with a good storyteller out to scare his players.

Chris Handley
CH: Given the large amounts of indie games now available, and more popular and modern gaming systems, it is clear that horror role-play now is less about antagonistic play where everything relies purely on dice rolls, and now more about collaborative game play and the inclusion of nudge mechanics - mechanics that promote players to portray compelling drama, even at the risk of their own character.

BP: We live in something of a golden age for role-playing games, both in general and in the horror sub-genre. Divorcing RPGs from the ‘kick in the door, kill the monster, loot the tomb’ of several decades ago (something White Wolf pioneered) and focusing more on the story aspects of gaming has lead to some major innovations in the community. The vampires in, for example, Night's Black Agents are far more horrifying and complex than the 8HD undead from AD&D’s Monster Manual.

DM: Do you think that the rise of Onyx Path has shaken up the World of Darkness property or has it just marked the resurrection of a popular formula?
MA: Yes and yes. The nWoD game line is being spiced up with the God-Machine Chronicle rules release, leading to more player agency in the game through Condition and Beat mechanics. But on the other hand, Onyx Path has resurrected the cWoD games, retaining the game structure that took role-playing by storm in 1991. This two-pronged approach has been very well accepted by WoD fans, allowing classic players to play as they always have, but also providing a modern game approach for story gamers. 

CH: Onyx Path certainly has pushed on a lot of changes, both in terms of how the writers interact with the fans, and with the way settings are approached. Onyx Path is clearly not afraid of trying out new gaming concepts, and re-examining old and tired tropes in their settings in order to modernize them. I think this can be seen both in the V20 and Requiem lines, which now more than ever are distinct settings. CWoD and nWoD could have simply just trundled on with more and more supplements, or simple reprinting of old content. But what we have instead are new treatments of the settings, while still respecting that which has gone before.

BP: Onyx Path has definitely shaken things up. To use a topic I'm familiar with from the past few episodes of
Darker Days, they've taken what could have been a dull and much-gone-over-before concept like demons and made them into a supernatural espionage game of spy-versus-spy-versus-nigh-omnipotent-entity. Nobody else in the industry has had such inventive interpretations and it's a testament to the company's creativity that I look forward to each new release with such excitement nearly 20 years after picking up my first WoD book.

DM: How does Darker Days link up to the growing online community supporting horror role-playing?
Bryce Perry
MA: Darker Days has built up an active community on Google Plus, Facebook and other social media sites. The aim is to provide a useful place to discuss WoD games (given how almost all the writers and developers make use of G+). For gamers, the Darker Days community is a great place to discuss many questions about the games, find new ideas, or drop off ideas (Secret Frequency submissions, movie, TV and book suggestions), or to find players both locally and for online games (G+ Hangouts being a popular avenue for horror games).

CH: We are also more than happy to discuss other horror games, and people can drop off reviews for different games, highlight interesting Kickstarter campaigns, and show off other interesting horror-related media (I paint lots of toy soldiers, mainly for Privateer Press' Warmachine/Hordes war games and associated Iron Kingdoms RPG, plus minis for the defunct Rackham game Hybrid - these games having a lot of horror content).

BP: Like Chris said, we're happy to discuss other games in the horror genre or even other non-horror games (and maybe how to add a touch of horror to them), but I think we'll always want to keep our focus on the WoD game lines. That being said, personally I've begun playing a miniature skirmish game called Malifaux that incorporates a bit of horror along with steampunk, fantasy and wuxia elements into it's setting and minis.

DM: What are your plans for Season 6 and beyond?
MA: Darker Days is pushing for more diversity in the upcoming season. That means interviewing more of the writers and developers (given that there is another nWoD game announced at Gencon this year, plus loads of other products), while not treading much of the same ground with the same men. If we can get the right team together (because there is never enough time for just us to do these things!) it would be great to get out another issue of our fanzine, Forgotten Lore. It's a great opportunity for gamers to show off their ideas, writing, and also to have a go at layout and editing.

CM: Darker Days has added a new Darkling series called 'Gossip Ghouls', which is a show with content and opinions that covers horror media in general. 'Gossip Ghouls' is also different because the hosts are not the normal group of guys. That show is fronted by Samantha Handley (budding writer, role-player and my wife) and Michelle Flamm (larper, cosplayer and computer game designer).

And personally, because I have a vested interest, I would hope to do some more Darklings about Fading Suns (a space opera RPG with a good dash of horror that I am a freelance writer for) given it is essentially a kissing cousin of WoD. I have worked on material for upcoming Fading Suns books that focus on the Merchant Guild, and on the darker elements of the setting (psychics, demons, cults, etc).

BP: More Darklings, new segments in the main show, more guests from Onyx Path and other places, more everything, really!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Simon Strantzas interviewed by David McWilliam

Simon Strantzas is the author of four collections of strange fiction, including the most recent, Burnt Black Suns, from Hippocampus Press. His writing has appeared in numerous “best-of” volumes, been translated into other languages, and been nominated for the British Fantasy Award. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and an unyielding hunger for the flesh of the living.


DM: In his foreword to Burnt Black Suns, Laird Barron claims that the new millennium heralded ‘the dawn of a new golden age of dark literature’. Do you agree and, if so, why do you think there has been such a resurgence in weird fiction?
SS: It’s not that I don’t believe this, it’s that I think it’s premature to name this as a new golden age. That’s the sort of thing best left to historians looking back on the genre. But I’ll admit we’ve had an influx of great writers over the last decade or so, and the best of them bring something new to the table, all the while mining a history that extends back further than the decade previous, and stretch outward beyond the Horror aisle of the book shop. The boom years nearly killed the genre for a number of reasons, but the biggest might be the influx of writers looking to score big producing retreads of books only a few years old. For a generation of writers, the advice was to take influence from the current bestsellers. It led to a subsequent generation who either abandoned horror for a quick buck elsewhere, or who lacked knowledge of the genre’s history. It couldn’t have been easy to rectify, either, as the past masters were out of print and no one was inspired to change that. A dead generation later, things changed dramatically. Small presses appeared to give a voice to those new voices, but also to resurrect those past voices. Suddenly, readers could see what Machen and Blackwood and all the rest were about. The proliferation of the small press gave them a home, and the internet allowed them to spread. Horror’s return has been very much a grass-roots effort, and where it will go remains anyone’s guess. I keep hoping, with the transition to electronic devices, we’ll see horror return to the mainstream. But only time will tell.

DM: China Miéville claims that Lovecraft is preeminent 'among those writers of fantastic fiction for whom plot is simply not the point. The point is the weird'. Do you situate yourself within this tradition?
SS: For me, plot is a very important aspect of storytelling (although I’ll grant that I often obfuscate that plot when it suits the story or my mood) but it’s true it’s not the point of my strange or weird stories. However, rather than the weird being the point, my stories are intended to comment on our existence, and on our personal journey through it. The weird is simply a tool to do so, a way of abstracting the trials we face simply by being alive so a story can be told about them. Ultimately, I think a lot of fiction, Lovecraftian or not, treats plot and the trappings of the genre the same way. I know very few writers whose primary goal from a story is simply be weird.

DM: Do you think that the personal journey involved in the weird is linked to the prevalence of introversion and madness in the genre?
SS: I’m not so sure madness is all that prevalent in the genre. At least, not any more so than in any other mode of writing. But writers who struggle with introversion and mental illness no doubt find much about the weird that’s comforting. The weird celebrates a paranoiac’s world view, and gives an explanation for much that can afflict a troubled mind. But I also don’t believe only those with issues can enjoy the weird, or even that they are the ideal audience. I simply think it’s attractive to them in a way other genres are not. After all, the horror protagonist tends to be an outsider, both blessed and cursed with the ability to see what others can’t. On some level, the only difference between a super-hero story and a horror story is this first ends in successfully harnessing that sight, the second in succumbing to it.

DM: When writing weird fiction, how do you balance the wonder of cosmic horror with the nihilism embedded in the genre?
SS: I think wonder and awe are vitally important tools in a horror writer’s toolbox—perhaps even more important than fear. We can all imagine the threat of physical violence against us, but we’ve all experienced that occasional sense of displacement in our world, being out of sync with it, especially when confronted with something almost impossibly beautiful. Horror taps into that space, creating a waking dream for the reader to experience, a place where the fantastic can happen, and the rules that were once immutable can no longer be trusted. Nowhere is this more evident than in cosmic horror, where we are often expected to consider the greatest “other” of the cosmos and rationalize its effect against us. It seems only natural to me that this Other be viewed through a nihilistic lens. An indifferent universe is the greatest horror imaginable to any of us, one where our lives are insignificant against it. The fact that this horror is the ultimate truth is shocking to consider, and so impossible that we fail even trying to grasp it. For me, the balance of wonder and nihilism in cosmic horror is precisely the point of cosmic horror.

DM: This notion of an ‘indifferent universe’ seems to find expression in the landscape of your stories; as Barron notes, your ‘wilderness doesn’t discriminate’ when destroying those who explore it. How important is creating a sense of place in anchoring your cosmic horror to the world around us?
SS: A sense of place is always important. My work is often about that interstitial area between planes of existence, those soft spots where one world presses in on another. In order to convincingly convey this sense of terror at the invasion of the alien, one must first convincingly convey the verisimilitude of the world being invaded. So, yes, the environment must ring true, as must those who inhabit it. Only then can we fully relate to the impossible things that are happening to them, and buy into the notions that something else has its malignant eye on its inhabitants.

DM: The monsters in Burnt Black Suns are eclectic and imaginative. Do you see them as forming a loose mythos, or are they created to serve the specific needs of a story?
SS: I know some contemporary authors link their tales together to form their own mythos, and I can see how it’s a tool that can help amplify certain effects and aspects of the work, adding an extra level of complexity to the stories. Peter Straub’s “Blue Rose” trilogy (and short stories) certain worked in this way, where one book, Mystery, reflected upon its follow-up, The Throat, adding unique resonances. That said, my own work does not tie together in any way beyond perhaps the exploration of common concerns and peccadilloes. Each monster in my stories is designed primarily to highlight aspects of the emotional core of the story being told, and in that sense can be viewed more as fantastical projections of those particular characters’ turmoil, a sort of reckoning that they know is coming, but flail against nonetheless.

DM: Burnt Black Suns is your fourth collection of short stories. Do you think that weird fiction especially lends itself to the short form and, if so, why?
SS: I’d say that horror and the weird rely heavily on mood, atmosphere, and emotion. It’s a heady brew and one that’s virtually impossible to sustain for an extended length. At least, not without cutting it with another genre. This is why most horror novels read like other novels with a horror element grafted on. The mystery, the thriller, the science-fiction adventure, these are all common partners for horror, and depending on the focus, can produce work that skews one way or the other. But the short story? The short story doesn’t need to sustain itself with multiple narratives and points of view. The short story is singular, focused, an art form that celebrates minimalism and efficiency—which doesn’t mean that short stories must be minimal and efficient, rather that they need to have a strong destination in mind. All of these things suit horror well, and stories that focus purely on the terrifying and horrific are possible in ways that almost never sustain themselves at novel length. In essence, to appreciate the weird or horrific, a mood must be set and a spell cast. Works that cannot be read in one sitting are subjected to the inference of life, and when life gets involved, those tenuous threads of atmosphere so delicately woven tend to break.

DM: The relationship between the weird and scientific discovery is examined in the collection through the disastrous consequences for those who seek to fathom the secrets of the universe. Do you consider cosmic horror to be in some ways antithetical to science fiction?
SS: That’s an interesting thought, one I’ve not considered before. I’ve often wondered if each genre could be boiled down to a single primal emotion. Obviously, Horror would boil down to horror, and Romance to romance, but what of the others? If science fiction could be boiled down (and let’s agree that by its very description this entire idea is so reductionist as to almost lose meaning) then I imagine it would be to hope. Hope for the future, for what humanity is capable of. Even the dystopian stories have their starting point in hope, albeit failed hope. Cosmic Horror is less about the absence of hope—or, rather, despair—and more about insignificance in the presence of reality. Superficially, I can see how one might view cosmic horror as the other side of the science fiction coin, but I don’t think it necessarily stands up to scrutiny. Instead, we must divorce science from Science Fiction in this case and realize that science’s quest for knowledge is instead the perfect vessel for tales of cosmic horror.

DM: Barron claims that with Burnt Black Suns you continue ‘a trajectory into deeper darkness like that probe sailing out of the solar system into the gulf of night’. Where do you see your writing taking you next? Are there further depths to explore?
SS: I appreciate what Laird Barron had to say in the flattering introduction he gave the book. I think, though, his comments reflect mostly my slow and steady transition from a writer of strange fiction to a writer of weird fiction. I’ll leave it to others to judge how large or insignificant a loss or gain this is, but it seems clear that my fiction has shifted weirder and more cosmic since I began publishing, and along with this mutation it seems only natural that my fiction will take a darker turn. But I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking the human soul doesn’t have plenty of pitch dark depths to plum, and I grow increasingly excited, year after year, to see how far into that tar pit I can sink.

Burnt Black Suns was a book wholly interested in exploring weird, cosmic fiction, and having now done so I’m eager to branch off into another direction for a while. Horror is such a vast and boundless genre that it will take me a lifetime to explore even a fraction of it. I’m elbow deep now in a novella that I believe will make readers forget all those I’ve previously written, and I hope to supplement it with more material that’s its equal. I can’t promise what will come next from me will be cosmic—I like to believe it won’t fit any such label so easily—but what I can promise is that I will do my best to surprise readers with what I can do. I honestly believe they haven’t seen anything yet.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Matthew Dawkins (The Gentleman Gamer) interviewed by David McWilliam about horror role-playing

Matthew (YouTube's The Gentleman Gamer) has been tabletop role-playing since the age of 18 and making RPG-related videos for his popular YouTube channel since 2009. While in recent years his primary focus has been World of Darkness games, he runs, plays in and reviews a multitude of others.

Matthew has recently entered the realm of writing for RPGs, having contributed to the Book of the Wyrm 20th Anniversary edition for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and Sothis Ascends for Mummy: The Curse.


DM: What attracted you to horror role-playing games and what sustains your interest in the genre?
MD: I've enjoyed horror in both literature and cinema since far too young an age. It's the genre that stimulates my imagination more than any other. In role-playing, fear is an emotion I love to evoke from players for their characters. When a player genuinely feels concern for the fate or well-being of their character, or NPCs connected to the character, I believe something wonderful has been achieved. With that being the case, horror role-playing is the gift that keeps on giving. I run horror campaigns, one-shots and convention sessions, but don't limit myself to it. Ultimately, I love to get a reaction from players, and horror, whether body horror, psychological torment, gore or suspense, can really produce the desired expressions and exclamations.

DM: How did you come to review games on Youtube? Why adopt the persona of the Gentleman Gamer?
MD: I was looking for an RPG review of a game called SLA Industries (an excellent setting by Dave Allsop) and rather than the usual search engine link that would point me towards rpg.net, I was instead directed towards a review video by a vlogger calling himself Cpt. Machine. The review was decent enough, and provoked me to look for other vloggers. I could only find two more. Tetsubo57, who mixes his RPG videos with a wild variety of other videos, and Kurt Wiegel, whose videos I found to be far too short to provide me with an adequate review. I therefore resolved to make my own channel, with my first video being an introduction, my second being a video about in-character vs. out-of-character conflict, and my third being a review, although I can't recall the game I reviewed. In any case, those videos were awful. They were also removed by YouTube due to a copyright infringement or two (I made liberal use of music in videos back then), but my earliest material was then re-uploaded onto dailymotion, should any masochists wish to watch them.

As for the Gentleman Gamer - I dubbed my channel The Gentleman's Guide to Gaming as I never wanted to talk in anger about a game. I'd seen too many shows based around angry reviews that really took games apart for the sake of cheap laughs. My philosophy (such as it was) was that every review I did would be of a game I enjoyed, and focus on the positives of those games. If a game was truly bad, I just wouldn't review it. Why destroy a game someone has spent months or years creating, when I could just omit it from my channel entirely? Tetsubo57 was one of the first subscribers to my channel and a constant commentator. He was the first person to refer to me as The Gentleman Gamer, and the nickname stuck.

DM: Do you think that contemporary technology is changing the way people play RPGs?
MD: Definitely. I belong to a Facebook and YouTube group called the YouTube RPG Brigade (the name of which is another story entirely and has had its share of controversies since it was founded). The vloggers, viewers and commentators who post in these groups very often get together for campaigns and one-shots via Google+. I often run games via Google+ or Skype (I'm currently running A Song of Ice & Fire for a player in the USA and another in Finland) due to the ease of use and sheer range of players you can reach through those channels.

A year ago I established the Vampire: The Masquerade YouTube Experiment, which was in essence an attempt to create a "Living City" for Vampire via Google+ Hangouts, with footage from all character videos going onto YouTube and being added to a blog. The proposal for the Experiment alone drew over 100 players in the first week from all over the world. Some had never role-played before, but they had webcams, a willingness to learn and a real enthusiasm for the setting. Through this, players got a chance to play for the first time and fantastic plots have played out in what is essentially a cross between a LARP and a tabletop game using the internet as our playground.

The Experiment has waxed and waned in popularity, and my hope is that it lasts for a long time. I still appear in it occasionally, as the player-base there is excellent. There have since been numerous offshoots such as Living World of Darkness, another such game set in Westeros, others specifically devoted to Mage, Pathfinder and more. I see this as strong evidence that while tabletop is still going strong (you only need to see how many people attend the UK Games Expo and GenCon every year for proof) people are no longer limited by geography or the lack of a local store, as once they were.

DM: This last point is important, as there are regular claims that role-playing is a dying hobby. How do you attempt to broaden its appeal and bring in new players?
MD: That's a good question. I'm proudest of my channel when someone who has never role-played before sends me a message or leaves a comment saying "this motivated me to pick up an RPG, form a group and run a game." If there's a point to the channel, it's to get people to do that very thing. With this in mind, I attempt to review games across a broad spectrum but I also make videos of live play and recaps of games I've run before. Sometimes the obstacle preventing someone from investing in gaming is primarily their not knowing how fun and simple it can be. My in-game recordings serve the purpose of allowing people to see what games can be like.

My hope is that people will post the videos widely and that occasionally someone new to gaming will stumble across them. If these things are happening, I'm confident that my presentation style is enthusiastic and interesting enough to sink a hook into the occasional potential gamer. Then I just have to reel that prospective new role-player in with videos going into greater depth on game settings, such as my Vampire and Werewolf guides.

DM: Your reviews cover a range of games, but you seem to be at your most inspired when talking about the World of Darkness (both classic and new). What do you think they offer that other lines do not?
MD: I'm not sure what it was that first drew me to the World of Darkness, but whatever it was, it's what's kept me involved in it all these years later. Perhaps it's the aesthetic - the art oftentimes being incredibly evocative. Similarly, it may be the fiction, the metaplot of classic World of Darkness or the sheer freedom of new World of Darkness. In terms of why I run so many games set in the World of Darkness and make so many videos about the same, I think it's likely due to my interests outside of the sphere of role-playing gelling so well with the games. I come up with more ideas for each World of Darkness RPG than I do for any other game, and that's often just through reading the title of a book! This isn't some attempt at a boast; I genuinely believe the World of Darkness is, for the most part, the richest setting tonally and in terms of mood-inspiring qualities.

I'm not sure if I'm dancing around the question though. In the end I suppose I find that World of Darkness games offer a storytelling experience where protagonists are more than just travellers on a predefined path. The story is about the characters in the best World of Darkness games, and I have rarely found other games that so grab the players and make them want to tell stories about their characters’ hopes, dreams, fears and motivations.

DM: Aside from World of Darkness, can you name some of your other favourite games and settings? What do they offer that is unique and/or innovative?
MD: Godlike is a favourite of mine. It's a superhero game set in the Second World War. Combat is as dangerous to your characters as it should be in order to evoke the correct mood, but your superpowers can give you a slight edge. What a particularly enjoy about Godlike is the sense of realism imposed on to a superhero game. Sure you can fly - but a bullet can still kill you in one hit. Yes, you're invulnerable to kinetic energy attacks - but watch out for that guy with the flamethrower. The emphasis on the horrors of war, the reduction of mental stability and so on, really makes it stand out for me.

I've recently become a big fan of Numenera, for its simplicity in character design and its expansive world still fit for exploration. It's post-apocalyptic but is drenched with optimism. How many other games do you get where your characters' contributions can lead to the rebuilding of civilisation, the discovery of new technology and life and the exploration of history and unknown locations? There's this feeling of awe that comes with Numenera. I haven't felt it in many other games.

DM: How did you make the transition from reviewer to writer? Do you think that this provides you with a different approach to games design?
MD: I was one of the Consulting Developers on the Book of the Wyrm 20th Anniversary edition and volunteered to write up the Board of Directors while in the position. Stew Wilson reviewed my submission, approved it, and it was added to the book. Around the same time, I submitted some fiction to C. A. Suleiman, as I fell in love with Mummy: The Curse as soon as I finished reading the first chapter. He was kind enough to give me my first big writing break on a chapter of Sothis Ascends.

Now that I've seen "how the sausage machine works," I definitely reappraise some reviews I've produced. I have special admiration and respect for those who work diligently on systems for months on end. I'm far more confident as a writer of setting and storytelling tools than I am one of powers, rules and the like. This new freelance role (long may it continue) does of course put me in something of a position regarding World of Darkness book reviews. I really enjoyed reading and running Blood & Smoke for instance, but can I now positively review it without viewers accusing me of bias towards a company who are paying me for work? That's an interesting quandary, and one I've not yet surmounted. The same would apply in the unlikely event I fervently disliked a product by Onyx Path. While I don't typically produce negative reviews of any games, to do one about a game written by people I may ultimately work with would perhaps be unprofessional, or potentially make relationships frosty.

DM: Having now established a foothold in game design, where do you see your writing taking you? Would you consider working on a major project, such as developing a full supplement or even game line?
MD: I'd love to one day develop my own game line, but I'm conscious that I'm new to this and should take baby steps. I want to hone my writing before I take on a full game, take on feedback and criticism from my fellow writers as well as readers, and generally get more practice. My hope is that I will continue to freelance for Onyx Path for the foreseeable future. They're a fine and friendly company with a real talent for producing high-quality role-playing material. I'm happy just where I am for now, but in the future...? Who knows?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Richard Dansky interviewed by David McWilliam about 'Wraith: The Oblivion'

Writer, game designer and cad, Richard Dansky was named one of the Top 20 videogame writers in the world in 2009 by Gamasutra. His work includes bestselling games such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, Far Cry, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: 3, Outland, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist. His writing has appeared in magazines ranging from The Escapist to Lovecraft Studies, as well as numerous anthologies. He was a major contributor to White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting, with credits on over a hundred RPG supplements, and will be developing the upcoming 20th Anniversary Edition of Wraith: The Oblivion. His most recent novel, Vaporware, is available from JournalStone, and was nominated for the inaugural Manly Wade Wellman award. Richard lives in North Carolina with his wife, statistician and blogger Dr. Melinda Thielbar, and their amorphously large collections of books and single malt whiskys.

For more information, visit Richard’s website.

DM: As a GM and/or player, what horror games do you most admire? Can you name any that influenced the way you approach game design?
RD: I think the best horror games - and there are a great many of them - remember that horror is about the response to the monster, not the monster. What that response is can vary - it’s a very different approach in Call of Cthulhu than it is in Don’t Rest Your Head than it is in Vampire - but as long as it’s about the character, not the critter and its stats and treasure type and percent in lair, then you’ve got the makings of good horror. And I’m very happy to see the ongoing trend in making interesting, challenging horror games that picks up the torch from classics like CoC and Chill - a world where we’re constantly seeing new games like Night’s Black Agents is one where it’s good to be a fan of horror games.

DM: What would your pitch be to convince someone who has never played a World of Darkness game to try Wraith: The Oblivion?
RD: “How’d you like to bust the Ghostbusters?” More seriously, during the years I was developing Wraith, there was something that would happen at every convention I went to. Someone would walk up to the booth, explain how they loved Wraith but couldn’t find anyone to play it with, and then walk off. Fifteen minutes later, the same thing would happen, and so on, all weekend. So I think the idea that Wraith is this distant, untouchable star of a game is wrong and it always has been wrong - it’s a question of getting the people who want to play in touch with people who are willing to give it a shot. Which brings us around to the original question. To that, I say it’s a game where you’re taking care of unfinished business from life while learning how to survive in the lands of death, where your dark side is your own worst enemy and an empire of the dead stands against monsters from before the dawn of time.

DM: How did you first become involved with Wraith? What drew you to the line?
RD: I got involved with Wraith pretty much toward the beginning. I'd known Jennifer Hartshorn, the original developer, in college and she was well aware of my penchant for horror. So when she had some openings in the Haunts book, she was generous enough to ask me to write a couple of chapters, which became The Hanging Gardens Casino and the Tillinghast Mansion, respectively.  After that, I freelanced pretty extensively until Jen moved over to Vampire, at which point I was asked to take over Wraith. And that was that, apart from a small hiatus where the estimable Edward Hall stepped in for Wraith: The Great War and World of Darkness: Tokyo.

As for what drew me to the line, well, I did a thesis on H.P. Lovecraft. My first published writing was in Lovecraft Studies and Studies in Weird Fiction, respectively. I have a collection of rare and antique horror novels, and I have multiple statues of Cthulhu in my office. So I felt a certain resonance with the material, you might say. And, looking around at the art from various Wraith books that adorns my office, I still do.

DM: It is interesting that you mention Cthulhu as, unlike most other World of Darkness lines, Wraith is not set predominantly in the world of the living. The idea of a whole other reality overlaying Earth, with the alien threat of ravenous Oblivion rising up from the darkest depths feels very Lovecraftian. Do you consider Wraith, at least in part, to be a game of cosmic horror?
RD: The defining character of cosmic horror as I understand it is the focus on the uncaring, mechanistic universe (that just happens to be populated by giant squid-faced entities from beyond space and time because that’s how evolution rolls across the endless aeons and folded dimensions). It’s the fact that there is no agency to the universe that’s so frightening, and that underpins all the tentacles and n-dimensional angles and whatnot. Wraith, on the other hand, focuses on the individual wraith’s struggle - against Oblivion and against themself. It’s a deeply personal game, and that personal conflict is what’s at the heart of things - even when that conflict is thrown into the middle of a fight against a shape-shifting malevolent entity from Oblivion’s doorstep. So, ultimately, while Wraith may be inspired by cosmic horror and may use elements familiar to fans of cosmic horror, it is not itself cosmic because even in the face of Oblivion, it always returns to the human.

DM: What difficulties did you face when writing something so melancholic with such experimental rules?
RD: Wraith was and is a fantastic challenge because so much of the interesting design happens away from combat. It’s one of the very rare games where roleplaying and mechanics are inextricably intertwined: Passions and Fetters and Pathos generation, just for starters, and who your character is, are more important in many ways than what. So any difficulties are really the meat and the fun of the job - I wouldn’t call them difficulties so much as “challenges”, and very satisfying challenges to resolve, at that.

As for the melancholy, I’ll have to disagree with you there. Yes, there is an obvious dark tone to the game, but at the same time, it’s really the most hopeful of the original WoD titles. Transcendence is real, and there is something you can do instead of fighting hopelessly against the inevitable. Wraiths get a second chance to fix what they did wrong in life, and there’s something incredibly powerful about that which really doesn’t match the doom’n’gloom stereotype. Can you tell depressing stories in Wraith? Sure. But you can also tell stories of high adventure in the Tempest, or dungeon crawls in the Labyrinth, or political stories in Stygia, or any number of other stories that are colored by emotions beyond despair.
   
DM: What can fans of Wraith: The Oblivion Second Edition expect from the 20th Anniversary Edition? Are there elements that you feel must be included for it to feel authentic?
RD: At the risk of sounding slightly obsessive, I’ve been mulling over Wraith in the back of my mind for nigh on 15 years now. That’s a lot of time to be pondering design and creative decisions, and to be thinking about what went right and what could have been done better. And any game designer will tell you, looking back on their work they always see things that they could have done better. Am I amazingly proud of Wraith Second Edition and all of the work that the writers, artists and other folks involved did? Absolutely. I think it’s a great game that did some wonderful things, and if you look at the list of creative folks who worked on it, it’s mind-boggling. So, there’s a lot there that I think is worth hanging onto and building on, because it’s damned good, original work. Stuff that Geoff Grabowski and Bruce Baugh did with the Labyrinth, for example. A ton of work people did with the Guilds. I could go on and on. A fan of Second Edition is absolutely going to feel comfortable in the setting, and hopefully the changes that are being made are ones that they’ll feel positive about - in part because a lot of the ones we’re looking at were sparked by feedback from and conversation with fans.

DM: Conversely, how much creative freedom do you have to alter the setting and update it for 2014?
RD: Rich Thomas has pretty much given me tremendous creative freedom to make changes, though I’ve discussed every proposed change with him. I think he and I are on the same page when it comes to what’s the real essence of Wraith and where we can make changes that will make it even better. So, no, there’s not going to be rules for all-singing, all-dancing ghost musical extravaganzas. But you will see a broader universe in the main book, and more of an emphasis on bringing players into the world cleanly.

DM: I have been impressed by your engagement with fans of Wraith on the Onyx Path forums, taking on suggestions that work for you and explaining why you reject others. How does this level of interaction during the design process shape your overall vision for the project?
RD: It’s always great to hear what the people who play the game are thinking - what they like, what they don’t like, what they want to see more of, you name it. That’s incredibly valuable feedback to have, and it serves as a great gut check. And really, why wouldn’t I want to talk to the folks who are most excited to see the game coming back? I mean, as Pollyanna as this sounds, we all share a love of the game. Maybe I’m coming at it from a slightly different angle than they are because I made the metaphorical sausage, but to be part of a community that loves you work, well, that’s a wonderful feeling. Without them we wouldn’t be doing this; it’s a pleasure to take the time to talk with them, answer whatever questions I can, and hopefully make them feel that the game they love is in good hands.

DM: What are your hopes for the Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter? If it is really successful, do you envision expanding on the core book with various supplements?
RD: First things first - let’s do the 20th Anniversary Edition, because that’s where all of my focus is right now. It’s such a pleasure to come back to this world, and, just as importantly, to come back to the people I worked with back in the day, that I’m just enjoying this project right now. Obviously, I’d hope it would be a tremendously successful Kickstarter, and I’d hope that people who perhaps didn’t get to play Wraith before - because they came along after Ends of Empire, or because they couldn’t find a group to play it with - would get a chance to find something they could enjoy. Beyond that, it’s all details - I just want to do something that lives up to - OK, surpasses - the expectations of the folks who’ve been loyal Wraith fans over the years, that does right by the world, and that hopefully opens things up to a whole new generation of players. If I can do that, then we’ll talk about what comes next. But let me climb the first mountain before we even start thinking about the second.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Stew Wilson interviewed by David McWilliam about 'Werewolf: The Apocalypse'

A freelance writer and game designer, Stew got his start with White Wolf on Lore of the Forsaken. He has worked on most of the new World of Darkness games, but finally got to sink his teeth into his first love with Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition. In addition to being a writer on the core book, he took up the developer’s mantle for supplemental books like Changing Breeds 20, Rage Across the World, and Book of the Wyrm 20. Werewolf has given him more opportunities to branch out into new fields, including the comic for Changing Breeds, and the W20 Cookbook.

In addition to his work for White Wolf and Onyx Path Publishing, Stew has contributed to EVE Online, Maschine Zeit, and the upcoming setting anthology for Apotheosis Drive X. He has also self-published a number of games including BLACK SEVEN, the stealth-action RPG, and Æternal Legends, the game of modern fantasy heroes.

For more information, visit Stew's website.


DM: How did you become a World of Darkness games designer?
SW: I was a regular on the old, old White Wolf forums, starting back in 1999. It’s through them that I met existing freelance designers like Matt McFarland and Aaron Dembski-Bowden, and got to know Ethan Skemp. I expressed a desire to work on Werewolf, but as the line was drawing to a close that didn't happen. In 2004, Ethan offered me a chance to work on Lore of the Forsaken. I didn’t look back.

After we finished writing Werewolf 20, Ethan passed the developer’s hat to me. I never thought I’d get a chance to develop Werewolf: The Apocalypse when I started writing professionally; by then the Time of Judgment had hit and the classic World of Darkness ended. The 20th Anniversary Edition let me work on Werewolf again, and taking on the developer’s role really lets me put my mark on the game.

DM: What are the core concepts behind Werewolf: The Apocalypse? What can players expect from the game?
SW: Werewolf is a game about getting mad at the state of the world and having the power to do something about it. You know the truth of the world — that the three great cosmological forces of Wyld, Weaver, and Wyrm are massively out of balance. The Weaver wants to cocoon the universe in a calcified web where nothing changes. The Wyrm wants to corrupt all that is, poisoning its very soul. They've forced the Wyld, the wellspring of creation, onto the back foot. Now, they're coming for Gaia ― She who is the world and the soul of the world. If the Weaver or the Wyrm is victorious, it's the end of everything.

Gaia isn't defenseless. Æons ago, She made shapeshifting warriors to defend Her. Chief among them are the Garou, werewolves with the holy duty of defending the world. Empowered by Luna, spirit of the Moon, and driven by rage at the state of the world, they may not survive the Wyrm's assault, but they'll tear it apart from the inside to save Gaia.

DM: How do the Garou differ from other werewolves?
SW: At the time Werewolf: The Apocalypse was published, werewolves in fiction were monsters. Inspired by Hollywood, werewolves changed under the full moon into ravening beasts that had to be killed with a silver bullet.

The Garou go beyond that, redefining the werewolf as we know it. The Garou don't change under the full moon, but can shapeshift whenever they like into any of five forms ― including a bulked out human, normal and monstrous wolves, and the terrifying Crinos war-form, a hybrid of wolf and human. They're born, rather than being made into monsters with a bite, and organize into tribes based around their attitudes to how best to confront the Apocalypse. Their shapeshifting blessings come from Luna, the spirit of the moon, who also gives each one an Auspice ― a role in werewolf society dependent on the moon-phase in which the werewolf was born.

The Garou are also half-spirit, and thus keenly aware of the animistic nature of the world. They can step into the Umbra, the spiritual reflection of the world, and gain power from those spirits that serve Gaia. They can try to strike at Her enemies long before they manifest in the physical world. Others use spiritual short-cuts to travel between different places in the physical world, fighting battles at flashpoints around the globe.

DM: The Deluxe W20 Book of the Wyrm, which is being Kickstarted at the moment, details the forces of the principle antagonist in the game. What is the Wyrm and why do so many choose to serve it?
SW: The Wyrm is one part of the Triat, the three cosmological forces that underpin reality. Long ago, the Weaver ― another part of the Triat ― wanted to control everything. Though she was not successful, she snared the Wyrm in her web and drove it insane. Far from being the cosmological force of destruction, it is now the force of corruption. Destroying the world would be easy; the Wyrm wants to turn it into a twisted hellhole; a reflection of its own perverted nature, where the only things that live worship it.

The Wyrm isn't behind every evil act ― saying that every abusive spouse or drug pusher is being manipulated by a force of corruption implicitly absolves them of their crimes. Instead, it feeds on the negative spiritual resonance produced by their actions. In the case of prolific serial killers, torturers, and other monsters who feed it repeatedly, the Wyrm may reward them with signs of its favor. While frequently disturbing or disgusting, these blessings grant supernatural power.

Other creatures serve the Corruptor. While many spirits come from Gaia herself, each of the Triat has spirit-servants of their own. These Banes are formidable enemies on their own, but some go one further by possessing people to create the twisted fomori. A whole tribe of werewolves took it upon themselves to try to kill the Wyrm in its lair two thousand years ago. Now, they serve it as the Black Spiral Dancers. Some people join cults or organizations that worship the Wyrm, hoping for rewards in exchange for furthering its agenda.

For creatures with free will like humans, serving the Wyrm is putting short-term interests ahead of long-term. In ten years' time, the Wyrm will rise and devour the world, leaving a radioactive wasteland where only twisted fomori can survive. But until then, you've got both money and power ― and all the trappings that come with them.

DM: What is Malfeas and will the Book of the Wyrm expand on it as a playable setting?
SW: The spirit world of Werewolf: The Apocalypse isn’t just a reflection of our own world. It also contains Realms, self-contained places that don’t correspond to a location on Earth. Malfeas is one of those Realms, and is the Wyrm’s foothold in the spiritual world. You can’t destroy it — a Realm is a cosmological constant — but you can travel to Malfeas to beard the Wyrm in its lair.

Malfeas is the home of the Maeljin Incarna, immensely powerful spirit-servants of the Wyrm that reflect hatred, anger, despair, and the Wyrm’s twisted forms of the elements. The majority of Malfeas is made up of a vast cityscape containing the nightmarish factories that produce everything from horrific poisons to Pentex’s stranger products. It’s also home to the Labyrinth where Black Spiral Dancers perform their most blasphemous rites.

Malfeas isn’t easy to get in to and is even harder to survive in. That said, while it looks impossible we’ve left ways for clever players to infiltrate the Wyrm’s lair. If they’re lucky or powerful enough, they can destroy factories, seal off the Black Spiral Labyrinth, or even kill one of the Maeljin Incarna, reducing the influence of cruelty, hatred, or despair throughout the whole world. Attacking the Wyrm’s forces like that is very hard, but doing so would weaken the Wyrm immensely.

DM: Given the increasing anxieties about climate change, deforestation and pollution of natural habitats, do you think that Werewolf: The Apocalypse has become more relevant over 20 years since it was first released?
SW: Definitely. At the time it was first released, Werewolf: The Apocalypse presented a world that was darker than our own. Since then, the world has changed in ways that nobody could have predicted. An environmental message that was seen as doom-saying twenty years ago looks naive in light of modern developments. We're seeing the beginning of the effects of climate change now. Events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill show that we're just as capable of creating environmental disasters now as we were then. The increased use of fracking to extract shale gas is both environmentally destructive, and propagates dependency on fossil fuels.

While people have become more aware of environmental issues over the last twenty years, humanity hasn't done enough to address them on a sufficiently large scale to make an impact. As individuals, we don't have much that we can do beyond trying to lobby politicians. As Garou, these problems are made manifest in the world, and we can take out our anger on them directly.

DM: The shadowy Pentex corporation is one of the Wyrm's most potent servants in the game, with tendrils of control reaching across the globe and hastening the corruption of all life. Bands like Rage Against the Machine were warning the public about corporate greed in the early nineties. Do you think that countercultural alt-rock had an impact on Werewolf: The Apocalypse when it was first conceived? Or were they both simply responding to the growth of corporate might in the wake of the neoliberal revolutions of Thatcher and Reagan?
SW: While I can’t say for certain what influenced the original design team, personally I think that they spring from the same source. Neoliberal economics enshrined the idea that greed is good; that if you make more by breaking the law and paying a fine, your only moral duty is to break the law. It encouraged a whole new wave of corporate malfeasance that we’re still seeing today. People see that, and get angry. Anger leads to artistic expression, whether that's in the form of music or games. Different kinds of art complement one another when they come from the same source ― Rage Against the Machine and Holy Bible-era Manic Street Preachers make for a fitting soundtrack to Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

DM: It seems as though the Kickstarter campaign will actually affect the content of Book of the Wyrm. How does this change the design process?
SW: Sometimes, it means that we can do things with the book that we couldn’t otherwise. For example, in Changing Breeds we were able to provide an introductory comic as a stretch goal. Other times, it means we can include material that we otherwise wouldn’t have room for. Especially with Book of the Wyrm, we’re letting people vote on what some of the stretch goals open up. This way, we can see what makes people excited and give them more of that.

We can’t start off designing around stretch goals. If something goes wrong and the book isn’t Kickstarted, then we don’t hit any stretch goals. What I tend to do is identify places in the book that could benefit from more information. It’s a tricky process — everything in the book could benefit from more ideas, more examples, and more story hooks — but it’s easier to identify “packages” of enhancements around some topics. With Book of the Wyrm, we wanted to add more on the Fallen Changing Breeds, more information on how normally Gaian Garou fall and become Black Spiral Dancers, and more information on the humans and fomori that make up First Teams — anti-werewolf hit squads. We have more of these “packets” in the pipeline.

Each stretch goal is part-designed before it goes out — I have an idea of what’s going in to the section. Once we hit it, I start working on the design process proper, and when the Kickstarter wraps we’re in a position to get the new material into the book with as few delays as possible. That said, creating new stuff for the book does take time to write, edit, and lay out, but we’ve factored that in to our deadlines where we can.

DM: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
SW: Lots of them! When this Kickstarter wraps I should be in a position to send the next Werewolf: The Apocalypse book to editing. For the new World of Darkness I’m designing the Idigam Chronicle, a chronicle book that does for Werewolf: The Forsaken what Blood & Smoke: The Strix Chronicle did for Vampire: The Requiem. I’m also involved in upcoming books for Mage: The Awakening and Promethean: The Created, and I’m part of the system design team for Trinity and Scion. Finally, I’m hopeful that I can get another self-published game out at some point this year, but that depends how busy I get.