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

Monday, 19 September 2011

Kenneth Hite interviewed by David McWilliam

Kenneth Hite has designed, written, or co-authored more than 70 roleplaying games and supplements, including the Origins Award-winning Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG, GURPS Infinite Worlds, and Call Of Cthulhu d20. He has been Line Developer for Chaosium's Nephilim and Last Unicorn Games' original-series Star Trek RPG, and has written for White Wolf, Pinnacle, Atlas, and many other companies. His “Suppressed Transmission” column explored the Higher Weirdness for ten years in Pyramid magazine; he has written the two latest editions of GURPS Horror, as well as many other GURPS books. His most recent works include the Trail Of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents RPGs from Pelgrane Press, the ENnie Award-winning Day After Ragnarok setting, chapters in Wild Talents and Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity from ArcDream, and Adventures Into Darkness, a Lovecraftian Golden Age superhero sourcebook available in PDF.

Outside gaming, he is the author of Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales, Cthulhu 101, Zombies 101, and the graphic illustrated version of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to U.S. History. His “Mini Mythos” series of Lovecraftian children’s books includes Where the Deep Ones Are, The Antarctic Express, and Cliffourd the Big Red God. He writes the “Lost in Lovecraft” column for Weird Tales magazine, and his essays and criticism have also appeared in Dragon magazine, Fenix magazine,, Games Quarterly magazine, National Review, Amazing Stories, and in encyclopedias and anthologies from Ben Bella Books, Dagan Books, Greenwood Press, and MIT Press. Since 1997, he has written "Out of the Box," an RPG industry news and review column most recently (and very occasionally) at A regular speaker and panellist at science fiction, media, and gaming conventions from San Francisco to Helsinki, he lives in Chicago with his wife Sheila, two cats, and many, many books. He blogs, if you can call it that, at Look for him on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

DM: How did you come to write tabletop horror roleplaying games professionally?
KH: I like to believe that I bought the first copy of the horror RPG Call of Cthulhu sold in Oklahoma, the month it came out - that was August of 1981. I ran Call of Cthulhu pretty much continuously for the next seven years, and among my players was a guy named Donald Dennis. He eventually went to work for the game publisher Iron Crown Enterprises, and wound up with a playtest copy of Chaosium’s licensed occult RPG Nephilim. He figured I’d know more about that than he did, so he sent it to me - I sent about 10,000 words of back-sass to Chaosium, most of which saw print in the final version of the game. Greg Stafford, legendary RPG designer and Chaosium’s publisher at the time, offered me a book of my own to write, and I was off to the races.

DM: What do you think is essential to creating a strong horror game?
KH: There are two essentials to creating a strong horror experience in any medium: a truly horrifying message and an audience willing to be scared. In roleplaying games, the advantage for the players is that by creating their own stories and characters, they have a head start on both halves of the equation: they can tell stories that truly horrify them, and they have an incentive to cooperate in the exercise of fear to support their own experience. As a game designer, it’s my job to point out or create what I think are the scariest parts of the setting, and to give the players all the tools, permission, and hard shoves in the back they need to cooperate with each other to enjoy a scary experience.

DM: With Call of Cthulhu dominating much of the horror RPG market, why did you decide to launch a new Lovecraftian system with Trail of Cthulhu?
KH: Even if Call of Cthulhu lost mindshare to other horror games (like Ravenloft, Vampire and its kindred, and Deadlands) in the 1990s, it remains the nonpareil example of horror roleplaying, and by far the single best evocation of Lovecraftian horror in any other medium. That said, Call of Cthulhu attempts a number of tasks simultaneously: pulp adventure, psychological horror, and investigative roleplaying among them. When Robin Laws developed a more focused, streamlined engine for investigative roleplaying games, the GUMSHOE system, his publisher Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press felt that it would be worth adapting Call of Cthulhu to run on GUMSHOE rather than the original Basic Role-Playing engine. Fortunately, Chaosium granted Pelgrane the license to do so, and even more fortunately, Simon asked me if I wanted to write the resulting game. I think Trail of Cthulhu allows a closer, more direct exploration of investigative horror, or horror-mystery, or whatever you want to call the genre of game it is. For the “Lovecraftian” portion of the equation, my only design goal was to stick as closely to Sandy Petersen’s original draft for Call of Cthulhu as I possibly could, which was quite closely indeed.

DM: One of the scenarios in Bookhounds of London, ‘Whitechapel Blackletter’, seems to mix fact and fiction, wedding London's occult sites with the Jack the Ripper murders. It is a deep and rich scenario, with lots of juicy information and dark secrets. It is also hard to tell what is real in it and what is made up. How did you go about writing it? 
KH: With “Whitechapel Blackletter” I actually came up with the title first, then realized that with a title like that it would pretty much have to be about finding Jack the Ripper’s “black-letter” grimoire (a “black-letter” is a book printed in a specific set of German typefaces during the 15th-17th centuries). So that set me to looking for the links between black magic and Jack the Ripper. Fortunately, for any crazy theory you might have about the Ripper, someone has already written a book about it: in this case, I lifted Ivor Edwards’s Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals, combined it with Alan Moore’s brilliant exercise in psychogeography in From Hell and Fritz Leiber’s “megapolisomancy” from Our Lady of Darkness, and the rest was just figuring out how to get the characters into the mix. As I mention in the scenario, almost nothing in it is made up except for the Cthulhu Mythos angle - every fact about the murders, or London, that I mention comes right out of my (or Ivor Edwards’s) research.

DM: Following on from that last question, your back-catalogue contains a lot of games with an occult theme: the horror and cabal supplements for GURPs, supplements for Mage the Ascension and Mage the Awakening, the X-Files-meets-Cthulhu Delta Green, and several supplements for Unknown Armies. Is this a subject you have a personal interest in?
KH: I like to say that I may be the only person who actually did get interested in black magic thanks to roleplaying games, although entirely as a story element. Running seven years’ worth of Call of Cthulhu meant I was always on the lookout for weird, occult, horrible elements from real history or legend to Lovecraftify; combine that with coming of age during America’s third great UFO flap (the 1970s) and you pretty much have my back-catalogue, as you put it. I retain a broad, delighted interest in all aspects of nonsense, what I call “eliptony”: black magic, pyramid power, the occult, ghosts, Kennedy conspiracies, UFOs, Atlantis, vampires, suppressed Tesla science, ancient astronauts, fairies - you name it. I think it’s because of the mystery-solving aspect of it: it explains things with exciting stories instead of with hard math or coincidence.

DM: Even when you're writing a scenario that says "this happens, this happens, this explodes, these guys have their spines liquified by alien nightmares from the eighth dimension", as an RPG author you have to hand over control of a story to the GM and then the players. How do you make the horror an integral component to the scenario and/or game?
KH: The designer is primarily responsible for the setting - as you note, in an RPG the GM and players take on the heavy lifting of character and plot. Thus, I have to make sure the setting is chock-a-block with horrific possibility. Sometimes that’s as easy as setting the game in a Lovecraft-soaked Whitechapel, or making the opposition a vampire conspiracy. With GURPS Cabal, or with Vampire, you can assume the players are monsters or other kindred horrors, and the job of the setting is simply to reflect that. Sometimes, it involves building a world where the “easy answer” for players and GM alike is the one that brings the horror: this was what John Tynes and Greg Stolze did so masterfully in Unknown Armies, for example.

DM: What's the scariest RPG you have ever played, and why?
KH: Almost certainly one of those early Call of Cthulhu sessions, when we were exploring just how dark we could go together. We ran one session on a boat moored in Grand Lake, Oklahoma - that one was pretty memorable, as the smell of the water and the constant creaks and splashes reinforced the mood tremendously. On the other hand, I’ve been able to terrify people sitting around a table in a college function room - mostly with the choices they found themselves making to stave off even greater horrors.

DM: Any advice for first time GMs, or GMs who are more used to crawling through dungeons than summoning nightmare entities?
KH: I go into this in much more detail in GURPS Horror, but the single most important thing to remember about running horror games is that horror games must be cooperative games. You can’t terrify someone against their will using only dice, not without committing a felony anyhow. The players have to be drawn, or seduced, or tempted into wanting the horror. They have to be willing to explore the dark side with you. Whether that means getting their explicit buy-in, or simply building an atmosphere of trust and cooperation at the game table ahead of time, you have to have their help to scare them.

DM: What are you currently working on and what projects do you have planned for the coming year?
KH: Right now, I'm finishing up another GUMSHOE game for Pelgrane Press, called Night's Black Agents. This one is a vampire-hunting spy thriller game: imagine the Bourne trilogy, if Treadstone were vampires. I'm pretty excited to take the GUMSHOE model into the thriller mode, and everybody loves killing vampires. At some point, I'll finish up This Scepter'd Isle, a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu in the Elizabethan era, and I'm co-writing Horror Hero for Hero Games with Jason Walters and Darren Watts, and Cthulhu Hero with Steve Long. I think those are my big-ticket items coming up, anyhow.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Tim Franklin for helping me come up with several of these questions.



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