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

Friday, 6 June 2014

Rich Thomas interviewed by David McWilliam about the World of Darkness

Since 1986, when he began illustrating and art directing for White Wolf Magazine, Rich has been responsible for the look and feel of every White Wolf product ever created — ranging from RPG books, fiction, board/card games and everything in between. Assuming the role of Creative Director in 2006, Rich became responsible for White Wolf’s writing and development as well. His administration included the launch of multiple Ennie-award winning product lines: Scion and Changeling: The Lost. Rich was one of the driving forces behind the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, and has returned to the world of traditional RPGs from his stint as the Director of Game Design and Content on the World of Darkness MMO, with a renewed focus on the continued Classic World of Darkness line and as the force behind Onyx Path Publishing.

Along the way, Rich contributed to the unique style and presentation of White Wolf’s products by creating the many clan, tribe, tradition, and other groups’ symbols and the alphabets of Werewolf and Exalted. But as an illustrator, Rich is best known for his work on collectible card games: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Doomtown, RAGE, Netrunner, Shadowfist, and he is regarded as a classic Magic: The Gathering artist where his creation the “Stuffy Doll” first appeared on the original Black Vise artwork.

DM: What is the World of Darkness and how does it differ from other horror roleplaying settings?
RT: Well, to begin with, there are two of them. There is the classic World of Darkness which was the name given to the shared RPG setting for such games as Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and Mage: The Ascension. This was a world like ours, but worse in every way. Those shadows in the alley behind the club not only concealed muggers, but vampires. That howl you heard hiking wasn't just a mad dog, it was a werewolf. And the darkness under your bed... well, there really was something horrific lurking there. Part of what made the setting so compelling was that all these creatures had their own societies, their own histories, and politics, and conspiracies. And they all labored under the constant threat of the much prophesied end of the world- which lent this incredible dramatic and thematic weight to their nightly activities. Then there is the new World of Darkness, which we at White Wolf created after we actually brought those doomsday prophesies to fruition and destroyed the classic World of Darkness. The new World of Darkness adjusts some of the themes, tone, and assumptions of the classic: the world-wide conspiracies have been de-emphasized in favor of local, more personal, horror, and there is a greater effort on maintaining the feeling that there are many weird and terrifying things in the world that can't be classified. In both cases, the World of Darkness tends to bring out highly emotional and personal roleplaying and stories from its readers and players.

DM: How do you see your stewardship of this property through Onyx Path Publishing?
RT: In many ways, it’s a continuation of my years and years with White Wolf, so there's certainly a happy familiarity there. At the same time, oddly enough, I actually feel like the strictures of our license from CCP (the company that owns the rights to WW's games) enable us to be more creative and to try more new things than ever before. My goal with the WW properties we are licensed for- nWoD, cWoD, and Exalted, as well as with the settings we bought outright (Scion, the Trinity Continuum, and Scarred Lands), is to refresh the games and reinvigorate the community. All of these lines have fans, wonderful, devoted, fans, but they haven't had much to get excited about for years. So the first thing we needed to do, and are still doing, is to let the community know who we are and that we're going to revive the great games they love. A 3rd Edition for Exalted helmed by the most absolutely devoted to Exalted guys I know. 20th Anniversary Editions and then continuing new releases for the classic, "we're never publishing stuff for them again", World of Darkness. And retooling the entire nWoD set of game lines with the Chronicle books. Kickstarter was an unexpected huge bonus venue for getting the word out and generating excitement, so that was nice, and I pretty much hear every day from a past fan who is thrilled to discover that their favorite game is either already getting new, improved, books, or will soon.

DM: Your shift to digital releases and print-on-demand is a response to the changing nature of the publishing industry. Has this given you greater creative freedom than back in the glory years of White Wolf?
RT: Absolutely. As much as we at White Wolf snarled and snapped and tried to push the boundaries of art in roleplaying while still being a functioning company, we were faced with limitations because of the traditional distribution set up and needing to function within it. And the bigger we got, the tighter those constraints bound us. Because if you lose a distributor when you're small because they object to your content, you're losing orders for maybe a dozen books. But lose one at our 1998 size, let's say, and that'd be hundreds or even thousands of orders. So we had to pump out the books at a pace we all agreed was brutal, and had to hit the delivery dates or we'd be hit with a penalty reduction in orders. Or books had to be this size, or this format, or they wouldn't get the same push into stores. I think Ethan Skemp coined the phrase "Production Treadmill" and that was what we were on. And our insanely dedicated and just plain crazy WW crew did it and did it and still were able to make some incredibly awesome books. But if you had to choose between adding more time to make something even better, or hitting the deadline- well, the book went to press. Which is not to say that we never held anything back to improve it, we did time and again, but it was with the idea that we were squeezing blood from a stone to do it. That all just wears creative people down.

With digital and PoD publishing (and with our Kickstarter efforts too, actually), we are now directly delivering our projects into the hands of the fans. This gives us the creative freedom to experiment and the direct feedback to know if the people we are creating for like what we're doing. There are limitations to some of what we can do, because of the still evolving nature of digital and PoD publishing, but those downsides keep getting removed as that form of publishing keeps growing and maturing. We have even managed to create a beta-program to provide discounts for PoD books for retailers, and retailer tiers on our Kickstarters, so we're even finding ways to get our books back into stores. But in ways that actually don't disrupt the business of getting cool projects out to fans.

DM: Are there any challenges presented by publishing classic and new World of Darkness lines concurrently in terms of design space?
RT: There are, but not as many as you'd think. What we've found, actually, is the rebirth of cWoD enabled our writers to allow Vampire: The Requiem, for example, to become much more its own setting with its own themes to explore and stories to tell. Rather than having to be WW's vampire game, now that Masquerade is back, it can be one of the ways you can play vampires in one version of the WoD. The toolbox nature of nWoD can now be the asset it was always supposed to be for players who love that sort of thing, and the stories that we use to immerse you in nWoD can be far more appropriate to that setting without needing to sort of feel like cWoD. And the flipside of that is that classic WoD can really explore what has happened in the deep background and setting that fans have loved for over 20 years. Having both has actually allowed us to truly focus on what makes them individually compelling.

DM: Are there works of contemporary horror in any medium outside of gaming that inspire and/or help you to keep finding new aspects of the genre?
RT: For me personally, I actually try really hard not to get too caught up in chasing genre-specific works, but to try out things as I become aware of them. That way, when a developer or writer  has a horror-specific idea, I can look at it from the broader perspective of how this one idea fits into the bigger setting. I'll dip into Hannibal, or American Horror Story, but also into Sharknado- just to get the cultural touchstones of how we're consuming our scary stuff. That being said, I've strangely found a lot of horror in anime recently, even when I wasn't looking for it. I have no idea of how to get across the "feel" of the besieged humans in Attack on Titan in the WoD, but there's something very disturbing there.

DM: Of the game lines that Onyx Path has released, which are you most pleased with?
RT: Oh that killer question. Which of your kids do you love more? I'm pleased with pretty much everything we've done in the past two and a bit years, all for wildly different reasons. Mummy: The Curse really evoked the dusty tomb, Universal films Mummy for me, while Demon: The Descent took a very strange mash-up of classical demons, the God-Machine, and LeCarre spy novels, and delivered a very different way to think about and play demons than anything else out there. The 20th Anniversary classic WoD books have been very satisfying to get out to the community who has loved them for so long and I rejoice every time I can reconnect with a classic artist and work with them again, so anytime we can create a new cWoD book is a delight. EX3 is going to blow people away when we get it out there, and I also have a sneaky glimmer of happiness every time we get a new fiction book or t-shirt ready for ordering. To be honest, I really just keep moving forward- and right now, the best is yet to come.

DM: Do you have plans to revisit and expand some of the smaller games from nWoD, such as Promethean: The Created and Geist: The Sin-Eaters?
RT: Promethean was very much a niche line, we knew that going in and were really exploring the limited series idea at that point, and Geist just never got the emphasis it deserved as it fell right into a very confused period at WW. Which I say just to kind of emphasize that I don't see them as smaller in a bad way. So long as folks continue to support the Chronicle concept, we will do new editions of all of the nWoD game lines. Even Changeling: The Lost has elements that can be tweaked now after people have been playing for years.

DM: Speculation is rife about the new game line hinted at for 2015, which has enigmatically been described as 'subversive'. Demon: The Descent introduced science fictional elements and Mummy: The Curse has presented players with fascinating new roleplaying opportunities by offsetting their declining power from awakening with their returning memory. Are you looking to introduce an even bigger challenge to concepts of what the World of Darkness is and how the Storyteller system functions?
RT: Part of the process of getting the ideas for a new game together is looking at the new ideas and arranging and re-arranging them in order to judge which ones best work together to explain the game. We run those ideas past quite a few of our dedicated developers and writers, and then pitch the game to CCP as they have to approve any book we choose to make. It was during this process as Matt McFarland (the initial proposer of the new game) and I went back and forth on his write-up, that he mentioned how "subversive" he found the whole thing. I just grabbed that quote and threw it out there, and apparently that one word is just fascinating to our community. I can't say, though, whether it was the overall concepts behind the game, or a specific aspect he was referring to, but I can say that we don't start out usually thinking about deliberately challenging assumptions. Challenging or non-challenging, what I'm looking for is an idea that tries to explore something new for the setting, and has a reason for folks to check it out.

We go through a ton of ideas during "pitch season", and it is really hard, for nWoD in particular, to find fresh ideas that can also fit into the themes of the setting. A lot of times there's an idea for a good new supernatural to play, but that "creature" is very much a niche idea because otherwise it is really already covered by previous games. One-armed red-heads with second sight! Or the supernatural idea is just fine, and fresh, but the themes along with it stretch the modern horror feel of nWoD. For example, over the years we have heard fans ask for an Aliens game line, and frankly the closest we could come to that without going way into science fiction territory was Changeling: The Lost and the abductions in there. So, we are really careful about going too far out of the expectations the community (and CCP) have as to "What is the World of Darkness?", but we do try and stretch the bounds like with Demon: The Descent- which is about as far into science fiction as we're going right now, so that's another clue as to what the new game could be like.

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