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
Monday, 23 June 2014
Richard Dansky interviewed by David McWilliam about 'Wraith: The Oblivion'
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.