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

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, 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?

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