Monday, November 5, 2012

[Q&A] Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (Doctor Who, the One Ring, Laundry File, Primeval)

[19:08] <+Mytholder> I'm Gareth Hanrahan, a writer and game designer based in Ireland. I'm the line manager for Doctor Who, The Laundry Files & Primeval at Cubicle 7, and I'm also part of the One Ring team there. I've also written material for other games companies, like the most recent editions of Traveller and Paranoia for Mongoose, and lots of adventures for Pelgrane Press.
[19:09] <+Mytholder> (done)
[19:09] <~Dan> Thanks, Gareth!
[19:09] <~Dan> Anyone have any questions to get us started?
[19:10] <~Dan> Okay, then I shall do the honors. :)
[19:10] <~Dan> What part of The One Ring was your purvue, Gareth?
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[19:12] <+Mytholder> I wrote the first supplement, the Tales from Wilderland adventure anthology. I've also written most of the Darkening of Mirkwood campaign and the Heart of the Wild sourcebook, both of which are winding their way towards publication.
[19:12] <+Mytholder> Tales is a collection of seven mostly-standalone adventures, set in (as the title suggests) Wilderland.
[19:13] <+Mytholder> Heart of the Wild is a location sourcebook that goes into detail on Mirkwood and the Vales of Anduin.
[19:14] <+Mytholder> And Darkening of Mirkwood is a sort of Middle-Earth take on the Great Pendragon Campaign - it covers thirty years of game time, as the Shadow returns to the forest and Dol Guldur is restored as a stronghold of evil.
[19:14] <+Mytholder> (done)
[19:15] <~Dan> Was it hard to write adventures for Middle-earth? Seems like for all that's been written about it, there's not a whole lot we know about the place in many ways.
[19:15] <+Silverlion> Was there a lot of research for "Laundry Files?" or your other works?
[19:17] <+Mytholder> Dan - the hard part for Middle-Earth adventures is getting the feel right, which often comes down to getting the names right. There are plenty of wide-open spaces in Middle-Earth, but filling them requires great care.
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[19:19] <+Mytholder> In a lot of cases, I sort of 'remixed' themes and ideas from elsewhere in Tolkien's works, or went back to the works that inspired him.
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[19:19] <+Mytholder> I've been a Tolkien fan since the age of eight, so I was very, very conscious that everything had to feel right.
[19:22] <+Mytholder> Silverlion - it depends on the book. The Laundry Files are pretty research-heavy across a variety of fields - computers, British espionage, the occult, politics, the Cthulhu Mythos.
[19:24] <+Silverlion> Indeed. Cool.
[19:24] <+Mytholder> That said, researching any one of those topics tends to lead to one of the others in only two or three wikipedia hops. Spies are strange people.
[19:25] <+Mytholder> (done)
[19:25] <+nick3> Is there an American Laundry Book being consider  ?
[19:27] <+Mytholder> nick3 - The next book in the game line is GOD GAME BLACK, which ties into the recent APOCALYPSE CODEX novel. That's set mostly in the United States, and has a big chapter on the Black Chamber, the US counterpart of the Laundry.
[19:27] <+nick3> nice
[19:27] <+Mytholder> We'll also be popping across in the pond in some upcoming adventures, but the main focus of the game will stay on the UK.
[19:28] <+Mytholder> (done)
[19:28] <~Dan> How does The Laundry differ from all the other Mythos-based games out there right now?
[19:30] <+Silverlion> Black Chamber is nasty though.../
[19:30] <+xyphoid_> (pretty weird book to read after visiting Denver on holidau)
[19:30] <+Mytholder> Dan - On average, a Laundry book will have considerably more jokes about C compilers and/or London tubes than the average Cthulhu book
[19:31] <+Drakkar> hahaha
[19:31] <+Silverlion> Its tied to math/computers yes?
[19:31] <+Silverlion> Is the new book darker than the others?
[19:31] <+Mytholder> For those unfamiliar with it, the premise of the Laundry Files is that magic is a branch of mathematics. Do the right calculation, and you can call up horrors from the outer reaches of the Mandlebrot Set. For most of human history, magic was really, really hard and most sorcerers got brain damage before they did any real harm.
[19:32] <+brehaut> that explains perl
[19:33] <+Silverlion> Babbage secretly wanted to compute the end of he world...:>
[19:34] <~Dan> Does it feature the full range of the Mythos Usual Suspects?
[19:34] <+Mytholder> Then Alan Turing finds a way to cast spells using computers. The Laundry is a secret branch of the British Civil Service, with the brief of ensuring that no-one uses computational demonology to end the world (well, they really only care about the United Kingdom, but that's a subset of the world and it's hard, in this age of globalisation, to disentangle them)
[19:35] <+Mytholder> The Laundry's more humorous than, say, Delta Green, but it's not quite a comedy game. The Laundry itself is absurd, and the characters use black humour, but the actual threats are serious.
[19:37] <+Mytholder> In my experience, that nicely matches how Cthulhu is actually played. The players can crack jokes about squiddy tentacles and fish people without the mood of the game collapsing.
[19:38] <+Mytholder> Silverlion - yeah, magic is based on mathematics and computers. You can still do old-school sorcery, but that's effectively just a series of mental exercises to visualise the same almost-unimaginable curves in your mind. Much easier - and safer - to do it on your ipad.
[19:40] <+Mytholder> The fourth book, THE APOCALYPSE CODEX , is maybe slightly lighter than bits of THE FULLER MEMORANDUM, but the novel line as a whole trends towards armageddon.
[19:40] <+Mytholder> The RPG line will follow along with a little more meandering and poking at interesting things on the side.
[19:42] <+xyphoid_> i highly recommend the books
[19:42] <+Mytholder> Dan - BLUE HADES (the Deep Ones) and DEEP SEVEN (Cthonians) are major players. The other Mythos races are hinted at (and are more on-stage in the rpg than in the novels).
[19:42] <+Mytholder> Lovecraft didn't get everything right by any means/
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[19:42] <~Dan> Heh. :)
[19:42] <+Mytholder> (Done)
[19:44] <+xyphoid_> so what's god game black cover then
[19:44] <~Dan> Does Primeval lend itself mostly to "Monster of the Week" scenarios?
[19:45] <+Mytholder> xyphoid - Off the top of my head, we've got:
[19:46] <+Mytholder> External Assets - the deniable freelancer part of the Laundry. More firepower, less bureaucracy than the average Laundry setup.
[19:47] <+Mytholder> The Black Chamber - structure, goals, tactics.
[19:47] <+Mytholder> The Plateau of the Sleeper - how to get there, what you find there, and how you die horribly there.
[19:49] <+Mytholder> Notes on big campaign-shifting events - how do you set up a situation like the Sleeper, where the bad guys can potentially trigger the end of the world.
[19:49] <+Mytholder> Two adventures that tie in with the events of the novel.
[19:50] <+Mytholder> (checks pdf). Oh, and more information about the history of the Laundry, if you want to run a 1930s pre-war invisible college game
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[19:51] <+Mytholder> Dan - monster of the week, conspiracy of the month, like the tv series.
[19:52] <~Dan> I've only seen a few eps of the series. Can you expand on that a bit?
[19:52] <+Mytholder> The game's designed to throw out complications and dangling plot threads after each monster incursion.
[19:53] <+Mytholder> So, while the plot of an individual adventure might be a comparatively simple hunt-the-monster game, you'll run into sinister conspiracies and the side effects of time travel that linger from week to week.
[19:54] <+Mytholder> (done)
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[19:55] <~Dan> One issue I've always wondered about in Primeval-type games is how you keep combat interesting. It almost seems like it's just a matter of shooting the T-rex enough before it gets close, at which point it kills you. Any thoughts on the subject?
[19:58] <~Dan> (As opposed to, say, an extended melee with a comparable fantasy monster.)
[19:58] <+Mytholder> Firstly, killing the t-rex is going to cause problems for you. Not only have you just removed a large predator from history, which may screw up the timeline, you've now also got ten tons of bullet-riddled monster to dispose of secretly. Bringing the creatures back to the past is always the preferred option.
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[20:00] <+Mytholder> Secondly, Primeval has rules to model animal behaviour. Briefly, animals gain and spend threat tokens depending on what's going on. If you just start shooting at that t-rex, you'll boost its threat hugely, and it gets to spend that threat to activate its really nasty attacks or keep fighting after you shoot it.
[20:00] <~Dan> (Well, okay, zapping the T-rex, if you prefer. :) )
[20:01] <+Mytholder> Zapping it works better, but tranquillisers don't work instantly. So, shoot it, and then run around trying to stay alive until it takes a nap
[20:02] <~Dan> Interesting mechanic. Hmm...
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[20:03] <+Mytholder> Thirdly, don't make it a frictionless spherical t-rex in a vacuum. A monster always has context - fighting a t-rex in a crowded football stadium is wildly different to stalking the same t-rex through the jungle, and that's also different to stalking the t-rex in the jungle while also trying to keep the pesky reporters from photographing the monster
[20:04] <+Mytholder> (done)
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[20:05] <~Dan> Speaking of creatures, how freaky do the future creatures get?
[20:06] <+Mytholder> echolocating super-predators, fungoid parasites, giant insects...
[20:07] <+Mytholder> we'll be doing a book on the future later in the line, but there's the Primeval Companion, the Adventure Anthology, and the Series 4/5 guide in the pipeline first.
[20:07] <~Dan> Is there an explanation as to why the portals don't seem to open in times inhabited by humans?
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[20:08] <+Mytholder> they do, occasionally. There are Anomalies to the Middle Ages and the 19th century in the tv series.
[20:09] <~Dan> Ah... Let me rephrase, then: Is there a reason for their relative rarity?
[20:09] <+Geek2theRight> Humans only inhabit a relatively small fraction of the total timeline maybe?
[20:09] <+Mytholder> Well, all of human history is just a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the lifespan of the planet.
[20:10] <+Gemini> Do you guys know what's actually going on in the series? (Honestly, I think I stopped around season 4 or 5.)
[20:10] <~Dan> Ah, that makes sense.
[20:10] <+Geek2theRight> I was right! Boo yah.
[20:10] <+Mytholder> If an Anomaly can open anytime in 200 million years, then the chances of it intersecting with a period in which human civilisation exists is tiny :)
[20:11] * ~Dan nods
[20:11] <+Mytholder> Gemini - we had some inside information from Impossible Pictures, although most of those secrets got revealed in Series 4/5
[20:12] <+Geek2theRight> Now think about 4 trillion plus however much post human time is in the future.
[20:12] <~Dan> How much leeway do you have in creating the future sourcebook?
[20:13] <+Mytholder> Some of the team at Impossible are gamers, so they understand our needs.
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[20:14] <+Gemini> Awesome. I don't really remember … some girl from the future. And that guy… alas. Sorry if I missed it, but is the system similar to the Doctor Who system?
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[20:15] <+Mytholder> As it's a licensed game, we'll use what's shown in the series as a starting point, and then build on that.
[20:15] <~Dan> (Welcome, Ben!)
[20:15] <+BenRogers> (Thanks, Dan. Interesting adventure getting here...) ;)
[20:16] <~Dan> (I'll call a question pause to let Gareth address Gemini's question, as I expect that may take a bit. :) )
[20:17] <+Mytholder> Gemini - it's the same system, with a few tweaks to make it a little grittier and realistic (for values of realistic that include time portals, t-rexes, and echolocating super-predators having cage matches with prehistoric monsters.
[20:17] <+Mytholder> But 99% compatible.
[20:17] <+Gemini> Sweet! :D
[20:18] <+Mytholder> (done)
[20:19] <~Dan> Is there any talk of a crossover in either of the games?
[20:21] <+Mytholder> Dan - no. They're entirely separate licenses, and never the twain shall meet. Or, at any rate, any meeting of the twain would be a horrible tangled mess of approvals and negotiations that would take far far too long.
[20:21] <+Mytholder> Don't cross the streams.
[20:22] <+Geek2theRight> What's the other game?
[20:22] <~Dan> Yeah, I figured nothing official, but are there even any suggestions to that effect mentioned? Or is that totally off-limits?
[20:22] <+brehaut> Zhalozhiny Quartet question: Was incorporating the Directors vampires and conspiracy, as well as the modes of play, into an unordered canned campaign difficult?
[20:23] <~Dan> (Geek2theRight: Doctor Who)
[20:23] <+Mytholder> Geek2theright - Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space uses the same system as Primeval. The same system will also pop up in the upcoming Rocket Age...
[20:24] <+Geek2theRight> Oh I thought primeval was just an ancient past sourcebook for DW.
[20:26] <+Mytholder> brehaut - We kept the vampires off-screen a good bit, and concentrated on the lower reaches of the vampyramid. The Zalozhniy can hench happily for most sorts of vampires.
[20:26] <+Geek2theRight> I always get confused when Dr Who is part of the conversation.
[20:28] <~Dan> What is Zalozhniy?
[20:28] <+Mytholder> The modes of play got handled through sidebars. It wasn't the hardest part of the project, compared to the octopus that was the 'play the four scenarios in any order' idea :)
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[20:29] <+Mytholder> Geek2theright - Primeval's a game based on the tv show. Anomalies - holes in time and space - start to open up, disgorging prehistoric monsters on the juicy and tender modern world. It's your job to contain these incursions.
[20:30] * +Gemini is in the middle of playing Zalozny Quartet with friends.
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[20:31] <+Mytholder> Dan - the Zalozhniy are nasty walking corpses used as assassins by the Russian mafiya in Night's Black Agents.
[20:31] <+Mytholder> The Zalozhniy Quartet is a book of four linked adventures for that game, where the Zalozhniy leave your agents alone and totally do not attempt to murder them at all ever.
[20:31] <+Gemini> sshhh
[20:32] <+Mytholder> Gemini - cool! hope you enjoy it.
[20:32] <+Gemini> Oh, we're having a blast!
[20:33] <~Dan> You mentioned Rocket Age. What can you tell us about that?
[20:33] <+Mytholder> I shall choose to interpret that positively, and not as an Explosives spend.
[20:33] <+Gemini> Even if I'm a bit lost from missing some sessions due to school+illness.
[20:33] <+Gemini> Oh yeah, it's fantastic.
[20:34] <+Gemini> My friends were digging into everything about Mr. Kim for … weeks.
[20:34] <+Gemini> Like, beyond wikipedia.
[20:34] <+Mytholder> Dan - it's a pulp sci-fi game in the pipeline at C7. I'll not tread on the toes of any official announcements :)
[20:35] <+Mytholder> Gemini - Philby's a fascinating character. The dual biography of him and his father, TREASON IN THE BLOOD, is a stellar read.
[20:36] <~Dan> Understood, Gareth. :)
[20:36] <+brehaut> Gemini: super envious!
[20:37] <+Gemini> Mytholder: I'll pop that onto my amazon wishlist!
[20:37] <~Dan> What tweaks were made to combat in the Doctor Who UNIT sourcebook?
[20:39] <+Mytholder> Dan - the addition of heavy weapons, some new traits (like Five Rounds Rapid), rules for sniping, and a set of mass battle rules for when the Sontarans or Cybermen show up en masse
[20:40] <+Mytholder> (done)
[20:40] <~Dan> What about initiative?
[20:42] <+Mytholder> some of the new traits alter the initiative rules, but for the most part it's unchanged. It's such an icon part of the Doctor Who system.
[20:43] <~Dan> So it bears no relation to initiative in Primeval?
[20:43] <+Mytholder> (it's nearly 3am here, and the spaniels grow restless, so I should finish up soon)
[20:43] <+Mytholder> No - Primeval's got its own system
[20:43] <~Dan> How does it work?
[20:44] <~Dan> (And fair enough, Gareth. We'll go ahead and wrap up.)
[20:44] <+Mytholder> In Doctor Who, the order is Talkers/Movers/Doers/Fighters.
[20:44] <+Mytholder> In Primeval, it's Fast Creatures/Average Creatures/Slow Creatures
[20:44] <+Mytholder> Most predators are Fast. Humans are Average. That means they *always* go before you do.
[20:45] <~Dan> Wow. That's scary!
[20:45] <+Gemini> heh
[20:45] <+Gemini> yeah
[20:45] <+Gemini> makes sense
[20:45] <+Mytholder> to return to an earlier question, that also plays into the 'how do you make shooting a t-rex interesting'
[20:46] <~Dan> So, since Gareth is facing out here, does anyone have any final questions?
[20:46] <+Mytholder> T-rexes are Average, but something like a raptor is fast.
[20:46] * +Gemini is also working on a db security lab, so can't think of any atm. :(
[20:46] <+Gemini> Thank you, though!
[20:47] <+Mytholder> So, you can't just say "I shoot the raptor", 'cos the raptor acts first. You need to get into a situation where the raptor can't kill you or get out of the line of fire in a single action.
[20:47] <~Dan> Oh, before I forget, Gareth: I think I mentioned this before, but just let me know if you'd like me to add Primeval to my review queue. :)
[20:48] <+Mytholder> I'll email you and sort out a review copy.
[20:48] <~Dan> Sweet. :)
[20:48] <~Dan> Also, I'll have the log of the Q&A posted shortly. The link to my blog is in the subject line up there.
[20:48] <+Geek2theRight> The GMshoe goes raptor huntin'!
[20:49] <~Dan> :D
[20:49] <+Mytholder> thank you all very much.
[20:49] <~Dan> And with that, I'll let you get some well-earned sleep, Gareth.
[20:49] <~Dan> Thanks so much for staying up to chat with us!
[20:49] <+Mytholder> 'twas fun.
[20:49] <~Dan> Likewise!
[20:49] <~Dan> Sleep well!
[20:50] <+Mytholder> I'm more awake now than I was when we started. This does not bode well for tomorrow :)
[20:50] <~Dan> Oh dear.
[20:50] * ~Dan feels guilty now...
[20:50] <+Mytholder> not your fault.
[20:51] <+Mytholder> anyway - thanks again, and goodnight.
[20:51] <~Dan> Good night!

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to hear more about Rocket Age. Appears to be on Amazon to be released next month!