The 38th Annual Origin Awards were presented at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio on June 2nd. Cthulhu Britannica: Shadows over Scotland, written by Stuart Boon and published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment, won for Best Roleplaying Supplement or Adventure. The transcript of my interview with the author follows.
You’ve been involved in the role-playing game community for the past 30 years. How did that experience aid you when you wrote Shadows over Scotland?
I think it helps on a couple of levels. First, being immersed in the gaming world allows you to appreciate what works and what doesn’t, to be able to differentiate good writing and good mechanics from bad. Just having read, played and experienced a wide selection of games, resources, and other materials give you a rich composite picture of what can be done in the genre. It informs your boundaries and your choice of tools for a particular piece of writing. Second, my experience running games over 30 years provided me with a clear wish list for Shadows Over Scotland. I wanted the book to be a really solid resource for Keepers—the people running the show in a Call of Cthulhu game—to meet their needs in developing and managing the adventures in 1920s Scotland. So, that experience allows me to call upon a breadth of knowledge and simultaneously bring a criticality and focus to the writing.
As both player and creator, what aspects of the gaming experience are you most passionate about?
I’m most passionate about storytelling and world-building. In his essay ‘On Fairy Stories’, Tolkien used the terms sub-creation and secondary worlds to discuss the creative potential inherent in stories. I see that same potential writ large in role-playing games. Games provide players with opportunities for immersion into fantastically creative, secondary worlds where stories come alive. One thing that is especially attractive about table-top, role-playing games is the ability to participate cooperatively in the telling of those stories. Game writers and developers provide the initial ideas, themes, and background, but the story and the world are the creation of those people seated around a table sharing a goal and vision. That’s exciting.
Shadows over Scotland brings Cthulhu to Scotland in the 1920’s. What kinds of challenges did researching this setting present to you, both as a writer and as an immigrant to the United Kingdom?
In some ways, I think I may have benefitted from not being born in the United Kingdom. The canvas was uniformly blank to me, if you see my meaning. It was not coloured by preconceived ideas about what it was like to live in Britain in the 1920s. I had no close heritage, cultural memory, or recalled stories to draw upon. I had to research everything, absolutely everything. The primary challenge was the sheer volume of material to be read and to be careful of unwittingly introducing anachronisms. But yes, the single greatest challenge was researching the whole of Scottish history, focusing in on what made the 1920s tick, and then making that interesting for readers. That challenge was offset by the genuine pleasure I took from introducing Lovecraftian themes and the Cthulhu Mythos into the Scottish setting.
What do you feel are critical things to keep in mind while writing Lovecraftian fiction today?
That there is a very real Lovecraftian spirit that we need to be true to. For me the appeal of Lovecraft comes in his description of the human condition when faced with the unknown or the unknowable. It is the exploration of that condition that drives my interest in Lovecraft and the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. In any form, Lovecraftian fiction should seek to produce more than chills. What you want, in my opinion, is a hint—or an explosion, depending on your intent—of cosmic dread, incorporating a heady mix of potent themes including mutability, madness, and human frailty delivered via suspense, terror, and awe. Behind all of this, it is the spirit and ghostly voice of H.P. Lovecraft, at once disconcerting, emotive, and powerful, that you want to animate and haunt your own writing.
What advice would you offer to someone who is new to writing games?
First, be passionate about writing for games: understand why you are doing it and what you want to achieve. You are going to need strong motivation to get you to 80,000 words or 180,000 words. Second, stick to your guns: if you’ve got an idea worth flogging, flog it, and keep flogging it. Use your group of friends and players to talk through ideas and to playtest everything. Generating a really good piece of writing is all about development over time: use every bit of feedback and every little experience to make your work richer, stronger. And, third, enjoy and learn from the process. Carry your experience forward to new projects and use it wisely. After that, rinse and repeat.
About the Origin Awards
The Origin Awards are voted on by the attendees of the Origins Game Fair and presented annually by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design to recognize outstanding achievement in design and production in games and game-related material.
About Cubicle 7 Entertainment
Cubicle 7 Entertainment is a UK-based publisher of award-winning games, including Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, The One Ring, The Laundry RPG, Victoriana and Qin: The Warring States. For more information visit www.cubicle7.co.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
About Stuart Boon
Stuart Boon was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He moved to Great Britain in 2002 and now lives in Scotland with his wife Michele. An avid film and music fan, and active role-player, Stuart spends entirely too much time indoors. He is currently working on a number of projects involving the Cthulhu Mythos whilst trying to retain his sanity. He blogs at stuartboon.posterous.com.