A Second Lash at: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

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A month back we were fortunate enough to interview Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (chief Laundrarian and writer of some nifty Trail of Cthulhu material also). Since then he has become father to a pair of twins … Now you’d think that this would be enough to keep any sane person have pretty much occupied for every waking moment. But not Gareth: not only has he just signed on to write a bunch of stuff for a cool-sounding (recently-finished) Kickstarter, but he has kindly agreed to come back for a quick follow-up interview. The man is unstoppable!

CR: Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu are fairly atypical game lines in that unlike most their published support material is extremely heavily weighted towards “ready-to-run” scenarios/campaigns rather than rules expansions or source material. Do you think that bias is driven by what followers of those games will buy? Or are publishers missing out on opportunities to sell different types of books in addition to scenarion anthologies?

sott-achtung-antarcticaGareth: To a degree, that’s an artefact of the structure of the game. The player characters are ordinary people; the setting is the real world, more or less, and it’s hard to provide information about the Mythos without bludgeoning the mystery to death with concrete facts. You might get away with a book on, say, Ghouls or Deep Ones or Arkham or Antarctica, but not The Complete Guide to Elder Things or a Rlyeh setting book. Lovecraftian gaming is about singular moments of revelation, not a deep exploration of setting. Fear comes from wondering what’s behind that shadowed door, so you’ve got to leave shadows.

I think there’s scope for other material – I’ll point to Stealing Cthulhu, for example – but it has to be done very carefully in order to keep the mystery.

CR: You mention the Call of Cthulhu character creation rules as being slow, and perhaps a barrier to entry for players who just want a “quick fix”. Do you have any thoughts on ways in which they might be streamlined? Alternative optional chargen rules for “instant gratification” gamers?

Gareth: Pregenerated or partially pregenerated characters are an easy solution. Have a set of Lovecraftian investigator archetypes – the Antiquarian, the Private Detective, the Dilettante and so on – with most of their stats and skills precalculated. Let the player spend a few points on skills to customise the character, maybe have a bunch of background hooks and character quirks to pick from, and off you go.

Cthulhu characters tend to be pretty bland by design, anyway. They’re ordinary people at the start – it’s their decisions and experiences in the game (and horrible fates) that make them memorable, not their backstories.

CR: Regarding the inexorable move toward PDF-only electronic publishing, how receptive do you think the current gamer community is to the thought of entirely abandoning “dead-tree” versions of their products? Looking at current Kickstarters, it seems that the majority of the backers still want to buy printed books … but how practical do you think that is that in a world where international shipping is getting expensive? Are people just going to have to get used to the idea of electronic-only releases?

Gareth: The rise of Print-on-Demand means that there’ll always be physical books for those who want them, and while they’ll certainly be expensive, especially with the rising cost of shipping, I still think roleplaying works out as a moderately cheap hobby if you’re actually playing with the books. Say a new prestige-format rulebook costs me $100 – if I run a 10-session campaign with that book, and each session is four hour’s long, then that’s a reasonable $2.50 an hour for my entertainment.

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I think it’ll fall into physical books for collecting, pdfs for reading. Books or pdfs-on-tablet for play, depending on your tastes.

CR: Thank you so much for making the time to come back! Now … go get some sleep, man! 🙂

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