State of the Tentacle: Paul Fricker

SotT-LargeLogo-PaulF

Hot on the heels of our interview earlier this week with Mike Mason, one half of the design team for the draft 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu, we are extremely pleased to welcome the other half of that team, Paul Fricker. Paul has done a significant amount of remarkable writing for the game even prior to taking on the challenge of revising its rules. His contribution to Chaosium’s monograph line is consistently named as one of the highlights of that range and his mind-bending scenario writing has received much praise, not least for his self-published Dockside Dogs PDF which has already raised over £1000 for charity.

With all that experience writing, playing and Keeping Call of Cthulhu … not to mention continually challenging the limits of the game … we were very interested to hear about how Paul thinks sees the past, present and future of Lovecraftian gaming in general.

Introduction

Dockside Dogs - Front Cover (500)Paul Fricker has spent the last few years working on the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu. Prior to that he was part of the UK group, The Kult of Keepers, writing and running scenarios at numerous games conventions in England and Germany. Some of those scenarios were published, the first of which was Gatsby and the Great Race (a Chaosium MULA). Gatsby’s unique selling point is that it blends multiple games for up to 24 players at once. ‘My Little Sister Wants You to Suffer’, a science-fiction scenario, was published in Cthulhu Britannica by Cubicle 7. Last year Paul published Dockside Dogs, a modern-day gangster scenario, in aid of Cancer Research. You can buy a copy from DrivethruRPG — all the money raised goes to Cancer Research.

Cthulhu Reborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Paul: First and foremost, all credit to Sandy Petersen for creating the game. Since then, if there has been evolution, its been in scenario design. Thankfully some writers have moved away from the rigid scenario structure that was so prevalent in the 80s, in which players are moved as if on a conveyor belt from one location to the next; pick up the clue–move from location A to location B, pick up the next clue – move from B to C, and so on. Of course there have always been good scenarios with a more open plan structure, just take a look at The Haunting [one of the scenarios in the Call of Cthulhu rulebook, called “The Haunted House” in early editions]. When you begin play you’re told about that house, and as soon as you set foot it in you’re screwed!

sott-delta-green-through-glass-darkly-dennis-detwiller-paperback-cover-artFor me, the key milestone in Lovecraftian Roleplaying is the work of Pagan Publishing. Those early days of The Unspeakable Oath were exciting times. I recall discovering an issue in the Virgin store in Meadowhall, Sheffield, if memory serves me right. I ran ‘Convergence’ (the scenario that spawned Delta Green) in the early 90s, it really was a breath of fresh air. There is a lot of bad mythos fiction out there, but I love the Delta Green fiction, which for my money is better than the game books they produced. I’m just finishing Detwiller’s latest novel, Through A Glass, Darkly, and the quality has not diminished.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Paul: Even back in the pre-internet-1980s there was a circulation of photocopied fanzines and the like, but nowadays people have the means of production and distribution literally at their fingertips. This is a mixed blessing; hopefully the good stuff rises to the top of the pile. The outcome is that there can be a game to satisfy every niche, and I think that is a good thing. I see many of the new small press games more akin to a Call of Cthulhu Scenario in terms of the investment in preparation and playing time. This makes them easy to pick up, play a few sessions then move on to something else, just as we would with a traditional scenario.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Paul: The main factor that is shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs is all the previously published material and our preconceptions about how to play. We’re all immersed in what has gone before and see that as the way that things should be done. There are good things in the Call of Cthulhu back catalogue, but I’m sure there are many innovations for us to look forward to. I do not mean change for the sake of change, but genuinely new and exciting ideas. The game I’m most excited about right now is Monsterhearts. I’ve sat down and played it a few times at conventions and in the space of 4-hours we’ve created characters and a story from scratch. The game mechanics and the fiction just flow seamlessly together, supporting one another effortlessly. It’s a great example of innovative game design.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Paul: Seems there’s a flip-side to every challenge. One might argue that computer gaming has drawn people away from pen-and-paper rpgs, but on the other hand, computers have also been a great boon in enabling roleplayers to get in touch with one another.

sott-popular-front-of-judeaOne of the sad things I see is the self-imposed divisions among roleplayers. For goodness sake folks, we’re a niche hobby. When I hear people complaining about ‘indie-gamers’ or ‘trad-gamers’ doing it ‘wrong’, I’m reminded of the Judean People’s Front in [Monty Python’s] Life of Brian. Splitters.

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

sott-Call of Cthulhu, 2nd EditionPaul: Much as I love Call of Cthulhu, I think the size of the book is enough to put off some people nowadays. When I began with second edition, it was a slim volume that I read cover to cover. Seems to me that people have more things to do with their free time now than they ever have, so you have to grab them quick or they move on. So I think there’s an opportunity for slim, grabby products. The irony does not escape me; 7th edition Call of Cthulhu will be a big book. I would also like to see a slimmed down version, something a bit more than the quickstart rules, more akin to the second edition that I started with.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

Paul: One thing I see now is an increased use of Skype and Google Plus hangouts for gaming. I figure not many people are willing to drive 100 miles to a stranger’s house for a game, but would be happy to join the same people for an online game. That said, I think there will always be a place for face-to-face gaming. There is no replacement for sharing leisure time with friends.

CR: Thanks Paul!

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