Thursday, 5 July 2012

To ask a Boon from Cthulhu

Well, we have been fascinated by the Origin Award winning Call of Cthulhu supplement "Shadows over Scotland" recently (have a look at Part one and Part two of our reviews), so we let loose the blood hounds and tracked down Stuart Boon, the author of the forbidden knowledge contained within its twisted cover.

So roll for SAN now and on with the interview..........

1. "Shadows over Scotland" quite rightly has thrown the light of the RPGS world onto you, but for those living under rocks who is Stuart Boon and how did he come to write the best RPG supplement of the age?

In short, I’m an educational developer by day and mad scribbler of arcane notes by night. Don’t ask me to explain what an educational developer is or does, because you’ll fall asleep in your soup and die. Seriously, it’s not pretty. What surprises most people is that I grew up in Canada, having only moved to the UK ten years ago. About two years ago, I sent a letter to Cubicle 7. I’d gotten back into Call of Cthulhu, having found a stable group to game with here, and when I learned of the Cthulhu Britannica line, I thought ‘Hey, why has no one ever done Scotland?’ I wrote C7, told them what I thought the book should look like, and the rest is history. Apart from that, I’m relatively normal: I love games, I have a strange sense of humour, and I also live under a rock. 

2. There's a lot of feeling to the writing of SOS, clearly a Lovecraft fan? What is it about the writings of H.P. or the setting that attracts you to the genre.

I am a Lovecraft fan, but more for what’s behind the text than the text itself. For me the attraction is Lovecraft’s haunting description and tense exploration of the unknown and unknowable. I love the way he mixes the ordinary and extraordinary, highlighting the weirdness of things in relation to what we perceive as normal. But most of all, I appreciate Lovecraft’s ability to describe that terrible, tragic human need to ‘know’ what inhabits the dark places of the world and then hint at the final, maddening, and impossible dread that results. We all wonder what lies behind the veil of our reality, outside our knowledge. Lovecraft’s interpretation is fascinating in a lot of ways. 

3. What, if any limits were set upon you for the project? Was there any restriction in the material you could reference or adapt and if not, how on earth did you frame the project to keep it manageable. 

The main limit, as always, is word count. And I didn’t manage to stick to that—I went well over the limit in the end. Quite a bit of text and an entire scenario had to be cut in the end to make 288 pages, but there were no restrictions per se. I just had to keep it manageable and deliver on time. Cubicle 7 were brilliantly easy to work with. In terms of framing the project, I wrote it much like it is: introduction to Scotland first, followed by Lowlands, Highlands and Islands sections, and then each of the scenarios. The most important thing was to keep writing. 

4. What's your personal favourite of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying stories and why so? 

That’s a hard one, but for nostalgic reasons I would say Shadows of Yog-Sothoth by Petersen et al. It’s a classic. One of the things I like about it is that it is easy to adapt, to slot in your own ideas, plots, elements, etc. Done right, the campaign builds nicely and who can resist a campaign that allows your characters to go to R’lyeh and see Cthulhu for yourself (roll SAN). I’m also partial to anything that uses the Great Race of Yith or Elder Things, for reasons beyond my ken. 

5. Is there a Mythos entity that stands out from the rest for you as a favourite? 

Interestingly, having just singled out the Yithians and Elder Things, I would still come back to the noble (or ignoble) shoggoth. It is endlessly adaptable, wonderfully alien and terrible, and a real joy to describe to players. You can really bring out your adjectival toolbox and go to town on a shoggoth. And motivation is a doddle with your trusty shoggoth: what does your shoggoth want? To consume. What does it want later, next week, or after Labour Day? To consume. The thing is elegant in its simplicity. But for me the defining characteristic of a shoggoth is that terrifying, protean plasticity, always forming and re-forming. Pure dead brilliant, that. 

6. As a  published writer, you’re obviously going to get the 'what advice do you have for new writers, or I was writing blah blah what do you think?' questions.  How would you deal with a keen, chipper young budding writer who present their work for your opinion's crap! I mean woefully bad in every way imaginable......what would you say.....? (yes that is a mean question) 

It’s not a mean question at all. Confidence and motivation are key: confidence in your ideas, your ability, even your words, and motivation to keep you writing, to keep going regardless of how crap it all might seem at the time. If I was faced with something that was truly tragic, I would do my best to offer advice that would provide some kind of help. I would never want to dissuade anyone from following their dream. I firmly believe that being a good writer is partly about being a good editor and getting used to editing your own work. It’s an individual process that you learn over time. So write and rewrite until you get it right. 

7. Now that it's in print, if you had a magic pen, is there anything you would have liked to add to Shadows or take away from it......? 

Sure. Shadows was designed and written as a resource for Keepers, but if there had been time and room for it, I would have liked to have provided a players’ section. Or maybe that just needs to be a different book altogether. One thing I would have liked to have done was include more cities and Mythos Threats. Dundee, Stirling, Oban, and others have some great stories to tell. Scotland is teeming with Mythos possibilities. I don’t think I would take anything out, particularly as so much had to be taken out to begin with. 

8. What's the biggest challenge you face when sitting down to get 'the work done'? 

The variability of the thing can be a challenge. Writing, for me at least, comes with no guarantees. Some days you sit down and bash out thousands of words. Other days, you are lucky to get away with hundreds. I’ve never suffered full-on writer’s block, but I can imagine how frustrating that must be. The only thing that gets the work done is consistently sitting down and adding to the document. You’ve got to get in the habit of writing and trying to determine what you need to motivate you. Look for anything that helps. For example, listening to dark ambient music while writing helped me immeasurably, fending off boredom and providing the right atmosphere. 

9. If you were given free rein what game/RPG etc would you really like to write for or rewrite and of course why? 

A game I loved when I was younger was the James Bond Roleplaying Game and I would jump at a chance to rewrite or reinvent that game. I’ve also always wanted to write up a gritty, realistic sci-fi roleplaying game. So, if you’re reading this Ridley Scott, the answer is yes. Apart from that I am very slowly (especially with everything else going on) designing a new roleplaying game, which I hope to get out before I retire. 

10. Who would you say is an inspiration to you, not perhaps in terms of your writing that's maybe a bit narrow, so we will open this one up to 'life in general'. 

It won’t surprise you that many of the people who inspire me are writers themselves. Tolkien was a huge inspiration when I was younger and his passion for creativity, story, and world-building still inspire me. John Milton and particularly his essay ‘Areopagitica’ have influenced me. On a less serious note, Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes and Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who were something of an inspiration. In general, creative people inspire me. I’m in awe of artists, musicians, and filmmakers. 

11. The day’s works done, what games and antics does Stuart Boon enjoy to wind down? 

On any given day I’ll be listening to music, watching films, and playing games to wind down. Games vary between roleplaying games with my friends, playing a board game with my wife, or sitting down for a little Xbox co-op or solo. I dabble in MMPORGs from time to time and spend an awful lot of time writing on different projects. I probably only truly wind down when on vacation, and that doesn't happen all that often. This summer, for example, I’ll be writing through my holidays. 

12. So with a big gold stamp on your book, you’re not going to be left sitting on your laurels, what's the next project for your mind and pen? 

Since finishing up Shadows Over Scotland, I’ve written two Call of Cthulhu scenarios, both scheduled to be published in 2013. I've written a convention scenario, which I’m thinking about releasing for free, and I’ve done some work for Chaosium, Miskatonic River Press, and Savage Mojo. This is in addition to my continuing involvement with Cubicle 7. There are plans afoot for the Cthulhu Britannica line and I’ll definitely be involved here and there. I’ll be revisiting the scenario that was cut from Shadows briefly and working on new projects. 

13. Okay, you are a character in your own Shadows over Scotland story, give us a brief run down of who you would be and how your character meets his demise within the game....or is he a rare survivor who lives to fight another day? 

I've already done this in a way: if you look out for the character—and I use that term lightly—of Uncle Stuart in the scenario ‘Heed the Kraken’s Call’ in Shadows, you can see my brief cameo in the book. But as a player in a Shadows scenario, I would definitely be the odd academic who reads the wrong book and goes hopelessly insane. That’s my exit plan in real life, actually. But yes, I would be the crotchety, eclectic, and absentminded lecturer you never had. If forced into fieldwork, I would be the first one to be consumed by the shoggoth, calling out ‘Who will pay my overdue library fines now!’ before disappearing into a malformed maw. That would be me. Oh, and I would be delicious. 

Shadows over Scotland is a 288 page hardback book with black and white artwork inside. You can buy "Shadows over Scotland from Cubicle 7 directly.

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