Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Stars are Right for Cthulhu in London

The waft of primordial terror creeps slowly towards us as we prepare ourselves to take SAN rolls before investigating Yog-Dominic-McDowall, the Starspawn of Jon Hodgson and the King in Tartan that is Stuart Boon from the depths of Cubicle 7.

The reason? They are infecting Kickstarter with another outing from their fevered minds. This time the target is London.  

Cthulhu Britannica: London aims to provide plenty for investigators to get their teeth, claws and tentacles into during the roaring 1920s in the old city of London.

And so we open tentatively the great tome of esoteric questions and ask Dominic and Stuart about their already successful Kickstarter project.

Wee Andy: First of all, congratulations on the Kickstarter for Cthulhu Britannica: London – you’re two and a bit weeks in and it’s not doing too bad, is it?

Dominic McDowall: It’s been amazing. We funded in just under 8 hours and over the first two weeks we’ve met a huge number of stretch goals. Just today we unlock the Boxed Postcard Set and now we’re building up towards the Cards Of The Smoke. So, yes, the response has been fantastic. 

Wee Andy: Cthulhu Britannica: London looks like a very special project and has an amazing cast of contributors including notable Call of Cthulhu stars. With the three of you being closest to the project, I wonder just how is the Kickstarter and the boxed set special for each of you?

Dominic McDowall: I love everything that we do, but some projects are extra special, and the Cthulhu Britannica: London Boxed Set is one of those.

Call of Cthulhu will always have a special place in my heart – I think it was the first game that properly scared me. It took me closer to feeling something like the same thing that my character would have felt than anything else I’d played. A good Call of Cthulhu game is hard to beat!

I’m far from alone in thinking that, and it has really come across in the production of Cthulhu Britannica: London. Everyone involved has such a commitment to making it awesome – our tribute to the great games we’ve played over the years. I like to think that we set a high bar for commitment to quality, but the love being poured into London really shows.

Wee Andy: Quality is something we’ve come to expect from Cubicle 7 and I’m guessing we’ll be seeing those high production values really shine in the Boxed Set?

Dominic McDowall: I think that comes through not only in the core Boxed Set, but also in the additional products we are making as part of the Kickstarter. The Boxed Postcard Set – plot seeds and handouts designed by a huge range of gaming luminaries, including Sandy Petersen, Ken Hite, Graeme Davis, Robin Laws and many, many more – is a particular highlight. Backers can also contribute to the adventure seeds in the accompanying booklet and see their work in print!

I’m also excited to see how the additional Campaign Book grows – it looks like it will end up as a real monster!

My main goal is for people to be absolutely delighted with the rewards they receive. We’ve got an amazingly talented and enthusiastic team, and I’m confident that Cthulhu Britannica: London will be one of those products that people will cherish, and backers will be thrilled to have been a part of creating.

Wee Andy: We’ve already seen or had a taste of some of the art we can expect on the Kickstarter site, but from an art director’s point of view, Mr Hodgson, how his this project special for you?

Jon Hodgson: So I have a bee in my bonnet about quite a few things to do with art in roleplaying games, which I think every art director should.

Getting the opportunity to work on something like the Cthulhu Britannica: London Boxed Set is huge. There’s so much we can do with a project like this, and, yeah, you’ve seen just a glimpse of it in our graphics for the Kickstarter.

I’m really excited by how we work at Cubicle 7. The Postcards – both in terms of the Neve Selcibuc game, and the stretch goal adventure seed handout/artefacts – are products of the highly fruitful design meetings on Skype and discussions via email between Dom, Stuart and myself.

Each of us comes from a different angle – I’m very artefact based, as perhaps you’d expect. I imagine the Postcard as a gratifying object, an interesting thing in itself, before it’s decided what we could do with it. It’s an object to be passed from hand to hand – or, in the digital age, an image to be shared freely around the net. You can see, once you’re thinking in those terms, it’s not much of a stretch to get to what we’re doing with the Postcards or the Campaign Book, and as part of the offering itself.

The Postcards are a great example of how we’re pulling the look, the fun, the utility, and the playability all together, pulling it into one really exciting object or artefact, rather than as separate things.

Wee Andy: The cover art for the Boxed Set and the look of the art on the Kickstarter page is really striking. Can we expect more of that authentic 1920s look throughout the Boxed Set?

Jon Hodgson: To me this is really important. I’m big on the feel of things. I want that period feel in everything we do for the London Boxed Set, from the logo to the cover to the maps to each page in the book. You can see some of this in the graphics and the video on the Kickstarter page.

Luckily we have an awesome team to help achieve that – especially Paul Bourne, our graphic designer. Paul and I have worked very closely on this one – I mocked up the logo, he turned it into the real thing. And then he made a beautiful distressed metal version. I then dropped that into various graphics so that it had the appearance of something like a bus conductor’s badge. That kind of creative to-and-fro really spurs me on.

Our team works very closely, crossing disciplines to hopefully provide a more cohesive feel to the end product.

I’m also big on utility. I want every piece of art and design to add something to play – be that in inspirational qualities, or period feel, or to help navigate a book, or the more regularly expected job of helping tell the stories, show the places and people and things involved.

I never want the art to be just filling a space on a page. I never want it to be unrelated to the words it sits near, or to the themes of the book. It should be an integral part of the whole, pulling its own weight in utility as much as visual élan.

Speaking of which, with the help of Kickstarter and our backers, we can really aim high in visual polish, and include some truly fantastic artwork on this one. It’s not like we’re unknown for that anyway, but this extra support really gives us wings.

Wee Andy: The London Boxed Set looks ready to raise the bar in all respects then. How about you Mr Boon, as Cubicle 7’s line developer for Cthulhu Britannica, how does the Boxed Set raise the bar? How is it special for you?

Stuart Boon: It’s very special. It’s a dream to be able to work on a Call of Cthulhu supplement like this. A Box Set just means more of everything, doesn’t it? I remember how I cherished the old Boxed Sets for the Spawn of Azathoth and Horror on the Orient Express. And it’s London in the 1920s, which is a perfect environment to really explore in a Boxed Set.

I suppose for me it comes back to a word that Jon used: ‘story’. I want this boxed set to be special in the way that it brings 1920s London alive. To do that you need a couple of things – things that I consider absolutely essential for the Cthulhu Britannica line – foremost amongst those is high-quality, creative writing, and we’ve got some of the industry’s best working with us.

To do London right, you need manuscripts that are well written and well designed from the start; that are engaging to read, inspire creative gameplay, and draw readers into the foggy and doom-laden intrigues of a city unlike any other in the world at that time. With a Boxed Set, on top of great writing, you’ve got the opportunity to include loads of detail that enables and supports gameplay – maps, handouts, paraphernalia, ephemera, and of course scenarios that provide a world that players and Keepers can step right into.

Wee Andy: And go insane and get killed in!

Stuart Boon: If the stars are right! But, yes, and a Boxed Set again gives you more scope for more stories, bigger stories. Stories about powerful, pervasive Cthulhu Mythos threats – deadly stuff for sure, but the stuff of great stories and fun roleplaying sessions. Like the rest of the Cthulhu Britannica line, London will focus on providing stories, plots, and description that creatively express elements and themes of true Lovecraftian horror – cosmic dread, human insignificance, degeneration and mutability, madness, fear of the unknown, and so on. I want to see it all made flesh, walking the streets of London.

Even without the Mythos being present, London in the 1920s is just such an interesting place and so much is going on. It’s the heart of an Empire, full of discovery and intrigue, and filled with so much life so many interesting and dangerous characters. You could play endless games without ever meeting the Mythos. So the Boxed Set is about living scenes not static detail – active, colorful scenes and settings full of mystery, atmosphere, and interest, which Keepers and players can actively imagine or visualize. Potential for investigation and exciting gameplay should be at the core.

I’ve got a big issue with some game supplements I’ve seen recently that offer a laundry list approaches to supplement design. I don’t buy a game supplement for the information that can be found in a Baedeker or other period guidebook, or worse, Wikipedia. I want engaging, realized or imagined worlds instead of boring, lifeless descriptive lists of detail. With Cthulhu Britannica and the London Boxed Set we’re carefully striking a balance between supportive historical information and engaging story ideas, between useful verisimilitude and involving themes and immersive opportunities – really bringing the story of 1920s London alive.

You can certainly achieve that in a good, well designed setting book or campaign, or even a scenario, but in a box… there’s just so much more you can explore. Like Dom and Jon, I feel like the Cthulhu Britannica: London Boxed Set gives us room to explore and room to take the gaming experience to the next level. We’re doing some really interesting things with the Boxed Set and I can’t wait to see it all come alive.

Wee Andy: Thank you, Messrs. McDowall-Thomas, Hodgson, and Boon. It’s been a delight and you’ve certainly got me intrigued. I’ll look forward to pulling more clues from the three of you and to watching the Kickstarter push higher and higher.

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