Origin Awards Interview: Stuart Boon, Author of Shadows over Scotland

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 info@cubicle7.co.uk

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.

Origins Awards Interview: Jury Foreman C.A. Suleiman

The Origins Game Fair, held in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest conventions devoted to games in the continental United States. Run by the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the gaming convention is home to the Origin Awards. The Origins Awards are given for outstanding work in the industry. After the awards on June 2nd, Jury Foreman C.A. Suleiman provided a rundown of how the Awards work.

Can you give our readers some background on the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design?
Sure thing. The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design is the administrative arm of the Game Manufacturer’s Association (“GAMA”), which covers all arenas of the hobby games industry (roleplaying games, such as D&D and Vampire; board games, card games, miniatures games, and the like).

When did the Origins Awards start?
The Origins Awards were born in 1973, and are named for and conducted as a part of the Origins Game Fair, GAMA’s annual convention in Ohio, which has been running uninterrupted for decades, now. The Origins Award itself is commonly referred to as a Calliope, as the statuette is in the likeness of the Greek Muse of the same name. (Academy members and jurors frequently shorten this to “Callie.”)

What’s the process for nominations? How are the deliberations and voting process for the Awards handled?

Nominations in each category are decided upon by juries, who determine the top ten offerings of the year in those categories during a period of internal deliberation and comment. The juries then present those nominations to the attendees of the GAMA Trade Show, who narrow the nominees down to five. This slate of nominees is then carried to Origins, where attendees vote on each category’s final winner.

How did you become involved with the Origins Awards, and what are your duties related to them?
I’ve been indirectly involved in the awards for years, and have attended some thirteen or fourteen Origins shows in my time, but have been serving as a juror for three years now. As jurors, it’s our obligation to know our own field, of course, and to give all prospective nominees therein as thorough an evaluation as time will allow during our annual period of deliberation. Being jury foreman is a little like herding cats some years, but it’s a fun experience overall and I’m happy that I’ve gotten a chance to do it.
For more on the Academy, go to www.gama.org; and for more on Origins, see www.originsgames.com.