Praise for Twisted Tales Events
'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell
‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill
Saturday, 18 November 2017
Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan interviewed by David McWilliam
This interview focuses on the new Trail of Cthulhu supplement, which can be purchased here.
DM: Can you tell me about how the idea for Cthulhu City first came to you?
GR-H: It originated as an outgrowth from a scene in another Trail of Cthulhu adventure I wrote a few years ago, ‘Return to Red Hook’ in the Arkham Detective Tales anthology. There’s a sequence in there where the investigators travel to this bizarre alien city that’s impinging or overlapping on New York. I recall describing this fantastical procession wending its way between basalt skyscrapers, and thinking ‘hey, I could do more with this’.
In some ways, it’s not so much an idea as a cross-section – if you took all of Lovecraft’s cities, Arkham and Innsmouth and Boston, but also R’lyeh and the City of the Elder Things and Carcosa and the marvellous sunset city, mashed them up, and then took a slice of the resulting urban cacophony, that’s Cthulhu City.
DM: You have mentioned both Alex Proyas’s Dark City (1998) and Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch (2009) as influences for Cthulhu City. How would a familiarity with either prepare players and GMs for engaging with this setting?
GR-H: Dark City is the elevator pitch reference. ‘Take Dark City, chop off the dark bit, stick Cthulhu on instead – that’s the game’. It’s a shorthand, and it gets the mood of the place across quickly: ‘You’re trapped in this bizarre city that looks normal on the surface, but is in the thrall of sinister forces, it’s all a bit noir, and your memory may be unreliable’.
Finch – and all of VanderMeer’s work – does wonders with the idea of infection and oblique horrors. His characters are always fumbling around the edges of something too vast and terrible for their minds and perceptions to wholly encompass, and in their fumbling, they touch something abhorrent and invidious that infects them, drawing them inwards towards that inhuman revelation. Finch deals with a city that’s been occupied by the alien fungoid gray caps; similarly, Cthulhu City is about a city that’s been occupied by the Mythos.
It’s closer to Dark City than Finch, though, in that most people are unaware of the occupation. Usually, they’re wilfully unaware – the Mythos isn’t so much hidden as so all-pervasive that you can avoid acknowledging it, because it touches everything. There’s no comforting rationality to retreat to, except in your own delusions, so most people delude themselves into thinking everything’s normal.
DM: What else has inspired you while writing Cthulhu City?
GR-H: Various books on the Stasi and surveillance states. Real-world American history – there’s a thinly disguised riff on Tammany Hall, for example, only it’s full of Deep Ones. The suppression of the Armitage Inquiry took inspiration from J. Edgar Hoover’s efforts against Communism. Also, and I suppose this was inevitable, current events pushed their way in. Politics is full of fear and madness and rumours of strange cults right now.
Musically, I had VNV Nation albums on repeat for months.
More than anything else, it’s a paean to Lovecraft and the Mythos. Or possibly an exorcism.
DM: How do you think noir can inform a horror RPG? Are there tips in the book for evoking a noir sensibility?
GR-H: Noir is about people trying to defy - or work within, or getting crushed by – a corrupt and oppressive system. Its protagonists are often detectives, or police officers, or ordinary people trying to solve a mystery, and uncovering horrible truths. The big difference between noir and most horror RPGs is that noir’s a very human genre – the villains do what they do because of their human passions and failings and desires, not because they’re inhuman monsters.
Cthulhu City bridges that gap – the city is secretly ruled by inhuman horrors, but their servants are humans, and not the crazed cultists of, say, The Call of Cthulhu. It’s the city councillors, the wealthy industrialists, the police chiefs, the priests and bankers who are in league with monsters.
One of the tools added in Cthulhu City is that every NPC has a clue that can be leveraged. Everyone’s got some dirty little secret that you can use to blackmail or manipulate them. It adds to the feeling of sordid betrayal and intrigue.
DM: What narrative and gaming possibilities do you think Cthulhu City will offer to Trail of Cthulhu GMs?
GR-H: It’s a setting that flips a lot of the assumptions of classic Cthulhu play. The cultists aren’t the ones who have to keep their schemes hidden – it’s the investigators who need to hide from the authorities. It’s a setting where clinging to normality is a form of madness. It’s one where the Great Old Ones aren’t slumbering beneath the seas – they’re here, now, at your throat.
It also addresses one of the long-standing bugbears of this sort of game. If the default investigator is ‘an ordinary person who encounters the Mythos’, that works great for a one-shot, but is less convincing in a campaign. If my mild-mannered antiquarian rescued his friends from Deep Ones one week, it’s jarring to have him battle Mi-Go the next. Making the Mythos omnipresent makes the conceit of the heroes being ordinary people absurd. The two traditional solutions are either making campaigns a linked series of investigations into the same phenomenon – playing a whole campaign about Deep Ones – or saying that the player characters are part of an organisation that investigates the Mythos, like Delta Green.
Cthulhu City offers a third approach – the player characters are surrounded by the Mythos, so they can be ‘ordinary people’ while encountering many different manifestations and facets of horror. You can run into Deep Ones in one adventure and Yithians in the next without losing cohesion.
DM: Cthulhu City seems to be part of a wider trend at the moment to play in the End Times, when the Old Ones are ascendant (such as Cthulhu Wars and Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones). Why do you think there is a growing interest in either playing as the Mythos entities or in a world that has already fallen to them?
GR-H: I’m not sure if that’s a trend in itself, or just part of the general expansion of the Mythos into every possible genre and style of play. You could equally point at historical Cthulhu, or espionage plus Cthulhu, or sci-fi plus Cthulhu. Cthulhu plus Apocalypse might be just another hideous miscegenation of genre, so to speak.
One possible attraction is the feeling that one doesn’t need to put your toys back in the box afterwards. In most settings with Mythos elements, the Mythos has to remain hidden for the setting to make sense. You can’t go back to quaint, sleepy Arkham if there are mi-go openly roaming the streets; everything has to be kept in the shadows, or banished before the newspapers arrive. But if preserving human society is no longer a consideration for your setting, you’ve got a freer hand.
DM: What else are you working on right now? Is Cthulhu City likely to be a standalone source book, or can you foresee the possibility of expanding on it with future supplements?
GR-H: Cthulhu City’s standalone, just like Bookhounds or Dreamhounds, although we’ll continue to support it through our Page XX magazine and other channels. I’ve got some adventures, for example, that will see the light of day in some form.
Right now, I’m working on an anthology of adventures for Night’s Black Agents called the Persephone Operation, revolving around bioterrorism, Greek myth, and the horrors of immortality. I’ve got some 13th Age supplements on the to-do list too. I should really write something light and fluffy one of these days…