domingo, 10 de febrero de 2019

Penelope Love, fiction author and game designer

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If you are a fan of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, her name should ring a bell, because Penelope Love has contributed many published scenarios to the Chaosium game over the years. This Melbourne based game designer started coauthoring Terror Australis, and went on to publish her work in such great books as Horror on the Orient Express, Mansions of Madness, and plenty more, with the most recent being Reign of Terror. She also worked on the Melniboné: Dragon Isle and Dreaming City sourcebook for Elric. However, Penelope Love is also a science-fiction and fantasy author, having written many short-stories and two novels: The Castle of Eyes (dark fantasy) and The Widow's Tale (set in the fantasy world of Glorantha, see a review).

If that were not enough, she is currently also involved with Campaign Coins. together with his husband Mark Morrison (another well-known scenario writer for Call of Cthulhu). She is the author of some short-stories about the three mascots of the company, a trio of daring adventurers called The Three Dungeoneers.

Ever since I finished writing my review of The Widow's Tale, I had wanted to interview Penelope Love, and then one day, thanks to Michael O'Brien from Chaosium, I was given the chance. I sent perhaps too many questions for such a busy person, but she was kind and patient enough to group some questions and answer them anyway, for which I am deeply gratefil. Below you can read the interview:

About Penelope Love herself and her games:

What was the first RPG game you played and how did it go?

I got into RPGs through a D&D campaign when I was at high school. That is too far away to remember now but I do remember how much fun we had. Then at university I joined a role-playing club and lucked into a RQ campaign, which ended up with our playing through the River of Cradles and saving that Giant Baby. But my character died.

What's the main skill a good GM/Keeper needs? What have you been playing or running recently?  

Recently we’ve been going old school and playing RQ Classic 2nd edition. If a Cradle comes down the river, I’m not getting on it. We’ve also been playing D&D Curse of Strahd and Runequest Classic 2nd edition. I keep mining the game for jokes for our Three Dungeoneers short stories.

I only occasionally Keeper now and mainly at conventions so don’t have much to say except I do think you have to learn to trust your own story telling skills and the players inspiration and the luck of the story. We visited Poland in May 2018 and ran a 25-year old Call of Cthulhu scenario by our friend John Coleman called ‘Black as Coal’ for some intrepid players prepared to be scared in a second language.

What kind of character do you play in that RuneQuest 2nd edition campaign?

In our RQ game I play a Yelmalio guard, Radiant, tasked by her temple to make sure the Young Master does not get himself killed while bagging his first troll. We have already bagged our first one but frankly it was undersize and the whole thing was a bit of a shambles and definitely underwhelming so we are going bag ourselves another one, a big one this time, should I be able to keep the Young Master alive that long. I find poking spears out from behind a Light Wall is a good tactic for keeping the Y.M. alive.

Ha, ha! Sounds like fun. It looks almost like a Gloranthan version of Maid, the RPG!
Please tell us any other anecdote of any of your characters and 
what is the scenario you've had the most fun with? 

I played in Mark’s Call of Cthulhu campaign for the longest time and the most fun we had was with Keith Herber’s campaign, Fungi from Yuggoth. My character’s name was Francesca and at the end my best buddy Norman lost I think 99 SAN in one roll after seeing Nyarlathotep and was convinced Francesca was the cause of all his woes. He was last seen running off among the Pyramids, screaming ‘I’ll get you Francesca’. We think he’s still out there…

What's cool about Campaign Coins and how did you get involved in it?

The tag line says it all, ‘We make treasure worthy of your greatest adventures!’ That is, we make cool metal tokens and meeples to bling up your games. Nothing makes your fantasy swag more delightful than real actual fake gold! Our friend Andre Bishop started the company because he wanted to have fantasy money for his own games – Andre is an entrepreneur and he just thinks that way. He also owns Japanese restaurants and is one of Australia’s few sake masters. Mark and Andre run the company. I help pack orders and make helpful suggestions from the sidelines.

I also write the Three Dungeoneers stories based on our company mascots, Dhum the dwarf, Avariss the half elf and Hazzard the barbarian. Given our company theme of fantasy money these stories naturally revolve around treasure, the many stupid ways of trying to get it, and the even more stupid ways of losing it. Our heroic trio are fantastic at adventuring but poor at fiscal management and invariably end each story broke. The stories are based around the idea of a D&D campaign where the Dungeonmaster is serious, the world is serious and faces serious problems but the player characters are just idiots. So just like any D&D campaign that most people have ever played!

Read The Three Dungeoneers eBook and keep an eye on the upcoming Gloranthan coins kickstarter by Campaign Coins!

What can you tell  us about the Australian RPG scene?

Well, Michael and Sue O’Brien are VEEP and Board Games Editor of the new Chaosium so we are part of the world scene! We have a number of conventions, including Arcanacon and PAXAus here in Melbourne. I mainly attend them to help out at the Campaign Coins booth though I ran Call of Cthulhu games at Arcanacon.

OK, let's focus now a bit on The Widow's Tale:

Why did Chaosium not publish this novel at the time?

Greg was going in a different direction. He was working on King of Sartar at the time. I wrote the book for Mark for his fortieth birthday so I was happy with achieving that aim – I didn’t need it to go anywhere else. It was a nice surprise when Andre offered to publish it at the Chaos Society.

And that must be the most elaborate birthday gift I have ever heard of! Mark is a lucky guy! By the way, in the book, you mention how part of the inspiration came from listening to the tales of some RQ games your friends had played. But was any part of the story inspired by any RQ game you've run or played?

The Widow’s Tale is a little based on our Kree Mountain campaign which we ran at Arcananon conventions through the eighties. The Kree Mountain scenarios went in different directions and the Lunars were definitely the bad guys, but the campaign planted the idea of a band of resistance fighters carrying a guerrilla warfare against the Lunars in my mind.

At the end of Eurhol's Vale, you said that your streak of inspiration for writing Gloranthan fiction had come to an end, but I just need to ask: Is there any chance we will be seeing any new works of fiction authored by you and published by the new Chaosium?

I’m continuing to write Call of Cthulhu fiction – however I haven’t had any RuneQuest fiction ideas since so I think the well there might be indeed dry. That said, I wrote a scenario for the new RuneQuest. The working title is ‘Market Forces’. It’s original title was ‘Carpet Baggers in Pavis.’ It’s all about what happens in Pavis after the Lightbringers drive out the Lunars, I was thinking about the reconstruction period of the South after the U.S. Civil War.

Check out some books Penelope Love has written short-stories for and her novel Castle of Eyes.

Let's talk now about her other publications:

What was your first official publication and how did you manage to get published? -- Tell us about Terror Australis: how did it came to be and what was your contribution to it? Why wasn't it included in the original Masks of Nyarlathotep? -- What's new in the newest edition of Terror Australis for CoC's 7th ed.?

My first Chaosium publication was Terror Australis.

Larry Di Tillio had written an Australian scenario as part of Masks but then it had to cut because the book got too large. So Mark was asked if he wanted to develop an Australian supplement with the Masks scenario and some other background and additional material. He roped me in to assist with research and writing. I haven’t had much to do with the new edition but there’s plenty of excellent stuff in there. Dean Engelhardt did a great job assembling the new team.

The older and newer edition of the Terror Australis sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu

For The Horror on the Orient Express you created the scenario 'Death and Love in a Gondola'. Have you ever been to Venice? Did you contribute any new material to the new edition?

Yes I’ve been to Venice. I love walking and Venice is the ultimate pedestrian city where away from the hot spots you can pretend you’re still roaming the Renaissance city. Venice houses several of my favourite pieces of art – Giorgione’s ‘The Tempest’, and the Pyraeus stone lion.

I stumbled over the Tempest and the Pyraeuslion on my first visit and when I went back I went looking for them again. I found the Tempest after an epic quest (it had been loaned out on an exhibition in a Palazzo with a very common name so we ended up going to most of them before we found the right one) but couldn’t find the lion. It guards the entrance to the Arsenal but I completely circled the Arsenal without finding it, though how a giant stone lion can hide is beyond me. It was probably standing there as usual and I just missed it. I’ll find it next time I visit and as a result of wandering around the back ways of the Arsenal I did find a modern art exhibition with a transparent dishwasher so you could watch see what happens to all the water that you hearswishing around inside. It was mundane yet strangely hypnotic and endearing at the same time. That’s art for you. And Venice too.

I updated the Venice scenario for the new edition and also I’ve written a short story set in Venice during the Plague for Chaosium’s upcoming ‘Sisterhood’ anthology.

Horror on the Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu and Sisterhood: a Lovecraftian Horror Anthology

Interesting, now I suddenly feel an urge to fly to Venice and look for those sculptures myself! I'll also have a look at that anthology. By the way, did you visit any old doll factories during your stay there? ;-)

I didn’t visit any doll factories in Venice but I knew the history of the town as a maker of luxury toys for rich kids and I seized on it because, frankly, dolls are creepy. Everyone knows that.

Indeed. I have read you have recently finished working on a campaign for Cthulhu Gaslight titled Curse of Seven. What can you tell us about it?

Yes the working title is Curse of Seven and I think it is safe to reveal here that there are seven major NPC characters and they’re all Cursed.

I love the ghost stories of the Victorian and Edwardian era so part of the idea behind this campaign was to add a dimension from these different authors to the different scenarios – a dash of Dickens here, a slither of the Benson brothers there and a doff of the hat to MR James (in Cambridge of course).

Like the Orient Express campaign we asked each of the scenario writers to flesh out a core idea, based on the NPC character and the Curse that had consumed them. The stuff the writers came up with was mind blowing and we’ll finish play-testing in the next few months.

That sounds cool. I'm looking forward to playing or running that campaign. And what are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on the next Three Dungeoneers book, ‘The Other Dungeoneers’ hopefully out for Gencon 2019. I work full time so I only have limited time for writing and I try to stick to one project.

You have published many scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. What's the trick for writing a good horror scenario? We now know about Sandy's method, but what's yours?

I think the perfect scenario structure is one that is written in a way that allows the players to have an ‘ah-hah!’ moment. In other words by the time they learn of the «insert festering horror here» enough clues have been planted that they can feel they have come up with the solution themselves. That is always a wonderful moment in a scenario. Even though the clues need to be seeded through the writing, you do want the players to come up with their own solution rather than feel they’ve been led by the nose.

You have written serious horror, sci-fi and fantasy fiction, as well as more humorous fiction like The Three Dungeoneers. What drives you to want to write about a particular topic or genre? The female characters in this novel are particularly interesting. Some are warriors, like Arqua and Reha, some are farmers and herder priestesses like Aoael and Shisanna.

I write what I write is all I can say. My characters tend to be tenacious and resourceful, which might not be me in the flesh but is certainly the way I like to see myself. If I were an animal I would be a wombat that wants to be a rhino.
Wombat image by JJ Harrison - CC Some rights reserved.

Which of your publications do you feel the proudest about and why?
I don’t know about ‘pride’ but my favourite novel was never published. The heroine lacked confidence and one way I decided to show that was I had her bite her nails. Then as she started to gain in confidence she stopped biting her nails. As it happened, I also bit my nails but through some mysterious subconscious connection between creator and created I stopped biting my nails when the character did and I’ve never bitten them since. Then my next favourite is The Widow’s Tale because I wrote it for Mark.

Wow, that is kind of healing through writing! Well, thanks a lot for your time and your responses, Penelope, it's been great to have you at the Runeblog. I hope to see more of your scenarios and fiction being published, so see you soon!

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