Thursday, September 2, 2021

Interview: Patrick Stuart of False Machine

Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess, auteurs of the independent RPG scene, are kickstarting their latest adventure module, Demon-Bone Sarcophagus. Check it out! Only nine days to go. To promote this endeavor, Stuart has agreed to answer some questions I had about his process, as well as about the variety of strange and prepossessing topics he covers on his blog, False Machine.

Picture: me approaching an interview with an indie gaming luminary

 -Regarding Gawain and the Green Knight, what are your thoughts on Tolkien’s translation, and what was different in how you approached it? [Editor's note: Tolkien's is a very commonly used translation of that particular poem. I was being presumptuous in assuming Stuart, who translated the same poem, had studied it, but not aggressively so.]

Ah I haven't actually read Tolkien's translation so can't compare. I would assume that his is a 'real' translation and that he had a complete knowledge of the old-english/early modern dialect it was written in before he started and so he could do the whole thing in his head. In my case it was more a transliteration where I had a facing text version with modern english on one side and the original on the other. I would assume that Tolkien and I had a very different tone, I mean a cathlic tory academic from the mid 20th century and a ruined Gen-X/Millenial from the late 20th century will have veeeeery different outlooks and cultural referents

-How do the gaming products you publish differ from the sorts of games you like to run?

I almost never run games any more. For me it takes nearly as much energy to run a game as to write something and most of the communities I was a part of where I would find players I have since drifted away from.

I had a problem when I was running with depth and complexity. I wanted everything to have as many meaningful, real options as possible and for places to have as much texture as possible but the sheer amount of invention and especially bookkeeping and trying to keep up with everything that had happened ultimately lead to me flaming out after 10 or 20 sessions. I feel like I am not that great a long-term dungeon master.

What I play in is generally whatever people I know and like want to run, assuming they are on a UK/Europe time schedule as I am too old to be hoisting myself out of bed at strange hours.

When I was running I think the games were meant to be either experiments, or they headed towards attempts at the depth, complexity and attempted originality of what I *try* to create. Maybe its that that made them unworkable for me! Its hard to invent, sustain AND run that shit at the same time.

-When making dungeons and writing adventures, what most commonly changes through editing and playtesting?

Presentation and complexity, re-statement and making things that seemed obvious to me much more explicit. When making something so many of its tricks and interrelationships seem utterly obvious to me and then when readers and playtesters get a hold of it they are utterly confused, and then I am shocked and confused in turn. Generally page count rises as I need to make more space to make more ideas more explicit and to explain things more directly to the reader and DM. You could technically run an adventure from one of my early draughts but I think most people would have trouble with it and there is deep context which most people could only work out from a very deep reading.

Other than that, whenever I have worked with other people, from Scrap to other collaborators, they have had a meaningful effect on elements of the finished product of course but since those are all different interactions, more personal and often remembered poorly by me I don't think I can comment too much.

-Reading your recent blog posts about the long-running Horus Heresy series, I can’t help but think about your current undertaking to write a cycle of modules themed around the elements. This is a project that you have already dedicated years to. What do you think is gained in writing a trilogy of adventures, rather than three separate adventures?

Well the element cycle will be a quadrilogy because there are generally four elements (depending on how you count them). Broken Fire Regime will be three books because that's how many it will take to do the whole thing! (Even then there is the possibility that we may need to break down the central book into two parts). The 'trilogy' aspect was simply a matter of practicality and keeping myself sane. Producing the whole thing as one huge book or even as one huge project .. well it did lead to breakdowns and meltdowns, failures and delays, I was looking for a publisher for this for AGES and several fell through. Eventually I hit upon the idea of doing it myself (ourselves) and breaking it down into three parts so that each block of work, design and playtesting was manageable. I knew we had some DCO remastered and could handle that so doing something of the same volume of work, *again* was possible.

That's really the main reason, simple practicality and producibility of the work we had already done.

I think that's perhaps not the original intent of your question - let me think about it...

Well in very long 'epic' *stories* we get to find out a lot about people as they are embedded in a world and about the long complex evolutions of a character and personality, as well as getting a glimpse into the deeper social and historical structures of that world.

I suppose with very long adventure sequences then something similar might happen with players interacting with deeper structures which might be invisible in shorter play? Like the difference between going on holiday in a greek village and living in a greek village for 30 years and the change in the way you might think of the people and systems around you. From "wow this is a nice tavern" to "Stavros hasn't been the same since his son didn't come home from University and moved away, but it was always his dream for his children to do better than him, now the kid is moving back he must feel like a failure but the economy is going badly for everyone.."

-You’ve posted “challenges” like the Crypt of the OSR, where you encourage people to unearth old OSR blogs, or the Dungeon Poem challenge, where you asked people to try their hand at making an “artpunk” dungeon with a particular map. Both of these have had enthusiastic responses. What do you hope comes out of these challenges? What do you hope to do with these community-facing calls to action?

I think there have been a few 'challenges' that no-one really cared about but those are forgotten now...

Well there is a tag on my blog called 'do my work for me' - 'community' posts, especially posts where the community is asked to talk about the community, often have a big response *if they catch on*, people just really like talking about stuff they know and arguing about social networks etc, plus general cultural conversations are accessible to anyone.

I think in part I was calling back to the glory days of G+ where there would be huge thread challenges and entire hex maps created by 'gygaxian democracy'. The Fallen titan was also good at this during the heyday of the blogosphere, there were big epic arguments, conversations and mutual challenges about a whole range of things.

The nice or pro-social side of it is that people get introduced to each other, creators encounter each other, some might get a boost in interest, people who might be into those creators of aesthetics get to discover them and.. well everyone just generally feels a little bit better about life? Its social contact and I suppose that's what it does.

-Finally, a selfish question: can we expect you to write about LichJammer again at any point in the future?

I am very sorry but probably no. If things go ok you can expect a few years with a lot of releases as stuff I have been working on for ages finally flowers. Once Broken Fire Regime is done I will probably take a brief break from the elements and research the next one. I have a range of one-book-projects and possibilities but Lichejammer isn't one of them.

UNLESS you can somehow persuade a shitload of people to nag me about LicheJammer and how amazing it is and how everyone wants to buy it in which case I will resent you but it might actually move it into the 'possible future projects' list. [Editor's note: everyone please help alienate me in the eyes of Patrick Stuart]


Much thanks to Patrick Stuart for entertaining my questions, especially the tenuous or odd ones. Again, you can find the kickstarter for Demon-Bone Sarcophagus here. I think it's well worth checking out.

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Stuart or any part of this kickstarter in any way. I am not being paid to promote his products. I have sometimes interacted with his blog in minor ways.)