Friday, July 11, 2014

[Interview #9] Mark Woodside, Marchland

Mark Woodside is a good friend and we've gamed together for over a decade, playing Savage Worlds, GURPS, BESM, Call of Cthulhu and more game systems over the years. We are both great fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu, urban fantasy author Charles deLint and Changeling: The Dreaming.

So it comes as no surprise that Mark is the author of Marchland, a Savage Worlds urban fantasy setting book (and also the owner of Hearthstone Games). A second Marchland book, Uncanny Roads, is still in the works and will be available soon (as a completist, I am looking forward to this).

Mark ran the first Marchland adventure for us back in 2010 (you can read about the three sessions here 1, 2, 3). It was a great game and my PC, who had the hindrance Doubting Thomas, spent the whole game disbelieving that magic or the Fae world existed. By the end of the game, he had became the town's first resident dragonslayer, not that he actually believed dragons exist. Naturally, I was hooked on the setting.

Mark then spent the next couple of years developing the setting, writing, play-testing and finally coming up with a complete color book with evocative art and everything. Check it out, it is very cool. I snapped up a copy of Marchland from Mark and played in a Marchland game last year at Dragonflight.

Earlier this year, I asked him if he was interested in playing in Marchland instead of GMing it (hey, what author wouldn't want to, right? ) and so I ran a game for the enjoyment of Mark and our group.

Marchland: Internal Affairs had each of the PCs as cops in the Internal Affairs department of the Brighton Bay Police Department. Since there's not much police corruption going on, someone in City Hall is using the IA officers as investigators of the "strange and unusual" events going on around town.

Mark created a good background in the setting and I carefully selected sections of that exquisite detail to add to the game. I ran M:IA for a half-dozen sessions and the group faced some pretty interesting challenges. The first 'season' was a success and now I have plans on a second. Maybe I'll write up the game for my other blog sometime.

On with the interview!

Otyugh Talk: What scenes in games do you want to see more of and what is the best example of it?

Mark Woodside: I'd like to see more written about the transition from the "normal" world to the "fantastical" world. I put both of those in quotes, because they are very relative terms in gaming.

So what do I mean by this?

First, I'm a big fan of Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey". You should read it. It brilliantly translates Joseph Campbell's "Hero With the Thousand Faces" into a guide for incorporating the hero's journey into story.

The RPGs we play are entirely derived from these kinds of stories, yet we leave out some of the most impactful parts of the journey. Once the call to adventure (read the book) has been accepted, we GMs tend to gloss over the transition and go right to "Roll for Initiative". I'm as guilty of this as anyone, however I crave the opportunity to try a more extended transition in my own games. Describing the transition in detail, reminding the players that they are leaving their community and it's support structure behind, emphasizing the shift from familiar to unsettling isolation - these things increase the tension and the drama of the game.

You can be sure that this type of gaming isn't for everyone. Some players and GMs just want to kill the orcs and loot the bodies. There's nothing wrong with this. Some of my favorite game experiences have been old school dungeon crawls. But for some, there is greater opportunity for group storytelling that just might create a deeper and more satisfying game experience. Lastly, not all systems are created equal when it comes to this type of gaming. Story games that encourage players to create their characters in-play would probably work better than systems in which characters are entirely generated pre-game.

OT: If you were paid big bucks to create a new edition of a game, which game would you want to revise?

MW: That's a tough one. Can I do two? OK, just one.

I would revise The Whispering Vault. It's a wonderfully dark, moody fantasy game that for its time (early 90's) is pretty revolutionary in terms of system, style, and theme.

By default Whispering Vault is a modern fantasy setting. However, games can take place in any historical period with little adjustment. Players too can be of any time period or locale and there is a lot of freedom for personal expression in character creation.

It's also the only game that I'm aware of that attempts to adapt the hero's journey to game play.

One change I would make is to incorporate the deep character backgrounds of the Nephilim RPG. See what I did there? I sneaked in the other game I would revise. I just can't be trusted.

Both of these games are available as PDFs online. Whispering Vault through Paizo, and Nephilim through DriveThruRPG. Please don't pirate them. They're worth the price.

[Ed. Whispering Vault is available from Paizo and Nephilim is on DrivethruRPG]

OT: How would you incorporate an Otyugh into Marchland?

MW: The Otyugh would definitely be a creature of the Oubliette.

I envision a series of trials in which several Otyugh and the PCs are trapped in a series of mazes. The PCs must collect gems to be used as tribute for the Saffron Queen. Randomly scattered about the mazes are artifacts that temporarily drive the Otyugh into a blind panic during which they flee from the PCs. This is only a temporary reprieve however, so the PCs must collect all the gems before the Otyugh catch them. :)

[Ed. hmmmm, I must use this in our next Marchland: Internal Affairs game.....]

Thanks, Mark, for answering these questions. See you next game!

You can find a  review of Marchland on Game Geeks youtube channel, episode #233 to be specific, and another review on the Solace of Savagery blog.

Marchland is available in print from Amazon and PDF from DrivethruRPG. A Player's Guide PDF is available from DrivethruRPG, too. Marchland eBook, with some cool features (including audio), is also available on the iTunes store (simply search for it and it'll pop up).

Still more interviews to come!

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