For publicity for False Machine's ongoing kickstarter, I was allowed an interview. Behold:
1. Deep Carbon Observatory and Broken Fire Regime have been said to be an "elemental quartet". Why'd you choose elements as your quartet? Is there a plausible alternate universe where you chose, for example, card suits? How's about Chinese elements/wuxing? Why are elementals usually so boring? This one's a few questions.
DCO/Veins and Broken Fire Regime are just the first two parts, ultimately I want to do an Air book set in a gas giant and an Ocean book set beneath a continent of ice.
I have no idea why I chose elements, the origin of the concept is so long ago and so minute in moment that I can't recall the exact moment, I only remember the first part of the planning stages and how perfectly it all seemed to fit together.
If you want to make *precisely four* things and have them fit together then no there are not a lot of good options. Card Suits are too human for my purposes, I think they are based on medieval social roles? Cups = Priests, Swords = Nobles, Diamonds = Merchants and Clubs = Peasants?
That might be an interesting series of books for someone else but it doesn't sing to me.
The Chinese element system I don't know that much about and would be worried I would screw it up or produce uninventive sinochure.
Elementals are usually borin because the elements themselves are deeply inhuman and because few people do deep research into the actual elements before they create, instead relying on already-known popular culture concepts.
The pool of ideas seems at first both wide and shallow. A wide open range of ideas, known to all, easily communicated and therefore good for games.
But after that point ideas tend to run dry and forms repeat.
To go deeper means finding out a lot about respectively, geology, fire, etc etc, discovering the most beautiful and poetic elements of knowledge, which usually come from the late medieval/early modern period, and then transforming those into gamable concepts.
For instance did you know that at least one early thinker proposed that fire had gender and that it had three genders? The fires of the earth, the sky and of nature, each breeding with each other to create smaller fires like a living thing?
2. Diseases seem like they should be more interesting in games, but rules I can remember seeing for them are on the boring side. Risk of infection should be a good trap - telegraphed by stinkiness. Can you think of good disease/infection rules?
Real-life influenced diseases are usually a bad idea in D&D-style games as they produce mild, slow restrictions and problems for a character and its often hard to do anything useful or interesting about them quickly, and when you do all the player gets is release from a negative state and their normal powers back.
Rare or strange diseases are better, ones relating to incredible physical behaviours or strange physical states are good, mutation is a good OSR disease equivalent.
The classic OSR-ification method would be to go through all the boring diseases and find the really good ones, then break down the best of those into behaviours and tangible physical acts and objects, and then lace those through the adventure or dungeon in complex ways so that they can be sometimes optional or foolish interactions, sometimes risks and sometimes dooms.
A St Vitus dancers adventure where you have to get through the dancers without dancing with them but that's hard to do and doing the dance means risking infection.
Fellows with huge yellow pustules - maybe they are NPCs you have to interact with or potentially useful, even necessary allies. Say in pit-trap dungeon they go around handing out ladders. But if a pustule pops on you, you become an horrific pustule person.
A high-status disease like poets Tuberculosis where if you are dealing with fancy people or their world its likely you may get it, and if you do it might actually help you fit in there but it degrades you physically.
Like with LSD, most OSR rules and methods depend heavily on set and setting, rather than abstract game-wide rulings. Its why we make adventures rather than games. Think of a cool disease with an interesting methodology and complex costs and benefits to having it and a fun and interactive milieux as a building block in a game. Invent them and trade them with each other.
3. First let us accept a dungeon trinity of monster-treasure-trap. Secondly let us assume that the intersection of monster and trap is the mimic, and the intersection of treasure and traps is cursed items. What might then fit between monster and treasure?
Think various people have come up with gold-coin monsters and gold coins which look normal bur devour all your other coins, let me think if I can come of with something better....
Hmm, the treasure-glem or perhaps some form of 'Pinata Monsters' like a kind of Gelatinous Cube is the best I can think of for now...
4. You know how in the Magician's Nephew how the uncle has that ring that takes them to a forest full of portals to other worlds? I've been thinking about a campaign setup sort of like that but instead of the forest it's a collection of what I'm calling "pocket dungeons", like pocket dimensions that are one smallish dungeon each, e.g. a ship in a bottle that sucks you in when you uncork it with monstrous Jenny Hanivers and Fiji Mermaids, the lament configuration, etc. The campaign would be based on figuring out your uncle's disappearance based on traces left behind in the dungeons. What do you think would be some other neat pocket dungeon items?
A small caved castle in a black bag. You can't see it but if you open the tiny castle door a tiny hand comes out and pulls you through it.
A spooky door knocker where if you place it on a door and knock it opens to a ghostly adventure - maybe a locked room murder mystery in a gothic castle.
A chess-piece where if you use it to complete the last move on a board you end up in an Alice-In-Wonderland/Jumanji adventure.
A bone flute and a tattered page of musical notation where if you play it its a primal lullaby and everyone falls asleep and has a Bronze-Age style dream about the primal roots of Indo-European Fairytale structures, i.e. the very first and original Ogres Castle.
A wardrobe with a portal behind the coats ITS A CLASSIC FOR A REASON.
An ebony rod with a hook and when you pick it up and *only* of you pick it up, you notice a loft trap door above you. Using the hook opens the door and brings down an ebony ladder which takes you to the realm of night.
A larder kept cold by a single Very Cold cube of ice, put it in water and it cracks the vessel, spreads and freezes into a pool. There are shadows beneath and then one moves and a huge hand plunges out of it and you are hoisted into an icy world by a giant which just caught you like a fish.
At the back of a dustly cutlery door - right at the back in the dark, is a grimy spiderwebbed handle. If you pull it, the whole house tips on its side and everyone falls out into the 'under-house' an inverse version of the house in the shadow realm where the shadow of your missing uncle is as malignant as the original was benificent. To get back you have to find the other handle - though its not in the same place, and make sure you don't bring your 'other uncle' back with you.
5. Your Queen Mab stuff has been interesting to me as your usual stuff is poetical, fantastical, etc., which seems at odds with its magicless sci-fi setting. Actually I guess Silent Titans was that too now that I think about it. You can ignore this question if you want I'm not entirely about it. Is it like a deep future mirror to the deep past of Veins of the Earth? I think one of the previous worlds in Aztec myth was destroyed by tools becoming sentient and killing people from indignant rage ("quit sticking me in a fire assholes!" cried the pan). Do you feel there's a clean break between anxieties about our children and anxieties about our technology or is it more of an overlap?
The Deep-Future/Fantasy axis has been a part of D&D since its inception and I would say a time lost future where magic and hypertech are versions of each other.
The original concept with Queen Mab was actually to do two parallel adventures or books, one with medieval characters trying to navigate the place thinking its a Fay Palace, and the other, simultaneous adventure would have been sci-fi space marines doing the same thing, but they *know* it a space ship. The space marines have the advantage in technology and knowledge but it doesn't actually help them as they don't understand the selfhood of the beings they are dealing with.
Its changed a lot since then since the original concept was so complex and difficult it became unworkable.
We know intuitively our power comes from abstraction and, in its physical expression, from tools and technology.
There is a fundamental violence at the heart of abstraction, at condensing movement and shape into a line on a cave wall, at turning time into sound with the creation of language, at forming a cutting edge from a flint. When we do these things we are taking the blade to our own souls, we are doing something violent, revolutionary, even intrusive and invasive. Our thoughts are violence against a world which before us had few to no abstracted thoughts.
And we fear this, as is right and rational. It is a dangerous power that we hold. In our stories it becomes spellcraft, magic words, magical tools, secret knowledge and in our later stories as this process become more externalised, moving sculptures, dangerous robots and mad computers. We erect and investigate the danger of our situation in possible worlds, parallel dreams and potential lines of fate, obsessing over the danger of our own capacities like the head of a nuclear power sation anxiously tapping a dial or refreshing a screen.
I never really saw it as related to fear of our own children, so for me at least they are pretty different anxieties.
6. Do you read/watch/play much horror stuff? What kind of stuff do you find scary (but not serious-scary like Alzheimers)?
I don't really, I either find stuff not-scary and therefore uninteresting or actually-scary in which case I avoid it. I am a little bit mental and don't really want to prod the unsteady pile of maladaptations in the back of my head.
The last horror thing I remember experiencing and really enjoying was seeing Argentoes 'Susperia' at the cinema. That really left an impression as just a lovely river of images and emotion.
I don't know if I have a clear cognitive pattern for 'finding things scary but not Alzheimer's scary' I'm not sure I have a lot of engagement with that experience so can't answer the question very well.
An empty urban park at night, filled with shadows and a high wind? But thats more energising than frightening..
7. Dreams are kind of fucked up, right? Are you a big dreamer? What do you suppose dreams are, or could be? I read somewhere that dreams are biologically for integrating short term memories, and Mendeleev figured out the arrangement of the periodic table in a dream. Maybe there's different kinds of dreams your subconscious can shift gear to, like one for figuring out complex problems and another for remembering - maybe there's subdivisions like remembering for learning and remembering for emotional catharsis. That'd be cool.
I doubt dreams are "for" anything. The brain/mind is made to create an image of the world, a 'simulation' (blech), and it pretty much has to keep doing this just like your heart needs to keep pumping and living needs to keep doing whatever it does.
When your consciousness and most of your sensory input shuts off the brain/mind just keeps making an image of the world, pulling from whatever it can, making a reality that makes sense to it.
If dreams have any utility it may be similar to the usefulness of meditation and some forms of prognostication; giving yourself a good look at the current contents of your mind as they are right now. As the dreaming mind pulls in information from all of its various patterns and spiderthreads of memory and imagination, like pulling a thousand thousand stored carpets into a pile by the narrows threads, it must pull from 'what-is-there' in a way totally unlike the interrogations of the conscious mind.
I quite like the idea of having 'time off' in dreams. Instrumentalising them sounds like a slightly mental somewhat-american idea where if something isn't 'of use' it lacks meaning and the point of existence is to make everything 'useful'. Though I can see the temptation.
I rarely remember my dreams and I am fine with that. I'm on a low dose of Sertaline at the moment and the effect it has had on my dreams is sometimes remarkable - they sometimes become hyper-clear, almost crystalline parallel realties with much more internal coherence and cause-and-effect than I remember from previous dreams. Though what this means I have no idea.
8. You've posted recently about mangas and animes. Need we fear a Gamer Patrick in the future?
No I don't game because I don't have the time and can't control it. My last period of gaming (on a computer) was around the 2010s - I liked big RPGs like Oblivion and before that Baldurs Gate and before that I liked open clever games like Theif and Deus Ex.
Gaming eats a lot of time and if you are self-employed in a creative job then I don't know how you manage it. Personally I don't have a strong capacity to avoid "just one more level, one more quest" and am pretty sure that I would be up till 2am playing, and then my next day schedule would be fucked, I would be drained of energy and I fear my work would start to resemble to aesthetic and logic of the game.
The last game I tried to play was Morrowind on Steam - I ended up dumping multiple hours into it, staying up late and a friend advised me that since I was having trouble with it I should maybe stop. I haven't gone back since but I do like to watch a lot of videogame analysis and review shows on youtube and to keep up with what they are up to over there.