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Interview meme

So the whole interview meme thing is spreading among gominokouhai's crowd and I felt like being wordy. Means I get to talk about myself and gaming, my favourite subjects. Also means I get to distract myself from stuff.

1) Stupid question first. Where do you get your ideas, dammit?

I don't properly know. I have a whole bundle of creative energy that builds up in my hindbrain. I then get an urge to write based around a weird thing I happen to see or read in someone else's fiction and expound upon it. Which is why there are so few throwaway ideas in my stories: I steal the kernels of other people's throwaways and extrapolate them until the ideas are barely recognisable for what they were at the beginning.

It's all just working from a base block of random shite I have in my head, throwaways from other writers and dream fragments that get called forth when I get a title. Lots of it in inspired by comics, my general idea that one to two thousand words is enough comes from equating around 1000 words with a single issue of a comic. Normally, I write two-parters at best. For the kind of thing that feeds the actuality of perfected creation behind my eyes, read Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Peter Milligan, Hunter S. Thompson, Peter F. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, Alan Moore, Terry Pratchett, Robert Anton Wilson, Umberto Eco, and Bill Bryson.

I'm working on channelling ideas down from the creative entelechy in my head without relying on the outside filter of a title, thanks to a random brainstorm with coaldustcanary while we were in Brighton. Mainly because I don't want to be beholden on the creativity of others to fire me off. It's nice to be able to do, a party trick and a handy way to keep in practise all at the same time, but to do nothing else is a certified Bad Thing. Strange $FOO is the first real example of that, a serialised long-short-story (novellas start at 17,500) birthed from something other than a title and containing throwaways of its own. I just hope it all works in the end.

2) You're only allowed to pick one. Are you a writer or a BOFH? Or something else?

Damn your eyes making me decide.

Were I to be a true BOFH, I'd have to have more technical knowledge than I do have. I'd also have to not mind unsociable hours and workplace-based shit. On the other hand, were I a writer there'd be no form of income security unless I wrote a bestseller and any form of progress would be incredibly slow. But those are just the bad points of both.

I really don't like trying to label myself as whatever I end up settling on for the sake of picking one is never good enough. However, I think it is a safe bet to call my potential favourite role in life "writer/academic". So, let's go for writer.

3) If you can, name some places that are worse than Hull. Show your working.

Doncaster. Every time you hear about it on the news, it's desperately trying to be more like Hull, to get the media focus that Hull has — to become Hull without transforming into the poorest place in the country. Just think of that: a place that wants to be Hull.

I would have gone for Stoke, or at least some parts of it, but that's being unfair as Stoke has more to recommend it than Hull ever will, including such amenities as a Forbidden Planet and a retail park that buses actually run to. And jobs that don't pay like shit. And relative proximity to Alton Towers.

4) What would be some aspects of a `perfect' role-playing game system? Alternatively, name some common imperfections in existing systems and suggest corrections.

You know as well as I that I could rant about that forever.

To define a perfect system is impossible. A system can be very good for modelling a set of genres, but a perfect universal system is impossible. This is because in order to model a certain genre, you have to tweak or do away with certain rules and there is no system that will survive that happening.

Elements of my own ideal system include:
  • Curved probability distribution
    I really dislike games that assume one die is enough. It's not. Everything boils down to a certain success percentage, players know ahead of time what each modifier is precisely worth — and modifiers are worth the same to everyone. Systems that use a varying number of dice according to a stat just feel better and help remove some of the confusion between an RPG and a basic probability exercise.

  • Negative death spiral
    Preferably as an option rather than set in stone but it works well for my preferred base genre. This is the health mechanic used in Nobilis: Ignore all damage until you take the worst possible wound, then you start taking damage from the next-less severe wound and so on and so forth. You become more fragile before you die but don't get progressively worse as people ping you to death.

  • Two-tiered combat
    At present, games either include a full combat-mini-game that uses lots of other rules that are never seen in conjunction with the rest of the system (Old WoD) or an abstract where combat is no different to the regular system but incidentally causes damage (Unknown Armies). The ideal system would include both. The mini-game is there for big, climactic fights (and has plenty of options to give it just the right feel), but the 'standard' is there for the times when fights are either too swift to require three hours of rolling for ten seconds of action or when combat is used to demonstrate the tone that violence will take in the setting.

  • Setting
    This one's down the list a bit for good reason: The system should present a default setting that exemplifies the base rules. However, in addition to that there should be plenty of notes on either the extant setting or using an alternate setting that falls under the system's genre umbrella. The system itself should be flexible enough that no part of it relies upon facts of the setting for it's only definition. For example: Vampiric powers defined in the system? Groovy. Those powers have systemic limitations that can't be easily removed just because of a detail of the default setting? Re-write the fuckers until the setting can be removed without pain.

  • Options, options, options
    Lots of them. Options are what makes a system work for more than just the default setting. Ofttimes they end up as (poorly thought out) house rules that cause more problems than they solve, so instead set the people who know the system well to the task of tuning it. Take the various incarnations of the Storyteller system — a system that works with the real life/low cinematic action/horror genre by default: Combat in the initial versions was akin to an action movie with people able to soak up bullets. The later versions changed this with the addition of Lethal damage. If you want to tend towards slightly more high-action, there's the half-Stamina lethal soak option. More high-action? Do away with Bashing and Lethal, go back to the old system for damage. Or use the Mook rules from Adventure or Exalted. More? Stunt rules in the previously mentioned games. Full on big martial arts fights or Matrix-level gunfights? Steal Exalted's combat system. More realistic/horror movie levels of violence? Do away with rolled defence actions, hell do away with rolling Damage (but tweak the numbers some). These options should run through the ruleset, so a form of "Mental Combat" mini-game could be used for hard tasks like in-depth research, or a one-roll system that resolves everything from underworld intrigue to violent killing.
A lot of this can be done with extant systems. Obviously the World of Darkness system is the one I use for examples, but that's just because it's what I'm most familiar with. Whatever the system ends up looking like, universal toolkit books like the Hunter Storyteller's Companion (the little one with the screen) should not be freak occurrences.

5) The obligatory `future' question. What are your plans for the next five years? What are your hopes?

My plans (things I can realistically see happening assuming I can get out of whatever pit of depression is trapping me this week)

[Next Six Months]

Get a new job that isn't in Hull — Hull is one of the worst places in the country to live and work.

Linked to:

Move out of parents' house — I'm twenty three. I have lived away from my family for four of the past five years — one of those in a foreign country. I need my Independence back.

[Next Year]

Save money like a motherfucker — Part of my problem with being here is that I find it impossible to save much for a whole number of reasons I could go into but won't. Especially here, I cannot be a capitalist whore.

Apply for graduate studies — By this time next year I want to be most of the way through applying for a MSc course at least.

[Next Three Years]

Get my MSc — If nothing else, to prove that I can do it and that I am intelligent enough to warrant a decent job.

Make arrangements and prepare for living with coaldustcanary permanently — This is a no-brainer.

Get job, save like a motherfucker — The future is expensive. Degrees are expensive. Moving is expensive. I realise this and need to be employed.

[Next Five Years]

Be living with Kris.

Study part time for another postgrad qualification (another MSc, MPhil in CogSci, or the start of a Ph.D) — I can't help it. I have an almost perverse attraction to gaining more knowledge and academia is the best way for me to do so. I've forgotten more in my eight months at work than I have in the past few years.

Spend the rest of my time either teaching undergrads (taking the Tom Lehrer route) or actually working — I'll still need money, after all.

My hopes (things that happen in the best of all possible worlds, without relying on things like lightning strike or lottery win by family, or flights of fancy)

[Next Six Months]

Get a new job, up in Edinburgh — I love the place, and a job up there where I could put what I know to good use rather than being an object of work-based derision for daring to know stuff would be a rather excellent start.

Start MSc — Start an MSc program in January in either mathematics (eventual dissertation on computational proofs) or cognitive science. Supplement finances by teaching undergrads.

[Next Year]

Do work for EFF — I'm not content with donating money. I have to do something, and starting in with the EFF is as good a thing as any. I will also hopefully have the free time to do so.

Make arrangements to bring coaldustcanary over to Edinburgh — Once she's finished her Masters, help with finding a job &c. in Edinburgh, assuming she wants to move here.

[Next Three Years]

Get MSc — If nothing else, to prove that I can do it and that I am intelligent enough to warrant a decent job.

Get decent job — Something with decent pay, competitive benefits (holidays &c.) and flexible hours. Probably going back to being a BOFH, at least for a while.

Work on helping zombie_moogle get on a graduate program in Edinburgh — with eventual eye to importing her and the Jonboy.

[Next Five Years]

Get promotion — nowhere near management, but some more real responsibility and more wonga for doing so would be nice. At the end of the five years, leave and go back to teaching undergrads and studying, this time for a Ph.D.

Get book published — Sure it eats in to nights and free time, but you have to admit I wouldn't be me if I didn't at least try.

Size up buying place and staying in Edinburgh — Depends on what happens over the preceding five years. Canada may well be a more viable option for long-term habitation, study/research and so on

Somewhere in there, include "Drop acid atop Uluru", "Become famous and respected RPG writer" and various other personal wannabe-goals like that.

[0]: A small book that runs through the Big 5 (at the time) non-Hunter supernaturals in the World of Darkness, providing systems and suggested powers without any hint of depending on the other games. There were plenty of references to the other lines, especially in what the powers could do, but the book really stood out as a how-to-make-a-monster toolkit that could be used for any Storyteller-engine game.

With that out of the way, I shall attach the standard boilerplate: if you want me to ask you five questions, post something in the comments saying so.


( 1 informant — We want information! )
Aug. 19th, 2004 04:37 pm (UTC)
( 1 informant — We want information! )



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