6 November 2016

Your Questions Answered - Part 1

Back in September this blog hit 10,000 views. To celebrate I opened the fortress gates to you questions. There were... more than I anticipated. Here, at last, are the first set of answers. There are more to come.

Which scene, character, or setting (The Horus Heresy, Dark Heresy, Arkham Horror etc) have you most enjoyed writing?

Tough question. Really tough question, but... I think I have to go for this:

Disciples of the Dark Gods for the Dark Heresy RPG


DoDG, as it is affectionately known, was co-written by Alan Bligh and I in the last days of Black Industries. Mike Mason (now heading up Call of Cthulhu for Chaosium) let us scope, plan and write the book from the ground up. That's really, really rare outside of indie publications, and it meant that the whole book was a unified idea. And boy did we pour ideas into that book: cults, conspiracies, easter eggs, occult weirdness, and all manner of horrors.... The Temple Tendency, The Pilgrims of Hayte, the Beast of Solomon, Ferran Ghast, the Vile Savants, and so, so many more. We were on a tight deadline with no room for error, but I remember it being one of the most exciting writing experiences of my life. Alan and I would ring each other up and talk through changes and progress and then go and write. Everyday, day after day. It was a very stressful but it was amazing.


How hard was it to capture a character as nuanced, complex and impossible to categorise as Ahzek Ahriman, in a trilogy?

Ahriman - the 41st Millennium's favourite walking apocalypse 

Honestly, I was lucky with Ahriman, because I ‘got’ him. I knew what he wanted, I understood his flaws, and I had a sense of how he would react to things. So much of what creates a character is how they react in different situations – their reaction tells us who they are. A writers job is about putting them in situations where they have to react, and we from that we get insight into what makes them tick.

Strangely, I don’t think about Ahriman’s power when considering him as a character, even though that is the first thing that people know him for. I think about what he wants, about what he cares about, thinks about, and believes. I try to imagine what his refuge is in times of stress, what lies he tells himself, and what are the contradictions in all of those things.

Then I try to show all of that on the page.


Have there been books or workshops over the years that have been fundamental in guiding your creative process for character development for a character with long-standing IP pre-conditions?

There are two questions there… ;)

As far as character development goes, a lot of it comes to looking at the work of authors I love, and paying attention to how they build characters - authors like Frank Herbert, Bernard Cornwell, and Iain M. Banks. That is the core of how I learned, and still learn about building characters.

Three of the best books ever written

Having said that, I got a lot from Save the Cat, and Save the Cat Strikes Back by Brett Snyder. The stuff on how you introduce characters in the early story setup is gold.

It says it's a book about screenwriting, but really it's a book about story structure

In existing settings, it's really about knowing what has been said or shown about a character, and then asking lots of questions about them: Is there another way of looking at what they do? Why are they like that? Why do they do what they do?

Coming up with interesting answers to those kinds of questions that don’t break the given facts is the trick.


Do you find that working with both the Lovecraft mythos and 40K complement each other as far as ideas and inspiration go?

To degree in that they are both bleak universes that are devoid of real hope. They are pretty distinct though, and I definitely have to switch mindset when moving from one to another.


Thinking about game designing rather than writing, what are your favourite mechanics/features that you particularly enjoy? Are there any mechanics that particularly turn you off?

I love mechanics that elegantly fit and convey theme. The doom track in Arkham Horror, Might/Fate/Will in Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, what Lord you are being hidden until the end of the game in Lords of Waterdeep: all of those are mechanics that work really well and help create a feel of play that aligns perfectly with the themes of their settings. I also love the clever use of card decks in games that are not pure card games.

Mechanics I don’t like… I have a dislike of systems that use dice pools made up of multiple dice types: d8s, d6s, d12s all together in different quantities. I like using a variety of dice. I like dice pool mechanics. Together… no so much. Grr...

True story: designing a game where you role all of these together helped turned Anakin to the Dark Side

How much interaction do you have with the other authors?

A fair bit :) They are an amazing bunch of people, and I am lucky to count many of them as friends as well as colleagues. We tend to get together around things like Black Library Live, and chew over author related woes, exciting ideas, and future plots. There is a camaraderie amongst BL writers that is very rare in the industry, and to be honest its one one of the best things about being part of it.


Will we find out much more about what happened between the present and the year 30k? I think it was implied in one of Dan Abnetts books that the Soviet Union reached the moon first in the 40k universe.

I doubt it. There are 10,000 years and an entire galaxy to explore, so it would be unlikely. 


What is the Emperor doing right now (September 2016)?

Cleaning his teeth.


From your imaginings of them, do all of Dorn's Huscarls wear Indomitus pattern TDA?

I imagined that as the elite bodyguard unit of Dorn, they use a wide variety of equipment based on the situation. In Praetorian of Dorn there are some in power armour, some in terminator armour, some flying interceptors…


What character did you find most challenging to write in Praetorian of Dorn? 

Neither of the guys on the cover were the hardest characters to write

Honestly, Archamus. I wanted him to be a strong exemplar of the Legion, but also with some uniqueness and resonance. It took me ages to figure out what he was like, where his strength, weaknesses lay, and where his world view came from, and because he is the lead character that He had to be fully formed. So, yeah, I sweated a lot over Archamus. 


Do you have any further plans to write for the Alpha Legion?

No plans at the moment, but it would be great to come back to them in the future.


Gav Thorpe is on record that his book covering Corax will be his last on the Raven Guard in the Horus Heresy. As you've picked up the torch for the Imperial Fists and Alpha Legion, is there a hope you or another writer might do so for the Raven Guard?

At the moment, I have no plans to do anything with the Raven Guard in the Heresy. I know what my next book for it is, and it's… something else.


Do you think it will be another decade before we get to the battle of Terra?

No.


Whats the writing process like for the heresy, given that you have to fit into plot hooks that others have constructed etc. Is there a lot more editorial oversight there than in other GW writing? How much of the writing is decided by committee of authors?

The process is fairly simple. If you are on the Heresy team you are invited to write stories and books for the series. Sometimes that might be an invitation to write something specific: 'we need to tell x story, and we wondered if you wanted to do it?' Or it might be very open: 'hey, there is a Heresy novel open if you have any ideas.'  There is a lot of back and forth though. 

Once you are in a slot for a novel there is discussion about what you want to do. This is very much a dialogue, an airing of alternatives, cool ideas, and other perspectives. Some of that happens in meetings, some across email, or more casual conversations. For example: Aaron, of the clan Dembski-Bowden, suggested some details about Archamus' character for Praetorian of Dorn while he was driving me to the airport. What an author does with all that input is up to them.  Personally, I find it amazingly useful. These are big and intimidating stories to tell, and getting notes from other (very experienced) minds is so reassuring. As far as editorial oversight goes, yeah, there is a lot more oversight, in particular when it comes to character and plot continuity. I make a point of talking  to Laurie Goulding and Nick Kyme a lot about what I am going to do in a Horus Heresy book before I even put finger to keyboard.


So, I guess when I said it was fairly simple, I was probably lying.


How many times a week do you try to kill Laurie Goulding..?

Every day, and twice on a Thursday.