Categorized | Authors, Interviews

Monica Valentinelli

[HTV:2E] Interview with Cassandra Khaw

Posted on February 20, 2020 by Monica Valentinelli

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Skull LogoHunter: The Vigil Second Edition was developed by industry veteran Monica Valentinelli for Onyx Path Publishing.

To celebrate the release of the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter, Monica reached out to members of her team for a series of in-depth interviews. Today, Monica chats with Cassandra Khaw, who wrote the fiction and designed monsters for the game. Cassandra is a scriptwriter in Ubisoft Montreal. Her work can be found in F&SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons. She has also contributed to titles like Sunless Skies, Fallen London, Wasteland 3, and She Remembered Caterpillars, which won the German Game Award for Best Children’s Game. Hammers on Bone, her first novella, was nominated for the Locus Award and the British Fantasy Award. Food of the Gods was nominated for the Locus Awards.

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition is a modern horror game about a hunter’s commitment to fighting the darkness. In HTV2E, there are more monsters than ever before and are found wherever people live. Your fiction expands the possibilities of Hunter by introducing new characters and cultures affected by the supernatural. Why do you think the average person is so fearful of the unknown? And, does that horror “age” over time? Or do you always think we’ll be afraid of the dark?

I think on some level, we all recognize the fact that we are small and brittle and helpless against the universe. The cosmos is full of more terrors than we can possibly find room to name, and we carry that knowledge through our lives.

For me, fear is a tectonic emotion and our fears are rooted in our marrow. Fear of death, fear of the dark, fear of pain, fear of, I don’t know, clowns. These things, to answer your next two questions, never really go away. I think they come back in different manifestations as we get older, reshaped by our experiences, growing new forms, new faces.

We’ll always be afraid of the dark. We’ll also keep finding new names for that fear.

If you were going to play Hunter, what type of character would you love to play?

Definitely one of the Network Zero folks. At least at first. And then maybe, one day, graduating into being hired by Task Force: VALKYRIE.

In addition to the fiction, you also collaborated with Monica Speca to present monsters found in different environments. What research did you do? What interesting creatures did you find?

A lot of deep diving into the wilds of the Internet, exploring old reference books that I have lying around, and double-checking on myths half-remembered. I found a lot of things, but what I want to touch on is how enormously vast modern mythology is. People are inventing a hell of a lot of cryptids every day, and I really want to see more of those. The SCP Foundation alone is enough to give me nightmares for weeks.

Ghosts and haunted houses are fan favorites for new hunters in HTV2E because they’re often the most accessible. They can also come across as repetitive or something hunters have experienced before. What advice do you have for Storytellers interested in scaring players with new and flavorful descriptions?

A thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (enough to do a whole novella on the idea) is what we do when we’re given the opportunity to be bad without repercussion. Let’s say there are monsters in the house you’re in. Let’s say there were tensions before, an everyone’s shouting, fighting, frightened out of their minds. How easy is it for old human weaknesses to come out?

On that note too, I think it’d be cool to have ghosts and haunted houses that don’t pivot on the idea of revenge, or the desire to inflict pain. Loneliness, for one, could be used with great effect here. What do you become when you’ve been waiting or lost for a hundred years? What if that didn’t translate to rage but instead, a marrow-deep need for connection? By then, I imagine you’ve lost a lot of your ties to humanity so I don’t think any of these ghosts are going to be like, ‘Hello. Will you be my friend?’

In addition to working on Hunter, you often write horror. Have you written any monster hunting fiction or games of your own? If so, can you tell us about your take on the genre?

Does it count if it is a monster hunting a monster? Because if so, I think my Persons Non Grata series fits the bill. The protagonist is, at least on the surface, an eccentric private investigator with a love for noir terminology. But the truth is stranger than that. John Persons is a monster himself, as complex as his prey, and possibly more tragic. With Persons, I wanted to explore how all those elements might intersection but mostly, what it means to try to talk yourself into humanity.

Like, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t go around with bad thoughts in their head. It’s just a question of whether you act on them, whether you perpetuate whatever horrors were visited on you. I think that’s what makes the difference: the act of choosing to be better than your personal darkness. And Persons explores an extreme shape of that.

You have earned a reputation for incorporating gore into your style and often pen microfiction on Twitter @casskhaw for your readers. Of all the stories you’ve written, which one is your favorite?

Oh, man. That’s tough. It’s like picking a favorite child. But I know I have a favorite among the themes I’ve chosen for my microfiction. I loved writing people animal-spouses, largely because I liked subverting that trope, and the whole idea of the animal-spouses being forced into a horrible situation. How about if they weren’t? And they were shy, or excited, or just in charge of being their beautiful chimerical selves, you know?

Interactive fiction is rapidly returning to players who love stories while having some effect on the narrative. You’ve written and designed this type of game before. Can you tell us about that experience? Is this type of game fun for you to design?

It’s a kind of science and a kind of art all at the same time. The fiction that you need to tell your players is that the sky’s the limit, and all the things you could conceive asking are right there in the drop-down menu of conversation choices. But it’s a lie, of course. Ultimately, you’re trying to lead people to very specific places. So, it’s a balancing act that is enormously exciting because there are just so many bits to handle.

(And yes, it’s fun. Even if I keep coming back to projects and going, ‘OH MY GOD WHY DID I DO THAT TO MYSELF’)

Okay, real talk. If all the things we fear in the dark were real, do you think everyday people would stand a chance against the supernatural? Why or why not?

I think it really depends. I get the feeling that marginalized people, in particular, would do really well in the apocalypse, what with how much this world forces us to fight on a daily basis.

As for everyone as a whole, I don’t know. I hope so. We might not be facing werewolves or vampires in the real world, but we are being beset by climate emergency and fascism. The monsters are here and we need to rise up.

You recently started working with Ubisoft Montreal. What does your new gig entail?

Man, it’s just about everything you can think of. All the text you see? Down to menu descriptions? Those things are in the wheelhouse. But I think what I never expected was the sheer amount of meetings. Man, there are a lot of meetings in triple-A.

What’s the best way to keep up-to-date with your releases? What’s next for you?

Twitter! I’m so god-awful at the whole ‘keeping my website updated’ thing, and I basically live on social media. So wobble to Twitter @casskhaw. If there’s something new, chances are I’ll be yelling a lot about it.

As for what’s next, I’ve got a new haunted house novella coming out in 2021, a secret thing that should be announced later this year, and a biiiiiig collaboration that I’m really, really, really, really hoping I’d be able to talk about soon. It’s with one of my favorite people in the world, and I’d like this to be a THING already now please.

Curious about Cassandra’s stories for Hunter? Check out the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter and get exclusive access to previews and updates!



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