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Interview with John Tynes

Posted on March 17, 2004 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

Like a lot of gamers, I started with D&D in grade school. I also played first-edition Top Secret and Chill. When I went to college, I got into Call of Cthulhu in a big way, and there was no looking back after that.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the gaming community today?

Obsolescence. The gaming market is not very large, and it’s not really expanding. There are a bunch of people playing D&D, but after that the market is intensely fragmented. I think the near-term future of gaming lies more in games published just on web sites and as PDFs, because it’s very hard for a new company to make a go of actual book publishing.

What advice do you have for hopeful authors trying to get into the gaming industry?

Don’t. Start your own web site and publish your work there, or contribute work to existing web sites. You’ll get more satisfaction and less bullshit. Working for actual gaming companies is an invitation to disrespect, and offers very little in terms of a future. If you’re doing it because you love it, do it on your own. Cut out the middleman.

How did Unknown Armies evolve? Where is it going?

The original inspiration for UA was the early comic-book writing of Grant Morrison, back in the late 1980s when he was writing series like Doom Patrol and Animal Man. His approach to supernatural storytelling was very different from the traditional styles I was familiar with. It was much more anarchic, more original, less concerned with using existing legends and ideas. That and reading Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum, which was a great book that managed to destroy my fondness for all the old Illuminati/Templar kinds of conspiracy/occult material. I wanted to create a new mythology, rooted in the modern world, and throw out both the baby and the bathwater.

I started brainstorming the material as an RPG, then I switched to writing short stories, then I tried to get it off the ground as a comic book, and then I went back to an RPG again, at which point Greg Stolze signed on and really kicked it into high gear.

We hit a high point with the second edition of the UA rulebook, which consumed us for almost a year of steady work. I think the result is one of the best-designed gaming rulebooks ever. But unfortunately, the UA line just doesn’t sell that well. It’s very much a niche game within an already niche market, and while its audience is devoted and very creative, we haven’t reached the larger group of people I thought were out there. At this point there are no more UA projects in the works.

How did you get into Lovecraft?

My parents had a couple of his books in paperback, so I first read his stories when I was in grade school. I remember reading “The Colour Out of Space” out loud to the guys in my Boy Scout troop on a campout. The older I got, the more interesting aspects I found to Lovecraft’s life and work. At this point I enjoy re-reading S.T. Joshi’s superb biography of HPL just as much as I do the fiction.

What challenges do you face while writing for an established setting like Call of Cthulhu?

Originality. I can’t tell you how many published and unpublished scenarios I’ve looked at where there’s a series of ritual murders in some kind of detectable pattern that is leading up to a climactic supernatural event. There are a number of very obvious scenarios for CoC gaming, and you have to get past them and onto new territory.

The other challenge is writing a scenario, not a story. Far too much of the published Chaosium scenarios are nothing more than a linear narrative in which each scene is interrupted by die rolls: either you succeed and continue with the linear narrative, or you fail and the entire story is derailed. Much of our work at Pagan — very much led by staff writer John Crowe — was spent in developing approaches to scenario design in which the story is what happens around the table, not what you read in the book.

What’s next for you?

I’ve left the gaming hobby entirely at this point. Pagan is being run by my friend and long-time collaborator Scott Glancy, and Unknown Armies is winding down. For the last year I’ve been working full time as a computer game designer on an online game called Pirates of the Burning Sea, which is coming out later this year. It’s a historical RPG of adventure on the high seas, and it’s been a great new challenge to take on. I really felt like I’d done about as much as I could in tabletop gaming, and I’m glad to be back at the bottom of the learning curve again.

For more information on John Tynes, visit his website at www.JohnTynes.com.

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