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Interview with Kraig Blackwelder

Posted on May 6, 2004 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

Back when I was in the sixth grade, my friend Luke Herman told me about this cool game his brother was playing in college called Dungeons and Dragons. He showed me his brother’s Monster Manual and explained a few of the basic ideas and I was hooked. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard of. It was like “let’s pretend” only with rules so nobody could cheat. My first gaming group included Luke as the DM, me, another friend of mine and my mom. Letting my mom play was the best thing I could have done, because later, when people started saying stupid shit like “D&D is of the devil, how can you let your son play that game?!” my mom would just roll her eyes and ignore them because she knew better.

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

Sloth. People don’t want to put in the work involved in playing RPGs. They’d rather avoid the face to face social interaction, skip the imagination work of writing up characters or settings, and sit their lazy asses in front of a screen and play something on their computer or Playstation/XBox, letting the computer do all the work for them. As far as I’m concerned, and I’ll get flamed for this I’m sure, computer games are a pox on American culture.

People disappear into their game boxes for hours on end and have nothing, NOTHING in the real world to show for all that time: no money, no new friends, no new experiences, no new ideas, nothing. Consequently, the time consumed by computer games is like healthy tissue being invaded by malignant tissue in the body. Computer games are a kind of time cancer. At least with RPGs you have social interaction and you make friends you can go out and do stuff with
outside of the context of the game. There’s actually a brilliant book about it called “The Age of Missing Information” by Bill McKibbon.

What has been your most challenging work in the RPG industry?

Developing Aberrant was challenging, especially early on when I had to take over from Rob Hatch, the game’s creator. The very first day I got into the office I was handed the manuscript for Project Utopia and told to develop it. And that manuscript was really, really, really boring. I’ve read math textbooks that were more exciting that that first draft. So I got to flex my development muscles pretty seriously on my first book. I was able to prop it up a little, but to this day it remains the book I’m least satisfied with. Later on I wound up developing the Aberrant Player’s Guide and Mummy: the Resurrection back to back, and that was pretty rough.

What has been your most rewarding work in the RPG industry?

A few projects stand out for different reasons. I wrote most of Nagah, the Changing Breed book for Werewolf, and I really, really enjoyed that. I did a huge amount of research beforehand, read the Mahabarata and the Ramayana, and brought myself up to speed on the culture I was writing about. It was great to get to learn all this stuff. I love learning; it makes my brain all tingly. Unfortunately, due in part to all that research, I was -hugely- late on that project and Ethan never forgave me for that and never gave me another assignment for Werewolf. That remains one of my biggest regrets with regard to my freelance career.

As far as what I’ve been happiest to see in print, I’d have to say the fiction piece I wrote for the opening of Victorian Vampire. It was kind of a challenge for me to pack in as many tropes of Gothic fiction as I could into a few pages, AND to keep it from sounding like standard Vampire fiction where characters are naming the Disciplines they’re using or talking about what Clan they’re from and similarly lame shit. And it was also kind of a perverse story on a number of levels; some might even say subversive.

You’ve written material for most of the World of Darkness lines (Vampire, KotE, Dark Ages, Hunter, Werewolf, Mage). Do you have a favorite? Why or why not?

I definitely have favorites, but I base my favorites not just on the game line, but on periods in the game’s history that roughly correspond to a particular developer’s tenure. Phil Brucato’s Mage and Sorcerers Crusade were extraordinary, brilliant games. Likewise, Wraith under Rich Dansky was phenomenal. Now, if you want to ask me about White Wolf games in general and not just in the WoD, you’ll get a different answer. The most fun I have writing these days is for Exalted. The irony here is that I worked on the first draft of Exalted WAAAAAY back in 98, before Geoff Grabowski took it over. I didn’t think much of the game at the time, honestly, and when I got my author’s copies, I just popped them on the shelf and never opened them.

UNTIL….

Last summer, I was at a game store here in Chicago and the guy said that Exalted was selling pretty well. That surprised me, so I took a second look at Exalted and I thought, “How could I have not seen how cool this is?” So then I got all the books and asked Geoff if he needed any writers. He tried me out on Aspect Book: Fire and I totally dug it. I was immersed in Exalted all last summer and every time a new book comes out, I make sure to get a copy and suck it down like the sweet creamy goodness that it is. Now I have two plum assignments on upcoming Exalted books that I’m totally salivating over.

What can you tell us about your work on Orpheus?

It was fun work. Being a big fan of Wraith, I was very enthusiastic about getting to work on Orpheus. The assignments were also coming fast and furious. It was very, very hectic to write books on that kind of time frame. I can’t even imagine how Lucien managed it, especially given the intensely detailed outlines he would send us. And then I’d think I was finished with Orpheus and Lucien would send me an email saying that someone had dropped the ball on an assignment and ask if I could fill in. The answer was always yes, and I’m pleased about working on five of the six Orpheus books.

What are your thoughts on the “limited-series” style of game, such as Orpheus?

My personal opinion is that if they do another limited series game, they should do it way in advance of the release date so they don’t have to finish the books at the same rate they plan on releasing them. That was just insane. I think the limited series idea is a good one, but I think Orpheus was a prototype of sorts, and there will be some serious tweaking of the concept if and when they do another one.

What can you tell us about your work on World of Darkness: Time of Judgment?

Now it can be told…

Ken contacted me because I’d done a fair amount of work on Kindred of the East and I’d developed projects before, most recently Tradition Book: Verbena for Mage. He told me he had something very, very secret that he wanted me to work on, and he sent me another nondisclosure contract, which I sent back. Then he told me about the whole Time of Judgment thing. I was psyched. I thought ending the WoD was way past due and a very brave thing for White Wolf to do. So I was psyched. I knew exactly whom I wanted to write it, too. So I had Ken send an NDA to Steve Kenson, who had also done a lot of work on KotE, and I contracted him. I had some definite ideas I wanted to explore in the end of the KotE, most notably hinting at some of its long-term connections with Hunter and Exalted. I wish I had more space to work with. I would have covered a lot more of the game’s loose ends.

I felt really lucky to have been tapped to work on Time of Judgment. Freelance development work is always a nice change of pace from writing.

If you could have written or developed one more World of Darkness book before Time of Judgment, what would if have been?

Wow … rough question. I would have been really, really honored if I could have written any one of the remaining Guild Books for Wraith. That game was one of the most brilliant things ever to come out of White Wolf, and Rich Dansky was a phenomenal game developer. I was really disappointed that the game folded before they published all of the Guild Books. I still have these weird fantasies that involve me winning the lottery and hiring Rich to develop the last Guild Books and then getting them published just for my personal collection.

Do you consider Horror a genre or a mood? Why?

That’s like saying, “Do you consider light to be a wave or a particle?” It’s both, of course. The genre developed because people crave the mood. Horror satisfies something in the souls of enough people that it has become a genre.

What RPGs are you currently playing, if any?

After Aberrant folded and I departed White Wolf, I was a full-time freelancer, and I never played RPGs. It felt like work, especially since people always want the game writer/developer to run the game. I had a game meltdown about this time last year stemming from that kind of thing. I had just worked on two back to back Dark Ages projects and I was running a Dark Ages game, the first game I had played in three years, and I suddenly realized that I HATED it. It didn’t feel like fun for me, it felt like an extension of what I spent every day doing for money. I just told the players that I couldn’t do it and dropped the game. I kind of wondered if that was going to be it for my gaming days. Then a couple of months ago I talked to my friend Ben, who’s a great Storyteller, to see if he’d be into running an Exalted chronicle. He was willing to give it a try; we got a group together and I actually get to play for a change. I’m having a total blast. It helps that we have a really good group of players. It’s reminded me how much fun RPGs can really be. I’m loving it.

What’s next for you?

That’s always a good question. I think I want to write either a novel or a screenplay. I had a short story published in an anthology called “Bending the Landscape: Horror” that I’m still pretty pleased with, so I’d like to see where non-game related fiction might take me. I have a chunk of a novel done, and ideas for a couple more. Now I just have to find the time between
freelance assignments.

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