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Interview with Lucien Soulban

Posted on December 14, 2003 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

A friend of mine, Mike Scott, introduced me to my future best friend, Jean Carrieres. That was about 15 years ago. Jean was running a gaming APA (Amateur Press Association) named Mordred, and invited me to join. Jean liked my work and, after he went to Ianus Publications (later to become Dream Pod 9), he hired me to write a module for their new Night’s Edge line, which was a licensed and supernatural offshoot of Talsorian’s Cyberpunk. I wrote an adventure called Playgrounds, followed by a sourcebook called Sub-Attica. Those two books enabled me to approach White Wolf with the hopes of writing for their nascent Vampire line. That, however, is a long story.

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

It depends, I guess. I loved Vampire because it was so fresh and unique at the time of its release. It’s become a bit overwrought now, but that’s more a nature of its successful history than Justin’s command at the helm. In fact, I think Justin is the reason for the line’s continued popularity despite some major sticking points in Vampire’s history that could have staked it right through the heart early on. I also have a definite soft spot for Wraith and Hunter; both are truer to horror roleplaying than the other lines, and I’m a big fan of horror. Plus, my first book to be released for White Wolf was the artifacts and relics section in Buried Secrets for Wraith. The fact that the Maggot Revolver still bears mention among Wraith fans brings me no end of pleasure.

As for the other lines… I enjoyed writing them, but they never struck as strong an emotional cord as Vampire, Hunter and Wraith.

What about Orpheus is different from your previous work in the industry?

Wow… this is going to be a long answer, so bear with me. Several years ago, I wrote a game called Providence for a small gaming company, and while the project was very dear to me, it wasn’t the success I hoped it would become. See, I approached the matter from a naïve point of view, believing that originality alone would sell. So, I packed Providence chock full of original ideas and concepts, not realizing that too much originality was actually a BAD thing. It established too many degrees of separation between the product and potential readers, so many folks had a problem connecting to the world. I learned, at that point, that the important factor isn’t complete originality, but the proper development of your existing hooks.

Then, White Wolf offers me an opportunity to write Orpheus, practically giving me carte blanche on creating this World of Darkness offshoot based loosely around Wraith. And suddenly, here in Wraith, I see the same problems that Providence suffered from; specifically, too many degrees of separation between product and reader (and this isn’t a slight against Wraith fans, whom I respect for being mature enough to grasp the multiple levels of the game that often run concurrently).

So I designed Orpheus with several goals in mind that were different from my previous works (especially White Wolf): 1) Empower the characters, let them be pivotal, 2) Encourage group dynamics with real rewards and benefits, 3) Make the game more widely appealing by eliminating some of the restrictions that seemingly victimized the characters on first blush, 4) Write ghost stories for ghosts and 5) Write the game for reader’s enjoyment. This last one was important, because there are several games out there that were never written for the fans. They were written by industry folk trying to earn kudos from other industry folk (thankfully, White Wolf is a professional company, and not in the business of losing money on unplayable art).

What kind of fan response have you seen in regards to Orpheus being a limited-run line?

You know, it hasn’t been that bad. I mean certain fans are sad about the impending end of the metaplot, but even their complaints aren’t negative. The fans have been supportive of the metaplot idea, and I think are happy to know they won’t be shelling out beaucoup bucks for a storyline that may never resolve, or for a series that dwindles in quality. With a metaplot, the fans understand that the series was designed as a whole, so the distribution of material and the general quality of the series should be level. That, and the fact that each sourcebook has enough information to run a different style of Orpheus chronicle I think helps.

How have fans of Wraith: the Oblivion responded to Orpheus?

Their support has been great. Before the core book was even in layout, I had dinner with Richard Dansky, the Wraith line developer, who was visiting Montreal. He said he loved Wraith fans because they were among the most level-headed posters on the forums. And frankly, he’s right. Once the series was announced, I started posting some information to facilitate the transition, and Wraith fans were very supportive. They understood this wasn’t Wraith revised, and they were willing to treat this on its own merits. Certainly, some people lamented the fact that this wasn’t Wraith revised, but even then, they didn’t flame White Wolf, or myself, for it. I can respect dissent and differing opinions, as long as the arguments are well-thought out and expressed without launching into personal attacks. And frankly Wraith fans have been fantastic for that.

If you could release one more Orpheus book after the series, what would it be?

Hmm. Probably Orpheus: Post-Mortem. The metaplot builds in events, toward a massive climax. I’d probably use a book like Post-Mortem to bring the story back to the basic precept of telling ghost stories for ghosts. I intended each book to be its own genre and chronicle style, so this fictional book would have been an epilogue, where life returns to normal, but with new obstacles promised on the horizon. Also, I might have used Post-Mortem to offer alternative rules for some of the mechanics that didn’t work quite that well.

What do you do when you’re not gaming?

Heh, define “not gaming.” Actually, I read when I can, and I draw… poorly. I love reading non-fictional books that give insight into history or some working of society/culture. I also play video games… have been since I saw a mob crowded around a Space Invaders game. Now I’ve got a Gamecube, X-Box, PS2 and Gameboy to drain my already scarce resources. I also go out with friends regularly for bowling, pool, dining or movies. I’m losing some excess weight to go back into martial arts (45 pounds so far and dropping), though I’m debating between Hung Gar Kung Fu, which I did for three years, or trying out this amazing, practical style called Systema (Russian martial art used by their special forces).

What’s next for you?

I’m actually trying to diversify. I love gaming, but I don’t want to suffer from the big fish/small pond syndrome that I see many game writers falling into. Some achieve a modicum of success with pen & paper writing, and their egos swell to undeserved proportions; they refuse to move on lest they lose their “status” or self-anointed importance (it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when I see these fruitbats strutting around like they’ve personally led the D-Day landings at Normandy). I don’t want to be that kind of writer, so I’m trying to challenge myself with new and different projects, if just to keep myself humble and growing. I’m just wrapping up a contract for Relic Entertainment, the guys that did Homeworld 1 & 2. I wrote the script for their next big game, which I can’t mention, but which will be announced before Christmas (hopefully). I’m doing a sourcebook for Mutants & Masterminds, because I’ll never leave gaming entirely, but my main focus is on fiction. I’m appearing in several upcoming anthologies including the clan novel reprints #4 and an upcoming Dragonlance anthology. I also get to write my first White Wolf novel in 2004. Otherwise, I’m prepping a bible for a horror project I want to do, though I’m torn on whether it makes a better game or novel. We’ll see.

Drop by Lucien Soulban’s website www.luciensoulban.com for updates on his latest work…

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