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Interview with Matt McFarland

Posted on December 16, 2003 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

When I was 11, my mother bought me the TSR Marvel Super Heroes RPG to keep me quiet on vacation. I ran a lot of games (read: combats) for my brother, and eventually graduated to including other people. I think the fact that my first game was a superhero game and not a fantasy game has probably impacted my writing, and my work in the industry in general; I much prefer environments that I’m familiar with (or could at least become familiar with) to fantasy environments when writing or running games.

As far as how I got into the industry, I moved to Georgia in June of 2001 on the hope that White Wolf might have a job opening. In September, they decided to give me the Dark Ages gig, so here we are.

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

There are a number. Ari’s comment about how the market isn’t being supported by the people who should be supporting it is certainly viable (see Ari Marmell’s Dec. 1, 2003 interview).

I think the popular perception of gamers as fat geeks with no social skills is both unflattering and detrimental to the industry, and not true often enough to receive the amount of humor mileage that it does. We’ve all met those gamers, but in the nearly 20 years I’ve been gaming (hurts just to type that), I’ve played with close to 200 different players and most of them have been quite normal members of society. What this tells me is that a) the stereotypes aren’t really accurate and b) gaming has something to offer just about everybody. It’s important that we expand the market base, and I think changing popular perception of role-playing is a good way to do that.

Where/how do you find your artists and/or writers?

Most of them find me, actually. Some (Ari Marmell, Janet Trautvetter, Sarah Roark, etc.) were people that I “inherited” from Phil Boulle, my predecessor. Others (Matt Rourke, Jacob Klünder) were folks who submitted work to me and became favorites in short order, while still others (Michael Goodwin, Morgan McLaughlin) were people I knew socially first and then hired as writers when they begged. 😉

What advice do you have for writers and artists trying to get into the gaming industry?

Examine your priorities. I’ve never seen anyone make a living as a freelancer, though I have seen people try and decide it doesn’t work. The money’s not good enough (or consistent enough).

If you’re doing this for love of the game, though, I recommend that you write every day; 1000 words is a good rule of thumb. I also recommend that you keep gaming; nothing more sadly ironic than a freelancer who’s so busy writing that he doesn’t have time to play anymore.

Be mindful of deadlines and other professional concerns. If your writing’s brilliant, but you’re always late and you’re a jerk, you won’t get work again (and developers do trade horror stories of problem authors amongst themselves, believe me).

What about the Dark Ages line appeals to you as a Developer? As a Player?

The same sorts of things appeal to me as both player and developer, actually. I like that I don’t have to focus on one particular type of character; I’ve got books involving vampires, mages, werewolves and inquisitors (and soon, fae), and that means I get to shift gears occasionally. That’s cool, because it means I’m not stuck in the same mindset for long periods of time. I also like the opportunity to learn a bit about history during the course of gaming and developing.

What kind of reaction have you had from fans in regards to the Dark Ages changes in mechanics (Aura rules, pooling Backgrounds, etc)?

Some of the feedback, including the examples you mention, has been very positive. While opinions are never universal (especially among so opinionated a population as gamers), people in general seem to enjoy the opportunity to build a power base, and to see the concrete effect that a vampire’s road has on her surroundings. Of course, there have been some wrinkles; a lot of people (me included) aren’t crazy about the way Fortitude and Celerity are structured in Dark Ages, but these are just things that we can learn from in future.

As a side comment, that’s an important thing to remember: no gaming book is going to get it all right the first (or probably even second time), and no one is going to please everybody all the time. About all we can do is recognize what doesn’t work and, within that, what we can fix and what we can’t.

What are the chances of us seeing some Dark Ages material for ghosts and the lands of the dead? Will we be seeing any new non-European Dark Ages sourcebooks (such as Veil of Night & Blood & Silk)?

I’m not really able to talk about the future of Dark Ages; what with the end of the world coming upon us. We’re reexamining how Dark Ages is going to fit in with the future and that’s got to take a priority over deciding on new books. That said, I’d love to see some necromancy/ghost-related stuff for the line, so keep those fingers crossed! In the meanwhile, Devil’s Due, which is a July 2004 release, will display the power of the infernal in the Dark Medieval and the fate of those who truck with it.

Can you tell us who you have working on Dark Ages: Fae and what they are up to?

Sure. Authors are: Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Carrie Anne Lewis, Krister Michl, Malcolm Sheppard, Dee McKinney, Buck Marchington, and Matt Rourke (with some assorted tidbits by myself, of course). Everybody turned in some great work for Fae; it’s in editing as of this writing and that means we’re on track for a May 2004 release (provided no cats catch fire before then).

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

Wow. I still have trouble believing I got to work on this. I was pretty jazzed about this; if you check out the essay I wrote (The End of the Dream) you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s see, what else can I tell you? I was pleased with the way it turned out, but as I’ve seen the drafts for the Vampire and Werewolf Time of Judgment books, I really wish I’d had a whole hardcover. That wasn’t feasible for economical reasons, of course, but there are a lot of loose ends that I had to leave looser than I’d have liked, simply because I couldn’t spare the 500 words to talk about them in any deserving fashion.

That said, I think the Changeling section is a worthy finish to the game. Remember, it’s a toolkit — we provide the tools, you tell the story. Don’t be expecting the definitive answer, because to be honest, we’ve never known it.

To find out more about Matt, visit his website at www.blackhatmatt.com

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