Categorized | Game Designers

[HTV2E] Interview with Meghan Fitzgerald

Posted on February 24, 2020 by Flames

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 Meghan Fitzgerald who worked on rules for the new edition. Meghan is a tabletop game designer, developer, and writer (and a librarian, in another life). She’s also the current line developer for Changeling: The Lost and Mage: The Awakening lines from Onyx Path Publishing. She’s also worked on several other Onyx Path-published games, projects for Green Ronin as both writer and developer, and many others in the tabletop RPG industry.

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition is about that commitment a player must make to the hunt. In game terms, The Code is now part of character creation. Can you offer insight into your approach to The Code?

The idea behind the Code for 2e was that, as a hunter, you’re still human and you still have Integrity, but your dedication to the Vigil — a dangerous and horror-filled lifestyle that puts you through the wringer on both personal and practical levels and is beyond any normal human experience — necessarily changes your psyche. You’ve had the veil stripped from your eyes and you decided not to put it back on, for the sake of humanity. It isn’t that the Code is some universal set of laws or anything; it’s that in order to function as a hunter without just breaking down, you have to let yourself be changed in a fundamental way that has this bunch of basic commonalities across everyone who chooses to live this way.

It’s almost like a set of defense mechanisms your psyche relies on to deal with the supernatural — it’s a horror game, of course, which is why even if you’re friends with a vampire, you know going in that being friends with a vampire is going to be complicated, and is objectively a bad idea. It’s the Buffy dilemma: Angel’s a good guy and you love him, but sometimes he loses his humanity and goes on a murder spree, and ultimately as the Slayer that’s on you. And that realization changes you.

Why does a hunter need to worry about who knows the supernatural exists? What risks would they be taking by being open about their need to fight?

Primarily, the Chronicles of Darkness are built on the basic assumption that human beings Do Not Want to Know. It’s not like they don’t see what’s lurking in the shadows, they just willfully forget, because the human mind isn’t made to deal with it. So a hunter who’s open about what they do is on the one hand risking mass panic; but on the other, it’s actually more likely that the majority of people would stick their heads in the sand and assume the hunter was just a murderer or a terrorist making wild excuses for their crimes.

In some ways, that’s kind of true; the questions of “what does humanity even mean? who gets to be seen as a person? how much of a difference is there between hunters and monsters really?” is at the core of this game, and as with everything else in CofD, there are no easy answers. This is why even Network Zero, whose mission is to break down that veil of willful ignorance, does it subtly and gradually in ways that will hopefully desensitize people to the horror and impossibility of it so they can one day accept it as truth.

To reinforce the connective tissue between a hunter and their community, we’ve added a Touchstone. What does that mechanical expression entail?

A Touchstone is a person (or, occasionally, a place or object) that reminds a hunter what they’re fighting for. When you’re neck-deep in the world’s dark underbelly all the time, it can be hard to remember what it feels like to just exist as a human being who’s part of society. So your Touchstones are ordinary humans who aren’t involved with the Vigil, who can ground you when you start to detach from everyday life and get too obsessive.

In mechanical terms, Touchstones help you withstand Integrity loss and help you regain spent Willpower when you defend your connections to them, which reinforces the need to keep your relationships alive and occasionally take a break from monster hunting. Vampire: The Requiem players will be familiar with the way hunter Touchstones work, as they’re pretty similar.

Speaking of personal ties, many players would love to bring their friends and family into the hunt. Besides playing with them in a cell, what other rules (besides Touchstones) allow players to connect with their loved ones?

Players who want to mechanically reinforce relationships with other characters can take Social Merits like Mentor or Retainer, to give those loved ones more specific roles in the narrative and reward players with mechanical benefits to having more connections. One of the fun things about Hunter is the tension between wanting to hold onto your loved ones and not wanting to drag them into the darkness with you or put them in danger, and the stronger your character’s bonds are with those people, the better the drama that comes with that tension will be.

Another interesting question I like to explore in Hunter games is whether to even tell your loved ones about the Vigil or not; telling them means exposing them to horrific things and potentially putting them on the radar of the monsters you hunt, but not telling them means distancing yourself from them and leading a stressful double life, and that sort of thing can make for a fascinating story. Rules-wise, all sorts of Conditions related to (or affecting) those characters can be brought into play during that kind of exploration, which helps resolve those arcs in a satisfying way.

Because Hunter is a horror game, there is a possibility of a player character being traumatized–especially in the Slasher Chronicle. How is trauma (and its recovery) handled in Hunter. Dr. Megan Connell suggested to me that downtime is a great way to include therapy sessions. Mechanically, how would that work for this game?

Hunter mostly handles trauma and its recovery through Integrity and breaking points, and the Conditions that result from them. Losing Integrity is the result of going through traumas of various kinds, and choosing which Condition you suffer is choosing how your character reacts to that trauma. When you resolve the Condition, that’s your character working through it and dealing with it, and recovering from that reaction — that’s why Conditions are designed so that their resolutions create story beats. And when you succeed at avoiding Integrity loss at a breaking point, it’s a sign that your character has learned from their past experiences and can stay grounded even in the face of a traumatic moment.

I think having your character attend a therapy session as downtime in between sessions is a great idea — mechanically, it’s the perfect opportunity to have your character’s therapist as a Touchstone, and in fact I wrote The Therapist as one of the example Touchstones in the book. That Touchstone helping you resist Integrity loss and regain Willpower through your own choices are good ways to represent the sort of work the character is doing in therapy. A therapist is a spot-on example of what a Touchstone is: a character who’s not part of the Vigil and who won’t judge a hunter for what they’ve done or how they’ve reacted to trauma, whether it’s of the kinds we know in the real world or a kind that the human mind wasn’t even designed to process.

What would your ideal hunter look like? Which tier are you most excited to play?

My favorite tier has always been tier one, for that real street-level, personal community feel, although the kinds of Hunter games I enjoy most are those that start at tier 1 and progress to tier 2 and maybe tier 3 over time. Ideal is a tough one! There are so many great Hunter character concepts. My favorite of the Hunter characters I’ve played was a would-be member of the Lucifuge who carried the bloodline but refused to join, instead dealing with partially-uncontrollable demonic powers and nightmares (Supernatural Merits) while trying to save her family; she joined up with Network Zero for a while, but she ended up with the Loyalists of Thule, which is probably my favorite Compact.

You’ve written and developed several games set in the Chronicles of Darkness. What is it about this setting that you enjoy so much? Any previously published games you’re particularly excited about?

The Chronicles of Darkness game lines does such a good job of marrying mechanics to story, that’s my favorite thing about it. It’s crunchy enough to satisfy my mechanics brain, but uncomplicated enough to make it easy to get a nice flow going; the rules don’t get in the way of the drama, and in fact are designed to help you create it. Aside from that, I’m a sucker for psychological and supernatural horror, weird thrillers, urban legends, that sort of thing, which of course is CofD’s whole deal. I really love the “high weirdness” concept that’s baked into it, the way that nothing fits into nice neat boxes and something unknown or something you can’t explain is always just around the corner. For me, it hits the sweet spot between gritty and optimistic—the world has a vast dark underbelly that no one wants to acknowledge and it will mess you up, but there’s always that light at the end of the tunnel that says there’s still hope, even if you have to do or witness terrible things to get there. Which is why I love Hunter so much!

I think the CofD game I’m most excited about right now is Deviant: The Renegades; I’ve playtested it and worked on the systems, and I’m writing for the Devoted Companion, one of the supplements that came out of the Kickstarter. I can’t wait for the core to get released to everyone and hear about all the cool things people do with it!

If you could pick any horror film to make a game out of, which one would it be and why?

I’ll go with The Ninth Gate, because I love a good slow-burn mystery and it has some almost pulpy undertones with the rare book detective vibe; the movie itself I’m ambivalent about, but the basic concept sounds like such a cool game idea: you deal in rare books, weird antiques, and ancient artifacts, and you keep getting caught up in creepy mysteries revolving around these cursed or otherwise supernatural objects. Kind of like a horror version of The Librarians!

Honorary mention to a video game series, though — a game based on the Silent Hill setting would be awesome, too.

What’s next for you?

Right now I’m developing an as-yet unannounced book for the Modern AGE line for Green Ronin, which I’m very excited about, and pretty soon I’ll be starting on development for two books that have been announced for Onyx Path, which are the Hedge book for Changeling: The Lost and Tome of the Pentacle for Mage: The Awakening, both of which I’m also really looking forward to!

Curious about Meghan’s work on Hunter? Check out the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter and get exclusive access to previews and updates!

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