Patrick Stuart wrote Fire on the Velvet Horizon and Deep Carbon Observatory, both of which are highly regarded in the paper & pencil roleplaying game world.
He also collaborated with Zak Sabbath on Maze of the Blue Medusa, an old school fantasy mega-dungeon which has received rave reviews recently. Right? Right. Cool, I got my quota of words starting with "r." Onto the interview!
1. What's your roleplaying game background?
I got interested in the burgeoning D&D blog scene around 2009 or so. I bought copies of 4th Edition and ran it for some friends. I very quickly went through the same process of disenchantment with that ruleset that a lot of other people did at the time and I turned to old-school clones like S&W and LotFP.
In 2011 I got a laptop as a birthday present. Within the first few days of having it I had made my first blog post, things grew from there.
2. I imagine you're pleased with the warm reception that Maze of the Blue Medusa has received thus far. Were you expecting this to be a great success?
I thought it was good but I never have any idea if anything I do is going to be a success or even how a success should be judged in the world of DIY D&D, number of units sold? Good reviews? Games played?
It's exciting and frightening at the same time. I'm having probably the biggest creative success in my life at a time when my life is in more turmoil than ever before.
I'm just glad I finally got a professional-looking book out in time so my parents could see it, now instead of being their deadbeat son I'm their deadbeat son who does this weird thing.
Plus, now everything I do is going to have to try to measure up to MotBM, and that will be a serious challenge.
3. Did the book turn out the way you thought it would when you started this project?
I began it in a spirit of play, without any clear idea of what was possible and I had never completed or published a book before, so I essentially thought that if the whole thing ended up as a usable solid object then that would be great. It was an exploration, on my end at least, rather than driving towards a known goal (or my own goal).
I think I can truthfully say that it turned out better than anything I was dimly half-imagining while I was writing it, but while I was writing it I wasn't imagining an end product very much. I was too deeply engaged in the nature of *this* particular room or getting *this* sentence right or working out how this one part relates to this other part over here.
4. How did you come to collaborate with Zak Sabbath and what was it like working with him?
Zak said 'Hey I did this painting and I was going to key the rooms as a dungeon, do you want to do the key?'
I'm trying to think of a clever metaphor but I don't have one. It's like working with a very smart guy who is ferociously attentive.
5. What are some of your influences in general and for MotBM specifically?
MotBM doesn't have any influences.
Let me make sense of that for a moment. In most of my work there's a degree of research or reading I do in and around the thing it's going to be about, DCO and Veins of the Earth (not yet out) are heavily influenced by reading on caves and geology) or some reading that I'm doing during the process that seeps into it (FotVH has strong seasonal themes).
With MotBM there was no preparatory reading, it didn't really have an analyzable subject before the fact, it didn't really have a theme that could be researched.
The only fictional or factual information that went into the Maze was whatever was rolling around in my head in a general sense. While I was writing it I chewed through a lot of information, mainly to get names, I read books backwards, running through the indexes and glossaries and leaving the rest.
Really, the strongest influence on me was the image itself, everything I thought of sprang from that and returned to it.
6. What were the 3 most important ideas/concepts that you wanted to suffuse into it?
More than any other project, it was emergent. There was no plan other than to look at the image, develop an impulse or feeling about what things might be, then write a name, title or string of words, then move on and do the same thing again and again and again. Then I simply filled in and expanded, basing each idea on the fragments of the ideas that came before.
As a completed thing it seems to be about sadness, isolation, power and time. And women.
7. Besides it taking longer, what are the differences between a long-term project like MotBM and short-term projects you've worked on previously?
The difference is seriously thinking it wasn't going to happen for so long that I effectively forgot it, then remembering the months I spent going to the library to work on it, then thinking about the time and what it meant that I had spent it without anything coming from it, then ultimately putting it down as a learning experience and useful experience writing and thinking, then thinking about it and getting pissed off that it was actually dead time that I had somehow wasted.
Then it fucking happens, and its a real book, and everyone seems to like it.
So that's a strange, long series of interrelated feelings. DIY D&D teaches you patience and madness in equal measure. 'Very Patient Madmen' would be a good name for the movement.
8. Have you run (or are you currently running) MotBM? If so, how many players/groups were involved and what was the outcome and feedback?
I don't run games any more. Running a game is a strange impulse that seems to have died inside me. Maybe it will come back, I don't know.
9. Where do you see the paper & pencil RPG hobby going in the years to come?
I have absolutely no idea. Playing an RPG is such an overwhelmingly strange thing to want to do that even within the nerdosphere, most people would rather just play board games. There's always the vague presentiment that something incredible might happen, that all the hidden potential of the thing will just explode outwards in a kind of wildfire effect.
But it's just as likely that it will chug along neatly as a kind of legacy culture thing, like Jazz or Theatre, not really growing that much, not really fading away.
I suppose if D&D ends up reaching the rough size, influence and familiarity of theatre then that would be cool, and a near-realistic ambition. This creative thing that everyone kind of at least knows about the existence of, and there are posh versions and populist versions and weird experimental versions and some of it makes money and if you go to a party and say that's what you do people just go 'Oh, that' rather than 'What?'
10. What's next for you?
Next next next next next I don't know.
In the last two months I left my girlfriend, moved house into my aunt's and started a new job. At the same time that I'm sitting here in this isolated suburban house, worrying about the state of the lawn and surrounded by boxes of books that I can't get anyone to buy, far away, in what seems like a different reality, a book I co-created is earning rave reviews in a distant micro-culture, and up for five of the nerd-oscars of that culture.
It's very like living in parallel worlds, of like a YA novel where the hero has a tangential secret fantasy life in another reality.
In the nerd reality, the one you are probably talking about, the plan is roughly to finish Broken Fire Regime, the sequel to Deep Carbon Observatory (this has been the plan for quite a while), then to write 'Knights of the Snail', a very long fantasy book about snails, hopefully illustrated by Matthew Adams then/or at the same time, to write Lanthanum Chromate, the doomed dwarf city book, then Littoral Storm Corsairs, the 3rd book in the DCO sequence or Elemental Quartet, then to write 'The Nightmare Sea' a play in verse, and at some point around then to write Oceanic Dream Somthing, the 4th and final adventure in the Elemental Quartet.
Every time a project gets published I get a new tattoo, so I guess I will quit when that arm is full.
Other projects drift in and out of possibility. I'm not writing or blogging much right now, but I'm writing a bit.
In the real world, the one I eat in, I have no fucking idea. I have no direction there.
Interview conducted by Venger Satanis