Leagues of Gothic Horror, you say?

I had a chance to talk shop with the Great Beast of TAG (Triple Ace Games) when he was let loose from his electrofluidic difference engine for a brief stretch of the legs. That’s right, I have been treated to another conversation with Paul Wade-Williams, or Wiggy as he is known on RPG forums. What did we discuss as he tried to escape being thrown back into his dank dungeon on the moors for another long stretch of captivity? Why, Leagues of Gothic Horror, Old Boy! Wait… you mean, you didn’t know about it? Well then, read on!

On Triple Ace Games and Great Plans

It has been a very busy three years for TAG since Leagues of Adventure was released. Not only have you been active in producing legendary material for Hellfrost and the Land of Fire (Savage Worlds), you have also successfully shepherded in a new era of card games for the company (more on this soon!). In that time, quite a few PDF supplements for Leagues of Adventure have been released, as well as the recent compendium in print for Weird Science. Could this new kickstarter project be taken as a signal that we are entering a period of new releases for the game?

That is definitely the plan. Leagues of Gothic Horror (henceforth LOGH) is a sister line. It’s very much a part of the same world as Leagues of Adventure (LOA), but with an entirely different focus.

Indeed, I should make it clear at this stage that LOGH is not a standalone Ubiquity-powered RPG. Although written as an expansion to Leagues of Adventure, it can be used with Hollow Earth Expedition, All for One: Regime Diabolique, or Space: 1889 with minimal effort.

Our current plan is for five printed monster guide supplements—expanding on Apparitions, Black Magic, Mummies, Shapeshifters, and Vampires—and then a series of adventures. That’s for starters, but how much of that we can produce depends on support from the fans. Back us, and we’ll give you a great set of horror rules you can use in any Ubiquity game.

Slipping his notes from his pockets when he was lost in thought, staring at the dimly-glowing suggestion of the moon behind thick clouds, I flipped through them in haste for any signs of these monster guides. After scanning what lay within, it took me a moment to recover my senses and surreptitiously return the notebook with unsteady hands. Trying to remain calm, I changed the subject…

The last time we spoke, you mentioned that Leagues of Adventure was your second-favorite TAG-produced setting, coming in only behind Hellfrost in your authorial affections. Could you give newcomers to the game an overview of what it is, and what attracts you to it?

Leagues is a late Victorian setting of steampunk invention, derring-do, historical mysteries, sinister cults, and global exploration. If you’re already a fan of Hollow Earth Expedition, then think of Leagues as your character’s grandfather’s era of exploration and heroics.

It’s really a setting where you can do anything you want. Although the game is set in the 1890s and we provide a summary of major historical events, history begins on the day you start the campaign. We don’t care that Amundsen reached the South Pole first and that he didn’t, as far as we know, find a hidden tropical valley populated by a strange race of humans who keep dinosaurs as pets—your characters can do all of that, and much more beside.

I love blending history and fiction, a genre that is becoming very popular in fiction. Although not destined to become classics, I love stories about finding Atlantis before an evil villain or unravelling an historical mystery in the style of the Da Vinci Code. Leagues lets me tell those types of stories, as well as run frenetic chases and gun battles in exotic locations.

On Leagues of Gothic Horror​

When LOA was released, it was heralded as being one of the best introductions to Victorian-themed roleplay gaming out there. I would say [having had the joy of a sneak preview] that Leagues of Gothic Horror carries on that fine tradition. What was involved in preparing it, and what sections of it are you most excited to share with players?

Lots of reading (fiction and non-fiction) and lots of watching old movies. Although we’ve tried to remain true to the roots of Gothic Horror, we don’t ignore the influence of Universal’s monster movies or Hammer’s films on the horror genre. After gathering all the relevant material it was pretty much like any other book—what do I want to say and how can I convey that information in a clear manner?

To be honest, I’m looking forward to sharing all of it—we’ve crammed a lot of information into 160 pages. If I had to pick one chapter, though, it would be the bestiary. Yes, we’ve got your stock entries, like ghosts and vampires, werewolves and mummies, but there is also a range of major villains, potential allies, and sinister cults. Just flicking through that section should generate a wealth of adventure ideas.

And not every ghost or vampire is the same. We’ve introduced a system that allows the GM to pick and choose special abilities, meaning every ghost or vampire is unique. A poltergeist, for example, is great at throwing things and making noises, but a fright can generate illusions that drive you insane. Both are ghosts, but you need a different approach to dealing with them as characters.

As for a specific section, well, in Gothic Horror the world is very much black and white—there are villains and there are heroes. Heroes who cross the line, or who dabble in forbidden lore, risk moral corruption. Gain enough Corruption points through evil or Evil acts in Leagues of Gothic Horror, and you develop a new Flaw.

This concept of expanding Leagues of Adventure in this direction has been with you for a while. As a participant on the TAG forum, I feel like I have seen the idea slowly growing and expanding over time from a suggestion, to a small pdf release (Globetrotters Guide to Gothic Horror) and now into an impressively-sized sourcebook. What keeps you bringing you back to it? What were your inspirations when writing for it?

I grew up on Hammer and Universal movies. They were a little before my time, but they were always on television and I always watched them, no matter how many times I’d seen them before. When I read I6: Ravenloft (the AD&D module) for the first time, I was hooked even more—this was the movies of my youth in RPG format! The Ravenloft setting was brilliant and remains one of my all-time favorites, and I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to Pinnacle’s Rippers setting.

The Globetrotters’ Guide to Gothic Horror (PDF) was my attempt to make my mark on the gaming genre. It was well received, but it suffered, due to budgetary restrictions, from no art and limited page count (50 in total). With the advent of Kickstarter, and my being older and wiser, I now have the opportunity to go back over that work, expand it in new directions, and make this the definitive guide to Ubiquity-powered Gothic Horror.

For instance, the GGtGH pretty much reused the Hollow Earth Expedition magic system. We haven’t changed that as the core magic system, but we’ve added new rituals and included rules for drawing power from ley lines.

My main inspirations were older horror stories (such as Dracula, Frankenstein, Lot No. 249) and the Hammer and Universal movies. The latter are typically set in eras after Leagues, but they convey the same style of horror. My wife bought me a book called Horror by Gaslight many, many years ago, and that compendium of short stories has been an invaluable resource for helping set the tone I want to convey.

Without giving too much away, what would you tell a prospective buyer to expect from this book in terms of genre? What in general do you mean by Gothic Horror, and to what range of purposes can you envision it being put?

Many modern movies are about sudden audience shocks and buckets of gore. Those movies have their place, for sure, but they rarely leave you feeling scared when you leave the theater. Gothic Horror is about slow reveals, half-sighted images out of the corner of the eye, creeping madness, spots of blood rather than mangled corpses, unexplained deaths, and mortals facing terrifying horrors. And that’s our focus—scary tales rather than shocking tales. It’s The Woman in Black compared to Friday the 13th.

LOGH is a really toolkit rather than a fixed setting, and part of the plan was that it can be used for whatever type of horror stories the GM wants to tell. We provide advice on running everything from the pulp-horror of the recent The Mummy franchise to the comedy style of Ghostbusters to true Gothic Horror, and the tools to let you do that.

If you were to have purchased this supplement in a gaming store rather than having written it, what do you think you might do with it first? Is there a Leagues of Gothic Horror campaign you’ve been itching to run?

One of the sample campaigns is entitled “Who You Gonna Telegram?” It doesn’t take much to figure out that it’s based on Ghostbusters. While it’s written as a comedic campaign, it could just as easily be played as deadly serious. So you have a small group of occult investigators pitting their wits and weird science against all manner of vile spooks and specters. Ghosts, being damn hard to stop and having a range of supernatural abilities, are especially good for horror—they’re a staple of the genre for a very good reason.

More importantly, ghosts have a reason for haunting. Werewolves kill because they must, but what made a person remain as a ghost and why does he hate everyone who enters his house? Unravelling that background, watching the players build the jigsaw from facts, can be as much fun as unleashing a hail of Ecto-Plasma Bullets.

Fans of the genre and/or your work may already be familiar with the writing you did for Rippers, a Savage Setting of the same time period. What might be the similarities and differences they would note between these projects?

Given they’re the same genre there are similarities, such as the same classic monsters and the scope to travel the world battling evil. We have the Leagues of Adventure, but they’re different to the Rippers’ Factions in that they are not all monster hunters—some want to study them using scientific means, some to disprove them, and some to hide their existence from the world (while battling the threat).

I think the big difference is in the anticipated style of play. I still love playing Rippers but, while you can play a game any way you want, it’s always been more a Van Helsing setting—high-octane monster fighting action—in my eyes. LOGH has magic and weird science, if you want to use it, but we’re trying to focus on investigation, looking before you leap, and running away in utter terror over shooting things first. We want players to have fun at the table, but we also want them to glance over their shoulder as they take that long walk home in the dark.

On the Ubiquity Roleplaying System

You have mentioned in the past that the initial conception of LOA was for Savage Worlds, but that design elements in Ubiquity made it a better fit. What would you say are strengths of Ubiquity that might encourage folks to try it out, if they haven’t already?

Ubiquity is easy to learn, simple to play, and provides a great range of character building options. It’s also very flexible, allowing you to run any sort of game you can imagine.

For me, Ubiquity has one major strength over many other systems, and that is Resources. The game actively encourages characters to think beyond their guns and knives; to invest in building up a network of friends and contacts, and to strive for fame, promotion, social status. These benefits aren’t meaningless background information, either—they provide genuine game bonuses. I’ve created something like 100 sample player character for Ubiquity, and most of them concentrate heavily on Resources over Talents—they’re what make a character a real part of the setting.

One of the intriguing elements of Leagues of Adventure, which is brought more to the forefront in Leagues of Gothic Horror, I feel, is the idea of embracing characters from period fiction as part of the game world to one extent or another. One could merely read of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes in the paper, or could actually contend with the likes of Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde on the foggy streets of London. Could you share a little about using this to your advantage as a GM?

I think the big advantage is that many GMs have likely come across the source material, either reading original literature or in movie adaptations. That means they probably know the villain in advance, how he looks, how he might act, and so on. Aside from stats, and we have plenty of those in the book, it’s a ready-made character.

The GM can also have a lot of fun with these characters, even if they’re utterly irrelevant to the plot. Mr. Hyde, for instance, was a social animal, always drinking and gambling. So maybe the globetrotters are playing cards in a club with a surly and gruff man, who storms out when he loses a pot of money. One of their fellow gamblers turns around and says something, “Mr. Hyde doesn’t take losing very well, I’m afraid.” Odds are there are going to be some open mouths as that bombshell drops.

Or maybe one of the heroes is an occult specialist who is briefly approached by a Dutch metaphysician who wants to check a few facts about vampires before he catches a train to Whitby. What player in a Gothic Horror game wouldn’t get a kick out of being able to help Van Helsing?

On Kickstarter

Crowdfunding projects can be stressful for the producers and for the backers, and the delays endemic to both the publishing and distribution industries can compound this. I feel TAG have an impressive track record managing these things and with several successfully-completed projects behind you, what is your vision for this one?

Our first goal is to make pledging as simple as possible. There are only a handful of pledge levels and stretch goals, for instance. Back at a certain level, and any unlocked pledge goals are yours automatically – no need to mess around altering pledges to accommodate new unlocked material. The stretch goals will also be available as add ons, so you can pledge at a lower level and cherry pick specific unlocked stretch goals you want.

As with our previous Kickstarters, the core writing is already done, as is much of the editing. That pretty much just leaves us with art and printing to fund. In the ideal world every deadline will be hit, but we know things can go wrong. If an artist falls ill, for instance, it can set a project back weeks as we hunt for a replacement.

When is the project expected to launch?

All being well, at the end of June/early July. The bulk of the Kickstarter is done, but we need to add the eye-catching elements and double check everything before we launch.

Will you be offering stretch goals? Are they likewise already written or in production?

The main stretch goals will be the print monster guidebooks I mentioned earlier. Three of them are already written, leaving me two to go. Each is going to be 64 pages, comic cook format, and stocked full of useful information. There is also a Globetrotters’ Guide to London, which will be useful in both LOGH and LOA. We’re looking at another stretch goal, but we need official confirmation before we can mention that publicly.

Do you have other setting expansions of this type in mind for the game?

For Leagues of Adventure? Not at the moment as we’re concentrating our efforts on Gothic Horror, but there are always ideas bubbling away in the background.

I’ve designed a series of small booklets we’re referring to as “skins,” but they’re currently on hold. Essentially they’re campaign focuses, each concentrating on a specific topic, such as dinosaur hunting, lunar exploration, Egypt, and undersea adventure.

For the small price of helping him remove his manacles as we stood on the foggy moor, the laudable Paul Wade-Williams, Esq offered me a sneak look inside those campaign “skins” and I recommend that fans of the game start clamouring for them once Leagues of Gothic Horror creeps out into the darkness of our gaming tables.

With that thought in mind, when should the product be available after the Kickstarter, and then how much later for sale?

We’d like to release this for Halloween, but that ultimately depends on funding and when the art can be done. More likely we’d be quoting December, but always working behind the scenes to get it out sooner. The Kickstarter backers will get their copies before general release, though.

In conversations about this project, a few have asked if LOGH is intended to be steampunk, or something more serious?

One chapter is devoted to campaign ideas and styles of play. Whether or not you want to use the steampunk elements, or indeed let characters dabble in magic and psychic abilities, depends entirely on the style of game you want to play.

For instance, the Action-Adventure style is Van Helsing (the movie), with weird science and magic abounding. The characters are Heroes used to fighting fiends and so start stronger than normal. In True Gothic Horror, on the other hand, these elements play no part (though villains may use magic) and the characters are very weak compared to the monsters.

I wanted to ask more about how the book utilizes Ubiquity’s Sanity mechanics and more on his teased details about Corruption, but we were discovered at that moment. Sadly, despite my protests, his keepers dragged him away to be chained once more at his desk to create more wonders for us. As the moonlight forced its way through the clouds for an instant, I considered rushing to his aid – to help set him free – but then, the darker, more selfish parts of my tiny heart dug in their steel-shod heels and bade me stand still and silent. Greed stayed my hand, for I like so many others cannot wait to see what he will produce for us next.

2 Responses to “Leagues of Gothic Horror, you say?”
  1. Very interesting interview – looking forward to backing and seeing Leagues of Gothic Horror 🙂

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] “As the clever among you will have been able to figure out over the past few months of hints and redacted posts, I have also been lucky enough to see behind the veil of creation as this book (and a few others) came together. What Wiggy modestly alludes to in the interview, I can support more directly, and in a louder voice. This book is impressive, not only as a means for building an atmosphere of Gothic Horror, but as a toolkit for horror and supernatural investigation, as well as being a tribute to the genre itself.” Read the interview here! […]

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