An Interview with Chuck Wendig

Freelance Penmonkey logo care of Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.Update: The Critical Table isn’t dead, Courtney informed me today that he has been having trouble with his hosting, and lost a lot of data, but he’s redesigning the site and it should be up “in the next month or so.” Good to hear!

Seeing as The Critical Table appears to now be… defunct, I decided to repost this interview I did with Chuck Wendig over there on here. His answers are quite insightful and interesting.

The theme of the interview is gaming, and writing for a gaming company (in this case, White Wolf Publishing). Chuck Wendig has worked on a variety of their World of Darkness books, specifically as the main developer for Hunter: the Vigil. You can visit Wendig’s site at terribleminds, or pre-order his new book Double Dead which comes out November 15th. I appreciate Wendig taking time out of his busy schedule of writing, blogging, and slavery to his new overlord baby, to do this interview. Originally posted in August, 2011, at The Critical Table.

IEM: How did you get into writing for White-Wolf Publishing? I know you worked on the Hunter series, as well as others in the World of Darkness game, but did you start on Hunter, or did you start off on another project?
CW: A long time ago, in a double-wide trailer far away… I read on the Internet about a writer’s all-call they were putting out for Hunter: The Reckoning. They meaning, Ken Cliffe and Bruce Baugh. I answered with a pretentious 1000-word essay on the loci of fear. Somehow, my bullshit got in their eyes and convinced them to hire me.

IEM: How much work really goes into putting together a source book? As the Developer on the Hunter: The Vigil book, how much time did you spend going over all the material other people put into it, vs. working on the material you wrote for the book?
Chuck WendigCW: Quite a lot of work, though a lot more work for a core like H:tV. Bibles and outlines and hiring writers and tons of emails and first drafts and second drafts and art notes and so forth. The material I wrote for the book came after the other material hit my inbox — I filled in gaps at the end of the process. I don’t know how long, exactly — with some writers, minimal work, with others, a lot of work.

IEM: How much time do you spend re-writing material after it goes to the play testers? Is it kind of a back and forth “This doesn’t work? – Okay try it now” thing, or is it more of a “Here’s everything we found that we think needs improvement. – Okay it’s fixed, book is done” thing?
CW: In H:tV’s case, not a ton of rewriting was necessary. Lots of tweaking, but nothing severe. No hacked chapters or lost systems or anything. Mostly it’s just a case of red flags going up.

IEM: In “Old” World of Darkness each game was more or less standalone. Mage’s didn’t mix well with Vampires, etc. etc. Can you give us any insight into why that was changed in “New” World of Darkness? It seems like an effort was made to make it possible to play any type of character in any game – balancing out the abilities of all the different types, and making them work better together – as opposed to being enemies (I’m thinking of Vampires and Werewolves from oWoD specifically).
CW: I don’t know if the goal was really to balance them against one another, exactly. But I do think the goal was to make a more unified world, and certainly a more unified system.

IEM: Are you yourself a gamer, or do you just work on awesome games? And if you do play any, which tabletop games do you play? World of Darkness?
CW: I’ve been a gamer for a long time, though regrettably the last year or so has seen my gaming drop to essentially non-existent levels. I’ll play anything put in front of me, though I’ll usually only run WOD stuff.

IEM: As the developer for Hunter: The Vigil, were some of your ideas the driving force behind the game and it’s mechanics, or was your role more as a writer than mechanics designer?
CW: With Hunter I definitely helped lay the brickwork for the mechanics — mechanics are kind of added that way, one brick at a time, I think. Writers are instrumental in that, too, not just developers.

WoD Hunter: the Vigil

IEM: Do you play video games, and did you work on any of the Vampire PC games that were produced? And if so, in what capacity?
CW: I do play video games. I am right now getting so much pleasure from Borderlands it should be made illegal. That said, I did not work on any WW PC games. I did do some writing work for the WOD MMO, though I don’t know how much of that writing will survive the years-long process of bringing an MMO to the world.

IEM: Many Storytellers will take systems like World of Darkness and pull strongly from other influences (such as H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos) to alter the world and sometimes the mechanics of the system. Have you ever tried anything like that, and do you have any advice for people who want to experiment but may not want to design their own system from the ground up?
CW: I don’t generally do too much major world-shifting with the WOD — my advice to any who want to play with the system and the setting is to look into a book called WOD: Mirrors. I developed that and you just nailed the whole purpose behind that book.

IEM: On the other hand, do you think there is a point where a Storyteller changes a system so much that they should just design their own? Do you have any words of advice or caution for people interested in taking this plunge? (Not necessarily trying to publish it, but simply designing their own system at all)
CW: That’s up to each Storyteller — designing a system from the ground up is tough stuff, but also incredibly fun. Just make sure they have the time and the energy for it.

IEM: How difficult is it to contribute new ideas when writing supplements for these books, while balancing the fact that there is 20 or so years of work in the same “world,” as well as not trampling on the creative process for the Storytellers making up their own stories for their games?
CW: I don’t know that it’s so important to bring “new” to the table as it is to seek new arrangements of old ideas. Everything is a remix in its own weird way.

IEM: When watching movies (like say… Underworld) that get accused of “ripping off” World of Darkness, do you see similarities to the work you’ve done, and does it bother you?
CW: I didn’t do any work that would’ve made its way into Underworld, so, at present I don’t feel particularly ripped off. 🙂

WoD Logo

IEM: What ideas, either in film, fiction, music, or anything else really, influence/inspire you in your work with World of Darkness?
CW: The world around us is inspiration enough. From banking crises to serial murderers to WWII code-crackers, you have no end of horror and weirdness to choose from.

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