Beyond the Veil: Interview with Robin Gillmore of "The League of Extraordinary Investigators"
Saturday. May eleven. Two thousand and nineteen. I take a seat, unsuccessfully trying to find a comfortable position. Across the world but strangely within reach of my fingertips is none other than the mastermind behind the revolutionary League of Extraordinary Investigators, CrabbyTerror8. I don't want to make a mistake and upset him. With a name like Crabbyterror8, the unfathomable horrors he might be ready unleash upon me for a minor transgression is, well, unfathomable. A quick internet search reveals his spirit animal is... A butterfly! How butterly terrifying. I mean utterly. Continuing my research, I realize I have unleashed a supernova of curiosity into my otherwise fragile mind. What are his motivations? Where did he begin his reign of terror?
Hours into my research, I come across an ancient text revealing the name 'Robin'. Perhaps this is what the humans call him. The information is somewhere deep within the silent seas of infinite knowledge known as 'the internet'. I try to dive deeper but I am interrupted by a sound that plunges my heart into the most obscure recesses of the darkness beyond.
It is a sound that heralds the arrival of his response to my inquiries. I am too late. Perhaps whoever reads this can decipher my discoveries and unravel the secrets of the mysterious League of Extraordinary Investigators…
Innkeeper Vase Odin: Greetings, Mr. Crabbyterror.
Crabbyterror8: Hello Innkeeper.
Innkeeper: What was your entry into the game? What other games do you play currently or played before?
CT8: Oh man...where to begin? I first bought The Call Of Cthulhu 2nd edition in 1985 on a trip to the US and never looked back (from Australia). Whilst I enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons, it lacked the survival horror elements and more streamlined gameplay that Call of Cthulhu offered. I also bought the original Arkham Horror Boardgame when it came out in 1987. A group of us played it to death trying to beat it. I have a photo of us all triumphantly holding up our investigators, in some typical 80s-Stranger-Things style rumpus room....like we'd won the lottery or something!
Fast forward to the 90s and I played a fair bit of "Magic: The Gathering", but disliked the hyper-competitive aspect. These days I'm at a stage in my life where solo play is more realistic, so when Arkham Horror The Card Game came along I was instantly hooked because it ticks all the boxes for me: co-op, solo, Cthulhu Mythos with a collectible card game and deck-building elements. Just perfect!
Innkeeper: Clearly, you are drawn to the Mythos. What is your favorite Lovecraft story?
CT8: Mountains Of Madness. It was the first Lovecraft story I read and whilst I found it a difficult read it has all of the key elements I love. It's classic Lovecraft: it's narrated after the fact as a warning to others. It lays out the key elements and themes of cosmic horror: the limits of human understanding & knowing, the insignificance of human civilization in the face of deep space and deep time.
Importantly, and this relates directly to the way I approach playing AH: LCG, there is no happy ending and no tidy resolution. There is this impression of having touched the void, having briefly experienced a new reality and been left permanently damaged by the experience. That's why I don't care if I never finish some of the campaigns because for me that's not the point....its the experience, the journey, even if that journey is one of madness and death...
Innkeeper: In Arkham Horror The Card Game, who is your current favorite Investigator?
CT8: I'm a sucker for Seekers. Why? No-one else has a clue! I think it because I love Survival Horror Video games (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Deadly Premonition, Alone Against The Dark, etc) where the protagonist is relatively weak but overcomes unspeakable horrors through sheer intellect and problem-solving. Ursula is the seeker I've played the most, so she is my favorite.
Innkeeper: In that same vein, what is your favorite scenario so far?
CT8: The Carcosa campaign is my favorite so far. Carcosa is just such a wonderful campaign. It really messes with your head: Is it all real? Is it just imagined? Am I the problem? I also love the European locations: Paris, Catacombs and Mont Saint Michelle - just wonderful, I can play that campaign again and again...
Innkeeper: Your YouTube channel, "Out of Ammo Out of Time", features a unique take on Arkham Horror LCG playthroughs where you use the recommended starter decks from FFG's website and run them through the "Night of the Zealot" mini-campaign. You set it up in a league style scoring system and run it as a kind of fun "Hunger Games" theme. What inspired you to come up with this idea?
CT8: Dark Souls was my inspiration. Sounds strange, but I've spent a great deal of the past few years being part of that community and the thing that always struck me about Dark Souls was the really varied ways that different people interacted with that game and made content for the community. Some focussed on the lore creating amazing videos, others Player vs. Player (PVP) & Fight Clubs, still others focus on support and cooperation, some even focussed on the clothing! (fashion-souls).
I had seen Octgn being used by The Whisperer In Darkness and I really wanted to use it, but I wanted to have a different take on it. I had always enjoyed the league mode in Magic on-line - so I started to think through how that might work playing AH:LCG solo, and that's how The Investigator Games came about on my channel. In addition, it gives me a chance to master each scenario by playing it a lot, which is incredibly satisfying (like Dark Souls). I now find when I play The Gathering (now 26+ times!) I almost have a feel for what encounter cards are going to pop...its weird!
Innkeeper: What was the most memorable or surprising moment in a campaign or playthrough?
CT8: Two things. First was playing Minh for the Investigator games. I fully thought she would fail so badly, I was prepared for a terrible game and I spent half the game waiting for the King In Yellow weakness to drop.....I imagined this poor girl sneaking around the house in The Gathering barely making it past hordes of ghouls and all sorts. And she not only got through but she defeated the Ghoul Priest!!!!
I was overjoyed for her until I remembered that (Minh) doesn't exist!! But it was a great outcome, I dug out your comment which summed it up: "Minh pulled it off! I am so pleasantly shocked at how amazingly well she did!"..fantastic!!!
The other one was getting all set up to play The Forgotten Age for the first time with my daughter. We spent ages crafting our decks and getting ready, carefully choosing our supplies, etc and then we played. It was so hard!! We failed miserably! In only 9 turns!!! People said it was tough....but man..this tough?? Then we realized we'd gotten agenda 1 and 2 back to front ARRRRGH!
Innkeeper: Was your channel the spark that ignited your idea for the Arkham Horror: LCG League of Extraordinary Investigators?
CT8: Yes. I play almost 100% solo partly because of my geographic isolation living in Australia and also partly because at 52 I have very very few peers who I could play with or who are interested in playing AH:LCG in general (I'm lucky though, my wife and children are big gamers!).
I imagined I can't be the only person wanting to engage with the game in a competitive but asynchronous way and also connect more closely with the community. So I thought of the idea of people playing in a league. But how would that work? When I'm playing The Investigator Games on my channel, its no big deal if things are not 100% fair, I can make up any old rules.
The key difference for The League Of Extraordinary Investigators is fairness and transparency and that has driven most of the differences. Without fairness and transparency, the league won't work, but the systems to ensure the fairness and transparency cannot be so tedious that the whole thing is a pain to play. That's where I have had the most feedback and criticism of my initial ideas, which was very valuable.
Innkeeper: For those not familiar, can you briefly explain how the league works?
CT8: It's simple really. Season 1 is playing through the Dunwich campaign on standard difficulty starting with The House Always Wins. Each player creates a zero experience deck in ArkhamDB.Com. Everyone uses Hypochondria as their basic weakness. You then stream your gameplay live. Your Victory Points(VP) is your score on the league table. Your earned Experience Points (XP) can then be used to develop your deck before the next scenario.
The person with the most VP by the end of the campaign is the winner! We even have a prize for the winner which was very generously donated by Innkeeper Vase Odin (Twisted Tentacle Inn on YouTube) who has been a huge supporter of the league - invaluable, I can't thank him enough!
Innkeeper: What kinds of challenges were you expecting to run into and which ones actually appeared?
CT8: The biggest challenge I was expecting was how the league would work in terms of judging/validating and scoring. This took a lot of conversations with others in the league to iron out and I think we got to a good place which is fair and also not too unwieldy.
I'm hugely grateful for all those players who worked together to ensure a good outcome. Huge shout out to Ben Wilkinson, he has been awesome - he created a whole bunch of forms and tables and systems which have made things so much more streamlined. I can't thank him enough. There was a lot of debate around using cards such as Charon’s Obol and Delve too Deep and whether they should be allowed. Most felt that they should be allowed because of the balance of risk vs reward was fine, as long as XP was not used for scoring the league table... it's working well so far.
We have a great play in the league by John Briggs who mulliganed into two Delve too Deep in his opening hand!! The scenario didn't pan out exactly how he expected, but it was a jaw-dropping opening salvo and really impressive. Props to him!!!
Innkeeper: Were there any challenges when setting up the league that you were not expecting?
CT8: I always had in my mind that validation would be an ad-hoc approach, with players volunteering to validate others game-play, but it became clear that we need a more formal system of assigning "Validation Buddies". Also a couple of issues have arisen around people accidentally drawing cards and immediately putting them back (The VIP area The House Always Wins has been especially challenging!) - so on the fly it was agreed that if you draw a card accidentally, you shuffle it back in rather than just placing it on top of the deck. The judging is also quite a challenge as it can be sometimes hard to make a judgment as to the impact of particular gameplay, I'm impressed at both the deliberation and desire for fairness around this issue - I hope that continues.
Innkeeper: Who were you most surprised with as far as investigators being used in the league?
CT8: First of all, it was a surprise to me to see only one guardian out of 18 decks...a Zoey deck, that was a surprise. I don't play Guardians myself much, but what's going on? No Leo, no Mark, no Roland?? I must admit I didn't expect two Marie Lambeau's either, that was a surprise. I would have expected the odd Agnes or Akachi, even a Diana Stanley - Marie is or course fairly flexible in her deck building, so that's probably why.
Innkeeper: Do you see a possibility for a league campaign that is completely fan-made where everyone runs through it blind?
CT8: Absolutely! I have played a couple of fan-made scenarios and I really loved them (The Approaching Storm), it's a fantastic idea!
Innkeeper: Do you think it could work?
CT8: The idea of playing a scenario blind fills me with dread. I get the jitters playing through a scenario I know well - not sure how I'd go in a live-streamed blind play! Wow, that would get the adrenaline going! I have no idea how "Man from Leng" does it...I have nothing but admiration for the guts he has to play these things totally blind.....an inspiration!
Innkeeper: What kind of impact do you expect the league to have on the community as a whole?
CT8: Impact? I'm not sure. What I hope is that it strengthens the community further and builds deeper relationships. That's the most important goal, especially for those who, like me, are more isolated. I also hope that others run with the league idea as a new format.
The more ways to play only deepen the engagement and experience of this wonderful game. I would love to see some kind of drafting-type of gameplay. That's a format that I always loved about Magic The Gathering: the idea that you build a deck sight unseen and sometimes are forced to use cards that would normally be seen as marginal in more structured gameplay. I have no idea how that would work for AHLCG, but I'd play it!
Innkeeper: You mentioned Magic: The Gathering and its draft format. You may be on to something here. Care to throw a few ideas out there?
CT8: ....ah now you've got me! Oh man...look I haven't playtested to get the numbers right, but I'm thinking
1. Teams of 4
2. Each person chooses an investigator and starts with the standard Fantasy Flight Games recommended starter deck as a base.
3. Each person then draws a random set of 15 cards from all of the remaining available cards they have (that's 60 cards split between the 4 investigators). Including pipped cards, the lot!
4. Each player draws a card and passes the deck of (now) 14 to the left and so on.
5. Players then build their revised deck from the 45 cards available to them.
6. Players add in random weaknesses according to the rules and their deck with pipped cards
7. Play a scenario!
Innkeeper: Is there anything you’ve learned so far that will affect future seasons?
CT8:. The thing I didn't expect was the number of people who simply want to follow and watch the league! There are 18 players and more than 50 people on the FB page to date! So I'm thinking we need better ways to keep everyone up to date with how the plays are going. Perhaps even a highlight reel of the latest round. I didn't expect that!
Unearthed Biographical Data:
Alternate Name: Robin Gillmore
Last known whereabouts: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUP-JMQlaDq_lHXVcIqAqUQ
League Location: https://www.facebook.com/groups/430698497692339/
Spirit Animal: Butterfly, Terrifying Butterfly. Also, show pony.
Favorite movie: Les Enfants Du Paradis (1945) direct by Marcel Carne. One of the greatest French movies of all time (97% on rotten tomatoes). Not only is it a 3-hour sweeping epic historical & romantic drama (Moulin Rouge must have been inspired to some degree by it) but it was filmed whilst the French were under Nazi occupation!! How they managed to build the sets and get all of the extras for the massive outdoor scenes I will never know....an an amazing film. My guilty pleasure film? Cabin In The Woods (2011) directed by Drew Goddard and starring Aussie Chris Hemsworth and others...I love how it turns the cliches and tropes of the horror genre on its head!
Favorite Band: Rush.....Rush is almost unknown in Australia (!) but I have loved their music since I was a nerdy teen in the '80s. These days I love watching YouTube people react to Xanadu from the Exit Stage Left Tour in 1981. It's awesome seeing people's minds being blown watching 3 men at the top of their game musically speaking......plus the track is kind of Lovecraftian - guy goes mad searching for immortality in Xanadu.....12 minute epic prog-rock!!!
(Slappin' dee bass!)