Beyond the Veil: Interview with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Beyond the Veil: Interview with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of our new series "Beyond the Veil". In this series we sit down and chat with prominent writers, game designers, and well known community members of the Cthulhu Mythos gaming world. Today, Nate, Vase, and The Man from Leng, sit down with Irish game writer and novelist Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

Before recording this interview, we had a chance to field some questions to Gareth. 

 (GooG) Hey Gareth, can you give us a brief introduction for yourself? 

(Gareth)I’m a writer and game designer, based in Ireland. I’ve been working in the gaming industry for virtually my entire adult life, except for a brief two-year period just out of college where I tried to have a real grown-up job, but that really didn’t suit me at all. I’ve written half the epic Dracula Dossier campaign, the Eyes of the Stone Thief, and many many other supplements and adventures. My first novel, The Gutter Prayer, came out from Orbit this year. 

In your words Gareth, what is Trail is Cthulhu and what makes it different from other RPG's? 

Trail of Cthulhu is Pelgrane’s take on the classic ‘investigating the Cthulhu Mythos’ genre. Much like Call of Cthulhu, you’re playing ordinary people uncovering mysteries and encountering cosmic horror. The big innovation is that Trail uses the GUMSHOE system, which is designed specifically for investigative roleplaying. The core idea of GUMSHOE is that it’s always more interesting to get more information, so the rules ensure that the players always find the clues. There’s no rolling to spot clues, no skill tests to see if you recall vital information. You’ll always get the leads, you’ll always know where to go to advance the story. That doesn’t mean it’s a railroad, and doesn’t mean you’ll always solve the mystery. You can misinterpret clues, or get killed by horrible monsters, or meet other gruesome fates. But the rules guarantee that you’ll never be stuck without any clear leads to investigate, or stymied by a bad dice roll. 

You recently wrote “Cthulhu City”, a campaign setting for Trail of Cthulhu, what was the inspiration behind this project? 

Many years ago, I wrote an adventure (in the Arkham Detective Tales anthology) that involves a brief trip to a shadowy nightmare city. The idea felt so compelling that I thought it’d be fun to expand on it in a full sourcebook. So, Cthulhu City is an alternate – or parasitic – setting for Trail games, set in a sprawling eldritch metropolis where the Mythos is lurking just below the surface. The city itself is a patchwork of all of Lovecraft’s towns like Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth and Kingsport, the mayor may be a secret necromancer, there are Deep One gangsters running the docks, weird science experiments in the university – it’s a fever-dream of urban horror and oppression. Unlike regular Trail games, where the authorities are helpful or at least clueless about the Mythos and the cultists have to conceal their activities, here the authorities are in league with the horrors and it’s the investigators who have to stay hidden.   

What source material or stories of Lovecraft’s did you reference the most when researching for Cthulhu City? 

The biggest influences were probably The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and Dreams in the Witch House – but part of the idea was to use everything, or as much as I could cram in there. Usually, when writing a Cthulhu adventure, you want to restrict yourself to a single entity, a single horror, to avoid having absurd encounters for the sake of it and turning Lovecraft’s creations into random encounters. Cthulhu City, though, is conceived as a deliberate attempt to allow that sort of ‘Mythos hoedown’, to let Keepers indulge their tastes for delicious monster stew.   

What sorts of info can we expect to find about the cities in Cthulhu City? 

Great Arkham, that sinister metropolis that you can’t quite recall. The book divides Great Arkham into various neighborhoods, Dunwich to Northside to Sentinel Hill to Chinatown to Kingsport north of the Miskatonic, and Westheath to Old Arkham to the University District to Salamander Fields to Innsmouth south of the river. Each district includes an overview, a list of key locations, and some sample characters who might be encountered there.   It uses the multifaceted approach used in other GUMSHOE products, where we present multiple versions of each non-player character and location. So, for example, a location can be Masked or Unmasked. The Masked version is spooky and weird, but it’s relatively normal. The Unmasked version has overt supernatural activity or peril there. Similar, a particular non-player character might be an innocent Victim, a Sinister cultist, or a potential Stalwart ally, depending on which version the Keeper chooses to use. 

Are there any other details you want to share about Cthulhu City?

 There are a bunch of rules to deal with the special circumstances of the setting. For example, there are Suspicion rules to track how aware the authorities are of the player characters’ activities, and Cult rules so you can see which of the feuding Mythos cults is closest to achieving its goals.   Also, I want to mention Pär Lindström’s gorgeous street-map of the city, which is both beautiful and wonderfully functional. 

What advice would you give to people looking to write their own scenarios for Trail of Cthulhu? 

Use core clues to structure your adventure into scene – what piece of information leads the investigators from that opening hook into the next scene? Which investigative ability gets that clue? Is there only one core clue, or are there multiple core clues? If multiple, do they all point to the same next scene or do you have branching paths? Don’t be afraid to take full advantage of Trail’s information-dispensing rules – “as you’re a master of Archaeology, you recognize that this man was murdered with a ritual Aztec dagger. And you know that there’s such a dagger in the collection of the University Exhibit Museum – maybe examining that dagger and talking to the curator would shed more light on this mystery…” 

What are projects in the pipeline for you Gareth?
 Right now, I’m writing The Book of The Underworld, for 13th Age. Also in various late stages of development: Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, the one player/one GM version of our spies vs vampires game, Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition, and The Borellus Connection, a campaign for The Fall of DELTA GREEN. 

You can find Gareth on twitter here .

 Show notes for the interview with Gareth: 

 Cthulhu City limited edition:
 The Gutter Prayer:
 The Fall of Delta Green:
 The Borellus Connection:
 Trail of Cthulhu:
 The Fall of Cthulhu City:

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