Jess Hartley hit the scene in 2001, is known for her work with White Wolf (the Exalted novel “In Northern Twilight”, Skinchangers, Reliquary, The Beast That Hunts Blood and many more) as well as her horror anthology Buried Tales of Pinebox Texas.
Jess is also a skilled social media networker, runs JessHarley.com, a Twitter account and keeps a close eye on the web. When Geek Native covered the release of Goblin Markets, which Jess was one of the co-authors, she noticed.
Being the cheeky sod that I am, I asked for an interview and Jess kindly agreed. I suggested that controversial interviews were the best and Jess simply stated that she’d let me know if she wasn’t okay with answering a question…
With hundred and one thanks to Jess to agreeing to take part in this email interview – let’s see how far we get!
Q: What do you think about White Wolf? Are they a good company to write for? Has the CCP deal changed anything?
A: Some of my best friends are a part of White Wolf, and I’ve made countless invaluable personal and professional relationships during my time working with the company. They’ve really given me opportunities that I might not have had with smaller or less well-established companies, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
The major change that I’ve seen since CCP bought White Wolf has been that the company has more resources to take chances on a broader range of products. I don’t know how much cause and effect is involved, since I’m a freelancer and not privy to the company’s accounts in any way, but since joining with CCP, White Wolf has branched out into some amazing new products (like the Storyteller Adventure System (SAS) line) and new technologies, such as evidenced in Collection of Horrors, which utilized audio files and the like. It seems to have been a really positive step for the company.
Q: In your opinion which is the best gamer company out there today? Why?
A: Wow, that’s a tough question! It’s like trying to pick the best game, many companies are “the best at what they do” but there are so many diverse focuses and specialties that it would be impossible to pick “the best”.
Of course, I have a lot of loyalty to White Wolf, and think they really revolutionized tabletop gaming in a lot of ways, bringing a much stronger emphasis on the dramatic roleplay aspects of the game, as well as making LARP a much more mainstream part of gaming than it had been previously.
But then you have companies like Catalyst, that are doing some really great stuff as well – ShadowRun and Battletech are fantastic games, and their newest game, Eclipse Phase is groundbreaking. The marketing strategy they’re delving into with the Creative Commons license is just really remarkable.
Mind Storm Labs really stormed onto the playing field in the last year or two, and I don’t think many folks who’ve seen Alpha Omega or The Encountered came away anything but stunned at the gorgeous production values and sheer volume of world-building that they are doing with that game.
And then you’ve got companies like Margaret Weis Productions and Eden Studios who are making amazing strides in bringing licensed Intellectual Properties to the gaming world.
It’s just an impossible question to answer, really. There is no one company that’s “best” over all. Many of them are stars in their own fields.
Q: Which three writers/authors do you rate highly? If Geek Native could only wrangle an interview with one of them – which of the three would you recommend?
A: Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, and Jim Butcher have defined urban fantasy for me. Of the three, I’ve had the most interaction with Jim, and I’d totally recommend him as an interview subject. He’s not only a fantastic author, he’s a great and down to earth person, and he’s been very supportive of me and other fledgling writers. He deserves all the attention and kudos he could possibly get.
Q: What’s your view on computer roleplaying games?
A: I wish I had more time to play them! Some are very very good, with well scripted stories and beautiful graphics. I wish more companies paid attention to the value of good writing, because some definitely suffer from the “anyone can write” syndrome, and it shows.
Q: Do you ever play online?
A: I have in the past, and do, occasionally. I actually got started with the World of Darkness by playing on an online MUSH called GarouMUSH, some 16 years ago or so. I used to spend quite a bit of time playing on various MUDS and MUSHes, although I don’t have as much time to do such things any more. Now, if I’m online, it’s usually playing a little bit of GuildWars, although I don’t get to that as often as I like these days, either.
Q: The World of Darkness is a fairly adult setting. Do you think tabletop games are enhanced the more mature and intellectual they become or should they remain family friendly and welcoming to as many people as possible?
A: I think that like any other game, there’s a place and a time for different kinds of themes. I don’t think that there’s any one way that a tabletop game “should” be. There’s times when hack-and-slash is great, times for silly roleplay, and times when you really want something intense. The industry would be a shallower place without the breadth and depth of games that exist (and will continue to grow).
I love the World of Darkness, but I don’t try to make it a family-game. Likewise, more casually-themed games are great for casual game time, but there’s time when I really want something that is deep and dark and emotionally-taxing. I’m just grateful that there’s lots of options for all those needs and desires.
Q: What do you think tabletop RPGs in 2015 will look like? What will their content be like, presentation be like and fan base consist of?
A: 2015 is really not that far away. I mean, most game companies are already planning their product lines for 2011, at least, so I don’t think we’re going to see the RPG version of Jetson cars and transporter stations by that date.
I do think that, as technology becomes more and more mainstream, we’ll see even more independent game companies and producers, putting out games that don’t have to appeal to thousands of players in order to be feasible to produce. That means the content can be specialized, and the “single-book, unique concept, play it a few times” game becomes a reasonable thing to create, compared to the “have to play campaign after campaign to get your money worth” mainstream game lines. I think this will really push the current ideas of what a RPG is in new ways.
As .pdf and POD publication become more accessible, we’ll have a lot more folks creating their own supplementary material or original game designs and making them available for very reasonable prices, and I hope we’ll see more organizations like Indie Press Revolution and One Book Shelf (DriveThruRPG and all their associated branches) who help make the independent creator’s work accessible to a broader range of readers and players.
I believe that larger companies will continue to find ways to incorporate new technologies into their products, perfecting a dead tree/pixel production plan that allows gamers to have both the hard copy products that they love reading and collecting, and the electronic versions that are so fantastic for portability and search functions.
I would love to see e-Reader technologies advance to the point where the “feel” of reading a print book could be encompassed through an electronic medium. Double-page, print quality, great layout electronic versions at a reasonable price, on a reader that could hold an entire game library at once would be a fantastic compromise between dead-tree and pixel products.
I hope that the RPG industry will experience a resurgence in that time period… that the first generation of MMO players will discover tabletop gaming as an awesome way to get a “better than electronic” experience with real face-to-face socialization and the kinds of fun and friendship that sitting around a table with their friends can offer that virtual interaction just doesn’t. I don’t expect that tabletop will overcome MMO-play, but I would love to see folks who have played MMOs discover tabletop gaming and go “Hey! This is like my guild, but in real life!”
Q: You tweeted that you’d been roped into running a Live Action game recently. Do you think women in LARPs have a rough ride?
A: Actually, no, I’m running a tabletop version of my Changeling: The Lost SAS, The Rose-Bride’s Plight at RinCon (www.rincongames.com) on Friday, October 9th. But I am an avid LARPer.
I don’t think women in LARPs have a “rough ride.” In fact, I think many female players feel more comfortable with LARPing than they do tabletop gaming, because of the high emphasis on inter-character interactions, the focus on drama and social manipulations, and the fact that there tends to be a higher ratio of female gamers at LARPs than at tabletop games.
If anything, I think that, in general, female players may even be more comfortable with LARPing than male players are. The gamers I’ve met who’ve expressed that they think LARP is weird, or would never consider trying it, have all been male. I’ve never heard that from a female gamer (although I’m sure there are some who feel that way.)
Q: Is there a type of gamer (or gamesmaster) that you’d like to ban from games? Is there a type of gamer you’d like to drop off a cliff?
A: No, not at all. There are gamer and gamesmasters who I prefer to play with, but one of the things I like best about roleplaying games is that there is such a broad-scope of “right ways” for the games to be played – it’s infinite, really. Just because I may have a loosey-goosey “what’s good for the story above what’s written in the rules” attitude doesn’t mean that I have any issue with gamers or those who run games who are “rules above all else” in attitude. Games are a vehicle for entertainment, and as long as folks are having fun, they should keep doing that, even if it’s not my idea of fun.
Okay, I take that back. The only kind of gamer or gamemaster I wouldn’t mind seeing go away are those who believe they do have the one-true-way and that everyone who is playing a different game than them, or playing for different reasons, or playing in a different style is having “BADWRONGFUN!” I dislike intolerance, so if your version of fun is to come beat me up for having my version of fun, I am probably not going to have much use for you. But as long as you’re willing to game and let game, you’re okay in my book.
Q: You’ve worked on Exalted but what’s your exposure to anime? Have you watched or read much? Which anime would you recommend?
A: Well, according to my daughter, the Valkyrie, I’m hopelessly out of it when it comes to anime and manga. I don’t read much manga, but I do really enjoy Miyazaki’s anime. Princess Mononoke is visually stunning, and I loved Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro,and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. We went to see Ponyo, recently, which was based loosely on the fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, and I really enjoyed sharing that experience with her.
Q: Would you – or have you – ever engaged in cosplay? Is there any connection between anime cosplay and LARPing at all?
A: If you define cosplay specifically as dressing as a particular character, I don’t think I’ve technically done any, although I do help the Valkyrie with hers (she’s cosplayed as Olette from Kingdom Hearts, Chingling from Pokemon, and is currently working on a Chopper cosplay, from One Piece).
However, I’m seeing more and more cosplay at conventions and events that are “my take on this genre” rather than specifically attempting to recreate a particular anime, book, or movie character. The surge in Browncoat and Steampunk costuming, for example. In a lot of cases, the costumers aren’t strictly imitating a specific character, they’re evoking the mood and feel of the genre.
I do love costuming. I’ve been a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism off and on for over 20 years, in part because of the costuming aspect of the group. And, of course, I LARP.
LARPing is kind of like cosplay, except that you’re cosplaying as your own unique character rather than an established canon one from someone else’s creation. You’re still using props, costumes, makeup and drama to evoke a particular character – it’s just one you’ve created from scratch.
Q: Should all tabletop RPG authors aspire to move to either novel writing or CRPG design and involvement?
A: No, of course not! Authors should write what it suits their needs and desires to write, be that fiscal, interest-wise or skill-focused. Not every RPG author would make a good novelist or computer game writer, or vice versa. Nor should they feel it necessary to do so, unless that’s what they want to do.
Many folks have made a career of writing wholly for RPGs, and the industry has been very good to them. Writing for the gaming industry can be a great jump-off point to other writing opportunities, but I don’t believe it’s necessary to look at it solely as a stepping stone to something else, nor is it probably the most expedient means to enter into another field.
Q: If you could go back to the start of your career with the knowledge you have now; what would you do differently?
A: I don’t believe in regrets. I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I’ve made, and made some great friends and had wonderful experiences along the way, so I don’t think I’d choose to do anything differently, per se.
I wish that I’d known some of the things that I learned “the hard way” up front, however. That’s one of the reasons that I try to make myself very available to help aspiring freelancers – so that may be some of them can learn from my mistakes and not make the same ones… that will give them more time to make new ones instead!
Q: What one piece of insight do you want to leave with Geek Native’s readers?
A: Have fun, be good, and help each other out. Whether it’s in games or real life, things are much easier when we treat each other with respect, cooperate where possible, and don’t jump to take offense too quickly.
Thanks to Jess for taking part in this Q&A! Geek Native is just a newly launched blog but we can see there are quite a few readers already so why not leave a comment and let me know if there is a question I should have asked Jess or if there’s a question I should ask the next person brave enough to step forward for an interview.
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