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James Wallis - Alas Vegas (2/13/13)
Gareth Hanrahan - The Laundry RPG (5/17/10)
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Random Encounter: Gareth Hanrahan on The Laundry RPG

 

Gareth Hanrahan for Cubicle 7 Entertainment
 

How did you get involved in The Laundry?

Laundry RPG cover artThreats and intimidation.

Seriously.

I was at Conpulsion in Edinburgh one year, and Angus was there too. He went off for a Very Secret Meeting with Charlie Stross, and came back that evening looking very pleased with himself. I was already a fan of the Laundry novels, so I cornered Angus round the back of the trade hall and implied that nonspecific horrible things would befall him if he had the Laundry license and didn't let me work on it. It worked. So, kids, if you're looking to break into the gaming industry, try threatening publishers.

Some of us haven't become aware of Charles Stross' series yet. What should we know about The Laundry?

The Laundry is an occult intelligence agency in the United Kingdom – in fact, it's the last surviving bit of the old Special Operations Executive that was set up by Churchill in 1940. The Nazis attempted to weaponise the occult in the Second World War, and the Laundry thwarted them. What Abdul Al-Hazred called magic is actually an abstruse form of mathematics – if you perform certain calculations, you can summon up entities from other dimensions to screw with reality. Today, the Laundry continues to suppress cultists and ensure that horrible things don't eat our brains.

It's been described as 'Strangelovecraftian' – mixing the espionage and threat of nuclear apocalypse from the Cold War era with occult sorcery and the Cthulhu Mythos.

There are two novels in print currently – The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue. There are also a few short stories which are available online:

If you just read one, then The Concrete Jungle is probably the best quick introduction to the Laundry.

Are there any other games you might compare to The Laundry, to help us get the feel for gameplay and overall theme?

Obviously, there are comparisons to be drawn with Pagan Publishing's Delta Green – they're both modern-day takes on Cthulhu, after all, but where Delta Green operatives are effectively vigilantes with no official mandate, the Laundry is officially part of the British civil service. You have the support and backing of a whole organisation, even if it is a bureaucratic monstrosity.

That said, the tone of the two games is very different. The Laundry can be a lot lighter on occasion – there are shades of Paranoia in there, especially when the characters are wrestling with red tape or get assigned experimental occult weapons. Actually, you could possibly also compare it to Ghostbusters, with the caveat that the tone of the Laundry books, and hence the game, can also get pretty dark at times. Your player characters can make geeky jokes in the face of Great Cthulhu, but they're still going to get eaten.

Who else is working on the project?

We've got John Snead and Jason Durall working on it too.

John Snead's great at both occult and high-tech stuff – he's written for everything from Mage to Eclipse Phase, and I heard he was working on a sorcery supplement for Call of Cthulhu, so I asked if we could grab him for the Laundry. He ended up writing a wholly new magic system for the Laundry setting in the end. He also wrote up Case Nightmare Green – for those who haven't read the books, that's when the Stars Come Right and the Great Old Ones descend to eat our brains.

Current projections, by the way, suggest that Case Nightmare Green might occur within ten years, if not sooner.

Jason Durall did the bulk of the rest of the rules. He recently wrote the Basic Roleplaying rulebook for Chaosium, and it was great to have an expert on board for the core rules engine. It's a stripped down and retuned version of Basic Roleplaying.

What goals do you have for The Laundry? Is it a supplement, a stand-alone game, or even the beginning of a whole product line?

It's a stand-alone game, but it's using Basic Roleplaying as its engine, so it's 99% compatible with Call of Cthulhu material. You can use any modern-day Cthulhu supplements with it, although you may need to tweak them slightly. Most Cthulhu adventures assume that the investigators are poor clueless fools, not semi-clued-in spies with HOG-3s (that's Hand of Glory, class 3, with a mirrored base to turn it from an invisibility generator into a coherent light emitter, aka five-shot disposable laser gun).

We've got plans for supplements – the first releases will be an adventure anthology, Black Bag Jobs, and a player's guide.

Even though the game uses BRP, were there any system tweaks you've worked into the book?

The magic system is entirely new, and was written from the ground up to reflect the computational demonology of the books. Character generation and the skill list are both tweaked from, er, basic Basic Roleplaying. Elements of the setting also change how the game plays – the hit point and damage system, for example, are the same as in BRP, but most Laundry characters will have damage-resistance spells running in any dangerous situation as a standard precaution, so they feel a lot tougher.

Does the new magic system affect the feel of gameplay much? Or is magic usually just beyond the characters' reach, a carrot to dangle in front of rookie agents?

It's easy to get basic magic items. Every Laundry officer is issued with a protective ward, and you can requisition other items like smartphones. (Banishing demons – there's an app for that.) Actually casting spells yourself, as opposed to using a prewritten application or magic item, takes a lot of skill and isn't recommended for rookies.

What about the bureaucratic side of working within the Laundry? How does the game handle office politics, career advancement, and the like?

Tempted as we were to fill the book with forms and red tape (hey, I came to this from Paranoia), we went for a gentler approach. You've got a Status skill which measures your standing in the Laundry – what favours you can pull, what documents you can access and so on. Keeping the bureaucracy happy can boost your Status. There's also a budgeting system for purchasing equipment and support, which can backfire if you overspend. You can call in the SAS to pull you out of a bad situation, but the cost comes out of your department's budget....

What can Laundry fans expect from the book? Will fans appreciate the book as much as gamers?

I think so – we get to delve into sections of the setting that the novels haven't touched yet, like the history and structure of the Laundry, and there's a roster of Laundry employees, write-ups of various monsters,including some who haven't appeared in the novels, and several jokes about the French.

You've had early access to the next Laundry novel for this project. How much influence will the upcoming novel have on the game?

Fortunately, The Fuller Memorandum should be out just before the roleplaying game, so we were able to integrate all the revelations from that book into the game (Codicil Black Skull and the Wall of Pain and the esoteric meaning of paperclip audits and so on). The third novel also informed the darker parts of the rpg – if you take the first Laundry novel, The Atrocity Archives, as a baseline, then the new book is quite a bit darker, just like The Jennifer Morgue was quite a bit lighter.

 

The Laundry RPG is scheduled to release July 2010.

 

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