This interview with Iain Lowson was conducted by email by long-time supporter of DH:LoF, Pawel Cybula, and published by the Polish gaming website Poltergeist on the 25th of April, 2012. Head there to see the original version. The English language version can be found below:
- Why Romania? What made you choose this region at that time as the central piece of the setting?
Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein (DH:LoF) was always seen as a gothic horror setting, with heavy Hammer Films influences. Although there’s no connection between the original Frankenstein story andRomania, it struck me as amusing to set the whole thing inTransylvania– the ultimate gothic horror location. I figured I’d do the research and see if it fitted. If it didn’t, then no loss. In the end, the Balkan politics in the mid-1800’s were a perfect fit for what I wanted to do. Romanian history, of all the emerging Balkan countries at the time, turned out to be the easiest to ‘kidnap’. It was far easier to hide Victor Frankenstein inRomaniathan anywhere else, and far easier for him to twist the forces of Romanian independence on the fringes of Bismark’s empire building. It was fun too! J
- The resistance, the military and the domestic security forces constitute a vital part of the setting. Where did you draw from to present such a detailed picture of those parties?
Good question. The Resistance came out of my high school sixth year studies dissertation (from 1986!) on the Soviet partisans from World War II. It was a 1000 word essay that I did way too much reading for, and the often horrific stories stayed with me. The relationship, often tense and fractious, between the DSF and the Promethean Military Forces was inspired by relationships between domestic and military concerns that have dogged mankind throughout history. Particularly influential were the likes of the Gestapo/Wehrmacht conflicts, or the way the CIA/FBI/Homeland Security jurisdictions lead to point-scoring between departments who claim to be working to the same general ends. In Promethea, the Ministry of Information is the third ‘faction’ within Promethean society, and very close to the way the Gestapo worked in Germany, or the way the Department of Homeland Security in the US work – two sides of the same coin. I’m sure that comparison will not be welcomed! Still, it has to be understood that all security and intelligence organizations, all ‘secret police’ intent on monitoring the people they protect, work pretty much along the same lines. However, the dividing line between effective protection and outright oppression is a disturbingly fine one – as Obi-Wan Kenobi said, it all very much depends on your point of view. Actually, the rise of Emperor Palpatine (plus the Roman history that was an influence on that) is in the mix of the history of Promethea too. Eclectic, you might say!
- Despite the game’s historical setting, I can’t help feeling that the themes of totalitarianism, terrorism and scientific advancement are very much relevant today. Was it done on purpose and if yes, in what way did the present inspire you to write about a fictional past?
As you might have guessed from my last answer, yes. J Promethea was inspired by so many things we still see around us. Originally, it flowed from the idea of what would have happened had Frankenstein been real, and what if he’d not rejected his discoveries? Victorian society was horribly unbalanced. The poor masses lived in frighteningly bad conditions, and were literally seen as a breeding stock, useful only for working. They were a sub-human resource to be exploited. A few men of vision – politicians, scientists, writers – did what they could, but they were outnumbered and shouted down.
Fast-forward to now, and that attitude is still terrifyingly present. We’ve been screwed by bankers and self-serving politicians who have managed to convince so many that it was somehow the fault of the people, and that we have to pay for it. As a result, a rich few continue to rake it in, while the rest of us suffer to pay for the rescue of an inherently unbalanced society. The rich (not all, it has to be said) are eagerly financially feeding off the poor. All I added was the possibility for the debauched rich to literally feed off the poor, stealing their bodies – the only thing they had left to call their own. In a world where the wealthy can pay to jump the queue for a life-saving transplant, or some poor bastard in China (a country run by a regime that harvests organs from executed ‘criminals’) sells a kidney to buy ultimately meaningless consumer goods, can you still say that what I’ve written is fantasy?
In Promethea, Frankenstein and the Creature work to prevent the rest of the world getting hold of the secrets of Augmentation; Frankenstein’s science. What Frankenstein wants is for society never to lose to accident or disease the people who make things better for all. His dream is laudable, desirable even. However, much as our desire for security from terrorists can be twisted by corporate and political greed and used to keep everyone scared and compliant, so the need to stop Frankenstein’s gift from being abused has led to a mostly benign dictatorship. The Creature sees only the dangers, not the good things, and seeks to bring it all crashing down to save the world from itself. Frankenstein and the Creature are imposing their visions on the world, forcing others to take sides. Setting all this in the past just gives folks a comfortable cushion – it’s all in the past, it’s all fiction. It’d never really happen, right?
(I should add that DH:LoF is not some kind of dull, thinly disguised political rant. It’s a fun game setting first and foremost.)
- The system is powered by the Heresy engine, which is a simplified form of the system used in “Victoriana”. Why did you choose this one?
I’d originally thought to use the D20 system, but it became increasingly apparent as the game background grew that it was going to be an ugly fit. When I fell in with Cubicle 7 Entertainment, Angus Abranson suggested the Heresy system, specifically Victoriana. As much as he felt it would be a good fit, it was also a license thing. Heresy belonged to C7, so there were never going to be later licensing issues. Walt Ciechanowski and Andrew Peregrine gave us a stripped-down version, with Steve Ironside and, later, Neil Wiseman tinkering with it to make it into something that beautifully serves the cause.
- Was there any particular moment (or maybe more than one) when you felt it was really worth your time and effort to have written this game?
Gosh. Ummm… Lots of things. The reaction of folks who played in demo games at Conpulsion inEdinburghand at the UK Games Expo inBirminghamhelped me (and all of us, I guess) realize we’d maybe got it right. The feedback from reviewers was so very heartening. For me, though, it was the moment at Dragonmeet inLondonlast year when a lovely chap took time to say how much he’d really enjoyed DH:LoF. It took me by surprise to the point at which I could barely frame the words to thank him. When you’ve had something in your head for more than a decade, it’s a genuine surprise to find other folks like it. A lovely surprise, of course.
Oh, and the point when a madman fromPolandcontacted me to ask if he could translate bits of the core book! That was a fab surprise too! 😀
- The game has recently found some extra recognition – can you tell us something about the award it has won?
We won a Griffie for Best Role Playing Product 2011/12! It was awarded to us by the folks at Conpulsion 2012. Conpulsion is a games con inEdinburghthat I’ve been going to for years and years. It’s my local con, no matter where I live. We launched DH:LoF there in 2011, and I met Angus Abranson there in 2010. Almost all of the team behind the game met for the first time at various Conpulsion events. What made it really special, though, was that the award was voted for by folks who actually attended the event back in April. There was no real chance to ‘stack the vote’. It was the first time the Griffies have been awarded too, so it was just the best way to top off the first year of release for DH:LoF. We’re all so grateful to the organizers and delegates of just the best, friendliest games convention in the whole world. Get your tickets for next year!!!
- “Dark Harvest” seems to be part of a larger project that also includes a card game and a video game. Can you share some light on those other installments?
We are slowly, carefully expanding the DH:LoF line. It’s all kinda done part time, and paid for as and when I can afford it, so it’s always a little slower than I’d like. Still, it means we have plenty of time to put loads of good, well-considered stuff into whatever we’re doing.
The card game, Frankenstein’s Bodies, is being developed by Andrew Harman and his wife Jenny. Andrew is a fellow writer-type, and has had the whole Promethea thing flung at him for as long as it’s been in my head. The card game idea came to me on the train back from last year’s Eurogamer Expo in London. I was staying with Andrew and Jenny, so I arrived at theirs and announced that Andrew was going to be doing a card game. They both play lots of card and board games, so I knew they’d be perfect to develop my vague idea. I was right too – the game is amazing! It’s all about making two perfect bodies on the orders of Frankenstein. As it’s competitive, you can steal body parts and surgeons from your opponents, while spreading rumours about how rubbish the body parts are on your rivals’ creations. The playtesters have had a ball, and we’re looking forward to getting it out there hopefully towards the end of the year. Check out the dedicated Facebook page for news: https://www.facebook.com/home.php?filter=lf#!/FrankensteinsBodies
The video game is called Fires of Promethea, and is in the early stages of development. I don’t want to say too much more beyond that at the moment. I’m very excited by the way things are growing at the moment, but I don’t want to say too much right now. Watch our main website for more details on that as they develop: http://www.darkharvest-legacyoffrankenstein.com/fires-of-promethea/
There are other plans, some of which I can talk about, some of which I can’t! Speaking of the ones I can talk about…
- Another important thing about the game is the amount of fiction included in the book. Is there any chance for a novel set in the world of “Dark Harvest”?
I am (when other stuff allows) putting together an anthology of short fiction. Some of the stories are the ones from the core book and the three I wrote for the Resistance supplement. However, there are a whole bunch of brand new stories specifically written for the anthology. The split will be around 50/50 new and already published. That’s going to be released as an ebook later in the year. I’ll pass on more news as and when it becomes available. Watch the Facebook page and the main site.
- “Resistance” has finally been released. Do you already know what the next DH supplement will be about?
Yup! J I want to do about four or five adventures in one pack. They will be able to be played as vaguely linked stories or as one-off adventures. The real challenge for me and for the team is that each will be playable from either the Promethean authorities side, or by Resistance characters, and possibly even by folks who simply want to survive without joining either side. Like I said, writing them to allow for that will be a challenge, but we all feel that it’s important to do things that way. DH:LoF has no real Bad Guy in it (though there are folks who are just plain nasty). Players can choose to play pro- or anti-Frankenstein, so it’s vital that scenarios we release allow that. Anyway, the adventure pack is something I want to have out by this time next year.
- Any final words to those who are already fans and those who have never heard about the game before?
Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein is whatever you want it to be. If you want to explore high politics in the ballrooms and studies of the rich, it’ll let you do that. If you want to explore down-and-dirty politics on the streets of Bucharesti and the barracks of military bases, it’ll let you do that. If you want to play a game of spying and intrigue, Promethea is the place for you. If you just want to blow up trains and shoot the big monsters who emerge from the wreckage, it’ll let you do that too! I hope you’ll give it a try, and that we’ll see you on the website or the Facebook page.