When I work on a game design, I like the game to tell a story. I like the way the mechanics from those ideas can play into the overall narrative. When Cult of the Deep was coming together as a game, I knew I wanted to develop the world it was in as well. I was just fascinated with the setting and the ideas that would have to exist in order to make the cult “real.” So, after developing outlines and descriptions that would help guide the art direction of the game, I knew I wanted more.
I wasn’t sure where to turn to find a writer who could do the idea justice. So, I made a wish list. If I could have any author write a short story for the game, who would it be? It had to be an author whose writing I really enjoyed, while also able to deal with aspects of horror, history, and fantasy. For me, I had only one name, Dan Wells. He did an incredible job on I Am Not A Serial Killer and also one of my favorite novellas of all time The Butcher of Khardov.
So, long story short, he said yes to the short story and cue victory fist pumps! A link to the first part of the story can be found at the end of the interview. It is an honor to work with him and so without further ado, here is an interview with New York Times Bestselling Author and Hugo Award Winner, Dan Wells. Enjoy!
Interview With Dan Wells
Who is Dan Wells? How would you describe yourself to someone you just met and didn’t know who you were?
My name is Dan Wells, and I’m an author who’s written a little bit of everything. My first book was a horror called I Am Not A Serial Killer, but my first NYT bestseller was a science fiction series called “The Partials Sequence.” I’ve written cyberpunk, dystopia, psychological thrillers, spy thrillers, historical fiction, and corporate satire; I’ve written for adults, YA, and right now I’ve got a bestselling audio series for Middle Grade called ZERO G. I’ve written for stage, movies, TV, board games, roleplaying games, card games, and miniatures games; plus I’m a professional gamemaster both for hire (I’ll run a campaign for you and your friends!) and on the Twitch Actual Play channel TypeCastRPG. I’m also a big supporter of mental health, and I’ve participated in several anthologies designed to raise money and awareness of the issue, including the outstanding Life Inside My Mind. And on top of all that, I’m a co-host of the podcast “Writing Excuses,” for which I’ve won a Hugo and several Parsecs, and which has expanded to include an annual writing conference (and might be expanding again into multiple conferences sometime next year). I consider myself very lucky to be a full-time author and creator, and I’m honored to be working on this project.
Do you find cults interesting? And do you have a favorite or I should say one you find really interesting?
Thank you for rephrasing, because I’m always very clear about this when I do presentations on serial killers as well: I don’t have a “favorite,” because the things these people do are terrible, but yes I do absolutely find them fascinating, and there are some in particular that I study very closely.
For cults, the one that continues to fascinate me is Aleph, also called Aum Shinrikyo, a doomsday cult from Japan that believes in a coming global war that will destroy us all and send us to hell. The only way to be saved, they believe, is to be killed by a member of the cult, which has led them to commit not only some pretty awful murders but a series of horrific gas attacks in Tokyo subways. Like I said: these are terrible things, and I don’t excuse them, but as a writer I am fascinated by the underlying current of altruism: at the end of the day they are trying to help people, in their own misguided way. It’s a rational response to an irrational belief, and that’s what makes abnormal psychology so interesting to me.
What is it like writing a short story? Where do you start?
When I write anything, long or short, I try to start with the ending: Where is this story going, and what do I want the reader to feel when they finish it? Then I build backward from there. And I shouldn’t say any more about my story for Cult of the Deep, because I don’t want to spoil it, but I had a very specific ending in mind and I was delighted at all the pieces the game put in place to help me make it happen.
What project are you currently working on? What can you tell us about it?
I’m doing a bunch of RPG work right now: I’m running two Actual Play games on Twitch, I do game reviews on YouTube, I’m a GM for hire over Zoom and Roll20, and I’m writing a bunch of adventures for an upcoming SF Horror RPG called Grimmerspace. In between all of that I’m cowriting a fantasy series with Brandon Sanderson that combines our specialties: It’s about a boy from our world who goes to a fantasy world, AND it’s about a villain from the fantasy world who ends up as a serial killer in our world. It’s a lot of fun, and I hope you get to see it soon.
Do you have any favorite writing tropes?
This isn’t really a trope, but I love writing scenes where a character talks themselves into doing something they really shouldn’t do. That bit of moral compromise, where the reader disagrees with what a character chooses but still empathizes with the choices that got them there, is such an incredible high when all the pieces click into place.
What’s your opinion of the gaming today? And its future?
Tabletop gaming has seen such a huge renaissance over the last ten years, as our increasingly digital society looks for excuses to get together in person and see each other face to face. The pandemic is making that hard right now, which is why so many game groups have moved online to Zoom and Roll20 and D&D Beyond and an avalanche of other gaming sites, but the second that it’s safe to go out in public again I think we’re going to see an absolute explosion of game groups and gaming cafes and every other possible outlet for tabletop gaming. Games unite us, in an age where almost everything else is carefully calibrated to drive us apart. The future of gaming is very, very bright.
Current favorite board game?
I own just shy of 500 board games, so this is a tough question and the answer changes all the time, but right now on the day I’m writing this I’m going to say Roll for the Galaxy, if only because it has a fantastic app that allows me to keep playing with my game group even though none of us can meet in person.
Favorite game mechanic in a game?
I love what I call “bloodline” games, where you as a player control successive generations of a person or family. The board game Legacy, by Michiel Hendriks, is a beautiful example of this, and the RPG Pendragon, by Greg Stafford, is another brilliant one. Something about building a heritage, and watching old characters retire and their children rise up to take their place, is such a huge win for me.
Favorite RPG system?
My favorite RPG right now is Star Trek Adventures, which does an absolutely beautiful job of recreating the feel of Star Trek—it’s not about combat or space battles or politics or any of the other tropes that Star Trek games typically fall into. It’s about good people coming together to solve problems with science, and that’s very hard to do in a game setting, but STA give you all the tools to do it. It’s wonderful.
Favorite game designer/s?
For board games, I’d probably say Philip duBarry, who did Courtier and Canalis and Black Orchestra, or maybe Corey Konieczka, who’s done a ton of games but who absolutely blew my mind with Battlestar Galactica, which is still the most jaw-dropping tie-in game I’ve ever seen. Or maybe Volko Ruhnke, for the stellar card-driven wargame genre that he practically invented; my favorite is Fire in the Lake, but I’m a fan of the whole line. For RPGs, I’d have to pick Greg Stafford or Erick Wujcik, both now sadly taken from us. My introduction to “hobby” gaming was the old TMNT RPG back in the 80s, and little 12-year-old me even wrote Wujcik a letter pitching him on the idea of a seafaring addition to the After the Bomb line. He was incredibly kind and supportive, and wisely suggested that if I wanted to see something in the world I had all the power to create it myself. Later, when I ran a game review website in college, he was a regular commenter in the forums, though I don’t think he knew I was the same kid who’d written him ten years earlier. His encouragement did a lot to make me the creator that I am today, and I try to be as kind and as helpful to the people who now write to me.
If you were to design a game what would that look like?
I design games all the time, and honestly they usually look like Star Trek when they first start out because that’s my comfort zone, but eventually as they get more developed they gain their own identities and become their own ideas. My current one, and by far my best, is a dice game about a D&D-style dungeon crawl, where a group of adventurers fight monsters and get treasure. It’s a lot of fun, but being an eager hobbyist is a far cry from being a competent game producer, so this one will have to sit on the shelf with the others until I find the time to figure out how the business side of this industry works.
Kickstarter: base level or deluxe? Miniatures or standees?
When I’m Kickstarting something, I go all in: the metal coins, the plus-size boards, the extra minis—if there’s an option for painted minis, I’ll jump on that, too. Sometimes that pays off well, like my all-inclusive deluxe version of Erik Lang’s Rising Sun. And sometimes it doesn’t, like…well, I don’t want to badmouth any game creators, because I love them all. But I’ve definitely got a pretty big collection of minis that will never be used for their actual games, and will probably end up as proxy models in Warmachine or Infinity.
To read Part 1 of “A Bountiful Harvest” click on the link below.
Learn more about Cult of the Deep here.
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