Does Love Forgive? is a collection of two special scenarios for Call of Cthulhu for one Keeper and one player that we launched at Gen Con Online earlier this month. Great for a fun evening of gaming for two people. And perfect if you're currently in lockdown or socially isolating with a friend or loved one.
Here we speak with co-authors Anna Maria Mazur and Airis Kamińska. They wrote the original scenarios in Polish, which were originally published by our friends Black Monk Games. Lynne Hardy, Chaosium's associate editor for Call of Cthulhu, worked with Anna Maria and Airis on the English language version.
Q: What inspired you to write your scenario for Does Love Forgive?
Anna Maria: I was requested to write something for St. Valentine’s Day [the date the original Polish version of Does Love Forigve? was released—ed.&91; and the first thing that popped into my head was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – so I did some research and I decided to make it the background of my scenario, 'Love You to Death'. I wanted to use the character of Highball, the dog who mysteriously survived the shooting, and make him the investigator’s guide. It was supposed to be a simple adventure for beginners so the story itself is classical – a woman scorned who wants to get what she wants and is ready to do anything.
Airas: That would be my irreplaceable relationship with my younger sister Anna. She's a singer at the dawn of her career, so it should be quite apparent how she found her way into the script for 'Mask of Desire' and which character is based on her. As her Big Sister it was my job to support her in all her ups and downs, and rekindle her faith in herself. Pretty obviously I'm privy to her romantic endeavours and dramas. Then, all it took was a haunted eldritch mask from Noh theater, and the plot basically has written itself down.
Anna writes her own lyrics and music. Some of her compositions are available at YouTube, so if you want to hear the voice I had in mind while writing that script, why not give it a go? My sister is now preparing for her first album. I've heard some of her latest tracks, and it gives me confidence that no spooky mythical mask will be necessary for her to achieve success!
Q: Was writing a one-to-one scenario different to writing a “standard” scenario (one for multiple players)?
Anna Maria: Yes, it is definitely different. You have to remember that it’s only one person who solves the mystery, so it can’t be too complicated. Of course the Keeper can help them find the answers, but we all know that it’s much more fun if we do it by ourselves. I think it’s very important to adjust the session to our player – if you know they’re good with riddles, give them some, but if you know that they can have a problem with finding the answer, make the puzzles easier or replace them with something else.
What’s more, you have to take into consideration that the Keeper is going to be working non-stop for the whole session – there are no other players for discussions and brainstorming. The Keeper is the only person with all the information and they have to keep the player busy the whole time. It can be exhausting but a good one-on-one session is a very rewarding experience.
Airis: No doubt. I had my fair share of “solo” games under my belt, so the experience was there. Also, the story was crash-tested on my partner. And thank goodness it was, because it appears that the initial version had potential blow up into smithereens during the very first scene… One-to-one scenarios need to put so much more emphasis on the relations of the Investigator with the surroundings and NPC’s. In the end the story can be much more personal than usual, with lots of space to develop emotional connections in the fiction and building one’s story arc.
Q: How long have you been gaming? What attracted you to it in the first place, and how were you introduced to it?
Anna Maria: I’ve started gaming when I was 14 years old. I was on a summer camp and a friend asked me if I want to play some fantasy game with them. It was his own system vaguely based on the D&D. Back then I was a great fantasy fan (and I still am), so I instantly agreed, and it’s almost 20 years later and I still play RPGs. However today it’s Call of Cthulhu or The One Ring rather than Dungeons and Dragons.
Airas: That would be half of my life! I began as a kid with a “very bad D&D session” and a “very good Call of Cthulhu” one. Both I experienced during a summer camp with my friend Dżonny as DM. I still play with him frequently by the way. Later I transitioned to some unspecified Epic Fantasy with little to no mechanics, but a hefty amount of riding the dragons to the tune of power metal. Yeah… those were the times. Next step was The Legend of Five Rings and it stayed with me for a long time. I’m sure now you can tell how I ended up doing Japanese Studies.
Q: How did you get into the gaming industry?
Anna Maria: Thanks to my life partner Przemysław, who talked me into going to Pyrkon (a big convention in Poznań) two years ago. During the convention we were enjoying the Call of Cthulhu-related panels and seminars, and we learned that Black Monk Games was looking for translators. So I introduced myself to Daria Pilarczyk, the main coordinator of CoC Polish edition. Several weeks later I was translating the Keeper Rulebook!
Airas: I owe my first RPG publication to an opportunity that arose when Orion, a travel agency I was working for, and Black Monk Games decided on a barter. One of the fundraising goals for the new Polish edition of Call of Cthulhu was an adventure. Orion sponsored me and my friend Topór to write it. We called it Trzeba karmić ogień (“One must feed the flame”), telling a story about the strength of a family bond, set in the realm of Siberian shamanism. It was a seriously personal thing for me as I took inspiration from the real-life story of my grandmother, who survived the horrors of Siberian exile during the Second World War. Initially that adventure was just meant to be a free downloadable PDF, but the publisher liked it so much it ended up being included in the Horror nad Wartą (“Horror on the River Warta”) anthology. And so basically that's why I'm here. If it wasn't for that happy coincidence I reckon that “Mask of Desire” would never be a thing.
I also happen to be a member of a creative group Lans Macabre, which promotes role playing games in Poland. We tour conventions across the country, publish articles, and do online recordings of our games and RPG commentaries. Recently I even tried my hand at recording lectures and guides on how to improve your craft as a GM.
Q: What was the first gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?
Anna Maria: It was Call of Cthulhu Keeper Rulebook – I was one of the four translators working on the Polish edition. We learned a lot during this project and I think each publication is getting better and better thanks to all fantastic and talented people I work with at Black Monk Games – our editors, especially our editor-in-chief Adam Wieczorek, editorial team, proof-readers, layout specialists, and artists.
Airas: Before I was able to push through with my own script, I took significant time working on Case Files: The serial killers series. My life partner Zed (whom I’ve met as a direct consequence of our shared love and passion for role playing games) devised a set of five stand-alone adventures that revolve around investigating cases of serial killings. The entire project needed a lot of testing (the fun part, one of the best campaigns I’ve ever played), substantive editing (the quarrel provoking part, since we both have quite a temper), and linguistic proofreading (the boring yet necessary part).
These system-agnostic scenarios are rather controversial and designed for a mature audience. They can be played in a fully realistic manner, or sprinkled with supernatural elements. A whole set was translated into English, and (wink, wink self-promotion inbound) is available on DriveThruRPG as part of LM Publishing.
Q: What attracted you to Call of Cthulhu?
Anna Maria: The mystery. I’m like this curious investigator who is watching the moving bas-relief and doesn’t want to stop because she is too inquisitive. If our life was a CoC gaming session I would be the first character to die because I would be doing something weird with a forbidden tome or an alien artifact.
Airas: Ha! That would be the second RPG game in my life. It was the pivotal moment of my life that hooked me up firmly to the hobby. Please do try to visualize the following circumstances: It is the middle of the night… pitch black darkness… barely audible, hushed voices… Do bear in mind that we were on our summer camp, underage, and in clear violation of the night curfew. If our caretakers knew we were not in our rooms and messing around… well let's just say that would resolve some unpleasant consequences. But picture if you will our darkened silhouettes, whispering tales of forbidden lore and antediluvian evil. It was full of gravity. It was intense. Most of all however it was an adventure. That precisely was the moment when I realised that role playing games are something for me, something I wanted to immerse myself in. Sure, in hindsight that game was cheesy as hell, but still. The sheer volume of emotions provided both by the setting and our precarious circumstances was enough to engrave Call of Cthulhu into my memory.
Alas! Call of Cthulhu itself had to wait for a few more years for me to revisit it. This time however it was a Keeper of Secrets. I was already an instructor at RPG summer camp, and few of my pupils appeared to be hellbent on playing CoC. I was aware that tentacles were the name of the game here, but apart from that faithful session ages ago I had no experience in the matter whatsoever. There was no turning back though, as my supervisor tossed me a rule book and proclaimed that the first game of a campaign starts the next day.
So there I was. In the middle of the night - again. On a summer camp - again. Struggling with forbidden lore and cursing my miserable fate. Trust me. If someone told me that in eight years I would be writing adventures for this system, I would have laughed in that person's face in a most unspeakable manner… And very silently too: again, it was the middle of the night...
Q: What is your background?
Anna Maria: I'm a graduate in linguistics with a major in Polish-English translation. I’ve been working as a literary translator for six years now. Currently, I translate mainly rule-books and scenarios for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game for Black Monk Games. While translating into English, I cooperate with many authors of both prose and poetry. I'm the member of the Polish Literary Translators Association and vice-chairperson of the Southern Branch of our Association.
Airas: A significant part of my educational background is Japanese Studies. Professionally I coordinate and run summer and winter camps for young passionate people that want to go deeper into their hobbies, especially for RPG and LARP enthusiasts. During those camps I can enjoy tutoring kids, and conducting games as GM. Most of my yearly work is focused on technicalities, recruitment, promotion, logistics: all that stuff necessary for the camps to happen. I’m not complaining though, as I find sharing my beloved hobby extremely rewarding. I also work as a tour leader. I've designed three tours of Japan specially for teenagers and young adults, the first and only of its kind for Poland so far.
However, since May I've been on maternity leave, trying to learn the ever-changing rules of the game called “having a kid”. Still, I try my best to carry on with my other RPG projects, mostly in those few precious moments in the evening before running out of steam and dozing off.
Q: What’s the gaming scene like in Poland?
Anna Maria: In terms of types of players, I think we’re still developing our role-playing archetype, so now you can meet almost every kind of player in Poland. From my experience Polish players like to have some influence on the story told during the gaming session – they want to make a difference in the world of the game by actions of their characters. My players also like to immerse themselves in their characters and play some scenes between each other just for fun. They like to use the session to experience some emotions that wouldn’t be easy for them in real life. I guess we treat our gaming sessions like some kind of trials – we can try out how some things would feel in the safe environment.
There are a lot of conventions for players, some of them are even dedicated only to the RPGs (e.g Lajconik in Kraków or Zjava in Warszawa). We also have a convention dedicated to Call of Cthulhu called CarcosaCon, which takes place at the atmospheric Czocha Castle.
Airas: Dynamic, that's for sure. After a brief period of stagnation where you would constantly hear how “the Polish RPG is dying”, now the hobby seems to be flourishing more than ever! There are domestic editions of evergreen titles like Warhammer or Call of Cthulhu, but also a host of brand-new systems like Tales from the Loop, Blades in the Dark or the Alien RPG. Indie titles are growing more and more popular, as people readily use English rulebooks, and players explore the possibilities given to them by sites like DriveThruRPG, certainly far more than in the previous years. We are witnessing a sort of resurgence of small independent publishers like Zgrozy Call of Cthulhu RPG supplements, Jacek Sielicki Publishing, or LM Publishing, that I am a part of.
On the other hand I have a feeling that Poland has developed a unique style of role-play gaming. I will be stating this only from my own experience, thus not willing to do any disservice to anyone, but it seems many players seek in narrative games something deeper and more immersive than simple entertainment. Games are used to simulate deep emotions, often those that are difficult and taxing. Significant attention is given to the atmosphere, lighting, soundtrack and narrative quality of the language being used during those games, evoking tools used in literature and cinema. It might sound odd but Polish RPG is imbued with a tint of poetry, and I like it.
Q: What other projects have you been working on or planning?
Anna Maria: After the Keeper Rulebook was published I translated several scenarios (i.a. Monster of Poznań by Sandy Petersen, Scritch Scratch by Lynne Hardy, Lightless Beacon by Leigh Carr and Lynne Hardy). Then I worked on Investigator Handbook and Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. The last one was kind of tricky, because I was trying to translate Alone against the Flames without indicating the sex of the Investigator. In Polish its quite complicated because we use inflection in almost every word and the ending often implies the sex of the speaker. But I managed to make the story gender-neutral and I’m really proud of that.
Recently I finished translation of the Pulp Cthulhu campaign A Cold Fire Within. And now, together with my co-translator Adam, I’m working on Polish version of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Airas: My greatest yet unfulfilled dream is publishing a story set in medieval Japan that I have devised. Unfortunately, I am yet to write down my favourite brainchild, but maybe it will eventually mature in the form of an indie system? Who can tell.
Currently Zed and I are working on another set of adventures for the Call of Cthulhu, Nieopisane Lata 20. (“The Undescribed Twenties”), which we are publishing in the Miskatonic Repository. So far we have produced three out of the five announced scenarios, and I hope that once finished, the entirety of a series will be translated into English as well. Anyway, the stories have a bit of a theme and a twist going on in every one of them. For example We śnie nocy letniej (“In a Midsummer Night's Dream”) is a mix of Lovecraftian cosmic horror with Shakespearean automatic writing, and Shell shock sets players in two intertwined timelines, that together tell a story of the veterans of the Great War. I think it goes without saying that we both have a blast working on those!
*purchase the PDF direct from Chaosium.com and you receive the full price of the printed version, due out later this year.
NEXT: we speak to Call of Cthulhu associate editor Lynne Hardy, who worked with Anna Maria and Airis on the English language edition of Does Love Forgive?
Art by Marcin Lesniak