Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Five or So Questions with Chris Spivey on Harlem Unbound

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Chris Spivey on his new Cthulhu RPG Sourcebook, Harlem Unbound. It's currently on Kickstarter and sounds really amazing, so I wanted to share his thoughts about the game with you. Make sure to check out the Kickstarter and see his answers to my questions below!


Tell me a little about Harlem Unbound. What excites you about it?

Harlem Unbound is a RPG sourcebook that takes players into the world of the Harlem Renaissance at its height, to face terrifying horrors from the Lovecraftian Mythos. The book is everything that I, as a gamer of color, wanted to see in my Cthulhu games. It places minorities into the roles of protagonists, and doesn't turn away from the history of racism or the struggle that people of color face.

Instead, Harlem Unbound tries to honor that struggle, and shines a light on all of those corners of humanity's evil, rather than try to hide them. All the while, the Mythos is seething around the edges and corrupting what it doesn't destroy. I think it's important to differentiate that at no point should racism be considered something caused by the Mythos; rather the Mythos may use our own evil against us.

With your intentions, what made you choose to make the game compatible with both Gumshoe and Call of Cthulhu? 

I grew up a black kid loving Lovecraft and picked up my first CoC book around age 14. After I ran Dead Man's Stomp, I knew Cthulhu was for me. I wanted both Gumshoe and CoC because I figured there would be a good cross section of people who play either one or both, and they could choose whichever one they prefer.

Can you talk a little about the mechanical adjustments and additions you've made to support Harlem Unbound in those systems? 

I have introduced a Racial Tension modifier for both systems. Racism is a very sensitive topic and to properly run a game that integrates this reality, the Keeper needs to have very defined guidelines. I find that employing a mechanic everyone can reference helps. Within a lot of games, some people like to pretend racism doesn't exist. Harlem Unbound, by its very nature, cannot steer away from the racist norms of 1920s NYC. I wanted to create a mechanical tool that guides everyone involved, and the tool works slightly differently for each system.

What are the classes you've made available for Harlem Unbound? What elements of them do you think really highlight what is important to you about the game?

One of the classes is the Patron that was just unlocked as a stretch goal on our Kickstarter. Each class will focus on the concept of what it represents. For instance, the Patron will have an easier time with resources and contacts than, say, fighting or warbling on the stage. That is not to say they couldn’t do it, but they wouldn’t be on par with a Hellfighter back from World War I or a legendary performer.

You offer guidance for Keepers running "a game steeped in the history of racism, horror, and the celebration of life." What are some really important concepts you highlight in that section? 

The most important element I have tried to convey is how important it is for a Keeper to talk to their gaming group before playing. Harlem Unbound, in many ways, is unlike many RPGs that are currently on the market. We don't shy away from the reality of life, particularly that of African Americans. And the players must be aware that living in America in the early 1900s as a person of color will have an impact on how you navigate the world. And let's be real, there is still an impact today. It’s important that everyone understands the type of game you're running and the history involved in it.

Lastly, in as much detail as you'd like, what about the worldbuilding and history used in Harlem Unbound are meaningful to you as a creator, and what do you hope they bring to those who play the game and hear the stories?

The Harlem Renaissance was a great time of art changing the world. And there are many who know very little about the movement. African Americans escaping the harsh reality of the South rebelled by pouring themselves into art, music, dance, and the written word. That speaks to me on every level, even more so given the recent political climate. They say that times of great stress and duress produce the biggest explosions of art. I have no doubt we will see a similar result in the next decade.


Thanks so much to Chris for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I hope you'll check out Harlem Unbound on Kickstarter now!

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