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Interview with Cat Tobin of Pelgrane Press: Time For The Next Level

Jonas (he/him)
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so many plans...
...not enough time
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Just over a month ago, Pelgrane Press announced a new regime.
I've had the great pleasure to talk with Pelgrane's new managing director about

gaming, diversity, bringing horrors into the world - and Fear Itself!

RPG Designer: Cathriona Tobin

Hi Cat! Would you please be so kind to introduce yourself to our readers? Who are you?

Hey Jonas! I’m Cat Tobin, and I’m the managing director and co-owner of Pelgrane Press, a London-based tabletop RPG publisher.

Congratulations on becoming managing director and co-owner of Pelgrane Press recently! What change does this actually mean for you personally, and for Pelgrane as a whole?

Thanks very much! For me personally, this is the realisation of a life goal. While I’ve always had a strong engagement with roleplaying as my primary hobby, this has given me a sense of engagement with the RPG industry that I didn’t have before.

I believe that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. With two partners running Pelgrane Press, I think that we’ll have more scope to develop and grow the business - we’ve published a number of award-winning games, and it’s time to take them to the next level.

Good luck with that! But before we talk more about Pelgrane, let’s keep focused on you for a moment. How did you get into gaming?

My university’s roleplaying society ran a freshers’ event called Assassins, based on Steve Jackson Games’ Killer. I’d never heard of roleplaying, but Assassins sounded like fun, so I went along to the society’s introductory session to see what it was about. When I went back for the second session, I was put into an RPG (FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (FASA)), and the concept of roleplaying blew my mind - I was instantly hooked!

What led you to pursue gaming and games as a job, and how did you arrive at Pelgrane Press?

I’m incredibly passionate about games, and roleplaying games in particular. I think play is so important to us as creative beings, and sadly undervalued by society. I worked in finance for a long time, but I’d spend every minute I could steal writing adventures and working on games, so it became clear to me that I was never going to be professionally satisfied until I was working in the games industry.
Board Game Publisher: Pelgrane Press

I’d done some voluntary work with indie RPG publishers before, so I knew a bit about publishing. Most of my experience in the industry came from running RPG conventions like Warpcon, K2, and Dragonmeet, which is where I met Simon. We talked there about running a Pelgrane Press convention, so I started following Pelgrane’s news, and when the vacancy came up for Beth’s job, I applied for it.

Sounds like a win-win situation for both sides! Touching on a serious subject: How are your own experiences in the RPG community shaped by your race and gender?

I always think about John Scalzi’s excellent post about privilege, and I’m aware that as a white person, I’m playing life on the lowest difficulty setting for race. However, as a woman in gaming, I’m constantly aware of my status as an “other”. Like most women, I’ve experienced gendered harassment in gaming. I’ve had to fight hard to be listened to, and respected, as an equal. Plus, I’ve had to challenge some odd assumptions over the years. Examples are that I only game because a partner does; that I can’t be expected to know as much about gaming as men; that I can’t be a “real gamer”; that my opinions, beliefs, and failings can be generalised to all women, or that other women speak for me. I believe that our little corner of the geekosphere is becoming more inclusive of women, and traditionally underrepresented groups, but I think we still have a way to go.

You’re right, there’s still a lot of ground to cover. I’m sorry you and many others have to experience gendered harassment, and I’m aware it’s up to me (and everyone of us) to contribute to a change for the better, and address the sexist aspects of our culture which we all share - I’m not excluding myself here. - But let’s take a look at Pelgrane Press: Like some other companies, Pelgrane publishes soundtracks for many of their games. Ten years ago, RPG soundtracks were much less common. Is that a growing trend on the market?

I think so, as GMs (and players) are incorporating a lot more multimedia into their games in general. We’ve seen a big rise in online character sheet storage, virtual tabletops, using Google image searches and maps, and I think that’s definitely going to continue as the technology improves. We’re very lucky to have the talented composer James Semple as part of our team, so we’re definitely going to continue producing soundtracks.

While I tend to enjoy listening to RPG soundtracks, I have to admit I haven’t yet used them at the table. Do you use music when gaming?

I do most of my tabletop GMing at conventions, which aren’t great for using music, but I very often use music in larps that I run - particularly atmospheric music and sound effects. We use music a lot in home games I play in. I recently finished (re)playing Masks of Nyarlathotep (3rd & 4th edition) using the 7th edition rules for Call of Cthulhu and we had a pulp soundtrack we used to listen to, which was great for tension, but always made us laugh when the Indiana Jones theme came on!

The 13th Age Bestiary, 13 True Ways, and Dreamhounds of Paris recently were all nominated for the Golden Geek Awards (Best Artwork & Presentation, and Best Supplement) - congrats! But what is in your opinion the most underrated product by Pelgrane Press that deserves more recognition?
RPG Item: Fear Itself

Thanks very much! That’s a tough question. Most of my favourite Pelgrane products are award-winning, like Hillfolk and Eternal Lies. However, I’m always surprised that Fear Itself isn’t better recognised - it’s got a great concept, it’s quick and easy to learn, it can produce powerful games of personal horror, and it’s easily adaptable to a wide variety of different settings.

Pelgrane is sponsoring our current RPG Geek DramaSystem Contest (thanks for that). If there was a Series Pitch with Pelgrane Press as the subject matter, what would it contain?

Filling the Void: Every time we publish a new horror book, the creatures in it come to life, and we have to secretly fight them, InSpectres-style. So the themes would be if we should keep publishing, in the light of all the horrors that brings into the world, and whether we have more of a chance defeating Gareth’s, Ken’s or Robin’s monsters!

Nice concept! (I have to admit I’m a fan of InSpectres, so it's easy to win me over for that series pitch...) What can we expect from Pelgrane in the next year or two, monsters or other morsels of gaming goodness? Are there any crowdfunding plans or big releases, do you plan to branch out beyond tabletop role-playing games? Where is Pelgrane heading?

Our primary focus is on roleplaying games, as that’s what we love playing and running. We’ve got two big Kickstarter projects - TimeWatch and the Dracula Dossier - coming out this year. I’m probably the most excited about a very cool book of story games we’re working on, which we’ll be officially announcing online shortly, but will be out in December. Next year, we’ve got The Poison Tree, another epic campaign for Trail of Cthulhu in the vein of Eternal Lies, coming out, which might well be crowdfunded.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for interviewing me! We’re big fans of RPG Geek, so keep us posted on what you’re up to.

Thanks for taking your time, and may you be successful - not just with the monsters you encounter and release into the hands of eager gamers!

For anyone interested in our DramaSystem contest, you still have two weeks to send in your submission. Voting will take place in the second half of April; all the details can be found in the thread: [WINNERS ANNOUNCED] RPG Geek DramaSystem Contest 2015.

Also, I can sense a Homegrown event, playing games using the pitches submitted in this contest...

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