Matthew Corley and his company Saturday Morning Scenarios has begun working on their next TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) project, Horror in the Windy City and its novella companion The Devil’s City. The game is set in late 1800s Chicago as horror descends upon the city. Matt Corley and SMS aren’t new to the horror role-playing scene. They recently published Whispers in the Dark, set in reconstruction era New Orleans.
The Kickstarter for The Devil’s City goes live on March 31, 2020. Check it out here to signup for notifications! We caught up with Matt to discuss how development went and what was next for SMS.
Julia Roth: What gave you the initial idea to create the sanity/madness mechanic? Did you find something was lacking in your gameplay?
Matthew Corley: I wanted to introduce long term consequences with mechanics that couldn’t be fixed with a long rest and that brought more chances to roleplay your character in an interesting way. I’m a big fan of CoC and stories with flawed characters, and building comprehensive 5e compatible madness/sanity rules made sense.
My group didn’t have time to learn how to play Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green (both fantastic d100 games), and I knew they weren’t the only DnD folks that wanted that nuance or those types of settings. So instead of learning a whole new system I created one that works with a ruleset everyone already knows. Seeing the tremendous response to Critical Role’s foray into horror further encouraged me.
And it’s not that DnD is lacking something. It’s excellent for heroic fantasy, but since my interest is largely in games that include horror I thought a bolt-on solution would work great.
JR: What drove you to create a game with a real-world location?
MC: Historical fiction fascinates me, especially when it’s told with subtle additions that make it scarier. The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a great example. She took a horrific real-world event, the tragedy of Donner Party, and by adding a supernatural element made it new and more terrifying.
We have a much stronger connection to real-world settings and can imagine ourselves in those places much easier. For the GM and the players, you’ve seen the places, experienced the sensations, eaten the food, breathed the air. Those memories add veracity, and when you’re playing/writing horror building connections makes it a better experience.
I’d also add that a lot of ttrpg publishers have been doing great supplements based on the real world for decades. In addition to the two, I already mentioned the World of Darkness books are excellent for world-building too. Modiphius and Darker Hue are also fantastic.
JR: What inspiration went into writing The Devil’s City and Horror In The Windy City?
MC: So many different things went into writing these books. These are my top 5:
- The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson was very influential.
- HH Holmes’ autobiography
- The Alienist by Caleb Carr
- The Devil’s Dreamland by Sara Tantlinger
- HH Holmes Murder Castle jigsaw puzzle by Holly Carden
JR: How was it working alongside Sara Tantlinger for the novella?
MC: Intimidating! She’s so talented, and she won a Bram Stoker last year for a book on this very subject. I remember talking to her early on and saying point blank that if I’m not pulling my weight The Devil’s City is all hers. Luckily, she let me stay on.
In all seriousness Sara was incredible to collaborate with. We worked well together and it was a fantastic partnership. We had a few good flow of ideas, comments, and feedback throughout. It couldn’t have gone smoother.
JR: How much of the story is based on fact and what areas did you take some liberties to bring your story to life?
MC: In a lot of ways its historic fiction with a supernatural twist. We used as many actual events, places, and people as we could and made minor adjustments when needed. I actually address how we had to change the hotel layout in the appendix of The Devil’s City that contains the maps of the World’s Fair hotel.
It was very important to me that it be accurate whenever possible, and that our additions be subtle and portrayed as realistically as they can be.
JR: What was the process of taking HH Holmes’s story and adjusting it to fit into a tabletop role-playing game?
MC: For the RPG his story, activities, and hotel are tailor-made for a game. After initial researching the next piece was commissioning the maps. I used Dark Realm Maps, he did the maps for Lamp’s Light, and when they were finished, I started writing. It’s a very similar process to what I did with LL.
While writing about the hotel I’d populate it as I went from room to room. The last step is going back and creating a series of events/scenes that serve as the campaign that picks up where the novella leaves off.
For the book, Sara and I talked it out and it formed very organically. We knew there would be five victims, that they’d be from a variety of backgrounds, and it just came together. Her knowledge of Holmes was crucial here.
JR: What kind of monsters can we expect to see hiding within the walls of his murder house?
MC: Spiders, the remnants of prior victims, and a few henchmen of course.
JR: Will we come face to face with Holmes in the end?
MC: I haven’t decided completely. I know folks will want to, but that will be a game-time decision made when I finish the scenario. I will include stats for him (probably two sets) regardless of his appearance in my scenarios.
JR: What is next for Saturday Morning Scenarios?
MC: The Devil’s City and Horror in the Windy City are the focus now. When those wrap up, we’ll be moving on to the next combo campaign which is modern-day and takes place in Baltimore. John FD Taff is writing a novella in his Fearing universe for that one.
Another project that we’re all itching to start is Zoinks. Which will be an all-ages TTRPG. It’s a non-horror take on solving mysteries like Eerie, Indiana, Scooby-Doo, and Gravity Falls. This will be something that adults and kids can enjoy equally. It may be part of a philanthropy project too.
JR: What other stories would you like to tackle?
MC: All of them? I’d love nothing more than to publish and write fulltime. Games of investigation, suspense, and horror are my favorites and I find inspiration almost daily.
I really want to tackle the Deep South as a place of gothic, mythos horror so that’s probably an area of focus in 2021 and beyond. I have an anthology novel that’s in the concept phase for this now.
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