The Stories of Games
An Interview with FFG Fiction Editor Katrina Ostrander
For nearly every game in the Fantasy Flight Games catalog, the story lies at the heart of the experience. Through the game, you and your friends become adventuring heroes in a fantasy land, investigators contending with horrors from beyond, or the men and women who control the massive corporations of the future. These stories are a major reason why games can be so enthralling, and they create memories that last far beyond game night.
Today, we sat down with Katrina Ostrander, the Fiction Editor at Fantasy Flight Games, to take a closer look at the stories of board games.
FFG: To start out, could you briefly explain your role at Fantasy Flight Games?
Katrina Ostrander: As the Fiction Editor, I scout out authors to write the novellas and fiction inserts for products set in our proprietary settings, work with them to develop and revise their writing, and ensure that their writing fits within the established world. I also head up the gargantuan task of keeping all of the lore for our different worlds compiled in story bibles and internal wikis so that our writers can stay updated on the new characters, locations, creatures, and technologies we’re constantly adding to our IPs.
FFG: What are those proprietary IPs or settings where you and the other members of the story team help to guide the story?
KO: Currently, that list includes the Android, Arkham Horror, and Runebound universes, as well as the Legend of the Five Rings. As story team members, our role is to review any material generated by content creators—such as flavor written by internal developers, stories penned by freelance writers, and the many pieces of artwork created by our freelance artists—and make sure that content doesn’t contradict existing products or products in development. We also recommend opportunities to link the products together: like the 23 Seconds incident that appears in both Android: Mainframe and the Flashpoint Cycle for Android: Netrunner.
As the facilitator for each of the story groups (there’s one for each IP), I’m one of the few people at the company who works on all of FFG’s settings, so my hands are in all the pots, so to speak.
FFG: Those are some very different worlds—ranging from a cyberpunk pastiche to Lovecraftian horror to a fantasy world inspired by Eastern cultures. What are some of the challenges or benefits of working with so many different IPs?
KO: The challenges are mostly related to keeping track of so many different details in your brain! The more you can memorize, the faster you can get through the material, but it’s impossible to remember everything. That’s where the story bibles and internal wikis become invaluable. There are hundreds of characters across the different worlds, and keeping track of how they’re characterized in this card or that novella, this art piece or that plastic figure, would be far too daunting to do off the top of your head. It’s got to be written down, or you’ll go crazy.
I’ve never had trouble shifting gears between the different moods of the settings, though. In fact, getting to bounce around different IPs, each with their own tropes and themes, is tremendously refreshing. You don’t have to worry about burning out on secret cults and evil grimoires, or your eyes glazing over from researching the science behind the technology of the future. Instead, you can be neck-deep in feral ghouls, weird fungi, and the Underworld of the Dreamlands one day, but the next day you’re reading up about hanakotoba (the language of flowers) and the hairstyles and costuming of Rokugan.
FFG: How do you usually start developing an IP? Do you have much information to go on at the beginning?
KO: IP development really begins with defining the themes of the setting. To me, these themes are the questions the setting raises or the statements it makes about the nature of our lives or humankind. In a given IP, is human life generally meaningless, or do certain people carry a great destiny? Are good and evil opposing concepts that manifest in the world, or is the setting devoid of such black and white modes of morality? Of all the things you could define about the setting, the theme is what gives you the most direction when deciding if a detail or story will or will not work within that setting.
Do we have much information to go on at the beginning? In a word, yes! By the time I stepped into my role, there was already a wealth of material dedicated to each of the settings: Legend of the Five Rings stretches back over twenty years, Timmorran and Waiqar of the Runebound universe first appeared in BattleMist in 1998, and the seeds that grew into the Arkham Horror universe are nearly a century old. In contrast, the Android IP is relatively young—only eight years old—but it has still generated a lot of material in that short span. Through the process of creating books like The Worlds of Android, I’ve had the opportunity to curate and revisit this content and package it into a great introduction for new fans or a collectible item for veterans.
FFG: How does the story emerge or play a part in a game that might not necessarily be story driven? For example, the new Mansions of Madness has a huge focus on the story, but not every game has that same emphasis.
KO: Story can appear anywhere: in the title of a card, in art, in flavor text—even in game mechanics. Stories aren’t restricted to media that can convey a beginning, middle, and end. It helps if there’s a point of reference for the narrative arc, like the fictions that appear in rulebooks, but even if you don’t have that luxury, you can present pieces of the story in snapshots. Individually, everything stands on its own, but when taken together, a narrative emerges. You might call these references “easter eggs” or cameos, but they help create a real sense of a connected world.
FFG: To wrap things up, what’s your favorite part of your job?
KO: I relish the content creation. Who doesn’t love to create fun and interesting characters, throw obstacle after obstacle in front of them to ruin their lives, and then see them come alive in art or games or stories?