Let’s Read Planescape: The Eternal Boundary

It’s been a while since we did one of these, hasn’t it?

Around a year ago we inaugurated an RPG book club on Facebook and it took me this long to figure I might use the social pressure to get me working on this project again. So, to reiterate, as I am the keeper of a complete collection of the Planescape product line, I will read all of it and just down my musings.

A lot has changed since I started these. Nowadays, this stuff is available in PDF on DriveThruRPG, with product histories written by Shannon Appelcline. I will be drawing on those histories as I go. I also noticed that the blog Guile’s World has created conversions of Planescape things for Pathfinder 1E, which I’ll be linking as we go along. The Eternal Boundary’s conversion is here.

Here we go, then. I chose The Eternal Boundary, partly because it’s a short 32-page adventure and I could get through it in an hour even while taking notes, and partly because it was the first adventure module published for Planescape, coming out in June 1994. Its product code 2601 is the next one from Planescape Campaign Setting.

Incidentally, an in-depth look into its bowels will contain SPOILERS.

The Eternal Boundary is written by L. Richard Baker III, who according to Wikipedia is the same person as the Rich Baker or Richard Baker who worked on a lot of AD&DD&D and Alternity stuff as well as some of the better Forgotten Realms novels like the Last Mythal trilogy and City of Ravens.

The first thing that strikes about this thing is that production-wise, they weren’t messing around. It comes with its own DM screen, with NPC stats and dungeon maps on the DM side and art, a tavern map and a map of the Hive on the player side. The adventure itself is a coverless booklet.

The Eternal Boundary, spread out

Plot and Structure

The adventure’s background is that a wizard by the name of Green Marvent, based in the gate town Plague-Mort, is hatching a cunning plan to destabilize the kriegstanz and become a real shaker in Sigil. It’s a bit on the convoluted side, but the basic idea is that his agents pick out barmies in the Hive – the mentally ill, beggars, people nobody will miss – and take them out with a spell called feign death, which makes them appear, well, dead. They’re then taken to the Mortuary, where Marvent’s agent on the inside flings them through a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire, ostensibly for cremation but really into a base run by other agents, who take the knocked-out barmies, reprogram them by telling them they’re dead but have a second chance at life, and give them orders to go to Sigil and join a faction. Marvent would then use these sleeper agents to do something that’s not described in detail. Green Marvent’s outfit is named the Illuminated, and they’re what we would call a sect.

The 1996 German translation by Uwe Körner.

The adventure is meant for low-level characters, levels 1st-3rd according to the text, 1st-5th according to the back cover. I checked my German-language copy, which says “Die Ewige Grenze is geeignet für eine Gruppe von 4-6 Charakteren der Stufen 1-5″, so I guess that settles it. This makes sense, first adventure and everything, and it kinda also works as an introduction to Planescape. It’s not a Grand Tour of the Planes kind of thing, but starts off slow. I figure a playthrough would take some four to six hours, depending on how quick the players are on the uptake and how much fighting they end up doing. In my judgement, this could be run as a one-shot.

The Eternal Boundary is structured into three parts, “The Hive, “The Mortuary” and “The Eternal Boundary”. In “The Hive”, they are hired to look for a person. It depends on party composition which introduction they get. If there are no faction members or only members of the Dustmen, the Bleak Cabal, or the Xaositects, they get the no-faction intro, and otherwise they get the faction start. This is because those three factions are deeply involved in the plot and especially having a Dustman in the party can shortcut most of the second part.

As a side note, it’s always felt to me like some of the factions are more NPC groups than others, and these three are on the NPC-ey end of the scale. I will talk more about this once we reach Factol’s Manifesto.

Anyway, they’re hired to look up a Hiver by name of Eliath because he has information about a demiplane called the Isle of Black Trees. This is funny to me because Planescape: Torment was later developed by Black Isle Studios. Anyway, by meeting people they should be able to figure out Eliath was killed recently and taken to the Mortuary.

“Should” is the operative word here. AD&D wasn’t the best system for running investigations and the DM is advised to just give them the map with hotspots and then throw encounters at them. They will meet Dustmen and Chaosmen and/or Bleakers, and a barmy local who “dies”. The Bleakers and Chaosmen are investigating the deaths and may decide that the PCs are either guilty or impeding the investigation. They will eventually be assaulted by the Shadowknave, Green Marvent’s catspaw, and his gang.

Hopefully, the party eventually figures out they need to investigate the Mortuary, which brings us to Part II, “The Mortuary”. First, though, they will be informed by their boss that Eliath has been spotted alive, and will hopefully look him up and interrogate him (among the things they can find out is that the Isle of Black Trees is a dead end with him). They’ll also encounter the barmy they saw “die” in the Hive, now going by another name and a member of a party member’s faction.

At this point, the party should have enough railroad track built to figure out there’s something sketchy going on at the Mortuary, so the next thing is to infiltrate it. Hopefully infiltrate, because a frontal assault will result in character deaths. Getting caught, on the other hand, will shortcut the entire second part of the adventure, since whoever catches them will either be Illuminated or hand them over to the Illuminated undercover agent. Unless they come clean to Factol Skall, who will conduct an investigation of his own and “dispose” of the PCs, which feels like bad design to me and I would have Skall throw the PCs at the problem on the philosophy that if it doesn’t make the problem go away, at least the PCs did.

The Mortuary is basically presented as a dungeon crawl instead of a more reasonable format for an infiltration mission, which I suppose is understandable considering the book reads AD&D and 1994, but does take up a lot of space. Incidentally, the Mortuary presented here is basically the same as the Mortuary of Planescape: Torment, with in some cases not only precisely the same floorplan but also the same encounters.

The problem with Part II is that by my reading, the clues the PCs go into the Mortuary with are pretty thin. They’ll have “the Mortuary” and possibly “Elemental Plane of Fire”, but unless they have a particularly kleptomaniac outlook and go to a specific crypt, they will not discover the agent’s name. These are always a bit hard to see just by reading the text, but to my eye the investigation does not flow naturally.

Anyway, one way or another they will end up through the gate to the Elemental Plane of Fire and the Citadel of Fire. The setup implies a few ways for them to go about this such as infiltration, but the end result is likely going to be an assault. At this point the party will likely have enough information to piece together what’s going on and will try to end it. There’s a boss, a githzerai fighter/mage named Imogen, to fight who will demonstrate admirable initiative once she figures out there are intruders, and will gather a team to seek and destroy them. This makes speed imperative – the more enemies the party can take out before Imogen gathers up her posse, the fewer members it will have. I like the crew in the Citadel of Fire. There’s a nice variety of adversaries. I have no idea what the stone golem is doing in a low-level adventure, though. By my reading, they’re not supposed to fight it, but it’s there and under the control of Imogen, which is weird.

The ideal ending is presented as destroying the life support gem, rescuing the prisoners, and returning to Sigil. What bothers me is what’s not presented. Green Marvent’s whole plot isn’t laid out very well, which makes failure or partial failure harder to adjudicate. The Eternal Boundary also doesn’t present options for follow-up. It’s like it’s written as the first part of a series but there are no sequels. Green Marvent, the evil mastermind, is never encountered. While he’s mentioned in the Plague-Mort entries in Planescape Campaign Setting and later in Well of Worlds, there’s no follow-up that I’ve been able to find. Reading this is like watching a story through a keyhole. I have a constant awareness of missing context.

The other side of the screen.

Summary

The Eternal Boundary is the first place where we encounter the concept of sects. Not quite as large, or powerful, or as Sigil-centered as the factions, they’re similar, significant power groups. Some of them have a governing philosophy of some kind, some – like the Illuminated – are mostly just a bunch of thugs. We will be formally introduced to sects in Planes of Chaos.

Another thing that struck me with its absence was Tony DiTerlizzi’s art. There are three full-page colour illustrations of a Sigil street, the Mortuary, and the Citadel of Fire, by Rick Berry, Ned Dameron, and Alan Pollack. The cover, portraying a Mortuary zombie with a number on his forehead, is by Robh Ruppel. I like it as an atmosphere piece but it is a bit drab.

So, there it is, The Eternal Boundary. I feel it is more interesting as a resource on the Mortuary than as an adventure module. Indeed, if its description of the Mortuary hadn’t been so detailed, I think it could’ve accommodated more immediately usable material such as more a more thorough description of the Illuminated and a rundown of Green Marvent’s masterplan. If you want a starred review, 3/5.

Next up: Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix I, unless someone convinces me otherwise.

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MOAR ODYSSEUS

As the dust has settled after Odysseus, photo galleries have come out of embargo and a lot of interesting material has been uploaded in various places.

First of all, all of the photo galleries from all the runs are now public. Most of them are accessible through larppikuvat.fi, except for the photos of Ami Koiranen, which are found at amikoiranen.com.

Second, two of the three Odysseus talks from Ropecon have gone through postproduction and been uploaded to YouTube.


The first is about the spatial design of the larp, by Mia Makkonen.

And the second is Essi Santala’s and Sampo Juustila’s talk on the IT, audio, and lighting of the larp, which is one of those cases where being told how the magic trick works makes it more impressive.

The third and final one is the GM team telling what Odysseus was and how they did it.

The final item I wish to link is a real doozy. While the physical objects that made the game are spread to the four winds – the costumes and signage sold, the wall elements sent off to Germany, smaller props stored away – the character briefs, soundfiles, software, and everything else electronic endures. So they collected it all in one place and put it up for download. It’s all free for non-commercial use, and it’s a marvellous treasure trove.

Tales of Entropy for Free

Petteri Hannila, the publisher and designer of Tales of Entropy, has put the game up as a free download on the game’s home page. It’s available in .epub, .mobi, and .pdf formats, and is a nifty storygame, especially for one-shots. Here’s what the home page says about it.

Tales of Entropy is a story game for 2-6 players. Each player takes a central role in depicting a dramatic scenario that sets the scene for murder and romance, friendship and conflict. The central characters are set against each other from the start, but it is up to the players—and the dice—whether the tense starting situation spirals into chaos and destruction or a blaze of glory at the end.

 

The game is based on a pre-written scenario, on top of which the players build a rich tapestry of content according to their own vision, creating a unique play experience. The game book includes ten scenarios ready to play out of the box: Want to tell a tale of power, war and love from the Viking Age, or experience an adventure of Sherlock Holmes in the exotic Limehouse? How about joining a struggling rock band near a breakthrough in the 90s, or defending a child with special needs against an obsessive FBI agent.

There’s also a selection of scenarios from when he published one a week for a year.

It is also available in print from all the usual suspects, such as DriveThruRPG.com.

My Worldcon Schedule

Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon kicks off next week. I’ll be in town from the 12th through the 20th, and this time around I’ve also been put into a handful of panels. This is all still subject to change, and I may end up also running a tabletop RPG session somewhere in there. But this is it for the moment. Come and say hi!

Thursday:
10:00 Retro Hugos discussion
Panel 50 minutes CCD: Wicklow Hall-1
The Retro Hugo Awards honour works published after 1939 during a year for which no Hugos were awarded. This year the finalists have been drawn from works published in 1943 which would have been eligible for the 1944 Hugo awards, had they been held. The panel will discuss the finalists and where they fall in the overall history of SFF.
Heidi Lyshol (M), Robert Silverberg, Jukka Särkijärvi, Graham Sleight, Jo Walton

Saturday:
15:30 Running a post-apocalyptic convention
Panel 50 minutes Point Square: Stratocaster BC
When society breaks down and we no longer have technology or infrastructure to help us, how can we run an SFF convention? What would we even talk about if there are no new books, films, TV shows, or even the internet? Join our panellists as they come up with absurd and sobering ideas for running a convention after the end of the world… which we hope won’t be next week.
Heidi Lyshol (M), Norman Cates, Isabel Schechter, Jukka Särkijärvi

Sunday:
16:00 Dealing with crisis in conrunning
Panel 50 minutes CCD: Wicklow Room-2
Your hotel contract doesn’t actually say what you thought it did. A Guest of Honour goes missing. None of your laptops can run a crucial presentation. What crises have our conrunning panellists experienced, how did they handle them, and what plans do they recommend for preparing for the unexpected?
Dr. Deb Geisler (M), Kris “Nchanter” Snyder, Jukka Särkijärvi, Liat Shahar-Kashtan, Gérard Kraus

Monday:
15:00 Bringing the Worldcon to a city near you!
Panel 50 minutes CCD: Liffey Room-2
Having a splendid time at Dublin 2019, an Irish Worldcon? Want to bring a Worldcon to a city near you? Our veteran conrunners will walk you through the practicalities, to set you up for success in bidding for, and then running, your future Worldcon.
Janice Gelb (M), Helen Montgomery, Alan Stewart, Vincent Docherty, Jukka Särkijärvi

Odysseus, Part II: War Stories

This is the second half of my Odysseus larp report. For Part I, see here.

The first post covered the basics of Odysseus, which I will not repeat here. In this post, I talk about my personal experience and the story arc of my character. This is by necessity a narrow perspective. The game had 312 players over three runs. The text reflects my experience and is neither meant to nor can it invalidate someone else’s.

This will be very long. Grab a drink or something.

It was a very large game and different character groups had completely different experiences to a greater degree than I’ve seen even in larger larps. I have no idea what it is the engineers actually did, didn’t understand the depth of medbay’s work until I saw the photos of them pulling parasites from someone’s arm, only heard about the Zodiac crime organization after the game, and so on.

You don’t see this on House. Photo by Mira Strengell.

Protector Jardan of the Velians

My character was Mission Commander Jardan (to the EOC), or Protector Jardan (to their own people). They were a leader of the Velian character group. In postgame conversations the Velians have been described as “space elves”, “space hippies”, and “hippie space elves”, but really none of these are good analogies (though I am reliably informed that their spiritual leader, the Guardian, was indeed “Space Jesus”). I’m not sure there is a good analogy. While you could make a case for bits of the Velians being inspired by certain sci-fi and real-world cultures, they’re more or less their own thing. There’s maybe a dash of Star Trek’s Vulcans in there. They were an offshoot of humanity dwelling on the inhospitable planet Velian in a single city built by an ancient alien species, covered by an energy dome that made the environment liveable. Their science and technology were far beyond what the EOC had, though they did not have spaceships.

Their society was basically a kind of spiritual gerontocracy, with the oldest members of the Protector caste forming a ruling council known as the One Percent. Other castes were Healers, Shields, Sentinels, Ambassadors, Mechanics, Labourers, and so on. Technically above the Protectors was The Guardian, the mysterious figure who was not quite a god, but maintained the dome. The Guardian was an alien, which the Velians knew and would be revealed to the rest of ESS Odysseus during the game.

Because city-sized environment domes don’t make population growth a great idea, they had adopted the lawfully-mandated practice of using implants that suppressed romantic feelings or lust, and procreation was clinical, controlled, and performed with extracted genetic matter and womb tanks with no need for physical attraction or messy coitus. In a workshop before the game, we also agreed that Velians would always refer to each other as “they”. To them, gender mattered little.

We started our game stranded on Velian with some EOC crew, in a blackbox. You can see the blue he/him pronoun pins on Jardan in the centre and Commander Rowen on the right. Photo by Mira Strengell.

As a note on design, we were all given unobtrusive pronoun pins to go with our name tags. During the workshops we had out-of-character name tags. During the game, military characters had their names on their uniforms, while civilians had ID cards that it was recommended we wear visibly. Their design was not entirely ideal since the type was fairly small and I couldn’t always read the name even when I was talking to the person. Fortunately, I have a pretty good memory for larp character names – except for the Velians, some of which I never managed to memorise.

Protector Jardan was old. At 68, they were the second-oldest character in the larp after The Guardian, who was an alien being so old that age became meaningless. They were also a member of the One Percent. Jardan was very much a traditionalist, set in their ways, and as much of an authoritarian as the consensus-political system allowed. Their faith in The Guardian was deep, and they were Jardan’s only confidant. Jardan was rather like a distant father to his people, especially during the game when his entire peer group had just died.

The Waiting Game

As the game began, the energy dome on Velian had been shrinking. The One Percent had concealed this from the people of Velian to avoid mass panic, but finally, rather too late, sought to evacuate the planet. Jardan had been the leader of the delegation and had been off-planet to negotiate for aid with the EOC when the dome finally did collapse, coincidentally at the same time as the Machines attacked the EOC. They started the game stranded back on Velian with the remnants of two different EOC naval crews and the last survivors of Velian, in an ancient spaceship whose life support systems were functional but hours away from breaking under the strain. (Long story.)

The ship was a large classroom that’d serve as the offgame sleeping area once we were done using it. As is visible in the photo below, it was rather more symbolic than the rest of the larp’s set design, with school furniture, and mattresses on the floor. The lighting did a lot, though.

A Velian standoff. Photo by Santtu Pajukanta.

The first five or six hours of our game were about fixing the communications systems so a distress call could be sent, boosting the life support what little we could, talking with one another, and waiting.

Jardan was overjoyed to discover that The Guardian had survived, and crushed to find out that these few survivors were all that was left of the thousand strong people of Velian. Entire castes had been wiped out. The only other member of the One Percent who still lived was Protector Omyr, who had survived grievous radiation burns.

I only realized around the time they were on their deathbed around three hours in that they were an NPC that was scripted to die. Down to 16.

Goodbye, Protector Omyr. Photo by Santtu Pajukanta.

The engineers figured out the technology and the medics tried to patch up everyone. We were all dinged up so bad that the start of our game got slightly delayed because everyone needed to get their wounds and injuries on. It was not a bad delay since it did not affect the game of anyone but us and we still got a good six hours of frustration and waiting before getting rescued. The design was purposefully such that we got on the edge as the life support ticked down.

Finally, rescue arrived, in the form of a team of gung-ho Marines and a cowboy shuttle pilot from ESS Odysseus. Six at a time, we were shepherded onto the shuttle and taken up to the ship. In practice, we were hustled out of the room, out of the side door of the school, into a van tricked out as the shuttle, and driven by some route to another door that led to the hangar bay. At this point, I fell entirely out of character. The dimly lit classroom had been nice and everything, but it was also very recognisably a classroom, and now we were getting a taste of the 360° illusion and high production values. I was grateful for my hood, because it could conceal that I was grinning like an idiot during the entire drive. We then went through the airlock and entered the Odysseus.

It was already late so there wasn’t much of a welcoming committee. Those needing medical attention (which, to be frank, was all of us, but there’s minor scrapes and then there’s severe radiation sickness) were taken to the medbay, we met Quartermaster Hayakawa and had our details taken so we could be issued ID cards, and around the time Doctor Peters called time of death on Researcher Fide, I realized we had another scripted NPC. Down to 15.

It was a beautiful ceremony. Photo by Mira Strengell.

We’d hashed out a decently complex memorial ritual for the dead in the workshops. Turns out there was a good reason. It was performed at least three times during the game.

Here, I had one of those moments. I do not, as a general thing, cry on demand, and it takes quite a bit of psyching up for me to produce tears. When the realisation hit Jardan that Velian was a dead world and they shouldered part of the blame, I did not cry. When Protector Omyr passed, I did not cry. When Researcher Fide lay there dead on the medical table, I did not cry.

And then, when at the lowest priority for medical attention, the scrapes on my hands were being cleaned, I figured “this would sting”, and that’s when my face started leaking full force. I played it as a collapse of Jardan’s leaderly reserve now that the immediate crisis was over and he could relax for a moment.

Cogs in the System

Odysseus’s nature as a clockwork larp soon became evident. The EOC characters all basically had their duties already set, either officially in one of the crew positions or unofficially as politicians or criminals or whatnot. The Velians came to this from the outside, and our first order of business was to get into the mesh. That was my priority as a leader both in and out of character – to get eyes and ears everywhere as well as prove to the EOC that we could pull our weight, and to get people play, respectively – and we very smoothly got our warriors into the Marines, the pilot into the cockpit, the physicians into the medbay, one person into Engineering and us political types into… position-type things. There was a lot of politics going on that Jardan took one look at, decided they were so far out of their depth they did not know which way was up, and delegated it to the Ambassadors. The one position they operated in was the War Council.

Shield Tarai and Protector Jardan having a serious conversation. They were all serious conversations. Photo by Mira Strengell.

The core experience of my game ended up being the burden of leadership, in trying to hold together the Velian group and find a way to keep their culture alive with fifteen people, many of them excitable youngsters. We also had the issue of the implants running out of power and the younger Velians feeling an entirely new spectrum of emotion, which Jardan disapproved of, especially in the middle of a crisis. I’ve never had so many conversations about procreation.

The other part of this was negotiating a place for Velians in the social, legal, and political structure of the fleet, which also involved keeping up The Guardian’s sacrosanct status. Velians were an independent nation, not citizens or subjects of the EOC, but we were all in the same boat now and had to move fast to get some security.

The Guardian, delivering an object lesson in appearing cryptic. Photo by Mira Strengell.

Of course, The Guardian’s true identity as an alien was one of the big secrets of the larp, and the narrative function of a secret is to be revealed. When the chips came down and orders came from up the hierarchy to get their medical information, the Odysseus crew was just too damn nice for that to happen. It was actually the Quartermaster of the Odysseus who came up with the idea of mocking up an innocent-looking dummy medical profile for The Guardian and running that up the flagpole to the Galaxy Commander, by dint of martial law the effective head of all humanity. This was called Operation Mushroom – “keep them in the dark and feed them shit”. Of course, the secret had to out eventually, but nobody got shot over it, despite all my strident invoking of 500-year-old cultural taboos and blasphemy.

Of course, keeping alive a culture of 15 people is not a goal destined for success, which was something Protector Jardan came to understand during the game. Though they counselled their people to adapt, Jardan realised they did not have the capability for it themselves, and in delegating responsibility, they made himself less and less indispensable to the Velians. Thus, when they were dragged from the deathbed of Aid Naethan to a meeting looking for volunteers to embark on a suicide mission and destroy the Machine mothership – which The Guardian was an important part of – the decision to stand up and take one for the team came very naturally.

Morituri vos salutant. At the microphone on the right, Captain Zeya Cook of ESS Odysseus. Photo by Santtu Pajukanta.

I’d never died in a larp before.

My last fifteen minutes of the game were sitting aboard ESS Starcaller, operating an alien cloaking device that allowed us to approach the mothership so we could blow up it up with an explosive device we had on board. Though there were pilots, a scientist and some Marines on board, we were a microcosm of five volunteers, paralysed by the machine, sharing stories and talking about mortality.

There was one of those perfect moments right at the end, when the countdown was already running. I’d been pressing the button on the cloaking device for fifteen minutes, and the situation was tense, so I was pressing it rather hard, and my hand began to shake. Opposite me, fellow volunteer Kerrie Ray asked: “Sir, are you alright?”

With a wan smile, my melancholic reply was drowned out by cockpit chatter and swallowed by the explosion: “No, I’m dying.”

We sat together in silence until the end of the game, listening to the cheers of the pilots coming back to the hangar. There may have been crying.

Trading Lives

There was a lot of dying, and a lot of that dying was some variety of suicide. The character of Tristan Fukui, the secret android and XO of the Atlantis, was scripted to space herself and come back. There was a suicide bombing whose circumstances I am somewhat unclear on. And then there was the last journey of the ESS Starcaller, a kamikaze mission to take out the enemy. We were not aware that taking out the mothership and the paranoid AI would, in addition to the Machines, kill every android on board.

The suicide mission was not the only possible end scenario, though it was the one that all three runs ended up with. According to the organisers, the other two possibilities were for the Odysseus to run and leave the fleet behind to be destroyed by the Machines, or take the mothership on in a straight fight and lose. While communicating with the AI was possible, success through diplomacy wasn’t in the cards. The AI, you see, had a bunch of human minds inside it so it knew how humans are. Odysseus’s image of humanity is a bleak one.

Before we embarked on our final journey, there was a scene where us volunteers took the stage, and The Guardian revealed their face to the whole ship, and gave a speech about what it was we were going to do: give our lives to end an intelligent species so that our own might live. The core message was that this was the endpoint of consistent failure of societies to live up to their own ideals. This was what fucking up looked like. “When you tell this story to your children, do not omit the mistakes, for it is there that the lessons lie.”

While we were flying out for our date with destiny, the civilians aboard Odysseus could watch the events unfolding on the large screen. As the mothership exploded, the androids died, and the final photographs of the larp paint a mournful picture.

Communications Specialist Ziva Callahan, the only known android at the beginning of the game. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Tristan Fukui collapsing. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

Mourning Doctor Pearson. Photo by Mira Strengell.

Odysseus was never going to have a happy ending, and it was the greater work of art for it.


The Game Masters have published a blog post explaining larger story design decisions and spelling out a great deal of the background stories. It is very useful for context, and the “Final Words” section is vitally important.

These posts owe a great debt to the photography team of the second international run of Odysseus: Tuomas Puikkonen, Mira Strengell, Santtu Pajukanta, Ami Koiranen, and Henry Söderlund. I am deeply grateful that they have donated their time and skills to preserve glimpses of the magic.

Their full galleries can be found at larpkuvat.fi. The galleries of Ami Koiranen and Henry Söderlund are not yet public at the time of this publishing, but once they are, I may return to this post to edit in a few more appropriate shots. They captured their own share of gold.

Thanks also to Ninni Aalto for proofreading the first, vastly less coherent version of this text, and providing many helpful suggestions.

Header image by Mira Strengell.

Odysseus, Part I: I’ve Been to Space

As I start writing this post, probably well over a week before publication, my hands still ache from using crutches after I got shot in the leg by a robot soldier (the leg is fine). My left wrist still holds the white band that contains an NFC ticket, holding my medical information. Behind my ear is still a clump of hair and skin glue from my implant. It all feels very fresh, still.

From the 9th through 11th of July, I was at the larp Odysseus, which broadened the horizons of what larp can do. This is the first of two posts. In this one, I describe the production, while the second one will be about my personal story and closer analysis. As I was not involved with the making of the larp, my information is imperfect and I will gladly correct any errors that are pointed out to me.

To get into the mood, here’s the theme song, the EOC Anthem, by Hannu Niemi, Helena Haaparanta, and Mia Makkonen.

Odysseus was the first international blockbuster larp run in Finland. It was loosely based on Battlestar Galactica, with the serial numbers filed off. It took over two years of production before coming into fruition. I played the third and final run, where the last issues in technical execution had been ironed out. The way I’ve been hearing it, though, there wasn’t all that much to iron out. The team that created the larp numbered over a hundred volunteers in positions great and small. The lead producers were Laura KrögerSanna Hautala, and Antti Kumpulainen.

The initial setup was that seven days ago, a mysterious enemy called the Machines had attacked the EOC, a planetary nation state consisting of the planet Ellarion and the moons Osiris and Caelena. The decapitating strike had taken out all major cities. At the same time, the environment control dome of Velian had collapsed. The survivors of the human race were essentially all on spaceships. The first hours of the game were about coming to terms with the new situation and picking up survivors, all the while being harassed by periodic Machine attacks. The Battlestar Galactica episode “33” was a major inspiration.

The bridge, not in a crisis for the moment. Photographer: Santtu Pajukanta.

ESS Odysseus

The starship ESS Odysseus was constructed into the Torpparinmäki school in northern Helsinki. Over three weeks, the team built the interior of the school into a spaceship. The cafeteria became the mess hall and crew bar. The gym became the shuttle bay. Classrooms were turned into the Celestial Lounge, the War Room, the bridge, medbay, engine room, the Captain’s quarters, three in-character dormitories, and the hydroponics garden/greenhouse. In addition, there was the science lab, a freestanding structure that was built in the cafeteria. There were, of course, also dedicated GM areas, an offgame player area, and the offgame sleeping area that doubled as a blackbox for the planet Velian for the first few hours of the larp. Student lockers were concealed inside computer banks. Spaces were divided by freestanding walls. Existing walls were turned into bulkheads.

Covering visible walls served not only the purpose of making them more starship-like but also concealed a lot of wiring for speakers, the computer banks, and lighting. Everything was designed. The space was lit in the cold tones of sci-fi television – blues and greens, with a harsh white for medbay. The yellow and red alerts were exactly that. In the background, there was always the hum of the engine. The ship jumped once every three hours, and I’ve been to metal concerts with less bass. There were concealed banks of speakers whose low rumble was heard, felt, and if you happened to have a glass of water, seen. The engine room is a story all of its own. There was the jump engine, a huge device straight from a Syfy series, its control panels festooned liberally with blinkenlights.

An engineer at work. Photographer: Santtu Pajukanta.

The Tech

I cannot claim to understand half of the computer stuff and the public documentation only covers a part of it, but one of the news articles mentioned that at various points in the project, a total of ten coders worked on setting up the various computer programs used in the larp. I also did not personally engage with any of the systems except for the fleet intranet.

A civilian accessing the data systems. Photographer: Santtu Pajukanta.

Indeed, there were I think around ten laptop computers here and there in the corridors, the lab, bridge, and other locations that players could use to access the fleet intranet. What parts of it they could access depended on their user privileges. For instance, I wasn’t even a citizen let alone held an official position, so I got nothing but the bare bones personnel search, message function, news, and influence votes. Others could get into the artifact database, see people’s medical files and service records, and other cool stuff. I mostly used it to catch up on the news.

The news were also broadcast on larger screens in a few key locations such as the mess hall and the bridge. These screens had a rotation of the most recent news items and a clock counting down to the next jump.

Then there was all the spaceship stuff. ESS Odysseus’s bridge and fighters worked on EmptyEpsilon, an open-source spaceship simulator based on Artemis that the team had further refined for their needs. The simulator has six different player positions for different bridge officers – the Captain, Helm, Engineering, Science, Relay (or Comms, if you will), and of course Weapons. The Captain has no actual controls except her voice. It’s her job to tell everyone else what to do and keep the ship flying.

The fighters, placed in separate stations in the hangar bay area, ran just Helm and Weapons. The fighters were thus two-seaters, though I heard that one of the pilots flew at least one mission solo, controlling both stations at once, in the best tradition of hotshot rockstar pilots.

Pilots talking to a navigation officer. Photography: Santtu Pajukanta.

Then there were the NFC tags used and scanned by Engineering, the scientists, and the medics. There was a mobile app called HANSCA – short for “hand scanner” but also homophonous with the Finnish word for “glove” – that could read NFC tickets on wounded people, alien technology, and broken stuff. Every player also had an NFC ticket on a white wristband that contained their character’s pertinent medical data, such as whether they carried a certain genetic mutation that allowed them to use Elder technology. Seriously wounded characters had NFC tickets strapped to their wrist, which would reveal more serious injuries when scanned with HANSCA. Some of the engineers’ tasks likewise relied on scanning NFC tickets in certain places on the ship and then solving some kind of minigame or puzzle. One of them was described to me as a Flappy Bird clone about piloting a maintenance drone.

The science lab, sciencing the hell out of a thing. Photo from the first international run. Photographer: Santtu Pajukanta.

The most mind-blowing thing, though, was that it all worked. The systems were stable and there were no catastrophic failures. While of course things were fiddly and runtime adjustments were needed, EmptyEpsilon did not, for instance, decide to crash in the middle of an epic space battle. The only time the data systems were down was during a jump when they were supposed to be down. The only time I saw a program not do what it was supposed to do, it was Discord, of all things. It may feel like I am belabouring the point, but this does not happen. It’s long been a truism that relying on your software to do key things at your larp is a recipe for embarrassment at best and disaster at worst. Odysseus had a variety of systems and they all just worked from the first run.

Her Crew

The mess hall. Note the freestanding structure of the science lab on the left. Photo from the local run. Photographer: Tuomas Puikkonen.

Then there was the actual character writing and game design of the character groups. Odysseus has been described as a “clockwork larp”, in the sense that different character groups performed their duties at their workstations, reliant on other character groups to get their work done, and thus the game advanced. Engineers prepared the jump engine for a jump to a new location, which was then plotted out and executed by the Bridge. The Armoury would equip the Marines, who’d be shuttled down to a planet and end up in a firefight more often than not. They’d usually recover an ancient beacon. Wounded Marines would get dragged to the Medbay to get patched up or have parasitical worms cut out from them or whatever, while the beacon would be hauled off to the Science Lab for the Scientists to puzzle over. Once the Science Lab had figured out the coordinates for the next beacon, the Machines would usually be breathing down our necks, so the Bridge would be scrambling the Pilots to keep them off. Hopefully the Engineers by this time had repaired whatever had been damaged in the previous jump and prepared the jump engine to get us he hell out of Dodge.

There was also a bunch of politicians, criminals, and other civilian refugees from EOC and the planet Velian keeping things interesting in the meantime.

While Velians and other civilians were to supply their own props, characters serving in the EOC fleet had rental costumes – jackets for Bridge officers and Medbay, overalls for Engineering and Pilots, tactical vests for Marines, lab coats for Scientists. They also had name tags on them. In fact, all characters received an in-character name tag, though the ID cards of the civilians were in too small a typeface to read without conspicuous peering.

The Medbay got pretty graphic at times. Photo from local run. Photographer: Tuomas Puikkonen.

The character writing was top-notch. In the Finnish style, the character briefs were individual and on the long side. Mine clocked in at eight pages, plus another eight pages of Velian cultural brief. I also apparently ended up playing out the exact character arc that the character’s writer had had in mind for my character. Notably, this arc is not readable from the brief. As the plot of the game was reliant on surprises such as who are the hidden androids, the briefs were not readable ahead of time for all players. I am given to understand that they will be made public eventually.

The larp was extensively documented by photography teams. Most of the photographs are still in post-production or under embargo, but some sets have been made public. They can be found at Larppikuvat.fi, and new photosets will be added there as they become available. Also, as certain photosets from my run of the game are released from embargo, the photos in this post are subject to change.

Jaakko Stenros, who played in the first international run, wrote a long post analysing the clockwork nature of the game as well as its themes. Of course, I played a different run where some key pieces fell very differently, and a different character from his, and though I agree with a lot, my experience was fundamentally different. And that will be the topic of the second half of this post.

Velians having a meeting, with yours truly as Protector Jardan in the beard and the white robe. Photographer: Santtu Pajukanta.

Ropecon Videos for the Weekend

Ropecon 2019 kicks off a week from now at Messukeskus in Helsinki. There’s a lot of great programming on offer, and if you’re even remotely able to make it, it’s well worth the trip.

However, what with physical distance and the troubles of travel, remotely is indeed the only way a lot of you can enjoy the convention. Since the con’s video team has been working like mad to get the backlog cleared before this year puts another hundred videos in the queue, I thought I’d go through the archive and highlight some of my favourites from over the years. These are English only, but if you do grok Finnish, I also heartily recommend looking up everything by Esa Perkiö.

2012: Peter Adkison – “Gen Con Now and Then”

Guest of Honour Peter Adkison talks about the then-45-year-old Gen Con and its history. Though his first Gen Con wasn’t until 1992, he nowadays owns the damn thing, and is an engaging speaker.

2012: Peter Adkison – “Wizards of the Coast, 1990-2001”

really engaging speaker. WotC he founded, making him eminently qualified to talk about its first decade until the company was bought by Hasbro. Rounds out the picture provided by Shannon Appelcline’s Designers & Dragons nicely.

2012: Larson Kasper – “Larp as a Tool for Civic Education”

Guest of Honour Larson Kasper (with whom I larped last week) talks about how larp is used in Germany in adult civic education.

2013: Dagmar de Cassan – “History of Modern Board Games”

Board game expert Dagmar de Cassan, who had to bow out of her GoH gig for this year fortunately dropped by back in 2013, and gave us this talk. There’s also an interview from this year on the Ropecon website.

2013: D. Vincent Baker – “How to Design a Role-Playing Game That Doesn’t Suck”

Vincent Baker, the designer of Dogs in the VineyardApocalypse World, and a bunch of other games, talks about his design style and philosophy. It is very enlightening, especially to people like me who have trouble wrapping our brains around Apocalypse World.

2014: Jason Soles – “Mythology, Art, and Game Design”

Guest of Honour Jason Soles from Privateer Press discusses what he’s created and how he ended up there.

2014: Massi Hannula – “All the Mistake We’ve Made”

An annual favourite, where Massi gathers a bunch of her friends, everyone talks about how they’ve screwed up in larp organizing, conrunning, gamemastering, or the like. The 2014 edition features Ville-Eemeli Miettinen, Katri Lassila, and Mikko Pervilä. Very funny.

2014: Guy Windsor – “Realities of Steel”

Guy Windsor teaches European swordfighting, and for many, many years he did an annual talk about how things work when you’re wielding actual sharp metal bits instead of a duct-taped pool noodle or a d20.

2015: Niina Niskanen, Michelle Nephew, Jaakko Stenros & Jamie McDonald – “Gender in Games”

The panel discussed gender and LGBT experience and representation in gaming from professional and personal viewpoints. The panel was an important one back then and remains so.

2015: Jason Morningstar – “You Call That a Larp?”

Guest of Honour Jason Morningstar gives an overview of what’s new and cool in American larp. I think this one’s stood the test of time in that though time may have passed by the specifics, America remains weird.

2016: Jukka Särkijärvi – “Game Novels Then and Now”

Yeah, it’s mine. I talk for 90 minutes about role-playing game tie-in novels, with a bit of Warhammer thrown in. I had fun making it, I had fun doing it, and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out.

2016: Juhana Pettersson – “Blood, Sex, and Techno Music: The New Vampire Larp”

Juhana Pettersson, one of the designers of End of the Line, White Wolf’s first official larp under Paradox Interactive, discusses the larp’s design and what was planned further down the line. Though not all of those plans ever came to fruition, I feel items like this are an important reminder of what White Wolf was actually doing.

2017: Martin Ericsson – “50 Shades of Darkness”

Martin Ericsson, then the lead storyteller for White Wolf, discusses the different styles of playing Vampire: The Masquerade and the challenges of accommodating the gamut of popular playstyles in the new edition’s design. (He also had some thought on the challenge of redesigning clan symbols so nobody’s tattoo would become obsolete, but I don’t think he covered that here.)

2017: Monica Valentinelli – “How to Create Your Own RPG”

Guest of Honour Monica Valentinelli discusses game design, gives advice, and covers some of the realities of the industry. (Fun fact: the game she mentions in the beginning before actually starting the program item was a showcase game of Hunter: The Vigil that I played in. There was a clash of cultures. We learned a lot.)

2017: Anna Westerling – “Adaptation to Larp”

Guest of Honour Anna Westerling talked about the art of adapting works from other mediums into larp. This seems to be raw stream, so feel free to skip the first ten minutes or so of empty nothing. Her mike has a bit of a reverb at the start but it gets fixed soon.

2018: Alex Roberts – “Un-Designing Star Crossed

Guest of Honour Alex Roberts discusses game design and the design process of Star Crossed. The game is also up for a Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming this year!

2018: Eevi Korhonen, Alex Roberts, Karoliina Korppoo, Kristel Nyberg & Janina Kahela – “Women in Game Design”

A group of designers from the fields tabletop RPG, video games and larp discuss exactly what it says on the tin, a conversation that, as Eevi points out, is not one we’ve had a lot in Finland (by a quick count, I believe our grand total number of woman tabletop RPG designers stands at three, and I figure we could stand to do better).

2018: John Shockley – “Taking the Leap – International Larping and Why You Should Do It”

John talks about a thing that I do. Some of the material is a bit outdated in that Dziobak Larp Studios no longer exists and College of Wizardry is now run by The Company P, but most of what John covers is still applicable.

2018: Jamie MacDonald, Essi Santala, Joonas Iivonen, Tonja Goldblatt & Vili Nissinen – “Post-mortem: Just a Little Lovin’ 2018

The organizing team of the 2018 run of the larp Just a Little Lovin’, set in the midst of the AIDS crisis of early 1980s New York, discusses and dissects the production of the larp. I played it, hauled some coffins for it, and was blown away by it.

 

This is but a smattering of the videos on Ropecon’s channel and not even all of my favourites – for instance, I only listed one iteration of “All the Mistakes We’ve Made”. Neither is it all of the English-language ones. I encourage you to go into the archive, delve deep, post your favourites in the comments!

And see you at Ropecon!

Spire: The City Must Fall, or, “Menzoberranzan Writes Back”

I am probably late to the party on this, but just this past week I discovered the game Spire: The City Must Fall. It looked absolutely fascinating, so I threw myself into it and read the entire book cover to cover, and now I have thoughts about it.

I have not yet played the game, though I’m already scheduling one-shots to kick the tyres a bit and see how this bad boy works in practice. The book itself clocks in at 220 pages and is gorgeously illustrated by Adrian Stone. I bought the PDF. It is published by the London-based Rowan, Rook, and Decard Ltd. and written and designed by Grant Howitt and Christopher Taylor.

Spire is a game about drow elves. The drow live in the city known as Spire, an impossible pile of buildings that reaches towards the stars. A proper hive city. It used to belong to the drow, but two hundred years ago an invader came, and their rule was overthrown, and they are now the underclass, the dregs of society. That invader was the aelfir, or the high elves. To earn the right to live in Spire, a drow must do a period of indentured servitude known as the durance. Perhaps they will serve in the army of the expansionist aelfir, perhaps in the city guard to oppress their fellow drow. Perhaps they will be servants to the high elves.

Whatever their profession or background, all player characters belong to the Ministry, a quasi-religious revolutionary conspiracy. Their goal: to overthrow the rule of the aelfir and restore Spire to the drow.

To start with, a word on the ruleset. The system looks like an cousin of Blades in the Dark. This is not a generic system. There’s character classes, which are woven deeply into the world of the game. There’s the Knight, which is a fighter class, but also the member of a drunken and disorderly chivalric order, who can glance at the room and instantly determine who to pick a fight with in order to create a distraction or impress people. There’s the Midwife, who’s the caretaker and defender of drow eggs (!) and gets weird spider abilities. The Firebrand is a revolutionary who eventually becomes to embody the anger of the people. Each class has a couple of abilities they get at the beginning, and advances that are grouped into Low, Medium, and High. There is no level or experience system as such, but the characters gain advances as they effect change in the Spire. In addition to the ultimately finite lists of advances from their class, the characters can also pick advances from the lists of specific organizations, or related to their durance. The system is lightweight but the characters seem very customizable.

The basic resolution system is elegant. You roll a small dice pool of d10s – possibly as few as one – and the highest one counts. There’s degrees of success. You can fail bad, just fail, succeed at cost, succeed, and succeed really well. Failures and success at cost inflict stress. The durability of your character in Spire is measured by stress and resistance, and there are five types of resistance. Blood measures your physical durability and is basically your hit points – you fuck up in combat, you usually get Blood stress. The other resistances measure your finances, mental stability and wellbeing, cover identities and secrecy, and local reputation. As stress accumulates, the GM rolls stress tests and failing one of these results in fallout, which comes in minor, medium, and severe. The fallouts are narrative. Severe fallouts may result in death. A minor Blood fallout might be “bleeding”, a medium one “broken arm”, and a severe one “dying”, which gives the character a choice of either doing one final action with bonus dice, or trying to desperately cling to life, losing something vital in the bargain. I like this system. Character death in Spire feels like a thing that happens and should happen, and the character creation seems light enough that creating a new one even at a higher level doesn’t feel like a drag.

The setting, then. I’d describe the world as “weird fantasy”. While the drow are definitely D&D, the city of the Spire is a closer relation to China Miéville’s New Crobuzon than Waterdeep or Menzoberranzan. The book itself acknowledges as much. It’s a fallen world, littered with the detritus of a bygone precursor civilization that the humans have reverse-engineered to bring about their own industrial revolution that hasn’t quite percolated all the way to the elven lands. Spire is a backwater metropolis beset by social issues and religious strife. There’s high weirdness in the city, such as the Vermissian, a subway system that was never finished, whose tunnels interact with strangely with the quaint notion of three-dimensional space, and where odd creatures roam, and whose maintenance ways lead to the Vermissian library.

Spire does not entirely make sense, and is famously unmappable (okay, there is a map, but it’s one of those that more suggests “here there be cool shit and also dragons” than telling you where place A is in relation to place B), which means the GM doesn’t need to worry about where whatever they want to put there would actually fit. There’s competing academies and universities, and “it is hard to find a school that isn’t a recruitment agency for a dark cult, insidious conspiracy or apocalypse cabal, so students in the know do their best to learn what they can and get out before they’re roped into murdering a city official or sacrificing a blind gutterkin on an altar of the hungry deep” (p. 81), and cults practising air burial, and the sky docks where megacorvidae soar and skywhales bring wares from distant lands. Hidden gnolls lurk in the slums, something dire lives in one of the algae vats, and down in Red Row, Brother Hellion’s Church of the Gun congregates and worships.

It’s a delight to read, has its own voice, and sets a unique tone that fires up the imagination to come up with more.

The relationship between Spire and New Crobuzon does not stop with the weird fantasy, but extends to the thematic level. The astute reader may have picked up by now that it’s what might be described as “explicitly political”. The entire setup is basically a postcolonial critical reading of D3 Vault of the Drow. The classic D&D drow is a sadistic, evil, hypersexualized monster of a person, who’s also by the way black, in contrast to the white, noble, cultured and good high elves. This is kinda, you know, racist (and the art in Spire leans into this – instead of white hair, the drow here are black-haired and sport dreadlocks, cornrows and undercuts). Spire is a reading of this against the grain, the classic D&D drow a creature of aelfir propaganda. Another inspiration that the game lists is Discworld, and this is the only place I’ve seen where the influence of Pratchett is the anger. (My own additions to its Appendix N would be Warren Ellis’s superlative comic book Transmetropolitan, which has become more and more relevant every damn election cycle ever since it was released in 1997, and Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins, for its depiction of low-tech counter-intelligence in action.)

The setting and setup of the game are a juicy commentary on oppression and colonization. The institutions of higher learning are controlled by the high elves, but is anything they teach about the drow true? Are they even the same species? While even during their durance a drow is legally a person and not property, the injustice and economic implications of the system are complicated. Oh, and the drow Home Nations are embroiled in a brutal civil war and refugees are streaming into the city. The worship of some of the drow gods has been banned, driving their faithful underground and radicalizing them.

Spire is also harsh about the life of the resistance fighter. From the point of view of the high elves, or even the ordinary drow on the Blue Market omnibus, they are a terrorist organization. Though the top-level setup of colonizer vs. colonized is black and white enough, on the practical level it becomes a grey muddle of who you can trust, how far are you willing to go and what is the personal cost of the struggle. The characters are not murderhoboes but have relationships with NPCs, who may (will) end up hurt in the course of the revolution. The game states up front that your character will die, the Ministry itself and their own families will sell them out when they become liabilities, and the best they can hope is to become the bastards in charge.

And sure, you can play Spire without getting all political about it and just run it like it was released by Ubisoft. This, to be fair, is probably how it’ll mostly get played and how I would also run it in, say, a convention setting with a collection of random players. The deeper level is there, though, and it’s explicit about it.

I really have only a single, minor quibble. That quibble is languages. Though the Azurite class has two different advances that deal with language acquisition, Spire is remarkably coy about what languages there are actually spoken in the city. The information that aelfir speak their own language and have trouble communicating with ordinary citizens is squirrelled away in the glossary appendix, and all other mentions of language in the book are of occult, dead and some cases executed, forgotten and forbidden tongues, which are not really the purview of the merchant-priest Azurites. I feel this is also significant because when you’re running an insurrection and counter-intelligence operations, who can understand what language is very important – do they need an interpreter, can they be compromised, and so on. It’s possible the setting book Strata or the crypto sourcebook Secrets Kept from the Sun go into more detail on this, but really, a couple of paragraphs in the corebook would’ve gone a long way.

And that’s it. Spire is one of the strongest games I’ve picked up in recent years. The system is elegant and fast to pick up despite the amount of character options, the city of Spire is delightfully weird and offbeat, and the game has a clear, bold vision in critical dialogue with established tropes of the genre. It dares to get POLITICS IN MUH GAMES, and I respect that (of course it helps that I agree with those politics). Most importantly, it does this in an accessible way. Spire is an ambitious work but unlike many such role-playing games, especially from the storygame side of things, it doesn’t demand that from the players.

If my dance card wasn’t full for the year, I’d look into kicking off a campaign.

Oh, and about those spiders…

The comments, of course, are moderated.

My Ropecon Schedule

Ropecon’s program is up! The con’s coming again, July 25th through 27th, and this time I’m paying my way by talking. A lot of talking.

My program items are as follows:

Friday, 20:00 – 21:45: Are You There, Crom? It’s Me, Conan – Mythologies in Role-Playing Games

Role-playing games have always drawn from myth and legend. This is a deep dive into the ways mythology has been used in different role-playing games over the years, from American interpretations of Kalevala to the umpteenth Viking fantasy. Come discover who is the most popular god in all of role-playingdom!

Saturday, 13:00 – 13:45: Living Greyhawk – kahdeksan vuotta, eikä aivan suotta

Together with Sampo Haarlaa, we’ll talk about Living Greyhawk, the most massive (at least by some metrics) organized play campaign to date. What it was, how it was cool, and what we can learn from it.

Sunday, 10:00-11:45: Roleplaying Games and Comics

Together with Jaakko Stenros, we’ll talk about role-playing games and comics, ones based on the others and the other way around, and which are good, and which are not, and which ones are heartily recommended.

Apart from my own stuff, the program in general has the usual problem of being packed full of stuff I want to see but I can’t be in three places at once and need to eat now and then.

See you there!

Vampire for the Win, Press Release Loses

This past weekend, Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition picked up the Origins Award for Best Role-Playing Game, as well as Fan Favourite in the same category, at Origins Game Fair. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes for D&D got Best Supplement. Congratulations to both teams for excellent work and deserved wins!

Though as with any award, I could complain about the shortlist, but I really should’ve done that back when it was released and will desist for now. We’ll see again for next year. However, I do have an issue with how all of this is presented.

For one thing, the award was given to Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition by Modiphius Entertainment. While Modiphius is a fine company and I have a pile of their games that I love – indeed, I just got Mutant Chronicles yesterday – the fact remains that the core book as well as both of the sourcebooks currently out were designed and published by White Wolf before its dissolution. Modiphius didn’t get the license until late December 2018, and have no releases of their own out for the game. They were initially just the distribution partner. While the company played a significant part in getting the game out to the people, White Wolf should be at least acknowledged.

Also, someone’s botched with the press release from the Origins’ end, because multiple outlets, such as ACDnewsource and ICv2 are crediting the game as:

designed by Tomas Arfert, Mary Lee, Mark Kelly, Sarah Horrocks, Tomas Arfert, Anders Muammar, Mike Mignola, and the CCP Atlanta art team directed by Reynir Harðarson, consisting of Erling Ingi Sævarsson, John Van Fleet, Vince Locke, Michael Gaydos, Matthew Mitchell

Who are all in the book and all great at what they do, which at least in this case was not game design. These are the art credits. While it’s a gorgeous book and they do deserve recognition, that’s not what they were doing. The reason Tomas Arfert is there twice is because he’s also credited for the cover. Like, this is literally from the rulebook’s credits page:

Fortunately, the Game Fair’s website at least lists design & development people:

Kenneth Hite, Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, Mathew Dawkins, Karl Bergström, Juhana Pettersson

Though I’m pretty sure Mr Dawkins’s name is spelled with two T’s, this is much better. Funny, usually it’s the Nordics who get their names mangled, like “Juhanna Peterson” on the Modiphius webstore, or “Juhana Peterson” as in the Modiphius press release from last April.

In related news, Juhana of the Many Spellings has written up a blog post titled “The Annotated Anarch” where he goes over his inspirations and creative processes in his work on Anarch. It is well worth a read.