Review: The City of Itra

It’s time to review some obscure crap again.

Recently, a Finnish association called The Society for Nordic Roleplaying released two roleplaying games. The first was Ikuisuuden laakso (The Valley of Eternity), an RPG about penguins with a light, traditional system and a cool idea. I reviewed this for Roolipelaaja and gave it four stars out of five. It’s a nifty game, and I like it.

The other one is Itran kaupunki (The City of Itra), a translation of the Norwegian roleplaying game Itras by. To my knowledge, it is not available in English. Then, I’m not sure the English-speaking world is missing out all that much.

Honestly, I’m at bit of a loss about what I can say about it, but I’d already gone and told some people I’m reviewing it, so I can’t back out. Itran kaupunki bills itself as a surrealist RPG, and is set in a 1920’s-style city ruled by a spider goddess named Nindra, where everything can happen and often does.

Incidentally, Nindra was the name of a totalitarian and xenophobic nation in my old homebrew setting. The name doesn’t really bring up any fond memories. The city kinda reminds me of Planescape’s Sigil, except it’s not as interesting, cool, or well written.

Ville Vuorela of Burger Games blogged thusly about the game:

Inevitably, I think the concept is shit, the layout is shit, the system is shit and the illustrations scrape the bottom of the shit barrel. It just proves that weird does not equal cool.

While I would not go that far,  I don’t entirely disagree, either. There are some layout problems, and headers are occasionally placed at the end of a page, with the paragraph they’re supposed to head starting on the next. The art is, in a word, ugly.

The concept isn’t bad, but the execution is lacking. The idea of a city where the laws of causality are more like suggestions, talking apes live in the central park and there’s a society of anarchists called the Churchillians, who look like this and smoke cigars made from atmospheric frost is cool. There’s a terrorist organisation called the futurists, a society of thrill-seeking aristocrats who delve into the catacombs to fight monsters and a village of unemployed Egyptian ka spirits. This is great stuff – and then it all sorta stops at the idea level. None of the concepts are fleshed out enough and a lot of the ideas just aren’t very interesting.

I am not too fond of the system, either – if it can be called that, since it’s one of those new-fangled narrativist thingies. It’s based on two decks of cards. The first is the Action Deck, which contains eight cards and is used when the outcome of an action is in doubt and dramatically relevant. The cards describe different degrees of success or failure and are then interpreted according to the situation. The second deck is the Chance Deck, which is unlimited in size and contains weird stuff across the board. Each player and the GM can draw one card from the deck per session and interpret it. These are stuff like “An object begins to talk”, or “Your arch enemy awakens and affects the situation somehow. You don’t have an arch enemy, you say? Well, now you do.”

While I don’t much care for storygame systems like this, I can forgive them. However, there’s one problem – there are no cards. The game is just the book, 132 pages long. There are some pages that I think I’m supposed to photocopy and cut or something with the Action Deck card texts and a selection of sample Chance Deck cards. However, their dimensions are ass. They’re more like long, thin slips of paper than cards, which makes them slightly unwieldy. It wouldn’t have been difficult to fit the texts in playing card-sized boxes and maybe include graphics for the card backs. Another minus is that these aren’t provided as PDFs on the game’s website (Hint, hint – I know you’re reading this, Juhana. And while you’re at it, an Ikuisuuden laakso character sheet would be cool, too.).

The characters do not really exist on the mechanical level except in terms of their Dramatic Qualities, which are features of the player character that can dramatically affect the flow of the story and come up in the game. The examples range from “cold-blooded” to having a wound in one’s chest that leads into Limbo, where things made of dream-stuff occasionally leak out. Theoretically, Dramatic Qualities can be anything, up to and including godhood. There’s no real balance issue here, since you’d have to be some kind of a moron to try and powergame a narrativist system in this way. The GM can always veto ideas that are too bad to live, though.

Another thing I dislike about the game is the tone of the writing. I think something probably got lost in translation, because I find it rather flat and a Norwegian gamer I met described it as exciting. The translator also apparently did not know that “tachyon” is a real word and is translated as “takioni”. Considering I know this from Star Trek and Watchmen, there really should have been at least one proofreader who could have caught it. However, there is one thing that comes through from the original, which is the constant underlining that yes, this is your game to do with as you will! This includes instructions to black out sections of the city gazetteer that I do not like, to staple notes to the pages, and even a couple of blank pages for my own notes in the middle of the book.

Yes, I fucking know this game is mine. I paid €20 for it, and I’m starting to feel it was too much.

The game contains a lot of GMing advice, campaign seeds and ideas on using the material in the game. I did not get a lot out of it. Finally, there’s a starter adventure, “The Reincarnation Machine”, which I feel has an uninteresting idea and a flawed structure that runs on rails, fuelled by a god in the machine. It ends with the header “Characters”, after which there are none.

Final Grade: Fish.

7 thoughts on “Review: The City of Itra

  1. Pingback: Roleplaying 101 « Worlds in a Handful of Dice

  2. Pingback: Nordic RPG News – Penguins and Varg Vikernes « Worlds in a Handful of Dice

  3. Pingback: Maaginen realismi toimii aloittelijoiden kanssa « Mythopoeia

  4. Pingback: Nørwegian Surreal: An Interview with Ole Peder Giæver | Analog Game Studies

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