The much-awaited Stalker roleplaying game is finally out in English. Based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, it was written by Ville Vuorela and released by Burger Games in 2008. Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest daily newspaper in the country, dubbed it the best Finnish roleplaying game of all time.
Last year, I was contracted to translate it into English, which I did. Then it was in proofreading limbo for months. However, the wait is over, and the game is here. The prose is vivid, the diceless Flow system is elegant, and my utterly biased opinion is that it’s a must-have for, well, everyone. (Seriously, guys, you will be incapable of leading a happy and fulfilling life without this.)
Burger Games pays royalties from the game to Boris Strugatsky (Arkady having passed away in 1991). Since the Roadside Picnic was originally written in the Soviet Union where copyright defaulted to the state, they’re not technically required to do this, but it is how gentlemen go about these things.
Well, the PDF is out. Burger Games is now investigating the options for utilizing DTRPG’s print on demand service. Apparently there are some issues with margin widths, but we’ll see how that goes. There may also (hopefully) be a limited print run for Ropecon.
Though science fiction, the game is set now, today. Thirteen years ago, the Visitation created six Zones around the world. They are areas where the laws of nature no longer apply. The very chains of causality may be broken. Gravity and temperatures fluctuate, poisonous gases float over the landscape, and strange, unearthly creatures wander the land. They are watched over by the Institute, which is responsible for researching the Zones and guarding them, keeping the curious, the foolhardy and the criminal out. It is corrupt and its guard shoot first and ask questions later.
Despite the danger, some do go into the Zones. There is treasure to be had – the artifacts of the Zones are strange and alien, but possess powers that in a less enlightened age would have been called magic. There is a bustling black market in these items, and where there is demand, there is supply – the stalkers. Some do it out of greed, some because of thrills, a few because of a mystical affinity to the Zones. Romanticized in fiction and hunted by the law, they explore the Zones and discover their secrets. They are modern-day outlaws, living on the edge. Most die young.
Stalker presents Zone France, an urban desolation located in what used to be the city of Toulouse. Weird creatures and mutated beasts stalk the ruins, and what remains of the city is inhabited by the disenfranchised and the impoverished. Crime is rampant. The Institute patrols the border, but the border is long, the guards are few, and a determined team can easily get through into the Zone. In the end, the Zone is its own best guard.
The English translation also contains details on Zone Japan, originally released in the Burger Games designer blog.
The Flow system is simple and encourages roleplay. The basic mechanic is as follows: For a given task, the player describes their idea for solving it and how their character goes about it. The GM considers whether the idea has any merit and whether it fits the character and assigns the Idea and Roleplay values. If the character has an ability that would fit the situation, both values are increased by one. They are then multiplied and their product is compared to the target number. If it equals or surpasses the number, it is a success.