Valley of Eternity Extra: The Polar Bear and the Giant Space Hamster

I’d originally promised that my review of Valley of Eternity would include stats for a polar bear.

I leave it up to the reader to figure out why this amuses me.

Unfortunately, I forgot them and only now realized I’d done so. However, here they are. As a bonus, and because I’m bored, I also threw together some stats for a giant space hamster. I do not actually have access to the English-language version and the translations of game terms are my own best guesses.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

The polar bear is a fierce hunter at the top of the food chain, the largest land-dwelling carnivore in the world. Generally, this is not an issue for penguins, but stranger things have happened.

Attributes:
Dexterity: 4
Strength: 8
Philosophy: –
Survival: 3
Defence: 4
Willpower: 3
Warmth: 80
Fat: 10 (max. 20)
Attack: The polar bear attacks by swiping with its left paw. Its damage bonus is +8.

Giant Space Hamster (Cricetus gigantus)

There are many strange things in the Antarctic, and the giant space hamster is probably the strangest. This white-furred rodent is the size of an elephant seal, but much quicker in its movements. Nobody is entirely certain where they come from or what these allegedly herbivorous creatures eat on the glacier. They are not very bright, but they are very active. Fortunately, they are not predatory, have no interest in the penguins’ eggs and do not even compete for the same resources, though they often seem to have mystical agendas which bring them in contact with penguin colonies.

Attributes:
Dexterity: 3
Strength: 6
Philosophy: –
Survival: 3
Defence: 3
Willpower: 2
Warmth: 80
Fat: 10 (max. 20)
Attack: The giant space hamster attacks with its vicious bite, which has a damage bonus of +4. If the attack reduces the target’s Warmth to 0, it stuffs them in its cheek pouch (assuming they are penguin-sized). A giant space hamster can hold two penguins in its cheek pouches at a time.

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Review: Valley of Eternity

This is the translation of a review that I originally wrote of the Finnish-language version. I have not acquainted myself with the translation yet, and not everything may apply. The review was originally published in Roolipelaaja #21. Translations of the locations are my own and I have removed a paragraph about using the English-language transliterations of Greek mythic names, which I assume is not an issue in the English-language version. Because it had to take up, you know, actual paper, it is considerably more brief than what I usually write on the blog.

When I first read about Valley of Eternity, I thought it was a very late April Fools gag.

The game, however, is real. Its concept makes it one of the weirdest games I’ve ever encountered. It also works—once you’ve digested the central premise of the game, which may not be all that easy.

Valley of Eternity is set in a fantastical Antarctica, where the penguins dwell upon the Coast of Silence, on the shores of the Sea of Plenty. Far inland are the Lonely Mountains and amongst them lies the Valley of Eternity. Between the coast and the mountains dwell the anti-penguins, the cheerful fellows on the cover, who have a mystical connection with the glacier. Other inhabitants of the area include the skuas, leopard seals, and other animals of the Antarctic. Actual fantasy creatures are quite absent, except for the headless baron, a penguin species based on a photography fraud.

The setting is described in broad strokes and is rather featureless. It’s a glacier, so there’s precisely nada between the interesting locations. Valley of Eternity is the only game I know where the airy layout and large white spaces in the rulebook are thematically appropriate. In addition to text and white space, the book features a great deal of damn pretty illustrations. My personal favourite is the picture of an anti-penguin who wields a bloody stone axe in one hand and the severed head of a skua in another.

Valley of Eternity emphasizes the story, but its rules are quite traditionalist. It has been written to tell serious, Western-style stories about heroes whose heroism makes them forever outcasts from the conservative, prejudiced society. It tells you how such stories are created, but there are no rules per se governing the narrative. The crunchy bits mostly describe combat and survival on the glacier. The lightweight ruleset takes up but a few pages and utilizes a handful of ordinary six-siders. The rules also include the philosophic powers of the penguins and the gifts of the glacier wielded by the antipenguins, which are magic by another name, similar to Star Wars’ Force.

The rest of the book is dedicated to describing the setting and the penguins, advising the game master, describing other local animals, and two short adventures, which are nicely fleshed out. The first one is about hunting egg thieves and in the second one, the heroes track a mad penguin hero all the way to the Valley of Eternity.

Valley of Eternity is probably not a game for everyone. Its themes and content are very focused, and it recommends itself for one-shots or mini-campaigns just a few sessions long. Additionally, it’s got an oddball concept. The game sets out to do a very specific thing and succeeds at that thing admirably, creating a coherent, functional whole out of the tragic heroism of the penguins.

Four stars out of five. The English-language edition is available from DriveThruRPG and is published by Vagrant Workshop. The original version was published by the Society for Nordic Roleplaying.

Crowdfund a Beginner RPG, Heroes of the Storm

One more thing from the Finnish RPG scene, aiming to make it big in the wide world outside… Mike Pohjola is working on a roleplaying game for children. Easy to learn, approachable, affordable, comes in a box with everything you need to play. In Finnish, it’s Myrskyn sankarit. In English, should an English-language version materialize (and I am confident it will), Heroes of the Storm.

These past few weeks he’s been doing a crowdfunding campaign on it over at IndieGoGo. He’s well past the halfway mark to his goal of $12,500, but he’s not there yet. By my experience, I can say that at this point it will fund, and the question that remains to be settled is by how much. Now’s your opportunity. I’ve put down $60, myself.

“But I do not comprehend your strange northern moon language!” you cry out in dismay. Fear not, for we have trained experts to deal with that. You want to take a look at the Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen funding option: “You don’t read Finnish, but think an RPG for 9-13-year olds is a good idea. You want Heroes of Storm to be published in your language, sold in your gaming stores and being played by the children of your country. You get a copy of the game in Finnish, and if and if we get the game material translated into other languages, you get the translated PDF. If we get the game published in your language, you will get your own full copy. (Postage included.)” Personally, I figure the English translation is a fait accompli once the campaign funds, at least in PDF. (Though I should note that I’m not privy to any information beyond that which is on the campaign website, and am merely speculating.)

I think it’s important to have a game like this available. Something approachable, something the kids can read and figure out by themselves if need be. Funky dice, good-looking art. It used to be that the D&D Red Box had this function, but it’s been out of print for some two decades. We need ways to get fresh blood into the hobby. Get ’em when they’re young. Sure, it’ll have to compete with all sorts of fancy video game systems, but such is life, and the competition is probably not quite as direct as some would assume.

Besides, there’s Petri Hiltunen art, which is always a good reason to do things. Go forth, my readers—both of you!—and pledge!

Valley of Eternity Out in English!

We’ve waited it for a long, long time, but finally, another agonizing wait has come to an end and a project come to fruition. Juhana Pettersson’s 2009 roleplaying game Ikuisuuden laakso has finally been released in English, under the title of Valley of Eternity, and is available on DriveThruRPG in PDF and PoD. It is the third Finnish RPG to be translated to English, after Zombie Cinema and Stalker. Originally, the English-language edition was supposed to be done by Cubicle 7, but apparently they were too busy with The One Ring to bother, and the final product has now been released by Vagrant Workshop.

What is Valley of Eternity, you ask. Well, it is nothing less than the greatest penguin RPG of all time. Drawing from spaghetti westerns, Conan the Barbarian and March of the Penguins, it depicts a bleak and barren Antarctic, where penguins and anti-penguins eke out a meagre living in the harsh environment. The flock, the community, is the penguins’ best hope for survival, but when it is not enough, heroes must do alone what the flock cannot do together.a penguin... an anti-penguin... synpenguin? wait what?

There are also the anti-penguins, who have made the perilous journey to the Valley of Eternity and let the wind in, allowing the glacier to change them and grant them mystic powers over the ice and the cold.

There are numerous threats in the Antarctic. There are the predatory skuas, the sea leopards, killer whales, egg-thieves, marauding bands of anti-penguins, and most dangerous of all, the eternal cold.

Valley of Eternity is one of those fascinatingly strange game ideas that pop up here and there. I originally reviewed it for the old Roolipelaaja magazine, and I will be translating my old review for the blog sometime in the next week. It’s also a pretty good read. I mean, how often do you see a game recommend that players dress up black-tie to get in the mood? Other mood-enhancers it recommends are, to my recollection, playing with the windows open in the winter and having ice cream and fish for game snacks.

The system, as I remember it, is pretty light and runs on six-siders. Also, one of the stats is “Fat”. Gotta love it.

Ropecon 2012, Saturday and Sunday—36-Man Game Sessions and Heavy Metal Musicals

As stated, Ropecon Saturday was a far better day than Friday. Most of my critical duties had been discharged, so I could kick back a bit and actually enjoy the convention.

The biggest thing for me on Saturday was probably Blood Under Absalom, the 30-player Pathfinder Society event. It’s a feature peculiar to organized play campaigns, these big convention events with many tables running a single game session simultaneously. We had five table GMs and the overseer GM, Stefan, and the tables were packed. I think we could’ve accommodated one more table GM, at least. Something to consider for next year. Unfortunately, I had other duties and could not participate, but I popped in now and then to see what was up. Only three character deaths in the entire session, for some reason. They, at least, were some of the high-level Tampere characters who occasionally need to be reminded of their mortality. They all got raised, of course.

My view on PC death in organized play campaigns is that 1st-level characters are cheap and especially the iconic pregenerated characters, Valeros, Merisiel, Kyra and Ezren, are utterly expendable and even the softest GM has no need to play nice with them. First-time players are an exception and especially inexperienced ones probably shouldn’t be slaughtered in the first encounter, but nobody should be immune.

Personally, I netted 15 permanent PC kills in my first month as Venture-Captain, all levels 1-3, including two TPKs. I swear I did not do it on purpose.

In the evening, I moderated a panel on alternate histories. I am still not sure if it was good or not, but I hope people were entertained. I only knew two of the five panelists personally, and it turned out rather more academic than I anticipated. I know it was recorded and it will make an appearance on YouTube at some point in the indeterminate future, so we can see if it’s actually coherent.

After the panel, the auditorium was taken over by 1827 – The Infernal Musical. It was a heavy metal musical that ran in a theatre in Turku last year to packed audiences, and we were treated to a DVD recording on a big screen, telling the tale of the Great Fire of  Turku. The musical uses classic metal and hard rock songs instead of original compositions (well, there are two of those, one by Mr Lordi), so there was no fear of the soundtrack being ass. Personally, I’m a great fan of metal and a sucker for musicals, so I was an easy audience.

Remarkably, 1827 also has a good book, the most underrated part of a musical. I saw Rock of Ages last night, actually, which provides a perfect point of comparison, being another musical that uses classics instead of an original soundtrack. Indeed, the two even utilize some of the same bands. The film worked well as long as it didn’t try to have a story, because it was inane even by the standards of a genre where the plot is generally regarded as an afterthought and an excuse to belt out a couple of power ballads. 1827, by comparison, was, you know, actually written, instead of just sort of invoked from some sort of morass of the generic. Okay, I guessed the ending twist well in advance, clued in by the fact that it was a Mike Pohjola work (the reason we got the screening in the first place), but I had great fun on the way there, even when there was no Iron Maiden playing.

There were nods towards Finnish history, including the obligatory send-ups of famous Finns of the time (such as Archbishop Tengström of Turku, who turned out to be one of the villains of the piece and a Satan-worshipper, who at the end of the first act sacrifices the Russian Commandant Sinebrychoff to his Dark Lord; and the evangelist preacher Paavo Ruotsalainen, played as a Yoda-like figure). There were roleplaying game references (one of the heroes of the piece is basically a D&D barbarian). There were puns (including the obligatory joke about the fact that the fire started at the Hellman house).

Unfortunately, that probably was the last time the entire musical will be seen anywhere in public. A novel is in the works, but it just won’t be the same.

After the musical, I went to play my only gaming session of the convention. At this point, it was around 1 a.m., and I kept falling asleep during We Be Goblins!, as one by one our hapless goblins died. Full TPK, but I am told it is not unusual in that module. The bits I remember were fun.

Sunday, then, was mostly just wrapping up the convention. I didn’t really have anything to do besides handling the Game Master loot event and wander about for something to do. This was unusual, since traditionally my Ropecon Sundays have been hectic and panicky because of the scenario writing contest and determining and announcing the winners. This year there was no contest, so no panic. I could relax and sort of not completely stress out. It was refreshing.

After that, it was just the Guest of Honour dinner, the Monday afterparty and the con was a wrap.

We’ll see about next year, but I’m probably handing over the GM desk to a follower and moving on to other challenges in con organization. What they will be remains to be seen. It’ll be the 20th Ropecon. Big deal, that.

Nordic Larp Wins the Diana Jones Award

The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming was given out last night, and to my delight and rather great surprise, the perspex pyramid is coming to Finland. I kinda figured that it’d go to Kickstarter, but apparently the esteemed judges agreed with me that the most deserving recipient would be Nordic Larp by Markus Montola and Jaakko Stenros, the coffee-table book documenting the history of, well, Nordic Larp. It’s a magnificent piece of work, and I congratulate its writers.

Here’s a selection of links for your perusal:

Review: Death Love Doom

I now interrupt your regularly scheduled Ropecon report with a review. It’s the newest Lamentations of the Flame Princess release, Death Love Doom, written by James Edward Raggi IV! It was released at Ropecon, I picked it up on Friday and read its 20 pages during the next two days, while I was lounging about behind the RPG desk. It’s in black and white and has the covers separate from the pages in that old-school style, with maps on the inside covers. The inside illustrations are by Kelvin Green, for which I am grateful.

This is because Green has a cartoony style, especially compared to some of the other illustrators for LotFP. The reason this is important is that apparently Death Love Doom started with James thinking up scenes from the sickest gorno his mind was capable of and then phrasing that into art orders. The module was written around those.

The end result is that Death Love Doom is not for everyone. If it had been illustrated in a more realistic style, it would be for even fewer. I’m not exactly sure it’s even for me. Some of the artists he asked turned it down after seeing the art descriptions. It’s labelled for ages 18 and over, and for very good reason. Also, in the preface, James tells that the entire module is a metaphor for his divorce with his first wife.

So of course, being the sensitive and mature gentleman that I am, I figure that kind of emotional mess completely justifies the blood and guts and pussies and cocks and dismembered children.

Just be glad I have no art to illustrate this entry with. However, that’s enough about the gore. Is there anything else to this work?

Well, I wouldn’t be bloody writing up a post about it if there weren’t. Once you wipe away all the blood and entrails, you have a rather good haunted house adventure, with a compelling, tragic backstory that the players actually have a chance of finding out (not easy, but it doesn’t have to be).

Like usually with the OSR stuff, there’s no plot as such, just a few hooks that might get the characters interested in exploring the Bloodworth Estate, some miles outside London in 1625. There’s just the backstory, the location, the villain and the adversaries.

Wiping away all the blood might be inadvisable, though, since, well, it’s a horror adventure. The horror in Death Love Doom comes from the blood and guts, and removing them would diminish the impact of the adventure. There’s even a page about how to run the adventure and deliver the horror. James has an enviable skill of writing horror adventures in such a way that just reading them drives a chill down my spine. Death Frost Doom is similar, in this respect, and the two modules share a thematic link.

So, Death Love Doom is a good adventure. It’s also not for everyone. If you like the films of Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento and can sit through Cannibal Holocaust and Hostel, this will probably be right up your alley. If not, you may want to give this a pass.

You might want to check with the players, too.

Death Love Doom isn’t yet actually available for purchase currently, but the estimated release date is August 8th, along with The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time. I paid €6 for my copy at Ropecon, so even if you find it not to your liking (and you have been warned), you won’t have dashed your offspring’s hope of ever attending college.

Ropecon 2012, Monday to Friday—Tag-Team GMing and Beating Up Children to Relieve Stress

Ropecon, for me, begins on Monday. While the doors of Dipoli do not open until three o’clock, Friday afternoon, the preceding week is full of preparation, promotional events, briefings and running around in a panic. I have a terribly bad habit of immersing myself into a convention—any convention—fully, mind and body, which makes it next to impossible to focus on anything else while this is going on. Ropecon week began hot on the heels of Finncon, which led to an 11-day convention, which was tremendous fun and utterly exhausting.

On Monday and Tuesday, we made badges. Every member of the convention staff gets a personalized badge, from the coat check people and logistics haulers to the game masters and panelists. These badges have to be made, all half a thousand of them. Then there are the badges we sell (at €1, excellent profit), which we also need a few hundred of to supplement what didn’t get sold the preceding years. Every year’s badges need new (bad) jokes, which someone has to come up with. This year’s jokes mostly revolved around Game of Thrones, I think. “We do not shower” and its Finnish equivalent “Me emme kylve” were the funniest, but I am also partial to “Hear me roll”. All this is traditionally accomplished during the Monday and Tuesday evenings before the con.

In addition to badges, this is the time when we also print and laminate new signs. This year, we manufactured signs for the staff dormitories that read “Don’t Screw Here”. This has been a problem in past years. It isn’t that our staff is bumping uglies during the night—they’re mostly young people and such behaviour is not only healthy but inevitable—but that they do it in a place where it’s guaranteed to disturb other people’s sleep in pretty much the most awkward manner possible. In this case, said people need to be well rested and working customer service in the morning. You can get your exhibitionist jollies in the woods. It’s the goddamn Otaniemi, nobody cares.

Of course, the beast with two backs still made an appearance in the staff dorms. We’re thinking of arming the dormitory overseers with cattle prods next year.

On Tuesday, we also had a promotional event at the Sello library in Espoo. I was there to run some tabletop RPGs, but the demographic present turned out to average five years old, far more interested in our other attraction. The logistics and PR had conspired to acquire a stack of 50 child-sized latex swords from Denmark, which were a tremendous hit with the kids. Literally, really. I managed to run one game, mostly featuring library employees, while the rest of the time was spent dueling hyperactive hobbits. I am not sure we got a single paying visitor this way, but at least the kids had fun. Their parents looked very grateful that we provided an outlet for the excess energy of their offspring, too. We had our other guest of honour, Larson Kasper, hanging out with us.

On Wednesday, the other GoH, Peter Adkison, arrived in Finland. There was karaoke. We went to this bar called Swengi. The evening was going nicely, until one of the GoH handlers blurted out that “this evening is going nicely, there hasn’t been a single moron on stage yet”, which was a cue for the universe to rain on our parade. Immediately the table group next to ours became boisterous and noisy, and a guy climbed up on stage and began to bleat out Britney Spears. We beat a hasty retreat after that.

On Thursday, we had the big staff briefing meeting at Dipoli and then the pre-convention sauna event. At this point I had some fairly impressive stress levels going on (Especially since I pretty much never stress about anything. Some would argue this includes things I should stress about.), since I still had a pile of paperwork to get ready for the convention. I finally got everything written up at an ungodly hour on Friday morning, after which I proceeded to Dipoli several hours before the convention opened, and proceeded to use up around a ream of paper at the info desk printer, as well as significantly contribute to the death of its ink cartridge on Saturday.

Oops.

Anyway, the convention Friday was pretty much a blur for me. I ran around a lot and ended up dehydrated, tired and hungry. Gave Jim Raggi a lift home in the evening. My only game mastering during the convention was also performed on Friday, when Mikko, our venue admin and a Pathfinder Society GM, had urgent business in the middle of his session. I tag-teamed with him and kept the players entertained and the game running while he worked his mojo elsewhere. Good thing I’d run the scenario before and was familiar with it.

I know it’s a bit strange that the Venture-Captain doesn’t run anything at the biggest con of the year, but, being also a member of the organizing committee, I simply didn’t have the time. My Venture-Lieutenant Jussi Leinonen was one of the main organizers. Then, Tracon is coming up next month and I’ll be running  games there. Their RPG admin, in turn, was the head GM for Saturday’s big Blood Under Absalom game… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fortunately, I got all the game masters present and accounted for during Friday and after a night spent sleeping in the back seat of my car in a sleeping bag, Saturday dawned rather more agreeable and I started getting into the spirit of things. But that is a story for the next instalment.

LotFP Grand Adventure Campaign Comes to an End

The Grand Adventure Campaign on IndieGoGo ended a couple of days ago. 19 adventure writers on 19 adventures, throw ’em at the wall and see what sticks. Seems four of them did, and it was a tense finish. The glorious four were Jeff Rients with his Broodmother Sky Fortress, Vincent Baker with Seclusium of Orphone, Kelvin Green with Horror Among Thieves and Dave Brockie with Towers Two.

Unfortunately, my own Red in Beak and Claw wasn’t among them, with its decidedly unimpressive showing of $470. There is light at the end of the tunnel for it, though, and it may yet emerge from the dark recesses of my hard drive upon an unsuspecting world. I was, incidentally, interviewed on Jennisodes about the project and the other stuff that I do, and I only now realize I never linked the interview here. It’s because it came out while I was at Finncon in Tampere at the time, and followed that up with Ropecon in Espoo. For me, the convention also ate up the entire preceding week in all sorts of preparation and promotion. Basically, I spent 11 days straight doing a convention, and when I’m that deep in, it’s very hard for me to focus on anything else.

Anyway, they tell me it’s a good interview, which I cannot objectively determine, but I had fun doing it, which probably counts.

The campaign, then. Was it a success? I don’t know. Was it a failure? No.

Four out of 19 isn’t much, and I think six funded campaigns—a rough third—would have made it an unqualified success. I mean, nobody seriously expected all of them to fund. That was never the point. It would have been awesome, but it would also have been an unrealistic expectation. A more interesting question is whether they were the “right” four, and on that front, at least, I have no complaints. Vincent Baker was one of my favourites to begin with, along with Anna Kreider, Richard Pett and the Finnish contingent. It’ll be fascinating to see what someone coming from a completely different gaming background will do with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. To me, that was always the coolest thing about the campaign, and hey, it delivered. Well, will deliver.

Those two posts about Red in Beak and Claw that I promised… you’ll get them, but they’ve been postponed for now. Next up will be a flood of convention reporting and commentary on new releases, including this one little thing called Death Love Doom