Among all the other interesting works that came out for Free RPG Day, the scholars who wrote Role-Playing Game Studies:A Transmedia Approach put a handful of chapters from the book up for free download.
The book came out from Routledge last year after having been in the works for a very long time. I have read it, and it is mostly good. It’s the first and thus far only book to present in one place all the different strains of RPG studies.
These links originate from a Facebook post by the editor Jose Zagal, and I’m reproducing them below for convenience, along with the rest of the table of contents. I will update the post as more chapters become available.
Last year, Ropecon inaugurated an academic seminar alongside its regular programming. It went great, so they’re doing it again. I’m not personally involved though I will be there. The pre-registration is now open, the tentative program is out, and it looks really great.
This year they’re kicking it up a notch with a keynote speaker flown in from the States. Jon Peterson is known for the groundbreaking brick of a book that is Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure from Chess to Role-Playing Games, which delves into the influences that coalesced into Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. The level of detail is staggering. They’re also collaborating with the journal Simulation & Gaming, and the best papers may end up in a special symposium issue.
Get your tickets here. Tea, coffee, and lunch are included.
As yet another pair of revised PDFs for the Vampire: The Masquerade, 5th Edition sourcebooks Anarch and Camarilla dropped the other day, I found myself wondering what was the list of actual changes. So I googled for it, and found many people wondering the same but no actual list.
So, I pulled up the first-released PDFs and the newest versions alongside them and compared to get the following. This is just a list of additions, removals, and changes in the content. Some of the edits are pretty simple and inconsequential, but others can be read politically. I did not make mention of corrected typos, changes in the artwork, or shifts in layout. Some of the changes I agree with, such as the removal of the Abrek Blight, and some I do not, such as the rewriting of The Gehenna War. On the balance, I’m pretty happy with my uncensored hardcovers. I do appreciate, though, that of the additional cities in the revamped Camarilla, all but one are outside the United States.
It should be noted that in addition to the two that I compared, the original and them most recent one, there exists a third version, which is the quick edits right before going to print. I haven’t looked at them in detail but I think the only major change in those is that Camarilla has had Abrek Blight excised and a bunch of new city entries added to make up the page count. The first print edition does have the original Gehenna War chapter.
I worked by comparing the profile of the the text on two adjacent PDFs, not by close reading. I will have missed stuff, especially in sections of Camarilla where they jiggered the layout and made my technique harder. In such cases I did have to do close reading, but I am but a fallible mortal.
In entries where the pages differ between the two versions, the first page number is the original.
pg 1: Additional writing by Steffie De Vaan.
pg 27: Section titled The End of the Dream substantially rewritten to remove references to Central Asia and ambiguity as to whether Oksana refers to lording over humans or Communism itself.
pg 32: Chapter “Damsel wants YOU to join the Anarch Free States” inserted.
pg 40/42: Section “Overpopulation and Suicide” rewritten as “Overpopulation and Wights”. In the original version, it talked about how many newly Embraced Anarchs kill themselves in their first few months of unlife. In the new one, they succumb to the Beast.
pg 66/68: Chapter “Is It OK To Feed Vitae To a Baby?”, a cutting satire on internet’s baby and self-help forums cut away. “Damsel wants YOU to join the Anarch Free States” exists to make up the page count.
pg 104: In the Chapter “The Blood of the Patriots”, paragraph “Here’s a pro-tip: Don’t combine pretending to be human by eating food and drinking from girls who pass out at parties. Being so fucked you puke on your shoes is possible even as one of us, if the conditions are right.” changed to “Here’s a pro-tip: Don’t combine pretending to be human by eating food and drinking from people who’ve been chugging beer all night long.”
pg 114: A third eye removed from the picture of a young woman. Guess no Salubri here, then.
pg 120: In the chapter “A vér hanaja”, title corrected as “A vér hangja”. Two paragraphs in section “The Fate of Humanity” reading:
This is a simple truth: When a mortal breeds true, their blood tastes divine. If it doesn’t, something has gone wrong. Modern medicine has allowed the weak to survive, polluting the gene pool with their hereditary trash, spoiling our hunt in the process.
We must break apart human civilization, separating, radicalizing and regimenting them until only the best and purest blood rises to the surface. The human waste matter with no culinary value will starve out.
This is a simple truth: When a mortal feeds on too much processed food and refined sugars, their blood tastes different, wrong. Modern society has weakened most humans, spoiling our hunt in the process.
We must break apart human civilization, separating, radicalizing and regimenting them until they are forced back into an age of hunting and gathering.
pg 127: In the chapter “Electric Vitae Acid Test”, the text “(For extra credits, use the recipe with horse sperm. It’s online, look it up.)” from advice on harassing elders with custard pies.
pg 152: In the section “Caitiff in Vampire Society”, the sentence “All Thinblood are Caitiff, their weak 14-16th generation so diluted (or just different if you want to be politically correct among the unbound) […]” edited to remove the text in parentheses.
pg 157: A sidebar advertising the mobile game Vampire: Prelude has been removed, as the game is no longer being sold.
pg 177: A glyph, presumably of the Ministry, has been added on the photo illustration.
pg 196: Moloch’s Will removed from the Ruins of Carthage loresheet.
pg 1: Additional writing: Khaldoun Khelil.
pg 2: “How to Use This Book” added.
pg 21/23: In the section “The State and humanity, sentence “Tinfoil hats and anti-semitic hate-mongers looking for the fingerprints of “the Illuminati” in early US history will find only traces of night-wars and alliances between creatures unimaginable to their limited faculties.” edited to remove the words “and anti-semitic hate-mongers”.
pg 29/31: In the section “The Ur-Shulgi Cult”, the last paragraph
It is worth noting that the awakening of the Skinless One parallels the growth of extremist interpretations of the Qur’an on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide. His thirst for destruction is shared by many mortals, and in his wake violence rises, tainting the image of Islam (and the Banu Haqim to those who know) in the minds of the West.
was rewritten as
It is worth noting that the awakening of the Skinless One and the schism it sparked within the clan has exposed the fact that we’ve misunderstood them all along, bringing us closer, first to those in the fringes, then to major factions within the clan.
pg 34/36: Chapter: “The Reformed Congregation of the Veneration of the Methuselah”. A couple of lines of context added to the beginning, apparently text that was accidentally omitted from the original.
pg 45/47: Sentence “A subfaction of the Camarilla call themselves the Kindred-Kine Collective, but anyone not of the group refers to them as parasites, or cleavers if we want to be polite” rewritten to “A small but repellent subfaction of the Camarilla has made itself known among the larger body of the sect. Anyone not of the group refers to them as parasites, or cleavers if we want to be polite.”
pg 53-62/55-64: Chapter “The Gehenna War”. Extensively rewritten. In the epigraph, “Elysium is empty of elders, as if a plague had swept over the city, and we ancillae now rule Lisbon as Prince pretenders.” rewritten as “Elysium is almost completely empty of elders, as if a plague had swept over the city, and we ancillae now rule Lisbon as Prince pretenders.”
Victoria Ash’s introduction to the material extensively rewritten. Example: sentence “We all feel the call” replaced with “Many in the Camarilla claim to hear the call, the soi-disant Beckoning.”
The entire timeline has been bumped back by a year, from 2018 to 2017.
A lot of the author’s characterization of the Ashirra has been cut.
Entry for 27.7.2018 set in Ramallah rewritten and relocated to Tunis. I must admit that the removal of the Palestinian connection rankles me. Juhana Pettersson, the author of the chapter, blogged about his own design decisions. Khaldoun Khelil, who did the rewriting, has posted a brief explanation of his own philosophy on his Patreon for backers only.
Entry for 1.8.2018 set in Jerusalem removed.
Entry for 19.9.2017 set in Kabul rewritten to be set in Dubrovnik.
Entry for 3.10.2017 set in Baghdad rewritten to be set in Heraklion.
Entry for 5.10.2017 set in Baghdad rewritten to be set in Khartoum.
A finale set on 31.10.2017 in Venice added.
pg 63-71: Chapter: “The Abrek Blight” removed due to international incident.
Hey Ramzan Kadyrov, is this your cat?
pg 74-68: Credit added to Manfred Vaughn, Steward of Arms. This takes up an entire column and affects the layout of the entire Second Inquisition chapter.
pg 88/84: Flavor text about forcing a Blood Bond on a neonate slightly rewritten.
pg 107/103: Mention of Kowalski majoring in political science removed.
pg 117/113: Entries for the cities of Budapest and Cairo added.
pg 118/115: Entry for Jerusalem added.
pg 119/116: Entry for Miami added.
pg 121/119: Entry for St. Petersburg added.
pg 163-164/161-162: In the section “The Banu Haqim in Mortal Society”, the sentence “It is not racist to admit our clan is predominantly one of many hues.” changed to “Our clan is predominantly one of many hues.”
pg 179: Chapter: The Thin-Blooded. In the sentence “Some pass medical inspections with ease, while others change their gender through strange alchemies using their blood.” changed to “Some pass medical inspections with ease. Others appear to have the ability to change their physiognomy over time.” (Yeah, this was a good change.)
And there we go. I may return later to edit in new material as it turns up.
Yesterday, Mandy Morbid, former partner of the RPG writer Zak Smith, a.k.a. Zak Sabbath or Zak S. posted the following on Facebook. It is a testimony of domestic abuse from three different people and a harrowing read. Content warnings apply. I see no reason not to believe this post. While the conversation around Zak has in the past been muddled by misinformation, misdirection and his opponents’ methods including death and rape threats to Mandy, this rings clear and true.
Zak is the author of the award-winning OSR works Maze of the Blue Medusa and A Red and Pleasant Land, the writer of the blog Playing D&D With Porn Star which I removed from my list of blog links prior to writing this post, credited as a consultant on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, and a co-writer of the White Wolf mobile game We Eat Blood and All Our Friends Are Dead. He’s also an abuser who needs to be cut out of the industry and the community for the safety of everyone.
I am quoting Mandy’s post in full.
Please feel free to share this widely, on
any platform you have.
Dear Zak Smith, aka Zak Sabbath
I know posting anything about you or this publicly will get me labeled “angry”, “crazy” or a “liar”. Despite that, I still need to speak. As a warning, there will be potentially triggering descriptions of abuse, violence and sexual assault to follow.
What I want to convey is my grief. And my shame. There is so much of it. I think when women come forward to talk about their abusers people strip them of their grief. And I am not okay. And I should be angry but I can’t be because the shame is too great. Because the abuse had me taking responsibility for everything and it’s very difficult to stop that after all these years. Everything was always my fault, the problem was me–but it wasn’t.
Eleven years is a long time. I was twenty one when we met in person the first time, and a month later, 22 when I moved in with you. It’s difficult to organize my thoughts about everything that happened, everything that went wrong over a decade.The abuse came in cycles where there were times you seemed to idolize me (in hindsight there was a twisted, sexist, infantilizing angle to the “idolizing” because it was always about my body and not me as a person). There were other times when you tore me down, made lectures that went in circles of manipulation, or fits of rage where you’d scream that I was useless and worthless and slam doors or throw things at the walls. You tore me down to manipulate me, and to get your way.
As time went on you learned you could threaten me in various ways. Killing me if I ever got pregnant and didn’t have an abortion started as a joke but you repeated it so frequently it was clearly a warning. Kick me out if I didn’t want to have as much sex, or lesser reasons.
When we would go out, you would rate the women you were watching, making sure I could hear it. You would see a woman and comment that she was attractive, until you saw she had “small” breasts. Then you would say to me “why do they even make them like that? What’s the point?” As though I automatically would agree with you about a woman’s worth being dictated by the size of her breasts. And how was that supposed to make me feel about myself? You would know that I would not want to start an argument on a nice evening out–finally I was feeling well enough to be out with you and I would ruin it? No. Even in the face of rude or disgusting comments about other women I would stay silent.
I am ashamed. I was often silent because I wanted to keep the peace. To keep you happy. You see, I did know how to make you happy. I am ashamed I did it because I rationalized that was love. You pressured me to find and groom other women sexually. As I grew sicker, and my physical limitations grew, you were more concerned with your own needs than my illness. Eventually, even, you took my doing this for you, and me, for granted.
I saw you mistreat women we were with together, and again I was silent. I choose you over them and I am deeply ashamed. And when it was me who was being mistreated I often didn’t even register it as such because the first time it happened was so traumatic. You told me I wasn’t allowed to stop or say no to sex or fooling around if we’d already initiated it.
I was young and this was during the first few weeks we lived together and no one had ever taught me about consent. You were extraordinarily angry I had stopped, your hands were clenched into fists and they were shaking. I was programmed to accept it, and you always just kept telling me you loved me even if your behaviour never really proved it.
Then you started with the online gaming arguments nonsense, and that put a real crack in our bond. In the beginning I felt genuinely protective of you, my provider, and of course that was my very strong trauma bond. I didn’t know better, and I just thought I was caring for the person I loved. Callously, you exposed me to death and rape threats and you then never took the distress this caused me seriously, you were in no way sympathetic to the very real stress these disagreements caused. You enjoyed it. And you gloated over the harm you caused other people. (It was extremely unattractive.) You just used those threats we received as an excuse, used me and my marginalized identities as shields in your continuing misbehaviour online.
That Tumblr post defending you was posted in my name, but you were the one who wrote it. The long one you always referred people to. I feel more shame that I let you use my name, my identity in that way. I feel shame that when people noticed it probably wasn’t written by me, we called them sexist. After that Tumblr post I told you I was done being involved in any of your arguments online. You really didn’t like that. You forever afterwards accused me of “never saying anything” when you were dealing with the shit you’d stirred up.
I am so ashamed you let me get dragged into your awful trolling behaviour. One time you had a screaming/throwing fit at me (“useless,” “worthless,” “no one cares about me”) because I didn’t want to retweet something to a big gaming company you were mad at. This was all abuse. That you continue to behave so badly online disgusts me, and I am ashamed that I helped you to hurt or damage others online. I am sorry that I have contributed to the abuse, and I am ashamed that your abuse pushed me to think that it was okay to do.
This behavior is what created the cracks in the narcissistic façade that you built up for me. Seeing the behavior that you normally directed towards me being directed towards others started to open my eyes towards what you were doing to me.
It was then that I slowly began to reassess how you treated me. This process started very slowly as I was extremely ill. And needed to focus on my health and I couldn’t shake my life up too dramatically.
Over the next two or three years my faith and trust in you completely failed. You let me down over and over. And I came to terms with the fact that I had been a trophy wife all along, an object that was owned, not a respected or loved partner. Towards the end you weren’t even trying to keep that mask you wore in the beginning on you were just straight up cruel and cold and abusive and there were no reprieves of loving or sweet acts, it was all gaslighting and narcissism gone unchecked. And there was a lot of my grief and shame at that time. Because I tried so hard to make it work anyway.
I thought if I loved harder, if I loved more I could save us but it was futile because you were already done with someone who wasn’t spending all their energy on living to please you as I’d formerly done.
I’ve grown up. I want to live my life for me. My values and morales don’t align with yours–I’m ashamed I was complicit in your misogyny and supportive of your online abuse (whatever my reasons).
I only began to register the pain and damage done to me by this relationship in the last year we were together and in the year and half since I’ve left. I have PTSD. I am doing my best to focus on healing, and since leaving both my mental and physical health have improved. I’m not okay yet, but I am improved. People can see the difference in photos. Rebuilding a life after a decade of trauma takes time but I will get there.
After this I am including statements about Zak from Jennifer, a long time friend and lover of Zak’s and mine and Hannah who was also involved with us and lived with us briefly. Jennifer was spending time with Zak before Zak and I met, and Hannah was assaulted by Zak.
CW description of sexual assualt
Jennifer’s post was originally posted to her facebook and she’s given me permission to reshare it here:
Hey guys, this is a heads up for anyone who is friends with Zak Smith or likes his page. This is somewhat out of the blue but he’s been posting more in the past year or so and I keep seeing some of you interact with him or just liking his posts, and thinking: You wouldn’t be doing that if you knew him better.
To get to the point: While he comes across as a fun person who is super cool with everything and leads such a compelling and interesting life, and I considered him a good friend for a significant amount of time, he’s also someone who has habitually abused and assaulted women. He talks negatively about them when they’re not around, and also says really degrading things to their faces. He will aggressively pursue sex and rely on the fact that most women are hesitant to reject a man in a quasi-sexual situation due to safety concerns and social conditioning. Especially when he has presented himself as caring and trustworthy. But I’ve also seen him physically take women and start fucking them, ignoring their lack of enthusiasm or freeze of shock. He will navigate kink spaces and take someone’s presence there, of general involvement in bdsm as implied consent to assualt them. And he is fully aware of what he does, he has described a sexual encounter to me as, I quote, “raping a 12-year-old”. The person in question was not underage, but so massively uncomfortable that this was his most apt description. It didn’t make him stop.
He’s really good at being so blasé about everthing that you doubt what happened or compartmentalize it, then move on. He’s also good at talking the talk and walking the walk of being the progressive liberal artist and author who is just so open about having done porn and living his sexuality uninhibited by social norms or whatever. He can be pretty manipulative and resorts to gaslighting.
This post might seem unnecessary at best, and like slander at worst. Especially considering I haven’t even personally seen him since god knows when. It’s based on my own experiences with him, some dating as far back as 2005, and the fact that almost every mutual female friend has similar experiences, up to this day. Ultimately I’ve seen him do so much fucked up shit that when I hear anything by another woman I immediately believe them without a shadow of a doubt. And yes, I’m ashamed I didn’t speak up sooner. Often things only start falling into place after time passes and you see things for what they are, and when they are confirmed by others who have had similar experiences. By the time I really fully grasped the magnitude, being vocal would have meant intruding on and hurting people who didn’t deserve it, with little discernable good to come out of it.
Basically if you know me and trust me, believe me and maybe reconsider your support of him and his art. Besides that I’m not asking you to do anything. And I don’t benefit from any sort of outcome in any way.
I’m posting this to a curated audience; if you see this I trust you to at least not create drama. If you don’t believe me, I guess just ignore this post? Although I’d prefer if you removed yourself from my list then too. I don’t want this to reach him because I don’t want to deal with the fallout. I want people to know this to make a better informed decision about who they associate with. The last I heard of him was a few months ago, after he saw that a friend had confided in me about him, and he slid into my inbox with some disingenious bullshit about how sad he was about that situation, trying to influence my opinion. I ignored it. If something like that happens again I will obviously know that someone on this list blabbed and will pretty much delete and block anyone it could have been. Please don’t make me deal with all that trouble. Thank you.
And here is Hannah’s account:
Back when I first knew them, I lauded Manda and Zak as a perfect couple. I would see them only once every few years, and when I was with them, they seemed happy. It wasn’t until I was with them for an extended period of time that I thought things seemed off. I used to take Zak’s general demeanor towards women as joking. Eg, “if I talk to my girlfriend and her friend about their feelings, will I get a threesome out of it?” But now I think that’s how Zak actually feels. At first when I kept hearing him say the phrase “chin up” to Manda, I thought he was just telling her to stay positive, but in actuality he didn’t like it when she had a tiny double chin when looking down. (Like all humans at that angle.) He also told her things like “You don’t need glasses, its more important for you to be pretty than it is to see” and “If you can’t even have sex, what good are you?” It was not a joke. For a long time I tried to see the good in him, and hoped that he would change his behaviours once Manda confronted him about them, but he didn’t seem to understand that he had done anything wrong. She told him she felt more like a doll than a human, outlined what things had upset her, and wanted to work towards a better relationship. He acted ignorant about things he had said or done, and then threatened people when anyone talked about him. (Which is why I was afraid to write this for a long time. I still am.) There was also a strange incident when we were first hanging out together during which he asked if I was into kinky stuff, to which I replied yes. He proceeded to slap me and choke me against a wall, in public. Now, in a bedroom setting, with clear boundaries and consent, it would have been fine, but out of the blue and in public, it was not okay at all. Years later, I mentioned this to a mutual friend as something that made my uncomfortable, and when Zak found out he made a half-hearted apology attempt. I don’t think he actually felt bad, I think he just didn’t want me to tell anyone else. I tried to stay friends with both of them for a little while, but after hearing more about what he said/did to Manda, I couldn’t keep him in my life anymore. She is one of my best friends and one of the sweetest people I know. I don’t understand people who say they “can’t take sides” on something like this.
As I mentioned before, the Finnish Museum of Games recently hosted a large exhibition on role-playing games. Titled “It’s a Trap! – Role-Playing Games in Finland”, it ran from October 2018 to early January 2019. I went there a lot over those three months, and on the last day, I had my trusty potato in hand and photographed the whole thing for documentation purposes.
Since I’m a crap photographer and my mobile phone’s camera isn’t all that hot either, not all of the photos were salvageable, but here are the ones where you can tell what you’re looking at.
The welcome sign. Note the unfolded icosahedron.
The floor was laid out as a classic dungeon map.
Explanations of the floor were provided to minimise casualties.
The information plaques organized, on the lines of BECMI, into Basic, Companion, and Expert levels. Note also the wardrobe with wizard robes, elven cloaks and witches’ hats.
A closer look.
A look through the door of the main exhibition space.
The original D&D booklets donated to Ropecon by Frank Mentzer back in 2011.
A bit on history. The chest was used for an escape room game played at the museum after business hours.
It’s a hefty chest.
In the summer of 2018, a Tampere gaming group wrapped up their D&D campaign. Then they stood up, took a step back, and photographed the table as it lay. It was then recreated in the museum. It’s hanging on the wall, by the way. Also, those pizza slices kept falling off.
A map on the wall, from the pen of Miska Fredman.
The paraphernalia showcase. There’s a Cthulhu statuette from someone’s home campaign, Alter Ego’s songbook with the nerdiest lyrics, and a hardcover print edition of a World’s Largest Dungeon campaign log, among other things.
On role-playing games as a creative inspiration.
As is only right, the space was dominated by a large gaming table. There were blank character sheets for a number of games, dice, and pencils available. I did witness a couple of games played at it.
A small library cart with a selection of games to peruse and play.
Design notes and campaign notes for the games Rapier and Tähti, and from the archives of Myrrysmiehet.
A showcase of D-oom Products and Aulos, a card-based storygame by Karoliina Korppoo.
History begins here. On top left, Nousius is an obscure fantasy game, ANKH features early Petri Hiltunen artwork and was available everywhere, and on bottom left, we have Dada Publishing’s adventures that are nowadays available as free PDFs.
On the right, we have the character-naming sourcebook Mikä hahmolle nimeksi?, the RPG about nonmilitary service Syvä uni (vaiko painajainen?), Malnoth, the system-agnostic fantasy setting Sateenkaarten kaupunki, the Biblical fantasy RPGs Kuninkaiden aika and Anno Domini 50, as well as the youth-education game Steissin yö.
The other half of that wall. You can almost see on the far left panel the mid-90s, Hiljaisuuden vangit, an alt-historical RPG about resistance fighters in a totalitarian Finland after Germany won WW2, and THOGS.
On the middle panel we have the late 00’s and early 10’s, and the system-agnostic Somalia sourcebook Punaiset hiekat, Chernobyl mon amour, the penguin game Valley of Eternity, Vihan lapset, Hood, and Strike Force Viper.
On the nearmost panel we come to the present day, with games like Pyöreän pöydän ritarit, various OSR publications, the Slavic fantasy Noitahovi, and a couple of Pathfinder adventures from the pen of Mikko Kallio.
There were also various character sheets on display from across the ages.
The Risto J. Hieta showcase. He designed the first Finnish RPGs and is still active, nowadays almost averaging one game per year.
Going through this shelf by shelf, on top here we have Zombie Cinema in its VHS box and the pirate card game Hounds of the Sea. On the lower shelf there’s Bengalia, an educational RPG about developing countries.
A selection of books from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, such as the first printing of Death Frost Doom.
The Praedor shelf. Praedor is one of the few role-playing games in Finnish that actually has product support.
The other games from Ville Vuorela. There’s Stalker, the musketeer game Miekkamies, the postapocalyptic Taiga, and Mobsters. In the back you can see other editions of Stalker, Praedor, and Taiga.
On the left, Miska Fredman’s work, such as Astraterra, Sotakarjut, Generian legendat, and Heimot. On the right, Mike Pohjola’s stuff such as Tähti, Star Wreck, and Myrskyn sankarit. It’s annoyingly not really visible here, but there are two English editions of Myrskyn sankarit present, the abortive Heroes of the Storm that ran into a trademark issue with Activision-Blizzard, and The Age of the Tempest that you can actually buy.
RPG translations were big in the late 80s and early 90s. Here we have Paranoia, Cyberpunk 2020, and Twilight: 2000. There were also some Finnish originals published for T2K.
Mechwarrior, Shadowrun, Traveller 2300 AD, and Macho Women with Guns in the immensely grotty-looking Finnish edition.
RuneQuest was big in Finland. Like, D&D big. Even bigger.
RuneQuest still has a devout fanbase over here that puts out the occasional fanzine, translation, or sourcebook.
On the left, MERP and Rolemaster. On the right, Stormbringer, Primetime Adventures, Call of Cthulhu, City of Itra, and Unelma Keltaisesta kuninkaasta, a collection of Danish scenarios.
BECMI. Well, we never got Immortals. Apart from RuneQuest, that red box was one of the big gateway drugs. The translation is infamous.
A word on moral panics and corrupting the youth.
Early gaming magazines and role-playing articles and columns from other magazines, such as Risto J. Hieta’s column “Peliluola” from the PC mag MikroBitti.
The Conan magazine was an early source of information for role-players in the 80s. Also here are a few of the print catalogues of the Fantasiapelit game store chain.
Some more gaming magazines. Magus ran for 50 issues and is the longest-lived Finnish role-playing magazine.
Roolipelaaja is the latest attempt, folding after a few beautiful years. If I still have readers from that long ago, I was a contributor for the latter half of the magazine’s run.
When the writer makes a reference to a classic Finnish rock song, the translator has no recourse but to make an obtuse nod toward Philip Roth and beat a hasty retreat. This is about character sheets.
There’s a lot of gamers out there. We don’t know how many, but it’s, like, a lot.
A map from Jim Raggi’s home campaign that he drew back in the mid-1990s. Wonder that he still had it after all those moves.
The wall of faces. Game designers, con runners, publishers, store managers, translators, and just gamers.
The rest of the wall. Because of reasons, the bottom right-hand corner picture is at the time of writing in a large (these are A2 portraits) IKEA bag in my living room.
There was also an explanatory booklet for the portrait wall. Juhana is top middle in the first picture, if you’re curious. The other page visible is not Juhana’s, but the second page of Jori-Minna Hiltula’s entry. They’re to the left of Juhana.
There was also interactive multimedia. The other monitor had a selection of 90s TV clips about RPGs, while the other one had a display of character sheets collected at Ropecon in 2017.
And that’s all, folks. We’ll see when we can get an exhibition done on larp.
I do a lot of reading challenges. I usually go through about 150 titles a year – though a lot of that is graphic novels – and they’re a tool I use to pick the next one when it isn’t dictated by work, the university, or the impending Hugo voting deadline. We also have a role-playing game reading circle on Facebook where we read rulebooks from cover to cover and then commiserate how they’re really not designed with that approach in mind. I even have a Goodreads profile.
One of the challenges I do has traditionally been the Helmet reading challenge, so named because it’s run by the Helsinki metropolitan area library system. This year they’re also kicking off a Game Challenge, and obviously I’m all over that thing. While the rules are kinda loose and allow for filling in more than one category with the same game if you feel like it, I could fill all except no. 7 with just the three larps I’m going to this year. So I’ll try to play one game per challenge category. Preferably tabletop role-playing games, preferably new stuff. If I do fill in something with a videogame, it should be a role-playing game. I will also try to stick with games that I expect I would like. Then I’ll tell you all about it. Sound cool? I know, but I’m doing it anyway. Feel free to join in!
I’m not filling this out beforehand because I expect quite a few will be targets of opportunity. The problem with role-playing games is, as ever, that the stars must be right. Also the schedules of a bunch of adults with lives and jobs.
Game by a Finnish developer
Game where no one dies
Game that is based on a book, graphic novel or comic
Game that is based on actual historical events
Game where you play in cooperation with other players
Game that can be downloaded for free
Game that you remember from your childhood
Game where you create your own character
Game where the story is created by your choice
Game where you can go fishing
Game with romance
Game that takes place somewhere you have always wanted to visit
Game that makes you slightly scared
Game from where you think you will learn something new
Game that takes place in your favorite place to live in
Game where you build something
Game that lets you play a game within a game
Game that starts a series
Game that is played in turns
Game that has a protagonist who has a skill that you would like to learn
It’s time for my semi-annual “imma write more this year i promise” post. Last year was terrible on so many levels, and though my inability to stick to any kind of posting schedule is kinda eclipsed by the President’s office of Chechnya whining about RPGs, this is at least the kind of thing I can affect personally.
Well, in any substantial fashion, at least.
Truth be told, there were a lot of posts that I started and then never finished, or that never made it past the outline stage, or that I promised but never even began to write. It’s been an exhausting year and news, gaming and otherwise, make the entire genre of horror fiction feel redundant. Writing about anything of substance – and a lot of perfectly inconsequential things – feels like it carries with it an invitation for abuse from a myriad of online cesspits.
But hey, illegitimi non carborundum. So here’s a turn-of-the-year listing of the ten most interesting posts that never made it off the drawing board but actually really should have, cut down into a couple of paragraphs instead of the nuanced 2,000 words most of them would deserve.
Delta Green Has Aged… Poorly
First of all, let it be known that I love Delta Green. The first edition and Delta Green: Countdown are some of the finest gaming books ever written, and especially Countdown keeps getting named as the best ever. It’s not entirely undeserved. The idea of a conspiracy of agents within the American law enforcement, intelligence, and military organizations fighting against the gribbly things of the Cthulhu Mythos was a really great idea. In the 90s.
The problem with this is, of course, that we’re no longer in the 90’s. The cultural touchstones for FBI agents and American special forces is no longer The X-Files and Hollywood action films. Nowadays it’s Guantanamo Bay, and Seal Team 6’s war crimes, Black Lives Matter, NSA Director Keith Alexander’s megalomania, and a drone strike after drone strike. While as a game DG2E is very good, where it falls down for me is in its lack of acknowledgement that as a member of these organizations the PCs themselves or their superiors at the very latest are very likely complicit or directly guilty of some pretty terrible crimes. JSOC isn’t a heroic background, it’s what you should be fighting against. And it really doesn’t help that Tcho-Tchos are nowadays a legitimate and recognized ethnic minority in the United States with their own anti-racism initiative.
This post actually did make it out into the world, in the surface-scratch form of a review I wrote for PlayLab!
I Was a Magic Newspaperman
Professor Rabasse. Photo by Przemysław Jendroska.
I played at College of Wizardry again, bringing back my character from College of Wizardry: The Challenge. This time around, Étienne Rabasse was a hotshot young journalist attached to a visiting lecturer position at Czocha College, which meant that I did the school paper again.
This post, if it ever sees the light of day, would be a practical look at churning out several issues of a fake broadsheet during a larp, what the benefits are for the game, how to make the on-site production as painless as possible, and perhaps a different alternatives to how it could be made. I will not even attempt a summary, and to be honest, it’s more likely to be in a future KP book than here, because it’s also going to be rather more rigorous work than my usual word-noodling here and possibly even deserves the dead-tree treatment.
As an entirely tangential side note, I will be playing Professor Rabasse for the third time at College of Wizardry 20 in April. I will not do the newspaper.
Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition – Twelve Hangry Men
I bought and played the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. I liked it, especially the Hunger Dice and how they drive the game onwards. I also like the recommendation that combats are played for three rounds and the ended the way things were going. Fighting was always the least interesting bit of Vampire for me. I like the graphic design, though admittedly a part of that is because some of the images are from the 2016 run of the larp End of the Line, which I played.
I also like the Anarch and Camarilla books, except for the Chechnya chapter which really is badly written, though in my opinion if it offends Ramzan Kadyrov that he’s depicted as a bloody-handed tyrant in thrall to a greater power he really should stop oppressing his own people and donate his collection of Vladimir Putin t-shirts to Goodwill or something.
I think the ruleset in general is superior to the older version, and the advances in metaplot and slight rewriting of things make for a more playable setting. Tremere are allowed to do cool shit without being immediately dusted by their superiors. The major sectarian conflict being now Camarilla vs. Anarchs feels like both sides are playable much more than the former Camarilla vs. Sabbat. I’m kinda on the fence about the Second Inquisition, but it’s very versatile in how it can be played.
I backed the Chicago by Night kickstarter. I’m looking forward to future releases, though if Modiphius is really not going to make Camarilla and Anarch available after the preorders are done, that is a shame.
And though the current incarnation of White Wolf made some definite missteps in PR and marketing, their stewardship also saw the production of a Vampire larp in the European Parliament.
Living Greyhawk Ten Years Later
The Living Greyhawk organized play campaign ended ten years ago. The campaign saw the release of over 2,000 adventure modules in its eight years of existence, and it was magnificent. Sometimes it was terrible, sometimes weird, often clunky, but always fun. It was a baroque creation that ran away from its creators as the regional triads started creating their own regional identities and the players took plotlines in unexpected directions. It was simultaneously a marketing scheme and an enormous, unique co-creative work of art. Nothing has approached it since – Pathfinder Society and Adventurers’ League are both too firmly in the leash.
We shall never see its like again, and it should not be forgotten.
I did write a post about Living Greyhawk for Loki, but of course, the language barrier applies.
Fairweather Manor Revisited
I also played at Fairweather Manor. Again. Whereas my last game was mostly serious except when it a scene out of P.G. Wodehouse intruded, somewhat political, and somewhat removed from the scheming of the aristocracy, this time was the complete opposite.
My character was Patrick “Jack” Hennessy, the firstborn son of the Duke’s black sheep brother. He was born in Hong Kong, lived there for most of his life and was stuck in England because of the war along with his younger sister Ginny. He was essentially an entitled brat with no sense of consequence but all the privilege. He was also Buddhist, and Orientalist in a somewhat insipid culturally-appropriative way, and wrote letters to his Chinese mistress in Hong Kong. I folded them all text-side outwards and gave them to servants with the instructions to mail them to Hennessy House in Hong Kong, they’ll know what to do with them. They were signed “Your Monkey, Jack.”
It’s a testament to the robustness of design that what for me in one run was a serious and emotional experience, in another run was transformed into an upstairs-downstairs comedy while still allowing other people to play the experiences they sought. Partly this is due to the sheer size of the game, partly because having a fully realized character also allows you to step into more – or less – serious play when someone else’s game requires it.
This is another game I will be revisiting in 2019. Having played two of the three male pacifist characters in the game, I thought I’d go for an officer.
We did some fencing. Photo by Kamil Wędzicha.
War of Agaptus: Fate of Ashes Review
This is actually something I was supposed to do over a year ago, but a computer malfunction ate around a thousand words of text, and I was too pissed off to continue, and then it was just one distraction after another in real life, around the same time as my output here generally petered out. I’ve returned to the review now and then to noodle around with it, but I’d really need to re-read the book to do it with the proper depth. So here’s the short version.
War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is a new [okay, was new] fantasy role-playing game from Evil Hat. Like most of the company’s games, it’s got FATE System purring gently under the bonnet.
The lead designer on the project is Sophie Lagacé. Fate of Agaptus is actually based on a pair of miniature wargames from ZombieSmith, called Shieldwall and Shieldbash. To capitalize on an existing miniatures range, Fate of Agaptus contains a more detailed combat system, involving the use of those miniatures.The book itself is 370 pages long.
The setting is an early Medieval fantasy that eschews the D&D cast of fantasy races and instead presents the four factions: Elvorix, Vidaar, Jarl, and Kuld. The Elvorix are a formerly great civilization now in decline, the Vidaar are an aggressive offshoot of the same race that are raiders and pirates, the Jarl are militarist expansionists, and the Kuld are beastly creatures that are coming down from the north to eat everyone. The sun is growing dim and the inhabitable area of the world is growing smaller, driving everyone to fight for resources. The game calls its aesthetic grimsical. It’s The Muppets in the ranks of The Black Company.
The setting is designed for a wargame and unsurprisingly there’s a lot of combat rules. Some of the stuff adds on to the standard FATE set, such as the froth phase in combat, a cultural feature of the world, where the warriors psych themselves up and try to intimidate their enemies before the bloody business starts. There are occasional asides where the writer highlights this or that thing and explains why it works the way it does, which I like.
Overall, it’s a cool game and executed well, but the setting has a very specific aesthetic that will inevitably divide opinion. Definitely worth a look.
Just a Little Lovin’: A Larp About AIDS and the 80s
In June, I played in the Finnish run of Just a Little Lovin’. It is a larp about the AIDS crisis in the USA, and is set over three consecutive 4th of July parties from 1982 to 1984.
It was one hell of a larp. I have never had my emotions manipulated with such deftness and elegance. It is a larp about friendship, love, and death. It’s regularly described as a life-changing experience. I can likely never hear Dusty Springfield’s “Just a Little Lovin'” or Dolly Parton’s version of “Star-Spangled Banner” without a part of me returning to the yard outside Mr T’s summer retreat, saluting a flag as Dennis, a veteran of Vietnam and a member of a free love commune. It’s weird to miss people who are not real. It was a deeply emotional, sad, sometimes sexy game with the warmest, kindest, most supporting player community around it that I have been a part of.
I’ve had several abortive attempts to write about it but trying to unpack the staggering complexity of the larp and my personal experience feels like a daunting task. There’s a book about the 2013 Danish run of the game available as a free download, and I feel like explaining everything I have to say would probably take another. And then I always have to answer the question of who the hell am I even to tell this story? I belong to none of the communities hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. It is emphatically a story that I have no ownership of. It’s a question that occupied me even about the game itself, and throwing up a wall of text about it on my blog is something I’ve yet to find the confidence to do.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the passing of one of the greats of the field. Greg Stafford was the father of Glorantha and creator of King Arthur Pendragon. It’s one of my favourite games even though I’ve only managed to play it a couple of times. Stafford’s grasp of mythology was tremendous, and the influence of his work runs through the DNA of many modern role-playing games.
I never met him, though I did see him in passing when he was at Ropecon many years ago. Unfortunately, I had yet to discover Pendragon at the time.
Hell of a year. I have plans for 2019, but they warrant their own post.
As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, we have in my town the Finnish Museum of Games, a large permanent exhibition about games and gaming in Finland, from Skolt Sámi games played with reindeer bones to political larp about the situation in Palestine.
The most recent cool thing to occur there is It’s a Trap!, an exhibition about role-playing games. It’s in a separate exhibition space, 100 m2 in size, and has nearly every role-playing game product released in the country on display.
I say “nearly” because every time we thought we had a full list, we turned up another booklet that someone self-published out of their garage in 1994 with a print run of 26 copies that was only sold by a dark stranger at the crossroads on a moonless night. In the beginning we figured there’d probably be around 100 titles – this including not only games but also supplements as well as translations. We ended up with around 350, and counting. Yes, this means we do have more RPG releases per capita than most other European countries, more RPG releases in absolute terms than a quite a few rather larger European countries, and yeah, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is the biggest publisher in the country.
“We” in this case mostly means Jaakko Stenros, games scholar and my partner in crime on the book project attached to the exhibition. My contribution to the show was the English translation of the exhibition texts – meaning that none of y’all have any excuse not to come and take a look – and co-editing Seikkailuja ja sankareita: Katsauksia suomalaisen roolipelaamisen historiaan ja nykyhetkeen, or as it would be in English: “Adventures and Heroes: An exploration of the past and present of Finnish role-playing”. It’s an article collection of a slim 128 pages, kinda in the vein of Knutebooks, with texts covering topics such as the history of the Fantasiapelit game store chain (a key player in the Finnish scene), the exploits of the gaming club in the city of Pori in the 1990s, Juhana Pettersson’s study of his character-driven playstyle, and an overview of academic games research. I am very satisfied with how the book turned out.
The exhibition itself is a marvel. It contains rarities even I had never before seen in the wild or even heard about, such as Nousius, the third-ever Finnish RPG, or Verald, the first and to our knowledge only Fennoswedish RPG. There’s outré stuff like Steissin yö (“Night at the Station”), which is a mid-90s youth education game about the dangers of the Helsinki Railway Station at night, or Syvä uni (“Deep Sleep”), a farcical work about nonmilitary service. And there’s a table you can game at, with character sheets and rulebooks available for a bunch of games. Interactivity at its best. It’s there until January 6th, 2019.
We’re also doing an event day called Museocon on the 4th of November, and we’re in the home stretch for hammering out the program. I will reveal that there will be opportunities to play games that few have played before, and hear talks about RPGs from game designers who haven’t taken the stage at Ropecon since the 90s, or ever. I am excited!
Now that I’ve had a chance to engage with the playtest materials for Pathfinder 2E, I have some vague and preliminary thoughts.
First of all, this is what a playtest looks like. We’re not just given playtest rules to flail around with aimlessly like we were back for the first edition. There’s a set of playtest adventures, both for Pathfinder Society and in the campaign Doomsday Dawn, that have been written with specific playtest goals in mind. For each adventure, there’s a questionnaire to fill out. It’s all tickboxes and sliders, which means the threshold for filling it out is low, and the output is going to be raw numbers data for some statistics-minded person to sift through. Very useful, when there’s enough of it.
I’ve participated in quite a few playtests over the years and this is I think the first open playtest that didn’t feel like I was primarily participating in a marketing stunt. Also, the feedback is being listened to and the rules document is a work in progress. We’re already up to version 1.2.
There’s also a playtest forum for expressing views that are more nuanced than “on the scale of 1-5, how challenging was this combat encounter”. It is fortunately moderated quite aggressively but I think it could use a bit more of an iron fist.
My personal play experience with the playtest thus far consists of playing The Rose Street Revenge, and running Raiders of the Shrieking Peak twice and “The Lost Star”, first part of Doomsday Dawn, once.
That first one got played on livestream at Tracon. Finnish only, but here it is, if you want to see people muddle through an unfamiliar rules system for seven hours.
I think that the current version of the game rules runs more or less smoothly, but there are a couple of sticking points, both apparently because they’re fixing known issues in first edition but they’re not quite there yet. The first of these is the rule for dying, which is complicated and not very intuitive even after they rewrote it in the newest update. It removes negative hit points and makes dying an process of incremental Fortitude saves. This is most likely in order to do away with the nonsensical situation where it’s sometimes preferable for your character to go down into low negative hit points than stay standing with a couple of hp left after an enemy attack, because then the character remains an active combatant, will be attacked again, and is much more likely to die from that attack.
The other one is resonance, a resource that’s governing the use of magic items, evidently to avoid the trope of the christmas tree character, as well as beating everyone to full hp with a wand of cure light wounds after every fight. Making healing rarer but giving characters more hit points might be a good direction to go, but resonance as it currently exists isn’t working. Then, we’re going to see a reworked version sooner rather than later.
As for the adventures themselves, both Raiders of the Shrieking Peak and “The Lost Star” were really short. Raiders ran for three hours the first time and two hours the second, and “The Lost Star” we got through in around two and a half. Neither is particularly impressive as an example of the craft, but that’s not what they’re trying to be. They’re good for a fun game, and Raiders of the Shrieking Peak is excellent for trotting out every cow-related pun you can come up with.
In Doomsday Dawn, I’m especially a fan of how each part ties in with a Pathfinder adventure path. I’ve run a few of them and hope to bring in a few old players for the relevant parts.
As for the other big changes… I’m ambivalent on the inclusion of the goblin ancestry, I think switching from “race” to “ancestry” is a good idea both because it easier facilitates the separation of cultural aspects of the rules package from the physical features, and because “race” has some unfortunate connotations, not to mention translating really poorly. In Finnish, the word is “rotu”, and if you use that outside of a fantasy role-playing context and aren’t referring to a breed of domestic animal, you will sound like a 1930s eugenicist who will now proceed to take measurements of the listener’s skull. That’s not a good look.
Another interesting thing I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore in depth is the collapsing of multiclasses and prestige classes into the archetype system. I vastly prefer the archetype system over prestige classes and am wholeheartedly in favour of this change, as long as retraining rules are also included in the core (which they are). Multiclassing I am not so sure of, and I’ll want to give it a whirl before passing judgment.
Well, it’s been upon us for over a month now. However, Finncon is this weekend in Turku. It’s the major sci-fi convention in Finland on years when we don’t all do irresponsible things with our personal schedules and run a Worldcon. Finncon’s got awesome guests of honour, the authors Lauren Beukes and Maria Turtschaninoff, and the academic GoH Merja Polvinen.
Because I’m bad at saying no and panels are easy, I’m on a bunch of things this year.
12:00-12:45: Namedroppauspaneeli (or, The Name Dropping Panel): Wherein I moderate and Nina Niskanen, Marianna Leikomaa, Sari Polvinen, and Leila Paananen tell you what English-language sci-fi and fantasy you should be reading right now. Ostensibly in Finnish but the notes I’ll be putting up during the panel will be in English.
13.00-13.45:SF and Fantasy in Musical Theater: How do science fiction, fantasy and horror translate into musicals? Hamilton’s been all the rage recently, but surely there are other examples of SF musical theater as well? A presentation by Marianna Leikomaa, Sari Polvinen, and Jukka Särkijärvi.
14.00-14.45: Kirja tulee kirjan luo: Wherein Shimo Suntila moderates and Jukka Särkijärvi, Sari Polvinen and Boris Hurtta discuss the ways and means of book collecting. I swear, I’m by far the newbie on that panel and I have around 3,500 titles. Only in Finnish.
16.00-16.45: The Masquerade: A playful masquerade show that I host, as is tradition. Bilingual. Signup is still open. The award ceremony is at 21:00 at the Koulu restaurant.
On Saturday evening, starting at 19:00 at Koulu, there’s also the collective release party for a total of six different sci-fi, fantasy, and horror titles. I have a short story coming out in the anthology Valitut, which is nice.
13.00-14.45: The Hugo Panel: The panelists talk about this year’s Hugo finalists: what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. Have the recent changes in the Hugo nominating process had an impact on what makes it to the final list? Sini Neuvonen, Marianna Leikomaa, Tommy Persson and Jukka Särkijärvi.
Come and see us talk smart things! Come and say hi! Or not, no pressure!