Hell’s Vengeance – An Autopsy of a Campaign

Been a while since I made one of these.

I ran Hell’s Vengeance. It’s Pathfinder’s villain adventure path, where the characters are terrible people doing terrible things on behalf of a terrible system. They murder a lot of paladins, among other things. In contrast to my previous adventure path campaign, Council of Thieves, which was a sixteen-session exercise in cutting off all the fat and slimming it down to just the necessary stuff, this was supposed to be a leisurely campaign where there would be no hurry to get to the finish line, I could expand on the material, put in stuff of my own and we’d be at it for some years.

Then COVID-19 happened, everything got cancelled and whenever we weren’t on lockdown there was nothing to do but game, and we crammed 41 sessions into 20 months and five days — contrast with Rise of the Runelord’s 29 sessions in 19 months 20; Serpent’s Skull’s 27 sessions in 22 months 26; or Council of Thieves’ 16 sessions in 16 months, five days. If we’d been less cautious — our group size was smaller than the recommended upper limit for personal gatherings even during lockdowns — we could probably have wrapped this in January and be five books into another one. While it did mean that a campaign that could’ve been three years was done in under two, it also sometimes meant there was not quite as much prep time between sessions as I could have used. Mind you, campaign prep was a really good way to take my mind off the pandemic situation.

The game was also covered by Moreenimedia, Tampere University’s journalism students’ webzine. Finnish only, obviously. I am very happy to have been a part of doing something that’s not the same “D&D is cool now” piece that we’ve seen in a gajillion permutations over the past couple of years.

Introduction

To cover the basics, Hell’s Vengeance is a six-book campaign for the first edition of Pathfinder RPG, one of Paizo Publishing’s adventure path line. It came out in 2016, numbers books 103-108 of the line, and is the 18th complete adventure path. Its conceptual twin was the previous AP, Hell’s Rebels, where the party are heroic resistance fighters liberating their province from the yoke of the infernal Chelaxian crown. Hell’s Vengeance, conversely, is about playing evil agents of the Chelaxian crown, crushing a popular uprising. They occur at the same time, but the action in the two campaigns does not overlap — indeed, one of the reasons the uprising in Hell’s Rebels is canonically successful is that Cheliax is preoccupied with the Glorious Revolution threatening its heartlands.

There was originally a plan for one of my players to run Hell’s Rebels at the same time and then we’d have a session at the end where the two campaigns’ characters would fight, but that did not happen. There was also a plan to have the same players’ characters from Council of Thieves — which takes place in the same city as the final book of Hell’s Vengeance — encounter their new PCs and fight, which also did not happen… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Of course, this and the following blog posts about the campaign will have SPOILERS.

Since the protagonists were evil, their society was evil, and their bosses were evil, we had a few safety mechanics at play, most notably the lines and veils rule used in many games. Straight-up ruled out were explicitly mentally ill player characters and violence against children. It was also established that I as the GM wasn’t going to drop sexual violence upon any of the player characters, and while it was a thing that existed in the world, if it would occur during the campaign (which it did not), it would be faded to black, not played out. Likewise, there was a limit to how graphic we’d get with torture (which occurred a lot). Finally, it was agreed that there would be no player-versus-player fighting, with the understanding that the team would probably tear itself apart the moment they’d completed the campaign’s main mission.

The Agents

Usually I’ve written “The Heroes” there, but I felt today this would have been inappropriate. I actually grappled for a while with what to call the party in my session recaps before I settled on “the agents” (I felt “the party” felt clunky, especially in Finnish). Unusually, we had no deaths until fairly late in the campaign when such inconveniences were fairly easy to surmount, and there were only four players. So, here are our low-functioning psychopaths.

I gave the players very free rein with their character concepts, since the understanding was that this was the only opportunity they’d probably ever get to play with this material.

Gwalur of Shalatuwar / Aspexius of Longacre

The serial killer. That’s actually his class, via a vigilante archetype from Horror Adventures. Gwalur is a hobgoblin, and a veteran of the Goblinblood Wars. He was a mercenary, who then developed a whole second identity disguised as a human, who also killed oathbreakers, took off their hands, and froze their bodies with alchemy. His own hand started taking on a personality as well and towards the end became detachable and all that crap. This turned out to be a gift of Shax, the Demon Lord of Lies and Murder. Gwalur scared even me, the GM. He died fighting angels and paladins in the final session of the campaign. It is unclear if he was brought back to life.

Arabelle

The de facto leader of the group was Arabelle, a priest of Asmodeus. Priest, not a cleric — I allowed a third-party class that may or may not have been entirely balanced, and occasionally she’d just end encounters. She was Macchiavellian, narcissistic, and a low-functioning sociopath who’d lucked into being born in a society that rewarded and encouraged all of those traits. The player hit it out of the park. Every time I portrayed an NPC who was not her direct superior, I had the feeling I was being snubbed. She was killed by a trumpet archon in the final session, but was brought back to life. The player once mentioned that usually when he went home from the game, he felt bad.

Nemanja

The dhampir antipaladin of Asmodeus, a bloodsucking psychopath whom nobody could love and who was entirely okay with this fact. He was, surprisingly, not a Hellknight. Nemanja deferred to Arabelle in most things. He killed things very efficiently, and looking over my NPC list, it’s Nemanja who delivered the killing blows on most of them. The antipaladin was also very effective against paladins, since their fear aura cancels the paladin’s fear immunity. Against other evil creatures, though, he was, in the player’s words “a fighter with fewer feats”. Nevertheless, at the end of the final combat, he was the last man standing.

Vesper

Vesper was a gillman with the dress sense of a glam rocker, which was pretty much the only sense he had (though the party in general was a low-Int, high-Cha outfit, at least at the start). His class at the start was witch with the seducer archetype, and he was an omnisexual corrupting influence upon the world around him. Vesper was an oracle of lore, and rolled Knowledge checks with his Charisma bonus, also making him the ultimate mansplainer —  he knew jack shit but was always right. He later multiclassed into oracle and then into mystic theurge, and it was revealed that Vesper’s powers came from Socothbenoth, the Demon Lord of Perversion, the uncool brother of Nocticula the Succubus Queen and basically a fiendish Leisure Suit Larry. Vesper, at the end, was murdered by Nemanja, but later brought to life by his own henchman who’d absconded with his and Gwalur’s bodies in the chaotic aftermath.

Some Highlights

  • In the beginning, they were contracted to rough up the local tanner over some unpaid taxes. In the attack, a night soil collector was killed and his elderly wife knocked out. The agents were subsequently contracted to be the town’s new sheriffs, at which point they had the comatose woman, Pippa Umbre, transported to the town jail “for her own safety”. When she woke up, Gwalur lobotomized her. Because he just happened to have a masterwork lobotomy pick with him. Coincidentally. For the rest of the campaign, when they returned to Longacre, he would go to Pippa Umbre and unburden his heart about all the vile acts the party had committed, because she was the only one who would listen to her. After Gwalur’s mystic disappearance at the end of the campaign, his troupe of hobgoblin mercenaries “liberated” her from the Longacre hospice to keep her with them as a kind of a mascot and a spiritual conduit to the lord of murder that was Gwalur.
  • When, towards the end of the campaign, the agents were liberating the cathedral of Asmodeus in Westcrown from paladins, one of their adversaries who was basically a local superhero decided to flee, and capture Vesper’s henchman Avi with him. Upon realizing this, Arabelle cast a spell to kill Avi, not the near-invulnerable enemy. Of course, Avi survived and told his captors the party’s strengths and weaknesses. Lesson of the story: always treat the help well.
  • When the party was planning for a covert assault on a paladin-run prison camp, they decided it would be best done during a storm or other bad weather. I went “ok why not” and started rolling on the random weather chart, which I had never touched before. Of course, I hit the 1% chance of “windstorm, blizzard, hurricane, or tornado”, the town of Kantaria got snowed in, and they spent the rest of the adventure slogging through waist-deep snowdrifts, changing the nature of the scenario entirely.
  • In the final combat encounter of the campaign, at the very end, when the agents had slain the Lord Marshal Alexeara Cansellarion and her most powerful allies, there remained a single trumpet archon, who could finally use his paralyzing trumpet attack. Gwalur was already dead, a victim of slay living. The archon had been overlooked because trumpet archons, even advanced ones, at these levels were kinda speed bumps. Except when everyone rolls a one on their save. The archon proceeded to coup de grace Arabelle, twice, because she survived the first one, until Nemanja broke free and killed it. Nemanja then proceeded to coup de grace the paralyzed Vesper and hit the bricks with Arabelle’s body in a bag of holding.

Next time, I will be covering the first two books of the campaign and what we did with them. S’mores were involved.

RPG Research Rundown

This is the weekend of Ropecon 2021, virtual for the second year in a row. As there have been a lot of role-playing game studies books coming out in the past few years, we felt we needed an excuse to catch up, and thus was born the clunkily and slightly inaccurately named “Jukka Särkijärvi and Evan Torner Chat About Recent RPG Monographs” (there’s one book there that’s not a monograph).

I was also asked for a bibliography, so here’s the books we covered, the books we mentioned, and the books we obliquely hinted at in the program description by mystifying references like “Bowman (2010)”. You can find the International Journal of Role-Playing here, Analog Game Studies here, and as a bonus, the Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies here.

Of course, accessibility is always an issue, especially when dealing with academic publishers who price their stuff for institutions, not private individuals. Some we bought, some we received straight from the authors, some we wrested from the jealous grasp of university libraries. DriveThruRPG carries a lot of the McFarland books, but not all of them. Some are entirely or partially free downloads, and I have linked to those. I can only wish the best of luck to those embarking on the same journey.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2010. The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity. McFarland. Link.

Carbonell, Curtis D. 2019. Dread Trident: Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Modern Fantastic. Liverpool University Press. Link.

Deterding, Sebastian and José Zagal. 2019. Role-Playing Game Studies: A Transmedia Approach. Routledge. Link. Open access articles.

Fine, Gary Alan. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. Link.

Grouling Cover, Jennifer. 2010. The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. McFarland. Link.

Hedge, Stephanie and Jennifer Grouling. 2021. Roleplaying Games in the Digital Age: Essays on Transmedia Storytelling, Tabletop RPGs and Fandom. McFarland. Link.

Henriksen, Thomas Duus, Christian Bierlich, Kasper Friis Hansen, and Valdemar Kølle (eds.). 2011. Think Larp. Rollespilsakademiet. Download.

Jones, Shelly (ed.). 2021. Watch Us Roll: Essays on Actual Play and Performance in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. McFarland. Link.

Kamm, Björn-Ole. 2020. Role-Playing Games of Japan: Transcultural Dynamics and Orderings. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.

Loponen, Mika. 2019. The Semiospheres of Prejudice in the Fantastic Arts: The Inherited Racism of Irrealia and Their Translation. PhD thesis, University of Helsinki. Download.

Mackay, Daniel. 2001. The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art. McFarland. Link.

Mizer, Nicholas J. 2019. Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Experience of Imagined Worlds. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.

Mochocki, Michał. 2021. Role-play as a Heritage Practice: Historical Larp, Tabletop RPG and Reenactment. Link.

Montola, Markus and Jaakko Stenros (eds.). 2008. Playground Worlds: Creating and Evaluating Experiences of Role-Playing Games. Ropecon ry. Download.

Montola, Markus and Jaakko Stenros (eds.). 2010. Nordic Larp. Fëa Livia. Download.

Peterson, Jon. 2020. The Elusive Shift. MIT University Press. Link.

Saitta, Eleanor, Johanna Koljonen and Jukka Särkijärvi (eds.). What Do We Do When We Play? Ropecon ry. Open access articles.

Schallegger, René Reinhold. 2019. The Postmodern Joy of Role-Playing Games: Agency, Ritual and Meaning in the Medium. McFarland. Link.

Seregina, Usva. 2016. Performing Fantasy and Reality. PhD thesis, Aalto University. Download.

Seregina, Usva. 2018. Performing Fantasy and Reality in Contemporary Culture. Routledge. Link.

White, William J. 2020. Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge, 2001–2012: Designs and Discussions. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.

Williams, J. Patrick, Sean Q. Hendricks, and W. Keith Winkler (eds.). 2006. Gaming as Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games. McFarland. Link.

Additionally, I have been working on a series of articles for the Loki role-playing webzine about many of these books. Only in Finnish, I’m afraid.

Tivoli on Crowdfunding!

The Finnish role-playing game Tivoli is up on the Mesenaatti crowdfunding platform. Written by Kristel Nyberg and illustrated by Ninni Aalto, it’s a Powered by the Apocalypse game set in a circus or a carnival, and looks good. I haven’t played it, but it does look very promising. There’s currently an actual play video on Twitch from last Sunday, run by the designer herself.

There’s still 12 days left on the clock, and the game has already funded, but there are two stretch goals of interest. At 5,000 euros, there will be a Swedish translation, and at 7,000€, an English translation.

The Magician! Art by Ninni Aalto

The setting in Tivoli is co-created by the players. The game provides a loose framework, but the details are up to you. The test games featured such intriguing settings as a small family circus in rural Finland in the 1980s and a space amusement park built in the cargo hold of an old space freighter visiting far-off colonies. One of the players takes on the role of a facilitator, directing the discussion on world building, asking questions and making suggestions. There are also suggestions for settings in the book if you want to start right away!

The game is also of personal interest to me because — besides both Ninni and Kristel being friends — I am also running a circus campaign, Pathfinder 2E’s Extinction Curse adventure path. The two games are very, very different, but their view of the circus seems to be fairly similar — at least based on what I’ve seen — a place of refuge, a found family, and the place where the magic happens. Now that I think of it, they’re basically the only role-playing game treatments of carnivals outside the genre of horror that I can think of (I mean, there must be others but I’m only drawing Ravenloft, World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu).

And now’s your chance to have your own copy! And if the translation doesn’t fund, at least you’ll have an interesting game in an exotic language and a warm fuzzy feeling for patronising the arts.

Interviewed on Legends & Lore!

Since Sampo Haarlaa and I cannot leave a campaign that ended thirteen years ago alone, we were interviewed yesterday on the Legends & Lore show on Twitch about Living Greyhawk and what we got up to in the Principality of Naerie. It was a part of their ongoing series of Living Greyhawk interviews with Circle and local Triad members. It is really important work, because for a campaign of such size — of tens of thousands of players and thousands of released modules — it vanished very swiftly. The scenarios cannot be distributed, the Yahoogroups are gone, the old RPGA forums are offline with only spotty Wayback Machine coverage, and the association itself was dissolved in 2014. Greyhawk Online is doing valuable work by archiving some of the old regional homepages.

It was a megalomaniacal project that rather got away from its creators. It was too big to be controlled and too lively to be contained, and the creative spirit in it was sometimes intoxicating. It was far from perfect, but it was unique, and it was ours. The world will not see its like again.

Anyway, here is the interview. I had great fun, apart from the real-world sports interruption at Sampo’s end towards the conclusion. For context, the Danish player Christopher Eriksen collapsed on the field in the Denmark — Finland game at the UEFA Euro 2020 (yes, 2020) tournament and had to be taken to the hospital. His condition is stable.

Playing ALIEN, or, How I TPK’d the Entire Party

The ALIEN Roleplaying Game came out in 2019 from Fria Ligan. It was a bit of a surprise – on one hand, it felt like a likely very expensive, major license, but on the other, there was also the feeling that the more recent, very unfortunate movies had kinda killed interest in it. Certainly, I felt like that Alien’s very specific mode of survival horror in space was perhaps too narrow a frame to support the classical approach of putting out a big rulebook, adventures, sourcebooks, and an introductory boxed set. That’s the stuff you want in a long campaign, but long campaigns imply characters stay alive. This is Alien. People don’t do that here.

However, Fria Ligan makes quality stuff, so when the opportunity came to play, I jumped on it. Also, it’s not as though there’s anything else to do these days than play roleplaying games online.

We played the Starter Set’s introductory adventure Chariot of the Gods. The venue was Foundry VTT, where you can buy modules with all the necessary stuff already set up. I find it helps getting used to a new system when the VTT does half the work for you and tells if your roll was a success or a failure. Voice and video we got through Discord. Playing virtually also had the crucial advantage that we could send secret messages to the Game Mother without the other players seeing us pass notes, which can be a very important part of ALIEN.

ALIEN uses Fria Ligan’s house ruleset, the Year Zero Engine, used in Mutant: Year Zero, Tales from the Loop, and the rest. Basically, you roll a pool of six-siders and sixes are successes. Failure is very common, which fits some games better than others. It fits ALIENs desperate survival horror very well.

The following, of course, will have SPOILERS for Chariot of the Gods. Proceed at your own risk.

ALIEN has two game modes, Cinematic and Campaign Play. Campaign Play is exactly what it sounds like, while the Cinematic mode has pre-written adventures with pregenerated characters, each with their own secret agendas. They’re long enough for a one-shot or a mini-campaign, and at least Chariot of the Gods lived admirably up to the “Cinematic”. The first session, our approach on a derelict ship in the dark between the stars, our exploration of its frozen corridors and disused laboratories, was straight out of the movies. Of course, this was also because that’s what we as players were there to do, so that’s how we played it. The characters were archetypical and easy to fall into – the crew of the Nostromo, basically.

We also observed a shift in style in the later sessions. After we had explored the ship, the fear of the unknown dissipated, and once we had fought some monsters and discovered them to be dangerous but killable, we went from playing Alien to playing Aliens, as it were.

The scenario also had an act structure, which governed the characters’ secret agendas that shifted as the situation escalated. Some of the goals were mutually exclusive and drove player-versus-player conflict. The corporate liaison, for instance, is pretty much Burke from Aliens. Oh, and one of the PCs is a secret android (because of course there is a secret android!) whose Act III agenda was to kill everyone who knows too much and stop any xenomorph crap from reaching Earth. Which I then proceeded to do. I think that was the first time I’ve effected a Total Party Kill from a player position. And it was total, since after shooting the corporate liaison and putting the other two crewmembers in cryostasis, I started the ship’s self-destruct sequence. No survivors, great game.

It was interesting to play a game that not only allowed lethal player-versus-player conflict, but was also designed to spark it. The Cinematic modules are such self-contained stories that they can allow for frequent PC death. There are also plenty of NPCs that can serve as replacement characters, and Story Points carry with the player and aren’t lost when your space trucker gets disembowelled by something that came out of the air duct.

One thing I am not entirely certain about was how the android worked in the narrative from the viewpoint of the other players, because our debrief was very brief indeed. From my point of view, it worked well, because I knew all along that my character was a synthetic, with double sets of agendas. For the other players, it just suddenly turned out in the third act that the roughneck Cham isn’t Cham at all but a synthetic, and then he shot Wilson and told his name was really Lucas, and then the story was suddenly over. I think there was little in the way of foreshadowing, apart from some players having realized that one of us must be a secret android because this is ALIEN and there’s always a secret android.

I think ALIEN also somehow redeems Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. I do not think they are good movies (to be frank, I think they should’ve quit after Aliens). However, Prometheus has a mythological gravity to its setting. While it doesn’t really work in the context of the previous films in the franchise and feels like Ridley Scott pulled it out of his hat, the ALIEN Roleplaying Game uses that mythological aspect to great effect and synthesizes it with the bug-hunting marines and space truckers of the original movies. Your crew may be just working joes hauling stuff from one colony to another for a paycheck, but they are doing it across the awful majesty of deep space. You might be a down-to-earth colonist on the final frontier, just wanting to make a living, but that earth is not yours. There are terrible secrets at the edges of the galaxy older than life on Earth, and they do not want to be discovered. Alien didn’t need to ask the question of why the xenomorphs exist, it just needed to have them there so hijinks could ensue. Prometheus… also really didn’t need to ask that question, but it did, and that’s why we have a setting to explore. I’m not sure we had that before Prometheus. Certainly the previous attempt at making an RPG of the franchise flopped hard. Then, the 1991 Aliens Adventure Game was also based on the ruleset of Phoenix Command, so it was never destined to widespread appeal.

I kinda want to run this myself, now. The idea of a longer campaign appeals to me less and I am already running three of those, but a series of adventures in the Cinematic mode, with conflicting character agendas, chaos, carnage, and few survivors, sounds just great.

Giant Space Hamster in Pathfinder 2E

The second edition of Pathfinder has been out for a while now. Those of us who can cope with online gaming have had ample opportunity to get to know it – seriously, I got in around 60 sessons last year. It plays a bit different from the first edition, but under the hood it is very different. Pathfinder 1E was descended from D&D 3E, and the core conceit was that the PCs and monsters run under the same rules. This made designing for it easy (not simple, that’s different). The underlying logic of the system was clearly visible. In 2E, conversely, monsters and NPCs run under their own system. There is less complexity but it’s more of an art than a science. It can still be learned and understood, but it takes practice.

So here’s a giant space hamster.

GIANT SPACE HAMSTER————————–CREATURE 3
N—-LARGE—-ANIMAL
Perception +9; low-light vision, scent (imprecise)
Skills Acrobatics +9, Athletics +10, Stealth +7
Str +4, Dex +1, Con +3, Int –4, Wis +1, Cha –1
——————————————————————————-
AC 18; Fort +12; Ref +9; Will +6
HP 55; Immunities disease
——————————————————————————-
Speed 20 feet, burrow 10 feet
Melee ◆ jaws +10, Damage 1d10+6 piercing
Melee ◆ claw +10 (agile), Damage 1d8+6
Swallow Whole ◆ (attack); Medium, slowed 1 and grabbed, Rupture 8

Larp Crowdfunding Things!

There’s two larp-related crowdfunding campaigns live right now that I thought I should highlight.

First, with twelve days still on the clock, there’s the scriptbook of the Norwegian larp Just a Little Lovin’. I played in the Finnish run in 2018, and it was a powerful experience. The larp is a masterclass in designing for emotional impact. It is about three consecutive Fourth of July celebrations during the early years of the AIDS crisis, about friendship, death, and desire.

The other campaign is Engines of Desire: Larp as the Art of Experience, an essay collection by Juhana Pettersson, up on IndieGoGo for a few more weeks. It is 460 pages long and contains 31 articles and essays. Nine of them are new to this book, the rest collected from larp books and other publications from over the years. I proofread the book, and it is marvellous.

Both books have already been funded and the latter is basically finished already, so it’s a sure deal!

Stalker – Le Jeu de Rôle Crowdfunding!

The French translation of Stalker — The SciFi Roleplaying Game has entered crowdfunding stage on the Ulule platform. It’s being published by La Loutre Rôliste and translated by Charlotte and Christophe Dénouveaux. At the time of writing it’s been up for some six hours and is 29% into its 10,000€ funding goal with 31 days to go, so I’m optimistic about it. The translation is, by my understanding, based on the English translation by yours truly. They’re aiming to have the goods delivered in December 2020, which feels a bit optimistic in the current situation, but I’ll believe them on the PDFs. It’s been in the works since 2017, so at this point I expect the work is done and all that remains is the part that really needs money to move around.

The project looks gorgeous, with all new art in full colour by Tania Sanchez-Fortun. While the stark monochrome of the original and the English version serve the game’s tone and atmosphere, there’s something to be said for going all in on the production values. The preview pictures look like it’s a hardcover, too.

And they have a trailer as well.

Knights of the Dinner Table and Self-Loathing

Early this year, before the world went all the way to hell, back when we still met people, a friend dropped off his entire collection of Knights of the Dinner Table at my place. This amounted to about 40 Bundle of Trouble trade paperbacks, all five Tales from the Vault collections, a few other collection books, and where the paperbacks tapered off, single issues up to around 240’s.

So I did what any self-respecting geek does and began reading, while taking notes.

The strip itself started in 1990, intended as filler for the Shadis magazine, and kicked off in 1994 as a monthly comic book which is still ongoing. The first Bundle of Trouble collects the first three issues of the magazine. The first eight Bundles of Trouble are stapled, but from the ninth book onward they are perfect-bound. Starting from Vol. 12, they compile four issues of the magazine each.

Here are my observations after reading the first book.

So.

Um.

The comic tells of a gaming group in Muncie, Indiana. The Game Master is B.A. Felton, who’d like there to be role-playing in his game. Brian, Dave, and Bob are hack & slashers to the core, and will kill everything they meet. In the second issue, they are joined by Sara, who’s also capable of diplomatic solutions. Nobody ever talks in character. I understand Bob, Dave, and Brian are based on certain people Blackburn knows, while Sara is a composite of many female gamers of his acquaintance.

It’s been drawn once. There’s a wide shot of the table and the players, a couple of close-ups, and some variation on these themes that’s then copied and pasted into comic strips. These are short tales, a couple of pages long at the most, about how something goes wrong. Half the time the players threaten each other or B.A. with violence and in several instances they actually come to blows. It’s like looking at some secluded tribe that never came up with the idea of non-violent problem solving. What I don’t get out of this is why these people would spend time with one another or play role-playing games. They don’t seem to be having any fun, ever. The strip is missing the love of the game that’s intrinsic to the success of, say, The Order of the Stick.

The jokes are so worn that the stories would be disturbingly familiar even if I’d never read KotDT. The first story in the book is a retelling of “Eric and the Gazebo”. There’s a larp story, where Dave and Bob go to a vampire larp and start dressing up goth and wearing makeup and piercings, because larping is weird. There’s the story where Sara joins the group, Brian doesn’t dare talk to a girl, and Dave is a tedious sexist. Sara solves the situation by threatening Dave with violence. There’s a story where the players go play with the infamous Nitro Ferguson (or Furguson, or Fergueson – Blackburn never settles on a spelling) while B.A. is away. Nitro runs an adventure based on Deliverance and Bob gets traumatised by what his elf experiences. He no longer wants to play the character. This is played for laughs.

In the editorials and the collection’s introduction, there’s a running theme of fans finding their own experiences and their gaming buddies in the situations and characters of the comic. In a way, I kinda also do, but in these characters I see all those people I’ve had to ban from gaming clubs and online spaces. The image of gamers in KotDT is suffused with the self-loathing that characterizes American nerd media, which makes most of this stuff entirely unbearable (see also The Big Bang Theory).

It will be interesting to see how the book’s portrayal of gamers changes with the times. Three down, 237 to go.

As the Clock Strikes Midnight: The Finnish T2Kv2.2 Timeline in English

After my previous post, people asked me if I might translate this strange and exotic version of the timeline to English (and also if I might translate the sourcebooks, to which the answer is that if someone handles the rights and pays me a fair wage, sure). And so, because fiddling with it took my mind off more pressing stuff that needed doing, I did.

The text is frankensteined together from paragraphs the original and my translations of the bits from the Finnish edition. It tapers off before the end because the last few years of the timelines are identical and in 1997 and 1998 there’s very little that was added and nothing removed. The year entries before that are reproduced in full to show where material was cut as well as replaced or expanded.

This is a translation produced purely for purposes of scholarship and no challenge of anyone’s copyright is intended.