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.

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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.