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I have just been chewed for attempting to analyse the role and status of modern philosophy from an outsider's point of view. Apparently I am not allowed to draw conclusions on the effect of modern philosophical thinking on my everyday life since I have not studied philosohpy. Then again, studying it would invalidate my point of trying to observe it from outside (and thus free from the mental constraints of) the philosophical community. I was let to know that I am pathetic since I am an academic student drawing conclusions from his own prejudices and hearsay, while lectures on the topic (and what the philosophical community sees as its role and status in the world) are open to all students of my faculty.
*Sigh*. People always get mad at me when I try to comment on anything other than roleplaying issues. And my guess is that soon they will get mad about my views on roleplaying as well.
The new editor of Alterations, an RPG fanzine published by Alter Ego Society, has stated that the fanzine will have two audiences; one comprised of Art-Deco LARPers and postmodern pen&paper RPGers (I am still trying to figure out what all that means in practise), while the other group consists of people like me, conservative (and stagnant by implication) old-school roleplayers not aspiring to reach new intellectual heights and or constantly experimenting with new (postmodern?) roleplaying methods and genres. I used to think Stalker as a fairly experimental game but it seems I was wrong.
He also had a ton of article ideas for the first group, most of them about sex in P&P roleplaying games. However, he did console me with these words:
Jos lehteen nyt tuleekin joku artikkeli jota et ymmärrä niin kyllä siihen yritetään saada myös jotakin yksinkertaista ja perinteistä.
(Even if the magazine may have some articles that you can't comprehend, we'll also try to find something simple and traditional.)
Well, isn't that nice?
Thank you SO much.
Merry Christmas to all my readers, regardless of their denomination.
No jobs for me this year, and with only one on-going recruitment prospect, the next year does not look too hot either. I've also applied for a position as a fantasy translator at Jalava; not exactly a step forward in my career, but a job nonetheless. And I may come to like it a LOT if the stars are right.
Maybe I think too much of myself, but I have also been thinking about writing a book of fantasy short stories, set (obviously) in Jaconia. I already have "Old Dog" and I have plotlines for about a dozen more, based mostly on my adventure designs, or events in my now concluded Praedor campaign "LootEm". If they come out any good and Petri OKs them, offering them to Jalava for publication would not be too absurd of an idea.
Once again, I am thinking about closing Burger Games down. It is end of the year, the time for bureaucracy and tax reports and I hate both. The feeling is mutual; tax officials have always been suspicious about Burger Games, since commercial entities are supposed to make profit.
I've also toyed with the idea of having Praedor translated to Russian. I don't know anything about the status of roleplaying in Russia, but the coolness factor would be immense.
I thought I was invited to Conklaavi to give a presentation on Stalker, but apparently I was wrong. The person who invited me told to contact another member of the Conklaavi administration. Excited by this honour bestowed on me, I sent the email immediately, but he never replied. I guess I'll have to check on them later, but should any of you Conklaavi administrators read this, please get back to me.
I belong to a small and elite inner circle that is yet to be named. We are the enlightened, the giants of mind, the gatekeepers at the entrances of other worlds, and envoys of strange races from beyond our universe. Too lazy to be movie scriptwriters, too stupid to be new-age gurus and too impatient to be novelists.
We are the Finnish RPG Designers.
That is right. We are The Idiots, who devote mental and material resources to writing and publishing roleplaying games for the Finnish RPG scene. If I try to think it as anything other than a spiritual calling, it feels so stupid I want to cry. And in case any of you forgot your brains in the fridge, the first lines were sarcastic. Look it up in the dictionary if you don't know what that means.
To enter this elite circle you need to have written and published something commonly recognised as a roleplaying game, and that is still being played. As far as I know, the current members of this circle are myself, Nordic, MikeP, RPR, and quite possibly Ilmari Virtanen (the author of THOGS). I am also awarding an honorary membership to Gniko, as I consider him to be a serious designer, even if he has not published anything yet. Perhaps there are more but they are just hiding from me.
What do we benefit from this membership? Mental income, I'd say. It is nice to have a fan base (however small) and to receive credit from your hard work (and financial investment). In addition, handsome Legolas-impersonators like MikeP get to sign their names into the butts, breasts and inner thighs of very sweet LARPer girls (If you missed this at Ropecon, just go and see what he has written about it in the RPG-Net). I am SO jealous! Oh well, my fanbase is largely male; perhaps I should only be grateful that they haven't asked me to sign their butts...
I'll probably be writing RPG stuff as long as I live (at the current rate publishing, it means there might still be 10-15 more games from Burger Games, assuming that the hobby itself survives that long. Compared to many other possible hobbies, I find this type of writing and creating to be relaxing, educational and not unreasonably expensive. I may throw something like 1400 euros into the wind to produce a print run of a game, but doing that once in three years isn't much when compared to golfing and travelling abroad. Besides, you might actually make little profit every now and then.
What I am about to tell you is highly unofficial, out-of-record and will never appear in any supplement or other material concerning Praedor. It has not been approved by Petri and he would not approve it if I asked.
All fantasy settings, whether in novels, films or roleplaying-games, are built on analogues of ancient and medieval Earth. Every now and then someone claims to have come up with something completely original, and it is true that in some settings (like Jaconia) these Earthly influences have been very well disguised. But they are there and any student of history and political history can dig them out. I trust that you all concur and no further explaining is necessary.
Jaconia does not pretend to have any relationship with Earth, but I think the analogues are there, affecting the way I interpret the different realms and cultures when acting as a gamemaster. And in my campaigns (and in my opinions) I use the following analogues:
Given that most of my readers do not amuse themselves by studying cultural history, these analogues may be difficult to understand. It is also true that most times the connection with the realm and era stated above is dubious at best. However, using analogues likes these makes it easier for me to improvise cultural details, habits and behaviour. I often make a point of bringing out the differences that exist between the many realms and peoples of Jaconia, even if the culture of the Northern Realms appears fairly uniform at first.
Today is the third anniversary of Praedor. It was published (read: first appeared in stores) on 8th of December in 2000. I had promised to get it out before the end of the year and succeeded, if only barely. With Myrskyn Aika to compare with, the 600 copies of Praedor sold this far don't seem that much of a success, but it is still 400 copies more than what we expected, so we (me and Petri) have every reason to be happy and proud about it.
Over the years, the biggest surprise has been the popularity of the Praedor rules system. While I am in love with the setting and it defines the game as "Praedor" instead of "generic fantasy roleplaying game", many clients have purchased the game just because of the rules and have converted them to Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun and whatever. Sales of Praedor comic books have also improved after publishing the game. I thought the game would ride on the back of the comics, but it turned to be the other way around.
Speaking of comics; now that the supplement is still in the works, the comics provide the best supplemental material to the rulebook there is. Koston Merkki is especially valuable in this regard, as it covers a wide range of topics and locales. Kuninkaan Lapset is an action-oriented dungeon adventure in Praedor style, and probably quite close to what most treasure-hunt adventures in the game would look like. It also contains excellent presentations on how to handle monsters in combat. Kuolleen Jumalan Palvelija is a more difficult case. The cityscapes and streetscenes from Galth are valuable, as are the numerous descriptions of civilian and sorcerer clothing. But while I find the furniture in Federac's Castle extremely intriguing, I don't think all gamers share my enthusiasm for the art of fictional cultures.
On a sadder note, Nordic the Incurable has decided to quit his column Peliluola in Pelit magazine. This is especially sad news for me, since Peliluola was one of things that made me take interest in roleplaying games in the first place (it was in Mikrobitti back then). Furthermore, without Magus, Claymore, Feeniks and now Peliluola, the Finnish RPG media has effectively ceased to exist. While I am fond of Alterations fanzine published by Alter Ego Society, I would still prefer to have a publication for the entire Finnish RPG scene. For one thing, it would make advertising (which I detest) much easier.
It appears that somebody actually reads this.
After the previous rant Mike Pohjola emailed me his suggestions on providing more geographical and antropological information about Jaconia. Although I don't share all his views on gamemastering and what is or isn't essential when describing a pen&paper RPG setting, he had many good points and I always enjoy exchanging views and opinions on game design with someone who is "on my level", so to speak. And despite our differences, I would heed him on this, if Jaconia were my world. However, it is Petri's world and all of you who want me to do this or that with it should keep that in mind. Any published information on Jaconia has to be cleared by Petri and while I have provided most of the "meat" in Praedor World Book, certain things have been included, excluded and changed as a result of his control.
The tone of the text and the level of detail in World Book had to be acceptable to both of us. I was in favour of a more detailed approach and perhaps singling out a couple of cities or territories for a closer look. Petri wanted to retain his artistic freedom (while we agreed from the start that Petri could override anything stated in the rulebook at any time, no artist likes to do that and Petri will avoid, if possible, in future publications). The resulting compromise is somewhere between R.E. Howard's description of Hyboria (the setting of Conan stories) and the description of Empire and Old World in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game. I then made use of the cultural uniformity of Northern Realms and added stuff like "Jaconian cities". While I am not impartial reviewer, I am quite happy with the result and found that all in all, Praedor actually holds more setting information than any of the fantasy roleplaying games I had played before.
However, browsing through the customer feedback, I noticed that many of you are at loss as to how people dress, what kind of jewellery they wear or what is the city architecture like. Well, I didn't describe the dresses of different cultures and social classes down to the last detail, or write page after page about the architecture of cities dating from the time of the Sorcerer Kings. And you know why? There are more than 100 illustrations in Praedor, with about 60 of them portraying cityscapes, adventurers, nobles, low-born, barbarian tribesmen etc. Many of you have commended those pictures and then completely ignored them, thus missing an immense amount of information on Jaconian landscape, people and culture. Praedor is one of the best-illustrated RPGs out there and we put those pictures there for a reason. Now use them, people!
Seriously, as Praedor is an RPG based on comics, it was only natural to make it a highly visual experience. Not only are parts of World Book in comic book format, but the whole idea of the layout and appearance is to have a balance of information between texts and illustrations. While texts can describe motion, chronology and on-going processes, pictures are "snapshots" taken from Jaconia and Borvaria, and are usually about the topic just discussed in the text. There are very few "portrait"-style pictures (just a person or an item, no background and the subject is posing for the artist). Most of the pictures have detailed backgrounds and show people doing things, be it fighting or just events from daily life. Unfortunately, it seems that roleplayers are unaccustomed to informative illustrations in their rulebooks and tend to pass them as just eye-candy. Maybe we should have done the whole rulebook in comic book format.
In contrast, Stalker is based on a novel. While I am not turning down any informative illustrations, the emphasis is on textual descriptions and there will be far fewer images. I have also discussed the style of the illustrations with a potential artist and decided that a less realistic approach might be in order, perhaps something similar to the highly symbolic art of Frank Miller's Sin City comics. Stalker does not have to be easy to approach or suitable for beginners. And in many ways, it all feels very liberating.
The reason there will be a supplement for Praedor is that I promised I'd make one if the game makes any profit. Well, it did, and certain individuals won't leave me in peace until the supplement comes out. The reason why it has taken so long is the lack of inspiration. I had emptied my mind and soul onto the pages of the rulebook and I just didn't have anything more to say about the subject. And so three years (on 8th of December it'll be exactly three years since Praedor came out) went by.
In three years I have regained some of that inspiration, mainly by running a long Praedor campaign that ended on the last days of November. Now that Stalker is on a hiatus brought about by the humiliating compromise about the concept and nature of International Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures, I've tried to bury myself into Praedor. I have been writing "the kind of stuff you find in RPG supplements"; rules options, clarifications, new weapons, new applications for combat skill, more detailed maps and descriptions of a region or two, and so on.
Personally, I think it's a load of crap.
There is nothing in the supplement that any gamemaster worth his salt could not find in existing fantasy RPG supplements, or could not come up by himself. Praedor is a pen&paper RPG and the world of Jaconia is malleable; I have a vision of it, but it is no more correct than the vision of any other Praedor gamemaster. Petri has the exclusive right to publish his vision, but still, there isn't and never will be any control over the individual GMs planning their campaigns and adventures. In short, once you have bought the game, its applications are no business of ours, as long as you are not breaching our copyright. And we might overlook even that if you don't do it commercially.
Two days ago, I described what the current content plan for the supplement looks like. Right now, I feel like deleting everything and ritually sacrificing my computer in atonement for my misguided pride. The only things possibly worth writing down are adventure seeds (NOT fully written adventures; everybody can do them). The perfect supplement would be a 200-page collection of adventure ideas, similar to those given in the rulebook and perhaps grouped according to their geographical location. That, and the information given in the rulebook is all I would need. Ironically, that is the kind of supplement that no one would buy.
I have been writing the kind of supplement people like to buy: new weapons, new tricks, new rules. More rules for everthing that gamemasters should be able to work out by using their heads. Maps of duchies and cities. Perhaps an image or two of rulers and other people of note. More details for Deep Wound injury tables. Patching up some holes in the game system that all gamemasters have already sewn up with various house rules. Rules and numbers, when it should be brains and drama. Mike Pohjola was right: P&P RPGs are far too wargamish, at least after a supplement or two. Make no mistake; I like having a rule-oriented, numerically powerful game system. I just don't like adding tiny details, corrections, tweaks and special cases to it. You already have gamemasters for stuff not covered in the rules.
And Burger Games doesn't sell them.
I just got back from Helsinki City Theatre where Circus Maximus performed their latest play "Stalker". Since I am so hyped-up by the concept, it is difficult to write an objective review of the play. But I'll give it a try.
Many of the things that fascinate me in the book (and in the setting) were there, which is a good thing. And while the semi-scientific debate acting as both an introduction and a narration to the events was poorly acted, it was well-written and touched many of the topics and concepts I've been thinking about. I am also going to adopt some of the terminology, namely the classification into exo- and endogenetic artifacts.
Most of the Zone scenes, created with strange sounds, coloured lighting and actor movements resembling slow modern dance, were excellent. I would not have thought of it but it worked... up to a strange and boring scene at the end, where Red's daughter, father and Red himself imitate each others' movements while watching a bizarre display of images on the back wall of the stage. I got the feeling that the director could not decide how to end the play and did a scene that will make the audience wish for the end.
All in all, 2 out of 5. I was sold, but only because I am so fascinated with the concept of Stalker. For everyone else it must have been a mediocre play, although not without its share of brilliant ideas and high points. The script was good (apart from the end), but the performance of actors varied from "decent" to "awful". For 18 euros per ticket that simply won't do!
So much for the play. Now we return to our regular programme:
After making the hated compromise on the nature and role of Institute in Stalker RPG, I decided to take a break from it. I am now focusing on the long-delayed and still unnamed (any suggestions?) Praedor supplement. I have made good progress and this is the current plan for the supplement content:
I think I'll complete the "books" first, including finding some decent art for them. Luckily I have a few (although somewhat neglected) illustrator contacts for the supplement.
It is three o'clock in the morning and I should be in bed. Oh well, there is nothing to get up for tomorrow. I've stopped counting the days I've been unemployed.
Sam Lake paid me a visit and signed my copy of Max Payne 2. I wish I knew how to draw comics or work the MP2 level editor. I came up with a story arc about a bad-ass African-American gangster nicknamed "AK" and I think it would work beautifully as an action-adventure comic, or an oversized mod for MP2. Alas, I just don't have the skills. I don't know if I can write it down as a novel either, as my knowledge of ebonics (which is what AK would speak) is sorely lacking. Not enough rap music, I guess.
Besides lamenting all the things I can't do, I've been doing things I can do.
Now that my long-running Praedor campaign (nickanamed LootEm) finally ended, it feels like I have extra fantasy resources available for other projects. I have been adding a LOT of new stuff to Praedor supplement. I still don't know when it is going to come out, but it'll be one hefty package when it does. Duchy of Alabar is almost completed, but I am contemplating doing another close-up of a suitably interesting region, writing a couple of more "books" (like Fighter's Book and Seafarer's Book) and creating a really long and complicated adventure that will also be the nucleus of my next Praedor campaign. All this requires an "ok" from Petri but I don't expect it to be a problem.
As for Stalker, I agreed to a compromise between realism and Strugatskys' global visions. Institute is now a semi-independent entity operating on an international scale. I hate it. Not only are they a combination of MIB, Gestapo and X-files, they are too obviously the bad guys. I detest settings with preset heroes and villains, but this time it seems unavoidable. While any GM worth his salt can handle the Institute with proper atmosphere and finesse, it remains the weakest link of the setting. Maybe I am not such a good game designer after all.
Pilman's Radiant runs around the globe at 44 degrees and 15 minutes northern latitude. According to the novel, all Zones are located along this parallel. After toying with the idea, I dropped it. I wanted to make the Zones as different from each other as possible, both in nature and in geography. Besides, the idea of having a Zone on every inhabited continent backs the otherwise shaky theory of Visit, implying that there really is some kind of a plan or a purpose behind the Zones, sinister or benevolent.
I hear it all the time: "Matrix: Revolution sucks because the idea is so crazy! Underworld sucks because the vampires are much more powerful than that! (or alternatively: "because their power levels do not seem logical!")." I even hear calls for a script when the plotlines of the two movies are some of the most complex and interesting I've seen in their respective genres.
When I am watching a movie with strong fantastic elements (be it urban fantasy as in Underworld or science fantasy as in Matrix 3), I certainly do not question their logic or correctness. They tell of a different world with a different set of rules. I think the very meaning of fantasy is to show something that does not or even cannot exist in the real world.
Why an Earth should I be able to understand, let alone measure the strange events taking place and the strange powers that are being used? Is there a some kind of universal standard as to what a vampire can or cannot do, or how the machine world/matrix relationship really works? I think not!
Am I alone? Am I the only one who can enjoy fantastic events and settings just as they are, without making useless comparisons to our world, our technology, our mythology and our expectations? There are good fantasy films and there are bad fantasy films, but they are one or the other only within the framework of their setting and genre. In My Humble Opionion, of course... (humble my ass).
Now that I got that off my chest, there are some good news:
Solmukohta have finally got at least part of their act together and the event will take place at Hotel Matinlahti in Matinkylä, Espoo. Yes, that's bad, but it could have been far worse. In contrast to everything they've said so far, the organisers have now defended the "universal" nature of their event in the newsgroups. I don't buy it, but it is actually possible that final programme will have a universal feel to it. But if so, it'll be more "despite" than "because" of the organisers. The new homepage of the event is http://www.ropecon.fi/solmukohta/, but at the time of writing I could not get it to work. The date is now confirmed: from 19th to .22nd of February in 2004.
Stalker is gathering fame! Now that Circus Maximus theatre troupe is performing "Stalker" in Kaupunginteatteri, both Johnny Kniga newspaper and Helsingin Sanomat have mentioned, even if only briefly, that Burger Games (or Burgergames in Helsingin Sanomat), is making a Stalker-roleplaying game complete with the permission of the surviving author, Boris Strugatski. Now, if I only got that bloody Institute sorted out...
...my view of action-oriented roleplaying will never be the same. Perhaps there really is a niche for games like Haven: The City of Violence, where the events portrayed in Kill Bill would be completely everyday affairs. I fear that the action scenes of Matrix:Revolution will feel pathetic now that I have been reminded what pure action could (and should) be like. Conveying a sense of feverish speed and rampant chaos of a great cinematic battle is very difficult in roleplaying games. I guess I'll just have to practise a lot.
Yesterday, I placed an order for the fourth print run of Praedor! It should arrive in stores (or a least in Fantasiapelit stores) in a week or two. I don't know if Puolenkuun Pelit wants more books, but they usually know what they are doing so I'll guess they would have emailed me if they wanted more. Speaking of Praedor, I also added a page to the long over-due Praedor supplement yesterday, but I fear that as long as I have the excuse of not having received all the city maps from my mapmaker, the text portion will never get finished. My Praedor campaign is also approaching the end of its story arc. Maybe if I get an inspiration for another fantasy campaign, all other tasks related Praedor get a push. At the expense of the development of Stalker, though.
By the way: Unemployed but hopeful, day forty-three.
Unemployed but hopeful, day forty-one.
I can't understand why people complain that Max Payne 2 is too short? For people like me, lousy players with the reflexes of a garden slug, it was of perfect length and provided entertainment for several days. I just can't believe that some people actually finish these things without cheating a little. I take pride in the fact that this time the only cheat I needed was getting extra painkillers. Usually my skills dry up half-way the story arc and I have to godmode action games through to see the end. This time the end was very different from what I had expected, but it was still pretty good.
If you are reading this, you have already noticed that the webpage got a facelift. Problem with maintaining a website is that you just have to change everything every once in a while. After an agonizing checkup it finally seems like I've got everything working again. This Notebook has now officially replaced the old News section (as if I ever had anything important to tell).
Speaking of news, I've been wondering if the Solmukohta roleplaying event will ever happen. So far they have messed up everything. First they announced in the newsgroups that Solmukohta would cover all forms of roleplaying, albeit from a more academic angle than Ropecon. Then, at Ropecon X, they announced that it will definitely be a LARPing event, and the only concession to pen&paper RPGs is that some of the topics discussed at presentations may be applicable to both forms of roleplaying. On their webpage they are not taking a stand on the issue, but boldly declare themselves to be "the leading Nordic roleplaying convention", even if Ropecon is way bigger, covers also pen&paper RPGs, has a clue, and is actually helping to finance Solmukohta. Out of pity, I guess.
But wait! It gets even better! (Or worse)
Solmukohta is supposed to take place in January or February 2004, but it is already November and they still haven't announced the date, let alone the programme! Even if I wanted to go to this supposedly all-LARP event, I might not be able to because I can't book it up. You can just imagine how difficult this is for people planning to travel from outside Finland. Also the location of the event is still unknown as they have difficulties finding a suitably large place at such a short notice (surprise!!!).The most recent rumour filtering through Ropecon Society places the event into an old school in Kirkkonummi. That's right, a school in Kirkkonummi. At least it is on the same latitude as the Greater Helsinki area. The rumour might not be true, but after all that's happened I would not be surprised.
In truth, things are rarely as bad as they look. LARPers frequently go to insane lengths to get together in uncomfortable, hard-to-reach locations. Many of them have truly amazing organisational skills. Maybe the rumours aren't true and things are actually well underway, and someone just forgot to update their webpage (and to tell their sponsors). Or perhaps the date and location are secret, known only to an inner circle of the Nordic roleplaying elite. Certainly "the leading Nordic roleplaying convention" has the right to handpick its audience. Unfortunately they seem to have excluded me.
Unemployed, day thirty-seven.
Overawed, day four. I have been playing Max Payne 2. As you know, I am easy to inspire. I wrote "Mobsters" after watching too many old gangster flicks and Operation:Half-Life after playing too much Half-Life. Now I am playing Max Payne 2, reading Sin City comics, and bursting with ideas. Fortunately many of them are somewhat applicable to Stalker as well. I don't give a damn about new polygons or a more high-tech graphics engine; Max is an old friend and I am just plain happy to see him again, and to know that he got out of the fix the first game left him. I am acquinted with Sam Lake, the scriptwriter, and I think he made a better Max (he has a very personal and somewhat impish face, which added a whole new dimension to the character and his film noir -style monologues in the first game) but I'll live with the Joe Brown-type of guy they are using now.
But what I really get a kick from is the setting, aptly named "Noir York". This is the place where Mobsters would be set if it happened in the present day. The New York of the detective novels, alive and well, frought with vice, crime and corruption. A slightly run-down ghost town of 10 million people, with enough back alleys and empty warehouses to fight a hundred wars. The distant sound of sirens is muffled by rain. Everything looks soaked, decayed and broken. There are no people, only ten million untold stories and not one of them has a happy ending. Gangsters and crooks, victims and losers... cast members in a Shakespearean tragedy, now playing on a stage of chipped conrete and rusty steel. What more can I possibly ask?
Unemployed, day thirty-five.
Today is my 30th birthday. To celebrate, I went to a job interview. If it comes to the worst I can always apply for a grant from Ropecon Society to get it printed, but what about illustrations? Or product promotion? Magazine ads? Posters? Stalker T-shirts? Bagpipes and naked dancing girls at Ropecon'04? Ok, the last one was a joke, but you know what I mean.
My official birthday bash last Sunday at Burger Games HQ was a social success, but from the game design perspective the most interesting thing was the proposal to have Boris Strugatsky as the Guest of Honour in Ropecon´04 or ´05. Very tempting, but fraught with problems.
Arranging these things takes time, so it would have to be 100% certain that Stalker will be out of the printers by next July and I can't give that kind of guarantee (what if I die or something?). With the publishing of Stalker RPG, mr. Strugatsky will become an important figure in the Finnish RPG scene, but he is and remains a novelist with very little or no involvement in the making of the game. I don't know if he would have that much to say to an audience of mainly fantasy-oriented geeks. Perhaps it would work if he was the Guest of Honour for both Finncon and Ropecon, but that would require the two conventions to be on successive weekends. Finally, he is 70 years old, would need constant supervision and quite possibly a translator (although I've been told that he speaks fairly good English). Any events planned for the poor old man should be fairly short.
Perhaps I should have Stalker RPG translated to Russian when it is completed. I have absolutely no idea what the Russian RPG scene is like (although I've been told that there was a state-sanctioned Russian fantasy RPG available in the Soviet days), but at least mr. Strugatsky would then be able to read it (and bash me with it when he finds out all the changes I've made to the original setting).
By the way, I need a job.
Unemployed, day twenty-nine.
Not much progress. I have been toying with other game ideas to distract myself from the dismal reality. Playing roleplaying games is one way of escaping real-life troubles. Turning computer games into setting ideas and writing them down is another. You can't publish fan games, at least not commercially, but they do stimulate other game development process.
For example, I probably would have never thought of Stalker as an rpg setting if I had not written Operation: Half-Life. And yes, thinking about a military scifi rpg based on ancient Amiga space sim "Warhead" has actually given me a spark of an idea for my own dark science fiction/space opera setting I have nicknamed "Horizon". I have to write its specs down before I forget them.
I have been asked if my unemployment has affected my plans for Stalker. In the long run the answer is "no". As the publishing date for STALKER is quite far off and as a commercial release it is too weird to attract a wider crowd anyway, I don't really have to make those decisions yet. July 2004 is far-off, and if I don't have a job by then, I am in so much trouble that you probably won't even see me at Ropecon.
Unemployed, day seventeen.
About Stalker: I tore Player's Book open again. I've had this nagging feeling that players can't grasp the setting unless I explain what it is about, so I've been trying to write a little introduction to the world and setting of Stalker. Bloody difficult. I don't know if this means that the game is progressing, but at least I am adding pages. The novel does not provide any details about the "Visit" so I have been forced to invent a whole lot of stuff. Besides, my vision of how a world with Zones would really work differs from that of Strugatskis (30 years of history and the collapse of Soviet Union between the novel and the game may have something to do with this).
I have been reading Harry Harrison's Deathworld series, especially the first book. The wildlife on Pyrrhos is how I want to portray the wildlife of oases inside the Zones. However, I've also been thinking about making Zone-5 like the one where Tarkovsky's movie is set in; almost untouched by appearance, with ordinary wildlife and deadly anomalies blending seamlessly together.
Unemployed, day twelve.
Most people update their blogs once a month. Now that I am still coping with getting laid off and other troubles I've been writing a lot, but I expect to move to monthly entries as soon as I my life is sorted out. Somehow.
Finnish Tax Office attacked with a gigantic preliminary tax bill, estimated on the profit BG made last year. Well, BG has not made much of anything this year. I had to go meet the tax officials to explain that and thankfully they were all very understanding. The bill was canceled and all I have to deal with are flashbacks from the mind-numbing panic I felt when I first opened their letter. I really need to get a job. I am going insane if I don't.
No progress on Stalker. The character creation system is there but I really, really, really hate the equipment list and somehow my un-inspiration shows through from every list I've created. The contents of the equipment list affect the way stalkers look when entering the Zone, so it is not as trivial even from the role immersion point of view as some of my friends think. On the other hand, I am thinking about scrapping the encumbrance system. Keeping track of encumbrance is fine and nice in a roleplaying game with medieval armour and weapons configurations, but in a modern-day game like Stalker, who cares? I just have to re-design the character sheet without it.
There's a bunch of new and old inspirations I wrote down to get them out of my head. I don't expect any of them being ever finished. One of them is Stormzone, my endless quest for a mecha rpg set on Mars. Somehow, whenever I try to write down how the Stormzone setting works, my beautiful plans for corporate conspiracies and epic battles seem to lose their steam and stall. Another is Empire, effectively Syndicate Scorpio 2.0. I've been mentally experimenting with taking the dark future genre a step further, away from cyberpunk into science fiction, and a fully globalized world without nation-states or boundaries. Actually I like the setting introduction I wrote, but I just can't seem to get started on character creation. It's like I had nothing to say.
Third is a wacky concept that awoke from age-old slumber last night. Warhead was a brilliant hard-sf space combat simulator for Amiga by Glynn Williams (who later went on to write I-War series, which are also pretty awesome games). I am a great fan of War of the Worlds and Starship Troopers, and had long entertained a notion of a tactical/action roleplaying-game set in the world of Warhead. It would explore other than spaceflight aspects of the setting. While the storyline for Warhead centres strongly around one theme, the setting itself is surprisingly complex and whole. Along with great gameplay, I think it to be the best Amiga game I ever came across. What happened last night was that I came across a web page where the contents and graphics (pretty simple) of Warhead were preserved in HTML format, including the wonderful pilot's introduction into the causes and policies of the FoE/Sirian war.
In an RPG version, the characters would be FoE soldiers from different operations wings and form an NDI strike team. Since the basic NDI strategy combines first human exploratory missions beyond Solar System with military reconnaissance and seek-and-destroy patrols, the adventures would take the form of missions. Let's take a typical mission: "Sirian communications signals have been detected from System X and orbital observatories have determined the overall layout of System X (star type, major planets, significant anomalies). Proceed to System X and find out what kind of Sirian activity is taking place."
This mission would involve interplanetary travel, radio observation, possibly following a Sirian spacecraft to a space station and spying the space station by using a nearby asteroid as a radar cover. Characters would notice how transports from the planet dock and take off from the station on regular basis. They would then land on the unknown planet below (in a location beyond the planetary horizon), perhaps encountering hostile native life forms. They would then trek through alien jungles to find a Sirian surface base, infiltrate the base to learn its purpose, trek back to their ship only to find that a Sirian patrol has discovered it but are too dumb (low in numbers) to decipher its purpose. They would have to fight the Sirians to get it back and then flee for their lives, hoping to reach the Quad-capable military transport vessel sent to meet them without being intercepted by Sirian A-wings. It all makes a pretty decent scifi/action adventure.
As some of you already know, I have written a mini-rpg based on Half-Life and some of those ideas have wormed their way into Stalker as well. Other non-RPG computer games which I think would make decent mini-RPGs are Red Faction, Thief, I-War series and the like. Browsing the web I have already found rpgs from Starcraft and an especially fine Starsiege: Tribes roleplaying game that really made me see the computer game in a different light. Computer games are increasingly new gamers' first contact with science fiction or fantasy. I think is angle has been overlooked when promoting roleplaying as a hobby.
I sounded awfully mysterious in the previous entry, so maybe it is time to come clean. Ever since hearing from Myrskyn Aika and the concept of using P&P gaming and LARP as equal play methods, I've been thinking about some other setting that would benefit from access to both mediums. SCION is a very old game idea of mine, first written down with the name KRYO. It tells of a semi-distant future where Earth has been hit by an undefined catastrophe. Centuries later, descendants of the ancient elite that once took shelter in underground vaults and orbital arcologies have established their own exclusive high-tech society, living in the clean if also artificial enviroment of domed neopolises, a sort of futuristic cities. Genetic engineering and selective breeding has created bloodlines, "noble families" that reach back hundreds of years. Genetic purity defines one's standing in the sophisticated by also decadent neopolitan society (ever seen the movie "Gattaca"?). While genetically superior, the neopolitan society is starting to decline, as only certain bloodlines are entitled to leadership and in a society of robots and clones the lesser nobility has no real function.
Outside the domes lies a ravaged world and the Tainted, descendants of those who could not take shelter live in slums around the neopolises, supplying them with cheap labour and resources. Communities away from the large centres are agrarian and regressed to 19th century technology. Finally the ancient catastrophe has had mutative effects and many of the children born to Tainted parents are mutants, and expelled out into the wasteland where they will either die, or become part of mutant tribes (or packs if they have regressed too far). It is a feodal society enforced with a technological monopoly. By controlling knowledge of science and industrial processing, the nobility has near absolute control of lower social classes.
Neopolises and the noble houses that control them are competitors and make and break alliances, arrange marriages between bloodlines regarded to be sufficiently advanced, and fight wars over resources, territory and sometimes principles and honour. Much like medieval fiefdoms. It is questionable whether there are enough resources left to sustain all neopolises, so the struggle is becoming more bitter and divisions between different neopolises are deepening.
SCION is a semi-secret organization, or a spiritual movement, or whatever, that transcends political and to some extent genetic boundaries. Although it comprises of many sects with different aims (ranging from educating the Tainted to creating an artificial race of superior beings), it can also act as a faction and power in neopolitan politics and culture. Although it might be outlawed in some places, for most the world membership in SCION is a coveted position and there are endless layers and inner circles within inner circles the members can advance to. Some sects accept Tainted members, but for the most part SCION is exclusively a noble society. In this technofeodalist world SCION is like the Church, an almost omnipresent force that waxes and wanes with shifts of political climate, but can never be ignored. Characters come from many background and bloodlines, but working for and within SCION enables them to work together.
I am not saying I would write SCION, but when presented with a game and concept such as Myrskyn Aika, this was the first game concept that came into my mind. Why am I telling it here? Well, perhaps I am just hoping that someone will take up my idea and see it through.
Unemployed, day three. I would have never thought that deciding what is private and what is not would be this difficult. My sentiments towards being unemployed are pretty obvious: worry, uncertainty, fear for the future and bitter disappointment at broken promises made by the employer when I was recruited. From the game design perspective it makes me want to shelf Stalker for awhile, even if the game development is not yet in a stage that would require any capital. It just feels like the very dream of getting it illustrated and published is now too expensive.
I've also reconsidered the recommended location for Stalker adventures. My original idea was to focus on a single Zone, in this case Zone-2, which effectively cuts Great Britain in half. It wasn't a bad idea. To a post-holocaust freak like me the idea of turning modern European cities into alien wasteland was absolutely enthralling. Let alone the idea of Borderlands, the cities and burroughs along the edge of the Zone turning into half-abandoned twilight zones of gangs, mutants and strange phenomena. Stuff that dreams are made of. However, what is good for me isn't necessarily good for the game.
Most players aren't post-holocaust fans and not all adventures in Stalker take place in the Zones. Offering all six Zones (and some selected rumours of Zone 7) and their surroundings as possible settings brings the exotique of foreign countries and cultures into the game. Just getting to Zone-5 can be an adventure in itself and given the differences in terrain and population density, the Zones can also be made different. They are all alien, strange, inexplicable and deadly, but each would have a flavour of its own. This is not a big change in the sense that everything I have planned for Zone-2 still goes, but now more Zone-specific stuff could be published as PDF-supplements later on. It would also make the setting correspond to the novel more closely, as Zone-1 in Canada can be made an exact replica of the Zone portrayed in the novel, while other Zones can have different characteristics.
I've wondered why I like the game system of Myrskyn Aika so much and the reason is that it reminds me of Syndicate. There is the same random value range, the same generic approach to difficulty levels and so on. However, Syndicate is effectively freeform, while Myrskyn Aika does retain perceivable game mechanics despite its simplicity. Of course, there are lot of things I'd do differently, even for a rules-light game, but if I have to take a breather from writing STALKER, doing a new, lighter version Scorpio might be in order. And then there is this "secret project" I mentioned earlier.
I was laid off from my day job! Yes, that is going to complicate things!!! The publishing schedule for Stalker just entered Twilight of the Gods. No money, no illustrations, no printing, no game. I can, and I must, hope that I will find another job soon, but if I don't, Stalker is going to be a private RPG that is locked in a safe, except when I take it out to play with my friends. Of course, I could go crawling before some other publisher with it, but that would kill my spirit even if it saved my wallet. Besides, it is going to be a rules-strong A4-sized game book, but a rules-lite RPG disguised as a novel. And nobody but me touches the layout!
Well, the world doesn't end here and I've always managed to land on my feet. But really, if you need a technical writer and want to see Stalker on the shelves, hiring me is the solution to both problems.
I have just finished the character sheet and now we can playtest the character generation process. It looks like I am going to have plenty of time organizing it, so it is not all bad...
I have survived the party and did not overeat, although I did break my low-carb diet and sampled some of the cakes. It's amazing how posh this apartment actually looks like, with antique furniture, wallpapers mimicking Byzantine palaces, and freshly polished wooden floors. Burger Games HQ has suddenly turned from a student-box joke to a quite presentable home office. Our apartment is actually large enough to organise small events for friends and associates, such as table-top gaming nights, discussion groups, game theory presentations and the like. I am not saying I will do it, but the option is there.
My blog seems to have survived its first night in the webl and there has been some very thought-provoking feedback concerning Stalker in the newsgroups. I am, of course, referring to Eero Tuovinen's idea of using manipulated photographs as illustrations. It is a very interesting idea and one I am definitely going to consider. At present, it has three drawbacks:
One: I have serious doubts about the image quality. BG games are printed with digital printing press and the image quality corresponds to that of a good b/w laser printer. There are four different shades of grey (determined by the size of the ink dot) and other hues are created with dot patterns and are often rather coarse.
Two: Artistic quality. I have an extensive library of roleplaying games, including some that are illustrated with fake photographs. Most of the pics are bloody awful. Swedish cyberpunk game "Neotech" is the exception that makes the rule, with pictures ranging from ok to very nice. I know where to find a good photographer, but good models and convincing props are a different story.
Three: Is there a real benefit? I would still need to work with an artist to plan the pictures and incorporate special effects or bizarre creatures. It might be more cost-effective to commission all the art from the artist and skip the photos altogether.
Of course, my standards for RPG illustrations are very high and finding sufficiently high-quality work at acceptable (read: very low) rates is not going to be easy. Finding an artist who would agree to work for a share of the profits (if any) would solve many of these issues, but I would expect that not many artists are willing to take that chance, especially with a fringe-market RPG like Stalker.
Did I already mention that I hate marketing? Some of the stuff I write for living is marketing material and I am sick of it! My games would sell better if the public were more aware of them and the only way to do this is marketing. There is actually quite a lot you can do without money, but every time I think of game-related publicity stunts, hyped-up advertising and cheap tricks to get my games mentioned in the mass media, I feel dirty. Soiled by lies and greed. Still, now that the commercial success of Myrskyn Aika has opened the floodgates for bigger sales projections and print runs, I don't have any choice, do I?
Well, I hope this blog is a good start.
It looks like I'm about to lose may day job (again), which will definitely have impact on everything else. If anyone reading this is in need of a seasoned technical writer (you can check out the details here), mail me.
On a more positive note, I've been chatting with Mike about little something I might do during breathers from writing Stalker. It is basically a new setting for Myrskyn Aika, a setting more to the style of Burger Games. No promises or details are available at this point. Sorry.
Here we go. My first entry. This can't be the most stupid thing I've ever done, but I am still pretty nervous about it. For a roleplayer I have had more than my fair share of spotlight, but I am still scared to death before every public presentation. I wonder why no one seems to notice. My post-Ropecon television interview (Mike Pohjola was the star, I was probably supposed to be the comic relief) took my stage-fright to new heights, but all who have commented on it told me that I looked calm and relaxed compared to Mike. I did not notice anything wrong with him at the time, but later, when I watched the interview from tape, I noticed that he began blinking his eyes at some point. The interviewer immediately shifted his focus on me, sparing Mike from any further close-ups of his face. Other than that, the interview was a very positive and I think both of us did very well.
That was almost two months ago.
Tomorrow, our new apartment will be the setting for a birthday party for my girlfriend's mother, with 30 or so visitor's (her relatives) expected to arrive. Her mother came down from the north a week ago and has been staying with us (forget the in-law jokes, she is really a nice person), but all this fuss and all these extra people I find here when I get home from work is making me nervous. Now that the party is finally drawing near, stage-fright has set in again and I can't get anything gaming-related done to calm me down. Unable to write STALKER, I decided to write a blog. Not as pretty or deep one as those of my friends, but a freakish weblog by a freakish game designer. By the man who sells manuals and hates marketing. Maybe I am writing this to cope with my stage-fright. And it is not a private thing, mind you; you can see it in my eyes whenever I rise to speak in Dipoli Auditorium, or respond to fans' questions about my games and the choices that made them the way they are.
I heard that Myrskyn Aika is selling well and I am happy for it. Of course, losing the monopoly on Finnish RPGs (at least the ones you could take seriously) is a bit annoying, but it was bound to happen, and the sooner the better as far as the scene is concerned. There has been also heavy criticism of the game and it is justified to some extent; Mike has written a lot of LARPs, but the dynamics and focus of a pen&paper RPG setting are different.
What I mean is that when you are writing a LARP, you are describing a specific event within the overall setting, and your description of the event is what makes people consider signing up for it. The overall setting can be vague or stereotypic, as long as the event is not. In a pen&paper RPG, the gamemaster will come up with event after event anyway, and the decision to the play the game depends on finding the whole setting interesting and intriguing. It is misleading since a good GM can make almost any setting worth playing, but to attract players to a pen&paper setting it just has to click. Despite all the detail, Valenor feels too much like vanilla-high fantasy to tempt pen&paper players to try it out.
So what do I think of Myrskyn Aika? I love it!
Although I am bad at using them, I feel strange attraction to rules light game systems. With little tweaking (or if Mike had had more experience with P&PRPG rules design) its damage system would be absolutely brilliant! I don't like Valenor as a gaming world, but I still like the quiet sophistication of it, created with a combination of detailed world history and the excellent cover image. The very concept of using live-action and pen&paper play as equal components, and that it is possible to switch back and forth between the two mediums with the same character, is a stroke of genious. It has been tried (and probably done) before, but never productized. I don't know if it is a possible to get rich with Finnish games, but Myrskyn Aika definitely breaks new ground. If Mike keeps doing games, or manages to rouse p&p gamers' interest with suitable supplements (or alternate settings), Johnny Kniga may well have struck gold. Whenever I take a breather from writing Stalker, I am thinking of doing something freaky with the Myrskyn Aika game system.
STALKER... slow and steady. I have actually written and scrapped the character generation system many times over, but I feel it is finally turning out right. Also deciding the layout has been something of a struggle, but now that is working fine as well. Since I have no illustrations at the moment and there is no use in contacting the artists before I know if I can keep my day job (how did you think I was financing this venture?), I have left blank spaces for illustrations. Stalker will have quite a lot of pictures, although not as many as Praedor. Deciding the theme of the pictures is difficult. I like to have illustrations that are like snapshots of the setting and where people are doing things. Well, since Stalker is set in the contemporary world, people do pretty much the things they do in in the real world.
I have to find some other angle, since not all pictures can be from the Zone.
Equipment list gives me headaches. Everything available in the real world is also available in STALKER, but a system using encumbrance limits needs an equipment list with item weights for quick reference. There will be a short equipment list with only the kind of stuff a stalker might have with him when he ventures deep into the Zone. Since the game presents Zone-2 in Great Britain as the primary setting, the currency used is Great Britain Pound (£). One pound equals roughly 1.5 euros or dollars.
The role of Sisukkuus (Willpower) has been expanded to include skills benefiting not only from courage and determination, but also from the ability to concentrate, to focus on what you are doing. As a result, skills that in Praedor system would have had a fixed default starting value of 6 are now divided between VAL (Perception), SIS (Willpower) and KOU (Education). I hope that the player base agrees with me on this, but only time will tell. Sisukkuus is hard to define as a concept. Maybe "Mieli" (Mind) would serve the purpose better.
When I finish the equipment list and complete the early design for a character sheet, it is time for the first playtest session. I will give playtesters copies of the character creation section and a character sheet, and they must both create a sample character and give me feedback of the system.
Well, that's enough for now. Let's see when and if I have time for another entry.