Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

A Game Per Year: Villains and Vigilantes (1979)

Friday, January 11th, 2019

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

Villains and Vigilantes is a superhero roleplaying game from 1979. I read it from a facsimile edition published in 2016 with a new preface explaining some of the original context of the game. Jack Herman, one of the game’s original designers along with Jeff Dee, talks about how they started with making a superhero hack of Empire of the Petal Throne, and then gradually pared away the elements of the older game until they had their own design.

This is the first roleplaying game I’ve read during this project where the title used for the person running the game is not Referee or Judge but Game Master. This has since become pretty much standard.

Another interesting first is a genre formulation. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I encounter this in a superhero game as the tropes of the genre tend to be more artificial than in many other genres. In this game, it’s defined as following the dictates of the Comics Code, the comics industry content code which sought to limit the types of stories, images and characters you could have to forestall external censorship. The most important tenet for Villains and Vigilantes is that you can’t, in fact, play a villain.

In terms of roleplaying game design, Villains and Vigilantes has one extremely interesting idea. When the players first come together to play the game, the GM is instructed to create characters with them based on themselves but with super powers. So I would play Juhana Pettersson with powers.

The method for determining the stats of the character is that the GM assesses these based on their knowledge of the player. It even says not to be too lenient with giving high stats. So the GM would look at me and go: “Hmmm… Kind of dumb looking. Let’s say Intelligence of seven.”

After the base character has been created with this method, superpowers are then randomly rolled from a set of tables.

After the players have played one game or campaign with themselves as the base characters, the next ones are not avatar-types but completely fictional. Thus, there’s design to guide how to change the nature of the game as the players get more experience with it, another first.

The aesthetic of reality is also extended to how the GM builds adventures. The game suggests two sources of inspiration: Marvel and DC comics and the nightly news. The idea is that the GM can just pick a topical real event and insert the superhero characters there.

A Game Per Year: The Arduin Grimoire (1977)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

The covers of The Arduin Grimoire and its two successors.

The Arduin Grimoire is in many ways a watershed in my project to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. It’s the first I’m reading not published by TSR or its predecessors and it’s also the first to position itself against the existing field of roleplaying games.

In its preface, the Grimoire describes it self as an indie-style work of rebellion against the stultifying world of Big RPG. That’s quite amazing, considering that in 1977 roleplaying games have existed at all for just a few short years!

The Grimoire is also different from its predecessors in a more philosophical way. Every game I’ve read until this has felt like an exploration of new territory, designed to push the boundaries of what this novel artform can be. In contrast, the Grimoire very concretely concerns itself with the creative space already mapped out by Dungeons & Dragons. It doesn’t seek to expand territory but rather examine some of its characteristics in more detail.

Designed by David A. Hargrave, who’s described on Wikipedia as “one of the best Gamemasters”, The Arduin Grimoire is essentially a D&D hack. It’s impossible to understand without knowledge of D&D and some of its references go back to Chainmail. Yet I think it’s justified to call it a roleplaying game of its own because it brings a definite new sensibility and punk attitude to the game its riffing on. My feeling is that when it was published, it was usable by the community because the D&D basics it relies on were such common knowledge.

The book contains rules for combat, new character classes, monsters and spells. In short, the standard stuff of roleplaying game books. There’s a lot of commentary on how different aspects of D&D should be understood, making it almost like a series of auteuristic annotations of the common holy text of D&D.

All the games I’ve read so far have been made with the goal of creating a good, playable game. Reading D&D or Metamorphosis Alpha, this seems the basis of the design despite its anachronistic nature. The Grimoire introduces a new design goal: “realism”.

Hargrave approaches this theme with a certain commitment. He talks about watching people fight with medieval weapons at the SCA and using those insights in his game design.

The results of this approach of trying to make the game realistic tend to make it massively more clunky. For example, if the enemy attacks from the front left of a fighter holding a shield with his left hand, the fighter gains a bonus to his defense but a minus to his attack. It makes sense but when you have a thousand little rules like this, combat becomes a muddle.

I have personal experience with this: When I was maybe fourteen, I was playing AD&D 2nd Edition. Like so many of us in the early Nineties, I believed that increased complexity would make the game more “realistic”, and therefore good. Adding things like hit locations and fatigue to the game eventually slowed things down so much that one fight could take an evening to play out. The spectacle of our wizards and elves fighting purple worms on the Astral Plane must have been very realistic indeed but it was not good roleplaying.

This is the direction The Arduin Grimoire points at. It was published in 1977 and history shows that it was a harbinger of decades of adventures in game design where simulating aspects of reality is the top goal.

Here’s a post about The Grimoire that has useful historical context and perspective.

A Game Per Year: Metamorphosis Alpha (1976)

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

The front and back covers of the 1976 edition of Metamorphosis Alpha.

To be honest, my first choice for 1976 was the Watership Down -inspired Bunnies & Burrows, but I was unable to find a copy. Because of this, I went with my second choice, the scifi game Metamorphosis Alpha. Perhaps this was a good thing because this was a quite interesting game!

Metamorphosis Alpha differs from the games I’ve read so far in that it has a very tight, clear focus. It’s not a sprawling mass you can use to make endless campaigns but a clear package offering a definite experience.

The story of the game is that in the future, humanity sends vast colony ships to other planets. Since the voyage is so long, these ships with populations in the millions are like mini-worlds unto themselves. As always happens in these stories, something goes wrong. Radiation kills most of the people aboard and mutates many of the rest. As a result, onboard civilization collapses.

The characters are humans, mutants, animals or plants who have been born to this environment and set out to explore it. The game is a big sandbox which offers two interesting things:

1 – The ship. The game details the tools, the robots, the levels, all the things that you find as you explore the vast space vessel. Although the game is based on the classic model of exploring physical spaces, killing monsters and finding treasure, the treasure can now be an access band allowing movement from one level of the ship to the next.

2 – Character creation. The characters in Metamorphosis Alpha can be quite bizarre. A telepathic vine is a reasonable starting character, as is a hyper-intelligent armored bear. The radiation has mutated all the biological samples on board and they’re all playable. What’s more, the system takes a reckless approach to powers, throwing things like time travel around quite casually.

Like the games I’ve read so far, this one suggests one Referee (or Judge, as the game sometimes calls it) for a maximum of 24 players. (“More the merrier”, it says.) There’s a system where human characters can accumulate followers, meaning that the character group can get quite big. The example of play is between the Referee and the Caller, the leader of the player group.

Based on reading the game, it seems best suited for one-shots or short campaigns where the chaos of the setting is allowed to bloom, all the game systems and world elements interacting in sandbox-style blissful anarchy. Perhaps because of this, there’s no level system to account for experience. It doesn’t seem like the game would go on long enough to need one.

Reading this and the previous game, 1975’s Empire of the Petal Throne, I’m struck by the explosion of creativity around roleplaying games immediately after their inception. So far, it feels like there’s so many new ideas in every game.

A Game Per Year: Empire of the Petal Throne (1975)

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

Empire of the Petal Throne is the world’s second roleplaying game, if Dungeons & Dragons is the first. It was first published as a manuscript edition in 1974, the same year D&D came out, and then in 1975 as a proper boxed set with maps and everything.

I’ve noticed a phenomenon where a roleplayer decides to explore the early days of the artform, just like I’m doing now. They read Chainmail, are confused by D&D’s first edition and fall in love with Empire of the Petal Throne.

This happened to me too. There’s simply something beautiful about it.

Empire of the Petal Throne holds the distinction of being the first roleplaying game with a proper campaign world, the world of Tékumel. It’s not content to be a generic fantasy roleplaying game but strikes out to make a unique artistic statement. Perhaps because of this vision, its strengths still shine through despite the archaic nature of its design.

The game’s designer M.A.R. Barker is a Tolkien-like figure, a university professor and scholar of ancient languages who invented the world of Tékumel long before the roleplaying game came to be. Like all good designers of fantasy worlds, Barker came up with invented languages which feature prominently in the game. At first, they make the game seem foreboding and difficult to grasp but you get used to their rhythms surprisingly quickly.

In a comment at the end of the game book, Barker says that a key part of his motivation for making the game was that he felt traditional fantasy worlds were boring. Why not have something inspired by the other cultures of the world beyond the European ones?

So what’s the story of Empire of the Petal Throne? What do you do?

The world is a science fiction / fantasy hybrid, a future where humanity has colonized an alien planet which has then suffered civilizational collapse. Because of this, there are humans as well as alien monsters and sentient beings. The great cities of the world have vast dungeons under them from earlier ages. In terms of style, the layered history of Tékumel brings to mind Medieval Arabia or India.

At the start of the game, the characters are foreigners who have just arrived at the city of Jákall. Because the local people are super racist, the characters are forced to do menial tasks, undertake dangerous missions and otherwise do things the locals don’t really want to do.

As their fortune and power grows, the characters become grudgingly accepted into local society, eventually building strongholds and amassing retinues.

The basic structure of the game where the characters explore dungeons, grow powerful and start constructing something is familiar from D&D but this time there’s a cultural context around it. There’s a lot of interesting worldbuilding as the game sets out rules for inheritance and even taxation (1% of character assets per month).

As a published game, Empire of the Petal Throne is complete in a way D&D is not. It provides a good picture of what you’re supposed to be doing, explains the mechanics of play well and even has an example dialogue between the players and the Referee!

As a side note, the game also features what I’m pretty sure is the first LGBT character in roleplaying games, Mnekshétra, the “Lesbian Mistress of Queen Nayári”.

Looking back at the history of roleplaying games, the position of D&D is unassailable. It’s the first roleplaying game. However, there’s something in the artistic vision of Empire of the Petal Throne which makes it seem much more compelling as a precursor to the kind of games we do now.

A Game Per Year: Dungeons & Dragons (1974)

Friday, December 7th, 2018

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

Cover of Men & Magic, one of the three booklets in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

The first roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons in its original 1974 edition! For 1974, I actually had a choice between this and the manuscript edition of Empire of the Petal Throne, but I felt I couldn’t skip the game that started it all.

The original edition of D&D is strange to read because many of the conventions of how roleplaying games are designed and presented are not in place yet. My favorite is the way the text refers to “adding pips to the result of a die”. In modern games, you would express this like so: 1d6+1, meaning roll the die and add one.

This is a set of rules for the purposes of playing a game where each player controls one character, under the watchful eye of the Referee who runs the game. The characters explore dungeons and wilderness environments, kill monsters, find treasure and beat challenges. Or run away to lick their wounds and fight another day.

Reading the three booklets of the game, it feels as if the designers were collating rules notes for the use of their own scene. There’s no explanation of play culture so you end up guessing what it might be like based on small hints.

Some of those hints are quite confusing. At one point, it says that the optimum player/Referee ratio is 20/1.

At this point in its development, D&D doesn’t contain everything you need to play. It often refers to Chainmail, even in basics like combat. It also uses another earlier publication, Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival. Wilderness adventures in D&D use the other game’s map.

The basic assumption in D&D is that the Referee plans a dungeon (recommended depth: 12 levels) and the player characters explore it. They can return to the same dungeon over and over again and it can contain pretty much anything from a monster lair to a bowling alley.

When not dungeoneering, the characters build castles and towers. They hire people to work for them. These hirelings are expected to participate in adventures, so the adventuring party can consist of dozens of people.

Because the rules are so spartan, it’s fun to see what kind of things get an extended treatment. There’s a complicated system for enslaving dragons and even selling them. Another pet subject is intelligent magic swords that can take over their wielders. Rules for aerial and sea combat are also provided.

D&D clearly doesn’t describe roleplaying as we understand it today, but it’s also hard to see the specific outline of how it worked forty years ago. It feels as if to properly get it, you needed to be a wargames aficionado at Lake Geneva in 1974.

A Game Per Year: Chainmail (1971)

Friday, December 7th, 2018

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

The cover of the 1975 third edition of Chainmail.

There’s only one real starting point for a project like this, the original Chainmail miniatures strategy game from 1971. It’s not a roleplaying game at all but as a precursor for what came later its value is undeniable.

Designed by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrin, Chainmail is a collector’s item nowadays. Embarrassingly, I had to start my project by cheating as I couldn’t find a PDF of the 1971 original. Instead, I read the 1975 third edition of Chainmail. From what I understand, it’s otherwise the same as the original except for a wider selection of spells.

Chainmail is a 48 page booklet of dense rules text. Despite this, it was surprisingly easy to read even for someone like me, with no familiarity with wargames. The simulation of medieval military conflict is the main subject of the game, with rules for engagements between units as well as exotic stuff like sieges and tournaments.

In hindsight, an important element of the booklet is the Fantasy Supplement, an appendix with extra rules for fantastic elements like magic on the battlefield. Chromatic dragons which later became a mainstay of Dungeons & Dragons are already present.

Still, Chainmail’s focus is on historical warfare. The foreword expresses the hope that the game would inspire an interest in studying history in the players. Some historical features, such as Landsknecht-soldiers seem to loom at least as large in the imagination of the authors as fantasy elements do.

Non-Digital: Itras by – the Menagerie

Monday, October 1st, 2018

The Menagerie is a supplement for the Norwegian roleplaying game Itras by, created by Ole Peder Giæver and Martin Bull Gudmundsen. However, if you’re familiar with roleplaying game supplements, this is definitely something else. As befits the surreal nature of Itras by, the Menagerie calls into question the very meaning of expanding on a published roleplaying game.

I have a lot of love for Itras by. A highly literate yet light roleplaying game set in the dreamlike city its named after, the original core book played with mood and prose, guidance and suggestions much more than banal game mechanics.

In 2009, I acted as the publisher for the Finnish translation of the game, under the title Itran kaupunki. A key motivation for me to have the game translated was so I could read it myself. It hadn’t appeared in English yet and I didn’t read Norwegian. It proved well worth the effort!

The Menagerie is a feast of contributions from a large variety of different designers, writers and illustrators, all coming together to offer their own take on Itras by. In addition to being material you can use to run games, it’s also a masterclass in game design, peeling back the layers of decision-making that go into making any particular choice.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jason Morningstar’s article Itras by Without Itras by. In it, he goes through the deck of cards the game uses as a tool for inspiration and resolution of events. He demonstrates how it can be used in other contexts and what kind of effects different modifications create.

It’s also a wonderfully heterogenous book. Roleplaying communities have an unfortunate tendency to devolve into depressing little cliques who all hate each other, but the Menagerie boasts contributions from a highly disparate group of people, both geographically and in terms of design style. There are Norwegians and Poles, Americans and New Zealanders, Storygames alumni and OSR aficionados.

The book even includes complete games based on Itras by. An example is Grimasques by Banana Chan, a freeform game demonstrating that good design and focus on a single element of the Itras by world can produce something very clearly defined even in this surreal environment.

For me, two of the most affecting chapters in the book came at the very end. Martin Bull Gudmundsen has a beautiful personal essay reflecting on his own background, Asperger’s syndrome and the particular nature of surreal game design. He also wrote a short fictional text together with Itras by co-designer Ole Peder Giæver as an allegory about making a game like this, a suitable ending to a book full of strange wonders.

Non-Digital: Analog Game Studies vol. 2

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

I’ve read the second of the Analog Game Studies books in my quest to catch up on the series. You can check out the book here or read the articles here.

After the introductory first book, this second volume is where the series really gets going. It feels like in addition to being collections of articles about non-digital games, the series also engages in trying to define what “analog games” means. Reading this book, the divide into digital and analog games feels arbitrary, yet also necessary to carve out space for all the types of games that often get excluded from discussions of games.

The book starts strong with veteran boardgame designer Bruno Faidutti’s essay Postclonial Catan. In it, he subjects European-style boardgames to a postcolonial analysis, writing from his own perspective as a designer of Eurogames. To me, the interest of the essay lies in not just the analysis, but also on the design perspective on why Eurogames seem so full of national stereotypes, often cringeworthy.

In other articles, reading Anglo-American writers about Eurogames is strange because it reveals such deep cultural fissures. For example, there’s a critique of Eurogames like Settlers of Catan in that they avoid violence as a subject matter. This creates a false representation of history because when you remove violence from colonialism, for example, and reduce it to nothing but trade, you whitewash historical crimes.

This critique is obviously totally sensible! Yet the rule against war and combat is ingrained in me from my own childhood, from how my mother and father and the worldview I learned at home. The idea that family games should be violence-free is something that makes sense to me on a gut level. It feels shocking to read it being talked about so casually, as if it was just some weird European quirk.

Closer to my home field of roleplaying games and larp, there’s the article Out of the Dungeons: Representations of Queer Sexuality in RPG Source Books by Jaakko Stenros and Tanja Sihvonen. I’d seen it years ago at Ropecon in presentation form, but it was interesting to read it properly. Queer sexualities have been dealt with in roleplaying games in a messy, often weird way, and I remember some of the specific examples from my own roleplaying history.

The idea of roleplaying or larping with an audience has kept recurring in different contexts through the years, from art galleries who wanted art larp to be audience friendly to the modern phenomenon of roleplaying as a YouTube spectacle. There’s three excellent articles in the book which expand on this in ways that make me think our previous conceptions of the subject have been simplistic. These articles show that if you really want to do this, roleplay with an audience, there’s a whole art to it.

The articles are Moyra Turkington’s A Look Back From the Future: Play and Performance in Biosphere 2013, Sarah Lynne Bowman’s Connecting Stage Acting, Role-Playing and Improvisation and Lisa Quoresimo’s Joy and Meaning in Theater Games. What I especially like about them is the basis in actual experiences with this kind of work.

This is another great collection, well worth your time. The only real issue with it is that the articles were originally posted online, and a few contain references to illustrations or other features not included in the book.

Non-Digital: Slowquest and Roleplaying Game Culture

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

I was at the Helsinki Comics Festival recently, lured in by the promise of roleplaying game related indie stuff. The Australian illustrator Bodie Hartley was there with a series of little booklets published under the title Slowquest. They’re interesting because while they are not roleplaying games, they are most definitely roleplaying game culture.

My first roleplaying game was the red box edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I grew up steeped in roleplaying game culture and it has informed my practice as a designer. As a child, I read scifi and fantasy, went to cons and shook my head at the Satanic panic.

However, the actual toolbox of roleplaying games, the design concepts that make up the artform, don’t have to be connected to this culture. You can make and play roleplaying games even if you have never heard of Legolas or Shadowrun. I’ve seen this in practice on the larp side of things working with Palestinian designers, because the history of larp in Palestine comes from an NGO background rather than as an artifact of local geek culture.

My first book about roleplaying games, Roolipelimanifesti in 2005, was in some ways a reaction against the way I felt roleplaying game culture limited the design space of roleplaying games. In retrospect, it’s almost like teenage rebellion, a statement of identity against the stifling omnipresence of dragons and other genre elements.

In the years since 2005, I’ve made my peace with the culture around roleplaying games. This is good because now I can enjoy Slowquest, which is great! The main attraction are the two quest books The Goblin Guard and Meet the Wizard, choose your own adventure -style stories in which you navigate simple and funny adventure scenarios. They are simple and charming, like emanations from the collective subconscious consisting of all the cultural artifacts populating the world of roleplaying games.

Other booklets include the monster descriptions for the Swamp Goblin, the Mushrump and the Sentient Ooze. Another favorite is the booklet Some Wizards Volume I, a collection of wizards.

Non-Digital: Our History

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Me standing under a portrait of myself and those of other Finnish roleplayers. Photo: Jaakko Stenros

The Finnish Museum of Games opened a new exhibit on the history of tabletop roleplaying games in Finland yesterday. It’s wonderful stuff and I expected the feelings of nostalgia revisiting all these old things brought me. But the real surprise was in how much there was I’d never heard of before. The exhibit takes an extremely comprehensive, diligent approach to its subject, and because of this even a veteran roleplayer who lived through the era will find something new.

Verald is the only Swedish-language roleplaying game published in Finland. I’d never heard of it before seeing it at the exhibit.

From a personal perspective, it felt strange to see parts of my own history move behind the glass of a museum exhibit. Sometimes literally, as I was startled to find a character brief I’d written for another player years ago on display. It was from the tabletop campaign Tähti by Mike Pohjola, later published as a book.

Other times, the maps drawn by hand on graph paper were not from my campaigns, but they could well have been. They’re from people who started playing as kids, often American fantasy roleplaying games translated into Finnish. It’s funny to imagine what those kids would have said if told that in a few decades, their squiggles would be museum-worthy.

Many of these relics are from people who would become game designers themselves, including James Edward Raggi IV of Lamentations of the Flame Princess fame who’s old home campaign maps are now on display.

Among the exhibited roleplaying game magazines, the most amazing find was the Floppy Magazine from 1987.

This list of “killed things” starts with “1 old person”.

Designer Mike Pohjola decided to be the first to break in the table at the center of the exhibit room by spontaneously conjuring up a Myrskyn sankarit game.

From a wider perspective, the exhibit is part of an interesting process where as we grow older, we become more conscious of our own history. We want to preserve it and make it understood. It’s wonderful that the exhibit is not only about the history of games as publications, but makes a serious effort to include the actual experiences of people playing roleplaying games.

This is especially important in Finland because the emergent play culture didn’t always reflect the cultures that produced the games we started with. A young kid in Helsinki or Kouvola automatically played D&D with different assumptions than the American designers who made it.

Non-Digital: Analog Game Studies vol. 1

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

I’ve worked a lot on tabletop games this year because of my involvement with Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition, and I developed a yearning for the kind of design writing about tabletop games that we have for larp in the form of the Knutepunkt books.

As sometimes happens, it turns out this already existed, and had for some time. I found the first two Analog Game Studies collections at Gencon, and just finished reading the first one, published in 2016. It collects the articles originally published online in the journal in 2014.

This is good stuff, and I’m happy to know that there’s already a few years worth more out for me to read!

From the perspective of a reader like me who’s interested in roleplaying game design, the highlights from vol. 1 are Jason Morningstar’s article Visual Design as Metaphor: The Evolution of a Character Sheet and Evan Torner’s Uncertainty in Analog Role-Playing Games.

Morningstar’s article takes a classic design question of the character sheet and goes through his own process in developing one for the game Night Witches. Torner writes about uncertainty from many different perspectives, using published games as examples. I especially liked the consideration of uncertainty created by other players, as that’s a design space close to my heart.

Other interesting articles include Nathan Altice’s The Playing Card Platform and Sarah Lynne Bowman and Evan Torner’s Post-Larp Depression. Both felt like the kind of baseline articles about a given subject that can now be referenced in a thousand articles in the future.

The last article in the book is Lizzie Stark’s The Curse of Writing Autobiographical Games, in which she writes about designing a game called The Curse. The subject is deeply personal and the essay is a wonderful, clear example of how difficult subject matter becomes design.

Juhana @ Ropecon

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Meitsillä on Ropeconissa kaksi ohjelmaa:

  1. Tuhannen viillon kuolema -larpin con-versio lauantaina. Lisätietoja täällä.
  2. Apurahahakemustyöpaja sunnuntaina jossa käsitellään sitä miten roolipeli- ja larppiprojekteille saa kulttuuriapurahoja.

Working on Vampire 5th Edition (also: Nazis)

Monday, July 9th, 2018

I spent this spring working on the 5th edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. The first releases on the 5th edition line are the Corebook and the Camarilla and Anarch books. I’m the lead writer on the Anarch book but I also contributed to the two others.

It’s been a strange experience to be part of this because along with Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Vampire is the roleplaying game that really showed me what the medium was capable of when I was a teenager in the Nineties who had only played Dungeons & Dragons and Rolemaster. I most definitely had a Vampire phase in high school and some of my closest friends are people I originally met in Vampire larps. As we got older, we started to understand politics and now we can meet in a game or a demonstration protesting Finland’s inhuman, rightwing immigration policies.

I’ve been a fan of Vampire since childhood, so working on the new edition has definitely been a joy. The vampire metaphor is very versatile, and you can use it in many interesting ways. Despite the fact that I’ve lived with Vampire for 25+ years, there are still new things to do with it.

My involvement with the new Swedish incarnation of White Wolf (Paradox Entertainment acquired White Wolf from the MMO maker CCP in 2015) started with the Vampire larp End of the Line. It was designed by me, Bjarke Pedersen and Martin Ericsson and produced by Mikko Pervilä and Jose Jacome. The goal of the larp was simple: Put the vampire back in Vampire. Set in an illegal techno club and eventually replayed in New Orleans and Berlin, it ended up having a Diana Jones nomination.

I went on to work on two other official Vampire larps, Enlightenment in Blood in Berlin and Parliament of Shadows in Brussels. In Parliament of Shadows (created with Maria Pettersson and Bjarke Pedersen), we made an urban larp about vampiric political influence partially played inside the actual, real European Parliament, with two MEPs participating as themselves. When they started making the plans for the 5th edition, White Wolf wanted to bring the game closer to contemporary political issues, but I’d like to think they didn’t expect it to go quite this close to real politics!

An in-game situation in Parliament of Shadows, played inside the European Parliament. (Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen)

At the beginning of August, I’ll go to Gencon in the U.S. It’s always been a dream of mine to go there and going as a writer on Vampire feels pretty great!

For tabletop roleplaying games, my native scene is the one in Finland where I live. I try to follow the American discussion as well, but it’s difficult to do as an outsider. As a game designer from a small European country, it feels like being an exchange student at high school, trying to figure out all the social dynamics and hierarchies.

Sometimes it can be quite shocking. Here’s a blog post claiming that White Wolf has a clandestine agenda of secretly trying to court a Nazi audience. I’ve never worked on a high profile project like this before, so perhaps it’s part of moving to the big leagues. Still, I can’t help but be affected by this sort of thing.

Finland is experiencing the rise of the far right the same as most other European countries, as well as the U.S. Two years ago, a Nazi killed a man in broad daylight in front of the Helsinki railway station. There’s been attacks with knives and tear gas. A Finnish Nazi tortured a disabled man to death in Sweden. Far right nutjobs regularly target my immediate family because of their public political views. That’s a terrifying thing because although you think that they’re probably all talk, what if something still happens? These people live in the same country, the same city as me. I have been a committed anti-Nazi all my life, and that position has only grown stronger as I’ve aged and felt the effects of this organized hate on my family.

As a freelancer working on Vampire 5th Edition, I know enough of the internal workings of the company to be aware that I’m not an outlier. The folks at White Wolf are opposed to Nazis. As should everyone! White Wolf officially commented on the Nazi issue here and I can say as someone with an inside view that no plan to market this game to Nazis exists or has ever existed. The idea is insane, preposterous and deeply offensive.

Today, I woke up to friends sending me messages asking: “Juhana, have you started working with Nazis?” What amazes me is that the article confidently claims that White Wolf’s marketing plan is to sell to Nazis, and then fails to back this up in any substantial way. You can see this for yourself, it’s right here.

The internet is full of weird stuff, folks. You don’t have to believe all of it.

Chernobyl, Mon Amour now in crowdfunding!

Monday, February 26th, 2018

In 2016, I published a roleplaying game about love and radioactivity in Finnish, called Tsernobyl, rakastettuni. The crowdfunding campaign for the English version, Chernobyl, Mon Amour, just launched, so check it out and back it!

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #28: Hot Girls Wanted – Turned On

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

One of the protagonists of the Hot Girls Wanted – Turned On episode “Take Me Private”.

In episode five of the documentary series Hot Girls Wanted – Turned On, there’s a scene where a roleplayer introduces his regular camgirl of four years to his roleplaying game group. It’s an amazing scene, and the episode builds up the process leading to it so naturally that it feels inevitable. Tom has been Alice’s regular, and pays for her to fly to meet him in Australia. He feels like they have a relationship even though Alice is married. He wants her to meet his friends.

The episode is surprisingly human, and everyone in it feels like someone I could know personally. The nuances of the roleplaying group have been observed gently but sharply, and the same goes for the inevitable disappointments of taking the virtual into reality.