I was asked to write about this book, but after skimming through it, it felt like just an accessory to a completely unnecessary game. I recently stumbled on this great notion by Oren Harari.
The electric light did not come from continuous improvement of candles.
This book feels like a continuous improvement of candles, when we are already living in a world with electric lights. And yes, despite some romantic notions, electric lights are better, more cost-efficient and better for the environment. Oh yeah, and you can use them for reading for extended periods of time without going blind. So, my discussion on this book isn’t going to be a usual review. Instead, I’m going to try to use the conceit of having a dialogue with my 12-year-old self, who would have loved this book. Gladly, the world has moved on, myself included.
(With thanks to Ville for coming up with this idea.)
So, to set up the scene, we’ll imagine a blonde Finnish kid, who was actually pretty cute in those days (the days before he started to get fat). Even though the term nerd isn’t quite as ubiquitous yet, you know from eyeglasses, the notebook and voluntary reading that he is definitely of that ilk. He has gotten his hands on a book HARP Loot from somewhere, which is pretty amazing, since its 1989. Still, we need it there for this to work, so don’t put too much thought into it. It was magic, alright! Magic!
For brevity and clearness, the my former self will henceforth be known as A12 and my current self as A39. Also, in reality, none of the discussion would have happened in English, because A12 wouldn’t have been very good at it, although I believe he did have the basics down. Still, probably a limited vocabulary after only a couple of years of schooling, but once again, magic.
A39: So, how do you like the book?
A12: Its pretty cool.
A12: I don’t know. All sorts of cool things. There’s like 40 pages on how as a player I can make my own magical stuff and here’s some tables on how to mess with your players when their magical stuff goes wrong.
A39: What do you need that for?
A12: Well, I’m the GM and I need to do that kind of stuff?
A39: What kind of stuff?
A12: You know, mess with the players.
A39: Yes, this is true, but there are more eloquent ways to do that. “The next time you use the item, make a successful Will RR or you develop a compulsion to give all of your cash money to the next stranger you see.” Do you think your players would have fun with these? Would you?
A12: I don’t know.
A39: Well, I know you wouldn’t. After all, I’m the older you.
A12: Okay, so what should I do instead?
A39: This is going to be a bit hard to explain. Your world of RPs is like… Okay, how about this, the roleplaying design in these days is like that of rotary phones, whereas in my days we are using cell phones.
A12: What’s a cellphone?
A39: Errr… Never mind about that. Lets just say that instead of buying all those White Wolf books in the 90s, you should save your money and buy some Apple stock before the end of the millenium?
A12: What’s millenium?
A39: Its a stupid word for the year 2000, that became a thing for some reason. Its actually latin for 1000 years. So, before year 2000, okay? Just buy some Apple stock before 2000.
A12: Okay, so what are these White Wolf books?
A39: Well, I probably won’t mess anything too badly, if I talk a bit about those. Its like the next step in the evolution of RPs. They become all moody and angsty. Its like roleplaying games as a teenager. Its just a phase these things will go through. They are interesting, but in the end, they are pretty much a fad and it’ll blow over. Buy some of them, but don’t go overboard, okay. Keep to the main books. Remember the Apple stock.
A12: How do I get those?
A39: Well, just goo… Oh, wait. Okay, so the world’s going to be a bit different from anything you can imagine. So, lets just say that you’ll know what to do when the time comes.
A12: So, what’s wrong with this book?
A39: For you, nothing, but for me, everything. Things change in 27 years. Especially with games. You wouldn’t believe the variety and the quality of stuff we have to choose from. And not only RPGs. Everything. Boardgames, computer games, even a thing called Magic. Its going to be a wonderful world and games are going to be a huge part of it, but not because stuff like this is topical any more in those days. You don’t need this kind of stuff then. And by the way, hang on to all those dual lands. You’ll know what I mean. This isn’t quite as important as the Apple, but you could get some serious dough from them, especially if you keep them in good condition.
A12: But I like the games now.
A39: Yes, you do, but only because you haven’t seen what else is and is going to be out there. You know how you like to play RPGs, but there’s always this nagging feeling that something’s missing? The adventures don’t quite feel as exciting as they should? That’s because these systems don’t do what you want them to do. They talk about adventure and excitement, but then they present you with a bunch of tables to roll from. That’s not exciting in the middle of the session. Looking for them even less so.
A12: How should I do things differently?
A39: First of all, these kinds of games don’t really understand genres. You know how you relished messing with your players beforehand? Don’t do that. I know you don’t have access to a lot of fantasy right now, which will change as well, but think back to things like Star Wars, which is fantasy, and keep reminding everyone of that until they get it. Even though the characters get into weird situations, like the trash compactor, there is always an element of cool. That’s the key to the genre.
A12: So I should have my players get what they want?
A39: Yes. You are not there to keep them in line, you are there to guide them into bringing the cool out of themselves. And I know, your group right now probably couldn’t handle that right now, but in the future you’ll meet people who’ll be happy with this style. They don’t see this style as opportunity to powergame. They see it as an opportunity to tell great stories. They feel guilty, if they can’t mess with their own characters.
A12: But didn’t you tell me not to mess with them?
A39: Well, you should, but only to give them opportunities to be cool. They’ll do this themselves as well. The problem with these older games is that they are more about the game than the story. If there are rules like these ones, you’ll want to use them and they’ll want to use them, but that’s boring compared to just going out there and having an adventure. If only I could give you a copy of Blades in the Dark or Apocalypse World to play with.
A12: What are those?
A39: Games. Far in the future, but they, among others, are great. Apocalypse World will open a whole new world for you. Blades I only mentioned since that’s the last one I’ve ran, but it has many great ideas. The amount of creativity and innovation in those new games is unbelievable. This book here? Well, its just rehashing old ideas in an outdated form.
A12: I’m just so confused.
A39: I know you are, but it’ll be clear some day. And don’t worry. You’ll do fine in life and part of that is because you enjoy games so much. You can just enjoy them even more in the future. First step, though, is getting Ars Magica. Its probably the best thing out there at this date.
A12: I’ll try my best.
A39: Okay, now that that’s finally out of the way, here’s a list of women I probably could have had sex with, but was too obtuse to realize at the time…
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