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Thursday 21 July 2022

After the war is over

I acquired a few imaginary friends in lockdown. Regularly accompanying me on long rural walks are Melvyn Bragg, Tim Harford, Sam Harris, Ralph Lovegrove, Michael Shermer, Tom Holland, and many others, some of whom also happen to be friends in non-imaginary space. One of the biggest highlights of the month is a stroll with Michael Cule and Roger Bell-West, who always seem to be stepping through into my head from the garden of an ivy-clad Buckinghamshire cottage where bees drone in the flowerbeds and there’s the distant thwack and thump of tennis balls. (Don’t disillusion me, chaps.)

Lately a new feature has been added to Improvised Radio Theatre. In “A Gameable Age” Mike and Roger take a deep dive into a historical period that’s ripe for roleplaying. As a culture gamer that sort of thing is right up my street, or winding country lane rather. And it was particularly interesting that they launched this segment with discussions of the English Civil War and the Restoration, because a few years ago I had a notion to set a Legend campaign in a setting not unadjacent to that period.

My idea was to have the characters in Ellesland, but a version of Ellesland resembling our 17th century. Twenty years earlier, in their youth, they had been involved in a bitter civil war that still left scars on society. The players were separately asked which side they had supported, the revolutionaries or the crown. After an interregnum the king had been restored and now we were in a period of reconciliation – in theory.

The point of the game being to play tricks with memory, I envisaged the civil war years as more like the early medieval world of traditional Legend as seen in Dragon Warriors. If a character turned their mind to how twenty years had wrought such changes in society and technology (no sign of pistols or muskets back in the civil war, for example) they’d find the details hazy. Something more earth-shattering than victory or defeat had happened – because, after all, the loss of your twenty-year-old self is an apocalypse. That’s how I intended to characterize the Doomsday of the year 1000 that is supposed to bring an end to Legend.

I realize now that this is a case of parallel development with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which I have variously praised, cavilled about, and neutrally assessed. In a world where magic is real and Parliament is now the seat of sovereignty, an Act of Oblivion has the force of physical law. Such supernaturally induced amnesia allows the characters to forget old vendettas and live in peace. (Hmm, in hindsight, instead of using the idea for a roleplaying campaign, maybe I should’ve written it up as a novel.) If you want to read about it in detail you’ll need to sign up for my Patreon page, but this post gives you the gist of it.

Having got back to thinking about that campaign idea after all these years, I now wonder why I glossed over the Interregnum – surely an interesting period of uncertainty and change. My only excuse is that Mike and Roger skipped it too, but I see that Melvyn Bragg has taken up that particular baton in a recent In Our Time which deals with the kings-&-dates stuff, and for the social history that interests me here's Anna Keay. Between them, my imaginary friends are fully as accommodating as Treesong’s paladins in Jack Vance’s The Book of Dreams.

Friday 8 July 2022

A divine wind

If you haven't followed the Tetsubo saga, it starts here and until recently ended here. The tishatsu version: Jamie and I wrote a Japanese-flavoured supplement for the Warhammer. That's way back in the early '90s. It was never used, the rights reverted to us, and parts of it appeared in Robert Rees's fanzine Carnel.

The rest is told in the links to those two earlier posts, and during lockdown I made a start on adapting it to fit with Paul Mason's Outlaws RPG. If not for the Vulcanverse books it would be finished and on sale by now. Oh, and Jewelspider. And some bits of paid work too. Stuff got in the way, in short, but I'm hoping to get it done sometime in 2023. So, only about thirty years late.

A couple more links. This week I'm interviewed on the Awesome Lies blog about Tetsubo's past and future. My thanks to Gideon of Awesome Lies for the opportunity, and if there are any questions he missed -- well, you know where the comments are. I also enjoyed this article on putting Warhammery concepts of Chaos into a Japanese setting (despite the author's conclusion that "Tetsubo shows that slavishly copying Japanese culture and folklore into Warhammer doesn't really make for a satisfying result") though if and when Tetsubo does get an official release it won't any longer be trying to fit into the Warhammer universe.

Friday 1 July 2022

Lovecraft country

If you are thinking of running a Cthulhu roleplaying campaign in authentic New England surroundings, this site by John Ott has to be your first port of call. He's developed the Miskatonic railway line and in particular the city of Arkham as an amazing set of scale models. Show these pictures to your players to create a suitably eldritch mood.

For other things nameless and redolent of the outer darkness, try:
Or even this write-up of our 1890s campaign, which (I am told) was loosely based on "The Night of the Jackals", a scenario in later editions of Cthulhu By Gaslight.