East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Scaring people for fun and (sometimes) profit

Kids these days!
On a roleplaying forum a discussion starts about horror RPGs and how you create fear. And everybody starts talking about game rules and mechanics.
Which is oh, so wonderfully naive, and misses the mark by a half-mile.

In a roleplaying game, we get players playing the roles of characters.
Scaring the characters is easy.
The Game Master says “Your characters are scared.”
There can be specific rules to simulate fear – the old Ravenloft setting used a Saving Throw vs Death and Paralysis or a Will check. Fail that, your character is scared. Other games used different formulas. Done.

But if one of the the purposes of horror fiction (and horror roleplaying is interactive, shared fiction) is for the end user to experience the frisson of fear, then the fact the characters in the stories are scared witless is not enough. We need to get to the end user – the player.
And here’s something I learned in my long life as a Game Master – nobody’s scared of a roll of dice or a table.

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The RPG Shelf: Basic RolePlaying

In the end I always go back to the first gaming system I really worked to exhaustion – the engine of The Call of Cthulhu, of Stormbringer, of Runequest. My goodness, of the ElfQuest RPG. Thieves’ World!
The game engine they call Basic RolePlaying (aka BRP).
I spent so many hours in my life playing with these rules, I could reasonably sit at a table without the handbook right now, and still be able to run a game with a minimum of fuss. More about this later.

And yes, this is a post mostly aimed at roleplayers, so maybe you might find it boring, or obscure, maybe even cryptic. I am sorry. Feel free to skip this.

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The RPG shelf: Atlantis, the Second Age

I took out of storage a few roleplaying books last night, for a project I’m about to start, and while I was at it I took the opportunity to retrieve a game I like a lot and have not played enough, that I wanted to move to the shelf of my favorites, the games I play more often.

The game in question is called Atlantis, the Second Age, that is a game with a complicated history – there’s at least three different editions that I am aware of: the first by Bard Games (when it was just called Atlantis), the second by Morrigan Press which is the one I own, and recently a new edition was released published by Kephera Publishing (I do not own it, but all reviews are glowing).

What we are talking about: a fantasy, decidedly sword & sorcery-oriented game that runs on a modified version of the old Talislanta engine (we are really talking gaming archaeology here) and that comes with a huge world for players to explore and romp through.

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Bullet to the moon

I first saw First Men in the Moon, the 1964 movie when I was a kid of six or seven, and I enjoyed it enormously. I was after all a kid of the Apollo generation, and stories about journeys to the moon were in the news back then.

In case you missed it, First Men in the Moon is a Nigel Kneale adaptation of an H.G. Wells novel published in 1901, directed by Nathan Juran featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen, and the original novel (that you can download for free from Project Gutenberg) was an inspiration to both C.S. Lewis and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
It’s the story – you guessed it – of an Victorian mission to the moon, courtesy of the inventions of professor Joseph Cavor.

Now it turns out the actual Apollo moon landing will provide the theme for this years’s Play gaming fair in Modena – and there will be a selection of moon-themed goodies. including not one, but two Hope & Glory… things.

Moon-things, if you will.

And yes, I am currently doing four writing jobs at the same time, one of which is a brief Hope & Glory scenario about the first men in the moon.
That old movie I first saw as a kid will provide some ideas, but there’s a lot more brewing.

Stuff like a secret volcano base and a moon-gun ready to shoot a band of courageous adventurers on a one-way trip to our pale-faced satellite.

My weekend just turned a lot more strange than it was.

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Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

The cover was what did it for me at the time – in a game shop filled with Larry Elmore’s buxom fantasy heroines and Chaosium’s tentacle monsters, the cover of Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes promised the sort of fun that I expected from a roleplaying game. I mean… Classy dames in fur? French-looking guys with silenced UZIs? Scarred evil masterminds? Explosions and brawling? Humphrey Bogart?!
Come on, shut up and take my money!

So I bought it.
The second time around, maybe five years later, my first box having been… ehm, borrowed and never returned (curses!), I ordered directly from Flying Buffalo Inc., taking advantage of an incredible special offer. I still have the box here on my shelf. Now that I think of it, this was probably my first ever online purchase. I used my Mosaic browser to access the Flying Buffalo web page.

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Back when I was a kid there was this poster, which read “All I needed to know in my life I learned from Star Trek”, and listed a series of life lessons from the old series, the one with Captain Kirk, that at the time was the only one. At the time it was considered a nerdy thing, and nothing to be proud – the poster was an in-joke for the members of the community.

A few days back I jokingly said to a friend that is a game designer that I’ve been using Shadowrun: Attitude as a lifestyle guide to navigate these strange years, and it works just fine. We had a laugh.
But then I took my copy out and started browsing it and realized that something must have been sitting at the back of my mind when I made that joke – because Attitude does in fact work as a good starting point to survive in this moment.

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Crowdfunding Hope & Glory

We have just launched the crowdfunding for the Italian edition of Hope & Glory, my steampulp/adventure roleplaying game.
While this is of little immediate interest for the readers of Karavansara (you can already get the game in English, via DriveThruRPG), this is a big moment for me and the crew, and I want to share it with you guys.

Also, it’s likely that any extra development fueled by the Italian crowdfunding will then see the light, in a form or another, in English. But that’s for my publisher to say.

In the meantime, HERE IS THE LINK to check out our crowdfunding page.