Eine Lanze für Orks

Danger Zone und dnalorsblog schrieben vor einiger Zeit über das Für und Wider bezüglich der Orks, in Reflektion auf einen der Essays in Roll Inclusive. Und auch der Deutschlandfunk spricht über das Thema. Im Endeffekt gibt es folgendes Spannungsfeld:

  • Othering ist Mist, macht Empathie kaputt und sollte eigentlich nie eingeübt werden.
  • Monster verkloppen ist ein integraler Bestandteil des Fantasy-Rollenspiels, und sollte ohne echtwelt-moralische Bedenken möglich sein.

Um „moralisch unbedenklich“ Spaß an der Monsterklopperei haben zu dürfen, müssen diese Monster leider eben doch ge-„othered“ sein. Denn wie dnalorsblog schildert, kann man nicht mehr nach Herzenslust Goblins weghauen, wenn diese eine Kultur und Daseinsberechtigung bekommen haben. Wenn eine Welt ihre eigene Monster Ecology hat, dann haben eben auch Orks und Goblins ihre Daseinsberechtigung, und sind keine gesichtslosen Monster mehr.

Jetzt schreibe ich ja gerade selbst an einem Monsterklopper-Rollenspiel, Raiders of Arismyth. Das Thema ist also für mich daher brennend interessant. Die Leute sollen Spaß mit Kämpfen in dem Spiel haben, und daher brauchen Sie Monster mit denen sie kämpfen können. Manchmal sollen sie dabei auch darüber nachdenken, mit wem sie warum kämpfen.

Aber eben auch nicht immer. Manchmal soll einfach der interessante Kampf und das Gekloppe im Vordergrund stehen, und die Moral nicht das zu beackernde Problem sein. Und damit kommen wir zu den Orks.

Die meisten Gegner in meinen Spielrunden haben eigene Motivation die mehr ist als nur „ich bin böse!“ ist. Sie sind hungrig, versuchen Geld zu verdienen, jemanden beschützen, und so weiter. Manchmal kann man so Kämpfe umgehen, und manchmal sind die Dinge, die die Gegner wollen absolut konträr zu denen der Gruppe.

Orks bei mir sind anders. Sie sind wortwörtlich nicht von dieser Welt. Kein Ork, dem man in meiner Spielwelt begegnet ist einfach nur da. Es gibt keine Orkdörfer mit Orkbabies, keine unschuldigen „ich bin nur Farmer“ Orks. Zumindest nicht in der Spielwelt. Wahrscheinlich gibt es all das auf der Herkunftswelt der Orks, aber die ist… woanders. 

Orks, denen man auf meiner Spielwelt begegnet sind die selbstgewählte Speerspitze einer Invasion, mit sinistren Zielen. Die Details dazu wollen noch im Spiel herausgefunden werden, aber eines wissen alle am Tisch: Die Orks sind Monster, und sie sind es nicht qua Geburt, sondern weil sie es so wollten.

Alle anderen Gegner sind vielschichtig, die Gruppe ist sich nie wirklich sicher, welcher Gruppe sie nun wirklich feindlich gegenüber stehen sollen. Aber Orks? Orks sind zum wegkloppen da.

I’m not a Warhammer player, but…

…I unironically like the old Warhammer 40K universe depictions and canon. You know, the Rick Priestley, John Blanche era. Where everything was bad, grimy, gloomy and evil.

This is peak Leman Russ, as he should be:

A black and white pencil portrait of "Marine Commander Leman Russ", taken from the first edition Rogue Trader book - his face is warped from scars and cybernetic implants, everything looks distorted and gloomy

Not this:

A colour illustration of a very heroic looking Leman Russ with flowing blonde hair, taken from https://warhammer40k.fandom.com/wiki/Leman_Russ

Warhammer 40,000, as depicted and conceived in the 80ies absolutely was a satire and reaction to Thatcherism in the UK, quite in line with comics like Judge Dredd and other things from the 2000 AD magazine. Space Marines were fucked up purposefully mutated humans that were fighting fucked up accidentally mutated humans.

And in that take of the universe, I think it is fine to have uber-macho all-male Space Marines, to have a devoted cult of the emperor, to have the humans shout „death to all xenos“. Because it is clear from the artwork alone that this is a fucked up world, full of fucked up decisions. No one in there looks or stands in for anyone in our real world, which is a neat thing to have when the game is about wholesale slaughter. (Of course, a lot of the „human factions“ take on decorations and themes from armies from our real-world past. But they are so exaggerated, that I don’t really think a matching and identification is possible.)

So, yes, I actually like this take. It brings me back to the 80ies, to crusty Punks and Hair Metal, to counterculture and rebellion.

But today, as the artwork starts to become squeaky clean and actually heroic. Games Workshop is clearly trying to focus on about how cool the Space Marines are. Nothing on the surface tells you that they would be fucked up, and the lore keeps telling you that they have to be the way they are, that the xenos threat is real.

And with that, the satire looses its teeth. Games Workshop of course knows this, so they end up having to make the good guys, you know, actually good. These toy soldiers cannot be doing warcrimes left and right anymore, they become more good-looking, and (and that is where the sad puppies start howling at the moon) you start making figures that your whole audience can identify with.

And that means including people of colour, a variety of gender being represented outside of Slaaneesh cults, and so on. Because the factions aren’t all villains anymore.

This change is the natural consequence of the slow-but-sure transition of the Space Marines from „crazed fanatics willing to die for the cult of a dead Emperor rotting on his golden throne“ to „somehow heroic, noble and virtuous. As good guys.“ (quotes from freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngul)

So, if you want the Space Marines and the Empire of Man to be „the good guys“, you have to embrace the good sides of humanity too. And that means including ALL of humanity, in all its multi-gendered, multi-skin-hues, multi-anything glory.Sorry to the sad puppies, I don’t make the rules, I’m just telling you how it is.

I’m writing another game!

It is a few months since I finished Mail Order Apocalypse, and apparently, writing games is a tiny bit addictive: I’m already about 70 pages into writing the next game. (For comparison: MOA clocks in at 106 pages, a lot of them being random tables)

So, the next game, what is it?

The working title is Raiders of Arismyth, and it is supposed to be a modern dungeon crawler. Which is slightly unusual territory for me. My gaming shelf has lots of „story“ games, with abstract mechanics, collaborative narration, player empowerment and so on.

But I also have collected a few hundred gaming miniatures over the years, and I wanted to use them again! I prefer games that are rules-light, easy to grok, and ideally have not too big character sheets. There are a few options of course, but none of them really appealed to me.

With Mail Order Apocalypse, I decided early on that I didn’t want to reinvent a whole game system, and thus chose Into the Odd for the mechanics. For Raiders of Arismyth, I wanted something that feels similarly simple, but does offer more crunchiness on two fronts: Character generation and advancement, and combat. Especially the latter — it doesn’t make sense to bring miniatures into the mix when distances and such isn’t particularly relevant.

At the same time, I didn’t want the system to be too mathematical. Choosing how to advance ones character shouldn’t require too much in-depth system knowledge. Choices made today shouldn’t completely block later choices.

In the end, I have settled on a few things:

  • There are no attributes, just skills
  • There is no vancian magic, and no mana points or similar either. You know a spell, feel free to cast it as often as you like!
  • Dice are rolled in pools. Any result on a die that is greater than half the total value (ie. 4+ on a 6‑sider, or 11+ on a 20-sider) is a success.
  • Combat should be about movement. Those miniatures want to be moved around after all!
  • The rules aren’t just there as mechanical abstractions, they are there to form the game world and its metaphysics.

Sadly, all this means that where Mail Order Apocalypse managed to cram all the rules onto one single page, the core rules of Raiders of Arismyth need about 10 pages. Let’s dive into how magic works a bit, so you can see what I meant with the last bullet point about the rules influencing the game world:

Magic spells are learned as skills. Learning a new spell skill allows you to perform the least powerful version of that spell with an uttered incantation plus necessary hand-movements using both hands. With additional advancements on that spells skill allows one to make it more powerful, extend the range, or be able to cast it without an incantation or moving the hands.

In order for this to work, the spell and the advancements are tattooed onto the skin of the magic user, anchoring the mystical energies. The positioning of these marks is important, especially if the mage still needs to touch it to perform the spell. One can learn a lot about a mage by looking what sigils are placed where. And of course, seeing someone who chose to spend their precious advancements in order to be able to perform a simple light spell without any hand movements or spoken incantations tells you something about them too…

I did a few test runs with the system already, and the results were quite promising: It played smooth and easy in turns of rules application, but also allowed for some a lot of interesting tactical choices during combat. The latter felt deadly enough to the players, but not overwhelmingly so.

A lot of things are of course still missing: The skill list needs to be finalised, I need to flesh out the example magic rituals, think about equipment, or at least rules on how to improvise weapon statistics in a coherent way, and the world wants some more fleshing out.

But overall, I am quite satisfied with this, and really think this is actually a more complete game than Mail Order Apocalypse (which is more of a setting than a game). You can buy the Ashcan preview edition for a buck at DriveThruRPG if you're curious. But please, let me know your feedback!

I’ve been…

…so many people over the past few days again, it was delicious. It was that time again, where a plethora of nerds descended upon the non-existent town of Bielefeld and gathered to eat, drink, be merry — and play games!

The food was delicious, the drinks came in just the right amounts and potency, the merriment filled the days but I guess what you really want to hear about are the games. Let me indulge you. I’ve been…

…a progressive alien species, trying to gain control of the galaxy during its second dawn. Alas, I could not make use of my extraordinary powers of research, as every attempt to expand my realm was thwarted by the vicious robotic remnants of the Ancients fleets. During most of the game I just held on to my meager three sectors, eking out some technological progress. Only once I managed to assemble a fleet and watched it get annihilated by the Ancients in a short but brutal fight. (Eclipse, Second Dawn of the Galaxy)

…a successful Unicorn Breeder, filling my stable with the most wondrous of creatures, scheming and plotting to bring misery to my fellow Unicorn enthusiasts, trying to be the first to fill all slots in my stable. A hilarious game, full of puns, innuendo, and most of all, unicorns! (Unstable Unicorns)

…a sailor, a pirate, no, a cultist, trying to direct the course of our ship to the chosen location. Covert collaborations with fellow pirates or cultists, mutinies, bluffing, and the occasional surreptitious changes to the logbooks steered our proud ship. And never did it reach the safe harbor of Bluewater Bay, but instead got fed to the Kraken or entered the dreaded pirate island… (Feed the Kraken)

…a greedy innkeeper, luring adventurers into a near-certain deathtrap. My cunning plan was to feed them to the naked-bear-thing I had chained to the dungeon below my humble establishment. But the motley crew of ne’er-do-wells and murder hobos managed to not only dispatch my minions and beasts, nay, they made off with all of my ill-gotten-riches and escape through the undersea on a magical obsidian rowboat. (The Undertavern, run with Into the Odd rules)

…Loddar, the DIY-King of YouTube, hiking through the black forest as part of a streamed challenge, with four other more or less well-known internet celebrities. Loddar, a cabinetmaker in retirement, gained internet-fame when his grandson filmed his antics testing how well the new rip-stop trousers would protect him against a chainsaw. Clueless about technology he now got thrust into a gaggle of youngsters who film themselves doing weird and (to Loddar) incomprehensible things for the sake of something called „Likes“, which he didn’t quite got. But his grandson said this was good stuff, and the likes would translate into income somehow, and Kevin knew computers after all. What followed was deliciously silly, full of drama and eventually even action, with high speed car chases and bullets flying everywhere! (a custom adventure with a d100 FATE derivative)

…an english industrial baron of the 19th century, building factories and transport links all across the Black Country, vying for domination through two distinct eras of early industrialization, seeing train tracks started to displace the narrow boat channels. A brainy but accessible game with glorious artwork and theme. (Brass Birmingham)

…Peter Rath, the holy sinner and bearer of the tome of 99 demons. A moderately famous fiction author, secretly a vampire of the White Court, Peter spent the past few years very privately, minding family and his own affairs. But the recent devastation of Berlin and the retirement of his sister from her office as head of the paranormal investigation unit drew him out of hiding once more. He joined a small task force trying to figure out what eerie things were responsible for recent oddities around the local cemeteries. Weird Pterodactydemons were fought, ancient religions uncovered and a long-term plan on keeping these forces of evil at bay became implemented. After an inspired lecture, Peter found himself the head of a new holy catholic order, secretly blessing places to protect them, and doing who-knows what else! (Dresden Files RPG)

…a middle-aged summer camp guide in the Midwest. She desperately needed a job, and found a lot more than expected, when she walked into the lone guy who squatted in one of the camp huts, hastily shoving something into a freezer. A few hours of increasingly bloody and campy fun and drama, topped by two women chainsawing a Wendigo into sausages. (Fiasko)

All in all an excellent few days, a fun NYE party and a welcome reminder of good friendships.