Stockholm Calling or Localizing Cthulhu

OlaLarssonCoC

Ola Larsson’s cover for the Swedish investigator’s handbook

I have been an inactive blogger recently. The cause is what you would expect: shortage of time. I am currently spending a lot time on localizing Call of Cthulhu to Sweden. Among techwriters, localization is a form of translation in which you not only translate from language to another, but you also make the product fit the new market by removing superfluous information, and inserting new information that your domestic customers need.

In the case of Swedish Call of Cthulhu, the publisher Eloso wants to give the game a distinctive “Sweden in the 1920s” flavor. Swedes today know little about what our country was like hundred years ago, so we must explain how e.g. law enforcement, academic institutions, and municipal bureaucracies functioned.

For instance, when the intrepid investigators do research in rural areas, a good source of information might be the local hembygdsförening (“local history association”), whose members delve into the past of their parish or village, holding lectures and writing newsletters and booklets about nearby rune-stones, old churches, and legends of things that go bump in the night. The local temperance lodge keeps a keen eye on the inhabitants’ use and abuse of alcohol, so its leaders might know who is making moonshine and who is smuggling illicit Estonian vodka.* The vicar** of the parish church occupies central role in society; apart from his ecclesiastical duties, he is charged by the state with maintaining a detailed population registry, keeping track on births, deaths, marriages, people’s domiciles and other matters. He therefore knows a lot about who is doing what, even though he might be unwilling to share his knowledge because of his pastoral vows.

In the major cities, the above-mentioned organizations are of lesser importance. Instead, trade union chapters and local sports clubs may prove useful sources of information. Social control remains tight because people, apart from the very wealthy, live under cramped conditions in rickety apartment buildings.

We, Eloso’s team of CoC developers, are therefore busy with giving the original rules a Swedish touch and adding brand-new material, such as site descriptions, Swedish grimoires, new adventures, etc. We’ll spend the winter 2019/20 with these chores, a good reason to stay indoors and avoid the sleet and darkness of the season.


*We did not have a US-style prohibition in Sweden in the 1920s, but rather a rationing system (link >>>) by which adult citizens in good standing were allowed to buy a certain quantity of alcoholic beverages per month. People were of course circumventing the restrictions in more or less ingenious ways. Smugglers who transported vodka from Estonia to Sweden by speedboat became folk heroes. Read about the dashing Algoth Niska here — link >>>
**The established Lutheran Church of Sweden had been subservient to the king/state since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Christian dissenters, in the 1920s mainly baptists and presbyterians, and anti-clerical socialists were unhappy about this arrangement but lacked the political clout to change it; it eventually got reformed in the 1950s.

Expert Nova English Edition

The day before yesterday, I finished translating my new role-playing game Expert Nova English Edition and emailed it to my test reader. Next step is line editing and proof reading. My plan is to complete those chores during December and publish the game on Lulu in January.
Here is an excerpt from the Preface that explains the background of Expert Nova.

In the mid-1980s, Sweden experienced an amazing role-playing boom. In those years, I was the inhouse designer at Target Games and we dominated our market with sales figures that an American company would envy. Our freelancers and I created an informal lore for what constitutes a good game. Its roots lay in Chaosium’s Basic Role­playing (BRP), but we blazed our own trail and developed a distinctly Swedish RPG style. Recently, Swedish RPG fan Wilper systematized this lore as Classic Swedish Role-playing (KSR). Its basic tenets, regardless of genre, are:
  • Skills rule! Action is skill-based, roll low with 1D100 or 1D20 to succeed; character levels aren’t used.
  • Medium-powered adventurers: Character Hit Points usually don’t increase; combat is dangerous; no nuclear magic/tech/etc.
  • Brains before brawn: social interaction generally pays off.
  • Genre-emulating settings: Open-ended adventures with plenty of problem-solving; the selected genre defines the setting; open vistas with much flexibility for the game master.
Expert Nova is a part of our KSR tradition: I have assembled a toolbox with flexible rules that you can adapt and expand on for any contemporary campaign you want to run.

Expert Nova: the next step

Recently, I published my new Swedish role-playing game Expert Nova at Lulu.com (link to the game in my Lulu shop >>>). Its is designed for real-world or science-fiction campaigns in the contemporary era (i.e. circa 1880 to 2050).

So far I have seen one review (it’s there at the game’s Lulu page); the reviewer awarded five stars out of five. I am eagerly waiting for the review in the Swedish game magazine Fenix later this autumn.

When I started working with Expert Nova in the late Spring, I made a mental survey of what role-playing games there currently are in the Swedish market. Half a dozen or more are competing the fantasy niche, each targeting a particular age or style segment. In the post-apocalyptic niche, there is one multi-faceted line, and as for space opera there are a few titles. But when I considered the contemporary/near future/near past niche, there was only one tentative competitor and it doesn’t resemble anything in my oeuvres.

In my gaming group (playing weekly or bimonthly since the 1980s), we have enjoyed several fairly low-key campaigns set in the 20th century, e.g. cops in Vermont 1931 or in Los Angeles 2003; freewheeling British intelligence officers in WW2; Soviet investigators of UFO phenomena in 1956; pulpish adventurers in 1930s Far and Middle East; and so on. So I made up my mind and wrote Expert Nova as a set of flexible rules for that kind of campaigns, using plenty of detective, spy and soldier tropes in its explanatory descriptions because they are familiar to the readers.

I selected Basic Role-playing 1D20 as my foundation for Expert Nova, because I know that system inside out, having used it creatively since 1979. But in Expert Nova I deviate from BRP’s common implementation by cutting the PC’s characteristics from seven to four (Push, Knack, Sense, Grit) and reducing the number of skills to a score broad ones.

For example, the Soldier skill encompasses everything that a competent infantryman is trained to do: marksmanship, field-works, orienteering, spit-and-polish, instruction, first aid, swimming, etc. I want to enable the players to play competent characters that won’t get lost in an an adventure because their team lacks one narrowly-defined skill.

My current intention is to proceed with an Expert series by books, each dealing with a specific milieu or trope. Such a book is supposed to contain a setting with campaign advice for the game master, adventurer creation tips for the players, and an adaptation of the Expert Nova rules with setting-specific add-ons. Each book will be a complete stand-alone game.

During October I have jotted down several ideas and outlines. Some milieus came easily to my mind, such as an adventurous oldschool solar system (explanatory link >>>) or espionage in a Cold-War or a pre-Cold-War timeline. Below I outline three appealing settings:

  1. I have always been fascinated by uchronias, i.e. when history took an alternate turn at some point and thereby created a world different from ours. My academic background of political science and history often inspires me speculate on “What if?” settings. Currently I am spending a lot of key-board time working on an retro-style alternate Europe, a setting designed for crime-fighting, espionage and liberation struggles in oppressive, conservative societies.
  2. I have also outlined a 1990s science fiction setting, in which the adventurers will deal with mankind’s unenviable minor role in cosmos while coping with the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet empire. Yes, this proposition makes sense in context.
  3. I am considering a reboot of the world of Gondica that I created twenty years ago; it would entail an extensive revision and expansion of Gondica’s original timeline and backstory to create a milieu with airships, clockwork automatons, steamships and strange places to explore. I might perhaps derive inspiration from Conan Doyle’s professor Challenger adventures and Kipling’s stories. However, I have currently no idea what results my creative process might deliver in this case.
  4. Also, some people have suggested that I make an English edition of Expert Nova. Yes, I hear you loud and clear, and I have started translating the texts.

I have earlier described myself thus: “Anders Blixt is a machine that turns coffee into role-playing games”. However, available time does not match my relentless creativity, so I must prioritize wisely. General Eisenhower once said:

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

Therefore, I make no promises about this or that Expert book. Please have patience and stay tuned to this blog for future updates.

Rollspelet Expert Nova lanseras

Summary in English: My new Swedish RPG Expert Nova has been launched at Lulu.

Jag säljer mitt nya rollspel Expert Nova via Lulu (länk till min Lulu-butik >>> [20191104: Koden LULU10 ger 10% rabatt t.o.m. 7 november]). Spelet innehåller klassiska svenska rollspelsregler — slå lågt med 1T20 för att lyckas — för nutida action & äventyr-kampanjer, dvs under perioden 1880 till 2050.3ExNova (2)

Läs en recension av Expert Novas beta-version här — länk >>> . Recensenten ger betyget 5 av 5: “Hela Expert Nova håller den här kvaliteten. Det är helt enkelt en av de bästa realistiska, crunchiga, regelsystemen jag har läst.”

Ett kostnadsfritt rollformulär finns att ladda ner här — länk >>>

Partisan, stormakt brun och medelålderns insikter

Summary in English: A reflection on the problems with creating alt-hist game material relating to World War Two, using the never-completed Swedish RPG Partisan as the basis for the discussion.

Nu har det gått över ett år sedan jag förbluffade Sveriges gamers med nyheten att någon hade givit mig en pärm med den enda överlevande utskriften av det legendariska “förlorade” rollspelet Partisan (länk >>> ). Manuset innehöll bland annat tre väldigt olika Sverige är ockuperat-settingar, men den fjärde som vi hade planerat, den om Tredje Riket (stormakt brun) och andra världskriget, saknades av skäl som jag inte minns.

Mitt tjugosjuåriga jag var entusiastisk inför Partisan, medan mitt nutida sextioåriga jag ser på spelprojektet med mer reserverad blick, särskild på dess tänkta Tredje Riket-scenario.

På 1980-talet låg andra världskriget fyrtio år bort och många av Europas och USAs politiska ledare hade upplevt det personligen som soldater (Helmut Schmidt, George Bush senior), som kollaboratörer (François Mitterrand), som motståndskämpar (François Mitterrand [en kappvändare], Jurij Andropov) eller som civilister (Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher). Flera i min umgängeskrets hade ögonvittnen till kriget omkring sig: min pappas kollega John hade varit flygmekaniker på en svensk B16 Caproni under beredskapen och med nöd och näppe överlevt en störtning, en i gamergänget hade en tysk morfar som slagits på västfronten 1944-45 och blivit fransk krigsfånge, jag hade lärt känna Auschwitzöverlevaren Hédi Fried, och så vidare. Det fanns en närhet till dessa fruktansvärda år, vilket gjorde att de flesta nalkades ämnet med självklar respekt — vi levde bland människor som hade sett hur extraordinärt vidrigt detta krig hade varit.

Den närheten är borta idag. De sista veteranerna är i 90-årsåldern. Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan och The Pacific är seriöst menade försök att visa för vårt århundrade hur det var där och då. Men de har tunnelseende — rimligt med tanke på vad en teveserie eller film faktiskt kan omfatta — och gestaltar inte epokens storskaliga massmord, ödeläggelse, skräck och misär.

Hans Alfredson skrev på 1990-talet den alternativhistoriska romanen Attentatet i Pålsjö skog om en tysk ockupation av Sverige. Några försigkomna antinazistiska svenskar genomför på eget bevåg ett dödligt sprängattentat mot ett av de många tysktåg som 1941 for genom Sverige, vilket i sin tur får en rasande Hitler att förklara krig mot Sverige. Alfredsons grepp, en fiktiv självbiografi, fungerar bra, men den är inget källmaterial som jag skulle känna mig bekväm med att använda till ett spel.

Min inställning idag hänger också samman med mina personliga upplevelser av krig, upplevelser som jag delar med tusentals andra svenskar. Under Balkankrigen för 25 år sedan jobbade jag en tid med logistiska spörsmål för våra Blå baskrar i Bosnien (UNPROFOR); jag for aldrig dit ner, men krigets skugga föll över vårt kontor i Södertälje. Samtidigt skrev jag en bok om FN-observatörerna i Kashmir (UNMOGIP). För elva år sedan tjänstgjorde jag sex månader i Kabul som civil specialist i en EU-mission (EUPOL) som sysslade med polisutbildning.

Så utifrån vad mitt sextioåriga jag har sett och hört anser jag att endast några få krig i närtid kan placeras på nästan samma nivå i helvetet som andra världskriget, nämligen Röda Khmerernas massmördarregim i Kambodja på 1970-talet, folkmordet i Rwanda 1994, samt andra Kongokriget kring millennieskiftet (ett sällsynt brutalt krig som krävt miljoner människors liv men som utkämpats i mediaskugga). Retorisk fråga: Skulle de vara lämpliga ämnen för något rollspel? Självklart inte, ty de ligger så nära oss och är så fasansfulla.

Därför är jag idag lättad över att våra försök att skapa Tredje Rikets fiktiva ockupation av Sverige till  Partisan har slukats av de elektroniska entropin. Kanske skulle vi ha använt det ockuperade Norge som förebild (jag minns inte), men vårt verk hade ändå endast blivit ett tillrättalagt och nedtonat skrapande på ytan. Wehrmachts vedergällningsmassakrer efter partisandåd (ett antal slumpvis utvalda civilister arkebuseras utan pardon för varje dödad tysk soldat), Gestapos klappjakt och mord på judiska och romska svenskar, de inhemska samarbetsmännens lismande inför den tyske rikskommissariens despotiska styre, eller en svensk motsvarighet till Grini-lägret — hur skulle vi, ett gäng grabbar i tjugoårsåldern, ha kunnat överföra sådana historiska brott mot mänskligheten till en fiktiv situation på ett respektfullt och trovärdigt sätt utan att göra vårt spel ospelbart?