Cognizance and Ignorance

“The task is … not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.”
― Erwin Schrödinger

During my decades as an RPG designer, I encountered the issue depicted above at several occasions. I started by writing for Traveller, a gritty space-opera game that resembles the stories that Jerry Pournelle and Poul Anderson wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1990s, as the IT evolution accelerated swiftly, it became obvious that these writers were unaware of Moore’s Law about the exponential growth of computing power. 1990s computers outperformed their fictional far-future counterparts by several orders of magnitude. An obvious case of “stuff you don’t know that you don’t know”.

By itself, this is a trivial observation that SF fans have known for decades. However, when you write RPGs, you must wrestle with this matter in a different way. A story is “then and there”, set in stone by its author. But a game is never a fixed text, but rather a never-ending creative process by its myriads of players.

My approach: An RPG is a toolbox that the gamemaster uses in any way she sees fit to create her own adventures. Therefore, the tools in the toolbox must make sense. “The computer of this far-future starships uses a mainframe computer that is less capable than my cellphone.” No, that won’t do.

Any game milieu is inevitably deficient when it comes to “stuff you don’t know that you don’t know”.

My academic background is in political science and history. I have learned my limits when it comes to technology and the physical sciences: they’ll always surprise me, that is, “stuff that I know that I don’t know”. (“Methane on Mars!” Wow. “The universe’s expansion rate is increasing!” I didn’t see that one coming. And so on.)

In my own field I end up with: “stuff you don’t know that you don’t know”. For example, I didn’t expect Putin to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. At that time, I didn’t know Putin’s reasoning behind his unwise decision (I still don’t). Also, I didn’t see that hole in my knowledge, despite having spent a lot of time studying Russia/USSR at an academic level.

Lessons learned:
. The past is easier to investigate than the present and the future is out of bounds for any intrepid researcher.
B. If you want to create a credible and durable game, you should make its setting resistant to “ignorance shocks”.

. Fantasy milieus operate according to you own set of physical and historical laws. What you know is what there is to know. There might be “stuff that you know that you don’t know” because you have not paid attention to them yet. But you won’t be caught by a “Fall of the Berlin Wall”-style surprise.
D. Recent history with embellishments are also a safe bet. It is easy to research (except for places like North Korea). You can also spice the setting with “classified matters”, such as espionage, conspiracies and weird science, that you design and control. However, tread with care because occasionally old secrets might surface and upset the structure of your setting. Example: The fall of the Berlin Wall opened the East German archives. They keep on revealing new unsavory facts. Your in-game “secret Stasi operations” might therefore turn out to be very different from the schemes those people carried out in reality.

Ek veit einn, at aldrei deyr

Last evening, some gamer buddies and I met at a Stockholm pub.
An unfamiliar forty-something man approached our table and asked me: “Are you Anders Blixt?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said, shook my hand and walked away.

Such encounters happen rarely, but to me they are diamonds.

I have designed role-playing games for more than forty years. It’s a mundane and solitary profession: I spend hours in front my computer trying to turn my visions into gameable texts. All the action, so to say, takes place at a closed screening inside my mind. When my part of a product is complete, after much commenting by others and many revisions by me, I hand it over to the layout artist. With some trepidation, I assure you. I may be a veteran designer, but I still write occasional duds.

Creating role-playing games has not enriched my bank account. Nowadays I am retired with a state pension that pays my bills. Earlier I had to do muggle jobs. But my writing games has enriched the lives of thousands of people. Many times, I have heard comments like: “My adolescence was miserable, but your games made me endure it.”

These days, when I am in the Indian summer of my life, I look at what joy my toil has kindled and I feel contented. I have used my talents and endurance to encourage and strengthen others. That’s what counts. Or to paraphrase the Norse poem Hávámal: “We are all mortal, but our deeds will be remembered.”

Deyr fé,
deyja frændr,
deyr sjalfr it sama,
ek veit einn,
at aldrei deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern.

Gothcon and a Gold Medal

The long hiatus since my previous blog post is due to my younger sister passing away from cancer; my suffering from non-serious but exhausting health issues; and my volunteering with administrative chores for a charity that supports Ukraine. A tough year. Well, now I have regained at least some of my wits — once more I can look forward in life.

The biggest Swedish gaming convention Gothcon is traditionally held in Gothenburg during the Easter weekend. This year, I got a great award: best Swedish game writer during the past twelve months. Jubilation!

Vad handlar Basker Blå om?

A short introduction to a setting book for the Swedish horror RPG Chock.

Basker Blå ställs svenska FN-soldater inför paranormala utmaningar i ett förhärjat fjärran land. Följande premisser gäller:

  1. Skådeplatsen är det fiktiva västafrikanska landet Atlântida, en portugisisk koloni fram till 1975 och därefter en realsocialistisk diktatur med starka band till sovjetblocket. Kampanjen utspelas vid valfri tidpunkt mellan mordet på Olof Palme 28 februari 1986 och Berlinmurens fall 9 november 1989. Under dessa år klingar Kalla kriget tack vare sovjetdiktatorn Michail Gorbatjovs politik.
  2. Atlântida är en makaronesisk ö i Atlanten, stor som Småland + Blekinge och belägen ca 400 km väster om Sierra Leone. Ön var obebodd när den upptäcktes av portugiserna i mitten av 1400-talet. Dess tropiska klimat var gynnsamt för plantagejordbruk så portugiserna koloniserade snabbt ön och förde dit afrikanska slavar som tvingades odla sockerrör, senare även kaffe och kakao.
  3. Några månader före kampanjstart omkommer Atlântidas diktator i en helikopterolycka. Händelsen utlöser så omfattande våldsamheter att statsapparaten bryter samman varpå anarki utbryter – detta kallas Statskollapsen. För att förhindra att läget trappas upp till en internationell konflikt, upprättar FN United Nations Atlantida Force (UNAFOR), en fredsbevarande styrka som ska säkra humanitärt bistånd och upprätthålla ordning medan atlantiderna återuppbygger sitt samhälle.
  4. Samtidigt utnyttjar många väsen Atlântidas kaos för ondskefulla syften. Sällskapet Skidlöparorden*, främst aktivt inom svenska försvarsmakten, har förutsett detta och därför placerat flera dugliga Medvetna, däribland spelarnas äventyrare, i AT01, Sveriges första UNAFOR-kontingent.

*Skildras i boken Beredskapstid.Frågor på detta?

Uppdatering Runequest Sverige

Summary: Some news about the production of the Swedish edition of Runequest.

Jag är inne på upploppet med Chock-boken Basker Blå. Därefter kör vi på Eloso igång skrivarbetet med Runequest Sverige (RQSE). Vi håller redan på att lägga fast ramarna, bestämma hur vi ska skriva (koncist och redigt på klassiskt svenskt maner), plocka in inspiration till Talastar från nordisk och centraleuropeisk bronsålder, och så vidare. Jag har ju jobbat med rollspel med samma tänk tidigare, främst då Viking på 1990-talet, så jag har inga problem med att visualisera “vårt” RQSE.