About Gondica

I am a gray-haired middle-aged chap living in Stockholm, Sweden. I earn my living as a tech writer and use some of my spare time to create role-playing games and fantastic stories.

Autumn in Riga, Latvia

In the autumn of 2019, I spent an extended weekend in Latvia, one of Sweden’s neighbors across the Baltic Sea. However, when I grew up during the Cold War, we regarded Latvia as “beyond the event horizon”, one of many nearby countries enslaved by communist tyrants and off-limits to people from democratic Europe.

When I walked through Riga’s central park, I spotted several memorial stones — listing a name, a date, a profession — at the exact locations where civilian Latvians in early 1991 had been killed by Soviet soldiers that the Kremlin had dispatched to reassert its rule. Next to the the city’s grocery market, I encountered a museum dedicated to the sufferings in the Riga Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

In many places in Europe, such memorials and museums are a part of everyday life. Here in Sweden, they are not. Is Sweden therefore an abnormal European country? Probably. Our ability to dodge out of the way of 20th-century tyrants spared us much misery, but it also made us partially incapable of sensing the price of liberty and the horrors coming from losing it.

September Was a Busy Month

From a creative-writing perspective, the month of September can be summarized as Swedish Call of Cthulhu. I edited several adventures, translated as well as new ones, putting my long experience as a technical writer to work by: 

  • replacing anglicisms with proper Swedish words
  • turning clumsy sentences into polished Swedish
  • “translating” handouts written in contemporary Swedish into the stilted language and  archaic grammar used by officials in 1920s.
  • chasing typos and missing words  

I also wrote a small CoC adventure (pamflettäventyret Charons lur / Charon’s [Musical] Horn) located to Hultsby, a tiny village south of Gothenburg where I grew up in the 1960s.  Hundred years ago, this was farmlands connected to Gothenburg by a steam train. Nowadays, place is a densely populated part of the Gothenburg metropolitan area.

I also made some progress on my SF novella Dusk and Dawn by developing its  approaching finale and finding a reasonable way. Two chapters remaining.

Kicking off for the Autumn

My career as an RPG writer has taken a wonderful turn. In August, Eloso’s owners held a kick-off weekend during which we made plans for the near future (that is, for 2020/21). We also agreed on how we are to pursue our many projects. 

In short: 

We have currently three major RPG lines to which we all contribute: Chock: Åter från graven; Swedish Call of Cthulhu; and Swedish Runequest. As you can see, Eloso is the Swedish partner of the legendary American RPG company Chaosium. I will be the spider at the center of the  Runequest web — l’araignée universelle — when we re-start translating it in 2021; we had to put the project in the backburner six months ago when covid-19 started wrecking our plans for 2020. 

In addition, I will produce indie-style games under the Eloso by Blixt moniker, some in Swedish, some in English, some in both. I handle most of their production by myself, while Eloso takes care of printing and distribution. The Expert series, powered by the Expert Nova rules, belong here. Currently, I am writing Expert Outreach, a post-apocalyptic space opera game (in English only) and I strive for a 2021 release, though reliable forecasts are currently impossible. There are more titles in the pipeline, but it’s too early to divulge any details about them.

Writing Progress during Summer

My assignment at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency ended in late July; the Swedish corona infection rate has decreased steadily since May and the agency therefore wished to down-size its pandemic emergency organization. I was a civilian reserve officer, not an employee, so I was demobilized with one week’s notice.

As a sunny summer is upon us and schools are closed, I took two daughters on a road & ferry trip to the beautiful island of Gotland and to the port city of Gothenburg. A sorely needed time to wind down after five stressful months in the service of our country. Plenty of long walks in the company of close friends plus a few games of Terraforming Mars.

I also used my time to manage my ongoing projects, two games for Eloso and one short novel:

Expert Outreach: I have written plenty of text for this English post-apocalyptic RPG, describing the broken cosmos into which the intrepid adventurers venture. Mankind’s survival on a war-ravaged Earth is at stake and the remedies are to be found “out there”. But many competing sapient species dislike or hate us, so it’s a tough struggle. During June and July, I have had a few fruitful design discussions by email and F2F with the “usual suspects” Lennart Larsson, Jon Ljunggren, and Clarence Redd. Their critical input is essential to my designs. In earlier creativity updates, I have mentioned that I’m working on rules for exonics (paranormal powers); they are now a part of the Outreach rules. Also, Elin Blixt and I have had several sessions discussing what various xenos (i.e. alien species) should look like.

Swedish Call of Cthulhu: I am busy writing a short adventure taking place in the outskirts of Gothenburg in the 1920s (to be published as a PDF) and an article for the Fenix game magazine on a alternate Swedish setting.

Dusk and Dawn: I have been writing this English science fiction novel for some years. In-story, the protagonists have been struggling to accomplish a major undertaking. At the keyboard, I have struggled with how set up the final showdown. In July, I arrived at a plot finale that makes sense and also matches several fore-shadowing clues that I inserted in the story on day one. At last! Jubilation! However, four chapters remain to to be written — don’t hold your breath.

Expert Outreach: My Next Game

During the spring, I pondered a lot on what would become the next installment in my Expert series of games, nowadays produced by Swedish game publisher Eloso where I recently became a minority partner. After a while, I made up my mind: Expert Outreach, post-apocalyptic space opera in which mankind has to survive in a dark cosmos. It is an extensive development of grim visions for the future that I previously have written about in Swedish (link >>>). Expert Outreach will only be published in English.

I have always had a fondness for science fiction RPGs, ever since I entered the universes of Traveller in 1978 (English link >>>); that game turned me into a professional game designer seven years later. I have experimented with plenty of futuristic settings over the years and acquired a taste for gritty ones, that is, The Expanse rather than Star Trek; Rogue One rather than The Phantom Menace. I give Expert Outreach the label “post-apocalyptic space opera”; its theme is “mankind facing a dangerous future” in which our survival as a species is at stake.

Despite my temporary assignment (ends August 31) as an information analyst at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, June has been a surprisingly productive month. So far I have outlined two-thirds of Expert Outreach and written perhaps one-third of the background. I see no significant obstacles when it comes to content, because I know what the game needs and how to make it work.

Expert Outreach uses an adapted version of the Expert Nova rules (that is, my variant of Basic Role-playing 1D20). Elin Blixt does the interior artwork, whereas Clarence Redd and Andreas Sölvebring contribute text. Hopefully some other Swedish game writers will join my creative team.

00-talet: Samling runt lägerelden

Summary in English: I reminisce about the Swedish RPG hobby during the 00s decade.

Här på bloggen har jag skrivit mycket om de svenska rollspelens första guldålder på 1980-talet och deras silverålder på 1990-talet. Men jag har knappt skildrat 00-talet. Här sammanfattar jag därför diverse minnen av detta årtiondes svenska spelkosmos.

Detta kräver dock en tillbakablick till 1990-talets sista år. 1998 gick den svenska spelgrossisten Top Games i konkurs. Detta företag var de små rollspelsproducenternas enda kanal till leksaks- och hobbybutiker runt om i landet. Ingen annan tog vid, så vi källarspelmakare kunde inte längre distribuera våra spel utanför de fåtaliga specialistbutikerna. 1999 havererade svenska spelindustrins nestor Target Games. (Sverige var inte unikt här, ty även flera stora amerikanska spelförlag som GDW, West End Games och Iron Crown Enterprises gick under i slutet av 1990-talet.)

I lägereldens tid

När 00-talet tog sin början gällde alltså inte de gamla “spelreglerna”; istället stundade en skymningstid för vår bransch. I och för sig skrevs omtyckta rollspel som Western, Lemuria, Saga, Eon och Mutant: Undergångens Arvtagare, men alla trycktes i små upplagor. Samtidigt växte data- och kortspelen i betydelse, vilket märktes i butiker och på konvent.

Här tände Tove och Anders Gillbring en lägereld i aftondunklet genom att starta Fenix, vår hobbys nya mittpunkt. Tidskriftens betydelse för svenska rollspelsbranschens långsiktiga överlevnad är nog oomtvistad med artiklar till, recensioner av och reklam för nya spelprodukter. Dessförinnan hade Tove, Anders, Åke Rosenius och jag — de fyra gamla Rävarna — i två omgångar producerat Sveroks medlemstidning Sverox, vilket blivit ett samlande organ för svenska gamers. När Sveroks styrelse avvecklade vårt andra kontrakt bestämde sig Tove och Anders för att köra vidare i egen regi.

Ett vågspel — ja; en framgångssaga — ja. Gamers och spelkonstruktörer samlades runt lägerelden Fenix för att umgås, höra nyheter och utbyta idéer. Spelmakande är en gruppsyssla och i flammornas fladdrande sken smidde vi våra planer. Må vara att allt inte förverkligades på grund av yttre omständigheter (mer om detta nedan), men så har det alltid varit — tänk på Äventyrsspels avbrutna Partisan-projekt. Så vi svenska gamers lyfter på hatten inför Tove och Anders och hyllar dem för deras envetna insatser som gjort att Fenix denna sommar firar sitt hundrade nummer trots allt elände Gilbringarna genomgår. Vivant, vivant, vivant!

Hur var 00-talet för mig då?

Tre glada barn kom till familjen Blixt runt millennieskiftet, åtföljda av småbarnsföräldrarnas ständiga trötthet. Men fram till 2005 lyckades jag ändå skriva pulpsettingen Lemuria (tillsammans med Krister Sundelin), romanerna Iskriget (en dieselpunkthriller i ett alternativt Antarktis, finns numera i en reviderad engelsk utgåva The Ice War länk >>> ) och Spiran och staven (utspelar sig i min fantasyvärld Gondica) och många artiklar i Fenix.

Därutöver initierade jag två nya spelprojekt: Okeanos (antik sjöfararfantasy) och Wolframfästet (mörka science fantasy-äventyr under jordens sista tid). Min ambitionsnivå var hög och jag lade ut texten om mina idéer i Fenix och vid diverse konventsföreläsningar.

Men åren 2006-09 slog livet undan fötterna för mig: en närstående avled och en annan blev allvarligt sjuk med men för livet; parallellt bortrationaliserades jag från mitt jobb på en statlig myndighet och for därefter på sex månaders fredsuppdrag till Afghanistan.

Sjukdom och död är naturliga delar av människolivet, men det är stor skillnad på att begrunda detta på ett abstrakt plan och att möta dessa företeelser close-up i ett svenskt hospice eller på Kabuls gator. Tove Gillbring kommenterade några år in på 10-talet att mitt originalmanus för Wolframfästet hade varit djupsvart i tonen; inte märkligt alls, ty jag hade skapat dess spelvärld, vår jord som tynar bort i evigt mörker i en fjärran framtid, med (bildligt talat) döden i rummet bredvid.

Vid 00-talets slut insåg jag, utmattad efter åratals strapatser och plågad av krigsrelaterad PTSD, att min ork endast räckte åt min familj. Jag lade alla ambitiösa spelprojekt på hyllan och skulle tills vidare nöja mig med att skriva enstaka Fenix-artiklar.

Lacho calad! Drego morn!*

Några år in på 2010-talet vände vinden.

2015 återupplivade jag Okeanos och omarbetade texten till kampanjboken Skymningshavets gåtor (länk >>>) åt Riotminds Drakar och Demoner 2016.

Wolframfästet sammanfattade jag i ett par Fenix-artiklar. Jag har det kompletta spelet på min dator, men jag vill omarbeta det rejält innan det blir publicerbart. Jag står ju inte längre för originaltextens dystra syn på människolivet och kosmos.
“När ska du hinna göra det då?” frågar kanske vän av ordning.
“Inte en aning,” svarar jag i så fall.

Om du vill läsa mer om svenska rollspel vid mitten av 10-talet, följ denna länk >>>

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*I Simarillion använde Edain detta härskri: ”Flamma upp, o ljus! Fly, o natt!”

Expert Nova’s Fundamental Precepts

When you buy a car, you look for a model whose performance suits your needs. The generic car, equally good at all tasks, doesn’t exist. This observation also applies to RPG rules: their designer has, hopefully, a clear notion for what purposes his game is intended.

So, when I start working on a new set of RPG rules, I first visualize a key issue: “What do the adventurers do here?” In other words, what kinds of story/movie/TV-series do you wish to emulate? Your decision takes you to the next question: “What important features does your choice require?” (Dogfighting spacecraft? Sneaky espionage gadgets? Clever heists?) Hence, you must establish a set of precepts to serve as the foundation of your project.

My favorite example is West End Games’s Star Wars D6 from 1987, designed by Greg Costikyan. When I read that game for the first time 33 years ago, it was like seeing an intricate piece of machinery put together by a master craftsman. Greg knew exactly what the Star Wars setting required and he designed the game accordingly, scoring a Gold+ medal for his efforts.

One year ago, I decided (at the spur of a moment) to write Expert Nova. From hour one, I knew for what types of campaigns its rules were intended. My intentions are summarized in the following precepts (central ideas are underlined):

  1. Milieu: Expert Nova is intended for action and adventures in contemporary settings (circa 1880-2050) with technological underpinnings, that is, near-future science fiction, steampunk, dieselpunk, solarpunk, spy thrillers, pulp adventures, alternate history, etc. I also apply two Classical maxims to the game: pántōn chrēmáton ánthrōpon métron eínai* (“man is the measure of all things”, Protagoras) and homo homini lupus est** (“man is man’s wolf”, Plautus), that is, Expert Nova deals with our species facing the universe while simultaneously presupposing that we are our own worst enemy. Hence, moderate “weird technology” lies within Expert Nova’s scope, whereas horror and supernatural entities don’t.
  2. Mood: The players’ adventurers are supposed to be competent people with agency, free will, and a desire to make sensible decisions. That is, a campaign may introduce powerful NPCs with malicious intentions, but there are always ways of opposing them; a setting may be grim, but the adventurers still get the choice to “do the right thing”. For those reasons, railroading adventures, moral nihilism, and “let’s embrace the darkness” attitudes are out of bounds.
  3. Mindset: Adventurers are supposed to think outside the box when facing challenges. Therefore, I encourage clever schemes, cool stunts, and witty repartee.

A Swedish game designer recently asked me whether he could use my rules for a new game project. When he explained its setting to me. I saw that it lay within Expert Nova’s scope, so I granted him permission. I’m looking forward to see what he will accomplish with the Expert Nova “toolbox”.

Expert Nova is available in Swedish and English …
… as paperbacks — link >>>
… as PDFs — link >>> 


* Människan är alltings mått.
** Människan är människans varg.

Writing Despite Covid-19

The covid-19 pandemic is currently setting the rules for everyone. I am a reserve officer of the civil defense service, and some weeks ago, I was called to duty as an information analyst at the Civil Contingencies Agency here in Stockholm. It is a regular  office job: I relieve my career colleagues of routine matters, such as summarizing committee protocols and producing daily updates on activities in other national and regional public agencies. Coordination is the keyword.
Therefore, I had little time for RPG writing in March, but I made the following creative moves:
  • I published Expert Nova, Swedish Edition as a PDF (price: 88 kr, appr. €8) at DriveThruRPG — link >>>
  • I wrote an article for the Fenix RPG magazine about a creepy science fiction creature for Expert Nova.
  • I joined the Eloso team to develop new products the Swedish Chock horror RPG after my “demobilization” from my civil defense duties (hopefully in late May). I cannot go into details at this stage, but I will write on a subject that has been close to my heart for many years.