Olle Sahlin, grand old man of Sweden’s gaming, SCA, and Tolkien communities, quietly passed away in his sleep on January 9. He battled serious illness for many years, and yet he kept on going to hobby events in his wheelchair.
Olle’s many friends are running a GoFundMe fundraising for the benefit of his widow Karolina and for making a digital archive of his huge photo collection that covers forty years of our hobbies. It’s a good cause. Link >>>
In early January, we in the Eloso team coordinated with Chaosium and set our 2021 production schedule. I have two major tasks on my hand:
In January and February, I’ll write the Basker Blå (Blue Beret) campaign module for our Swedish horror RPG Chock. It’s late 1980s. Swedish and Finnish UN peacekeepers are stationed in the fictitious West African country Atlantida, monitoring the truce between the parties of a recent civil war. In the shadows, cruel creatures are feeding on the misery caused by the fighting.
I’ll spend the rest of 2021 developing Swedish Runequest. We’ll make a unique version, putting our piece of the action in a Gloranthan region eminently suited for Swedish RPG traditions at some distance from Dragon Pass and Prax. Therefore, I’ll select, translate, revise and create backstory, cults, cultures, and new character backgrounds to fit our needs. I’d guess that Swedish RQ will comprise two books, 250-300 pages together, that is, sleeker than the Chaosium edition.
Eloso’s revised priorities made me put Outreach in the backburner for Q1 and Q2. But rest assured: we have brainstormed how we will develop that game.
Also, I’m busy preparing a new Swedish title in my Expert RPG series for production in 2022.
Here is my elevator pitch for the Expert Outreach setting. The game will use an adapted version of the Expert Nova rules.
The Zakharr, alien invaders, crushed and chained humanity, and exploited and wrecked Terra for almost a century. But suddenly their empire crumbled as a strange plague killed them all. Who arranged this fortunate calamity and why? Nobody knows.
It’s now AD 2203. Forty years have passed since Terra’s liberation. We humans are busy building a new future in the ruins of the past, surrounded by the remnants of an advanced alien society.
Your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to participate in the rebuilding of our civilization by exploring interstellar space, by unravelling the mysteries of the Zakharr, by liberating fellow humans enslaved on distant worlds, and by thwarting the hostile schemes of alien species. You will be a small actor in a huge arena. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something to save our species from extinction.
But keep in mind, the galaxy is a dangerous place.
Expert Outreach: I have designed a quartet of xenos (alien species) that the adventurers are likely to encounter on faraway worlds. Lennart Larsson is my indispensable sounding board; a straight-forward and sharp-eyed veteran gamer that spots clichés and weaknesses in my texts.
SCoC: I am working on a trio of interconnected short adventures (pamflettäventyr), tentatively called Tre årstider (Three Seasons), that take place in Gothenburg and the rural district south of the city.
In September, I completed the autumn episode Charons lur (Charon’s Bugle) that takes place in October 1926.
In October, I started developing the winter episode En vanartig gosse (A Disobedient Lad). It’s December 1926 and the police investigators return to an old crime scene to check strange goings-on that might be connected to the events of episode 1.
There will also be a spring episode, tentatively named Vårvindar friska (Chilly Spring Breezes). The story-line skips to March 1927, when the ice breaks along the coastline south of Gothenburg.
Chock: I have outlined Basker Blå (The Blue Beret)*, a setting located in Atlantida, a fictitious West African country, during the second half of the 1980s. The United Nations has dispatched a multinational peace-keeping force, including a Swedish-Finnish infantry battalion, to monitor a shaky armistice in a civil war. The adventurers can be blue berets, journalists or relief workers; regard of which, they will soon get entangled in the malevolent schemes of foul beings from the Beyond.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am still doing my duty for our nation at the Civil Contingencies Agency. Every weekday evening, I fall asleep easily; every weekday morning, I get on the half-empty metro train heading for the office. Yes, what I do there does matter for my fellow citizens. And that’s what counts.
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):
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.
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.
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.