Podcast: Writing the Kin-strife sourcebook for MERP

Twenty-five years ago, I masterminded the creation of the sourcebook The Kin-strife for Iron Crown’s game Middle-earth Role-playing together with a bunch of creative Swedes and Americans.

The Kin-strife deals with a civil war that wracked Gondor about 1,600 years before the events in Lord of the Rings. Gondor suffered ten years of bloodshed and tyranny as the usurper Castamir deposed the rightful king Eldacar by armed rebellion. However, Castamir failed to hold on to power, and the exiled king staged a successful counter-rebellion and reclaimed the throne by killing the usurper in battle. Our book, about 200 pages long, explains in depth what Gondor is like in those tumultuous years and how to run several types of campaigns there.

Today, The Kin-strife remains a much appreciated sourcebook and, a few days ago, the podcast Red Moon Roleplaying interviewed me about what is was like to write it. Listen to our discussion at Red Moon’s web page (link >>> ) or in this YouTube video.  (And here is a blog post from 2011 about the MERP Kin-strife project — link >>> )

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Patreon Progress (2): “Thriller”

I am currently busy fixing a lot of things at home and that is a recipe for serendipitous discoveries: in this case, I unearthed the typewritten manuscript for Thriller, my first complete role-playing game design.

In the summer of 1983 I worked night shifts as a solitary security guard at a factory in my hometown Gothenburg. The nights were long and dull, so I took a small typewriter to work  and wrote Thriller during the slack hours between my patrol rounds. (My boss didn’t object, because my hobby kept me awake.) The game was based on tropes from the spy comics (e.g. Secret Agent X-9) and action-hero television series (e.g. The Professionals) that were available in Sweden in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Thriller was an adequate game in those days, though it is outdated nowadays. I submitted its manuscript to Titan Games, the Swedish company that a few years later published Swedish Dungeons & Dragons, but they were not interested. I kept on working on the project for some time: my manuscript contains an addendum from 1984 that outlines a parallel-worlds setting, comparable to Steve Jackson’s much later GURPS Alternate Earths. I remember play-testing a Thriller adventure in late 1984 with Ylva, Christer, and Per, three university friends in Lund. The set-up was a cross-over with Call of Cthulhu, even though the players never realized it. Hence Thriller was flexible enough to handle any kind of contemporary action-oriented campaign.

However, when I joined Target Games in April 1985, I got busy with that company’s games so Thriller ended up in my collection of unrealized game projects.

A scanned PDF in Swedish of Thriller will become available for my supporters  when my Patreon page is up and running.

Patreon Progress (1)

I have decided to tell you, at irregular intervals, how my preparations for my Patreon page are progressing. So here is my first report.

I have had a brain-storming session with a friend to determine my focus and priorities. My conclusions were pretty straightforward:

  1. I will emphasize PDFs for role-playing games, mainly in English because these days my readers come from all over the world.
  2. I will also emphasize prêt-à-porter, that is, stuff that you can start using straight away without having to buy some other game product.
    • As a consequence, I will develop a flexible rules engine that can be revised and attached to any setting or adventure that I put in my Patreon library.
  3. Mars, yes there is no escaping Mars when you deal with me. I intend to complete a semi-finished science-fantasy Mars game that has resided on my computers for several years.

Well, that’s all for today. Please stay tuned to this blog for further news.

 

Chock 2.0: »Märk hur vår skugga …«*

Summary in English: A post about a an adventure I am currently writing for the reboot of the Swedish horror RPG Chock.

Välkommen till den popkulturella versionen av yuppietidens Sverige med snabba börsklipp, med landets ekonomi på steroider, med Imperiet, Roxette och Eurythmics i radion, med endast två TV-kanaler, och med filmer som Wall Street, Snuten i Hollywood 2 och Plutonen på biograferna. Och i ett dragigt kontor i Stockholms Frihamn driver ett gäng kreativa unga män ett framgångsrikt företag som gör rollspel till en hobby för hundratusentals tonåringar.

I våras fick jag grönt ljus från Eloso, företaget som publicerar Sagospelet Äventyr, att skriva ett intro-äventyr till deras nya version av skräckspelet Chock. Och sedan dess har jag filat på »Märk hur vår skugga …«, en mordgåta med fokus på dödssynden girighet. Äventyret utspelas i Stockholm och Roslagen någon gång mellan mordet på Olof Palme 28 februari 1986 och Berlinmurens fall 9 november 1989.

Det blir en inte alltför nostalgisk återblick på åren när jag var ung vuxen (jag fyllde trettio våren 1989) och såg världen förvandlas framför mina ögon. Skildringen av åttiotalet är givetvis en smula hårddragen — jag arbetar ju i den svenska deckartraditionen — med blicken riktad mot yuppieerans trista sidor: girighet, droger och unga mäns förtidiga död (AIDS i verkligheten, något annat i Chock-världen).

Här är ett litet smakprov på hur jag presenterar settingen:


Detektivarbete handlar i mångt och mycket om att få fram information. Spelledaren måste då tänka på att följande gäller under 1980-talet.

  • Posten är pålitlig: brev och paket kommer fram i hela landet på ett dygn för brev och på tre för paket. Flygpost till USA tar en vecka.
  • Telefonkiosker: Televerket har ställt ut myntmatade telefonkiosker på offentliga platser, som tunnelbanestationer och torg. Kioskernas telefonkataloger innehåller utmärkta stadskartor.
  • Mobiltelefoni i Televerkets NMT-nät tillhandahåller dyra tjänster med god täckning. 1988 finns det cirka 200.000 mobilabonnemang i Sverige. De stora svarta telefonerna kallas skämtsamt yuppienallar. De har endast talfunktioner.
  • Persondatorer är vanliga på kontor, men inte i hemmen. De används främst för textbehandling och ekonomi. En maskin kostar minst en månadslön och har en klumpig bildskärm. Disketter används för att flytta filer mellan datorer. Internet används endast av några enstaka institutioner i Sverige.
  • Telefax används för att snabbt skicka bilder och text över telefonlinjer.
  • Etermedia domineras av Sveriges Television och Sveriges Radio. Aktuellt, Rapport och radionyheterna på P3 är de viktigaste nyhetskällorna för de flesta.
  • Dagstidningar läses av nästa alla, eftersom de skriver om lokala angelägenheter. Vanliga bibliotek lagrar gamla tidningar i upp till några veckor.
  • Forskning: KB (Kungliga biblioteket) i Stockholm och Carolina (universitetsbiblioteket) i Uppsala är i det här äventyret bra ställen för akademiska efterforskningar. Deras bibliotekarier kan ofta hänvisa till andra boksamlingar av intresse, både offentliga och privata. Båda institutionerna har därtill kompletta mikrofilmsarkiv för svenska tidningar och tidskrifter, samt för många utländska.
  • Rättsmedicin: Fingeravtryck, fotspår, fibrer, kulor, likdelar och pollen är vad kriminaltekniker har att jobba med. Biokemiska analysmetoder, t.ex. DNA-tester, hör däremot enbart hemma i William Gibsons cyberpunkromaner.

*Äventyrets titel är hämtat från första raden av Fredmans epistel no 81, av Carl Michael Bellman. Imperiets version blev en stor hit 1985 och spelades flitigt i radion under de påföljande åren.

Märk hur vår skugga, märk Movitz mon frère,
Inom ett mörker sig slutar.
Hur guld och purpur i skoveln, den där,
Byts till grus och klutar.
Vinkar Charon från sin brusande älv
Och tre gånger sen dödgrävaren själv.

I am preparing my Patreon library

“Anders Blixt is a machine that turns coffee into role-playing games.”

This summer I have started working on a Patreon page. My intention is to create an interesting library with English and Swedish gaming articles (plus occasional fiction, and non-fiction) for my supporters’ enjoyment. I have accumulated a lot of unpublished “stuff” over my 35+ years as a professional game designer and writer, and I have ideas for plenty more. My three children are now adults or almost-adults, so I have more time for sitting at my laptop and turn coffee-fueled dreams into texts. And these days, there are publishing tools available that would have been science-fiction-ish at the time of the publication of my first paid article in 1980: “The Werewolf Disease” in Journal of Travellers’ Aid Society #5 .

I have no idea how many months it will take for me to put together an attractive collection, because many old texts exist only on paper and need to be scanned and processed. And I have no wish to launch my Patreon place too early and thereby make my supporters disappointed.

Therefore, my advice is: stay tuned to this blog.

Sorgeveden: Skuggskog i Ebenholtslandet

Summary in English: A spooky jungle ruin in my Sorgeveden forest setting for the Swedish fantasy RPG Hjältarnas Tid.

En förhäxad skuggskog i Sorgevedens tropiska Ebenholtsland. Ett övergivet tempel, för länge sedan helgat åt mörka makter, är källan till den täta skugga som fallit över trakten. En djärv jägare har nu sökt sig hit, kanske för att lista ut hur ljuset ska fördriva mörkret härifrån.

Konstnär: Sergey Vasnev på Artstation. Klicka på bilden för en större version.

Thoughts in a Time of Drought

“History knows no happy endings, just crises that come and go.”

This summer has been extremely hot and dry here in Sweden. The unusual weather started in May and still continues two months later. Sweden’s meteorological records go back 270 years and nothing like this summer has ever been registered. The scientific underpinning of anthropogenic climate change is strong so I am convinced that mankind is heading into an era of turbulent weather.

(However, if you, dear reader, happen to be a climate-change denier, this blog post is NOT an invitation to enter your objections in the comment field. The post’s purpose will become clear below, and TL;DR is not an acceptable excuse.)

Mythic and Real Climate Horrors
Norse mythology speaks of the Fimbulvinter, a winter that lasts for three years and heralds Ragnarök when the world will perish in storm and fire. Archaeologists speculate that this mythic winter may been a reflection of an extreme cold-weather event around AD 540, caused by volcanic eruptions. I have lived through many harsh winters so I understand my distant ancestors’ fear of that season.

But these days, a Fimbulsommar appears to be a more realistic threat to my country. Warm summers are generally considered to a blessing among us Swedes, but I have endured hot Augusts in the eastern Mediterranean, in Florida and in Afghanistan, so I have come to understand how long periods of drought and heat can be regarded with as much fear as overlong winters. The Sun is not a merciful celestial entity, something that is obvious in descriptions of Apollon, a Greek Sun god that also is the lord of plague, and in the legend of Phaëthon, a demigod whose failed attempt to steer the Sun chariot across the sky almost causes the end of the world by taking the Sun too close to Earth’s surface.

The warming of Terra will probably disrupt the extant political order severely as people and agriculture will have to move away from the expanding tropics. At the same time, the rising oceans will inundate major urban areas like Dhaka, London, New York and Mumbai.

Melting polar caps will reshape our world

American Revolution vs European Evolution
When I was young, science fiction stories often spoke of a future unified Earth, usually considered to be a “good thing” with humanity coming together in a union of regional “states”. Often such a unification was justified by appeals to reason, e.g., as a way ensuring peace and social stability. But the warming of Terra might instead justify a “unification by necessity” scenario: the challenges to human civilization become so huge that long-term transnational efforts are required to ensure its survival.

The European Union can be seen as a case of transnational cooperation originally instigated by the necessity of avoiding yet another devastating European war. Unlike the United States, which was created by a revolutionary declaration in 1776 and by the promulgation of a constitution in 1787, the fusion of Europe’s nations (starting in 1952 with the CECA Treaty) has incrementally expanded in extent and scope, treaty by treaty. This evolution will probably never end and so I dare not guess what a united Europe will look like by the time my children, all born around the millennium, get grandchildren.

In the last thirty years, the European Union has had to find new ways of dealing with some serious and unexpected challenges, for example:
— the Balkan Wars in the 1990s, and the resulting political complications, some of which remain unresolved 20 years later.
— nation-building in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001/02. I went to Kabul ten years ago as a member of EUPOL Afghanistan, a civilian EU police support mission.
— widespread piracy around the Horn of Africa after the internal collapse of the Republic of Somalia in the 1990s. EU has organized the long-term counter-piracy Atalanta and Nestor missions.
— the huge refugee influx caused by the drawn-out Syrian civil war in the 2010s
— the spectre of resurgent European authoritarianism, also in the 2010s.

The EU administration in Brussels has therefore been forced to develop central political and administrative mechanisms for crisis management. Whether those efforts have been productive is another issue, but we can at least commend the EU for trying.

A Green Cyberpunk Setting?
Going from reality to the realm of science fiction, I now envision an EU-inspired setting for an RPG setting, perhaps in 2118. Heroism in small steps might be an apt campaign theme, i.e., determined characters strive to handle minor crises that never stop coming.

The loose Terran Federation is Earth’s dominating political entity. It grows in slowly size as more and more sovereign nations accede to it because they need to join its civilization-saving ventures. The TF’s tasks at hand are immense as agriculture must be reorganized at the continental level and new cities built at Earth’s new coastlines. Its Crisis Investigation Center dispatches intrepid operators to troubled spots around the world. Their job is to check what is really going on and figure out what to do about it, their conclusions sometimes leading to the establishment of specialized operations for handling specific problems.

But serving as an field operative of a cumbersome organization is never a smooth ride; in this particular context, CIC agents often need to come up with creative solutions that accomplish what’s needed, while keeping the home office in a state of semi-ignorant complacency. When hotshot freewheelers, for example militant activists from the Emerald Serenity movement, jump into the fray, the situation of the ground gets even more messy.

Voilà, I have moved from my reflections on this extreme Swedish summer to outlining a setting for a semi-near-future science fiction campaign based on a very troubled Earth, executed as “green cyberpunk”. And that’s the core of this post: a piece of political science fiction inspired by the current grim climate changes.