Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Commentary on Appendix P

A version of myself from a parallel world ended up making an RPG called 'River of Shadows. I couldn't get my hands on a copy. But I did find this chunk of analysis of Appendix P, which seems to be a list of books that have influenced the game design along with a commentary on the influence of each book.

The horrific and sustained level of violence in the mid-to-late stages of the game are clearly inspired by Gwynnes relation of the Indian Wars.

The fact that in early drafts of the game all PC's were referred to as 'settlers' shows the clearest link. Though all such references were utterly expunged in the 1st edition.

Stuarts controversial zero-sum approach to cultural and political development has attracted criticism, though it is difficult to tell if this is an ironic statement on Stuarts part. This may be the first development of 'ghost protocol' rule systems that play such a large part in later editions.

Blind Descent by James M.Tabor

Stuarts noted obsession with large underground spaces is well documented. The random tables for vast subterranean Karst formations give us some of the most poetic and lucid prose of the first edition. Many players recall being inspired to start their first game simply to explore these ex-luminous negative spaces.

Is is a source of almost universal frustration that the tables are almost impossible to use coherently. Later hacks and adaptations have produced workable versions, but always at the cost of the poetic element.

Stuarts self-devised system for 'easily and and intuitively mapping 3-dimensional underground spaces' using pipe-cleaners and beads has never been successfully used by anyone.

The Theatre Work of Edward Gordon Craig

Few players will fail to recall images very similar to this one

and this one.

Once again we see an obsession with vast underground spaces, the human figure (and human actions) isolated yet, somehow, focused by the rich negative space around it.

Few are aware that Craig's influence applies not only to the interior art, and creative inspiration for the Karstic tables, but also to design. This image of Craig's illustrated Hamlet shows almost exactly the same page layout and design sense as the 1st Edition.

Though parts of the 1st edition are given as a Socratic dialogue, between designer and player and between GM and Character, attempts to present it as a dramatic work have always ended in failure.

Unquenchable Fire by Rachel Pollack

A random roll for gender at character creation and again at every third level when in the presence of magic, is the most direct of Pollacks influences in the game.

Stuart caused controversy when a transcript of an alleged Internet chat emerged in which he railed against Pollacks 'hippie-ocalypse' and ranted for several non-punctuated pages about a wide variety of apparently unrelated political topics. Stuart has denied any connection to the transcript.

Pollacks influence is clearly shown in the magic system. The use of extended improvised poetics and the rapid power exchange between the player and game master, sometimes peaking in a total and immediate reversal of roles, is one of the most unique features of the game. Many players got there first taste of running a game after an unexpected use of magic and some of the most famous campaigns have experiences multiple, unplanned reversals of this kind.

Personal Memoirs of U.S.Grant.

MCLELLAN! Ah, who does not recall the first appearance of MCLELLAN in their game. That remarkable and engaging enemy/ally figure does more than anything else to add a much needed humanity to what is often little more than a disturbing palimpsest of strange encounters. The dice matrix used for generating Random Falstaffian Counterpoints of Occluded Motivation are one of the most exciting and most-often copied parts of the game. Here, if nowhere else, we can truly say that Stuart has added something to the hobby as a whole.

The Air Loom Gang – Mike Jay

The re-working of almost all villains in the setting as imaginary telepathic machines, manned and created by schizophrenics, is one of the strangest and most disturbing aspects of the game. Few first time players will fail to recall the final door in castle Roscoe opening to reveal, not the cackling Vampire Monroe (who had taunted the players during the whole level) but the shadowy, clattering form of an impossible machine, manned by the insane.

In fact about 80% of players who were introduced to the game by the 'Roscoe's Folly' adventure simply stopped playing after the first level. It is of interest that almost all the designers and writers for later editions of the game were drawn from the remaining 20% from the same adventure.


  1. Would that we lived in a world where Random Falstaffian Counterpoints of Occluded Motivation dice matrices are objects of emulation.

  2. Heh, this is neat. In your research did you find any more information on character classes/roles?