Wednesday, 5 September 2012

“I should have lived before Kennedy died”

Managed to dig up a bit more of the commentary to Appendix P for that parralel world RPG 'River of Shadows'. Including some stuff about CharGen this time. It's all frustratingly incomplete.

Millers Crossing – The Cohen Brothers

Millers crossing is an origin point of, and continual influence on, Stuarts hat obsession. His belief that character generation must begin “from the head down, or, if possible, from the hat down” has been repeated in multiple interviews.

The connection of hats with a society obsessed by status, honour and deception is clearly influenced by the film. Character type and hat type have always been regarded as the same thing in every edition. It has always been possible to identify NPC types via hat types. (Unless a deception is being attempted.) Loss of hat has always been a character fate slightly worse than death. Total Party Hat Loss or TPHL is the nightmare scenario for any game. Games almost always end after such an event. Friendship groups outside the game will usually break up for a year or more after a TPHL, sometimes permanently.

Most readers will be familiar with Stuarts obsession with hats and hat-related cultures (indeed the 25 pages of random hat tables in the first edition could hardly leave one in any doubt of this) and his often repeated remarks that he should have “lived before Kennedy died”. However, few know that due to the disproportionate size, and unusual shape of, his head, Stuart has never been able to wear a hat with any aesthetic success. The cumulative psychological effect of this frustrated desire must have been a powerful engine behind the development of ROS.

The rivers run dry into the sand. The routes are embargoed, the roads overgrown by grass. The gem lies uncut from the stone. Chains bar the roads, drones haunt the skies. In the final corners of the earth and the Sargasso of empire, the only export remaining is war.

The development of conflict itself as a kind of product, an investment of last resort, seems unique to the game. Stuarts cross-linked equipment lists which connect the prices of items above and below the earth have never been bettered.

Critics have claimed that the equations used to link the lists together in a reciprocal manner are unstable, following the pricing arrangements long enough will lead to wild swings in costing and ultimately lead to the PC's becoming net importers of gold into the underspace. However this instability-leading-to-collapse is clearly a deliberate part of the design.

Stuart may be the first RPG creator to use notion of the Vertical Archipelago to explain apparently inconstant economic and environment factors in the game space. In nations, like Afghanistan, with dramatic mountain and valley ranges, the shifts in elevation and the micro-climates created by steep valleys means that goods produced by very different environments can be combined in very small areas.

In particular, Barfields description of ripe, locally grown melons being sprinkled with fresh falling snow in Kabuls winter market seems to have been stolen directly from the book.

A Paradise Built in Hell – Rebecca Solnit.

The Anarchist City of Solint ( with the reversal of two letters in the name) was clearly named after the writer. The desperate red-flagged flavela, crawling starfish-like in the ruins of the dystopia it will one day become has been a favourite of players since the 1st Edition supplement 'Traitor Of The TimeCity'.

Solnit's (the writer) book also inspired the unusual social system shown in 'Traitor'. The citizens of Solint (The city) live every day knowing that the city they are fighting to create will eventually become a vast and corrupt Megopolis, which will then be destroyed in a cataclysmic war whose weapons will shatter time itself, driving the citycorpse in splinters back into its own history like bullet fragments in flesh.

They are also continually assaulted by burnt and voided living memories. Victims of the city's destruction in the far future. Warped and harried ghosts, hurled through the fires of their own destruction to desperately haunt an age long before their own. Mad and grieving they hunt their own ancestors through the ruins.

Despite (or as we can see from Solnits (the writer) book, because of) the continual physical, moral and psychic threat under which they live, the citizens of Solint (the city) are utterly heroic, selfless and brave. That this effect was achieved without numbing the more human, individual, personality-driven aspects of the setting is worthy of note. Later versions of the same supplement have not shown the same elegant synthesis.

The Insurgent Archipelago by John Mackinley

Enemies in the final levels are usually complex formations driven buy the unexpected blow-back from earlier, successful missions. As the players defeat enemies and force order onto the game-world, they discover that the imposition of order, regularity and system does not remove chaos but instead fragments it into strange new forms living in, and expanding, the proliferating gaps in newer more complex systems.

Dungeons invert to become city’s. Castles twist slowly into the earth and become new dungeons. By this point the PC's have assumed incredible new powers but their increased knowledge of the unseen consequences that can result makes them afraid to use any of them to the fullest extent. The randomised knock-on effects of high level spells make them all but impossible to cast. The last lines of high level verse must be curled back into the first in order to avoid catastrophic loss and to avoid risking the end of the game. This is almost impossible to achieve, due to the lyrical density required. Many players choose to leave the game at this stage.

1 comment:

  1. I have been chewing on your ROS stuff since you posted it.

    I still am, but I wanted to say that this is fantastic.