Thursday 5 March 2015

"Giant oysters are never surprised."

My friend Noisms has finally completed and released his long-promised setting book. 'Yoon-Suin'. There are a few things I can say about this that few others can.

Firstly, it was begun in serious form after a bet with me. A bet which I have now lost. You can see it in the comments to this post.

Secondly, two of my PC's were born there. Damodar, the likeable trident-wielding idiot who died in an abandoned Dwarven city, and Anil of MANPAC, who lived and ventured across the worlds until he reached level eight and was abandoned to his own devices because he sparked  off his creators self-loathing.

(MANPAC is not mentioned in this book, a sad omission.)

Thirdly, I saw an early copy of it. Anything in quotes here is a direct transcript of my reaction to that early version. (My print copy will not arrive for quite a while.)

"It’s very very good. It’s not quite like anything else. It’s a huge wedge of creative energy, anyone reading it is going to want to use it."

It is a little like what I would consider its most immediate inspiration, the Border Princes setting book for the Warhammer RPG. Like that, it is the cause for the generation of a world, rather than a world itself. It is fuel and an engine and a set of tools, rather than a car.

Is this the first of the OSR products to  offer a means for full ground-up cultural construction in the style of the Border Princes? (Perhaps others have?)

"It certainly stands up with (what I consider the be) the top rank of OSR products: Vornheim, Carcosa aaand, not much else up till now."

I wrote that before R&PL came out, I would still consider Yoon-Suin to be a 'top-shelf' product of the OSR, or at least of my little corner of it. It's highly original, clearly the product of a highly-distinct point of view. It creates and arranges information in a unique way. Like most OSR products its extremely 'stripped down' in terms of background with everything interesting expressed through terms of its use, or the way you interact with it.

(In a conversation with Scrap I said that Vornheim was like the Sex Pistols for our particular section of the OSR. Of all the people who bought it, a huge number ended up making their own stuff.

An interesting question is: what would you put in the top rung of published old-school settings?)

"The use of the side-on formatting is original and very apt. It gives the book as a whole a strong identity and helps you work with tables in a very specific way. There are maybe one or two limitations but there are a lot of opportunities and you take advantage of them."

Well, Noism's has determined to make a book that is awkward on the shelf. The 'use over conventionality' is perhaps becoming something of an old-school trope. Yoon-Suins odd table-friendly shape can go along with Vornheims die-drop table front cover as a kind of anti-aesthetic which might slowly become a new aesthetic.

The statement "we care so much about how you use this book that we actually made it weird to look at and hold because it make it easier to use." will probably end up being chewed on by RPG culture until, in ten years (maybe five?) mainstream books will be coming out with tables on the front covers under the dust jackets, or slightly sense-jangling informational architecture. It will be the 'distressed jeans' of RPG's, then it will be making money and we will all have to pack up and do something else.

Perhaps something else no-one has said is how much Yoon-Suin is about beauty. A lot of Zaks stuff is beautiful, but thats because he is obsessed with beauty and is a good artist, its not what Vornheim, or even R&PL is about. Those books go through beauty because anything going through Zaks mind will be processed that way, and R&PL in particular is beautiful in a very luxuriant way, but neither of them are about beauty. They are on the beauty train to dissonance and trouble.

Yoon-Suin is about beauty. All of the sights in it are picturesque. Very like an orientalist painting. Even the very horrible locations are a little more ripe than harsh. And the culture depicted in Yoon-Suin is about luxury and about beauty. Its relaxed instead of tight, slow instead of quick, warm rather than cold, lit rather than dark, sad rather than grim, opium not cocaine. Some RPG settings are created, in the manner of Apocalypse world, on a kind of energetic tilt so that whatever the PC's do when they wander into it will have deep ramifications, the world will spin around them. One gets the sense that, no matter how the DM constructs it, the world of Yoon-Suin is not going to change very much regardless of what the players do. The opium barges will still drift down the Yellow River, the slaves will still have rubbish lives, the Slug Men are not going to be deposed from the Yellow City. (Who would bother to? And who would replace the Slug Men? Calm down and have some tea.) The politics of the Hundred Kingdoms will always be chaotic and the chaos will never change. The PC's are simply moving through this world like everyone else.

Matthew Adams' art adds strongly to the sense of luxuriant decay. Especially the ink-blotch  drawings which I particularly like. Its been very interesting to watch Matthew go from a guy who occasionally does sketches on G+ to slowly getting better and better. Like with most things to do with art its better just to show you rather than talk about it so I will try to remember to put some of Matthews art down below this statement.

Its interesting to think about what Matthew will end up doing if he can grow so much in such a short space of time.

So beauty and luxury act as a kind of axis on which the world depicted in the book turns.

"And it’s a minor work of literary art in the strange way that the best OSR products are, a whole culture distilled into the choices used to create it. A mish-mash of orientalism, imagination, D&D, eastern cultures and god knows what else. It’s not like anything anybody else could have made or will make. You should be very proud.

On reading it I really wanted to go to Sughd and find out what the hell those Nasnas are up to, or take over an abandoned fortress by a river in Lahag, or hang out with boat people and get strange tattoos. And that’s exactly how it is meant to make you feel. I think people will be very impressed, I certainly hope they will be."

"I just realised that I am a Fakir because we follow the same career path: stay put and do something really weird for long enough and hope someone pays you for it."

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