“You bloody idiot, you know better than to mix yer liquors!” Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come
Characters in the Company series have a peculiar look at history. The future depicted in the novels is bland. Past times is where interesting stuff happened: cowboys, Indians, and of course pirates. To truly understand pirates, you need to mix yer liquors. To write about pirates, you need to behave like a bloody idiot. You need, to have a HAT.
Pirates or Ninjas? The clash of these super-memes is one of the most fundamental oppositions in culture, along with Dionysian vs Apollonian, Elves vs Dwarves, Elephant vs Hippopotamus. Kage Baker definitely sided with the pirates. The yarrr she brought into the world is manifest in one of the main characters in the series. For Alec, every day is Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Sadly, one of his twin brothers leans more on the ninja side.) Do you want to play the part of the good little boy, or do you want to be the rebel? Alec tries to be both, but his heart is true to the Jolly Roger.
Pirates have history. This is not the first stage in life. You become a pirate, you are not born one. And escaping the rule of law, embracing freedom, is a conscious choice; nobody is forced into the pirate life. In a game based on the Company series, I would like to see players questioning rules and choosing to rebel. What would those pirates face? A totalitarian machine based on the most comprehensive surveillance system ever devised.
The decision to raise the Jolly Roger should come from the players; it should not even be introduced as a viable option. If players feel like using the good boy system, let them do it. And if they don't behave, let them be pirates.
"Almost the first thing the Company discovered, when it went into this time travel business so many ages ago, was that history cannot be changed. Recorded history anyway. But if you work within the parameters of recorded history, you actually have quite a bit of leeway, because recorded history is frequently wrong, and there are always event shadows-places and times for which there is no recorded history." Kage Baker, The Children of the Company
Recorded history is a complex and elaborate thing. The cyborgs of the Company play in its shadows, slither between the footnotes, in the gray area where lack of detail or sheer inaccuracy allows them to operate. Sometimes, the lack of information allows them to enjoy a great deal of freedom. A sense of uncertainty and adventure lurks in the event shadows.
The concept of the event shadow strikes a familiar chord with all authors, but especially those who write derivative fiction, or designers who create games based on existing "properties" (the dirty word for "beautiful worlds"). When you create content within the framework provided by an existing narrative, such as historical records or a science-fiction story, and when you aim to stick to the canon of how everything happens (which is but one possibility), you have to forego some potential interactions. This happens whether the derivative content is created by a filmmaker or co-created by participants in a roleplaying game. Event shadows are those loose ends in the existing narrative you can take over and create meaningful content with, without feeling too much entangled by the existing content. They are spaces of freedom for you to seize and use to express your voice. Whatever is not preordained, can be changed.
Escaping the panopticon The Company series, brilliantly, highlights the shadows: adventure takes place behind the scenes of History. Event shadows are important events in Kage Baker's novels. In ancient times, they span countries and decades -or millenia. As time passes by, they get smaller and more localized. The advent of the information age narrows these spaces of uncertainty up until the point where almost everything seems to be under supervision. This is the panopticon age. The Company knows what its employees do, too. Except when, for whatever technical reason, it does not. Those are event shadows of a special kind: turning points, when you can breathe away from the surveillance system of the Company, places and times when you can be a criminal, advance your own plots, tie and untie your knots. They are the beacons of hope in a History crushed by the watchful eye of the 24th century. In a game set in the Company setting, event shadows should be both feared and hoped, as they provide unique opportunities to change things and settle accounts.
“He held out his hands and added brightly, “And it cuts overhead costs by sixty percent!” Kage Baker, The Sons of Heaven
Greed, not the greater good The novels of the Company describe a future where capital comes to dominate the whole history of the world, where stock in a company entitles to a share in the plunder of the past, where the events are shaped by greed and other vices. In this world, official History does not reflect the truth. It is but a Potemkine village hiding exploitation; not the worst exploitation, mind you -the members of the board of Dr. Zeus do not revel in the misery of other human beings-, but the farthest-reaching ever devised. All of it is the result of a business plan: Dr. Zeus Incorporated provides customers with information, items and living things of all origins. Cyborgs are listed as assets and employees. Somewhere, there is a balance sheet where their fate is weighed by accountants. Cyborgs are not supposed to better humanity in the course of their operations. If they help civilization move along, it is only because, doh, at the end of civilization lies the Company, so civilization is the way to go, or so goes corporate logic. There are not enough checks and balances to prevent the Company from resorting to unethical practices. The Company develops a "production force" without regard for ethics nor sustainable development and, when faced with the human resources equivalent of nuclear waste, picks the wrong choices.
How would greed impact gameplay? I am no accountant but I think a game based on the Company novels should factorize three elements.
1) The heavy cost of transportation of employees and items into the past, combined with initially limited cashflow, means the Company minimizes time travel at first. Later in narrative time, when the revenue kicks in (exponentially), it can expand its time-traveling operations enormously. However, this is done at the expense of possibilities. This is the entropic trade-off: as the Company gets rich, History calcifies.
2) The procuration of items as social control: the dog does not bite the hand of the master who feeds it. Cyborgs are provided with equipment and delicacies such as alcohol or even Theobromos. At some level, such resources are part of the delicate formula of programming, monitoring and other techniques devised to help control the cyborgs. One can imagine, for example, that the official goal of a game, as the Silence gets closer, would be to accumulate good performance reviews in order to get a big bonus with one's 2355 pension plan.
3) Capital changing hands. Who owns the Company indeed? As time goes by, the system embodified by the Company is less and less motivated by greed. Employees, managers and even stockholders can stop being on top of things.
The process of changing History is like Clausewitzian War; once begun, it takes a life of its own and pursues its own objectives according to its own internal logic. Greed is just the kickstarter.
"[Dr. Zeus] seemed to be blind to whatever might lie beyond 9 July 2355 AD." Kage Baker, The Sons of Heaven
In the Company novels, the future is off limits; Dr. Zeus can only project its power into the past and the present. No one knows what lies beyond 2355, because no time traveler has come forward to talk about it. This date is known as the Silence. In narrative terms, the Silence is a singularity, a Planck wall, a quantum frontier: the closer you approach it, the more the rules change and history seems to accelerate, until a narrative big bang that is the single most important moment in History. Everything builds up to the point of maximal entropy, when there is no time left and thus no options to explore.
The Silence is a keeper I envision two distinct exciting uses of the Silence in a game based on the Company setting: as the horizon (as seen from the past) and as the climax (as experienced in 2355 in the novels).
The horizon The Silence might be completely absent from the first part of the gaming experience, then creep slowly to the level of player awareness, then loom dreadfully over the last games. The players should experience doubt about this event until it completes. There should be an emotional build-up for the last scenes. The Silence is also a blank slate which leaves open the future. As long as the future is not written, it can be changed -that is the theory. As players get close to the Silence, they should: - know more and more, allowing them to make more informed choices; - have less and less time to act upon this knowledge to fulfill their endgame objectives.
The climax When the scenes of the Silence unfold, players might have little real choices (they lack time) while being unable to predict the outcome with 100% accuracy. Everybody, not only cyborgs, is facing the Silence. I would find it interesting to change the game rules at this last stage to reflect both the diminution of options and the sense of uncertainty. Why not revert to an old school simulationist model for the last epic scenes?
Not the "END" stamp I guess we can consider that, after the Silence, the future of the world is set. If anybody won, that is not something that can be taken back. This is the end of Company history and the beginning of something else. Perhaps, once you get there, the game is over and an entirely different one begins, with different stakes. For example, the Silence may make it possible for the player characters to pursue different activities, to try to bring their own stories to satisfactory closure by achieving deeply personal goals that could not fit within the grand strategy storyline that culminated with the Silence.
"Paradox? If you view time as a linear flow, certainly. Not, however, if you finally pay attention to the ancients and regard time (not eternity) as a serpent biting its own tail, or perhaps a spiral." Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come
Methodological solipsists vs Area Man When you write about past events, or when you contemplate them from the vantage of "eternity", you can afford to regard time as a serpent. You can assemble the pieces of the puzzle that is its skin with all the patience in Heaven, safe in the knowledge that it's all a done deal: only interpretation of history is susceptible to change, not the events themselves. But, in most cases, for us down here in the mud of passing time, crawling through the days, worming our way to the future, you kind of have to experience time as a linear flow.
Stop creating universes please While I love a good story, my first instinct is to dislike tales of travel in the past - you can travel in the future all you want, no one cares if you disappear, but don't you create a second version of the universe by saving Joan of Arc from her judges or something like that. My brain hurts just thinking about it. Did the above-quoted ancients delve into the intricacies of time paradoxes? From where I stand, for practical purposes, time is linear and causality needs to be paid its dues, hence the desire to eradicate paradox. This is an endless topic, fit for clear minds like Philosophy Bro, but my goal here is to grasp how time functions in the Company novels and how it can be used in a game.
Unicity and authenticity There are two redeeming features in the way Kage Baker handles time travel in her novels. 1) There is one world, one continuum, one story and one history; only our knowledge of the past can be changed, though we retain our free will and can exercise it within the boundaries of the story. The Company tells (to itself) the story that the treasures lost to time and now recovered have in fact be made to disappear by them in the first place. 2) History is paid respect. It does not feel like a theme park. There is a sense of difference.
Gameplay around time Paradox: since only one history does exist in the Company novels, paradoxes that posit fundamental inconsistencies within the story are unstable and prone to disappear once the whole story gets known. Getting to explain how something is not paradoxical (hopefully gearing causality your side in the process) can be a fun and meaningful gaming objective. Flashbacks: they function differently in real life and in the diverse gaming media. Game mechanics can provide a framework to simulate flashbacks without breaking causality and unicity. Cyborgs do not fear permanent death, so that is one major hurdle out of the way to explain unlikely comebacks away. Every game could be a flashback, or it could be used the way it is used in movies, to highlight significant aspects of the story being told. Uchrony: the clash of technologies and behaviors is savory and holds both comic and dramatic potential. But History is savored quite differently with a cyborg perspective. It could be interesting to have players and/or characters graduate to the truth of the universe, from simple mortals to cyborgs.
"Our masters were horrified when they discovered that chocolate gets us pleasantly stoned, because they thought they'd designed us to be proof against intoxicants. They even tried to forbid it to us, but must have realized they'd have a revolt on their hands if they did, and settled for strictly regulating our use of the stuff. Or trying to, anyway." Kage Baker, The Children of the Company
In the Company novels, most cyborgs use and abuse of Theobromos (a.k.a. chocolate) whenever they can get their hands on some. This is at times a difficult proposition, given that operatives are sent in the human world for extended periods of time and in places that can be quite far from Mexico, Central and South America, the places of production of cacao for a large part of recorded history. Theobromos is one of the more humorous elements in the series. The idea that Company employees get their kicks out of chocolate (not unlike Kage Baker used to herself, so it seems) deflates the testosterone-heavy stereotype of humorless super-agents from the future that springs to mind when you mention the words "immortal cyborgs". This attraction which borders on addiction reminds me, on a smaller scale, of the one of the Newcomers in the movie Alien Nation. Theobromos, when corporate policy does not prohib it entirely, is certainly used as a carrot by the management. And the substance is not entirely harmless. Excess of consumption leads to "theobromine poisoning". Ironically, the cyborgs, while technically removed from humanity, share more tastes with us than with their 24th century human masters who have given up on cigarettes, alcohol, meat, milk, sex and chocolate.
Does chocolate need game mechanics? The question is open. Theobromos should remain an element of fun and stay on the periphery of things. Gameplay could revolve around finding the balance between the thrill of forbidden food / joy of instant gratification and the risk of getting caught / losing status with your immortal employer. Simulating addiction and pleasure is difficult due to the disconnection between the perception of the player and that of the character and the way our brain is wired to select different options depending on what our stomach tells us. I am tempted to use real chocolate on the gaming table in order to appeal to the real hunger of players. It is a difficult exercise: I would not want to frustrate the players out of proportion with the intended result. Perhaps, like children, they should be able to grab their candy when the management / game master looks the other way.
"He'll be very clever, look at that score. And we'll take this figure for his strength, and this one for his alignment with the forces of good. Is that neat or is that neat?" Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come
In a series of books collectively known as the novels of The Company, Kage Baker tells the consequences of two technological breakthroughs in the 24th century: cyborg immortality and time travel. A company develops techniques to make people immortal (an ugly and unwholesome process) and to travel to the past (the future is out of reach) and back again. Intent on profiting from their technology, they send a cadre of technicians in prehistoric times. There -for simplicity's sake, let's use "there" instead of "then" when referring to narrative (rather than linear) time-, they kidnap Neanderthalian kids and pour all kinds of technology inside their little skulls. Essentially, they make them into cyborgs. They raise them, teach them everything they know in the 24th century, give them the keys to the past and then leave back to their clean and bland future. They instruct the new, permanent employees to retrieve all kinds of lost items and living things while staying in the shadow of official history, of the events that are already known to have occurred: history cannot be changed. The good little cyborgs do as they are told. They work for their employers, spiriting away treasures lost to time while Rome is burning, making the Company very, very rich in the process. This article is not about discussing the books themselves. I urge you to read them. [For my French readers: only the first two have been translated.] The characters will grow on you and you will enjoy the humor, the action, the emotion. And, when you are done reading the main storyline and the standalone stories, while closing this last book you will be thirsty for more. Gaming is a continuation of story by other means. This is the first in a series of articles about the gaming potential of the Company universe. And oh does it have potential. If you share the same belief and wish to contribute, get in touch with me, leave a comment and let's discuss.
Warning: the spoilers begin here.
Stakeholders Like any company, the Company is host to an ecosystem of stakeholders with wildly different points of view, each of which could be explored in games. - Shareholders - Management - Employees - Customers (The list could be longer.) Some elements in the story are perfectly suited for adaptation to boardgame gameplay. - For example, managers are torn between, on one hand, the desire to get rich by creating and employing many cyborgs, and, on the other hand, the need to control and survive their creations, a conundrum that is evocative of many crises. Multiple players can compete to be the richest (best bonus) while the game retains a collaborative element (everybody loses if the cyborgs take over). - Other example: who knows who owns the Company who owns History? Who indeed? The players/shareholders might not know at start their own identity.
A roleplaying game Mostly though, I believe The Company is an employee-focused pen-and-paper roleplaying game begging to be born. Each player would play an employee created by the Company and working for it. The totalitarian dimension of this proposition immediately springs to mind. We are reminded of a game such as Paranoia, especially in the way a huge gap separates official corporate policy and the everyday life and feelings of the employees. I am also reminded of the French game Thoan : Les Faiseurs d'univers, about Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers series. In a nutshell, the characters of Thoan have been created by mad demiurges and try to take control of their life and assault the heavens. The Promethean dimension is very much present in the Company series. The fact that the cyborgs cannot be killed displaces the core of the gameplay from murderous fight to a space where players need to pick their brains. There are conflicting imperatives and dramatic tension at multiple levels: between the will of the company and the will of the individual, between known history and hidden history, between the need to blend and the need to perform. The cyborgs, who have trouble relating to humanity due to their semi-artificial condition, need to adapt to and interact with a number of environments and situations. Social situations are an area where roleplaying games shine.
Themepark vs Sandbox
The corporate nature of the setting lends itself to making a mission-based game. In the books, cyborgs are tasked with precise assignments, such as to retrieve a flower, a painting, or even a whole people and their way of life.
At the same time, the setting leaves ample room for players to build their own sandcastles. Recorded history cannot be changed, but so much can happen in its interstices. Many elements within this open world environments are set in stone and cannot be changed, but the rest is fair game and is actually the place where the action should take place, given the importance of meaningful choices in roleplaying games.
It is far easier to accept if you forget about the philosophy behind; accept the contraries, that you have free will and that history cannot be changed, merely discovered in the way that suits you best.
Gamism / simulationism / narrativism
(Using Ron Edwards's definition.) Gamism: there is competition in the series and there could well be around a gaming table. Player characters are co-workers in a mission-based environment, but they can pursue different endgames using the sandbox, like Nennius and Labienus. Simulationism: if you accept that History cannot be changed even by the mighty dice, there are still elements of balance and uncertainty that can be identified and used for entertainment. Narrativism: I do not envision the problems typical to licensed environments -"don't touch the canon"- because not touching the canon is part of the genes of the Company: players need to insert their own story into the bigger picture that is our world with its rich history, and its extra layer of invisible, Company-related history.
Nous discutons de Casus Belli v4 dans l'épisode du mois de décembre de Radio Rôliste. J'ai depuis eu le temps d'en lire une grande partie et j'en reviens à ma première impression : enthousiaste.
A. D'abord, un historique de ma relation à la presse rôliste. A la fin des années 1980 et au début des années 1990, comme beaucoup de rôlistes à l'époque, je dévore tous les magazines que je peux m'offrir. Mon premier s'appelle Graal, je lis quelques Chroniques d'outre-monde avec intérêt, manque Dragon radieux (pas assez de sous) et, au final, m'abonne à Dragon Magazine (tant qu'il dure) et surtout à Casus Belli. Ce dernier est le magazine le plus pérenne et, des années durant, je reçois ma petite injection de bonheur en le découvrant dans le courrier. Je n'aime ou ne comprends pas toujours tout, mais je lis chaque numéro de A à Z (dans le désordre), y compris les passages sur les grandeur natures et wargames, des loisirs que je ne pratique pas. Au fil des ans, j'envoie de nombreux courriers à la rédaction, surtout des propositions de scénarios (une dizaine de scénarios envoyés spontanément de mémoire), et je suis chagriné de ne jamais recevoir d'accusé de réception. J'espère des commentaires, même négatifs, des conseils, de l'encouragement, mais rien ne vient. Si je regrette ce manque de disponibilité de la rédaction de Casus Belli à l'époque pour répondre à des courriers non-sollicités, l'écriture d'un scénario impliquant une somme d'efforts plus grande que celle, par exemple, d'une candidature à un emploi, je la comprends. Je suppose la rédaction à la fois submergée par l'attention des lecteurs et désireuse elle-même de placer ses créations dans un marché de niche pré-Internet. Pour ceux qui s'efforcent de faire du jeu leur "day job", il faut abattre une quantité énorme de travail créatif, et l'écouler le plus possible. Déjà à l'époque, l'offre est bien supérieure à la demande dans ce marché de l'imagination. De mon côté, ce silence, bien que frustrant, a des vertus. Il m'apprend à toujours remettre sur le métier mon œuvre sans râler et me pousse à progresser. C'est cet échec à entrer en communication avec l'équipe de mon magazine préféré, spécifiquement, qui contribue à améliorer mon "éthique créative". Les Faiseurs d'univers, l'association des fans du jeu Thoan, ont pour certains eu l'occasion de lire le supplément Le Monde de l'Opéra, un de ceux que j'ai écrits mais pas publiés pour le jeu. C'était initialement un simple scénario envoyé à Casus Belli (à côté de scénarios pour des jeux plus classiques), et il est devenu beaucoup plus profond par la suite. Revus et améliorés, d'autres scénarios sont par la suite publiés dans Backstab (cf ci-dessous). Les années passant, j'ai le plaisir d'entrer en contact avec Michaël Croitoriu qui, au côté de Tower, PA et toute la bande, anime alors les Chroniques de l'imaginaire sur une petite station de radio de l'Ouest parisien. Je repense avec nostalgie à ces instants où je captais des bribes à travers l'éther. Par l'intermédiaire de Michaël, je fais la connaissance de Léonidas Vesperini, co-auteur de Thoan. Je reste reconnaissant à tous deux de m'avoir offert cette opportunité d'apporter ma pierre à l'édifice rôlistique. De fil en aiguille, je participe à des projets et connais les joies de la publication. Je rejoins, d'abord en tant qu'auteur d'enquête/critique/scénariste, la rédaction de Backstab, un magazine concurrent de Casus Belli. Casus Belli v1 est publié par Excelsior Publications et met en avant les produits de sa filiale (ou division, je ne sais pas) Jeux Descartes. Backstab est publié par... ça dépend de l'année. Mais le magazine est le produit d'une association de plusieurs parties, dont Halloween Concept, un autre éditeur de jeux, qui finit par reprendre le titre complètement. Outre les considérations marketing, les deux magazines ont chacun un ton différent. Backstab, le challenger, opte pour celui du mauvais garçon. Comme Casus Belli, il connaît ses hauts et ses bas. Dans ses pages sont publiés, lorsque je suis rédacteur en chef (2002-2005) comme à l'époque de mes quatre prédécesseurs (les très estimés Benoît Clerc, Croc, Julien Blondel et Patrick Renault), des petits bijoux comme des trucs très oubliables, grâce à des auteurs et des illustrateurs de grand talent, dont certains n'ont pas fini de faire parler d'eux (un exemple au pif, Johan Scipion). Le déclin du lectorat rôliste frappe cependant le magazine, quelques années après la fin de Casus v1. Je suis reconnaissant d'avoir pu participer à cette aventure, qui se termine avec un goût d'inachevé : le lancement d'un magazine successeur, Fantasy.rpg, qui n'a pas le temps de prouver sa valeur, l'éditeur coulant alors que le n°2 est sur le point d'être publié. Je ne sais pas si Fantasy.rpg aurait pu trouver sa place dans le paysage, mais cela valait le coup d'essayer. Pourquoi ? Parce que la crise de la presse n'est pas propre au milieu du jeu de rôle. Elle relève d'une mutation numérique qui dépasse le simple abandon de l'effet de mode des jeux de rôle sur table. Depuis des années, les éditeurs de contenu, coincés sur une "plateforme en feu", cherchent à construire un pont vers un futur où, à titre personnel et à titre capitalistique, ils font encore partie du paysage. A l'ère du numérique, l'offre de contenus croît plus vite que la demande, et ils ne sont plus diffusés en silos hermétiques. Si je veux publier un scénario, je peux le mettre sur un blog ou sur la Scénariothèque - et ne m'opposez pas la loi de Sturgeon ; l'intelligence n'est pas une qualité rare chez les rôlistes. Pour en revenir aux scénarios, entre fin 2002 et le printemps 2005, ils disparaissent de Backstab (à mon grand chagrin). L'idée est que le public rôliste est dispersé entre trop de jeux, qu'il peut trouver ses scénarios sur Internet et que, pour répondre au plus grand nombre, il faut lui fournir autre chose, explorer le monde avec un regard rôliste et un accès backstage. Je me demande encore s'il est pertinent de proposer des scénarios dans un magazine de jeu de rôle. La réponse est oui, bien entendu. Oui il faut des scénarios, parce que c'est ce que nous vivons, nous les rôlistes. Les aventures définissent et accompagnent notre pratique du loisir. Celles dans Casus Belli v4 doivent servir d'exemple pour une génération. Je m'égare... Je reviens sur ma perception des différentes versions de Casus Belli : - V1 (canal historique) : attachement adolescent et donc particulièrement puissant ; le magazine accompagne une partie de la jeunesse de nombreux francophones et devient plus qu'un titre, une marque implantée dans la psyché d'une génération ; - V2 : jouant sur cette marque, une ligne éditoriale originale mais dans laquelle je ne me retrouve pas ; je n'accroche pas non plus au graphisme (*) ; - V3 : une aventure courte mais valeureuse et qui a eu le mérite de mener à la V4 - V4 : j'y viens...
(*) C'est une question de goût et de personnalité, et le jugement général s'accommode d'exceptions spécifiques. Lisez si vous avez le temps cette analyse sur les entreprises et dites-moi si vous êtes d'accord pour dire que V2 reflétait une vision marketing (référence : Apple) ou si vous préférez penser que c'était une vision à base d'idées (référence : Google). Et si vous avez suivi jusque là, comment qualifieriez-vous la V4 à travers ce prisme d'analyse ?
B. Quelques réflexions sur Casus Belli #1 (novembre-décembre 2011) 256 pages, 9,50€
1. Distribution : ciao les kiosques - Abandon de la diffusion en librairies. Disponible en boutiques spécialisées et par correspondance. Les quantités vendues sont moindres, mais les invendus le sont encore plus. Gestion moins risquée et moins lourde + meilleure connaissance des clients. - Existe en PDF. De nos jours c'est plus qu'impératif, mais c'est juste la base. - A Black Book Editions de mener sa veille techno-économique permanente. Les lignes de front bougent très vite et il faudra s'adapter. Apple, Kindle, Google, GIE e-presse, etc... Je ne dis pas qu'il faut prendre un de ces partis mais, de nos jours, toute entreprise de presse doit regarder ce qui ce passe avec attention et recul. Pour ne pas dépendre des nouveaux maîtres des tubes marketing, il faut construire sa communauté et se placer au cœur du paysage rôliste, ce qui implique de dialoguer avec tout le monde.
2. Réalisation : format mook - La référence à IGmag est excellente à plus d'un titre. Le sérieux de la forme va de pair avec le sérieux du fond. Le verbiage et le remplissage caractérisent trop souvent la presse vidéo-ludique française. Les lecteurs sont intelligents et éduqués, on peut s'adresser à eux presque comme à des professionnels. Le modèle (contenu, pas contenant) est britannique : Edge Magazine. - C'est l'anti-DXP (revue de jeu qui avait expérimenté le format "presse quotidienne"). Arrête de caresser ce papier glacé, Cyril. (Je parie que les Men in Black caressent beaucoup leurs exemplaires aussi. Combien de fois par jour ? Par heure ?!)
3. Contenu : du vieux, du neuf et du beau - Le magazine reprend pour l'essentiel de vieilles recettes au niveau du contenu, tout en choisissant une approche plus contemporaine pour le contenant. A voir dans les numéros à venir s'il tiendra le pari du "critique + aide de jeu/itw + scénario"... Je ne sais pas si c'est l'objectif, mais j'aimerais bien dans la mesure où l'aide de jeu et le scénario complémentent admirablement une critique. - Le magazine est bien tenu. Chemin de fer bien organisé. Ergonomique, pas de fioritures ni d'espace gâché pour y ranger de l'ego. - Manque de relecture parfois scandaleux. Même si un article a été relu, il faut vérifier sur épreuve papier que la bonne version a bien été utilisée. Oui, c'est toi que je regarde, Damien C., dont les "réflexions rôlistes" par ailleurs très pertinentes réveillent l'ire de mon grammar nazi intérieur. :) - Les illustrations originales sont réussies. J'ai beaucoup apprécié celle avec les "néo-Incorrigibles" page 231. L'humour est une des clés du succès, bravo de parvenir à faire des clins d’œil tout en parlant à tout le monde. - Dans les critiques de jeux, j'apprécie la nuance apportée par le second avis parfois exprimé ainsi que la clarté du format "j'aime, j'aime pas". Lorsqu'on crée une rubrique de critiques, la question centrale qui revient est celle de l'adoption ou non d'un système de notes. C'est comme pour les enfants dans les écoles, les deux systèmes (notes ou pas notes) ont leurs mérites et leurs défauts. Casus Belli choisit de ne pas noter. Dans un marché où la classification version non publiée / version publiée se dissout dans un processus évolutif constant et où des publics très différents sont visés, ce choix paraît sensé. J'aurais aimé un retour des crapougnats ou bien un petit camembert ludiste/narrativiste/simulationniste pour situer le jeu critiqué dans le paysage. Et j'aimerais aussi une explication du périmètre des critiques. Casus Belli reçoit, je suppose, des services de presse et critique une partie de ces produits. Comment le choix des produits critiqués est-il fait ? Qu'est-ce qui relève du jeu de rôle mais est écarté du champ des critiques ? - Le dosage de la partie critique ne m'a pas choqué. Le nombre de pages consacré aux jeux vidéo dépend aussi de la stratégie commerciale. Vendre de la publicité est un métier à part entière et j'espère que les Men in Black ont une vision juste des potentialités du magazine en la matière. Je me demande s'il n'y a pas lieu d'aller chercher un public qui apprécie la créativité des petits jeux vidéo indépendants, puisqu'à ma connaissance il manque un organe de presse sur ce créneau précis. Skyrim a sa place en 2011 dans un magazine de jeu de rôle, mais je peux me renseigner beaucoup plus vite sur le sujet sur Internet. - Les scénarios en noir et blanc ne sont qu'un exemple de la reprise de codes existants dans le milieu. Je n'ai pour l'instant lu que les scénarios Mississipi et L'Appel de Cthulhu, que j'ai tous deux savouré (celui avec ce bon vieux Nyarlathotep en particulier). Les pitchs des autres scénarios m'ont moins intéressé, je les lirai plus tard. Je n'ai pas trouvé sur le site de Black Book Editions de contenu additionnel (plans au format original à imprimer, ce genre de choses). Sur le forum ou le site, pourquoi pas peut-être mettre en place un espace pour mettre les discussions et compte-rendus de parties consacrés à ces scénarios ? - Jeu Chroniques Oubliées : je n'ai pas lu car je ne pense pas être le public, mais j'apprécie énormément qu'un effort soit fait dans le magazine pour proposer du contenu pour l'initiation ; ces 38 pages permettront je l'espère au magazine de circuler dans les collèges et lycées, comme avait pu le faire à mon époque Terres de Légendes, jeu au format Gallimard (livre-dont-vous-êtes-le-héros). - Partie magazine : ouahou il y a quelques perles. L'entretien avec François Marcela-Froideval et la présentation du D&D de Maraninchi, ainsi que les réflexions de Damien Coltice... Même l'énième interview de Peter Adkison par Léonidas Vesperini (sérieux, Léo, c'est la quantième fois ?), que je redoutais un peu, a su m'intéresser.
La suite en janvier ? J'ai lu en premier ce qui m'intéressait le plus. Il me reste beaucoup, en attendant le numéro 2... Que j'espère recevoir par courrier puisque je compte bien m'abonner. Longue vie à cette nouvelle mouture de Casus Belli !
Six years ago, this interview was scheduled for publication in a French magazine called Fantasy.rpg. The demise of the publishing company prevented this from happening. I stumbled upon it while cleaning my mailbox. Apologies to both Amandine Labarre and Greg Stafford for keeping it under wraps for so long.
The 5th edition of Pendragon, the Arthurian RPG, is due next October. Amandine Labarre, RPG artist and student of chamanism, went into RPGs through this game. She now interviews its author, Greg Stafford, and portrays him here as an Arthurian knight. [No picture sorry.] Once you’ve destroyed your TV set as Greg suggests, please take a look at the gallery and check Amandine’s wonderful art.
Amandine Labarre - What music should the readers listen to while reading this interview in order to get in the mood? Greg Stafford: I suggest Alan Stivel. Or The Doors.
- Pendragon: could you please quickly summarize the history of the game, from its creation to its new iteration: Chaosium, Green Knight Publishing, ArtHaus, etc. I had always wanted to make a King Arthur rpg, and started in early 1983 or so when I was president and chief designer at Chaosium. Writing and design were not my full time job, so it took about a year of writing and test playing to make the rules section. During that time I had several players who were members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, which is a re-enactment group for the middle ages. I realized that some of them had no idea whatsoever of the real middle ages, even about such basic things as feudal loyalty. So I decided to add a huge background section to the book to make it more complete. This took another year to compile, during which we kept testing the system. Then, in 1985, the first edition was released by Chaosium, Inc. Well, Chaosium ran into some serious money problems at one point and we decided to use Pendragon as collateral for a loan to a guy, and when it was time to pay it off my partners said they didn’t want to. Of course, I objected, but was overruled, and so it went to the guy who started the company called Green Knight. He had grandiose plans but essentially did next to nothing with the game for years. When he took it over I had offered to keep working on it for him, as writer, editor, line developer etc., but was told in abrupt terms to go away. I was distressed about this for years. And meantime, for those years, Green Knight was floundering and failing. Then one day Stewart Wieck called me to ask if it was possible to put some Pendragon materials onto White Wolf’s electronic web site for sale, and I explained the situation to him. He went to the Green Knight guy and offered to buy it, since Stewart was a big fan of it and recognized how innovative and revolutionary a design it was. He bought it since the Green Knight guy was desperate for some money, and then Stewart came to me and asked if I wanted to work on it. Well, of course! Stewart has allowed me to recapture my dream, and so I am working on a new 5th edition, to be followed by a huge year-by-year guide to the entire Arthurian reign, similar to the Boy King but for the whole 75 years. And then I will be writing my GrailQuest and Le Morte scenarios as well, and a whole raft of other things after that. I am thrilled.
- Pendragon: what do you think about the King Arthur movie (if you have any thought to share)? Well, with all due respect to my good friend John Matthews who was “historical consultant” for the movie, it was terrible. It had some nice scenes in it, like that fighting on the ice scene; and some of the background was based on historical precedents, like the Sarmatians serving at the Wall; but the story was not very good. Not as bad as some, like the truly dreadful First Knight, but not very good either. And that Guenever, urgh, awful. And they killed Lancelot off, instead of leaving him in the story to hint about what might come afterwards. Ugh.
- Pendragon: what new content will the new version bring? The new edition is going to be stripped down from the huge 4th edition, which was rather unwieldy for new players. The huge character generation section will be published later, in its own book. Most of the new material will be in the campaign book that I mentioned earlier, the total chronology; and also in the Grail Quest book.
- Pendragon: what makes this game unique, interesting, both rule and background-wise? Pendragon has a number of absolutely novel factors in it. First, it has a very narrow range of player options, in that everyone is a knight, just different kinds of knights. Second, it quantifies behavior to make play consistent and then rewards that consistent behavior. Third, everyone in the game is going to die, and that’s pretty novel. Everyone. It makes the game quite different to know you have no resurrection! Character motivation changes from the games without death. Fourth, it is the first game to deal with intergenerational time line. Players will start with a character and when the campaign ends, be playing with their first character’s grandson. Fifth, it has a huge epic scale as well as the individual level, so that characters will be in huge battles and so on.
- Why is it your (or one of your) favorite game? Two reasons: the subject and my work. I have loved knights and King Arthur all my life. In many ways this is my lifetime masterpiece, putting together a lifetime of study and fascination. Secondly, it is almost entirely my own work. Most games which I have done are done as part of a team, but Pendragon is all mine. I did get a key hint to the game system from Ken St. Andre, but in general, it is all mine.
- Have you read the first novels about King Arthur (Malory, Monmouth, Chrétien de Troyes)? Yes, many times, in translation of course. And others, as well, like the French Vulgate, Wolfram von Eschenbach, the “Green Knight poet”, and so on. Heck, I have read just about all the original medieval sources for King Arthur. Malory le morte is my favorite, and then Wolfram’s Parzifal.
- Have you got some favourites pieces of art (novels/ paintings, movies) on this subject? Well, my favorite movie is Excalibur, of all the movies made. And I have tried to see them all. As for art, the pre-Raphaelites are always charming. Kind of like your own art, really.
- If you could reincarnate in an Arthurian legend character, which one would it be? Well, if I was going to be younger and stronger I would want to be myself! But of the many characters in Arthurian legend, I find myself drawn to Ywaine, the Knight of the Lion; and to Percival, the Grailquester.
- HeroQuest/Glorantha: what can we hope for 2005/2006? Lots. We are moving nicely along. In 2005 we expect to have at least four items out, hopefully more. I’m no sure which will be first, because it depends in part on the authors’ schedules and how much they need work after submission, but we have, in the process of being completed at this time: - Under the Red Moon, the Lunar Player’s book. This is the first extensive and deep look at the Lunar Empire from the inside. We will show it is not just an evil empire, but also a place of variety and freedom. It is by me, Mark Galeotti, Wesley Quadros, Martin Laurie, Roderick Robertson and smaller bits by others. - Trader Princes, Blood over Gold, by Jeff Kyer. Background and cool scenarios set in Wenelia. - Beast Riders, Players Book for Prax, by Chris Lemens. At last, the nomads of Prax done for HeroQuest. Lots of new information, like the Giant Spirits and so on. - Resurrection of Genert. This is a set of scenarios set in the Greatlands, written for Praxians or others, by Paul May. - Dragonrise, the next book in the Sartar Rising! series. Several authors. - Heroes of Malkion, introductory Players’ book for the Malkioni cultures. Written by Jamie Revell, me, and others. - Son Sun City. These are Lunar adventures, set entirely in the magnificent city of Raibanth. - Oak and Thorn, which is the Players Book for Aldryami, which is looking very, very cool. By Shannon Applecline. And another item, which we are VERY excited about, even though it is not Glorantha at all but certainly is HeroQuest: - QuestWorlds (though the title may change) which presents the core HeroQuest rules, and then several alternate settings, including super heroes, movie style martial arts, something horror, and some sort of historical setting. Plus some other items, which really are not close to being finished enough to put on this list.
- Could you tell us why you think roleplaying is a form of mythical interaction, cf. your blog: “9.5 Mythic Journeys; I was also on the Mythic Gaming panel. (...) We talked about how roleplaying (and some other gaming) is a form of mythical interaction.” Everyone has a kind of perceptive organ that is used to discern the world of mythology. By this I mean the realm of the non-ordinary, the realm of the ancient spiritual provinces. This “organ” perceives what I call the Ten Gods, which are things that all people have some kind of response to, even though they are not physically real in and of themselves. The Ten Gods include Sex, Death, Belonging, Rhythm, Lead/follow, Trance, Awe, Beauty, Terror and the other one, which everyone argues about. So we all have a fascination with these ancient, pre-human “powers”, and these are the sources of mythology. The original human understandings of these things are cloaked in mythology by everyone. So everyone has a fascination with these, even if they are denied to us by the modern world, and we perceive them and seek to interact with them to understand the meaning of life, and this is the “mythological urge”. Well, simply put, the playing of roleplaying games is one of the ways that people seek to fulfill that urge, and so it is a form of mythical interaction.
- Up to a certain extent, are you trying to convey a message linked to your personal beliefs by the way of role playing games? If the answer is yes, could you explain it more precisely? Well, mainly that life is bigger than it seems, and that if we are willing to stick our necks out a little and take a few chances we might be pleasantly surprised to discover the potential that we each have within ourselves. Life is short, and our job is to use the little time we have to make the world a better place by expanding our spirits into the world in a positive way. It is scary, perhaps risky, but well worth the effort.
- In your opinion, what is the future of roleplaying? I think it will continue to be a form of entertainment for many discerning, sensitive people who have escaped the bondage of modernity, like the slavery of materialism and the vassalage of television and electronic forms of diversion. I had once, twenty-five years ago, imagined it would find an even greater popularity in our Western culture, but now I am afraid that such opportunity has been usurped by computer games and other forms of unsociable entertainment.
- Do you think RPGs can bring something deep or constructive to the players life, (more than simple entertainment), if we talk about personal blossoming, individual peak? Yes, it is possible. Not mandatory or guaranteed. But first, let us look at the simple entertainment. This is a wonderful and important benefit which it grants to us. This entertainment is an expression of our deep, inner selves. Simply because roleplaying causes us to imagine and to express this imagination it is a good thing which many people lack, and which is very important in the lives of people. We gamers have the ability to entertain and be entertained, and we need to do it to be balanced, human beings. So even just having fun is a good thing, an important thing. Furthermore, it can offer us an opening to greater things, to the mythological world. Mythology is the place where poetry and psychology meet, and is one of the steps towards understanding our places in the universe, to understanding the meaning of life and what it is all about.
- What did you find in it, in your own life? The meaning of life of course. That is, it helped me to understand why we are here: to love and to be loved.
- What is your opinion about the others White Wolf games dealing with environment and his mythical aspect (Werewolf, Changeling)? I have to confess not being familiar enough with these games to have a comment.
- In which way are you linking your interest for shamanism with your works in RPG worlds (If there's a link, of course:)? The world is a place with more than rationality can explain. We must not discard rationality, but Cartesian mentality is not the answer to everything. Imagination and enjoyment are essential to us as well, and these are both additional ways to explore the ultimate nature of the world. We need to find ways to explore the world, and both shamanism and roleplaying games afford us ways to do this. But let me be clear, experience is orders of magnitude more important and instructive than gaming, which is a surrogate for the real thing. I encourage everyone to follow their hearts and spirits and to destroy your television, get outside and seek the adventure that life offers.
- If you have a Celtic totem animal, which one should elect you, in your opinion? In my 25 years of shamanic work I have managed to meet many of the spirits of my life. My earliest spirit guardian was a huge spider, the one tattooed on my arm. The next one was a deer spirit. Neither of those is particularly Celtic. Nonetheless, over the years of my work with the sweat lodge various spirits have identified themselves with powers of some of the Celtic gods, and so I work with them there. These include Percival, Bran and Merlin. I do not say that these spirits are those entities, but that those spirits wear masks which are the same as those mythological beings.
- Could you make a little and absolutely subjective summary of the important events of your life? I was born in 1948 and spent much time moving around when I was young. I was a hippie in the 60’s, in the time of free love and psychedelic drug use, until I contracted hepatitis. The doctors said I was going to die, but instead I experienced a transformative vision which reformed my life. I began to explore various spiritual practices to understand my vision, and during this time met my first wife and got married. We moved to California and I began my game career and founded Chaosium. We had three children, and I kept trying to find out the mystical way. I found a shamanic instructor who showed me the processes which I needed to discover my potential, and I began leading sweat lodge ceremonies as well. My first wife and I divorced and I lived many years as a single father and kept on my game career and shamanic practices. I met my second wife at a Stormbringer game, and after a while we got married and have had many, many adventures together. I now have one grandchild, still play and design games, and continue my spiritual practices.
- Can you tell us something about this extract from your blog written while you lived in Mexico? Yes, a great experience. Jorge is a curandero, a mestizo healer I met while I was living in Mexico. I had gone to a ceremony which he offered, and was impressed, so went and asked if I could study with him. He took my wife and I out to Yagul, which is the remains of a pre-Columbian city near the city of Oaxaca, where we lived. My experience was the start of my studying with Jorge. We went to Yagul. The city of the Frogs. “This city was ruled by three kings”, he told us. Jorge took us first to overlook the tomb area and explained to us the ceremony of the frogs. When they prayed to the frog the frog would leap to the sky and carry their souls there. But if you want to return you need the return ticket. This is the water you leave to them. If you have the ticket you can return. But when people die the frog leaps to the sky and there is a new star. And when it returns it carries a soul back to the world. It is the rain returning to the world. We went from the tombs to a place higher than the ruins, in the back. “Do you hear the birds? They are welcoming us, telling the spirits we are coming. They don’t sing for the tourists.” He whistled back, and told us to. We did. We went to the top of the overlook. “Don’t go there”, he pointed to some low ruins behind us, “there are red insects that will sting you so we need to respect them and they will respect us”. Wasps. I saw them. There are three impressions in the rock. I had thought before they were maybe grinding pits, like all over the west, where people used to grind acorns in the rocks. But nope, they are the offering places where you put the water, for the return ticket. You ask to go to the sky, and he showed us how to raise our arms and look upward and for a moment you will be taken up to the sky then, boom, back in your body. ... To know what happens next, go to www.weareallus.com!
- To finish, thanks again for all the beauty you gave to us thanks to the splendid Pendragon. You are welcome. Thank you for enjoying it!
- To close the interview, please say a few words to our French readers in whatever language you want, those won’t be translated. Dear friends, the world is more than we can ever know it is, and in the short time that we have to be here it is our duty to experience its wonder and joy. Please, enjoy the world of gaming, but also be as courageous and adventurous as your characters and take a risk to be more than ordinary. Seek wonder and love, and the world will be a better place for you and those in your life.
Les Soirées-Enquêtes jadis éditées par Siroz étaient des scénarios prêts-à-jouer offrant la possibilité de passer une soirée déguisée et ludique, chaque participant endossant un rôle bien particulier et tentant d'accomplir des buts qui étaient propres à son personnage.
Le contexte du jeu de rôle français Thoan, inspiré de la Saga des Hommes-Dieux de Philip José Farmer, se prêtant bien à ce genre d'exercice, j'avais écrit une Soirée-Enquête en prenant pour modèle celles de Siroz. Mes interlocuteurs Marc Nunès et Croc m'avaient donné la permission de publier à titre amateur et gratuit cette adaptation, qui fut téléchargée plus de 1600 fois sur un autre site. Je n'ai pas écrit les passages de "Qu'est-ce qu'une soirée enquête" à "La fin", directement repris du modèle original.
J'ai fait jouer une version agrandie de cette soirée-enquête, pour une vingtaine de joueurs. La soirée fut un grand succès.