Love in the Time of Seið and the Society of Dreamers are games which deserves your attention. Therefore, I deserve it, as I am about to tell you about them.
Both games are thin packages of instructions and play materials; somewhat awkwardly packed, in fact, since I trust that no one here would ever be able to contemplate damaging a book by “cutting out the materials”. Thus, photocopies or free downloads are an essential part of the deal. But until the global system of paper cutting, printing and distribution realizes the importance of cheaply making and shipping paper things that goes in boxes, in addition to paper things that come in stacks, it seems availability and cost trumps utility and sheer neatness. Curses.
In the world of roleplaying, most such slim affairs used to be “sourcebooks”, which is publisherese for “milkcow”. These days, a lot of them are complete games. Freakishly, Love and Society are both, which is what made me all happy and excited.
One of our escaped editors, Gamemaster Holter, has been messing around with various homebrew systems for years and years. One of his messes was an attempt to adapt the world of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea to RPG’s. Instead, he appears to have cobbled together a generic game system so sleek it makes GURPS Lite look like one of those old Russian tanks made of dead tractors and rusty railroad tracks and a feverish faith in the Revolution. He even gave it away for free, the filthy little infosocialist.
And then he and Jason Morningstar and some other guys on an internet forum somewhere began cooking up worlds for it. Love and Society are the attempts you should click over and have smeared on dead tree paste for your personal pleasure right now, but inject Last train out of Warsaw or Subway dogs of Moscow in your search engine of choice too.
And, see, here’s the thing, the bit where I lean over too close and breathe pure fumes of aquavite in your face and explain the genius of these books at length: Most sourcebooks are unplayable without the core books. So you gotta have ’em all, and you need more and more because evil kapitalist television has trained you to be incapable of coming up with your own material. But Matthijs’ and Jason’s little chapbooks are not a clever weapon in the Revolution which will free you from the tyranny of uncreativity, because, frankly, let’s admit it, you’re all about as creative as chips with garlic mayonnaise and you bloody well like it that way, don’t you?
But you’re onto the sourcebook racket. You can no longer justify buying another wad of paper detailing the dining etiquette of Clan Katana-wielding Were-beaver #3.78 to feed that deep, dark hole in your soul. Not when you know all the cool kids these days are writing fanfiction and coming up with way better stuff themselves. So what these chaps’ve done, see, is make a package to help you fool yourself and others into thinking you’re not playing purchased material at all.
The core game, Archipelago, makes you come up with a world. But if that’s too hard for you, you can buy these custom-cut versions of the rules, complete with embedded setting, plot and scenes. And they’re pretty settings, oh yes; dark and seductive and full of magic, blood and fuckery, sketched like a five-second study of a ballet dancer, in quick turns of phrase and slashed-in lines between slow, careful lumps of rules and advice laid down in a friendly, hypnotic drone. But they’re also complete games – you can’t just flip trough the book in the shop, download the core rules and wing it, because the devious little bastards have changed the rules slightly to fit the setting, or the creative agenda or their own strange and inscrutable design philosophies. You can play them over and over again, and get a different story each time.
I have witnessed shelf-meter upon shelf-meter of sourcebooks; sourcebooks piled and hoarded and stored. Sourcebooks threatening to fall on me and seriously bruise my tender thighs and feet. I, too, have filled some of these shelves. So why is it that I cannot have a meter or two of these little things for myself, to make the void where my creativity gland should be a little less empty? The core is so open source it doesn’t even have a CC-notice; if you can survive a night of playing Archipelago, then you can do this thing. Go forth and write that steaming fresh little world down; feed it to the internet, feed it to the Print-on-Demand-shop’s beautiful machines, and let there be a million more sleek little books like these.