Posts from 3rd March 2006

Mar 06

I Was A Goblin: Reading The Runes

TMFDPost a comment • 1,066 views

Dungeons and Dragons is the game most identified with roleplaying, but it certainly wasn’t the only option. In fact, once you’d got into the hobby you quickly realised that most vocal gamers had a certain disdain for D&D, seeing it in very much the same ways Mac owners or Linux users see Windows: a horribly flawed system plagued by rotten design choices, inconsistencies and glaring holes – but one which dominated the market nonetheless.

So what was the Mac in this analogy? The RPG scene teemed with games, but when I started playing probably the biggest alternative was RuneQuest, a fantasy game like D&D but with several core differences. I happened to come into possession of a .pdf of the RuneQuest core rulebook the other evening and skimming through it was reminded of what an elegant game it could be.

RuneQuest and D&D differed starkly in ethos and approach. In D&D a character was little more than a point-scoring machine – his background and personality practically irrelevant to gameplay. RuneQuest offered players a proprietary setting, the bronze age fantasy world of Glorantha, and stressed a character’s role within its (relatively) complex society. The fantastic elements were tied into the world, all deriving from its various religions (“cults”), which were in turn based around a series of runes, each cult drawing its power from some runic combination.

The backdrop of RuneQuest was a series of wars between a Romanesque empire and the barbarian kingdoms it was seeking to conquer. Characters would generally be mercenaries on one or other side – the game was progressive (in fantasy terms) in that it didn’t present either Empire or barbarians as ‘good guys’. Fans of RuneQuest became passionately involved in the Gloranthan setting and when the game was eventually redesigned and it was ditched the core following swiftly dissipated. But for entry-level gamers the Gloranthan elements could be limiting, and the game’s key flaw was that it was rubbish at explaining exactly how the runic system worked. To become a Rune Lord, you were told, a player would have to go on a Rune Quest – and that was it, no more detail given on a presumably pretty important element of the game.

What this meant in practise was an emphasis on less powerful characters: every RuneQuest game I ever took part in, Gloranthan or not, involved weak characters grubbing out an adventurous living. Since RuneQuest rules meant that combat was dangerous and often fatal, encounters that would have been bread-and-butter stuff in D&D took on huge significance, and talking your way our of a fight was often as important as winning one.

This was RuneQuest’s great problem – it made for hugely immersive games almost entirely lacking in instant thrills. Aged 10 I admired the rules and the fleshy warrior lady on the front cover, and never played it – when I did actually run a game, in my mid teens, it was a massively satisfying experience because of the subtle ways the rules encouraged character play, teamwork and so on. In the next I Was A Goblin I’ll talk about the different rules approaches and explain exactly why D&D was such a massive success and so influential.

Ridiculous Rock’n’Roll analogy spoiled on child

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 335 views

On the face of it, this is a simple philistinic story about an American kid who stuck his used chewing gum on an expensive painting. Singlehandedly the unnamed child became either
a) a disgrace
b) the bright new artist in the style of Jake & Dinos Chapman.

The story goes into the realms of the absurd however when the teacher tried to explain to the TWELVE YEAR OLD that what he had done was wrong. Apparently there was no understanding from the youth that one was not supposed to put chewing gum on paintings, which one suggests is a failure of him learning that one should not put chewing gum ANYWHERE BUT THE BIN. Paintings should not be singled out to him, and hence the analogy used to scold him is even more useless than it clearly was from the words used to make it up:

‘Can you imagine if somebody had messed up the beat in rock and roll so you didn’t have any rhythm in rap.’ And he looked at me, and he got it immediately

What he got was his next project, messing up the beat in rock and roll – to make rap sound better. A Renaissance Man has been born.

Japanese Curry

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 748 views

The Japanese love curry. As such they are very much like the English, who have taken to a non-native food to the extent that it is almost ubiquitous. Nearly all basic restaurants in Japan do a curry: usually a breaded chicken breast with rice and a sauce. There are a few designated Indian restaurants in Japan (I went to one in Tokyo) but there is one constant – Japanese sticky rice.

Nevertheless, there is clearly something that can be described as a Japanese Curry, which an increasing number of British Japanese Restaurants are doing. It is instructive, as it could well be where the British curry would have stalled if not for the large influx of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent slowly expanding our palate. The Japanese Curry reminds me a lot of the curry my mother made me as a child: in as much as the brown gloopy curry sauce is almost identical in flavour to the Homepride curry sauce of the seventies. Said sauce is poured over the chicken breast, with the addition of a few “exotic” vegetables. Of course to the Japanese carrots and potatoes are exotic (as to my Mum chucking apple and raisins was a sign of foreign goodness). Not very hot, but very, very homely.

I had one the other day at Taro on Brewer Street (just down from the Glasshouse Stores). Not only did it manage to be authentically Japanese, it was also remarkably comforting, which I only later attached to my childhood connection to the flavours. To think that when I was in Japan, I turned my nose up at their curries. Now they are a favourite. Sometimes doing something wrong is a whole new way of doing it right.