Thursday, September 06, 2012

Cubicle 7's Yggdrasill -- Gaming in the Norse Epics

As a fantasy fan and a gaming fan, I am always on the lookout for fresh ideas in both areas.  It never ceases to amaze me how often the freshest ideas come from looking back and returning to "primary sources" instead of using only the most recent works for inspiration.  For example, I have found reading the "The Bonestealer's Mirror" by John C. Hocking in a recent issue of Black Gate Magazine to be far more entertaining Sword and Sorcery fare than the staid stacks of post-Conan "Thud and Blunder."  This kind of looking back is why I find the stories of C.L. Moore or Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (even with its total cop out of an ending) so refreshing while I find a good deal of modern fantasy to be played out.

This isn't to say that "older is always better," far from it.  It is only to say that when writing in a tradition, it is often useful to go back to a font closer to the origin as the water of ideas there is often cleaner and has more room for the writer to invent new ideas.  It is easier to adapt Beowulf into a Western than it is to do the same to The 13th Warrior for example -- due to the added commentary that 13th Warrior is making regarding the time in which the story takes place.

It is often said that the fantasy role playing of role playing games is Tolkienesque, that all fantasy rpg campaigns are to some degree adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.  There is some truth to the statement, though plenty of exceptions, as most fantasy rpgs have their elves, dwarves, and halflings.  They have their Rangers and their Thieves.  They have their dragons and magical rings.  At least enough of them do that the argument isn't entirely an insane one to make.  It also means that many games that could otherwise be great -- due to interesting mechanics -- fail to succeed and become Fantasy Heartbreakers.  Fantasy Heartbreaker is too often a term used with derision, and it oughtn't be.  Fantasy Heartbreakers are "heartbreaking" after all, they are the underdogs that we root for that ultimately failed in their goals.  Too often those goals were to incrementally improve on the existing state of gaming, too often they are just making a "better version of game x that came out last year."  They have too often forgotten the truism that I began this post with, "often the freshest ideas come from looking back and returning to "primary sources" instead of using only the most recent works for inspiration."

Cubicle 7's Yggdrasill does what these other works often fail to do, it reaches back into the annals, into the very things that inspired Tolkien himself, to create a rich milieu for fantasy role playing.  To say that Yggdrasill is a beautiful product is an understatement.  Like Cubicle 7's excellent Tolkien licensed rpg The One Ring, the graphic components of the game are top notch.  So too is the writing, the translation, and the structure of the book.  The game knows where to begin.  If you want to create a game about the world of the Sagas, then you had better set the tone quickly, and this game certainly does that.  It begins with an original piece of fiction, and follows with numerous quotations from the Völuspa.  The game captures the feel of its setting very well.  By looking to back to the Eddas, the game has created a rich milieu for storytelling and game play. 

As for the rules themselves, they are simple to explain and easy to understand.  They are also informed by a couple of different eras of gaming -- they seem to have a touch of Greg Gorden-esque (Deadlands, DC Heroes, James Bond 007, and others) elegance to them.  How much?  I cannot say yet, I want to see these rules in action.  One can review the physical and narrative quality of a game merely by reading it, but one can only truly review the rules after extensive play.  I will say this for Yggdrasill, it makes me want to play it and the information on the world is enough that even if the rules fail the book itself is still an asset.






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