You suck!by Mike Pohjola
You suck!by Mike Pohjola
They don't understand me. The fools, they dare criticize my book? What do they know about roleplaying, anyway? I'm not stupid, they're stupid! Yeah! They suck, not me.
Or so I keep telling myself. The problem with Myrskyn aika is that although the mainstream press in a couple of Finnish cities welcomed the book with open arms, the roleplaying audience hasn't been quite as eager.
Childish and not really a roleplaying game
I knew from the start that Myrskyn aika would be something different, a fruit of the Nordic style of roleplaying to challenge all the American and American-style roleplaying games in the market. I expected for criticism that would include phrases like "too intelligent for my tastes" or "although I don't like the game itself, there's some really novel ideas in there." What I got wasn't exactly that.
There's a 65 message thread in the only Finnish roleplaying newsgroup sfnet.harrastus.pelit.rooli concerning the book. It also got three published reviews: The Turun Sanomat newspaper, the Portti sci-fi magazine, and Alterations, which is the zine of the Helsinki University Roleplaying Club's.
"Nothing wrong with the game, but it's targeted for players in their early teens." -shpr Sure, I wanted to include them in my target group, which is why I start with the very basics, and only later move on to the advanced concepts. Also, I don't find themes like civil war, persecution and being an outsider particularly childish. Apparently one reason why some people found the game childish was that it had simple rules mechanics. Personally, I hate rules. They're a remnant from strategy games, and rarely do anything to enhance role-playing.
"The game shouldn't pose character immersion as the only goal in role-playing games." -shpr I'm sorry, but for me it is the only goal. Another name for character immersion is, incidentally, role-playing. One of the points of Myrskyn aika is just that, to create a fantasy role-playing game which instead of crippling character immersion, enhances it through world material, rules mechanics, character backgrounds, GM instructions, and so on.
"I don't see anything ground-breaking about the book combining tabletop and live-action role-playing." -Alterations And I agree. It shouldn't be groundbreaking, and it doesn't feel groundbreaking. However, almost no other role-playing game does this, which probably means there's some ground in need of a good breaking right there.
"There's too much written about the religions." -shpr And many similar comments saying there's no reason to have a pre-written world, since the GM can just make everything up as she goes along. I'm sorry but this is bullshit. For a consistent world, these things have to be thought of before the game. If the characters would for example know about their religion's ideas of afterlife, you pretty damn well tell the players about them before a character dies, and you have to wing something.
As you can guess, the book created some good discussion on the newsgroup (and several mailing lists) about what published role-playing games should be like, are tabletop and live-action totally separate forms, what is role-playing, and so on. During the course of the discussion I managed to clarify many of my views on the book, and many of the early criticizers changed their opinions to more positive ones.
Thirteen in a dozen
"It's such basic fantasy that if I'd seen Mike Pohjola write this world description somewhere else, I would've assumed it's parody." -shpr This brings us to a more important point. I chose to write a fantasy game with several recognizable fantasy elements. These include elves, knights, wizards, kings, orcs, pirates, dragons, villages, and forests. Sure, these elements can be used to compose basic fantasy, but some pretty damn interesting things, as well.
I figured that probably when people really read the material thoroughly, and definitely once they start playing, they'd notice the traditional elements are dealt with in a unique and interesting way. This was an error of judgment on my part.
I thought getting people to like a role-playing game was a two part process. First people buy the game. Then they experience it as something unique when they play it. Can you see what's missing?
I never bothered to think about the step from buying the game and browsing it to actually starting to play it! I had put lots of cool little things in there that you might not notice when you read the material, but that'd come alive when role-playing. When you start thinking about what your character would wear, for example, you might come up with a cool cowboy look. I'd spent a lot of time thinking how the followers of some two religions would have really interesting interplay once they start role-playing, but I should've explained this somehow in the GM's notes or somewhere to make them actually start role-playing and get to that interesting interplay.
For partly the same reason, there was also a huge lack of pictures. I didn't really see the point, since they rarely convey any new information. Well, here's a thought: Maybe pictures can convey images? Maybe they can make information more interesting? Maybe they can provide new ways for readers and players to access the information? Duh!
This huge problem would've been easy to correct with a couple of dozen pictures, and a chapter in the Introduction explaining how playing Myrskyn aika is different from other role-playing games: "Myrskyn aika is gritty fantasy that aims to combine the desolate mood of westerns with the mythic imagery of the Dark Ages. It is designed to provide deep role-playing experiences where player characters interact with each other and with the world outside, being forced to make difficult moral decisions, and face life-threatening dangers fighting for what they believe in."
Why I didn't include this in the actual book, I'll never know. If you're about to read Myrskyn aika, imagine the above chapter to be on page 8.
Incidentally, it's interesting to notice that many people don't see it as necessary to play a role-playing game to review it. It's enough to read the world material and the rules, and then comment upon it. While I agree this might be possible in theory, it seems to lead to rather shallow criticism.
A notable exception was Markku Soikkeli's review in Turun Sanomat where he doesn't look at it from the point of view of the gamer but from that of the reader. The difference is notable, and his criticism is in my mind much more to the point than that of the others. It's titled "An Updating Classic for Role-players," and explains role-playing and the relevance of this book to a mainstream audience.
The Portti review which just appeared a few days ago talked about the game for a fandom/gamer audience. Two pages long, it managed to point out many of the good parts of the book, while providing intellectual criticism, as well. The writer is a regular reader of shpr, and seems to disagree with the allegations of Myrskyn aika being childish or too generic.
Not all bad
"The format is pleasant and suits me well." -Alterations The book is different from most role-playing books because it looks and reads much more like a paperback novel than a huge study book full of charts and tables. This has made it much more pleasant to read and carry around. I feel the book also has more value since half of its content is not made of critical hit tables but of actual writing.
"I liked the fact that the rules systems weren't introduced until the GM section." -Alterations So do I, since I think rules are possibly a tool for role-playing, but rarely a prerequisite. There's no need for the players to know anything about the rules, unless that is the GM's express wish. By not having the rules in the Players' section, I make sure it's the GM's call.
"Valenor is an excellent example of how thorough a self-made fantasy world should be." -Turun Sanomat The newspaper review is also the only commentary that mentions that the book provides a wider spectrum of ways of life and gender and sexual roles than most fantasy settings.
The most important criticism comes, of course, from my friends. Some have echoed the majority in saying the world isn't presented as interesting enough. Some have thanked me for giving traditional fantasy an intelligent twist by bringing the "human" in fantasy closer to what we perceive as humans than what Tolkien did.
A good friend even said that the most revolutionary aspect of Myrskyn aika is that the role-playing example in the beginning doesn't deal with fighting or really even with rules, but with two characters and their relationship with each other.
Read before use
Just to give you some idea of what the core of Myrskyn aika is, and why it's created so much criticism, I'll provide you with an English version of the Table of Contents. Book One is for everyone to read, Book Two you only read the parts relevant to your character, and Book Three is GM only. Enjoy.
The Age of StormTable of Contents
Book One: The Basics
Book Two: Specific Backgrounds
Book Three: Game Master Information
In Portti the structure of the book receives negative comments. The biggest problem is the lack of an Index, which makes the book hard to browse. Another problem is the order things are presented in Book One: I go from society to personal, abstract to concrete. Apparently, this makes it difficult to get a practical understanding of the world. Both of these problems would've been easy to fix had I thought of it. Damn.
The book's been selling well in the capital Helsinki and my home town of Turku. According to my publisher "It's selling okay. Or actually well. Or incredibly well, really, for such a marginal book. Actually, I'm not sure if it even is in the marginal with these numbers."
It sells well in Helsinki and in Turku, and it's got some excellent media attention in those towns. But virtually no media have noticed it outside these two centers, and to my knowledge it hasn't really been selling either. I hope this will problem somehow fix itself, perhaps with the advent of The Return of The King and the mandatory Christmas shopping. After that, there might be some hope of translations, and then... world domination! Mwahahaha.