[TSoY] An interesting final exodus for my American supply of WoN books

I've been using the Indie Press Revolution as my American fulfillment service ever since I started to publish in English; as most people here probably know, they have a gloriously entwined past with the indie rpg scene, and the company has continued to be the ideal partner for my sort of European publisher (read: the sort who'd rather just put the product out and forget about it) under Jason Walters's current reign as well, as a sort of a kitchen sink shopping destination for small press rpgs.

IPR business has been maturing lately towards long-term sustainability (or at least that's how I read Jason's movements: he's figuring out what's worth the bother and what isn't year in, year out), and as part of that Jason recently declared a house-cleaning: he'd be returning slow-moving, old inventory to publishers to focus resources on the more relevant products. Makes perfect sense, considering how IPR is responsible for the warehousing and inventory management expenses under this business model, which means that us publishers find it all too easy to let Jason warehouse our stuff long past any economic sense. (I know that I've been entirely cold-blooded about our IPR inventory, myself: it's long tail sales, essentially free money that I don't need to work for.) The actual cut-off criterion in this house-cleaning is surprisingly generous: Jason wants to get rid of products that haven't sold a single instance over the last year. Certainly reasonable, and something that I've been idly expecting of him.

imageThing is, amusingly enough I've got one of these "dead" products in my own oeuvre: World of Near has since its publication in 2010 proved to be an amazingly slow seller, even by indie standards. I don't have a clue as to why this is, even; as far as I'm concerned it's one of the most compelling fantasy rpgs (and grand fantasy settings) out there, even discounting my insider perspective. One of those weird mysteries of the grassroots market dynamics, I suppose. Whatever the reason, WoN hasn't sold a single copy through IPR over the last year. Fortunately I'm too wily (thanks to a Forge background) to get into any sort of embarrassing overprint trap; the remaining stock at IPR is just 40 copies or so - not a massive write-off by any measure.

Aside from giving a final warning to anybody wanting to purchase the game before it's gone, I wanted to tell about how we decided to dispose of the remaining books: I asked Jason if it would be possible to distribute the books to interested hobbyists via some sort of coupon deals or whatever, and he countered with the suggestion that we should send them to Endgame, a game store in Oakland, California; they've got a solid gaming scene there, and the proprietor, Chris Hanrahan, is likely to have the means to find good homes to the remaining copies of WoN. This is a happy outcome from my viewpoint; I find it likely that some new people will discover Near this way, which is better than having IPR ship the books here to Finland to join my local inventory. Perhaps we'll get to hear of some active play in that area before long, even.

Thus, my points:
- If you've been considering taking a look at The Shadow of Yesterday, and you're American, then you'll probably still have a couple of days to place an order on the World of Near book at IPR before Jason removes it from the store. As might or might not be obvious, WoN is the setting source-book part for my bipartite edition of TSoY, with the Solar System as the rulebook; it's a book that I'm very fond of myself despite its meager sales, and I think that it dodges many of the faults typical of big setting fantasy rpgs.
- If you're located somewhere around Endgame, chances are that you'll have a chance at a free copy of WoN at some point this spring. I've no clue how Chris will distribute the books, but I'm sure he'll think of something. Probably asking him for a copy would do it, I'd expect.
- If you're in the same boat with me, and have something at IPR that Jason wants to move out, by all means consider doing something similar. Perhaps there's some better address for your books as well out there?

I still have a few copies of WoN here in Finland... the inventory says 57, which will probably satisfy any demand until somebody gets around to drafting a new edition of TSoY. Thus, Europeans won't have to worry about the supply being cut off. I guess I could ship to the USA from here later on as well, although the extra postage charge would be significant.

Comments

  • Endgame in Oakland is a fantastic store and it's a great home for the remaining World of Near copies. That community in the Bay area is full of story gamers.
  • So everybody tells me! I will admit to a modicum of surprise if nobody around there gets inspired to play the game after an infusion of 40-something books into the local ludosystem :D
  • A fittingly melancholy outcome! I'll be sure to pick up a copy when I'm there this autumn.
  • Hey Eero, any chance you're going to Fastaval this year?
  • Hasn't occurred to me to go, no. I guess I'm really not much of a convention personality to begin with; I don't think I've ever gone to a convention without having had something to sell or perform or work at the convention. Just doesn't feel worth it without some goal-oriented project that necessitates getting out and about.
  • Eero,

    Fair enough! I'm not a big con head either. I was wondering mostly because I am going to be there, for random reasons, and it occurred to me that its as close to Finland as I'm likely to get in the next several years.

    Anyway, I'm badly off topic! Sorry about that.
  • World of Near is a terrific book. Evocative setting, packed with hundreds of ideas.
  • Huh! This post reminded me that I wanted to get a copy! (I didn't know they actually had them at IPR).

    However, searches for "World of Near" don't turn up anything at IPR. Are they already delisted? Too little, too late, but before they're gone I'd love to buy a copy...
  • edited January 2014
    It's still there (the cover art above links to it, too) - or at least I see it there.

    I've noticed that the search doesn't bring it up, too. Could be a factor in why IPR doesn't get even the low degree of sales we get here in Europe, from our own website.

    (Actually, trying it right now, I do get it in search. Didn't get it yesterday, though. Maybe it's some sort of activity heuristic, the search function drops rarely-accessed entries from the results even when they're the best fit?)
  • I'm not the best authority on this topic, so please feel free not to take what I'm about to say too seriously.

    I have a hunch that the lack of success of "WoN" has to do with an odd niche it occupies. I have no doubt that it's a high-quality product (I would buy any game product Eero had a hand in putting together, personally). However, I think that the people who are drawn to "story games" like TSoY are not the same people who buy detailed sourcebooks.

    In this community, for example, clever design, innovative game mechanics, or unusual business practices seem to draw attention. I've almost never heard anyone get excited about a campaign setting sold as a book.

    I have no idea whether my hunch is at all accurate, so I'd love to hear some other people's thoughts on this topic! Are there any other "sourcebooks" which are popular and sell well in the "indie" community (as complicated a concept as that has become)?
  • The Shadow of Yesterday sounds like a downer. A lot of settings are depressing, but there's usually some kind of upside or ultra-coolness to offset the "Britta effect". Also, from the Wikipedia description I just read, there's some very important and serious sociological issues tied to the game world. Turn off. Why is the world named "Near"? Unless there's a clever and awesome reason, it just sounds odd... and not in the good way.

    For me personally, I would be disinclined to play that game based solely upon its description. I also didn't care for the cover art.

    As for The World of Near sourcebook, the art looks cool, but it looks like some space battle or starship interacting with an asteroid. The Indie Press site didn't let me see the cover larger or up close. Did you try making it available via DriveThruRPG?

    VS
  • edited January 2014
    If you're interested in a more detailed look at TSoY, Venger, you can read the World of Near in html here. The original Shadow of Yesterday is also online e.g. here. It is a somewhat dark setting, sufficiently gritty to justify calling it "pulp fantasy"; I personally think that there is a depth of interpretation there, sufficiently so to enable players to make their own call as to how optimistic or pessimistic they want to go in their play. "Hippie fantasy" would be just as justified as "pulp", for instance, considering the humanistic, new age, post-modern themes that are central to the setting. No darker than Dark Sun, say, and probably considerably more light-hearted for most people.

    This is of course not to say that the game couldn't be suffering from a downer reputation out there. Could be. Also, to state the obvious: a major reason for why World of Near didn't catch much attention is that I did absolutely nothing to market it. I don't particularly regret this (I have my preferences about how to go about publishing), but it is a factor. No doubt venues such as DriveThroughRPG could've increased the sales somewhat, although it probably wouldn't have done much for the interest and relevance of the book. As Paul says, there might not be much market for game settings - the fact that the rules portion of the game (Solar System, that is) has sold a magnitude more certainly indicates such.
  • Ah, the lack of marketing would explain why there's not much mention or talk of this book online!

    VengerSatanis,

    I'd say The Shadow of Yesterday (and Near) is a very optimistic, heroic place. It deals with some intense human issues, but also has heroics, romance, and even the potential for slapstick humour.

    I'd say it's somewhere between Dark Sun and The Princess Bride.

    I find it to be a game full to the brim of optimism, personally.
  • When I have run SoY and/or WoN the setting is oppressive, but the character's ability to change the setting makes up for it. It is kind of like CP2020 in that regard. The setting in CP2020 is pretty bad, but the players can do something about it.
    Dave M
  • I'd like to chime in on the oppressiveness factor. One of the frequent complaints about the underlying system was that, statistically, at some point one of the PCs is going to Transcend- it's almost impossible to avoid- and that means they're going to change the setting. Much of the system element gameplay is built to (really, actually, because a rule says so) change the world. Not like most games where the PCs are supposed to have a chip in the big game but it is entirely up to the GM to decide when where and how that chip gets cashed, if at all.

    More on the general topic, as mentioned above WoN wasn't marketed. Beyond that obvious point, I'm not sure why it didn't get more talk. I've run a few games, and used many of the Secrets, Keys, and the published equipment rules for other Solar System games, but then I'm not much of a forum poster. It's funny that so many elements from tSoY were lauded and seemingly ported to other more recent designs but its direct inheritor has merited little attention. I feel quite a few of the Secrets and Keys speak directly or obliquely to larger design issues that are still prominent and eat up long, argumentative forum threads.
  • I don't think I had ever heard that this product existed.

    If I already have two versions of The Shadow of Yesterday, this is redundant, no?
  • Larry, as the author of those two previous versions, my answer would be "not really." Eero added a lot to the setting -- all good stuff, in my opinion. Quite a bit of it would be repetitive, but about a third is new, by my guess. Obviously, not necessary if you like the game you have, but a nice sourcebook.

    I'm glad this thread is inspiring discussion about a game that is still on my mind. My short answer to some of the thoughts in this thread is, no, settings don't sell very well, and I'm not sure why. One of TSOY's direct inspirations is Hero Wars, the 1st version of HeroQuest, the Glorantha game that isn't RuneQuest. Anyway, Glorantha got a lot of positive love in these circles (Story Games, the Forge) because it had a few prominent fans, but I don't think that translated to great sales.

    TSOY's system has gone on to be used by others and inspired other systems, but it's not the part of the game I'm most proud of. The World of Near (the setting, not Eero's book, which is his and I'm not taking credit for) was my attempt to make a rich setting that showed off all the things I love about fantasy: living in the remnants of a mysterious past, weird magic, unexplained mysteries, necromancy, and, as someone mentioned, slapstick humor. It's also (supposed to be) optimistic. I can see how without playing someone could assume the opposite, but it definitely was an artifact of my own optimism. The tagline "no gods, no monsters, just people" that I often used with it was part of that. In TSOY, you really do change the world, and it needs changing. Things are broken. But, there's nothing in the world you can't overcome, because everything in the game is human. No god will come from the sky and stop you. No monster cannot be reasoned with.

    The system was set up to push this (transcendence, but even more so, the scale of success meant that everyone always had a fighting chance to win in a conflict), but like I said, the system isn't the thing I'm proud of: it's the setting.

    I haven't played TSOY in years, but now I want to. I asked Eero to send me a few copies: a few special people will be getting them, and I'm going to keep about three so I can use them when running the game.
  • edited January 2014
    My experience actually playing The Shadow of Yesterday was in a campaign based off Eero's Solar System + World of Near. It was mostly set in parts of the world unmentioned in Clinton's original booklets: mostly a faux Viking or Saxon area ruled by a new monotheistic religion in open conflict with older folk ways, but a technologically more advanced, secluded island nation of seafarers was also involved. Much of our game was about foreign powers influencing local politics, and the role of a few individuals of all stations in this process (which, from what I recall of Clinton's TSoY, was indeed a strong thematic current there, especially in the Ammeni area). We also used new character options from the WoN book: I was playing a Giant, and if you've heard about the Giants of Near I believe you can easily picture how spectacularly that messed with being a knight templar-like warrior monk of the monotheistic church as well. A larger than life character if there ever was one!
    It was a great game.
  • edited January 2014
    Just one data point, in case it's helpful.

    I have the Shadow of Yesterday, and keep looking at it as a game I ought to try at some point. I think it looks like a really well-made game and I would love to try running it. My biggest difficulty has always been comprehending the setting, however. Not because it isn't well-written or full of evocative detail, but because it doesn't seem tonally consistent.

    If I pick up Lankhmar, I know I'm playing a roguish game about part-heroes. If I pick up a Conan game, I know I'm playing a game about barbarism vs civilisation, ancient Gods and necromancy. If I pick up an original Star Trek game, I know I'm playing a game about intellect and decency. But in tSoY, I read things like:
    Key of the Affliction
    Your goblin has succumbed to the Affliction - he has learned to love. This means he is becoming human. With this Key, a goblin character may also take the human Species Key, Key of Unrequited Love.
    vs
    Key of the Overlord
    Your character owns other people or oversees the ownership of others. Gain 1 XP every time your character makes someone else do something against his will. Gain 3 XP every time your character makes someone else do something that causes harm, pain, or despair to that person.
    and
    Key of the Astral Traveler
    Your character is dedicated to a world outside his body, taking hallucingens in order to change his perception. Gain 1 XP every time your character takes a drug purported to change his reality. Gain 3 XP every time your character separates his spirit from his body.
    ... and I have no idea how I (as GM) could possibly fit these all into the same game. I realise this is probably my own failure of imagination, but this is why I didn't progress into buying the World of Near - it's that I don't understand it as a whole. If this was a Hollywood film, I'd be failing to see the elevator pitch. When a game has romance, weird drugs, necromancy and slapstick all together, I find myself being confused by a lot of disparate elements that I can't quite fit together in my head. Which is a pity, because the game itself seems pretty good. I just can't work out how I'd possibly run it.
  • That's a very interesting observation, Summerdown, because I agree with it entirely, and find that same feature you mention very central to why I love the game: that's exactly the way TSoY is, it is tonally contradictory when read as an unitary piece. Here's how I characterize the matter in World of Near:
    The Shadow of Yesterday is a fantasy roleplaying game that is very much defined by its peculiar setting, NEAR. Clinton characterizes it as "pumpkin fantasy", akin to that genre of fantasy literature in which young boys leave the farm, take up the sword, learn of their world and their place in it, and ultimately redeem everything.

    Aside from pumpkin fantasy, a major influence for many of us working on TSoY has been the idea of pulp aesthetics as a counterpoint to genrified post-Tolkien, post-D&D fantasy literature: Near is a very organic world (some would call it "gritty") that draws pretty freely from sword & sorcery imagery and encourages stories to go where they will regardless of conventional structure. So there is a definite tension between uplifting heroism and literary realism in this material. It is a fruitful tension that I have seen no need to resolve: TSoY is at once sentimental and pragmatic; it is always exciting to sit down to play and see what we bring to being this time.
    That's totally contradictory, you can't have those genres in the same game! As you can see, I don't see it as so much a matter of tonal contradiction as complexity and potential: Near is absolutely, definitely a cacophony if you attempt to embrace the written setting as an objective whole. I don't perceive this as a problem, though, because I think that Near is a genuine roleplaying game setting in a way that very few settings actually are: it is not an objective whole, and everything in it is written to provoke and force choices regarding what you present and what you ignore. It does not even attempt to provide an unitary vision, but that does not mean that it's not been crafted with skill, because what has been provided is intended to encourage discovery in a way that would be impossible if the setting sourcebook provided truths in lieu of creative opportunities.

    (I imagine that if you're into "big setting" roleplaying games, you've noticed that the good ones tend towards this quality, accidentally or by design - I genuinely don't know which it is for most of them. It is very difficult to create a setting that is actually relevant to successful, vivacious roleplaying without also maturing into an increasingly self-contradictory morass that everybody gets to interpret for themselves.)

    The way I see the process of playing a game like this is entirely backwards from what you depict, Summerdown: the GM does not need to understand what the setting is, because we will find that out in play. This is not rhetorical in any way, and not intended as a way to be cute about leaving the GM some interpretative room; it's directly written into the process and means of play. What the GM presents when he brings up setting elements is not a statement like "in this setting you're heroic saviors of damsels in distress"; no, what he brings is the most tentative question - "Given that I have these damsels here, and these sexual politics that we've been examining, how do you react to distress?"

    What this means in practice is that the individual TSoY campaign is underground fantasy or pulp fantasy or high fantasy or whatever it becomes, but that's not because the setting is like that, it's because the players chose it. Idealistic high fantasy is the most natural thing in the world if you choose to play Khalean rebels, while it is almost impossible to not devolve into grim, nihilistic pulp fantasy if the campaign works with the slave plantations of Ammeni. Take into account that while your events will probably happen in a single geographic location, the player characters might come from anywhere in Near; the potential for unexpected revelations and new truths regarding the setting is incalculable.

    As one might imagine, the World of Near book is even more extreme than the original TSoY in this regard, the material ranges from utter nihilism to pop-culture comedy to earnest post-Tolkienist high fantasy. (I can totally imagine how somebody else would have read the original TSoY in a different way, finding that unifying thematic logic that I so earnestly attempt to obscure in my book; they would have written an entirely different setting book for the game and it would have been heavily contradictory with the way I see the setting.) Sensibly enough considering my viewpoint, I attempted to present the book in a very functional, modular manner: you could read it and pick out 3-6 individual chapters (theoretically speaking, any half a dozen chapters), and base your entire campaign around those. The choices you'd make, and the way you'd interpret the material, would provide an essentially unique slice of Near for your campaign to discover.

    One might consider the introductory art for the "Fifth Movement" of the book a sort of crescendo for this particular brand of insanity: it's a quartered page with four maps of Near, the only maps in the book that depict how the entire setting fits together geographically. The four maps are entirely different from each other, providing alternative takes on how the cultural and mythical ideas in the book might arise from different geographical realities. I took them from the various international editions the game's had, as well as my own home campaign and ideas that had come up when we'd been playing/exploring Near.

    The Forge subculture used to discourse often upon discovery and statement as creative drives that are in deep contradiction to how more traditional games set up the GM as the guardian and carekeeper of the object d'art that is the game world. For me, personally, TSoY was a deep experience when I encountered it in 2005 or so exactly because it's so subtle in the way it pushes those Forge ideals in how the setting has been presented and what it includes, and what is left unsaid. This ideal of discovery and personal creative statement made at the game table, the Story Now, was and is utterly serious for me - and I suspect that it's the same for many of the folks who are fond of TSoY. After all, as long as a game setting is just a dead thing trapped between book covers, Near isn't that spectacularly different; it only becomes unique and groundbreaking when you realize that it's sort of like the next step from Glorantha as a postmodern setting in thematic tension. All the elfdwarfstuff in there wouldn't be nearly as interesting were it not for the Story Now nature of interpreting it all. To appreciate Near, I think that you have to realize that the way these games attempt to break down elaborate setting logic is just as ambitious as those mechanical and conceptual breakthroughs that were being made at the time, even if the Forge is mostly known for mechanical work and less for the literary technique.

    Also: if this sort of postmodern, interpretative rpg setting theory is of interest (and I assume you're already very familiar with Glorantha, which is a key inspiration for both Clinton and myself), I very much recommend the other game with that original flavour: Legends of Alyria (available for free in the Internet) is a smaller, tighter treatment of these same setting design issues, and it is also excellent. Just like TSoY, it provides you with a superficially fragmentary, ambitious setting that is not intended to be depicted like a work of art, but rather latched onto and mutilated and interpreted into your own found art object or bricolage experiment. And just like TSoY, it has this crazy tonal discrepancy between the zombie slave-labour and intelligent aardwarks.
  • I realized that I ended up rambling because the topic is one that I've obviously been thinking a lot when working with TSoY. The short and simple way to say the above without rambling is this: TSoY does have both necromancy and funny talking animals, but only potentially, and you're supposed to cut it down and refuse most of that setting stuff for any given campaign. You don't even have to go hardcore realist about it and say that "the jungles of Qek don't exist in this campaign" - it suffices to note that as you can't and shouldn't introduce everything into the game at the same time anyway (just like you don't have every monster in the Monster Manual attack the party all at once), you might as well ignore the parts that are not cornerstone elements of this particular campaign. I have found in practice that it is entirely possible to play long campaigns of the game without ever even mentioning that something like say necromancy or talking rodents exists.

    Furthermore, it's not the GM who chooses what to take and what to leave. Rather, you set up a chargen session, talk about campaign concepts, create some characters, and after that you have your 1-2 relevant cultures, 2-3 relevant magical disciplines, 1-3 races, 0-2 ideologies that are pertinent to this particular scenario/campaign. When you zoom in like this, I guarantee that it's not that difficult to see how everything goes together: Clinton, myself and a dozen other people have used our finely tuned aesthetic senses to make all the elements "pop", whatever the combination you choose to play (well, let's say 85% of them pop - I could see how you could find a totally stupid campaign concept in there if you were really looking for it). And the most beautiful part is that you're very likely to be the only group out there who's combined these elements in quite this way, ever :D

    I mean, I hear from people who've played TSoY, and they always, always without exception have totally unique and creative adventures that simultaneously make sense and are nothing like my own play of the game. I can obsess all I want about naval warfare or transgender politics in the book, and people still end up playing something like Rafu's giant who's also a Highlands Saint - beautiful concept, considering how the Saints in their monasteries have developed a certain degree of hatred towards the giants of the Roof of the World in their long cohabitation.
  • Very interesting discussion - and it explains so much about this whole project.

    Unlike Summerdown, when I read The Shadow of Yesterday, I saw a very strong, coherent whole. It didn't fit a discrete label or stereotype, but it all hung together in a way that made intuitive, emotional sense.

    For instance, those three Keys Summerdown posted: to me, they fit together very naturally in Near. TSoY is run through with themes about love/dominance/dependance, and that extends to substances like drugs and/or more mystical stuff. So, the Keys of Affliction (love as a disease/drug), the Overlord (again, control and dependance, but now it's the darker flipside), and Astral Travel, aided by drug use, all hang together very naturally.

    It's not an immediate connection you would make, but once you see it together, it makes sense. It's kind of like Star Wars: how can you have swords and religion mixed with science fiction travel, an active monarchy, and all this broken-down old technology? It seems like these elements do not belong together, and yet together they form a whole which is very consistent in feel and in terms of the themes it evokes.

    World of Near, however, seemed to lose that from my perspective. Whereas TSoY seemed to hang together very well in this respect, WoN branched out in all kinds of different directions and explored a variety of material. I never really quite "understood" this spread of ideas and concepts: but now that I see that it was the design goal, as intended by Eero, it makes complete sense!

    WoN is a kind of "Expert's Set" for The Shadow of Yesterday, anyway; it seems to me that it doesn't help one to focus on what's cool or important about TSoY, but rather opens up the scope of the setting to a greater variety of stories. Kind of like an anthology of sequels and background material to an existing piece of fictional work: ok, the original was focused on this story, but now we can "zoom out" and find all the stuff that was excised from the original (in order to make it focused in the first place), to explore new territory or approach things from a different angle.
  • Key of the Affliction
    Your goblin has succumbed to the Affliction - he has learned to love. This means he is becoming human. With this Key, a goblin character may also take the human Species Key, Key of Unrequited Love.
    vs
    Key of the Overlord
    Your character owns other people or oversees the ownership of others. Gain 1 XP every time your character makes someone else do something against his will. Gain 3 XP every time your character makes someone else do something that causes harm, pain, or despair to that person.
    and
    Key of the Astral Traveler
    Your character is dedicated to a world outside his body, taking hallucingens in order to change his perception. Gain 1 XP every time your character takes a drug purported to change his reality. Gain 3 XP every time your character separates his spirit from his body.
    ... and I have no idea how I (as GM) could possibly fit these all into the same game.
    When a slave-owner, someone whose empire is built on the backs of those he has conquered, realizes his property are people because he has learned to love an abolitionist and looks to the astral sea for guidance through his inner conflict.

    That said, it isn't just up to the GM to hit keys. It is up to the players to go after them.

  • Summerdown,
    I feel like Keys answers a question that is rarely answered during play in a Fantasy RPG: "which setting element are we engaging with?"

    So many times I have made a "fighty" character and fond out we are doing an "intrigue" game. Or made a "diplomatic" character and found out later we are doing a "fighty" game. When this happens, m time is wasted and my fun is crushed. Keys creates a clear message between the GM ad player: "this is what I want to do." And because that is what the players get XPs for (and that was what they were interested in when they made the character) play drives in that direction.

    As far as the setting goes, I LOVE IT. But, it is too much to experience in one session, or even in one campaign. I have run three campaigns and each was in an element of the setting. One was in a massive City-State in Maldor. One was in a river village in Zaru and another was in an Island empire called Inselberg from WoN. Each played slightly differently because they had more local color. But they were all fun in their own ways.

    And, to me at least, that is the best way to engage huge settings like this or Exalted.
    Dave M
  • Not to turn this thread into a love-fest, but wow, whenever I see Eero write about TSOY, I am blown away with not only how much he gets my original vision, but also how cool his own vision is.
  • edited January 2014
    *deleted b/c I have no idea what I was talking about*
  • Oh, something specific to talk about. I was re-reading The World of Near last night because of this thread, and I skipped over to Qek, probably my favorite of the cultures in TSOY. The World of Near adds a lot to TSOY, but I was surprised to see what it left out. I had a very specific vision for how the Qek view spirits that was elided and changed in The World of Near. This isn't a complaint! It's neat to see a different take. It did make me wonder why it was done in this specific instance.
    Quite interesting. Can you elucidate on that a bit? I took the texts up side by side (as if I'd remember what was written years ago), and they look pretty similar to me. I also don't remember intending to make any major changes, so the chances are that my changes are accidental, and I didn't even realize that I was changing the theology.

    I did certainly take a hands-on approach to the text when editing/writing it, so I well might've changed something crucial as part of the edits. I decided early on while working on the book that open culture means open culture, and I would be doing a disservice to the spirit of the exercise if I refused to take full-body responsibility for the text. This is why I arrived at the approach where I give vague attribution to sources chapter by chapter instead of quoting with attributions like you'd expect in traditional academic style. The goal was to treat every word like they were my own, to accomplish a consistent and complete book, even in cases where I ended up using Clinton's text near verbatim for entire chapters at a time.
  • edited January 2014
    Furthermore, it's not the GM who chooses what to take and what to leave. Rather, you set up a chargen session, talk about campaign concepts, create some characters, and after that you have your 1-2 relevant cultures, 2-3 relevant magical disciplines, 1-3 races, 0-2 ideologies that are pertinent to this particular scenario/campaign. When you zoom in like this, I guarantee that it's not that difficult to see how everything goes together: Clinton, myself and a dozen other people have used our finely tuned aesthetic senses to make all the elements "pop", whatever the combination you choose to play (well, let's say 85% of them pop - I could see how you could find a totally stupid campaign concept in there if you were really looking for it). And the most beautiful part is that you're very likely to be the only group out there who's combined these elements in quite this way, ever :D
    Any chance you could go into more detail about how this works?

    My fear is that if I were to run a tSoY game without getting everyone on the right page, I would end up with three machiavellian poisoners and one lovesick goblin. Or three people looking forward to a horror game and one wanting slapstick.

    In every game I've ever played or ran before, I've always considered the tone to be the first thing established (by GM or consensus) - be it comedy, horror, crime investigation or kill things and take their stuff. Here, you seem to be suggesting that people should pick characters first, then work out what genre they're playing afterwards.

    or is this the key statement:
    Rather, you set up a chargen session, talk about campaign concepts
    ... and actually the "campaign concepts" bit means to establish a group tone?

    If it helps to explain my confusion, I've never played or read Glorantha.
  • edited January 2014
    Incidentally, it strikes me that it's probably for the same reason that I never got into Glorantha. I could never work out how player-character ducks could co-exist with a heroic setting.
  • (The following basically paraphrases "Solar System", the booklet I wrote about the rules of TSoY. I recommend it if you're interested in how to actually play TSoY, and the original TSoY book doesn't open it up for you - I wrote it specifically to clarify and restate Clinton's original game!)

    Campaign concept, or "focal point", as I like to call it in the Solar System, is not literary genre. Rather, it's a causal topic in the setting. The example I often use is Babylon 5: the topic of the tv series is technically speaking "stuff happens on this space station". We can say that the focal point of the Babylon 5 campaign is the space station. This is not a genre or mood, it's just a practical in-setting definition of subject matter: this is what we are doing now. It could be "vampires" or "gold rush" instead of "space station called Babylon 5".

    The way I play Solar system, you set up the campaign in this order: first you discuss the setting with the group, then you pick the focal point (or "topic", if you prefer a less preciously unique term) of the coming campaign, and then you create the player characters. By doing it in this order, you avoid the "three poisoners and a lovesick goblin" thing you mentioned above. Or really, I lie - you don't avoid that specific thing, because that's what we want, but you do avoid the thing where the GM has insurmountable difficulties in planning a cohesive scenario because everybody's characters are completely and unavoidably on different planes.

    Applying this to TSoY (as opposed to any ol' Solar System campaign), the primary focal points are cultures: will this campaign be set at an Ammeni trading post, or will it follow the ambitions of a Maldorite pretender to the crown, or what? Usually it suffices to nail down the local culture of the place where the events will take place, because that then enables the players to make choices about their characters: do I want to play somebody local, or somebody foreign to this place? Often it doesn't hurt to get players on board a more specific topic in addition to the locale, like you might agree that in addition to having the game happen in war-torn Maldor, how about we all make characters who are members of the same circus troupe. Lots of options in how to massage the details of this negotiation.

    We aren't negotiating tone or themes, though; those will come later in play. Often I have no clue in advance as to how a player will play their character, and how they'll react to the material I set up as the Story Guide. We can only say if Near is dark or light in hindsight. (Of course the Story Guide is one of the people who determine by their choices what the tone might be like. The end result is an amalgam of the meanings that each player brings to the table.)

    In practice the above process looks like this: you read the original TSoY, or WoN, and you come about something you like. Later on, when planning the campaign with the group, you tell them that you could be interested in playing a game set in Ammeni: this is what Ammeni is like, this is why it entices me. The other players nod, they're like whatever, we might as well do that. So then you continue, what are interesting sorts of characters one could play in Ammeni? You could be a scion of a noble house, either born or fought your way in; you could be a member of the slave population; you could be in middle-management; you could be Ammeni-born, or Zaru, or a Maldorite expatriate; your character could know poisoncraft, maybe, it being common Ammeni, or they could be a Three-Corner magician, those can be found everywhere. We seek for interesting protagonists that the players want to play and the group wants to tell stories about.

    As the players make choices about who they'd like to play, you can see a campaign find its shape: if it's three poisoners and a love-sick goblin, then you'll know that the campaign will involve passionate murder, maybe all thriller-like, with the goblin as a fool or a foil, providing an asymmetric viewpoint into what the others might be doing. Remember that TSoY does not assume an adventure party paradigm, there's no need for the PCs to get along or anything like that; the only thing you need is for the characters to somehow relate to the focal point, so that you can set up a scenario that utilizes the focal point as its material, and is somehow relevant to the characters. The game is much, much more difficult to play well if you have four players and everybody's character is in completely different locations all around Near, with nothing in common.

    Once the characters have been created, the Story Guide crafts the scenario around their specific interests: TSoY suggests a sort of a story map approach, but there are other ways as well. Ultimately it all comes down to Bangs, Weaves and Crosses: using the focal point, you prepare material that "pops" (is dramatically reactive) with given PCs, and you ensure that this material crosses between the different PCs in interesting ways so that the players have good reasons to interact instead of just talking with the Story Guide. So if we have those three poisoners, perhaps some of them are plotting at cross-purposes to each other. Maybe the goblin is lovesick for one of the poisoners, or one of their victims-to-be. This isn't that difficult, truly, we're just still wrapping our collective heads around the thinking and terminology necessary for prepping dramatic rpg scenarios character first instead of plot first. You don't prep a plot with a PC-sized hole in it, but rather you just prep interesting NPCs, locations and events, and let the players freely interact with them.

    The reason for why tone mismatch does not occur is that ideally nobody's committed to a tone yet in character creation: we don't get three people rooting for horror while one wants slapstick because the campaign prep never asks you to decide on that sort of question: the prep is all about concrete imagery about the fictional setting and characters. You decide that you want to play a muscled barbarian warrior with skulls in his belt, you don't worry about whether it'll be a horror game. In this kind of game we attempt to get to the raw experience first, and only wrap it up into literary interpretation in the process of experiencing it: what do you think, as the player of this barbarian, are these events the stuff of horror or glory? Sometimes you get something you didn't prefer, such as when you lose at the dice, but even then we're happy because the process of getting there was fair and faithful to the fiction.

    Actually, there are a couple of sample scenarios in World of Near in the Fifth Movement; those might make for interesting reading if one is intrigued by the challenge of what to prepare as a GM in a game like this.
  • edited January 2014
    For those of you who have a hard time with the setting, don't use the setting. I played and ran TSOY for years and never did, running everything from Spring-and-Autumn period China to Burroughs-inspired high fantasy. As long as you set it in a human world, the rules just sing.
  • edited January 2014
    Yeah, I'm with Jason: my experience has been the same.

    As for "mismatched characters", consider Lady Blackbird:

    Although the system has been hacked slightly, it's a good example of what a Solar System/TSoY game might look like. Here the "focal point" is the Owl and the noblewoman fleeing from an arranged marriage. That was something chosen by the group, and then they make characters. One player decides to actually play the noblewoman; the others want to play a love-struck captain, a former slave, and a weird tinker goblin creature. They choose Secrets and Keys which highlight certain features of those characters, and give us some idea of what kind of trouble they might get embroiled in.

    (For example, if a player selects two contradictory Keys, this is a very strong statement: "I'm in love with Lady Blackbird, but I'm loyal to the Empire." Hard to ignore that kind of Flag; we pretty much know what kind of issue this character is going to struggle with in play.)

    Sounds very much like a game of The Shadow of Yesterday to me! (Although, as Eero says, there's no need to have a "party" mentality in this game - and, in Lady Blackbird, we see some of that in the conflicts written between the characters - it's still an option that's on the table.)

    This is not a coincidence, of course: Lady Blackbird is about as close as you can get to playing TSoY without actually playing it, having similar setting elements (issues of love and class, goblins, strange magic) and almost exactly the same mechanics.
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