I've been showcasing some of my Tales of Entropy
scenarios now that there's some in English, too. Entropy
is this dramatic blood opera story game that combines pre-written scenario seeds with player-created social maps. It's a clean and simple design in many respects, and thus a good platform for discussing various creative issues. Here are the last two threads about this, for reference:Farcical RoleplayingMovie Adaptation
The scenario I wish to discuss today is called Lords of Midnight
. It's the longest Entropy scenario to date, which sort of reflects my own passion for the subject matter, but also the fact that the aesthetic impact of the scenario rather requires establishing a lot of detail. Scenarios in Entropy have a hard length limit, as you're supposed to read the scenario aloud at the beginning of play; you probably shouldn't go any longer than this, frankly.
It's also the first and only scenario I've written directly and only in English so far. If you're familiar with the high fantasy genre, you might realize that it revolves around poetic expression a lot; I simply didn't feel like translating all the proper nouns back and forth.Lords of Midnight
is a classic computer strategy game
, so this is another one of these "movie adaptation" scenarios that we've been discussing lately. It is also a high fantasy work famously derivative of The Lord of the Rings
, although I would recommend not letting that turn you off - I, at least, find the earnest thematic and poetic similarity heartening more than cloying. It is simply useful for me to have a well-written (if at times just a bit cheesy) ersatz LotR epic on hand for those times when the original would be too familiar and well-trodden.
(Speaking of, if you actually know
about Lords of Midnight without me having to tell you, please raise your hand. I sort of expected it when the Finnish guys all thought that I'd invented this stuff myself, but then again I simply cannot believe that I would be the only roleplayer alive who remembers this game. It's not that
obscure, even if it is old.)
By the way, I recommend checking out my other recent thread about a classic high fantasy work that I adapted into a rpg form, The Chronicles of Prydain in 4th edition D&D
. There are some very interesting, very non-accidental parallels between all these high fantasy game adaptations, whether we're speaking of the original gangster or these other luminaries of the genre.
Anyway, my talking points on Lords of Midnight
We discussed adapting Lord of the Rings earlier. Well, this isn't quite
LotR, but it's so close you could do a search-and-replace on the proper nouns and end up with an entirely legible Tolkien fan fiction.*
The council scene is one of the high points of high fantasy, clearly: in Tolkien we have the Council of Elrond, here in Midnight we have the Council of the Wise, and even in my Prydain campaign I actually had to invent a new council scene
to have a solid starting point for the campaign. (Not that there aren't canonical councils in the novels there, too.)*
Adapting Lords of Midnight into Tales of Entropy is an idea that drips dramatic irony: we know indisputably that the abrupt, rude blood opera game will do horrible, horrible things to the romantic epic that the story tries to be.
That last point is what I want to particularly highlight: I think that a narrativist story game like Tales of Entropy benefits much more of creative challenges
than it does with creative conformism
. Certain types of discord, the right sorts of cracks in the fundament, can be valuable. Asking players to preserve the true spirit of Midnight or Middle-Earth through a game that would be just right for expressing Game of Thrones is a worthwhile creative challenge that requires you to sort your thematic priorities and create something entirely new out of old lego blocks. Instead of having the game support you in being noble, spiritual and brave, you have the game asking all the cynical, postmodern questions, and it's up to you to answer them in a way that preserves that high fantasy spirit.
This creative power is actually at the core of playing responsibility-mandating story games (whether GMed or GMless) like this at all: the only one who has the power to make the elves noble and the dark lord fearsome is you. You can't just sleep-walk through the game. This is less obvious when the rules and the genre match up cleanly, but it's there all the same. A high contrast between the assumed genre of the game and the subject material just brings the personal creative responsibility to high relief, as you have to fight harder to be able to preserve anything.
(If my point seems elusive, it might be more concrete if I express its complement as well: a game like Call of Cthulhu
or Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game
does nothing for your self-expressive faculties, because every shred of attention and empowerment those games offer you is for doing justice to the original material. A game that concords with its literary genre in that way never demands you to say it in your own words and affirm what the setting means; it merely wants you to passively accept the game's interpretation.)