Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Twisted Cheetos

The other day, Zak wrote:

Attitude one:

Like pre-modern art, the game is like a window into another world. Just as brushstrokes and picture frames are considered necessary but distracting elements in a traditional painting, dice, rules, Cheetos are necessary but distracting elements in the game. Whatever can be done to limit their hold of the mind of the player and promote pure immersion is appreciated.

And that describes my games fairly well. Aided by the fact that nearly all my play is online via text-chat these days, I strive to make the rules fade into the background as much as possible. Setting and character become the primary focus, and the trappings of play fade into the background. And there is nary a cheeto-orange fingerprint on any of my gaming books.

And yet, while Zak is clearly a proponent of “attitude two,” I love Vornheim. Sure, I wince a bit when Zak extols the virtues of letting players know that such-and-such an event is the result of random generation, but when it comes to building a world that is both insane and hangs together, Zak is a master.

I’ve never played with Jeff, but I get the feeling that, at his table, mutant plant doxies engaging in fishslapping contests with wookies is crazy-wacky-ha-ha fun. Nobody looks deeper into what’s going on, or what it means. They just enjoy it for the gonzo fun that it is.

I don’t get that feeling at all from Zak. Sure, it looks like playful gonzo on the surface, but... There are three adventures included in Vornheim, and while all give only a cursory brush at the details (Zak’s stated goal is very much to supply tools and raw materials in this book so that you can build your own things with them, and the adventures are very much in that spirit), those details invoke a chain of connections all through the work. In one, the seemingly random nature of the architecture is a clue as to the nature of the place. The villain of another appears on a random encounter table later in the book. Other random encounters invoke long-lost friends, clowns driven by a sense of justice, ancient festivals, mysterious watchers, capers-in-progress, or domestic disputes.

And many of them are just freaking bizarre! Ok, sure, you’ve seen the stuff on his blog that’s disturbing, right? You know about maggot nagas, nephilidian vampires, and hollow brides. This book is full of stuff like that. Zak dribbles more creativity and inspiration on page 3 (territories surrounding Vornheim) than most books manage in their entirety. And that's a pale shadow of page 7 (oddities in Vornheim). And much of it hints at darker unpleasantness. As Zak says a handful of times, the results of certain actions depend “on how goth the campaign is.” Other actions can result in drastic transformation of the gameworld, kinda-sorta similar the infamous possibilities of Raggi’s Death Frost Doom.

Frankly, I don’t understand how Mandy Morbid sleeps at night after playing in Zak’s game. Maybe the cheetos keep it light and fun, but in the right hands, some of this stuff could easily be the stuff of nightmares.

1 comment:

Risus Monkey said...

I'm not sure how Zak would feel about, but I definitely get a Clive Barker kind of feel out of Vornheim (primarily with regards to Barker's Imagijica). The place is fantastic and weird and horrible and disquieting. On first read, I immediately saw the brilliance of all the GM advice/mechanical bits. The creative content actually gave me pause. Not in that I didn't like it (I did), just that I wasn't sure if I wanted run a game set in a world with that kind of feel. But then the setting just stuck with me and now I'm convinced that I gotta give it a try.