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    I Fricking Love Wicked Fantasy

    I Fricking Love Wicked Fantasy

    So, once upon a time there was man named John Wick. John was a game designer – primarily, of tabletop roleplaying games. He forayed once into NeoPets, but we don’t talk about that. Anyways, John wrote roleplaying games.

    And he rocked hard at it. The man could weave prose in a way that made you think you were listening to a story told over a warm fire. There was a frank warmness to his words that made you want to listen. He was funny when he needed to be – and when he was funny, he was funny. But not only was he funny, but his words rang true. Not true in a historical sense, but in a way that your soul just said “This guy is up to something. Or maybe he’s a liar. But if he is then he is a damn good liar.”

    And you know what? He was. But that’s a good thing, because all storytellers are liars in some way, and John Wick was one of the best.

    …Now that I think of it, why the hell am I writing in the past sense. John Wick is still alive and kicking! In fact, he just put out his newest project “Wicked Fantasy” out this month. It’s pretty wicked awesome (that’s my Bostonian showing. Its also a pun). John always had a problem with D&D – two of his games, Orkworld and Houses of the Blooded, were created in response to his issues with the gaming giant. So in a way it is a bit strange that he would be creating a supplement for Pathfinder – a game that was essentially just a glorified (albeit a beautiful) sinkhole for D&D fans that had no interest in jumping ship to the new edition. And yet…what better way to criticize a game than by working within the game engine itself?

    Wicked Fantasy started off as a series articles for Kobold Quarterly, back when it was a very popular online magazine before it became a successful indie game publisher and developer. He came with the idea of looking at a bunch of typical D&D races and monsters and making them…not quite so typical. Looking through a wicked lens if you would. (That will be the last pun, I swear). He didn’t want to change them beyond recognition, but he also didn’t want them to be so damn boring. He didn’t want Humans to be just generic jack of all trades.  And by God, there was no way that Halflings were going to be a bunch of Bilbo Baggins!

    The columns were a big success, and he decided to turn them into commercial .pdfs. He enlisted the help of Gillian Fraser to act as the mechanics person, while he would handle all of the fluff. And they cracked out 10 standalone supplements to Pathfinder.

    And they blew off. By God, did they blow up. If you looked at his shop on DriveThruRPG, the Wicked Fantasy series were the top sellers. It’s easy to see why – people have been getting tired of the Tolkienan races. As wonderful of a writer as Tolkien was, seeing the same bread and butter interpretation of fantasy staples was more than old. They were more than tired. They were grounded into the Earth, dust to the wind. People were sick and tired of having to play a dwarf that was just a grump Santa that was as tall as he was wide. Elves that were just mystical, inhuman demigods had ran its course twenty years ago.

    Seeing an opportunity when he saw one, John started a Kickstarter for a physical Wicked Fantasy. He asked for $5,000. He got nearly $47,000. I am a bit ashamed to say that I was not one of the Kickstarters – I didn’t even knew it existed until months after the fact.

    But none of that explains why I love Wicked Fantasy.

    I love Wicked Fantasy because it is a darker form of heroic fantasy, but its not dark. John knows he is writing a story about heroes and villains, so he made sure the races had hints of both heroism and villainy. But he made sure the heroic side shown through just a little bit more than the darker side. Because these races, these individuals, these characters, they make mistakes. They are not perfect. God knows no one is. But they are worth saving. They are worth protecting. The world that your character inhabits, it has to be precious to your characters. If something isn’t precious, why would you risk anything for it?

    Each of the races have a strong, singular theme about them. For Humans, its “Plato’s Philosopher Kings that became true.” The dwarves – I mean Uvandir (never call a dwarf an unvandir) – are the best craftsmen in the world. But if they can’t work, they get horribly depressed. The Rodduns may be giant rats, but they are loyal and will protect you no matter what. So long as you continue to help him. And then there are the haffouns – or halflings – who are secret agents and will protect their human families no matter what. Even when their Human masters have no idea of what their haffoun servants have done for them.

    John makes these themes the pillar of the races – everything about the race revolves around these ideas. Even Fraser’s mechanics are based off of these central ideas.

    The ideas are strong, but the writing itself is even stronger. Wick would probably be scolded in literary circles who care more about “breaking new grounds” than touching the heart, but that would not hide the fact that there is a passion at the center of Wick’s wordplay. He breaks tons of rules of writing – sentence fragments are prevalent. But you keep on reading because its so damn fun. Its an actual joy to read through Wicked Fantasy. John has always managed to make sure his gamebooks are as far away from the college textbook style of most of his peers.

    His writing isn’t just fun though. It echoes with emotional power too. Take a look at this:

    “You have come to me,” says the King Rat,“telling me a story of your daughter and how these men have beaten and harmed her.” He shuffles in the dark room. “You have always offered my brothers a warm place when the rains came. Always kept their bellies full. Always hidden them when guards came to harm them. You have put yourself in danger to protect my own.” The King Rat makes a small noise in the back of his throat. “Of course I will do this thing for you. You have done so much for me. Such a small gratitude for the great kindness you have shown us.”

    That was taken from the Roddun chapter. It’s just a half dozen sentences. But with just 108 words John has told us everything – everything – about the Roddun. How much they value family. And why respect is such a powerful currency for them. The words just radiate charisma and authority. You know the King Rat’s words are political power incarnate. And its an absolute joy to read them.

    John is a game designer, but even more so he is a storyteller. He knows that stories have value. They are important. That is why he has a short story at the end of every chapter, to showcase the values of the races. He spent anywhere between ten and thirty pages telling us about the race. He uses the short stories to show us. Each of the stories are totally different in tone – some are dramatic, some are comedic, others just ooze confidence and badassery, others show a sense of tragedy. All of them are great. They are never boring.

    He knows that stories have power. He used Pathfinder to show us that.

    Is the story true? Can the iron curse be broken?
    I do not know. All I know is the story.
    And, of course, you ask me if it is true.
    Of course it is. All stories are true. Even false ones.

    August 14, 201341 commentsRead More