Text by yours truly, with help from Andrew Jones and Patrick Soulignac. As always, the bad-looking pictures below are by yours truly, whereas the nice-looking ones are by friends, and in particular by Aliénor and Toumy, photographers extraordinaire!
This year THE KRAKEN, the traditional German “gaming vacation” for fans of (mostly) Chaosium (or Chaosium-inspired) games and boardgames, took place from 20 to 23 October; unlike last year, there was a possibility to start attending on 18 October, but I was busy with family-related business in another part of Germany, and this was hence not an option for me. Anyway all the panels etc. are strictly within the Friday-to-Monday time frame to coincide with the presence of 90% of the attendees.
For those unfortunate fellows who do not know THE KRAKEN, it takes place in a German château in the less inhabited part of Germany – in the former GDR to be more precise. This ensures that no distractions get in the way of what this gaming vacation is all about: playing, gaming, and talking about our hobby. If you are not a Luddite like yours truly, you will be happy to find that the château provides free Wi-Fi which, much to my chagrin, works exceedingly well. As a result, there were some attendees who spent a great deal of their time on their evil little mobile devices instead of playing and consorting with fellow gamers. Why anybody would travel to the most isolated part of Germany to spend their time on their tablet or their smartphone when you can do that at home with the cat purring on your lap is beyond me. But then I am told I am a man of the 20th century.
Anyway, enough of my curmudgeonly ranting, and back to the report.
FRIDAY 20 OCTOBER, noon
Because of the family-related business mentioned above, I managed to arrive at noon, in time for the very first pantagruelian repast of THE KRAKEN. Each year, the château's cooks and pastry-makers do their utmost to please our palates with superb food – and there are vegetarian and vegan options too! Oh, and did I mention free German beer?
Around lunch time I had a chat with Nikolas Tsamourtzis, the author of the German indie sci-fi rpg Ultima Ratio. The game has proved quite successful in Germany, and it now has a second edition of the basic rules, which can be download for free from RPGnow. By popular demand, there will be a fantasy version of the game, which won't be set in a vanilla fantasy world but in a very special one in the future, in the past, or in a parallel dimension of the canonical setting. I think that's a cool idea – I wish there were something similar for Glorantha!
FRIDAY 20 OCTOBER, afternoon
First playtesting session of v4.2 of my very own boardgame called Gloranthan Realms. I had lots of useful input from my players, and in particular much professional advice from Lincoln Petersen.
THE KRAKEN is indeed always a good time to test one's prototypes with very demanding and jaded players. This year there was a particularly large amount of boardgame prototypes, both amateur and professional. Given the short duration of the “gaming vacation” (THE KRAKEN used to last longer in its early editions), I could only participate in a single playtesting session, much about that later, but simply watching the prototypes and people playing them was an enjoyable experience.
I also managed to have a chat about the next Chaosium boardgames with Susan and Michael O'Brien, who are in charge of this line of products at Chaosium. It appears Chaosium are aiming at two new boardgames per year; the schedule is “full” until 2019 but Chaosium are definitely accepting submissions (link).
Whilst the latest Cthulhu boardgame (Miskatonic University: the Restricted Collection) seems to be nearing completion, I was told Dragon Pass was nowhere near that and that we wouldn't be seeing any of it before 2019.
Miskatonic University: the Restricted Collection is an extremely fast-paced filler game where you play a university professor at Miskatonic University trying to get more forbidden information from the occult section of the library than the other players. Sacrificing your students to advance closer to your goal is strongly encouraged. The luck element is maybe too strong but overall it is a fast and fun little cynical game.
FRIDAY 20 OCTOBER, evening
At 9pm, the traditional opening ceremony was held, in the presence of the guests of honour: Jason Durall, Lynne Hardy, Mike Mason, Susan and Michael O'Brien, Sandy Petersen, Jeff Richard, Neil Robinson, and Ken Rolston.
At 10pm, the game sign-up started, accompanied by the traditional scuffle to write your name on the board under the name of the game you wanted to play. Life can be harsh at THE KRAKEN.
You could not sign up for the games refereed by the guests of honour; those were labelled separately, set apart for the eventual winners of the traditional lottery. Life can be miserable at THE KRAKEN.
Anyway, after the big scuffle, I played in one of the playtest boardgames mentioned above. It was a very unusual and unsettling narrative boardgame: Topi (designer & narrator) drew cards with different colours, Gloranthan runes, and values on them. One of us players would also draw a card and, by comparing the two cards, Topi would improvise a “chapter” of the story. Our character sheets only had Gloranthan runes and a singe special power, and we could influence the outcome of the chapter by making use of them. It was extremely interesting — I have only two caveats:
1- You need über Glorantha geeks to play.
2- The narrator's role is much more prominent than the players', which can be frustrating at times.
SATURDAY 21 OCTOBER, morning
There's so much going on at THE KRAKEN at any given moment, and most notably panels. Given my other commitments, I could only attend the Saturday morning one: How To Write A Scenario, hosted by Mike M, Jeff R, Jason D, and Lynne H.
It was more like a workshop than a mere panel, as the public was asked to participate a lot, with our input being first written on small post-it notes and then re-organised per subject. As said, it was a very active workshop, and I couldn't take not of everything, but here are the items that I found particularly interesting:
- No information overkill, no monster zoo.
- No exaggeratedly convoluted background.
- Avoid text boxes to be read out loud to your players.
The workshop then drifted to How To Write A Scenario for Chaosium, sort of— we were reminded that Chaosium is always looking for scenarios, not necessarily to be published within a scenario pack, but also as downloadable PDFs or to be provided as introductory scenarios at conventions. By the way, the submission guidelines are here. Anyway, should you want to write for Chaosium, think about the following questions, and try to find answers:
What's your purpose? What are the characters supposed to do? Start aiming for the 6,000 to 10,000-word scenario, i.e., a scenario that contains one challenge, one encounter. Provide pre-gens: they give an idea of the kind of player characters the scenario has been written for, even if they are not used by the referee and his or her players.
Question No.2: Can the scenario be summarised in a short paragraph? If not, well, it means you as a writer do not know where you're going!
Another panel, which I missed, was titled “Meet the Rune Czars”. For those old enough to remember, Ken Rolston was dubbed the Rune Czar back in the 90s when he managed to bring out a series of excellent RuneQuest supplements at a time when Avalon Hill seemed intent on destroying our favourite role-playing game. Well, Ken has passed on his crown to Jeff Richard. Said crown appears to be a tea cosy. Then Jeff went on talking about Chaosium's publication pipe. Again, I was not present, but apparently he did mention the Nochet book. More than 400 pages have been written, and the current scope is to make the book slimmer by only keeping the best stuff. There aren't any illustrations yet. The systemless Glorantha sourcebook (the one from the 13th Age in Glorantha kickstarter) is currently in layout— its development has been quiet in recent months, so it was good to hear that it's been actively worked upon. This was followed by some information about Glorantha for those not too familiar with Greg Stafford's universe. No particular revelations for readers of this blog.
SATURDAY 21 OCTOBER, noon
The traditional lottery took place just before noon. Alas, my name was not drawn. After the lottery, I had a short but very interesting discussion with Jason, Jeff and Neil about the cost of Spirit Magic Spells. The basic process was as follows: we know that a well-off farmer has a yearly surplus of about 40 L, we know that heavy leather armour costs 40 L, so what should a point of Protection cost? What about several points of Protection, i.e., does Protection 3 cost three times as much as Protection 1, or six times as much (1+2+3)? And then this kind of consideration was extended to all the list of Spirit Magic Spells. Very nerdy, very enjoyable.
SATURDAY 21 OCTOBER, afternoon
Believe it or not, I had never played in a Delta Green game. This sad state of affairs came to an end with my being a player in Kali Ghati, refereed by the amiable Andrew Kenrick. We were a bunch of Delta Green agents stationed in Afghanistan and sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a fellow Delta Green agent near a US compound in Paktika province, a multi-ethnic tribal province in the south-eastern part of the country. When the nearby tribe said that there were “bad Muslims” in the mountains, I knew we were up for trouble! Anyway, a solid scenario, with a good mix of investigation and action, and with a clever twist during the final confrontation. Very enjoyable.
I also discovered during the game that Delta Green was now a fully-fledged, independent game, and not a CoC 'sub-game' any longer. Some of its rules are actually pretty cool, and I wish our keeper would use them in our current CoC campaign, like for instance the 'adaptation to violence and to helplessness' system, and the player bonds.
Later in the afternoon, we spoke with Jeff about the upcoming books. Chaosium do realise they have a production bottleneck at the moment. Designwise, they are looking to deliver the best layout they can, with RuneQuest Glorantha and 13th Age in Glorantha in particular. Jeff was showing us artwork he had commissioned from the upcoming titles– the aim is to have the same high standard of art as that was commissioned for the Guide to the Glorantha, and also to reinforce the distinctive setting of Glorantha and get away from any faux-mediaeval art. The new art is spectacular, and the art styles are diverse. My personal favourite is Michelle Lockamy's astonishing art; have a look at her web-site here and you will understand what I mean. I find her use of colour particularly enchanting, and reminiscent of early 20th century European fairy tale illustrations.
New maps have been commissioned and they too look distinctive and evocative and in a different style to the last set of evocative maps to HeroQuest Glorantha and 13th Age in Glorantha, more in the style of what French role-playing games provide.
RuneQuest Glorantha is still tentatively scheduled for a December release in PDF, and 2018 in dead tree format. Character sheets were shown– and seem to be the subject of internal discussion on further revision. By the way, no word on the Nochet supplement (but other conventiongoers have had differing reports, see Saturday morning above).
SATURDAY 21 OCTOBER, evening
I have known Philip Glass as a fellow con attendee since the times of Tentacles. He regularly organises freeforms, and he also runs RPG sessions using his own system called the Impromptu RPG Engine. I remember I had played in one of his games about six years ago. Well, what a difference six years make; Philip has refined his system and it is now very efficient and very enjoyable, somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Newton's Effect Engine: it uses only d6's, and the same roll yields both the success/failure and its quality. A further nice feature of the Impromptu RPG Engine is its system of dice pool that adds a layer of 'resource management' that can make you quite nervous at the end of the scenario, when you don't have many dice left and you know you are about to play the climactic scene! Very recommended.
SUNDAY 22 OCTOBER, early morning
I had a serendipitous chat with Ian Cooper, Chaosium's line editor for HeroQuest. Alas, Ian confirmed there was not much in the pipe for HeroQuest in the short term, but he also gave me a piece of secret information that will make HQ fans happy when it's revealed, especially if they're into trying out non-Gloranthan HQ material. He also reminded us fans that we can submit HQ material for Wyrms Footnotes – the submissions guidelines are available here. Anyway, Ian Cooper is keen to produce some material to support adventuring in Pamaltela. We will see.
SUNDAY 22 OCTOBER, morning
I managed to convince Susan and Michael O'Brien to play a game of Gloranthan Realms. The game played really fast and fun, and they liked it! Yours truly will now officially submit it to Chaosium. Watch this space...
SUNDAY 22 OCTOBER, noon
I took advantage of the 'Sign My Books & Games' session to chat with Sandy Petersen about the Gods War, his jumbo boardgame about, er, the Gods War in Glorantha. Turns out production is late in China; nothing serious, though, we should be seeing prototypes soon.
SUNDAY 22 OCTOBER, afternoon
Fellow Gloranthaphile Jean-Christophe Cubertafon treated us to a masterful investigative adventure set in Nochet. It all starts when a shady Lunar trader asks the local Ernalda temple to examine an incredibly ancient Arkati tome he has 'found' to ascertain whether it is genuine or not. The Kev seeress from the party divines that the book was written on Dorastor vellum and infused with Deception to force its reader to do a wrong heroquest. I won't say any more in order not to spoil the adventure, which might be published by Chaosium (and which might be an incentive to resume work on the vapourware-ish Nochet book).
SUNDAY 22 OCTOBER, evening
Yet another Gloranthan Realms playtesting session. It was also fully satisfying; what was not satisfying was that I had also brought my other finished boardgame to THE KRAKEN: Siebenbürgen, an historical boardgame, hoping to run a few playtesting sessions. However, this being THE KRAKEN, everybody wanted to play the Gloranthan game.
Meanwhile, Andrew played in Ian Cooper's second session of the Robin D. Laws THE KRAKEN chapbook scenario “the Mother of Monsters”. Here's what Andrew tells: The scenario was slimmed down and restructured a little after its first run through. Set in Nikosdros and the region of Cerngoth in Pamaltela. Ian provided some partial pre-gens and I went for an ambitious haughty sorcerer who is given a mission impossible which if successful will be the making of him in the political structure. The other player characters were of a lower social standing including some Orlanthi sailors. Ian and I dove into the Cerngoth class system with gusto, when required– it's almost as if we understand ossified class ridden social-economic and political systems first hand...
As the scenario is newly published, I won't go into much detail, but much of it consists of dealing with chaotic creature hatchings. I enjoyed the fumble (natural 20) as much as the successes and it was a joy to play with other Gloranthaphiles. It was a fitting end to THE KRAKEN gaming period proper.
Very late at night, we convened with the crazy Scandinavians in the cellar of the château to sing the traditional Lovecraftian chant-along whilst sipping glass after glass of redoubtable aquavit.
MONDAY 23 OCTOBER, morning
The saddest part of THE KRAKEN is the Closing Ceremony. It's tough when you realise the next time you'll see all your friends is one year in the future.
Yes, friends, and not 'fellow gamers'— given the limited attendance, when you come back each year like yours truly, you end up becoming friends with pretty much everybody.
|a gift from Maltese friends|
I haven't spoken much about the organisation. What can I say; if you don't notice it, it means it is perfect, so kudos to Fabian Küchler and to all the organisers, and see you next year: THE next KRAKEN is 19-22 October 2018, and my agenda is already booked.
Yet despite the near perfection of the organisation, my two euro-cents about what I think could be improved:
1- Maybe it's me ageing, but I sometimes felt that the level of noise was unbearable, especially in the larger halls. I reckon a few mobile partitions could do the trick.
2- Remove the wireless internet access! We do not want any distractions from gaming!