Back to the tabletop we go!
Page 21, Game 24: A Guide To Casting Phantoms In The Revolution by World Champ Game Co.
You and the rest of the players are all a cabal of revolutionary occultists. The French Revolution is almost at hand — and you lot have a magic phantom-summoning lantern. How will this lantern help you aid the revolution? Let’s find out!
And the game is strangely emphatic that you will be AIDING the revolution, and it will be the FRENCH Revolution at that. Early in the rules, they specify “We’re not monarchists or royalists or bootlickers. If you want to play a game that involves the subjugation and disenfranchisement of the poor, look elsewhere.” Followed by a quote that begins “If you’re a fascist, you’re not welcome to play this game. It’s against the rules.”
To which I can only say … huh? I mean, if a game tells me that I’m a revolutionary, I’m usually willing to be all “Okay, I’m a revolutionary!” for at least the first game. Turning a game’s premise upside-down is generally best saved for after you’ve played it a few times. (Even then, “Pampered aristocratic twits attempt to thwart revolution using occult powers they barely understand and cannot possibly control” simply oozes with satirical potential.) And the “No fascists” rule … I have no beef with that, but I have to assume that if it warrants an explicit rule, it must have been a really serious problem during playtesting. I humbly submit that if a recurring problem in your French Revolution RPG is players derailing the sessions with proclamations like “Guys, we have to SUPPORT the king because Mussolini raised some extremely valid points!”, perhaps you need to choose different playtesters.
Anyway. Play begins! You create your cabal. Do note that you’re supposed to be playing the cabal as a collective and not necessarily lay claim to individual characters, but you’ll each be in charge of creating two of them; I suppose you should avoid getting attached.
From there, you’ll be using a surprisingly fiddly mechanism of rolling dice to create the first phantom you’ll be interacting with. Unlike a lot of the RPGs I’ve seen, this one is somewhat component-intensive — and that’s one of the most appealing things about it. You have a big ol’ pentagram for your dice rolling, a bunch of cards with symbols on them … hell, you even have the magic lantern represented as a dice roller. You interpret the dice you rolled, give your phantom some goals, and then move onto the scenes.
The game encourages you to play a large number of fairly short scenes, involving the cast of characters you’ve created and the supernatural entities they’ve enslaved, perhaps unwisely. You’ll be figuring out everybody’s goals and character arcs as the game progresses.
It’s hard to know how to give games like this a fair shake — I don’t want to ignore them, but I’m not hard-core enough to devote the time to actually gathering-up a group to play them. (I could claim “pandemic,” but it’s laziness. We all know damn well it’s laziness.) I’ve basically been defaulting to asking “Does this game make me actually WANT to play it?”
And the answer here is … maybe? Sort of? The mechanisms that turn dice-rolling into a kind of occult divination tool look cool and thematic as hell. The rules are a bit fiddly, but I don’t mind; a playthrough would tell me whether they’re the kind of fiddly that adds a sense of structure, or the kind of fiddly that’s just annoying, so may as well give it the benefit of the doubt.
But even as a bit of a lightweight Francophile (for real, you guys, Paris is WONDERFUL), I’m not sure I know the French Revolution well enough to do it justice … and the game is weirdly adamant that I get over that shit and EDUCATE MYSELF, dammit. This is not a worldbuilding exercise, you are not to port this game to a setting or time period you might be more comfortable with, this is the FRENCH. PERIOD. FUCKING. PERIOD. REVOLUTION. PERIOD.
I’m sincerely a bit put-off by what feels like the authors of the game wanting to exercise iron-clad control making sure that you PLAY THE GAME THEY WANT YOU TO BE PLAYING. And … guys, it doesn’t work like that. You create a thing, you release the thing into the world, people are gonna do what they want to with that thing. If people take what you created and do something that isn’t what you envisioned — or even runs directly counter to your intentions — that’s just the risk you run when sharing your creation. If you’re not okay with that, don’t publish. Just run the game for your friends, or at cons.
And then if somebody asks you where they can buy a copy of this fun game they just played with you, tell them the truth: THEY CAN’T. Because they might fuck it up. And that just isn’t acceptable.
I wonder how this next game wants me to play?
Page 14, Game 12: Monster Pub Chapter 2 by alex ilitchev
“A casual narrative game about making friends!”
Sometimes, you just wanna go where everybody knows your name. And screams it in abject terror.