by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 05, 2022
I bought two games that feel like they exist in sharp contrast to one another. The first was Skorne, an OSR/FKR game. It was a $3 PDF I printed at home and folded into a zine. The second is probably the most famous Belonging Outside Belonging game at this point, Wanderhome, which arrived at my door in its fancy coffee table book form.
One player is SKORNE the devil prince: commander of demon rulers and their armies. The other players are renegades, part of mankind’s insurrection against the darkness that reigns. Overthrow the evil Tyrants. Free chained captives. Fight to the last man.
That’s all Skorne has to say about what kind of game you’ll be playing. What else is there to say, I suppose? I already know what I’ll do with this game. Anything else the author has to say is wasted words.
To be honest, it feels rare that an OSR game tells you explicitly what it’s even about. LotFP’s Rules and Magic opens like so:
Roll 3d6 for each ability score (Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Strength, Wisdom), in order, and record them on your character sheet.
The book jumps right into the action.1 Of course, I never struggled trying to understand what I was going to do when I picked up that rule book. I knew, somewhere deep in my brain.
Wanderhome, though. What the hell even is this game? I asked my friends:
So is the source of conflict in Wanderhome dealing with nature and the traits of the people you meet? Am I thinking about this all wrong? Like some totally different paradigm I need to get my head around.
A friend replied to tell me the obvious: it’s a game about going places and meeting people. Whether there is conflict or tension is besides the point. The funny thing is, Wanderhome tells you as much right from the start. Again and again, really. The introduction is long and poetic and detailed. The art is beautiful and evocative. You can picture the Miyazaki movie unfurl in your head.2 Still, I found myself thinking, “but why?”, in a way I never do with D&D-a-likes because I have so deeply internalized what those games want you to do. Someone reading Wanderhome without any of the baggage of playing other RPGs will likely intuit what it’s about with ease.
The easy thing to do when you come across a game outside your comfort zone is to dismiss it out of hand: “how is this even a game?” Personal preference turns into condemnation. I try and make an effort to understand where games are coming from. The experience of playing games further afield from my tastes has at times been revelatory. Approaching a game on its own terms with an open mind doesn’t mean you’ll end up liking it. There are many games I read and bounce right off. That’s fine, not all games need to be for me, not should they.
I’m looking forward to playing both of this games. I’m sure i’ll have much more to say.
LotFP’s rulebook starts this way because it was originally part of a trio of books, a Tutorial Book that would introduce players to the game, and a Referee Book that further solidfies LotFP’s approach to gaming. Divorced of its siblings when turned into a hardcover, the Rules and Magic book ends up feeling almost aggressive or exciting: this is how you make a character let’s go! Something I really love about that rulebook, actually. ↩
Miyazaki minus all the violence that exists in his movies: ha! ↩