GHR: Scales

Games Half Remembered is an occasional series about old games. Some of these games I have played, others I have merely admired, but all of them have stuck in my memory for one reason or another.  The rest of the series can be found here.

Published in January 1994 by INS/MV publisher Siroz (who later changed their name to Asmodee Editions) and written by the legendary designer Croc, Scales is an urban fantasy game with a contemporary setting that feels very much like it was inspired by Nephilim, the World of Darkness, and older French initiatic games like Hurlements.

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REVIEW: The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight

Back in the 1950s, thinkers such as Timothy Leary argued that human relationships tended to stabilise around four different dynamics or life-scripts. Over time, this idea collided with a similar suite of ideas coming out of mid-Century psychoanalysis and went on to inspire works such as Eric Berne’s Games People Play and Thomas Anthony Harris’ I’m Okay, You’re Okay.

Loosely inspired by these ideas, Robert Anton Wilson commented in one of his books that the Hippie Movement corresponded to the dynamic known as friendly weakness or ‘I’m not okay, you’re okay’. Building on this idea, Iain Spence argued in 1995 that all movements in popular culture could be understood in terms of particular life-scripts and that popular culture evolved by processing through different dynamics before settling on one of the four major life scripts. Unfortunately Spence’s so-called Sekhmet hypothesis faced two major problems: The first was his insistence that popular culture followed an eleven-year cycle that corresponded to cycles in solar energy, and the second was that aside from the Friendly Weakness of the Hippies and the Hostile Weakness of Punks, nobody can agree on what constitutes a phase of popular culture. Since first articulating the Sekhmet hypothesis, Spence has backed away from the astrological elements of the original idea.

While I don’t necessarily buy into the idea of there being a tonal cycle to popular culture, I do think it’s interesting to look at trends in popular culture in terms of their being either a departure from or a reaction to that which came before. I mention this as I am old enough to remember the 1990s when both conspiracy theories and the paranormal were part of the mainstream. It would appear that, thirty years later, these ideas are now cycling back into fashion.

Based on a long article published in the New Yorker in 2019, Sam Knight’s The Premonitions Bureau is the kind of book that would simply not have been published ten years ago. In fact, as recently as five years ago I suspect this book would have crept to market through a small-press publisher rather than on a wave of newspaper-supported hype coupled with prominent positioning at the front of every brick-and-mortar book shop you happen to venture into. Regardless of what you think about this book – and, to be blunt, I am disappointed – there is significance to the fact that it was published amidst a wave of hype in May of 2022. Things out there are getting spooky and The Premonitions Bureau is a book about an earlier time when the mainstream started to take an interest in the paranormal.

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On Playing Styles and Adventure Design

The other day, I was writing up my thoughts on the Call of Cthulhu Weimar-era Germany supplement Berlin – The Wicked City and I started trying to put my finger on what it was that bothered me about the three interlinked adventures that comprise the bulk of the book’s page count. It wasn’t that the writer had ‘fucked up’ Weimar-era Germany or that the adventures were poorly written. In fact, I found the adventures to be well-researched, cleverly-structured and evocative in both tone and detail. Those were good adventures, but I had absolutely no desire to run them.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that while the adventures were richly detailed and tightly-structured, they left little to no room for personal creativity on the part of the person running them. This led me to reflect upon the reasons why I roleplay and what kind of published material would support my style of play.

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SWR: L’Ellcrys

Shrink-Wrapped Recall – An occasional series about memories of old game shops. The rest of the series can be found here.

The stairs leading to L’Ellcrys

Have you ever had one of those weird coincidences happen when you’re talking about something and it suddenly materialises in front of you? The kind of thing that bad sitcoms immediately follow with “…and I also want a million dollars!” Well… that once happened to me with an RPG shop.

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REVIEW: World of Darkness – The Documentary (2017)

I have written a few pieces about the history of roleplaying games and the books that are attempting to piece it all together. In some of these reviews I complain about the writers’ reluctance to take even a centimetre’s critical distance from official corporate narratives, in others I bemoan the obsession not just with Dungeons & Dragons but with the period of the game’s history for which it was under the creative control of E. Gary Gygax.

My complaints are rooted in the fact that there are a number of historic moments that would really benefit from sustained critical scrutiny. Books could be written about the early years of Games Workshop, the boom in collectible card games, the weird bubble that surrounded the launch of the D20 open gaming license, the first disastrous attempt to shift the hobby closer to MMORPGs that resulted in D&D becoming second fiddle to its own licensee, and that’s without mentioning the fascinating social histories that might come from thinking and talking about non-Anglophonic gaming scenes. However, as instructive as these various moments may be, none has greater potential to disrupt existing cultural narratives than the history of the games making up the World of Darkness. While we may not yet have a book about the creators of Vampire: The Masquerade, we do now have a film written by Kevin Lee and directed by Giles Alderson.

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SWR: Games People Play

Shrink-Wrapped Recall – An occasional series about memories of old game shops. The rest of the series can be found here.

Tip of the hat to the Duke Mitchell Film Club for sharing this image.

It is fascinating how some memories rise effortlessly to the surface while others lay buried.

One of the reasons why I decided to start writing about old game shops was that I have a very clear memory of the first time I visited the Virgin Game Centre on New Oxford Street. I can remember getting the bus all the way along Oxford Street, I can remember wondering why all the interesting games were hidden on a mezzanine, and I can remember the face of the friend who took me there as I headed back home. I would say that I was probably around 14 when this happened.

Having written about all of the game shops I visited most frequently, I started casting my mind around for other places I happen to have bought games. I can remember visiting a horrible shop in Paris, a lovely shop in a shopping centre in Brussels, and a shop in Lausanne by a set of steps that seemed to appear just as I thought ‘wow… this would be a great place for a game shop’. I would love to write about these places as I do have some memories of them but I can’t quite remember their names. Then I was struck by another memory, a memory of being taken to a game shop in Notting Hill years before I had ever encountered even the concept of an RPG. I pulled on the thread and yanked free a number of images but I couldn’t remember when or why I had been to this place.

Then it started to fall back into place.

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