O Rage! O Désespoir!

by wjw on June 28, 2012

As most of you probably know,  I’ve kept a finger, sometimes a whole arm, in the game business, and there’s nothing I like more than a game based on a literary source.  (Particularly if the source is mine.)

But of course the literary works chosen for games tend to be, well, full of large-scale violence and massive peril.   Spells and swords collide in Stormbringer, and adventurers battle Elder Gods in Call of Cthulhu.  More swords and spells in Conan, and superheroes bash each other in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game.

Are there any literary RPGs, you might ask, that are less, umm, apocalyptic?

(There is of course my own Pride & Prejudice computer game from the 1980s, in which players assume the roles of English gentlewomen who attempt to attract lordly suitors while quietly spreading vicious gossip about their rivals.  But that’s been unavailable for a long time, and even if you get a copy, you’re out of luck unless you can run it on a Commodore 64 or a MSDOS machine.)

If you’ve been longing for a more languid, literary sort of RPG, allow me to recommend Wuthering Heights, a game of Byronic tragedy from a romantic Frenchman, Philippe Tromeur.  (The game’s photographic illustrations show players draped intensely over the furniture, in obvious attitudes of suffering and, probably, death.)

Facing Cthulhu and his hordes is as nothing compared to the dolorous inner conflicts wracking the player-characters of Wuthering Heights.  Player stats include Rage and Despair, as well as Things Floating In the Wind (a scarf, a cloak . . . ).   There are rules for Duels, Suicide, Suffering, and Syphilis.  We are informed that “If a Persona’s Despair ever reaches (or rises above) 75, he suffers from a sudden fit of angst.”   Also, “Every Christmas, the Persona rolls d10xd10 : this is a number of days after which the
Persona becomes ill (Suffering).”

If you’re Dead, of course you become a Ghost and haunt the Living.

It’s just a bare rule set, downloadable free as a PDF, with no examples of play, but if you’re stuck for a story into which to plunge your sufferers, just steal a plot from any of the Spasmodic Poets, and Bob’s your uncle . . .

An equally literary, and doubtless more cheerful, RPG may be found in The Drones, featuring the bumbling adventures of a pack of well-bred English imbeciles belonging to the Drones Club, and clearly inspired by the works of PG Wodehouse.  Character stats include “Grey Matter” and “Vim,” though the rules inform us that the average Drone sets all his stats at zero.

The rules discourage violence.  “Fighting in Drones is very rare and not usually encouraged. There’s the occasional scuffle such as happens on Boat Race night when the traditional policeman’s helmet is acquired or when Pingo Bottle was debagged and tied to the chandelier last Tuesday week.”

The rule set includes a number of ideas for adventures, in which characters are sent to steal fish steamers or to prevent a chum’s unsuitable marriage to a lady of Calvinist persuasion.

It will come as a relief to at least some players when they realize that they’re playing characters who are supposed to be thick.

Though whether you care to play someone with a name like Bungo Postlethwaite-Postlethwaite is entirely up to you.

It’s clear the floodgates have opened, though whether there is an actual flood behind them is a different matter.  What literary works might now be the subjects of new RPGs?  Sister Carrie?  The Charterhouse of Parma?

Perhaps Death in Venice might make a good source.  What say you?

Andrew Timson June 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Actually, you wouldn’t need to have a separate MS-DOS machine to run Pride & Prejudice—there’s a great tool out there called DOSBox, which is basically an MS-DOS emulator for modern versions of Windows, or Mac OS X. 🙂

bta June 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm

The Canterbury Tales (extra credits for correct pronunciation)
Or if you fancy a quiet evening at home – Waiting for Godot.

Ralf The Dog. June 28, 2012 at 7:39 pm

You should remake it as, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

DensityDuck June 28, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I still think you should get someone to do it up as a mobile app for you.

Lisa Osman June 28, 2012 at 9:23 pm

My vote is with Density Duck. I am sad I missed out on playing this game. Released on the phone, possibly with an addition of zombies, would be awesome.

Foxessa June 29, 2012 at 12:13 am

Well, you do have chapters of the Battle of Waterloo in Charterhouse of Parma and some other instances of action that aren’t all set inside the principality’s gilt and marble rooms.

Love, C.

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