Dungeons & Dragons may have been born in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, but pen and paper RPGs didn't keep confined to the United States of America. It turns out the need for a little healthy escapism is one of the things that stays constant across international borders.
Today, we'll be looking at six role-playing games produced by a few of our neighbors in the Western world. While we'll find ourselves in the familiar waters of D&D's faux-medieval fantasy, we'll also venture into the worlds filled with D-Day zombies, sea elephants, and giant robots.
1. Das Schwarze Auge
Translated to English as #TheDarkEye, this low-fantasy role-playing game is the most popular of its kind in Germany. Where D&D is best suited to crawling dungeons, DSA was developed with role-playing in the game's setting as its priority.
Players adventure on the continent of Aventuria, which was known as Arkania during the 90s. If that name is familiar to you, you might have played the Northland Trilogy video game series on MS-DOS. Consisting of Blade of Destiny, Star Trail, and Shadows Over Riva, the series introduced English players to the world of Ethra.
The pen and paper series itself has gone through five editions in its 30-year history, with each iteration using a d20 resolution mechanic. While I haven't played the game myself, my understanding is that it is a very rule-heavy game. On top of that, three decades' worth of lore is a lot to catch up on.
If you're interested in giving "The Dark Eye" a go but you haven't invested time in that German language online class, quickstart rules are available in English.
While the American version of #Engel didn't offer anything unique in game mechanics (being based off of standard d20), the original German version resolved skill checks by drawing tarot cards.
This is interesting in and of itself, but it's the game's evocative setting that makes it sound like the cover of a metal album. (Although, In the Nursery's album of music inspired by the game was more industrial than anything else.)
Picture the year 2654, in a world where the rising sea level has flooded everything beyond a handful of massive islands. Child-soldiers make up the ranks of five angelic orders, serving the childlike Pontifex Maximus of a Rome that never fell. The world is split between the reach of the church, and that of the Junklords who preserve the technology of the olden times.
So yes, I'd love to play it too, but the line was dropped back in 2004. But if that blurb isn't something to mine inspiration from, I don't know what is.
3. Sine Requie
This is the second game on this list that uses the drawing of tarot cards as the method of resolution. Are tarot decks more of a common household item across the Atlantic?
Sine would scratch your itch if your two biggest loves were alternate history works and zombies.
The game is set in 1957, 13 years after D-Day, which, as everyone knows, was the day the dead rose from their graves to prey upon the living. Sine ratchets "alternate" up to 11 from there: Germany worships the Fuhrer-Messiah under the rule of the Nazi-led Fourth Reich, Italy is terrorized by a modern Inquisition that has abolished modern technology, and Russia is the realm of an A.I. dictator named Z.A.R. who doesn't believe in silly concepts like "family" or "peace" or "sunlight." Alternate histories are always so grim.
4. Itras By
The center of the city features exactly what you'd expect during the time period—flappers, noir detectives, jazz music and optimism towards the future—but as you explore farther and farther away, reality becomes unstable. You run into men with the head of oxen, streets that only exist on certain weekdays, the sea elephants, and maybe the Goddess Itra, the creator of the dreamlike city.
The game is light in rules, in an attempt to encourage creativity and improvisation in the game master and the players. Players draw cards to see whether their actions succeed or fail, or change the nature of the game completely by drawing from a separate chance deck. I haven't played Itras By yet either, but I heard there was a card that allows a player to give a press conference in the middle of a game.
The tone of the game can be anywhere between serious and absurd, but either way, it sounds like it would take me several reads of the rulebook before I got it.
5. La Mirada del Centinela
#LaMiradaDelCentinela is a role-playing game from Spain about superheroes, but with a twist. Players don't take on the personas of the separate heroes that make up some player-constructed Justice League (or Avengers, whichever one you're into more). Instead, they play members of a single superhero's team.
In this case, it's El Centinela, or "The Sentinel." So instead of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, your gaming group plays as Batman, Alfred, and the guy who drives the Batmobile around.
From what I can tell, the game mechanics seem to based off the FATE system. So players won't be in it for the loot, but for the story that they create together. Team members they can play include the hacker, the inventor, the ex-Centinela who acts as the brain of the operation, as well as El Centinela themselves.
There's no English version as far as I can see, but it seems like an interesting take on the superhero genre.
6. Heavy Gear
Alongside DSA, Heavy Gear is the second game on the list that could be considered a franchise. It not only spawned a wargame and a role-playing game, but a couple of video games and an animated series (its intro screams early 2000s) — which just goes to show you how different culture can be from country to country even in a niche hobby like tabletop role-playing. Researching for this post was the first time I had ever heard of Heavy Gear at all.
Both the role-playing game and the tactical wargame played on a hex map run off the Silhouette RPG Rules. Characters are defined by 10 base attributes, five derived attributes, as well as a range of skills. Regular d6 dice are rolled, with the results modified by the aforementioned skills and attributes.
Results are also measured by margins of success or failure that further define how extreme of an outcome a player gets. So it's a hefty system, but what do you expect in a game about giant robots? The game also boasts a game world detailed through hundreds of sourcebooks and other game accessories.
While a lot of us might have found our start in this hobby in a Gygaxian dungeon crawl, it doesn't hurt to check out what captivates the imaginations of people from other countries.
My only regret is that there are too many games out there to play during one lifetime. As we continue this series of looking at role-playing games from other countries, we'll visit Europe again, as well as take a look at what's coming out of Asia.
So, who has time to start translating these?