My Reading Stack
These three games are about as different from one another as you can get in the traditional rpg (GM + character-monogamous players) space.
Torchbearer reimagines a genre/play style/aesthetic invented in the ’70s and ’80s. It adds some modern indie twists (incentivized nudges toward juicy drama) but its about-ness is squarely centered on the dungeon delve.
Unknown Armies has been dolled up a bit but is still fundamentally a child of the ’90s, an iconoclastic personal vision. No real tie to outside media. In fact more likely there were dreams of doing the transmedia thing, movies and toys and video game tie ins. UA isn’t “like” anything. But lots of things are like UA.
Then there’s The Veil, which is a self conscious mashup of dozens of media influences. You might sense the Burroughs influence in Unknown Armies but they never came right out and said it. Or “this game is like Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell and Windup Girl,” which The Veil very much does.
When I get uneasy about many modern games and their slavish devotion to emulating their source material, this is what I’m thinking about. I’m stoked to run The Veil for sure. Procedurally and formally it’s a better game than the other two (fight me). And yet I’m left looking down the barrel of a lot of prep and thought about how to make it my own and not just celebrate Neuromancer, Ghost in the Shell, Windup Girl.
You know what it’s like? It’s like figuring out how to compose entirely unique music on one of those keyboards that comes with built in rhythms and instrument sounds and effects. It’d be so easy to toss off something that sounds a lot like a movie soundtrack and everyone would probably like it. I made something that sounds like Jerry Goldsmith!
This could very much be a generational thing. I get that. Might be that I was unconsciously nudging my dungeon delves toward Moria the whole time. But I don’t think so. Designs were more…meta, I think. Some designs today still drill down to the themes that underpin whole story families. Urban Shadows strikes me as enormously more meta about its subject matter than just being “like Charmed” or “like True Blood.”
I have no particular suggestion here, nor am I really saying there’s a “problem” of any kind. It’s just notable to me, reading these particular volumes side by side, how many approaches there are in This Thing of Ours. How many different kinds of instruments for us to play.