The Guide to Glorantha

the_guide_to_glorantha.jpg

I think it was around 1992 or 1993 that I was first introduced to the world of role-playing games. The first thing I remember was having a slip of paper with some numbers on it and my friend telling me: “You proceed deeper into the cave and encounter a bear. Roll the die! You hit, the bear dies. You keep going deeper.” I don’t remember the order of things that followed. There was a Marvel superhero game that we played for a couple of sessions. There was a long D&D campaign that consisted of going further and further down an underground complex. That ended, when the GM told us that he is throwing the toughest things from the monster manual at us and we are beating them, so this is getting boring.

At some point my parents bought me the Finnish edition of RuneQuest. We started playing with just that, but soon I got the Glorantha pack and I was completely hooked. Glorantha was my world. The non-human sentient races were truly alien and imaginative. The mythology entranced me although a lot of the nuance was lost to me back then. The varied human civilizations and cultures seemed lifelike and imaginative, and they had real reasons for conflict instead of just “these guys are evil, so they fight everyone and everyone fights them” that seemed to be the norm for many D&D settings back then. The rules were combat heavy, but not as combat heavy as D&D.

There were obviously problems in the system. Reading the rules as written, if you are a professional brewer, your skill at brewing might be 70%, which would mean that 3 barrels out of every ten you make fail – that obviously isn’t very professional, but for some reason we managed to think of some of the skills as qualitative and some as quantitative – a brewer at 70% skill would probably make good beer every time, but a brewer at 90% skill would make even better beer. The sorcery rules seemed completely broken and we couldn’t figure out, why – we couldn’t connect the description of the world and the rules that well.

Years of fun were had on our early teens campaign… And then my friends got into their late teens and quit playing. It took me nearly 10 years to find gaming friends again, but I kept buying all things Glorantha regardless. I read and re-read everything I had and I scoured the early Internet for more things to read and I the world kept me in thrall.

The first publication that introduced the world of Glorantha, was a board game called White Bear and Red Moon from the year 1975. The Guide to Glorantha, published 40 years later, is the most important publication about the world of Glorantha, and represents the collected wisdom of dozens and dozens of people, who have contributed to what was originally Greg Stafford’s world. The book is a gazetteer or an encyclopedia about the world of Glorantha. It’s not the first publication of that type about Glorantha, but this is the biggest, most detailed, and most complete collection of Gloranthan minutiae ever published.

Despite much of the content of the book being familiar to me from previous publications, I couldn’t start skipping through sections at any point. The world still brings a smile to my face. Be it the truly epic myths and heroes, the pervasively magical nature of the world, the varied cultures, the alien non-humans, and the weird humor sprinkled here and there, everything about it is completely enchanting to me.

The Kickstarter campaign used to fund this book (actually two books, but the page numbering doesn’t reset between them, so they are literally inseparable), was the first KS campaign that I pledged into. I don’t think I had an option about this. I didn’t have too much money back then, but this simply was not optional. The KS campaign ended in Dec 2012 and promised delivery in Feb 2013. Not surprisingly, the book was finally delivered two years late in 2015. It was worth the wait.

The grand shaman of gaming, Greg Stafford, is no longer with us, but his world is alive again. I think this book really literally kick-started a resurgence in Glorantha – we now have Gods War, an immense board game about the pre historic wars of Glorantha, 13th Age Glorantha and a new edition of RuneQuest, there’s Six Ages, a long-awaited video game successor to the great King of Dragon Pass. There were years and years, when the world was kept alive only through dedicated fans through fanzines and forums.

I don’t think I would be the person I am, without the influence that Glorantha has had on me. It taught me that things change. It taught me about shades of grey and points of view. It taught me that there is always another way. It taught me that there is magic in the world, if you want to see it. Glorantha is a beautiful world and this is a book worthy of that world.

  • Title: The Guide to Glorantha
  • Author: Greg Stafford, Jeff Richard, Sandy Petersen
  • Year: 2015
  • Finished in: 12th Jul 2019
  • 6/5

Advertisements

Game of Thrones season 8

got_s08.jpg

The long awaited final season of the supposedly most epic TV series of all times is finally here. I subscribed to HBO Nordic in order to be able to follow the season as it unfolded. Getting HBO Nordic was a good decision, despite the awful quality of the application, but this series certainly was not the reason.

Where do I begin? Season 7 was already completely based on some guidelines provided by George R.R. Martin and original writing, since the novels that describe the same events have not been released yet. Before they started to make season 7, they were well aware, that they had 2 seasons, under 20 episodes, to finish the series. So what do they do with season 7? They kill of a bunch of interesting characters just so they won’t have to give closure to any plots they were involved in or to the arcs of the characters themselves.

Now we come to season 8, 6 episodes and we still have the white walkers to beat and then there’s the problem of Cersei, who, to no one’s surprise, does not provide troops to fight the white walkers.

They spend 3 episodes out of the 6 available on setting up and going through the white walkers fight. I guess it could’ve gone into more interesting paths, but it didn’t. We get one episode of setting up the final chess pieces in their places. I mean seriously, most of the dialogue in the episode seems like the characters are describing chess piece movement. We get one episode that is supposed to set the mood before this end of the world fight. Except that everyone knows that the white walkers are going to be beat, because the show runners have shown exactly zero courage in anything they’ve done once they ran out of George R.R. Martin material. This kind of an episode still has some potential. Yes, the walkers are going to be beat, but so much of the secondary and tertiary cast of the series is present, that even without courage, we are going to get scores of important bodies, right? So night before the battle episode, there’s potential. But the dialogue is putrid, there’s very little tension in any of the scenes. Have a drink, knight a woman, sex for the first time, all by the book and seems like the actors were phoning it in. And obviously then the third episode, the fight. Yeah, there’s probably not been another mass combat depicted in a TV series with so much flair, but nothing happens. First it looks like they are doomed. Then some things go right and maybe there’s hope. Then those things are countered and they are doomed again. A few efforts that are supposed to be heroic fail, and the doom deepens until every hero has been cornered and it seems all is lost. Enter deus ex machina, combat resolved, count the bodies, one. How many? One. What? Yes, one. We get exactly one important body. They had the courage to kill one fucking character out of the dozens of expendable people there. One! If they had that much courage and that much originality, they should’ve covered the whole white walkers fight in a montage in 20 minutes during the first episode, so at least we could get more space for finishing character arcs and the multitude of open plots with some time and satisfaction – but they chose to spend half the season on a fucking useless subplot in a manner that does not take one character forward and does not provide a single surprising moment.

The rest of the season does not get any better. It’s true that they’ve been broadcasting Daenerys’ turn to evil for at least a season and a half, but they still manage to handle that so hamfistedly, that it feels like there’s no character arc behind it and no justified psychology. Cersei just dies. So does Jaime. The “awaited” Clegane encounter is a fucking joke. Euron’s arc is just ended. Tyrion and Varys continue being blabbering idiots instead of brilliant strategists. All the feminist tones are stomped on and ground to dust. All the other ideas about breaking the mold are diluted to the point of irrelevance. Jon, the fucking puppy eyed miserable cry baby, is the one, who finally finds his balls, and ends it all… And manages to do it in the most unsatisfactory way. All of it, everything, just wasted potential in the end. There is not a single juicy scene during the last two seasons of the series. And the 8th is by far worse than the 7th. And that isn’t even going into all of the lack of charisma and tension present in everything.

In all fairness, it is difficult to end a series, that has gathered so many expectations around it. I would assume the reason for Martin not having released further novels to the series, is that he is having the same problems. Martin and the series are both in unnecessarily deep waters with finding a good ending due to Martin’s tendency to take every namesake of a side character and give them a full story arc. But this is just a no show by the show runners. They phoned it in. They couldn’t care less. Their checks had already been signed. This is seriously a good contender for the prize of worst series ending ever, and there is no shortage of good contestants.

In a couple of years, the best bad moments will be watched during private bad film festivals and laughed at heartily.

  • Finished in: 20th May 2019
  • 0.5/5

Anansi Boys

anansi_boys

I’m an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman. Very few people are able to beat him in hooking the reader into his own fantastical imagination. His stories read like the best memories of the magical moments of childhood, when you heard a story told or read by your parents and it immediately clicked. Something in the story seemed familiar, but it was completely entrenched in a magical quality that sucked you in. If you go back to the stories as an adult, they usually disappoint you – it’s understandable obviously, as a child needs very little, in the end, to be enchanted. But Gaiman’s novels at best do that to you as an adult.

I had the misconception that Anansi Boys was a sequel to American Gods. Turns out they just share a character, Mr. Nancy. The novel follows Mr. Nancy, whose father has just died. It turns out, that the father happened to be an old African trickster god of spiders, and he left behind two sons, not one as Mr. Nancy had thought his whole life. The children meet and their lives are entangled to the woe of Mr. Nancy, as it seems that his brother is ruining all the tiniest bits of good in Nancy’s life and making it even more miserable than it was before. They end up being the targets of revenge by proxy, when some other old and angry gods take it upon themselves to get revenge on old Anansi through his boys. After a bit of mythological battling on several planes of existence, Mr. Nancy and his brother make up and Mr. Nancy seems to find his self-confidence.

Neil Gaiman is wearing his best writing pants in this novel. This is good and even excellent at times, but the story seems to be lacking a bit in the power of its hooks. That being said, that’s only in comparison to the better works by Gaiman. Don’t read this as your first Gaiman, but when you do get hooked, you’ll end up reading this as well.

  • Title: Anansi Boys
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Year: 2005
  • Finished in: 19th May 2019
  • 4/5

What Is Cinema?

what_is_cinema.jpg

I have never spent as much effort on getting my hands on a book. This is a collection of essays from the French film theory and criticism prodigy André Bazin. The essays were originally published here and there, and they were collected into several volumes named Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? It would be wrong to say, that this is a translation of those volumes, as this contains a tiny subset of the essays published in the original French collections.

This is a new translation of some of those essays, and the reason this is important, is that much of Bazin has been very badly translated into English prior to this edition. Some of the most central concepts of the theoretical and critical framework he built, have been translated to even the completely opposite meaning of that Bazin had in mind, so it was essential to get my hands on this edition. The reason it was so hard to get my hands on this, was that the copyright of the older translations is still in force in most of the western world and apparently that kind of things are tracked these days. Most Canadian and international web stores that carry this book, refused to ship it to Finland. Finally, I managed to find one, but I had already I Canadian friend lined up to go buy the book himself and mail it to me.

The new translator, Timothy Barnard, has added extensive footnotes to discuss the earlier errors in translations and the reasons behind his choice of the more important words in his translation. He spends pages in explaining the more difficult concepts in Bazin’s framework. All of this is in itself very interesting and enlightening to read, but for some reason, Barnard builds contradictions into Bazin’s framework, where there seems to be none. His arguments in describing said contradictions seem vague and off target. Regardless, to my understanding, his actual translations here are impeccable.

And, boy, was it worth the effort. As mentioned, Bazin was a prodigy of film theory and criticism. He died at the age of 40, but already he left behind a corpus of writings of film probably still unsurpassed in importance at least by any single person. This edition contains 13 essays, ranging from absolutely essential pieces to understanding his critical and theoretical frameworks, to in depth critiques of single films. Some essays are obviously more essential and others seem even a bit marginal 60 years after Bazin’s death, but altogether, the essay collection stands as the single most important bit of reading on film that I have done.

Reading through the collection of essays was just pure learning happiness for me. I immediately ordered the second volume of Bazin essays translated by Timothy Barnard and published by Caboose. Unfortunately the web store seems to be out-of-stock and they still have not managed to send me the volume three months later. I’m just hoping beyond hope, that I’ll get my hands on that one as well.

  • Title: What Is Cinema?
  • Author: André Bazin
  • Translated by: Timothy Barnard
  • Year of this edition: 2009
  • Finished in: 14th Apr 2019
  • 6/5

Pelit elämän peilinä

pelit_elaman_peilina

A second book writer has emerged from among the staff of the Finnish Pelit video gaming magazine. Aleksandr Manzos is known as the reviewer of the weird games, the aimless walking simulators and the acid heavy lucid dreams, and he seems to like most of them.

This is his second foray into book writing. This one picks elements in games, that reflect life, that is, it picks an element of art, and points out, that games are there. Aleksandr is convincing and his writing is entertaining. Occasionally his rationalizations veer into far fetched territory, but in general his arguments are plausible. His writing keeps you reading even through the weaker bits. He is smart to pick just a single aspect of art and reflect on that in a quite free flowing manner – this is not an academic piece trying to convince you that games are art. Not being academic, he can stay away from the more awkward areas of the question. When just ruminating about these things, he hits gold occasionally and you almost start to believe.

As an added bonus, the book goes through its themes through games that are sometimes not well known but highly interesting. I didn’t know about several of the games or had ignored them after reading a less thorough review, but the book goes out of its way to find games, that go into territory that is not often explored with games, and that interested me in quite a few of them.

  • Title: Pelit elämän peilinä
  • Author: Aleksandr Manzos
  • Year: 2018
  • Finished in: 18th Jan 2019
  • 3.5/5

As a quick side note, I need to mention, that I attempted to read through the other Pelit alumni book writer’s, Juho Kuorikoski’s, Pelitaiteen manifesti.

It was inspired by Seitsemäs taide by Henry Bacon, which is book that takes film, which is said to be the seventh art, and very thoroughly compares that to all the previous six art forms (in reality, there are more). Henry is clearly an educated researcher of film and the arts in general. He is able to distill the essences of the various forms of art and finds the similarities and differences to film.

Pelitaiteen manifesti posits video games as the eight art form. The biggest difference between these two books, is that the gaming book is a manifesto that posits something, that is currently highly contested – it faces an uphill battle in trying convince everyone that games are art, where there was no question about the position of films as art, when Bacon wrote his book. The second major difference is that while Kuorikoski’s knowledge about games is extensive, he is at best a dabbler at making an academic manifesto like this. His arguments are badly rationalized, he seems weak even, when he is building the essences of games, let alone the other arts, his comparisons are amateurish. The question of games as art is of some import to me, so I was unable to finish to book, when it started to look like the book is actually making games seem less like art than they probably are.

Finally, in my opinion, games in general are far from art. There are distinctive parts about game design and production, that definitely fill various definitions of art, and occasionally a game emerges, that could be argued to be an artistically valuable piece. The general artistic quality of games is very much lacking though – the average blockbuster game is at best on the level of a bad summer blockbuster film – built to entertain and any serious look at the games’ handling of various themes breaks the film apart in a heartbeat.

A Few Dances

Modern dance is a passion of mine. I don’t understand much of the theory behind modern dance, but I immensely enjoy myself every time I see dance pieces. One of things I enjoy about modern dance is the range of expressive possibilities. Here’s three completely different pieces. Even though the last two pieces share considerable thematic and even methodical territory, they arrive at pieces that have very little to do with each other and that offer completely different experiences to the viewer.

Urbotek

urbotek.jpg

The piece starts with a Mexican day-of-the-dead macabre pantomime-like episode, which put my hopes up, but is soon replaced by circus acts with a modern twist, which, although entertaining to watch, loses most artistic value. The piece is closer to modern circus than to modern dance, but I’m going to review this here in any case, since I saw it as a double bill that also featured Nasty by Susanna Leinonen company, which most certainly is dance.

The opening act evokes raw and primitive imagery that is sprinkled by brutality that seems almost accidental. It is so short, that I couldn’t really catch on to any ideas behind the segment, but I was very intrigued.

Sadly, the promising opening is followed by circus without much artistic value. There are elements meant to be artistic, but they are at best thinly connected to the opening scene and in any case sprinkled so sparsely that following the ideas is near impossible.

The circus acts are impressive. Not Cirque du Soleil impressive, but impressive nevertheless. The costumes and behavior of the performers suggests that these were the guys, who always had juggling balls with them at the park, who were always at the park, and who drank a bit too much and a bit too often and started to slip to drugs. Everything about them seems like they are self taught. Maybe they cut back on the drink and took the juggling seriously and actually put in the (meager) money and (self-guided) effort to get good. They are good. There were some slips, but not too many. They obviously don’t have a big budget, but they are imaginative with the gear they do have.

Not quite what I was expecting to see, but I was entertained and the opening act was even more than that.

  • Title: Urbotek
  • Producer: Race Horse Company
  • 10th Jan 2019

Nasty

nasty

Susanna Leinonen Company is known for beautiful, almost ethereal pieces, where even if themes are light or exclusively related to the movement of the dancers, you are always left with a feeling of having seen something extraordinarily aesthetically moving.

Nasty is not like that. It’s abrasive, brutal, in your face. The movements are jagged, the themes are very readable and socially aware, they are explored through repetition to the point of exhaustion, the dancers are openly out of breath, openly hurt, openly touched by their piece.

The theme, of course, is feminism. Or rather the oppression and objectification experienced by women every day, and rising against that. Giving a big finger to everyone, who came to see beautiful dancers as objects of their desire. The dancers are beautiful and the piece is important, but the FU is so major, that it should go through the thickest skull and make it known, that these are people – extremely talented and professional people, who are not to be oppressed and who are not to be objectified, and that extends to all women.

An important piece and I’m extremely happy about the attention that the piece has gained. An important part of the #metoo movement and it most certainly is doing its part in raising women to be the equals of anyone else.

  • Title: Nasty
  • Producer: Susanna Leinonen Company
  • 10th Jan 2019

Vieras – Främling – Stranger

I wasn’t aware of Sanna Kekäläinen and her dancing company before this piece. I mostly went to see it, because the performance was at an opportune time and the warm up act was stand up comedy by Jamie MacDonald, whom I’ve been meaning to see for a while. Jamie wove his comedy through his experiences in transforming him from female to male, and it was excellent. It was thoughtful and socially aware and heartwarming.

The dance was completely different from anything I’ve seen before. Sanna Kekäläinen herself, is a veteran. She studied dance in the early 80ies, which puts her at late 50something or maybe even 60something of age. The piece was heavily feminist and humanist. The reason I mention the age, is that the dance included themes of feeling estranged from your body due to the body failing you. This is explored through involuntary stuttering, involuntary shakiness of the body, feelings of loneliness due to being discarded as a useful human being due to age.

The piece is aggressive and vulnerable, it takes highly delicate subjects and smashes them into the viewer’s being with power that does not subtract from the subjects. Sanna Kekäläinen is the star of the show. She let’s her age show, she let’s it be known, that this is also about her, that this is personal.

The piece left me thinking for a long while afterwards. The closest relative to the piece thematically, is the film Under the Skin. Both take this feeling of being estranged in your own body. Vieras handles the theme more through your own body failing you. Under the Skin handles it through a setup, where your body is completely alien to you regardless of any external conditions. Both include heavy tones of objectification. Both left me sleepless.

  • Title: Vieras – Främling – Stranger
  • Producer: Kekäläinen & Company
  • 15th Mar 2019

 

Iiris Lempivaaran levoton ja painava sydän

iiris_lempivaaran_levoton_ja_painava_sydan

A novel about the growing pains of not so young adults. Often lighthearted and often touching. It tells about the endings to the relationships that were supposed to last forever, about friends going forward and not going to endless lattes and sparkling wines anymore, about realizing that you’ve spent all your time in the park dreaming during sunsets, that everyone else has moved on in their lives and you are left alone with an empty and disappointing life… and about digging yourself up and finally rebuilding yourself as an adult, who hopefully still has some dances left.

Riikka’s writing is apt for the story. Her sentences are light, the description is tight and often finds a word or two to describe the feelings painfully accurately. I have a few problems with the story. When Iiris finally starts to realize her situation, she seems determined to keep running against walls that she is now well aware of, and to define herself through the relationships that she has. Regardless, I was touched by the novel and finished it in a couple of evenings.

  • Title: Iiris Lempivaaran levoton ja painava sydän
  • Author: Riikka Pulkkinen
  • Year: 2013
  • Finished in: 24th Dec 2018
  • 3.5/5