Sunday, 23 July 2017

Review: 'The Game of Worlds' (A Tales of Gor RPG supplement)

'The Game of Worlds' review

For me, one of the most compelling aspects of the Gorean milieu is the 'Great Game' that is played out in the background by the two alien races, the Priest Kings and the Kurii, with us humans acting as their playthings or expendable resources. And tied in to it is one of the core concepts of the Gor series – the ships of acquisition that travel through space bringing humans from one world to the other, most often women, and most often against their will.

Without this dual concept Gor would just be another Sword and Planet series, of which there were a great number in the classic age of science fiction. While the basic concept of enslaving Earth women and bringing them to Gor for money makes no economic sense whatsoever, it is a narratively exciting one. In reality the operating costs alone would be astronomical, even assuming Kurii space tech is relatively inexpensive. The Kurii would make far more money simply buying up large quantities of coffee and shipping it to Gor where as 'BlackWine' it is a rare and highly sought after commodity that sells for far more than a coffle of untrained slave girls might. But a series of books along the lines of 'Coffee Smugglers of Gor' probably wouldn't hold the same level of interest.

So, this latest supplement turns its attention to the 'Game of Worlds' and in its first half offers a loosely scripted adventure which allows the GM to bring player characters into a Gor campaign from Earth itself. The second half covers campaign details relevant to the Priest King and Kur assets and organisations that presumably exist on Earth to support this cold war and slavery business.

Turning to the adventure first, it addresses the age old problem of all RPGs which have elaborate backgrounds, but players who are unfamiliar with those backgrounds – how do you orientate them into the campaign if they have only very basic knowledge of the setting? The obvious answer here is to introduce them as Earth men and women brought to Gor somehow, and therefore they as players pick up knowledge of the setting as their characters naturally do, as the campaign progresses.

This approach also allows the GM to indulge in one of the classic character tropes of fiction – the 'stranger in a strange land'. Genre fiction has used the basic idea of characters who are alien to the world they now inhabit since time immemorial. James Clavell's Shogun is based on this idea, as is Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, and Jack Vance's Tschai novels. The character(s) struggle not only against adversity, but also with the pressures of assimilating to an 'alien' culture. Often the character is lacking in essential skills useful to his new world, but may often also bring strange skill sets or abilities with him that prove to be an advantage (e.g. in the case of Gor, Earth men and women will find the lower gravity of Gor to make them significantly stronger than they were on Earth – something John Norman seems to conveniently forget soon after the first few early novels. In theory Eleanor Brinton in book 7, Captive, would have been very strong, quick and agile compared to native Gorean women, not that we see any evidence of it in the way the Panther Girls and slaves treated her).

The scenario path says it will work best with characters of both sexes, and I agree that's probably the best way to get the maximum fun out of the character dialogue and the way the sexes are likely to react in different ways to their changing circumstances. A good GM will manipulate events so as to emphasise how certain aspects of Gorean culture can affect men and women in very different terms. How an Earth man eventually copes with an alien society that empowers him to be the dominant sex (if he so wishes) will be very different from the way an Earth woman will react to a society that regiments every aspect of her life from appearance to behaviour. The growing gulf between the male and female characters in the way they accept (or do not accept Gorean culture) would make for inspired role-play.

The scenario itself follows an almost 'Terminator' plot line where the female characters have been marked as potential acquisitions by Kurii slavers, and have been invited to an out of the way hotel in a remote rural location for a series of formal interviews for prestigious jobs. In actual fact they are to be assessed and, assuming they pass the tests, to be abducted late at night and loaded aboard a silver ship bound for Gor from some remote field. The male characters in contrast are people caught up in the unfolding events and dragged into the action simply because they will have seen too much to be allowed to live.

The 'Terminator' analogy comes from one of the characters being a native Gorean agent of the Priest Kings who, in the fashion of Kyle Reese, is the one who initially saves the player characters from the first abduction attempt and spirits them away in an effort to save their lives. You can almost imagine him saying 'Come with me if you want to live,” as he helps one of the women to her feet.

The game writer suggests making one of the player characters the Gorean agent, but on reflection I think (unless you have a player who is very well versed in the Gor mythos and is very keen to run a semi-scripted character) you'd be better off having the agent as an NPC, allowing the GM to steer the scenario and, depending on how well the players are doing, having the Reese character either help out when needed, or suffer an 'injury' and be unable to help at crucial moments.

From this point on the characters are on the run, and we have a classic road movie race for survival, with the Gorean agent eventually deciding that the Kurii will not rest until these people are at the very least silenced (they now know too much) and the only real place of safety for them will be on Gor. All adventure roads ultimately lead to the Kyle Reese style character/NPC placing them aboard a (rare) Priest King ship and the next thing they know they wake up in Ko-Ro-Ba, the guests of city administrator, Matthew Cabot.

What follows are a series of scripted interludes and encounters on Gor designed to role-play the reactions of Earth men and women coming to terms with being on an alien world where most of the things they have taken for granted are no more. How do the characters react to the lower gravity? The unpolluted, brighter, more sensual world? The sight of winged tarns flying through the air, and cities comprised of tall cylinders? How do they cope with the lack of technology, and the fact that most of their Earth born skills are useless? What castes will they choose for themselves in this society where castes are a given? How do they react to the prevalence and acceptance of slavery that is everywhere they turn? How do the women react to being expected to cover their bodies from head to foot and to wear layers of veils? How do the men react to the new found freedoms they have compared to the equivalent social restrictions on Earth? Will the men grow to love their new found status on Gor, or will they retain their old Earth attitude that such gender differences are sexist? Will the female characters expect their male colleagues to continue to view them as equals, and how will they feel if they no longer do so? And how will they react to the offer of an immortality serum should they choose to remain on Gor?

As you can probably tell, both strands of this adventure very much encourage exploratory and free form role-play between the characters and the NPCs and it works best with players who can do that. Players who are used to hack and slash D&D/Pathfinder adventures may have difficulty getting the most out of the situations, though there is plenty of potential for action sequences too (especially in the first half set on Earth).

I really liked the format and scope of the adventure and on balance think this is probably the best way to kick start a Gor campaign. By the end of this introductory sequence you're about set to take a campaign in any direction you want. I would have liked this module to have been a lot bigger, like one of those epic Chaosium source packs of the 1980s, but as is often the case with independent RPGs, the economic realities mean games and supplementary material tend to be a lot more condensed. For someone like me that isn't a problem as I can easily fill in with extra material (as I did with the Silver Masks module) but I guess less experienced GMs will prefer to have less work to do.

The second half of the book covers the organisations that exist on Earth in support of both the Priest Kings and the Kurii. The game extrapolates that the Priest King agents are on the back foot after the Nest War of book 3 (Priest Kings of Gor) and that by and large they have been abandoned on Earth, are now poorly supplied, mostly in hiding, and being hunted down by the more powerful and more numerous Kurii factions. Many Priest King operatives may now be completely out of touch with the Sardar nest and be operating on their own, sticking to their last known set of orders, with dwindling effect. The Kurii on the other hand are now infiltrating many aspects of Earth culture, from governments, to the military, to global corporations and law enforcement forces. The implication here is that many of the ruling bodies on Earth know of, and are in secret alliance with, the Kurii, though they may not fully understand the nature of who or what they have allied with. And so turning to the police for help when you are a scared woman, on the run from the Kurii slavers, may not be of much use to you...

Overall then, a great addition to the growing catalogue of material for this game, but I just wish it could have been four times the size.

I may shortly write an adventure insert for it for my Gor blog, like I did with the Silver Masks module, to flesh out one of the two halves, since inspiration struck while reading it. Watch this space, as the saying goes. :)

Ta Sardar Gor!

Product details:

48 pp

Published by Postmortem Studios

Print copy from £7.99
PDF copy from £2.30

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