"Oh cool... So you're STILL working on this?" -- A guy at GenCon

"If I see Drah-koo-lah, I will. kick. him. in. the eye!!!" -- My 4 (almost 5) year old daughter. She GETS it!

"Meatpie Forever!" -- A playtester at GenCon 2013

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ruritania Is On The March

About a month ago, I stumbled upon a very good post by someone on the intarwebs that goes by the name of Melan. It gave me a lot to think about and I'm sure anyone interested in Transylvanian Adventures likely would find his post interesting as well.

Melan may not know (or remember) me but I know of him. We've communicated a bit on various RPG forums, including the Troll Lords forums during Castles & Crusades' early days and whatnot. So I would not think that his post is directed at me (or my game) specifically. But I think it raises interesting points.

Transylvanian Adventures, in the Setting chapter, points out explicitly that what it deals with is the pop-culture representation of Transylvania -- which has no basis in reality. None. Zip. Zilch. Even vampires are more Slavic than Transylvanian. Look it up. I can wait.

Here's a few other things that TA/TG does that maybe will help Melan and those who share his viewpoint feel a bit better about Transylvanian Adventures.

  • It identifies the setting as a caricature and mythologized version of Transylvania that has nothing to do with the real Transylvania. 
  • It acknowledges that this depiction isn't fair and apologizes for this -- despite plowing forward. Same with the Gypsies.
  • It does not portray Transylvanians as less intelligent than Westerners. If anything, they're smarter. Westerners need to go to them for information and parties can expect to develop relationships and common purpose with the people of Transylvania. On that end, it probably treats Transylvanian natives in a better light than most of the material I'd used for inspiration.
  • Where possible, it uses elements from Transylvanian history and folklore. There's a really awesome forest on that hex map for you all. Anyone from or familiar with Transylvania probably already knows the forest I'm talking about. Ooooo-Weee-Oooooo.
  • In an effort to distinguish between the real Transylvania and what we're playing in, I frequently refer to the setting as "Mythic Transylvania". Because it doesn't exist. I try to hammer that home when possible (pun intended).
  • It does not refer to the character Count Dracula as Vlad Tepes. The historical Vlad and the fictional Count are two completely separate entities. While some elements of Vlad Tepes' history are used in the Count's backstory, I'd like it to be clear that the historical Dracula and vampire Dracula are very, very different.
  • Some might wonder why TA/TG uses Saxon names for towns and cities. Well, there's a couple of reasons. First off, the material upon which TA/TG is based uses the Saxon names almost exclusively. And second, I felt it was a nice delineation between, again, the real Transylvania and the Transylvania depicted in Transylvanian Adventures. No one's going to call Fagaras, Fugreschmarkt anymore. So if anything, this lets you know (yet again) that there's a clear delineation between the fun we're having at historical Transylvania's expense and the real place which is a real home for real people.


  • Westerners do not have to be the default "heroes" for a campaign. They are assumed to be so based on the inspiration for the game. But a group could easily have a game of Chinese Vampire Hunters in Transylvania. Or even have the heroes for the campaign be Transylvanians themselves if they wanted.
  • If the hex map and setting aren't to your tastes, it's pretty easy to ignore it. The classes, rule enhancements and spells are Transylvania agnostic. Most of the material could be used in a "Vampire Hunter D" style game. Or in a more traditional Sword & Sorcery game.

Why Continue This Meme?

Initially, TA/TG started out with a setting that was "inspired" by the Transylvania depicted in the novels and films upon which the game is based. But this felt wholly disingenuous. In the same way that recasting the Christian symbology used in those films and books into some made-up religion felt cheap and hollow. So I decided to draw the line.

And I'm glad I did.

  • I learned more in the last 18 months about Transylvania -- the real Transylvania -- than I'd ever thought I would. I developed a respect for the tolerance and resilience of Transylvanians and an appreciation for their history that transcended what I thought was possible. I hope some of that comes through in Transylvanian Adventures. It's certainly seeded with more of the real Transylvania than any Hammer film or Stoker novel ever was.
  • In the end, I felt it was more of an insult not to use Transylvania. Why? Because these tropes are so ubiquitous in pop culture (globally even -- see Vampire Hunter D, Castlevania…), that I felt a "made-up" Ruritania would propagate those tropes just as much as using Transylvania. Because even if I called it Vansyltrania. Or Draculstan. Or Salemarnia. Everyone would know it was Transylvania. I wouldn't be fooling anyone. So why pretend?
  • I didn't feel that watering TA/TG down religiously or geographically served anything except deflecting criticism from my ego. I'd rather make a great game than keep my self-image in a hermetically-sealed padded cell. 

Does that make me a racist? Well, that's sort of like admitting I'm ignorant. If I'm really ignorant, I wouldn't know. And if I call myself ignorant, I'm probably not really admitting I'm ignorant but just playing footsies with self-deprecation. And if I contend I'm not ignorant, it's likely I'm far more ignorant than I know.

And that's just too much loopy thinking for me. I'm focused on making what I feel is a really amazingly awesome and fun game. Like the best thing to happen to fantasy roleplaying since they dropped THAC0. The only place I could think of that was awesome enough to call this game home is Transylvania. And that makes this game kick butt all the more.

Hopefully Melan, for whom I have a good deal of respect, understands my position and doesn't judge me too harshly. And for my part, should we ever sit down together for a game of TA/TG he can play an awesome Transylvanian character, we'll forget all about vampires and dive right into the Hoia-Baciu.

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