Thursday, 7 August 2014

#RPGaDAY - Day 7: Most Intellectual RPG Owned

I'm not much of a collector of RPGs and I've never been a big part of the Indie RPG scene. Most of the games that I own are pretty straightforward, or where they want to be intellectual are aspirational old World of Darkness supplements which drop the ball so astoundingly that they don't really count. I was, therefore, at a loss what to write about for this day, until James reminded me that De Profundis exists.

Now, I only own De Profundis in a slightly nebulous sense, in that I bought a copy and may have the PDF somewhere, but I can't download it again if I don't because it's attached to a DriveThruRPG profile connected to an email I don't use anymore, with a password I've forgotten, which is a level of abstraction that kind of suits De Profundis, although I think it also applies to the PDF of Mummy: The Curse, all my Fiasco materials, Diana: Warrior Princess and a game about warrior squirrels.

(ETA: Having gained access to that account - one of three that I seem to have wound up with - I can confirm that I never bought a copy of De Profundis from DriveThruRPG, so where did I get the one I read, I wonder?)

De Profundis was originally presented as one of Hogshead Publishing's New Style games, a line which included Puppetland - a narrativist, but almost normal game in which you played puppets rebelling against the vicious rule of Mr Punch - The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen - a pub storytelling game in which players take on the roles of Prussian aristocratic adventures and make up outrageous exploits and use a system of challenges to force other players to get even more outrageous - Violence - a self-loathing dungeon crawl where you kill the occupants of a complex and take their stuff, but set in a modern apartment block - and Power Kill - a metagame attached to a normal RPG in which players take on the role of delusional schizophrenics who think that they are the characters in the regular game.

As you can see, New Style is a rich ground for today's topic.

De Profundis is an epistolary game, in which the players write letters to each other about their lives. Not the lives of imaginary characters, but the actual lives of their actual selves, embroidering the details to cast a Lovecraftian interpretation on everyday events.

It's pretty much named after Oscar Wilde's cathartic breakdown letter, written from prison to Lord Alfred Douglas, in which he describes their relationship and then compares himself to fellow romantic artist Jesus Christ, so I don't think anyone could argue that it isn't intellectual, in aspiration if not in attainment.

In his video for today, James asks: What can you put in 100 pages of a De Profundis core book (I won't say rule book, since as James points out, there are no rules). As I recall the entire book is written in the character of the games designer unlocking his own realm of horrors through writing the book and warning prospective players of the potentially disastrous mental effects of actually playing the damned thing. Which is different, although I confess I am undecided whether it is brilliant or just hopelessly up itself. I tend towards the latter, but as I am something of a pretentious git at times, it's hard to say.

(ETA: Apparently there are also sections on playing as other characters and even a diceless tabletop version of the game, but I clearly never read those bits.)

If nothing else, De Profundis is the game I 'own' which has the most aggressively intellectual aspirations. It's not just the influence, it's the determination to explore perception in a way that challenges the ontological foundations of the everyday, or at least aims to make semi-traumatic IC bleed a feature rather than a bug. If Rona Jaffe had ever got hold of a copy of De Profundis it would have literally blown her mind. Pat Pulling would have spontaneously combusted.

Either of those two outcomes, by the way, would be a reasonable interpretation in a game of De Profundis, if... (checks Wikipedia) Ah, hell; that was... I had no idea, really.

Come back tomorrow when we'll be talking about favourite characters, and hopefully avoiding accidental tangents of extreme bad taste.