Foreign RPGs - What are we missing?

Based on The RPG scene in Korea and other threads mentioning non-English language RPGs in passing, I think it would be cool to find out how does the RPG scene look in other countries. I think most of us are familiar with trends in US and UK, but every country will have its own unique and idiosyncratic games, modules and trends.

So non-English speakers of the Gauntlet - how does the RPG scene look in where you are from?

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I thought I will start with Polish RPG scene with a caveat. I have not lived in Poland since 2005, so my view is not the most current.

Poland was a communist country, so RPG scene did not really exist until the 90s. In the 90s translation of English language games started appearing. AD&D, Cyberpunk2020, MERP, Earthdawn, CoC, World of Darkness among others. However what really took root was Warhammer. To this day WFRP is played and highly regarded in Poland - many of the games leaning heavily towards the grim-dark aesthethic.

First Polish roleplaying games started appearing in mid 90s, with highly detested game - Oko Yrrhedesa (written by the author of the Witcher series). This was soon followed by Krysztaly Czasu - an AD&D clone set in a world where orcs are the ruling peoples, subjugating others (a theme of occupation is quite common in Polish history).

Ok, enough history - what you are missing?

In early 2000s Portal Publishing (who some of you might know from their boardgames nowadays) came onto the RPG market with few cool games:

  • Neuroshima - a Mad Max-ian post apocalypse where the machines have won. Really good world building with many mysteries kept secret (or left for each players to discover)

  • Monastyr - an interesting take on fantasy tropes. The players are human nobles in a fantasy XVII / XVIII century world. There is a coalition of human nations, while other fantasy races and magic are seen as barbaric by the ruling religion and war is waged on them. Again - really good world building and could be seen as a commentary on religion racism (there were modules that focused on showing the fantasy races as sophisticated as the humans, modules that shown humans and non humans living together, others that asked the players to consider if they should continue with this seemingly neverending war).

  • Władcy Losu (Lords of Fate) - Players are split into 2 fronts (light and dark) and influence the fate of one mortal who is usually a person important to the world and human history. What if Everyone is John had more mechanics and a GM. This was part of the “New Wave” of RPG that also translated games like Baron Munchausen and My Life with Master.

  • There was also quite good campaign for Warhammer ( Władca Zimy / Lord of Winter) about soldiers in the Empire army (I think they were a light cavalry - basically scouts) tasked to find a band of goblins in harsh winter. The campaign goes into some quite bleak places - very within the Polish style of Warhammer.

  • Dzikie Pola (wild fields) - a historic RPG set in XVII century Poland. Never really played it - but it is interesting nevertheless.

Overall, Polish fandom (at least at the time I was there) was very much into darker and more “pastoral” themes. There were of course people playing D&D 2 or 3e and other heroic games, but the darker themes were prevalent nevertheless. Most of the Polish gaming, at least until 2005, was very much using traditional games of GM + Players. There was also a decent LARP scene, but sadly I was not part of that culture.

What are you NOT missing:

  • Witcher: the game of imagination - after the popularity of the video games I have seen many people hoping for a translation of this game. Released in 2001, felt very much like a late 80s / early 90s roleplaying game. Not really popular, and from what I remember the lore for the world was kinda lackluster.
  • De Profundis - only Polish RPG that got some following outside of Poland. You are not missing out on it because it is available in English :stuck_out_tongue:

Honrable mentions:

  • Wolsung - a steampunk-ish fantasy game with interesting mechanics (using some narrative/story game elements, but not committing entirely to breaking with trad roleplaying). Has problematic theme of colonialism. Also available in English.
  • Crystalicum - Polish take on fantasy anime/manga, that hoped to be this huge trans-media property. Ended up only having the rules + world book released if I remember correctly. Not great, but interesting in its own way.
  • Beszamel - in 2006 there was this huge contest for making new D20 powered Polish RPGs. The guy who run it disappeared with the promised reward money without publishing the winners. One of those winners was Beszamel, which was a comedic take on fantasy tropes, where you travel to get ingredients for meals (dragon soup anyone?). It was eventually released under an OSRish rules in the last few years. I still find the idea funny. (also, the 1st place winner - Nemezis - was published for Savage Worlds mechanic and even released in English).

Feel free to ask me anything else you are curious about the Polish RPG fandom.

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This is an exciting topic, thanks for sharing so much about the Polish scene!

Like you, I haven’t lived in Brazil, my home country, for a bit, but I’m still in touch with the TTRPG scene there since I used to work with publishers and have a lot of friends and contacts.

Brazil has an interesting “origin story” for TTRPGs. In the 80s, people started bringing books from abroad, but they were really hard to get by or import. People started photocopying and distributing pirated copies to their friends and acquaintances, and people who started playing at that time are know as the “Xerox Generation”. In the 90s we finally started getting some stuff published in Portuguese: a boardgame company translated the D&D “Black Box” (the red box for international markets), and we got translations of Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 2020, WoD, GURPS, and even Castle Falkenstein!

However, we actually had a national game published before any translations! In 1991 we got Tagmar, a fantasy roleplaying game. I played it once or twice and remember the system being very complicated (you had to look on tables for pretty much everything). A year later, we got another game, O Desafio dos Bandeirantes (“The Bandeirantes’ Challenge”, bandeirante being a Portuguese settler or fortune hunter). It was based on a mythic version of early colonial Brazil. History teachers used the system in the classroom, which was a nice thing. Unfortunately, the publisher of Tagmar and O Desafio dos Bandeirantes unfortunately didn’t last long, and they went bankrupt in 1996. Tagmar was later resurrected by fans and a new edition is currently available online for free (if anything, check the website to see the game logo, which uses an axe as the letter T!).

In the 2000s, there were a bunch of systems published, but nothing really worth of note. By the time we had a lot of translated games. Maybe worth noting is Old Dragon, a Brazilian OSR game published under the OGL (we had D&D 4th edition but everyone knows it sucked :wink: ).

The 2010’s were way more interesting, as crowdsourcing made it possible for publishers to fund translations of less-known games. However, this also allowed small publishers to publish games by Brazilian authors, and that’s the more exciting part of this post :slight_smile:

In 2011 Violentina was published (disclaimer: I was one of the editors). This was a really cool GM-less (or GM-full, your pick) story game by Eduardo Caetano which aimed at reproducing the kind of drama you see in movies by Quentin Tarantino and Guy Richie. It requires no prep and is based on scene framing, and has a lot of cool mechanics. Unfortunately it was never properly translated to English, but is being published this year in Italy (and maybe Spain, I’m not sure). The same publisher also published a translation of Dungeon World (again, I was one of the editors) and Busca Final (“The Final Quest”), an epic narrative game about people trying to bring magic back to the world, after it vanished and no one knows why.

Some other story games published not too long ago are Terra Devastada (“Wasted Land”, a game about survival in a zombie apocalypse) and A Fita (“The Tape”, a shared narrative game for creating “found footage” style stories).

Although O Desafio dos Bandeirantes had a sad ending, another game that explores early colonial Brazil as a setting was recently published, A Bandeira do Elefante e da Arara. I don’t know a lot about it, but I know you all are gonna be able to read it soon because it is being translated by @Coalhada! You can get the player’s guide here. Porcupine Games has also translated some Brazilian materials for Dungeon World as well as UED: You Are the Resistance, a post-apocalyptic scifi game.

(@Coalhada has also written Malandros, which is not a Brazilian game but is about swindlers and street fighters in the last days of Imperial Brazil.)

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Thanks so much for this, I loved learning about it. I’m really curious about the Polish WFRP scene. Were there a lot of adventures or a magazine or zine? Also did Lords of Winter have Illustrations by Polish Artists?

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We had one main RPG magazine called Magia i Miecz (Magic and Sword). It had tons of materials for Warhammer (including adventures), the most (in)famous of which is series of articles called Jesienna Gawęda (Autumn Tale). Those articles, written by Ignacy Trzewiczek - the guy who starts Portal Games, described a very low fantasy, bleak way of playing and portraying the world. It became the de facto way of playing for many groups, treated almost like a bible on low fantasy gaming. In recent years there was some backlash against it (as it had a somewhat antagonistic GM), but it was still very influencial.

Again, because of communism, we kinda missed out on the zine revolution. Fortunately, as we were really getting into Warhammer in the 90s, internet came to the rescue as the means of sharing stuff. I still have an archive of hundreds of .doc, .txt and .html (and even some pdfs from 00s) files with adventures, extra professions, expanded rules, etc. As with anything self published, you need to spend some time to find the really good stuff, but it is a cool time capsule.

Yes, Lord of Winter had Polish art. The book has a very loose, almost charcoal like style (although I think it was done with ink). The book is quite dense and the text to art ratio is lower than those in GW products. You can find an example of the art below - it seems that the book was mainly done by one artist (even that 3 are credited) or all of them managed to keep very close to this style:

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As far as indie goes, you’re not missing a lot in Germany. That’s only really taken off in the last two to three years after a big podcast turned publisher and started cranking out translations of OSR, PbtA and indie rpgs.

Notable exceptions of recent German language indie rpgs:

Aaron Böhler’s Nach Aussen Gewendet from 2018, a lovely game about commuting and public transport written for a small contest: https://penandpodcast.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/nach-außen-gewendet-PDF.pdf

@tina’s Dear Distant Stars, a Science Fiction hack of the letter-writing game Dear Elizabeth “inspired by Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star and Interstellar” (published in Das Erzählspiel Zine, a great indie rpg zine with three issues and a few more original games published since 2017): https://www.erzaehlspiel-zine.de/ausgaben/ausgabe_003/spiel-dear-distant-stars/

Not a game per se but including nano games is Roll Inclusive, ed. by Aşkın-Hayat Doğan, Frank Reiss and Judith Vogt, a collection of essays on diversity and representation in rpgs, crowdfunded in February 19: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/174015938/roll-inclusive-diversity-und-reprasentation-im-rol

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I really love the idea of The Bandeirantes’ Challenge, especially that it was accurate enough to be used in schools. I have a soft spot for historical RPGs that mix in some myth and folklore. I will definately check A Bandeira do Elefante e da Arara once it is translated. Hoping for that mixing of myth with history. In the meantime, could you tell us more about those two games (or just The Bandeirantes’ Challenge, if you don’t know the other that well)?

As for the xerox generation. It was also quite common in Poland. Copying books was considerably cheaper than buying a new book. The first RPG book I owned was a xerox copy of Cyberpunk2020, that I have lent to some friends of my brother and it was never returned - I never got to play it :frowning:

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I love the graphic design behind Nach Aussen Gewendet it screams European Public Transport. I will push it through some google translate later on to see how it plays.

I know of Das Schwarze Auge, and it seems it is still pretty big in Germany - is there anything we are missing about it (although I think there might have been an English version of it)? Any other trad games we might be missing out on?

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Was there a Brazilian game that won Game Chef, and the creators tried to crowdfund a trip to GenCon to distribute the game? I recall the setup was elaborate, and the game book may have been an unusual shape. Was that a fever dream?

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No! That was Pulse by Encho Chagas! I totally forgot about it. He ended up releasing it at Gencon (even though his crowdfunding was a failure) and selling all copies they printed. There’s a “mini” version in a more conventional format that is still available but I don’t know if that version was translated to English. No other publishers wanted to print a round book so the original version hasn’t been available for a while :frowning:

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This is a great discussion! I love learning about games outside the English -speaking sphere. I’m from Finland and we have a lot of stuff, unfortunately little of it in English.

We got started in the mid-Eighties with the first game by Finland’s most prolific designer, Risto Hieta. The somewhat improbable title of our first game is The Secret Treasure of Raguoc in the Acirema Dungeons. Hieta is still active as a designer. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/188443/Acirema-Dungeons--Player-Book

Today, we have the designer Miska Fredman who has done a number of games in the big book, gorgeous graphics style. The most interesting is called Sotakarjut, War Pigs. It combines a scifi colonial marines style action with delicate issues of body dysmorphia. The characters are genetically engineered pig soldiers embedded with memories of human lives and bodies.

Another designer is Mike Pohjola, also well known in the Nordic Larp sphere for writing the Manifesto of the Turku School. His most recent game is Age of the Tempest, an introductory fantasy game for children. He’s also designed the game Tähti (Star) about Maoist mutant girl bands. It has a special place in my heart because I met my wife in the rpg campaign that spawned the publication.

When it comes to the big games people play, there’s Ville Vuorela, who has two important publications. One is Praedor, a low fantasy roleplaying game based on the comics by Petri Hiltunen. It has a dedicated player community and is one of the most played Finnish games. He’s also designed the official roleplaying game adaptation for the Strugatski brothers novel Roadside Picnic, called Stalker. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_info.php?products_id=100243&

Then there’s me, also active in Nordic Larp as well. I’ve published two games on my own, Valley of Eternity (about tragic penguin heroes) and Chernobyl, Mon Amour (about love and radioactivity). https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/103305/Valley-of-Eternity-English

We got plenty more as well, but maybe this’ll do for now…

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A really fun exploration of physical form.

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The Elephant & Macaw Banner is also quite educational. The Brazilian edition was subsidised by the Ministry of Culture and about a third of the print run, if I am remembering correctly, went to schools. There’s a big chapter in the back about using the game in the classroom, with essays by different educators.

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I’ll mention one more Finnish game! Hiljaisuuden vangit (The Prisoners of Silence) is a legendary Nineties game, in part because it’s almost impossible to find anywhere nowadays. It’s a near-future dystopian game in which Finland has suffered a fascist takeover. The characters are in trouble with the state for whatever reason and have to survive in conditions of terror.

It’s themes felt more abstract when it came out, but somehow in the intervening years, its become quite timely.

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As to German indie games, there was Western City, published in 2008. I’ve never played it, but I heard good things about it.

Then there are the classic trad games:
Midgard, with a rather dated system that still managed to awe me with its flexibility back when that wasn’t possible with D&D or other systems (I played a barbarian from the north who learned Magical Theory and a lot of languages and ended up as a professor in a southern academy).

Das Schwarze Auge is a traditional fantasy game as well with a very clunky system and an extremely detailed world. The world is kinda fun, though you should beware of setting fanatics - they might tell you that, no, as a person from Region X, your baron would have been Tsahilf the Second not Rondrine the Third, and that someone like you would never ride a pony but really had to ride a [type of horse]. Personally, I’ve never played the system (except for the first edition as an OSR callback once), but I’ve playing the world several times. It’s a bit clunky, but it is relatable.

Splittermond (Shardmoon) is the newest trad fantasy game, the system is more streamlined and the world isn’t as well-defined as the Dark Eye world, but there is still a ton of lore. Never played it, but I like the guys who created it.

Malmsturm - heavy metal fantasy for Fate. The setting is more sword & sorcery, the system is, well, Fate, which I happen to like, but I haven’t had a chance to play yet.

Smaller stuff includes:
Funky Colts, a game about 80’s action series like the A-Team or The Fall Guy or McGyver. The system is a lot leaner, and I vaguely remember having fun with it.

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Any information on the Russian rpg scene?

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Studio 101 is our translating and publishing partner in Russia; you might look at their catalog and see what’s home-grown.

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Thank you! I’ll check it out

We also had a long-running RPG magazine in Brazil called Dragão Brasil (it had 100+ issues published between 1994 and 2007 and recently was revived as a crowdfunded digital magazine) that was pretty much the only source of RPG content in smaller cities in the pre-internet era.

When I was a kid, they published a rules-light satirical RPG called Defensores de Tóquio (Tokyo Defenders) that made fun of anime and super sentai tropes. It was cheap and fast and it arrived in stands as anime and manga started to take over Brazil. At some point, the system was so popular that it became the magazine’s flagship property. They used to adapt pretty much any popular property for the system, from Harry Potter to Evangelion, and that was my gateway to TTRPGs. I still think it was a remarkable feat of conversion to the hobby.

At some point in the '00s, the authors put together a lot of material from the magazine and created a medieval setting called Tormenta that mixed traditional DnD with mechas and lovecraftian monsters and everything they could think of. I played a four year long campaign of Tormenta when I was a teenager, before I “grew up” and met the World of Darkness (I was like fourteen XD). It is still published now and I thing it’s the most popular national setting?

Anyway, being a poor kid in the Northwestern region I didn’t know a lot of people who had access to RPG books apart from some eventual Vampire the Mascarade. The magazine was the first time I’ve read about a lot of authors and genres like cosmic horror and cyberpunk, besides RPG itself. Was there anything like this in other countries? How did you get to know TTRPGs in smaller cities before the internet?

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One of my favorites is Marcelo Del Debbio’s Arkanum (later expanded and rebranded Trevas). It was another Brazilian RPG from the 1990s to be heavily promoted in the pages of Dragão Brasil magazine, in which Del Debbio’s articles were rather regularly featured. Trevas is a game about secret societies and the war between angels and demons for the souls of humankind. Leaning heavily on the World of Darkness-type of grim n’ gritty, brooding, backstabby tropes which were all the rage back in the day, its setting purported nevertheless to be more grounded than WoD lore insofar as it relied on fictionalized versions of events from European history and constant reference to actual (if not accurately portrayed) organizations such as the Hospitaller Knights, the Rosicrucians and many others. I would guess Trevas is out of print for more than a decade now. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard of an English translation of this game.

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