Thursday, March 28, 2024

sha-Arthan Appendix N (Part II)

In Part I of this post, I shared the four authors whose stories and settings have most influenced my development of Secrets of sha-Arthan. In this part, I'd like to share the four roleplaying games I'd single out as having played a similar role.

Empire of the Petal Throne: This one should be obvious. The mere fact that I've spent the last nine years refereeing my House of Worms campaign pretty much guaranteed EPT would be included in this list, since it's the RPG I've played the most and most consistently since my youth. However, the game shares so many elements in common with sha-Arthan – secret science fiction, ancient history, baroque societies, weird monsters – that, on some level, it'd be completely accurate to call sha-Arthan "my Tékumel." Of course, sha-Arthan isn't just that, but it owes a huge debt to Tékumel, which is one of my favorite fictional settings of all time.

Skyrealms of Jorune: This is another important secret science fiction game and one whose influence over sha-Arthan is important to acknowledge. Though I never owned, let alone played the game when it was first released, I was entranced by the ads for it that ran in the pages of Dragon magazine. Replete with the evocative artwork of Miles Teves, Jorune had a wonderfully exotic setting in the form of the titular planet, where "magic" of a sort is possible, thanks to peculiar physical laws. Likewise, its many unusual – and completely non-terrestrial – intelligent aliens and lifeforms have served as inspirations as I imagined their counterparts on sha-Arthan. Amazing stuff!

RuneQuest: Right behind Tékumel is Glorantha when it comes to my favorite fictional settings. The main things I took from RQ was its non-medieval, more Bronze Age setting and its emphasis on the importance of culture and religious cults. Indeed, the alignment system of Secrets of sha-Arthan is directly inspired by the cults of Glorantha. I've likewise borrowed a couple of other elements from the game that I thought would fit in well with the setting I was creating for my own game. Beyond that, RuneQuest impresses me with its ability to take itself seriously but not too seriously and that's something that a lesson than an old stick in the mud like me needs to be reminded of often.

Bushido: This is another RPG that stresses the importance of culture and religious beliefs and thus inspired me as I developed Secrets of sha-Arthan. While there's not much of feudal Japan's DNA in the True World, there is something of Bushido's rules in my own game, in particular those covering "downtime." Characters in Secrets of sha-Arthan can engage in training, research, intrigue, and social climbing when not traveling or exploring ancient ruins and vaults. The inclusion of these options was inspired by Bushido, which is the first game I recall having rules for these kinds of activities. While other RPGs have subsequently included them, Bushido is the game from which I first learned them.

And there you have it: the four roleplaying games whose settings and/or rules influenced me in my own work. As Picasso is reputed to have said, "Good artists borrow; great artists steal." I make no claim to be a great artist, but I thought it only right to let you know from whom I've stolen, if only so that you might be introduced to some really terrific roleplaying games well worth your time.


  1. I love Glorantha a great deal. The first two RuneQuest products that I owned were Trolls & Trollkin and Scorpion Men & Broos, which were computer-generated collections of hundreds of examples of the titular creatures, something that was of great value back in the time when each example would have to be rolled up individually, and especially so for the chaotic creatures that could have Chaotic Features, arguably one of the weaknesses of RuneQuest when compared to D&D.

    I had no idea what they were, but the titles attracted my pre-teen interest and I thought they had something to do with D&D, or rather AD&D. I had no idea what the SIZ and POW stats could be, and it ended up being a couple of years before I finally got hold of a copy of the game to know. And then there were ducks.

    Did I mention that I love Glorantha?

  2. I'm slightly disappointed (but not surprised) that there's nothing here I'm not already very familiar with, since I was hoping there'd be some surprising gem I'd managed to overlook all these years. :)

    Still, all great influences, and it's nice to see Bushido getting the attention it deserves. FGU put out a rather mixed bag of RPGs over the years but Bushido was one their best efforts IMO. I may have played a lot more V&V but that wasn't for lack of trying to put together Bushido groups throughout the 80s.

    1. Of course FGU didn't create Bushido, in fact, part of their hodge podge is that many/most of their games are not in house games, but contributions from independent authors. That explains their duplicates of many genres (Land of the Rising Sun and Bushido, Space Opera and Other Suns and a couple others, multiple "medieval" fantasy games and more). They picked up a number of games from other publishers (Bushido and Swordbearer at least).

    2. Sure, but they were still surprisingly willing to publish just about anything. That gave a lot of games a chance to get out there and make their mark that might not have gotten one otherwise - albeit Bushido isn't one of those, they just got a boost from the FGU print runs.

      Still one of their best games, regardless - the only one I liked better was V&V, and even that's partly blind nostalgia.

  3. RQ does predate Bushido on having downtime training. I don't recall what downtime training Chivalry & Sorcery might have had, but magic users did have significant downtime to learn spells and craft magic items (a whole mini-game there). Hmm, Traveller too, at least partially - with the sabbatical option. So it looks like solidly by 1977 people were thinking about down time.

    That said, Bushido does have a lot of good stuff in it towards expanding the scope of the game from pure adventuring for fame and fortune.

    I have owned all of these games, though I let go of Jorune because it was just too alien for me, and very little support. RQ is the only one I have the original edition of though (EPT I have the Different Worlds reprint and Bushido I have the FGU single volume in PDF only).

    1. You're correct, of course, about downtime in RQ. It's just that I've always found Bushido's rules for this to be more interesting to me.

    2. I haven't engaged Bushido's very much. We did do some down time training but haven't engaged the other aspects.

      RQ's down time training is one of top reasons that RQ is one of the two RPGs I'm most interested in running because it creates a nice economic cycle of adventure for treasure that you use for character improvement. The other RPG is Cold Iron where you spend your treasure purchasing magic items to improve your capabilities adventuring.

      If I was more into the social interactions, I'd definitely be looking for more rules structure in that area and Bushido definitely is a model there.

  4. I liked Bushido quite a lot, like Flashing Blades I wish I had played it more.

  5. ...Well, I'm *extremely* interested in this, being one of those people that's obsessive about RPG setting actually having interesting cultures.