Phil Brucato, Deliria (Laughing Pan Productions, 2003)
It's all around you, if only you could see it: down that alley, in that clump of trees, in the eyes of the woman sitting next to you at the movies. Mystery, Magic, Faerie. Deliria.
Who will open the door for you, who will show you the path? The strange wanderer, always new in town and always familiar? The musician with the wild eyes and wilder sound? The crazy crone in the house on the corner? Any one of these or dozens of others might put out his hand to you and ask you if you want to explore, beyond the fields we know.
Most people these days have heard of role-playing games, even if they've only heard of that old standby, Dungeons and Dragons. There are all sorts of misconceptions about role-playing, ranging from that peculiar perennial, that it teaches kids magic and devil-worship, to the milder but still insipid notion that it's only for nerdy teenagers with no social skills.
As with anything, the reality is much more varied and complex than others might imagine. Role-playing can be anything from pimple-faced youths going on dungeon crawls to bash orcs with characters that are more math than imagination, to people of all ages exploring new realms in the ether-space of the Internet, to grown men and women playing live action and real time among crowds of unaware people, to a group of friends who gather around a dining room table to tell a story together.
Deliria lends itself more to the last three than to the first, although I suppose if you tried really hard you could force it.
A bit of gaming history for you: Fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) have been around since Gary Gygax's Chainmail, the precursor to the well-know D&D, was modified by David Arneson in 1970 or 1971. Chainmail and D&D both drew on the mechanics of war gaming. This meant that, while you could tell a good story using the system, it was really much more useful for going and killing imaginary things. The games that followed them used the same sorts of models for years. Although a few games attempted to change this, the first game to succeed at bucking the system was Vampire: The Masquerade from White Wolf Games, unveiled in 1991. Maybe you've seen the packs of college students roaming a local campus, some of them wearing fangs and most of them making odd gestures? They're playing the live action version of the game. Following Vampire came a series set in the same world (the World of Darkness), including Mage: The Ascension and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Suddenly, gaming took on a whole new meaning. For the first time, telling a real story with your game was encouraged by the mechanics . . . sometimes at the expense of other things, however. Players complained that the mechanics were broken, actually penalizing players as they became more powerful.Phil Brucato has writing credits on more than eighty books from White Wolf, including twelve core books and pretty much all of the supplementary books considered to be the best by players. He was one of the driving forces behind the concept of role-playing games as interactive storytelling. And one day, he left White Wolf to start his own company.
Deliria is the first product from Laughing Pan Productions, and I can't wait for more. Freed from the constraints of others' ideas, he's created a game that is what I personally always wanted RPGs to be. It's beautiful.
Purely as an artifact, it's a gorgeous piece of work. Where most RPG rule books have maybe a few color pages at the front of the book, Deliria is glossy-stock full-color printing from beginning to end. Where most rule books have art that looks like something out of a teenager's sketchbook, Deliria has truly amazing illustrations, photography, paintings, computer generated graphics, and mixed-media pieces reproduced in its pages. The first reaction of everyone I've shown the book to has been to simply page through it, fascinated by the images. Even the character sheets are gorgeous. This is unheard of. It's beautiful.
It's a fantastic storybook, too. Each chapter has at least one faerie tale in it, each perfect and complete in itself, each written in a different style. The first three chapters paint a picture of a world that lies alongside, among, on to of, and underneath our own, not unlike the magic found in de Lint's Newford or Windling's Rincons. It's a joy to read, even if you never mean to play it.
Well, but what if you do want to play it? How does it work? Well, at the risk of overusing the word, beautifully.
Of course I had to run a game before I could review it. Not only would this not be complete without a review of game play, but as I read the book, I kept having to stop because I was getting so many ideas. So I called up some friends, and we got together to play.
Deliria's main rules are diceless, using cards to introduce the element of chance. There's an option for dice, using only two ten-sided dice, for the diehard rollers. There's also an option for True Narrative play, in which players achieve their aims by role playing well enough to convince the other players that they deserve it. Then there are three different versions of the rules, called Narrative, Basic, and Advanced, any of which can be applied to tabletop, live action, or online play. It sounds pretty complicated, I know, but in practice it turns out not to be. The Guide (the player who plans the story and narrates it) picks a rule set, and the rules themselves are actually very straightforward. My circle's first-time gamer picked up the Basic rules right away, which shows a simplicity of mechanics which I've found to be vanishingly rare among RPGs.
My players found character creation a little more complex, and occasionally confusing (although I take some of the blame for that, since I didn't let them read the book beforehand). Looking at the examples given always cleared things up nicely, though. Instead of rolling up statistics or just dividing points among traits, the storytelling starts here. Players write little introductory stories about their characters, describing them and their backgrounds, before moving on to the trait system. Even the system's unusual, since instead of a skill list from which players pick, there's a list of ten Vocations (things like Art, Languages, Technology, and Martial), and the players get to decide what sorts of skills, or Aspects, might fall within those categories. There's a brief list of suggested Aspects given for each Vocation, but it might be difficult for a player who's used to more conventional systems to make the jump.
All of that's just the technical aspect, though. The real question is, is the game any fun? The answer is a resounding yes. I'd told my players I was planning on a one-shot game, and when we wrapped up for the day, all of them asked if we could play again. We loved it.
Phil Brucato has the numinous vision of Charles de Lint, the detailed understanding of the atomic structure of myth and faerie tale of Joseph Campbell, and the writing skills of a master. He's got the brain power and foresight to set up game rules that are elegant, powerful and versatile. Pulling all of this together, he has a desire to see storytelling gain a new place in our society. Deliria is a wonderful step towards that goal.
To learn more about Deliria and get your
own copy of this marvelous work, visit Laughing
Seriously. Go get it now. You'll be sorry if you don't.
Well? What are you waiting for?
Sheesh. Some people.