Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"MYFAROG": Book Review

How far the creator of this My(thic) Fa(ntasy) Ro(le-Playing) G(ame) can be critiqued as for his creation, like many controversial artists of all sorts, I leave to the inquirer. Some have slagged off this tabletop RPG on hearsay or rumor; it's unclear how many naysayers have actually played it and found it wanting. To be sure, it's challenging. These 160 closely printed pages fill with charts and directions, even if version 2.6 is streamlined. The author encourages novices to follow suit, and as with younger players, to leave off the stamina and power modules. I am in the minority, for I have nobody to play this with. But, given my research into Ásatrú and native European spiritual and cultural pursuits, MYFAROG sparked my curiosity.

For now, I'll look at the context within which this RPG unfolds. Perhaps solo practitioners may cobble out a way to invent scenarios? I also wonder how those incarcerated, or lacking a GM and others available to join in, might deploy the characters, settings, beliefs, and actions entertainingly. I welcome any suggestions as to how players have modified or customized this for such applications, even if this logically may contradict a RPG.

You can play as various types of humans, or as a wood elf, Fairling, or god-fathered or divinely born. Traditional magic followed by natives appears there on Thule to be giving way to religion as Ásatrú. Groups on the islands correspond roughly to nine nations of ancient Europe. This text refers to a map included in the book, but this is superseded by an eponymous online site where the maps of these locations can be downloaded via pdf's.

Scanning the contents, you'll see on the first page nods to Homer, Tacitus, the Stoics, the author of Parsival, Lovecraft, and Tolkien among others. That anticipates the brickbats tossed at this game for its labeling of some races along with species beyond the Thulean natives and nobles. Surely some of these venerable storytellers also stand accused under contemporary standards promoted by many as suspect of bias and imbalance? The frank fun of such narratives generates good and bad forces, those seeking to subvert and infiltrate, and those trying to resist and fight back. In other conflicts, these may take the name of vampires, zombies, or aliens. And as the writer reminds us (156): Thule can be reassembled to be what the participants want it to be. It's not historical. Perhaps those hostile to MYFAROG did not reach this penultimate page of the text proper.

It is, however, intriguingly based on a stretch of northern Norway that may have been free of glaciers even during the last Ice Age, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Thule corresponds to this territory, and suggests that its proto-European peoples may have survived from times far before. Their struggles can parallel realms as far back as the Stone Age for some, transitioning into the Bronze, or for others, the Iron Age. "Be prepared to enter a world very different from our own" (4) is advice to take to heart. It's fantasy, and exists on its own terms, which one is welcome to tinker with.

Gender, social class, birth place, life stance, tribe, age, origins, and talents all inform one's character role. Dice serve to toss in the element of chance or luck, as in every existence. Gear must be donned and skills amassed as much of the material relates in such a barbaric location to battle, quest, attack, and defense. While the laws may not be those of our own era in regards to sexual behavior, the code is based on pre-Christian and pre-Roman standards of honor above all. Fidelity is praised; non-conformity often receives the force of consequences for resistance.

Outside the Thulean circles to be guarded, bands of rivals lurk. This creates conflict, for no land in this cosmology rests unperceived by intruders. As with any contest, the enemies are subtle and their methods sinister. Betrayals can happen, but the price for exile or outlawry is harsh indeed. Animals, animated objects, nymphs, human NPC's, trolls, and the fearsome ettins (a particularly inventive set of foes) eye Thule with their motives.

Names, a calendar of festivals and feasts, deities, and samples of character sheets fill out this volume. The level of detail may seem excessive, but as with any visionary landscape populated by the enchanted witness turned seeker, this will not seem neither superfluous nor extraneous data. (Amazon US 1/7/17)

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