[BARBAREN!] Who wants to be an Uber-Macho?

Started by Frank Tarcikowski, December 19, 2011, 09:24:14 AM

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Frank Tarcikowski

Hi there. This is basically the thread where I try to generate some buzz about the newly published English version of my game BARBAREN!, which is, at long last, available at DriveThru RPG as PDF and softcover. Yay! If you've been around the Forge for a while, you may have heard of it. I'll say a bit on how I feel about the game today and then I'll go on with some actual play. Any questions and comments about the game in generally and the actual play report in particular are welcome.

Me and the game

I wrote the first German playtest version of BARBAREN! in a daze, back in October 2004, in the middle of my exams at university. In February 2005, I first posted to the Forge about it. The playtesting, design work and a large chunk of the writing were done in 2005 and 2006. By "Spiel" game fair in Essen, 2006, the rules were hammered out almost in their current shape. I made a few changes after the playtests at "Spiel" and then announced that I needed "one more long term playtest" before it was finished. As these things go, that long term playtest never came to pass.

By 2007 I was walking different streets, both as a player and a designer. I was leaning toward more quiet, intense role-playing with less "Points of Contact". BARBAREN! was one hilarious naughty piece of fun with punchy rules and punchier fiction. Play was loud: Shouting, laughing, bragging. I have dubbed it "The Ultimate Macho RPG" for a reason. To run and promote BARBAREN!, people would expect me to act like an over-the-top alpha male high on testosterone. The fiction was all butchering and fucking for the sheer fun of it. I kind of did not have the stomach for it, then. I wanted something else, something more close to home, more sincere.

So BARBAREN! lay dormant for two years. Finally I got an offer from two friends who would help me publish the game, and I urged them to give me a deadline, so I finally sat down and looked at what I had got. By then, it did not feel like something I would write, but I could still acknowledge it as the best game I had ever designed. So I pulled through, borrowing from my 2005 self, and finished the damn book. It came out at "Spiel" 2009. We printed 500 copies. We sold them within a year. People I had never heard of registered at my forum to post about their game sessions and compliment me. I found a good half-dozen reviews online, all of them full of praise. It was really great and it made me appreciate my creation once more.

By 2010 I was also no longer striving for the ultimate intense role-playing experience. I had played a couple of dissatisfying games where we tried too hard for intense personal drama, with limited success. I had played a couple of pretty good light-hearted action adventure session. I had even begun to design another RPG, a light-hearted game of action adventure.

When I was proof-reading the English translation of BARBAREN! a few months back, I couldn't stop grinning. The translation was done by a friend who is a professional translator and interpreter, and she did a really amazing job. Reading the text, my text, in different words that weren't my own made me really enjoy and appreciate it, strange as that may sound. So, for the first time since 2006, I am feeling an itch to play another game of BARBAREN!. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like I'll get the chance any time soon, so I'll have to write about an actual play from way back.

Actual Play: Sacking the Foreign City

I have noticed three distinct reactions from people who first learn about BARBAREN!. The first gives me a skeptical look and says something like, "Well, I guess that can be fun with the proper group, if you're into that kind of thing..." The second laughs very hard in a kind-of-embarrassed-but-trying-not-to-show-it way and eagerly signs up. The third pauses to consider, and while he does, a very naughty grin spreads across his face, not unlike the one on the cover illustration, as he meets my eyes. That third one is the kind of guy you want in your game. (Or gal, though I have yet to meet the gal of the third kind. I'm sure she exists.)

You see, BARBAREN! is a game about fucking and butchering where everybody plays a highly virile barbarian warrior with a ten inch cock, which the back-cover blurb does not fail to mention. The game mechanisms are built in such way that killing an enemy and laying a woman work basically the same way, rules-wise. But you need to lay women in order to get better at fighting, and you need to fight in order to get better at laying women.

When I went to a small local convention in November 2006 to promote the game, I met someone of that third kind but he was already signed up for another game, so I had to make do with two players of the second kind, let's call them A and B. One player, J, I had brought with me to the con and he was definitely the third type, so I hoped he could pull the others along a bit.

In a normal game of BARBAREN!, you start by creating your clan together. You give it a name, a tribe and some feuds and allegiances, and you outline its location and current situation.  I also have a ready-made scenario with two clans and some notable NPCs in the book which can be used as a kick-start, but in this game I let the players create the clan from scratch. They chose the Whulfir tribe, the one that roams farthest, and as current situation, "raiding in foreign lands". I've had two different groups pick this set-up and heard of at least one other group that did it, so it seems to hold some appeal. Personally I like the "intra-barbarian" scenarios better, because in those I as GM get to play badass macho barbarians, too.

It probably was unwise of me to use an Asterix & Obelix analogy to describe the Shuaran empire as something of a wimpy Roman empire. This inspired the players to go for very over the top portrayals as the clan went sacking the big civilized foreign city. At the time, the rules still awarded "good narration" bonus dice in every dice roll, so there was lots and lots of narration, sort of WuShu-hamster-wheel-ish. After that game, I adjusted the rules so that you could gain a bonus dice for good narration only once per scene.

J put out some real badass portrayals of his character in action, and player A got hooked up so much that his chair would not hold him at some point, so he jumped up and around the room, words sometimes eluding him as he tried to detail how his character used a huge wine barrel to play bowling with ten Shuaran guardsmen as pins. He went on to grab the Skull and J grunted in approval. I rolled with it though it was a bit too Obelix for my taste. As a result, I now have a paragraph in the book advising the players to discuss in advance how much (or little) slap-stick they'd like to have in their games.

B, on the other hand, got stuck at several instances where the others had to help her with suggestions what her character might do. Either she found out during play that this whole satirical uber-macho thing was not to her taste after all but did not want to be impolite and leave the game, or she could not keep the verbal and creative pace, or she simply didn't know what to do in an entirely player-driven scenario. Probably all of the above. As a result, her character did not get to kick much ass, even ending up hiding away somewhere, I think. For shame!

We had a random "bar scene" in the beginning where each of the barbarians poured some wine and seduced one of the serving maids (or in J's case, two at the same time) in order to "charge up" for the subsequent fighting. Then the barbarians went on marauding and split up. Each had at least one fight but only J used the "bonds", the relationship mechanic of BARBAREN!. Befitting the macho theme, there are three kinds of bonds: Desire, rivalry, and oath. J had chosen a rivalry with the captain of the city guard, a great champion and hero of his people, and when J's character went to sack the city's treasury, I framed the final scene with a duel between the two, and after a hard and close combat, the captain went down in a nice spray of rules and gore. (Alright, I borrowed that last phrase.)

Player A was so hooked that he signed onto my forum the next day just to express how awesome the game had been. J and I agreed that it had been alright, but not awesome. I thought of it more as a successful playtest that helped me strengthen my vision of the game: A little less immature, a little more... meaty. Um.

It happened to be my last full session of BARBAREN!, to date. However, from some of the actual play reports on the German forums, I see that my vision has been completely realized.

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Ron Edwards

I know some gals of the third kind, two of whom play in our long-standing group. I seem to be good at finding them. At first I thought they were merely tolerating me, but

Here are some of the Forge threads concerning the game. I was going to find them all, but there are a lot!  I think the first illustrates Frank's initial rush very well.

BARBAREN!--The ultimate Macho RPG (very, very long)
[Barbaren] Today, I am a man!
[BARBAREN!] Revised Playtest Edition and Power 19
[BARBAREN!] Raiders in a foreign land
[Barbaren] My manly guy
So BARBAREN! will be in English, but not self-published

Best, Ron

Frank Tarcikowski

Hey Ron, thanks for taking the time to dig those up! Well look, I actually already posted about that convention game. I totally forgot about that.

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Frank Tarcikowski

P.S.: And looking my old report over, I got half of it all wrong! Ah well. I'll post about my next game, and hope to maybe even see others post about their's!
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English