Monday, July 4, 2016

Change Your Head.

This is more or less an open letter to the creators of Maze of the Blue Medusa.

To Zak Sabbath & Patrick Stuart:  This thing, Maze of the Blue Medusa, which you have created together is stupefying. Assimilation could change your brain.  I think it changed mine.

For a couple of years I have gone back and forth on whether what you were doing was actually good or just artsy trash.  Deep Carbon Observatory was getting rave reviews.  How could something that was so sloppily put together garner such acclaim?  Posts on “Playing D&D with Pornstars” often made me want to smash my chromebook, in spite of the fact that I often agreed with you. What’s your problem?  More importantly, what’s my problem?

I’ll tell you: Ego.  I had written my own RPG and was writing a blog of my own.  Didn’t I deserve some of this acclaim?  Come on, my game was as good as this stuff.  When would the cool kids teach me the secret handshake?

The long and short of it is, I was able to contain my insecurities and better manage my ego.  Just plain owning it helps.  Realizing that I’m not in a competition with you gentlemen works too.  When the Medusa gets acclaim and attention, it raises all boats, right?  

Blue Medusa goes way, way beyond Deep Carbon and Pleasant Land.  

This is not a review, I am still processing Medusa.  Generating a genuine review is no simple task, the subject matter must be methodically picked apart, logically commented on and compared to other like offerings.  It takes more energy than running it. Right now, however, this is not the point.  I feel as someone who is a part of this community and a game designer to acknowledge the importance of this thing.  You should know it, and the rest of us, too. 

As I write this I am only about a half of the way through Blue Medusa.  No small task- even written in the shorthand they have championed it is 368 pages of dense material with many interlocking parts.  Writing a proper review is going to take time.  Instead, while my excitement is still fresh I would like to offer these thoughts:

1) It has a great beginning: Medusa starts immediately with a cool device and NPC interaction.  Right away this sets the tone of the whole thing, which is very important.  What the players do, say and ask all matter.  Nobody's mom is there to read out the plot intro. Why would anyone want to begin by hacking away weeds for 45 turns just to get to the entrance?  OMG, kill me now, please.  

2) Doesn’t have a “Plot Rut”:  Usually module creators build their adventure around a predetermined narrative path.  If all you want is to fill a few hours being marginally entertained, this is the easy way.  Simply drop your wheels in the rut and get pulled along. This method of play is thankfully missing from Medusa.  You’ll have to work a bit to play this one.  (Or run it).

3) Truly Magical: Medusa has a lot of really cool, mysterious magical stuff in it that is not the usual corporate stuff spat out by committee.  A game about imagination that actually is. Imagine that.   

4) The logic is explained: The gametic logic of why things are the way they are is explained.  This is a great help to the DM if they are expected to make informed changes of the module.

5) Give me more toys: One of my pet peeves is that the “powers that be” are so stingy.  It’s like playing 007, but being forced to drive a Pacer.  Aren’t we punished enough in real life? Lighten up and give me some cool toys.  Everyone is afraid of “imbalance” and that the game world will get broken.  You should be so lucky.

6) It’s not static: Things are happening and depending on what you do NPC's, whole areas or even the whole thing can be affected.  The idea that things are changeable either by time or by your actions is powerful.  You can blow it up.  You could blow up.  Or not.

7) Great artwork: The artwork is absolutely correct.  The technically over-executed cookie cutter fantasy illustration you see these days hurts the game experience by defining things too much.  A looser style of artwork allows the participants to fill in the gaps and define things their own way.  Why does everything need to be so defined?  (I’ll tell you, so Disney can own it and make more $$$).

I have been working on my own game.  Things like Medusa allow me to frame the whole RPG design experience differently.  I have been rereading various “classic” game modules, usually it is an arduous experience.  Not so with Medusa.  Each time I’ve come away with a new take on how to make something I am working on better or with a new idea entirely.  A rare thing indeed.

Keep up the good work gentlemen!


  1. Ro---

    I'm curious how the physical book for Blue Medusa compares to the physical book for Red & Pleasant Land (which is one of the nicest physical gaming products I've seen published: in the same category as Nobilis 2nd edition). How do they compare, in terms of quality of the book itself---paper quality, binding, cover cloth, etc.?



  2. Pleasant Land is pretty good. Medusa is much better. The overall quality level is higher, the imprint on front cover is better, the pages have a better paper with a satin finish. I think the layout is even improved for ease of use by the GM. Areas/Personalities are very well indexed so you can find what you need. Size is 9 x 8 inches, this bigger page allows more and bigger info/type for those of us without cybernetic eyeballs.