Monday, January 2, 2012

Is The Realms of Atlantasia a Fantasy Heartbreaker?

Ron Edwards introduced the term 'fantasy heartbreaker' here and further elaborated upon it here. (tl;dr? A brief definition can be found here.) Does The Realms of Atlantasia qualify? John Holland's masterpiece may well be the epitome of fantasy heartbreakers. However, the reason such games are 'heartbreakers' is because they tend to...

...have one great idea buried in them somewhere.... That's why they break my heart, because the nuggets are so buried and bemired within all the painful material...

Is there a great idea buried in TRoA? Your humble yet intrepid host will attempt to uncover this hypothetical kernel of creativity and report his progress to his cherished audience.

In order to grasp the mechanics of TRoA, I shall try to generate a character. Please, do not try this at home. Thoul's Paradise represents a controlled environment and your humble host is fully cognizant of the risks involved.

Evidently, the first step in creating a TRoA character is to select a race. There are four player character races in Atlantasia: humans, gnomes, dwarves, and various flavors of elves.* Apparently, the Atlantasian gnome is intended to be “cute.” From page 8:

Gnomes do not actually take things from people they pass, things magically transfer into a gnome's pouch...and for this reason, other races perceive gnomes as outright thieves. If someone catches a gnome with something that is theirs, they will immediately give it back with a "Don't know how that gots there but must be yers cause ya can describe it."

I have an intense dislike for Atlantasian gnomes. Humans are the only player character race that does not tolerate gnomes; therefore, my character shall be human. Let's call him Johann Nederland.

Of course, I want to gain an understanding of Atlantasian magic, so Johann will be a spellcaster; specifically, a Mage. The only class with which Mages may “double-class” is Spy. A Spy Mage sounds pretty cool; I'm going to go for it.

Next, we determine the attribute values. Page 11 states, “Your attributes are listed as 2 attributes per main (shown as an outer and an inner)...” I think this means there are six pairs of attributes; each pair consisting of “an outer and an inner” seemingly related to one another. The attributes are as follows (inner attributes are in parentheses):

Strength (constitution)
Intelligence (mental quickness)
Wisdom (mental retention)
Dexterity (agility)
Charisma (magnetism)
Psychic Strength (psychic defense)

For each outer attribute, 3d10 are rolled and the highest result becomes the value for that attribute. For each inner attribute, 2d10 are rolled and the higher result becomes the value for that attribute. Wait a minute. If the attributes in a pair are not related, why pair them together? If they are related, why doesn't the outer affect the inner or vice versa? As it is, the attributes in a pair can have values at opposite extremes. (What I would have done is, for inner attributes, take half of the paired outer attribute, round down, and add 1d6. Whatever.) There are no racial adjustments for humans, but each career provides adjustments. Since Johann is 'double-classed,' he gets the adjustments for both careers. So, including adjustments, here is how Johann looks:

Strength 5 (constitution 2)
Intelligence 10 (mental quickness 5)
Wisdom 8 (mental retention 11)
Dexterity 9 (agility 5)
Charisma 4 (magnetism 4)
Psychic Strength 12 (psychic defense 10)

Based on these results, Johann has +2 languages, +10% to diplomatic rolls, +2 to spell rolls, +25% to reaction rolls, x4 spell damage, and +25% to spell save rolls. Yeah, that's right, quadruple spell damage.

The Social Status Chart on page 16 requires a d% roll. For Johann, we roll a 19. This means he is “low class.”

Next, a character's day of birth is determined. In Atlantasia, days are called cycles; Holland confirmed this back when the Atlantasia site displayed comments. Anyway, there are 360 cycles in a rebirth (i.e., year). A rebirth has five seasons; one season for each of the classic elements (air, fire, water, and earth), having 80 cycles each, and a season of chaos, having 40 cycles. How or if these seasons compare to Earth seasons is unknown. Magic seems to ebb and flow with the seasons. Magic is weak at the beginning of a season, then it becomes powerful and intense with an apex mid-season and thereafter subsides, becoming weak by the end of the season. The season of chaos is a special case; magical mishaps are prone to happen. There is almost no chance of mishap at either end of the season but a certainty of mishap mid-season. (The season of chaos exists because that's when the Chaos Dragons engage in their mating ritual...) Anyway, Johann was born on the 22nd day of the fire season.

So far, this hasn't been too bad, but when we continue, I'm afraid it's going to get ugly.

*  Perhaps the most well known fact about TRoA is that there are no half-elves. However, the possibilities of half-dwarves and half-gnomes are not addressed. The foul shadow of Tolkienian racism extends quite far; very few games consider the potential of non-elf 'demi-human' crossbreeds. To my knowledge, only High Adventure Role Playing from Iron Crown Enterprises provides for such pairings.


  1. Don't forget the Muls of Dark Sun.

  2. The Umli of MERP are half-dwarves.

  3. Gentlemen,

    Thank you for relieving me of my ignorance. I was thinking of Umli more as a separate race, but I cannot deny that they are half-dwarves.

  4. nice attempt, let's judge it after testing it, not before.

    "A criticism of the term is that it implies dismissal of the idea you can make "D&D, but better,""

    This is a mirror of my thought.

  5. In my opinion, that is not a valid criticism. The concept of “D&D, but better” is entirely subjective; even the concept of “D&D” is subjective. What edition? What DM style? D&D is like religion (you can quote me); there are many denominations. (For anyone interested, I am a Latter Day Arnesonian.) Most of us of us live by the notion of “different strokes for different folks.” The authors of the so-called fantasy heartbreakers frequently tout their games as “better than D&D” (as Holland does) and they are better than D&D, if only for said authors. We have to dismiss the idea that anyone can make “D&D, but better” on an objective basis because it can’t be done. Even if Gary returned to the Prime Material Plane and offered his improvement of D&D, not everyone would consider it to be an improvement.

    Regardless, I am not judging The Realms of Atlantasia against a hypothetical standard of D&D, I am offering my opinion on its quality as an RPG. Also, “testing it” assumes that the game is playable as presented. I believe this assumption to be in vain, as I will attempt to demonstrate in a future post.

  6. "nice attempt, let's judge it after testing it, not before."

    How far do you have to go to "test" something? Surely decades of roleplaying experience gives you a bit of a basis to make some reasonable judgements. Not that that alone is enough, and I agree basic Character Creation is not enough to render full judgement, but what will satisfy reflexive positions like this? A combat? Several combats? A bit of roleplaying using the game's mechanics? A whole session with these rules? A campaign?

    Really, when questions like this are raised, can they be realistically satisfied?

    You know I hate everything you do, perdustin, so your review stinks already.

    Nice try.


  7. Those gnomes sound insipid. Jesus.