Sunday, May 31, 2020

Strictly for the Enjoyment of Our Readers

August 31, 1993, edition of the self-proclaimed "World's Only Reliable Newspaper"

Once upon a time, if a person wanted timely and accurate information, he or she would procure something called a newspaper.  Today, people have various, more convenient means of obtaining news but advances in technology aren't the only problems that afflict newspapers.  The public's 'confidence in newspapers' has waned over time.  If we look at 1994 (with the lowest 'Great deal/Quite a lot' confidence percentage of the 90s) and compare it to 2019, we see some telling figures.  In 1994, the combined 'Very little/None' confidence was 28%; the combined 'Great deal/Quite a lot' confidence was 29%.  In 2019, the combined 'Very little/None' confidence was 39% and the combined 'Great deal/Quite a lot' confidence was 23%.  If we interpret the 1994 difference as +1 (i.e., 29 – 28) and the 2019 difference as –16 (i.e., 23 – 39); we see a 17 'point' decline in confidence.

There are two conflicting components in the news media:  purpose and product.  Purpose is the journalistic goal of responsibly providing news for the benefit of society.  On the other hand, product is a combination of profit motive and intentional bias.  Previously, purpose outweighed product – at least in the public perception.  In our jaded era, where truth has become subjective, it seems that product has encroached upon purpose...

What?  What's that?  You don't read Thoul's Paradise for tedious social commentary?  You read it for tedious commentary on old school role-playing games?  Well, excuse me for attempting an erudite introduction to the next games we are to examine.

Anyway, the nineties represented the golden age of tabloid journalism, when UFO space aliens, Bigfoot, and Elvis commanded the headlines and people had enough common sense not to take such things seriously.  A disclaimer contemporaneous with the issue shown above indicates that the Weekly World News is “a journal of information, opinion, and entertainment... strictly for the enjoyment of our readers.”  Eventually, in the twenty-first century, their disclaimer would emphasize that most articles are fictitious and the “reader should suspend belief for the sake of enjoyment.”  I don't know how, but the Millennials must be responsible for the decline of the tabloids – Today's tabloids focus on celebrity gossip and weight loss programs.  (I'm not concerned with 'online' tabloids; if I don't see it in the check-out lane at the supermarket, it doesn't count.)

What?  Get to the games?  Fine...

1993's Pandemonium! has as its setting the Tabloid World where “everything you've ever read in the tabloids has either happened or is likely to happen...”  Of course, many people are “Mundanes” who discount tabloid phenomena.  Similarly, the setting of 1994's Tabloid! is “a neat world, just like ours, except – EVERYTHING YOU READ IS TRUE! ”  Yet “normal” people don't believe the truth of the tabloids.  Not surprisingly, there are many similarities between the two games.  In both games, player characters are reporters working for a tabloid.  Also in both games, the official title of the game master is Editor.  In Pandemonium! (or PANDEMONIUM as it refers to itself) the player characters are Enlightened (“any sentient entity that is able to perceive, believe in, and have some understanding of paranormal phenomena”) and are called Paranormal Investigators.

PANDEMONIUM uses the “E-Z Rules System,” but “optional Very Complicated Rules for anal retentive role-players” are provided.  The E-Z Rules do not allow for character creation; players must choose among the eleven provided “pre-generated, pre-destined, and ready-to-play Character Cards.”  For the reader's edification, these Paranormal Investigators are described below.

Each character has a Mundane Profession (“the occupation that the character practiced prior to becoming Enlightened and finding work as a Paranormal Investigator”), one or more Hobbies (“talents or avocations that can be practiced and developed in a person's spare time”), one or more Paranormal Talents (“'extra-mundane' (or just plain weird) abilities”), and a Phobia.  Also, each Paranormal Investigator has a Past Life.  The character can use the abilities of the Past Life by rolling on the Fate Table.  “If successful,” we learn, “the Past Life recollection lasts for just ten minutes, then fades from memory until the next time it is used...”  For example, a character with Houdini as a Past Life could “escape from any type of restraint, prison cell, or practically any dicey situation...”

Without further ado...

Rick Dante
Male, Italian-American, Age 22, 6', 175 lbs, brown hair, green eyes; acts cool, smokes too much, hangs out with strange people (mostly musicians), nocturnal by preference
Mundane Profession: R & B Musician (sax player, speaks musician's lingo; familiarity with most types of street drugs, seedy bars, and the dark underside of city night life)
Hobbies: Amateur Detective
Paranormal Talents: High Chemical Tolerance; Magic
Phobia: Hydrophobia
Past Lives: Bogey

Celia Brown
Female, African-American, Age 20, 5' 8", 130 lbs, brown hair & eyes; excellent physical condition, outgoing, friendly -- flexible and athletic, perceptive
Mundane Profession: Aerobics Instructor (teaches exercise techniques, knows how to treat sprains and bruises, terrific endurance, looks great in tights)
Hobbies: Judo
Paranormal Talents: Mind Reading; Psychic Assault
Phobia: Phasmophobia
Past Lives: Joan of Arc

Henry Yakamoto
Male, Japanese-American, Age 25, 5' 7", 150 lbs, black hair & brown eyes – thoughtful, studious, introspective -- as a result is sometimes thought of as a nerd
Mundane Profession: High School Physics Teacher (understands laws of physics as they apply to both the mundane and tabloid world universe -- ability to teach high school kids while retaining sanity)
Hobbies: Computers
Paranormal Talents: Psychokinesis; Cryptozoology
Phobia: Altophobia
Past Lives: Albert Einstein

Joseph Cloudwalker
Male, Native American, Age 21, 6' 3", 200 lbs, black hair, brown eyes, good physical condition, lean but strong, good balance -- quiet and softspoken, sometimes moody
Mundane Profession: Construction Worker (experienced welder and riveter, can operate heavy machinery (trucks, crane), has no fear of heights)
Hobbies: Bow Hunting
Paranormal Talents: Dowsing; Magic (Shamanism) [perhaps not the best descriptor]
Phobia: Belonophobia
Past Lives: Geronimo

Mike Washington
Male, African-American, Age 24, 6' 3", 240 lbs, well built, good athlete (former college football player until knee injury), self-assured but never cocky
Mundane Profession: Nightclub DJ & Rapper (streetwise, knows the rap club scene, speaks the language of the inner-city, knowledge of recording studios and sound gear)
Hobbies: Football (Linebacker)
Paranormal Talents: Sixth Sense; Clairaudience
Phobia: Claustrophobia
Past Lives: Joe Louis

Tracey Novak
Female, Polish-American, Age 23, 5' 10", 132 lbs, blonde hair, blue eyes, very attractive, great body, acts a bit dizzy but is quite intelligent, likes to party
Mundane Profession: Professional Model (knows how to use make-up and clothing to enhance looks, good at self-promotion, can hold same pose for hours, knowledge of fashion industry)
Hobbies: Acting
Paranormal Talents: Speak In Tongues; Faith Healing
Phobia: Triskadeccaphobia [sic]
Past Lives: Marilyn Monroe

Crawford White
Male, WASP, Age 28, 6', 180 lbs, blonde hair, blue eyes -- family was rich until stock market crash; very outgoing, well-mannered, a real socialite
Mundane Profession: Ski Instructor (seasonal job with the side benefit of meeting wealthy women; good skier, knowledge of ski resorts and posh nightclubs; speaks the language of the upper class)
Hobbies: Boating
Paranormal Talents: Retrocognition; Object Reading
Phobia: Ergophobia
Past Lives: JFK

Che LaVie
Female, French-American, Age 21, 5' 5", 110 lbs, black hair & brown eyes; alternative fashion sense (combination of Seattle grunge and N.Y. punk); emotional termperament [sic], strong-willed
Mundane Profession: Freelance Photographer (knowledge of most photographic techniques, film developing, shooting under less than ideal conditions; can candle temperamental models and subjects)
Hobbies: Ancient Egyptian Mythology
Paranormal Talents: Astral Assault; Spirit Photography
Phobia: Ophiophobia [sic]
Past Lives: Cleopatra

Ernesto Villa
Male, Mexican-American, Age 27, 5' 11", 195 lbs, brown hair & eyes, muscular build; macho temperament when angered, otherwise easy-going, speaks fluent Spanich [sic]
Mundane Profession: Cab Driver (able to drive fast and recklessly, specific knowledge of home town or city streets, able to work long hours without getting drowsy)
Hobbies: Boxing; Automatic Art
Paranormal Talents: Precognition
Phobia: Ballistophobia
Past Lives: Marco Polo

Judith Rosenberg
Female, German-American, Age 30, 5' 6", 125 lbs, wavy brown hair, brown eyes, 1960’s fashion sense; radical feminist, vegetarian, has Masters [sic] Degree in Women’s Studies
Mundane Profession: Health Food Store Nutrition Advisor (knowledge of harmful and/or weird food additives, vitamins, natural foods; can diagnose nutrition-related maladies and suggest remedies)
Hobbies: Kung Fu
Paranormal Talents: Read Auras; Palm Reading
Phobia: Pharmacophobia
Past Lives: Madame Blavatsky

Johnny King
Male, Serbian-American, Age 32, 5' 10", 195 lbs, black hair, brown eyes, about 20 lbs overweight, loves junk food & sci-fi movies, somewhat shy when not on stage
Mundane Profession: Elvis Impersonator (able to sing, speak, and act like Elvis; knowledge of the Elvis repertoire, shobiz lingo, and most of the least attractive nightclubs in Las Vegas and Atlantic City)
Hobbies: UFO Watcher
Paranormal Talents: Alien Empathy; Astral Assault
Phobia: Teratophobia
Past Lives: Nicola Tesla

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