Sunday, December 18, 2016

Retrospective on Blue Rose

Cover for the new AGE version of Blue Rose
Blue Rose was always one of those games I felt people talked more about than played.  I remember running into it at Gen Con in 2007. I had wanted to go over to the Green Ronin booth since I was already enamoured with Mutants & Masterminds and thought Green Ronin seemed like one of those “cool companies”. Like Eden was in in the early 2000s and Cubicle Seven is today.  Green Ronin is still cool, but they are no longer the scrappy little upstart, they are elder statesmen and stateswomen now.

Blue Rose attracted me from the start. The Stephanie Pui-Mun Law art, whom I had known from her days at the Elfwood art website so long ago, was so eye catching and so different than anything else I had ever seen.  The game inside lived up to that art.
I picked up the book and saw the names. Of course I knew who Steve Kenson was (and he was standing just right over there too), I had played M&M and of course had his Witch’s Handbook from GR.  There was also John Snead, who only the most uncouth plebeians didn’t know.  I had worked with John on the Magic Box for the Buffy game and he was a great guy and great writer.  I saw other names that were unknown to me then (not now), but picked it up on the (substantial) merits of the first two authors.   Jeremy Crawford is now one of the people behind 5th edition D&D and he did quite a bit of work on 4th edition D&D as well.

Now I had an idea what “Romantic Fantasy” was.  I had read Diane Duane, Mercedes Lackey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, but years ago.  Reading through the rules then I was struck by how much was here that I wanted to work into my own worlds.  By 2007 I was weary of d20 and the True20 of Blue Rose seemed like such a breath of fresh air.  It was almost a Cinematic d20 to me.

I played a few games of Blue Rose.  I ran a few others.  I found that converting some of my old WitchCraft RPG plots to Blue Rose was actually quite easy. For example my “Vacation in Vancouver” under Unisystem became “Vacation beyond the Veil” under True 20/Blue Rose.  The story was essentially the same; gifted individuals were being kidnapped for a demonic sex trade. The problem in both cases was that some of the victims didn’t want to be “rescued”.  It looked into issues of slavery and sentience and what people do for pleasure.  In “WitchCraft” there is a serious horror over tone, but in Blue Rose the horror shifts away from the demon to the victim.  What if a victim is sentient and a slave, but in return lives in a lap of luxury and pleasure. Are they different than the “Companions” of Valdemar or the Blue Rose analogues, the Rhy-Creatures? It became an interesting story to unfold.  When I took a turn as player (because that is something you can do in touchy-feely story telling game) I want to explore this and have my witch (hey...gotta be me) “go native” and go from would be rescuer to something needing rescued.  Sadly like many games and most online chat games we never finished the story arc.

I went back to Blue Rose in 2009/2010 to try again with my “Black Rose” idea.  This was a merging of the Blue Rose and Ravenloft games I detailed a while back.  Now there was a fun game.  Also one that did not see a terminus, but that is fine.   In Blue Rose I felt there were a lot of the same things I liked about Ravenloft.  Emphasis on character development and storytelling, less on combat.  One by nature the other by choice.  In BlueRose/True 20 I saw the answer to a lot of the problems I had with Ravenloft.  Ravenloft as an idea was Gothic Horror stapled onto a fantasy action adventure game.  True 20 at it’s core was systemless.  It was much easier to represent more people with combinations of the Expert, Warrior and Adept classes than the standard D&D ones; or worse the 36 some odd classes we had in the d20 Masque of the Red Death.  For me the match was so good that I have considered to see what bits of both True 20 and Ravenloft are OGC to try it on my own.  I never went that direction, other games have since done it.  Some of the ideas from this game lived on in my current D&D 5 “Come Endless Darkness” game.

Some binders of notes for my various Blue Rose games.
“Kingdom of Rain” was game I ran inspired by Lovecraft.  My attempt to bring a little Innsmouth to the World of Aldea.  It was an intentionally short lived arc dealing with the Sea Folk and how some of them were becoming more like Deep Ones.  I will openly admit I based it more on the 2001 movie Dagon than the story “Shadows of Innsmouth”.  I wanted to continue the game dealing with some winter-related ideas, but I only got one session in.  This was also the first time I used a Wendigo as inspired by August Derleth.

I later went back to Blue Rose after reading the works of Barb and J.C. Hendee and came up with a “prequel” to Black Rose that I called “The Guardians of the White Rose”.  I went back to fertile ground and converted some ideas from a 2001 WitchCraft/Buffy game I was running at the time called “Coming Up Roses”.  The Guardians of the White Rose was the Queen’s special cadre of adepts used to fight the many supernatural threats to Adlis.  Their motif was a White Rose intertwined with a Blue Rose.  There were two characters, Helyg and Bryn, two new adepts.  Helyg had been a scholar in Jarzon and Bryn was raised with the Roamers.  They both were also caria daunen, just to add to the in universe feel.  Only got a little bit into that one, but played it out over a long course.  The lessons learned here? There is a LOT to do in Adlis that doesn’t require any form of “Murder-hoboing”.

More recently I have been going through the newer books of Mercedes Lackey. I picked up a bunch at a local library book sale and managed to Half-Price Book find the ones I was missing.  It has put me in the mood to try out some more Blue Rose.  This time I would feature the Guardians of the White Rose, but they are background.  This would be my monster hunter game.  The non-lethal damage track in BR/T20 makes this mechanically easier.  The idea is that the great Magerium is opening in Adlis. Rare and nearly extinct creatures are going to be brought in for study and give them a place to live.  Ah now if you are at all savvy to the Blue Rose world or many of the books that it is based on you will see a problem with this.  I want to see if my players do too.

I am now coming up on 9 and half years of personally playing Blue Rose. Nearly 10 years and four (or five) different and nearly unrelated campaigns.  I have read the background material and other books that would fit the definition of “Romantic Fantasy”. I think I am in a good place to provide a nice comprehensive review of the game.


Now I am going to be looking at the True20 version of the game, which I am sure is going to be sunsetted in favor of the new AGE version.  Well. When the AGE version comes out I'll have to review that one as well.

So until the new one is out, let's get to it.

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