I’m a critic, and I’m proud of being one, because I agree with Oscar Wilde that art and criticism is a symbiotic relationship, each informing and improving the other. And I’m a game critic because I think gaming as an art form has far too few critics (although plenty of good reviewers), especially in the realm of table top games. Being a critic has its price, but also a great appeal, and that was never said better than by Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) in the climax of Pixar’s film Ratatouille:
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.
Of course, even being a friend of the new is rarely a risk for the critic, but it is one way we can have a great effect on things. To quote Wilde: “the artist’s job is to educate the critic, the critic’s job is to educate the public”. Pointing out greatness that might otherwise have been missed is a pleasure and a privilege, a way to shine light on things in shadow and illuminate the world a little. You can link the artist to the audience like a matchmaker, resulting in a relationship just as intimate and pleasurable for both.
One does not, of course, expect honours and laurels for this. It is par for the course, and not anything special. But not everyone is content to leave the critic uncelebrated, it seems.
Back in February I sung the praises of an incredible new game called Night of the Crusades, a game which applies a few elements of fantasy (and an evocative, elegant system) to bring forth the tales of the Arabian Nights into its own setting, with all the narrative power of Pendragon and all the historical richness of Warhammer. It rightly ended up being nominated for both Ennie and Origin awards in this year’s season, and has also produced some excellent supplements to follow up. It’s latest work is The City of 10 Rings, a city guide unlike most others. Not only is it the perfect balance of the unearthly and the logical (a city built in a fallen meteor with dreamlike, concentric architecture, yet divided into sensible districts with a natural evolution) and full of the same kind of haunting imagery as the core game, it is built primarily on random encounters. Ten rings in the city, ten locations in each ring, ten events in each ring, for 200 entries in total, or 1000 if you combine them. Some of them are a bit empty, but all are evocative and clever, elaborating on the specific district and the flavour of the city as a whole.
Too many products in the RPG world are encyclopaedias to read, assuming that somehow, the information will enter the reader and be magically turned into an evocative game. As always, Nights believes in providing tools to create their setting, and that’s the approach of this book – random tables not only useful to throw in to buff out a stroy, but to form the basis of the entire story, filling the city with tales that in the end create the tale of the city.
My review might be a little biased however, because as I mentioned, not everyone believes the critic should go uncelebrated. This book is dedicated to me in the frontspiece, which is an honour as a critic and a thanks unrivaled in my experience. So I’m making sure I earned it by once again recommending you take a look at Night of the Crusades, an extremely polished and rare gem in the RPG world. Also, the core book is still 100% free, and Pathfinder conversion rules are now available, too.