Sunday, May 1, 2016

Going Ape

Oh, how the winds of change blow...

Sometimes (in this little hobby of ours) a game or product gets announced by a designer or company that, sight unseen, simply fires the imagination; consider White Star, which got considerable hype even before it was available. I've been on the receiving end of such attention myself, back when I was first working on my B/X Companion, and while it can make one a little anxious (hoping to live up to expectations), I generally think such anticipation is a good thing. Not only does it get one much needed publicity, but it confirms that you're not the only person interested in the project (sometimes designers have self-doubts that can lead to slowdowns and roadblocks) and the "communal excitement" can light a fire under one's ass to get things done.

Two words: Sheer Awesomeness
So it is, that I want to mention the (announced) upcoming release from Dan Proctor and Goblinoid Games, APES VICTORIOUS. Proctor was, of course, the guy responsible for Labyrinth Lord, one of the favorite retroclones of the OSR, and Goblinoid has brought us a number of B/X-compatible games, including Mutant Future and Startships & Spacemen. Personally, I'm not a believer in the "one-size-fits-all" theory of Unified Gaming (GURPS cured me of that abused notion years ago), but it does allow folks who want to model cross-genre mash-ups a way to do so with ease...and some systems (like B/X) do lend themselves rather well to multiple genres.

So...Apes Victorious. Proctor's latest greatest (currently in the play-testing stage with an intended release date of summer...well, summer if you live in the northern hemisphere) is a fairly obvious homage to the Planet of the Apes film franchise. We're not talking the most recent reboots (Rise of, Dawn of, etc.) chronicling the chronological evolution of Earth into "Ape World;" no this belongs squarely in the realm of "astronaut-travels-through-time-and-finds-a-hideous-future-ruled-by-monkeys," typified in the original French book (I read a translation years ago), the first two movies, and two abbreviated television series in the 1970s (one of which was animated).

This isn't the first time a Planet of the Apes-inspired product has hit the market. Terra Primate from C.J. Carella is a "setting-less" RPG that provides a toolbox for creating a number of different campaigns involving intelligent monkeys using the Carella's Unisystem. While I've owned Terra Primate for more than a decade (I purchased it when it first came out), I've never had the chance to use it...haven't even read the thing in years. I don't find the Unisystem particularly inspiring.

Not like those Albedo games.
However, the reason I picked it up...and the reason I'm so excited about Apes that I am a huge Planet of the Apes fan. Being born in '73, I'm too young to have seen the original film...or any of its the theater, but my first exposure to Apes was the Heston classic on television, sometime circa 1979 or '80. Which, for those keeping score, means prior to my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Planet of the Apes left a profound and indelible impression on my young that, growing up in the years of Reagan's "new" Cold War, engendered a love of post-apocalyptic fiction, even if also struck the Fear of the Bomb in my heart. Later, with the advent of cheap VHS machines and video rental stores, I was able to watch the entire series of features and later (one glorious summer, probably in '84 or '85) the made-for-television live-action series over a special week-long re-broadcast. I should also probably mention that my uncles (teenagers during the 60s and 70s) had left behind various PotA merchandising paraphernalia at my grandmother's house (drinking cups with Urko's image and whatnot), that I took great interest in during our twice annual trips to Montana.

I've always found myself inspired and interested by the Planet of the Apes franchise. I can remember reading the novelization of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (long before I ever watched the film) and being astounded at the color-coded clothing worn by the ape servants, and how that had (down the centuries) translated into the traditional species-specific garb worn by the Heston film simians; a little bit of silly sic-fi pseudo-anthropology that made me felt like some crypto-archaeologist making "discoveries." I remember the Ape Nation comic in the 90s (a mash up of two 20th Century Fox franchises: PotA and the James Caan film Alien Nation), and how (despite its ridiculous absurdity) it suggested all sorts of possibilities: Planet of the Apes meets Predator or Planet of the Apes meets Terminator (Dark Horse started publishing its various film crossover titles shortly after the release of Ape Nation).

[I should note I always though Ape Nation as a title was both clever AND hilarious]

But even though I've watched...and enjoyed...the recent reboots of the franchise (even the Tim Burton film to a lesser degree), I don't find them nearly as inspiring as the original stuff. Even if the "apes" don't look much like real apes, I don't find the original films to feel terribly dated. And for whatever reason (nostalgia? scarring of the childhood psyche?) I find many of the images from the original series to be incredibly powerful, emotionally. Maybe it's just the tragedy with which every one of the films ends? Perhaps.

Cool...but I prefer my apes with pants.
So now we have Apes Victorious, which I will probably buy. I find myself excited for a Goblinoid Games release in a way I haven't been since...well, ever, really. And not because I find myself interested in running a mixed party of gorillas through a dungeon or something. For me, there's the possibility of doing something like Gamma World (or rather, Mutant Future) but in a way that is much more focused. Yes, talking apes and psychic mutants are pretty "gonzo" but by directing can play (and run) a post-apocalyptic campaign in a way that offers more engagement, than your average laser-breathing toad RPG.

In my opinion, of course.

Plus, look at that cover! That may be the coolest RPG cover art I've seen since Vampire the Masquerade. I'd pick this up in hardcover just to have it sitting on my shelf. I'm hoping that option is available when the thing is finally released.

You see, it's projects and products like this that make it very hard for me to stay "monogamous" to a single RPG system or setting. I love the idea of stranded astronauts in a primitive PA world being hunted by gun-toting gorillas and trying to use their wits to survive, thrive, and possibly rebuild some semblance of a "human society." I know there are folks who share my enthusiasm for the subject matter. Just figured it was worth giving a shout out on Ye Old Blog.
: )


  1. Just for fun, have you seen this thread about the 1978 Planet of the Ape RPG, Simian Conquest?

    Simian Conquest thread on DF

    1. @ Zenop:

      I haven't...but I'll be sure to check it out. Thanks!
      : )

  2. That is indeed the actual cover! Art by Mark Allen.

  3. Awesome post! Thanks for mentioning the G+ Group

    1. @ Bill:

      Thanks for letting me join!
      : )

  4. "I don't find the Unisystem particularly inspiring."
    ACK! You wound me sir! Some of my best ever work was with Eden on Unisystem games.
    I have enjoyed TP. Maybe I'll redo one of the Terra Primate adventures I wrote for this new game.

    1. @ Timothy:

      Funny story (well, funny to me): I couldn't even REMEMBER the name of the system for Terra Primate, until I looked up who wrote it and whatnot (for the purpose of this post). When I saw "Unisystem" it clicked with me that this is the same favorite of ol' Mr. Brannan that I see write-ups for on the Other Side blog.

      So...I kind of expected to disappoint.

      TP is the only Unisystem game I own, and having never played it, all I can say is that I remember it as "serviceable," but not particularly exciting. I realize you've gotten a lot of mileage out of it, and (now that I've connected the dots) might take another shot at rereading it when I get back to the USA. Heck, I might even pick up the PDF of TP while I'm down here (it's only $5 on DriveThru), to go with my current "ape fixation."
      ; )

  5. I read the book when I was younger, before watching any of the movies. I only watched part of the second movie, and the end of the first one on TV at different times, thinking it to be the same, before reading the book. I bought a DVD collection and watched all of the movies with my wife a few years ago, though. And of cause I already knew the end of the first movie. I prefer the ending in the book, but won't slap spoilers here. I think the entire story in the book is supposed to be read from a letter in a bottle found drifting in space, now… It seems odd, and it's been years. Anyway, I do prefer the book, but really like the movie. The second and third movies are good too, but the “origins” story of the forth is a bit tame, I think. The fifth movie isn't spectacular either, though enjoyable to round off the alternate time-line created by the third, continued in the forth. I want to watch them again now :D

    Anyway, I agree that it could be a good campaign setting. A destroyed world with pockets of ape rulers (that's how I see the movies portrayal) and doomsday cults of, previously human, psychers hiding in old subway networks and military bunkers – any pure strain humans driven to an animal like state – though with the potential to regain civilization in time. Players could replace dead characters by finding cryo escape pods or some such. Or come across undisturbed pre-war cryo stasis bunkers. There need to be some form of replacement possible. But maybe the “savage” humans encountered might learn faster then the rest, being able to become a PC. Then the cry freezer Mc. Guffin is unnecessary. Helpful “human lovers” within ape society might be a fun option too, though I would prefer that as NPC's only.

    I'll check out Apes Victorious later some time, but will likely buy it when it hits the marked. Thanks for pointing it out, JB.