A few years ago at SnöKon I ran a scenario called “Ett hjärta av stål” (A heart of steel) by Terje Nordin. It was the first time I ran a scenario written by someone else and it was my first contact with the Norwegian indie game Itras By (Itra’s Town). Terje included a summary of the rules and setting with the scenario, and after I had played the scenario as player once it was not hard to run it the rest of the con. It was such a blast that when I came home I ran it again, over and over, until I had depleted the pool of players I know and everyone had tried this extraordinary game.
A few days ago I bought the game, and read through it for the first time and thought I’d share my findings.
Hard cover, 153 pages and lots of odd black and while illustrations by Thore Hansen. There is a lot to read in those 153 pages, but it is nice to read. Everything is written with the complete beginner in mind.
The setting is a surreal 1920’ies town called Itras By, sort of a City of Lost Childen RPG or Delicatessen RPG. The surreal is a big part of the game and both players and the GM will embrace the surrealistic feeling. The town is an island of (relative) order in a sea of chaos, and strange things come from the outskirts. The setting is very dark in places, there is an institution where insane doctors do human experiments on convicts. But also very cheery in a twisted way, Tolliver’s personal Death visits from time to time. Death wears a striped suit, a yellow hat and likes to play chess with the old men down by the river. The players are encouraged to cross out sections of the book that they don’t like (literally, there is even a section on how to choose a suitable pen for the purpose) and to add their own stuff,
The rules are simple, and a very fast read at only six pages. They revolve around two decks of custom cards. One deck is the Action-deck, if a character tries to do something his player asks another player to draw a card and narrate the outcome of the action. The cards contain phrases like “Yes, and…” and “No, but…”, i.e. the character succeeds and something extra that is beneficial to the character happens as well, and the character fails at the action but something useful also happens.
The other deck is the Chance-deck, every player (including the GM) may draw one card from that deck each session. The cards describe small games that the players play within the story or surreal events. The cards can be drawn to spice up a scene.
Itras By uses a traditional GM+players form. But the GM will have to be ready to improvise a lot since the outcomes of actions are dependent on cards, and since other players will narrate the outcomes unforeseen things can fall upon the GM’s prepared adventure.
There are loads of tips on how to run and play the game and examples of play.
The setting is excellent, there are so many little ideas in the text that can be expanded into full fledged scenarios that there must be stuff for years of gaming in the book. Also it is easy to explain the setting to the players.
The rules are excellent, there are not many, but they are very clearly explained, and the Chance-deck will add surrealism to any game, supporting the setting very well.
The form is excellent, or even beyond excellent, this is the best game I have ever read in that regard. It is very clearly explained how to play the game, and how to prepare both characters and scenarios. This is the game I would recommend to any beginners as their first game (at least gamers that are looking for a role playing game rather than a board game), they can read the game and get the idea of how to play without having a mentor to introduce them into the hobby.
Will I play it?
Strictly speaking I already did. But will I play it again? Yes, definitely. The scenario Ett Hjärta av Stål will be in my pack on every con I’m going to in the foreseeable future. And after having read the setting chapters in the game I’ve got a few ideas of my own.
itrasby.no – Official site of the game.
www.rollspel.nu/forum/ubbthreads.php/posts/692595.html – Post on Rollspel.nu where the scenario Ett Hjärta Av Stål is attached.
www.nordicrpg.fi/julkaisut/itran-kaupunki – Site with information about the Finnish language translation of the game.
A short postscript for the international readers, the game is written in Norwegian. I don’t speak Norwegian. But Norwegian is similar enough to Swedish that I can read it. When we played we actually used the original Norwegian decks without any translation, most players understood enough of them.