Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nihilistic Motorcyclists! Who runs Bartertown? Chris Engle runs Bartertown!

One of my earliest posts on this blog concerned Nihlistic Motorcyclists, a game I've had in my collection since the mid 80's. Through the magic of Google, the creator of the game recently came across that very post here on OGGA and sent me an etheric-mail.
I was very pleased to hear from him, and he's given me permission to repost that missive here.
As follows;

I finally googled Nihilistic Motorcyclists and found your blog entry from last year. You are one of maybe twenty people who ever owned this game. Cool!

I the Chris Engle who wrote this dog so I can tell you what became of it and Angel games.

I sent out samples of NM to the distributors in 1986 and got a letter back from Richard Tulhoka (Bureau 13) who said he found a copy of the game at the bottom of a trash can and that the mothers of America would kill me for printing it. That made me think and then pull the game from the market. Only about 25 copies of the thousand I printed ever sold and I pulped all but a handful of the rest. I learned a useful lesson from that about not pandering to the taste of the lowest common denominator. Subsequently Angel Games ceased to exist. I went back to grad school and having been working in Mental Health since then.

My gaming interests didn't end though. In 1988 I invented Engle Matrix Games and started working on spreading that idea. Basically a game that could be run using words rather than numbers where players made up whole scenes and then rolled to see if they happened or not. Now we call that Indie Role Play Gaming but in 88 it was just weird and no one got it. I persisted though and am now happy that my ideas are so old hat. I started Hamster Press in 1995 and have had a booth at Gen Con since a year after it moved to Indianapolis. I do my own production so I can afford to put out all my games but I'm now working on how to move to selling in stores. My story games are about murder mysteries, Cthulhu horror, spy, and dungeon crawls. All very tame and main stream.

When it comes to NM I am amazed at how well the scenario and flow of play hold up. It still works today. I haven't run a game of it in over twenty years (It really is too sick) but I don't see anything now that would say it couldn't still work and creep people out. For all the sick and twisted games that have come out since then I haven't heard of one that made people act as badly as NM does. It is a pure game - it is a behavior mod token system for heinous crime on helpless victims. I learned from this that players do what they are rewarded to do so after that I reward good behavior. With NM I stared into the void and it stared back at me. That was enough for me.

Oh and I learned that you NEED to proof read. I misspelled "police" for god's sake!

Chris Engle

BTW Now I live down outside Bloomington and work at IU. A group of us get together once a month and play Euro Games at the Union. Stop by my booth at Gen Con and say hi.

Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

He's exactly right when he says there aren't any other games out there that so promote heinous actions on the part of the players. It's really astounding, the depths to which players will sink when there is an actual in-game rules reward system for committing atrocities.

The game does play fast and smoothly. It's in the category of rpgs referred to as "beer & pretzels games" today. It's probably more of a "whiskey and human ears" game in play though.

Nihilistic Motorcyclists did have a valuable lesson to teach, in an oblique manner. I like to think that I'm a nice guy, over all. I am introspective and contemplative by nature, and after playing this game a few times, I sort of felt bad about myself.
It's just an RPG, and I'm not of the camp that promotes the idea that RPGs are about self exploration. But I have to admit that Nihilistic Motorcyclists forced me to admit to myself that I'm capable of at least theoretically conceiving acts of no small evil.

No shocker there, today. But, as a teen we're all still learning what it means to be a human being, and when you realize you yourself have as much potential for evil as the next guy, it can be a bit disorienting.

I let chris know that I did gain something from the experience of playing Nihilistic Motorcyclists, expanded insight. This sure isn't a game to play with your kids though. It probably shouldn't be played by anyone actually. At least not by anyone with "issues" it might aggravate.

If you excised the Victory Points system, it would make the core of a nice bare bones post apocalyptic game.

When I asked Chris if I could use his email in a follow up post, he replied thus;

Sure you can. Please stress that after I realized what the game did I pulled if from the market. It just brings out the worst in people but in both our cases is seems to have steared us towards good.

I know its wrong but I can't help but feel a little pride that I wrote a game that remains more out there than anything that has followed. It was a very pure design (commit crimes for victory points - though at the cost of looking crazier and crazier) which is why it was so far out. Kind of "Kill Puppies for Satan" like. I'm glad I started using my powers for good (as the super heroes say).

Chris Engle

PS: If you come to Gen Con look for the booth with all the stuffied animals and dragons at. We pay the bills with plush.

I want to say thanks to Chris for letting me use his replies here on the bliggety-blog, and for creating that horrible,horrible game in the first place.
Nihilistic Motorcyclists has a place in RPG history now. A dark,scary place.

It also strikes me as hilarious that plushies are a part of Chris's business now. Maybe some commemorative Nihilistic Plushies could spice up the booth?
Who wouldn't want a nice fuzzy Toe-Cutter to take home from the con?

Clicking on the Nihilistic Motorcyclists tag in the Old Guard Guide sidebar will bring up the original post on the game from feb-09.


Baron Greystone said...

I think I may have seen a copy of this in a shop somewhere, back in the day. Reminds me of my experience with Vampire TM. I'd always loved vampire stories and movies, and when the game first came out I picked it up and ran a campaign for a while. I decided to make things pretty grim. The player vampires were cold unless they'd fed recently. Their sense of touch was pretty much numbed most of the time. They were damned souls going through the motions of life, killing to maintain their empty existence. The players liked to play out their hunting and feeding. After a while, I ended the campaign. It ended up being too dark for me! I think the game probably plays better if it's more "superhero-ish" in feel.

Hamster Press - Chris Engle said...

Putting out Nihilistic Motorcyclists was a good learning experience for me but I'm glad I pulled it off the market so fast.

Have to say it influence my views of later "dark future" games. In Cyberpunk when confronted when running a medical evac helicopter viewing a client fighting a stranger I (as a good suit) ordered our sniper to shoot the other guy because he wasn't our client. (It was a simple cost benefit analysis.) When they tossed me out of the helicopter the next day for being too inhuman I thought they missed the full evil of managed care. Then years later in a Vampire game I ran a black female vampire who was turned before the Civil War. She was now a prostitute who would only kill white men - she was expressing her anger by "getting whity". I've always found that working in psychotherapy that reality is always more intense and nasty than any dark futures.

That is why I run games about saving the world, or catching the bad guy, or achieving an objective. It is more where I want my imagination to live.

Chris Engle

E.G.Palmer said...

Thanks for commenting,Chris. If I do manage to make Gencon next year, I'll certainly stop by your booth to say hi.

By the way, have you ever been to Inconjunction? It's usually around the fourth of July weekend at the Marriot on the east side of Indianapolis. It a small general sci-fi and fantasy convention with some gaming.

Ragnorakk said...

Wild! I remember rubber-necking at your original post - pretty amazing that Mr. Engle found a devoted player to boot!

uwarr said...

It should've been pulled off the market for all the misspelled words in its gaming literature. C'mon, guys. You were college students? You've got to spell better than that.

Catacomb librarian said...

I would really love to have a copy of this, paper or pdf.

Unknown said...

Yeah, a missed opportunity :( I'm sorry for my sake you pulled such a unique piece off the market.

Now largely it is an unoriginal d20/gurps whirlpool. (Not that I mind those systems.)