From the Narbonic Role-Playing Game: Mad Scientific Journals

Oh, the memories…

Stan Taylor put together the Narbonic role-playing game. We never published a completed version, but we did playtest a couple of campaigns on the Narbonic message board, and they were a lot of fun. I had never done any tabletop gaming, so the flavor text I wrote for it had pretty much nothing to do with any kind of practical game mechanics.

The photo is based on mad-genius cartoonist Jason Shiga‘s house during one of his legendary art nights. I drew it at Shiga’s place and included everyone who was there as a zombie. The zombies in the foreground are, from left to right, Shiga, Derek Kirk Kim, Lark Pien, Jason Thompson, and Jesse Reklaw. In the kitchen, I’m being attacked by Zombie Andrew. In Shiga’s actual house, the wall covered with a blueprint for the Kill-O-Tron was covered with a huge chart of all the paths in Shiga’s choose-your-own-adventure comic Meanwhile, which features a device by the same name.

You can try to make out the titles of the mad-scientific journals on the shelves yourself if you’re so inclined, but the best one is probably Popular Delusions, which is, of course, a reference to the classic book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Misemiotics is a reference to another piece of text I wrote for the role-playing game, wherein I went on at great length about the controversial field of Mad Semiotics, and how mad semioticians had wiped out dozens of their enemies by harnessing the force of powerful symbols like the number five and the smell of baking bread. How any of this was supposed to apply to a role-playing game, I have no idea, but it seemed funny at the time.

Dr. James Yee, mentioned in the text, is a reference to Jimmy Yee, a name Shiga sometimes uses for the protagonists of his comics. At one point Shiga actually did build a throne out of unsold copies of his awesome graphic novel Double Happiness. He sold them eventually.

It is entirely appropriate for zombies to own things with Grateful Dead logos.

7 thoughts on “From the Narbonic Role-Playing Game: Mad Scientific Journals

  1. It always feels like some sort of treat or present when we get one of these Sundays that’s missing from the regular Archives.

  2. Even if the role-playing game fell through, this little episode of world-building makes this one of my favourite Sundays.
    Meanwhile comes with my firm recommendation, even if it starts out a bit clumsily.

    I hope nothing bad happened to that Mad Semiotics flavour text.

  3. “so the flavor text I wrote for it had pretty much nothing to do with any kind of practical game mechanics.”

     Sounds like a White Wolf game.

  4. Pete: This one’s in the regular archives.

    Leon: What the hell are you talking about? Meanwhile starts with ordering ice cream, the strongest possible opening for a comic.

    • Okay, is there any chance of ever seeing the Narbonic RPG in any form? And if so, how much groveling at your feet would it take, oh wonderfully talented and magnificently creative one?

  5. Given that this Sunday focuses on the mad-science journals, this seems an apt place to post some remarks on these. In particular, I’ve always felt that there is something … off … about the whole Journal / New Journal (or J. Mal. versus New J. Mal., as they would appear in lists of references) origin story.

    That the editors get devoured by flesh-eating zombies of their own creation is not suspicious in itself — possibly one might find it surprising that the entire editorial board was at the same place when it happened, since most scientific journals have their editors spread out over different continents and mostly communicating via email, however this could be one with a more physically tight organisation — but it makes very little sense that those zombies, if afterwards deciding that running a journal of malology is their goal in undeath, should do so by starting a new journal. Everything they need is most conveniently available at the old journal: (evil) subscribers, a backlog of submitted (evil) papers to publish, and an Impact Factor (no evil modifier needed)! Unless handled poorly, it would typically take years before anyone would even notice the journal has undergone a change in management.

    The most common reason for creating a New Journal of something rather tends to be a conflict between the editorial board and the publisher (who, even in non-mad science, tends to be Evil): since the journal title is owned by the publisher, the editors can’t keep it if they have a falling out, but they can quit (if the publisher allows this) to start a new journal named almost like the old one and tell all their friends to switch to the new journal instead. That’s how you end up with the New Journal of something! In non-mad science, this happens without any need for flesh-eating zombies at all.

    So how do the zombies fit into this story? Obviously, they’re a deception! An evil mastermind (even if posing as a respectable publisher of scientific journals) cannot permit his minions to simply quit, can he? There will be leverage that could be exercised (or executed), should they try. The way out? Fake your own deaths! As new legal entities, the zombies are not bound by any no-competition clauses in contracts that might have been signed by the old editors. The lack of bodies, or (for better verisimilitude) brains in the bodies of the old editors, is easily explained away by: flesh-eating zombies. How come the staff of the New Journal knows so much about the workings of the old Journal? Well, it is common knowledge that zombies picks up skills and knowledge from the brains they eat, we published a study on that very matter last year. As long as nobody notices the tell-tale fact that only the editors of the old Journal have a need to start the New Journal, the scheme works.

    The fact that there hasn’t (as far as we’ve been told) been any attempts at retaliation from the publisher against this new competition does however suggest that the plot was even twistier: it’s a triple-cross. The plan to have zombies eat the old editorial board and usurp their positions was in fact hatched by the publisher, who wanted to cut salaries; this counts as double-crossing his employees, especially if using zombies they created. The editors then hijacked this plan to fake their own deaths, making it look to the publisher as if his double-cross worked, only to lose to whole gambit due to not having inspired any loyalty among the replacement minions. But that has to be regarded more as speculation.

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