Wednesday, January 09, 2013


Imagine a world, if you will, where anything is possible. A world where magic dominates, where alchemy has been resurrected, and high technology is an ancient secret. A world where physical combat elevates to heights undreamed of. Where immortality can be gained, and moreover, where there is power to be had. Such a world is Synnibarr
Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? Up until that very last word, I'll bet you were getting excited and/or interested. Because it sounds like a kickass setting.

I have a history with the game, its publisher, and its writer (the infamous Raven c.s. McCracken). It's not a particularly deep history, but it's a bit long.  A bit too long to share over on Google+, I think. So here it is.

I first started gaming in the mid-Eighties.  The first game I played was, like many of us, Dungeons and Dragons. It was still first edition (and may have been the Advanced version - I honestly don't recall).  It was fun, but some of that fun was probably the allure of the Forbidden.  As it is, it wasn't long before I had played a few other games, such as Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes.  Games which have (mostly) stood the test of time.

As the years went on, I played more and more games.  In the late nineties, I discovered the internet.  I became very active on the forums. And there I learned about Synnibarr, at the time being touted as "the worst game ever published." So I tracked down a copy at a place called "Wonderworld Books" in Burien, WA.  Wonderworld has since closed its physical storefront, but, at the time, it was really good.  It had everything.  Including both (!) editions of Synnibarr and the Ultimate Adventurer's Guide which was published for second edition.

I picked the books up for a fraction of their cover price, and moved on.

Years later, I look back and I see that the books were published by "Wonderworld Books," and I am pretty sure that the game store co-published it or provided some other form of significant assistance.

The game was bad.  The setting showed a great deal of potential, but the system was completely incomprehensible. And the second edition was not a significant improvement.

I say the setting had potential - it reminded me of RIFTS with the restrictions removed. It takes place on a "Worldship" - it was a planet with engines hurtling through space. It is revealed in the book that it was not just any planet, it's the planet Mars, which has been hollowed out and fitted with engines.

The setting has mages and cyborgs and undead and ninjas and werewolves and ... and ...  Yeah.  It's that kitchen-sinkish.

The monster section includes several monsters which have become infamous like the flying Grizzly bears with eyebeams.

It's astounding.  And it's thick.  There is a lot in the books. Really a lot. As in "more than I can get through in a week."  Even at my most voracious, I had trouble getting through it.

Then, in 2003, I went to Westercon. While perusing panels, I stumbled across a board game design panel where one of the panelists was "Raven c.s. McCracken."  I had to know.  His bio from the books has become somewhat legendary, too. I knew I had to go to that panel. Because I had to know.

In person, Raven doesn't come across as a self-absorbed nut.  He, in fact, had some really good ideas about board game design. Some very solid ideas that would apply to RPG design as well. It was a fun (and useful panel).

I have no idea why he seems terminally unable to integrate his own ideas.  Because he can't.  His games are inevitably a mess.

Why is this coming up now?  He's kickstarting a new edition of Synnibarr. I've backed this at the $80 level, because I want copies of this. Because, despite everything, I do love this game. And I really wish I knew why.


  1. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Did you see his rant this week on his ks about a seattle bar shooting he witnessed?

    "I was out to sing at my fav place, as I do most sundays, and a man shot our door man, Greg, in the thigh and proceeded to enter the bar and shoot a woman. We have since learned from court documents that, while she claimed to not know the shooter, she in fact is the mother of his nine month old son!! A baby she abandoned to come down to our bar! As you shall is a shame she survived...the shooter, James Anderson should be mourned! The woman's family publically appoligized to mr. Anderson's family! Some of us are gathering tonight at the twilight and are planning to sue her... The police have her child... This story is far from over..."

    Mccracken thinks murder is a good thing, something heroes do? And he seems happy his game can model one?

    "just a slice out of an adventure game developer's life... Btw. The game mechanics model the situation perfectly..."

    Guy seems really off the charts to me and not in a good game-playing kinda way.

    1. I saw that. And it ... well, it saddens me. It means I won't be paying for any more Synnibarr.

      And, for those of you who didn't see it (and the comments that followed):

  2. Anonymous2:56 PM

    I sure wouldn't want to be Mccracken's girlfriend or hang around with a dude who thinks it's a great thing to shoot up a bar to get back at someone any time he's pissed at a person. Dont think I'd want to be anywhere near when he loses it - kind of makes ya not want to go to a con or anywhere he's going to be if that's how he thinks he should act when people make him angry (seems I saw someplace on the web where he's lost his temper at people who make fun of his game - is he gonna pull a piece next time??)

  3. Anonymous12:35 PM

    Hey - have you checked out his fb page? 1st he says everyone in the place was scared to death of the guy when he pulled a gun & mccracken's wife ran out the back to get cops with both of them telling the cops to shoot the guy down like a dog. Next they say the guy wasn't really trying to kill anyone by shooting people, that he was just misunderstood & that you need to feel sorry for him because he was never really a threat to anyone but the "evil evil woman", and Mccracken's going to write a book about how her lies made the guy come back in & shoot her & the bouncer. Then Mccracken's back to saying it was the biggest trauma of his life not knowing if he and everybody in the bar were going to die and he & wife have now got PTSD. What is WRONG with this dude??? Seriously?? The shooter can't be both a scary murderer out to kill a whole bar and a hero fighting for personal justice at the same time... Or maybe he can in Mcracken's head?? I'm starting to see why his game doesn't make sense to people if he can't even tell if someone is or isn't trying to kill him in real life. Dude can't seem to decide whether the guy didn't care who he shot at to get some kind of revenge or if he should be treated as a hero for not putting up with his gf's lies and shooting her to prove it. Story just keeps changing like he's trying to figure out which one's the best book to write and makes him look good no matter what really happened. wow!

  4. Anonymous11:21 PM

    Ok so I am personal friends with one of the original testers of Synnibarr. I am not here to tell you the game is amazing and awesome. Because it is one of the worse RPG's ever written. But to me that's what makes it awesome. It's like watching a B rated movie.
    But, when it comes to Raven McCracken and the other creators of the game, drugs back then were very prevalent and easy to come by. I know from the tester who is a close friend that it was a heavy siding factor in the help of making the game. I mention this because people are asking what is wrong with him. Well the side effects of drugs from his younger years probably had a lasting effect on his mental capacity.

  5. Hummm? Well, aren't we a bunch of haters. The story is out on the net... The poor guy had no choice... The girl ruined his life, so he shot her...did not try to kill, then committed suicide by cop. Raven was right in his assement. You might want to re think your opinions.

  6. None of you know this guy... He is a legend. Who else created his own role playing game, has been a TV host, have you seen him sing? Check out YouTube... He is a gymnast, and martial artist a rock star, has made one of the kind world's first games... And you hack on him? None of you even come close to this greatness. And on top of it all, he does charity work as a Jedi Knight!

    None of you will even be as cool as a Raven c.s. McCracken.