UPDATE (5 Nov. 2017):
Not that I’m any closer to running this game, but I did end up figuring out how to select a color range in Gimp, and updated the cards to look a little nicer. If you’re interested, pop down to the end of this post to see (and or download) the updated cards.
I may be the only person still interested in this, but one never knows, so here goes: this post contains a set of cards from a defunct game that I adapted for use by English speakers. They’re not beautiful (the original scans I had to work with were very basic), but you could probably print and play with them, or use them in digital form.
Which cards? What game?
ENGEL AND THE ARKANA DECK
Yes, Engel. I mentioned in August that one of the few RPG books I’ve had since Canada is the Engel RPG. It was, supposedly, a huge deal in Germany, until the game line kind of faltered and collapsed under the weight of what I’ve heard was convoluted and not-great metaplot.
Still, for all that, the game was still a major line in Germany. In English translation, not so much. Only four books were ever released in English: the core rules, a comic book introducing the setting, a (great, grim) bestiary disguised as a travelogue, and one of the splatbooks for the Michaelite order of Engel. Near the end of my stay in Montréal (sometime in 2001), I stumbled upon three of the four books very heavily discounted (along with the limited edition core rules for Æon: Trinity, which was also irresistibly dirt cheap). The only book I don’t have is the Michaelites book, which, incidentally, was the last to come out.
The English version of Engel was published by Sword & Sorcery, but that was basically White Wolf’s d20 imprint. 1 Since d20 was the big hot thing at the time, a lot of publishers hurried to put out stuff for the system… but unfortunately, Engel became kinda famous at the time for being one of the worst d20 rules implementations ever. (No, seriously: I’ve seen those exact words enough times to believe it, even if I’m far from a connoisseur of d20 rules systems.)
Perhaps as a response to all the criticism of the d20 implementation, Feder & Schwert (the German publisher) responded by making available online a PDF of an English translation of the “Arkana Rules system,” which was supposed to be included in the original rulebook but ended up on the cutting room floor. This system has been compared to Everway (though since I don’t know that system, I can’t comment on the comparison). Using cards for various things more traditionally done with dice in RPGs was pretty exotic at the time for middle-of-the-road gamers, I think: it was new to me when I heard about it, anyway. Perhaps it was even the flopping of Everway that caused Sword & Sorcery to stay clear of the mechanic? Still, people were so dissatisfies with the default d20 rules in the core rulebook that they expressed an interest in the Arkana Cards system, mostly because they loved the setting and wanted to use it, but weren’t really sure how. (Porting game settings or premises to a different system is much more of a thing now than it was then, after all.)
What Feder & Schwert made available online was The Arkana rules (PDF). It describes using a deck of 22 cards for resolution of player actions (as well as story prompts and so on). If you ask me, it’s a little vague and I’m not totally sure how I’d use it in play—it feels a bit like the cards are improv prompts, more than a mechanism for resolving player character actions, but I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, if you have the right group of players.
Now, that rules PDF has been widely available for years (though I’ve re-posted it above for anyone interested, to save you the trouble of hunting it down), but the cards were almost impossible to track down, despite the fact that an archive of mediocre-quality scans of them, in .tiff format, was emailed out to at least some of the interested parties who contacted Feder & Schwert to inquire about them. Presumably they figured print-and-play would be a satisfactory solution, at least for those few who wanted the cards right away.
The card .tiffs don’t seem to have gotten posted officially (or even unofficially) online anywhere but a single fansite that’s been lost to the ether for a while now (probably for more than a decade). I am guessing the cards weren’t shared online along with the card rules because Sword & Sorcery wanted to reserve the right to put out its own cards, and then later on they weren’t manufactured or shared because interest seemed insufficient for English cards to be made: it’d be understandable if nobody felt like redoing the cards for English-language players of a game line license that was cut short after only four books. It’s possible someone had qualms about copyright, as well, but I’m speculating now, and maybe they owned the art outright at this point. (I haven’t asked Eva Widermann, the artist who did the art for the cards—and she posted more of them on Facebook about seven years ago—so I don’t know… though it strikes me now that the images on her website are higher quality than the ones I’ve used for these cards… but she only includes a little more than a dozen of the original twenty-two on her site, and just twenty or so on Facebook, where the resolution is even lower thanks to how Facebook handles images.)
Whatever the case, the cards were not available unless you bought them in German… and you can’t really do that now. There is an online Arkana Generator, in German, if you fancy using that—they used homebrewed cards, not the original art. (They also have an English language one, but the card images are broken and don’t show up.) But if you wanted those official cards with the beautiful art on them? You were kind of out of luck.
The Challenge Proved Irresistible…
As I said when I last mentioned these cards, there wasn’t a really huge incentive to update them for English players. Probably almost nobody out there is playing Engel anymore, or interested in playing, and if they are, there are oodles of other systems that they could use to play it. The world has moved on to the point where even Germans experimented with playing using the Storyteller system conversion—the one Americans made because they hated the d20 rules so much—and elsewhere I saw a discussion among German players about the mechanics of a FATE conversion; they were working out how to use the FATE deck in place of the Arkana Cards. (Update: I don’t know if it’s the same people, but there’s a German-language Fate RPG podcast that discusses Engel here. There’s also rumors circulating that a FATE version of Engel is being worked on in German, and may possibly see release in English, too.)
Still, I was curious to see how the Arkana cards would look if they were updated, and after some effort last year, I tracked down a set of the .tiff files. Although (like I said) the original scans weren’t too hot, I did what I could to produce some translated cards that at least don’t look any worse than the originals. (You can see a set of the original .tif files here, if you want to compare. I actually declared pointless the very project I’m now posting, so there…) Well, considering it a learning experience with GIMP, I added the English to the German cars within a couple of hours’ of work, during breaks from writing my book back in September. (I consider it a learning experience: my skills with GIMP are now somewhat improved.)
I still don’t know when I’ll ever get a chance to actually play a game of Engel, but it’s nice knowing that when I do, I can get these cards printed off and use them, and see how the Arkana system actually plays as an experimental alternate resolution system. I mean, it was (so I’ve read) the most popular RPG in Germany for a long time, so it can’t be that bad, though I suspect the system may fall a little too far in the realm of collective-make-stuff-up-with-no-rules for my tastes. Inspiration is a good thing, but so are constraints, if you want a compelling game. Games need some kind of rules, after all.
About the translation: the cards have two meanings, like Tarot cards, depending on whether they’re drawn upright or upside-down. Those terms are all translated, except for the few cases where the original German word’s the same as the English. (Same goes for card names.) There are a few exceptions: a few of the German original words are only one letter different from English (like “Templer,” the German spelling for “Templar”). The exception is the card named The Book of Books, which is so long the original card was laid out along both sides, which didn’t leave room for a translated card name. In every other case, the German name ran up one side and I left it intact, adding the English translation on the other side. Without the original files used to lay out the cards, that’s the best anyone can do, I’m afraid—at least, anyone with my level of skill. (If someone has a suggestion about how to smooth out the bronze color, I’m all ears—that’s the part of the card that seems to have been the most messed-up in the original scans, and I’d be happier if it were a solid block of color rather than the weirdly textured mess it is right now.)
Legal disclaimer: nobody could make money off these cards even if they did print them up and try to sell them, and that’s not my intent anyway: they’re simply designed for print-and-play use, for the few people out there who’re still curious about a long-lost curio of the RPG hobby. I’ll report back if and when I ever get around to actually playing the game with anyone, but don’t hold your breath. The more I think about it, the more I suspect Engel would be an excellent alternate setting for Legacy: Life in the Ruins, the 2nd edition of which I’ve backed over on Kickstarter, and ultimately I’m likelier to try a conversion to that system, with art and concepts borrowed from Engel. (It looks like I’m not the only one to imagine an Apocalypse-powered Engel port might work well… and it looks very thorough and nicely organized, though since I can’t read Spanish, it’s of limited use to me. Maybe machine translation will help? Man, the author even put some actual play videos up on Youtube… in Spanish.)
Still, you never know: it might be fun to try this, at least, given that I’ve had the game books for years and years. If I do end up trying a game using the Arkana Cards, I might be tempted to get a set of the originals somehow—or, at least, high-quality scans of the originals—so I can do these up properly, now that I know how one would do it. But that’s not something for the immediate future, at least.
So, with only a little further ado, here’s two things:
- a .zip archive (containing .tif images of each translated card, the card back, an .xls file with a card list and some rough translations, and the PDF of the Arkana rules with slightly different translations of the card names and meanings), and
- a gallery of the card images converted to .jpg so they’ll display on this site:
ENGEL-TASTIC BONUS ROUND 1:
I forgot about this, though I stumbled upon it before: back in 2001, Engel actually had an official game soundtrack recorded and published by an English group/band called In the Nursery. You can listen to it (and buy a copy, if you like it) on Bandcamp.
It’s not really my kind of thing, being sort of New Age/Electronic, with tracks varying in how much they remind me of Enya, Enigma, or a generic fantasy adventure film soundtrack. But it’s still interesting that someone went to the trouble of organizing a CD to be made to go along with the game at the time. I have to assume it was Feder und Schwert, rather than Sword & Sorcery Studios, that did it, though that’s just a guess.
We seem to have come around, in the past fifteen years, to this idea: some games come with music, and others with atmospheric audio tracks for everything from wild forest jaunts and drippy caverns or dungeons, to spaceship corridors and wild mutant battles. The internet even has plenty of sound boards and background noise generators for RPGers, too. But I don’t think it was actually done for a lot of games back at the beginning of the millennium. High-speed broadband internet has made it a lot easier to distribute this stuff to gamers, I imagine, and that wasn’t as common almost two decades ago.
I wonder how many Engel GMs or players bought the album, or even heard about it at the time? How things have changed in just a handful of years: now, everyone would see the link posted on the group’s Facebook page, or the publisher’s website, and that would be that. (Of course, these days the music would probably be free as a Stretch Goal for the crowdfunding campaign, but that’s another issue altogether.)
ENGEL-TASTIC BONUS ROUND 2:
Hey, check it out: I almost forgot to include the fonts from the gamebooks, which were shared online when the game line shut down. There’s available from a German language fansite, but one was in an older format and another was slightly buggy. I’ve updated the three fonts, and you can download them here:
- ENGEL FRAKTUR, a wild calligraphic Fraktur font used on the cards, and in the books (link)
- Engel Title Font, an arcane-looking header font used on the cover and interiors of the core book and most other supplements (link to zip archive; the ttf within is the converted font)
- TfuTfu is another font that was used in some of the German-language books: it’s a distressed Gothic type (link)
If you poke around that German-language fansite (with the aid of Google Translate, if your lack of German is as profound as mine is), you’ll find all kinds of other stuff, including maps like this one:
… and links to fan art, fanfic, and other German-language game materials… but no cards! They weren’t available anywhere… until now. I’m hoping the low quality of the scans means nobody will mine my posting them, strictly for print&play use or interest for those who were at some point curious about the card system.
I’ll be back sooner or later with more on another old (but at the moment, no longer technically dead) game line. Ha, “dead.” Yeah, that could be seen as a sort of hint…
Updated Cards (5 Nov. 2017):
I figured out how to (effectively) select a range of colors in the Gimp image editing software: you just turn on Select by Color (from the Select menu) and then drag the cursor through a field containing the range you want, until all the relevant shades have been selected.
This allowed me to do up these cards a little more nicely. The color is a kind of dark copper, instead of golden—which I chose simply because the cards required a lot less work to clean up when I used this darker shade—and I also boosted the contrast a little on the black-and-white portions of the cards, to make up for the poor quality of the original scan sent out to English-language fans of the game by Feder & Schwert.
Anyway, I think they’re good enough to happily print and play with now, and I’m done messing with them. Let me know if you download them and play with them, and I’ll post an update if I ever do it, too.
Here’s a gallery of the redone cards:
And here’s an archive of the cards (along with the Arkana Rules and an xls list of cards) that you can print and play with:
However, Sword & Sorcery also published the Trinity Universe games, including one I just mentioned above, Æon: Trinity, even though they used the Revised Storyteller system instead of d20. Er, okay.↩