What I think of when I think of Simulacres

In the mid-Nineties, whenever I felt like inventing a setting from scratch and did not dare to do with my then meager GURPS library, I asked a friend to lend me Simulacri, the Italian translation of the first edition of Simulacres. It was simplistic in many ways (in hindsight, I would have been better off with later editions), but was light, elegant, and (mostly) made sense. Simulacres was a French RPG, created by Pierre Rosenthal at some time in the late Eighties as a universal system. Its two classic editions were published as special issues of the gaming journal Casus Belli in 1988 and 1994, respectively. The game had an unusual “character ontology” for its time. Instead of your classic attributes/abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence…) you have four Components (Body, Mind, Heart, Instinct), four Means (Action, Perception, Desire, Resistence) and a number of Realms (Human, Mechanical, Mineral, Vegetal, Animal). The basic formula for action resolution is to roll under a number obtained by adding one Component to one Means and one Realm with two six-sided dices. Skills, here called Talents, refine the system by enhancing the test values by a certain positive modifier for characters who know the skill. Characters without a skill can still attempt the check but with a negative modifier (usually, -2), like default values in GURPS. NPCs are treated differently, so as to ensure the appropriate level of challenge (Weak NPCs, for instance, have few hit points and always roll against 6 ). Combat is handled in a comparatively original way as an active contest between the fighters, so that the margin of success (rather than fixed target numbers) decides the exchange. The 1994 edition of the game, besides ensuring solid rules for character advancement, also introduced a pretty detailed system of body locations for combat.

I do not know much about the Simulacres publications in France. As far as I know, a remarkable number of settings and rule expansions were published either as standalone books or on Casus Belli itself. Particularly appreciated seem to have been Capitaine Vaudou (a pirate setting), SangDragon (classic fantasy) and CyberAge (the then omnipresent cyberpunk setting). In Italy, its publisher Nexus tried to make it the in-house system for all sorts of experiments. Special attention was given to licensed adaptations of comics/manga. Among them, I have at some point or another owned or at least possessed Légendes des Contrées Oubliées and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, both nice little booklets with honest crunch and fluff. Unlicensed, but mechanically more interesting, was the magic system Un Gioco Originale (“An Original Game”) published in appendix to the Italian edition of the manga Bastard!!, which involved an elaborate use of poker card decks to represent mana pools. A book-length supplement, Inferno, made you play Judeo-Christian demons, in a style not unlike the American In Nomine. By far the most ambitious Simulacres-based endeavour by Nexus was Il gioco di ruolo di Ken il guerriero (“Ken the Warrior: the RPG”), which, around 1993, adapted the much beloved (in Italy) Hokuto no Ken manga and anime series. The definitive version of the game was published as a box set one year later. For the occasion, the seventh edition of Simulacres was adapted and expanded to create the first anime-style martial arts RPGs which I am aware of. The game setting has often been criticized by HNK purists as “unfaithful”, but it must be said that mechanically the effort was huge. Martial arts were handled in a way at once reasonably tactical and very spectacular, with an emphasis on “special effects”, that is, the sort of gruesome consequences of a hit in the setting (limbs exploded or severed etc). Dozens of special techniques (most of them lovingly modeled on the source material) were detailed in depth.

If you want to give the game a chance, (a) you must be able to read French, since no English translation seems to exist and (b) you must content yourself with a non-generic version of the core system written for SangDragon, which creator Pierre Rosenthal distributes freely on the Internet. The reference edition, for those really interested, is in the Special Issue (Hors-Serie) number 10 of Casus Belli, which used to be freely available on a certain website few years ago, so you might still be able to track it down. Last month I managed to buy a physical copy of this very booklet at a very reasonable price, and it is now a little treasure of mine. The Hokuto no Ken RPG is now freely distributed by a group of fans, and the core rules have been lovingly retyped and OCRed. They are, alas, in Italian only, but if you happen to be able to decipher the language of Dante, give it a try.

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