Back in 1992, in DRAGON magazine #186, I wrote a review of several horror games that intrigued me—including Aquelarre (the first edition). I believe the game’s allure is evident in that old review, but I concluded that the American public probably wasn’t ready for it. Today, 23 years later, I’m working on an English translation. So what changed?
Wow. So much. Where should I begin?
Two decades ago, there was pretty much only one path for getting a game to the public: distributor to retailer to gamer. The only way to build awareness was by advertising. And printing options were few. Sure, some small-press hobbyists sold a few copies of innovative titles in plastic bags by mail or at conventions (see Pentacle in that same review). Or they printed a few copies at Kinkos (see Lost Souls in that review). But the major publishers had to commit considerable money, time, and resources for a title to stand a chance. And even then, it was a gamble.
Today, the Internet makes it possible for publishers to directly contact the public, including retailers, to find people interested in a particular title. Crowdfunding allows those people to champion things they like. Printing options are many, and they reach around the globe. Even publishing resources are easier to manage: Consider that while TSR had to maintain a building full of people and equipment to get anything to print, Stewart and the rest of Nocturnal Media and I are now able to work from home offices.
Notice that my old review said the “American public.” Today we’re speaking instead of an English-language edition. As mentioned above, publishers are now able to reach a world-wide audience. That’s hugely significant.
But over the past two decades, even the “American public” has changed. In 1992, TSR and other publishers were still worried about public backlash over the “Satanic” influence of role-playing. Gaming was fairly insular. It had not yet spread far from its white, male, wargaming roots. Even D&D still reflected its origins in tabletop miniatures combat.
Today, nerd culture is actually celebrated. Fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films abound. Movie and TV stars (Vin Diesel and Wil Wheaton, for example) publicly share their hobby. Eurogames are prominently displayed in mall toy stores, with multilingual text on their covers. Game conventions are now no longer merely wargaming and tabletop role-playing, but just as much about computer gaming, card gaming, comics, and cosplay, with a diversity of races, genders, and cultures represented.
At the same time, Latino culture in the US has become ever more evident. My childhood love of Spanish is finding welcome in “Para español, oprima el dos” phone messages, bilingual medical fliers, and bilingual signs at my local Home Depot.
In 1992, Aquelarre was in its first edition. It is now in its third. During the past two decades, it has gained polish while remaining true to its original historical and mythological origins, and it has built not only a devoted following in Europe, but also a considerable interest among English speakers everywhere. People want an English edition as never before.
In 1992, I was still not far from my childhood religious origins. TSR’s concerns about a public backlash resonated with my own residual evangelical Christianity. I was still coming to embrace a career in entertainment—for the joy I saw it provide people—despite a former pastor Puritanically chiding it as “America’s sinful preoccupation with fun.” (Obviously, he never read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.)
Today I’m over that. Life can be hard, and having some game time with friends is invaluable. Plus, role-playing fosters all sorts of social skills. Aquelarre is about heroes facing deadly evils and difficult moral choices. And even if you play a truly evil character for a few hours, that can be enlightening.
All things considered, I still believe 1992 was not a propitious time to publish an English version of the game.
Ah, but 2016—that’s a different story. The time is perfect to join us in an Aquelarre!