Synnibarr vs WotC

Yeah, I played Synnibarr with Raven as well, as a teenager. Met him at DragonFlight convention at UW in probably '91 by randomly signing up for a session he was running, enjoyed it, played another, bought the edition that was then for sale (big blue three ring binder, all black and white printing), and signed up for sessions at another convention or two over that year/the next, and then joined his home group in '92, I think, playing regularly with him until my family moved back to NH from WA in May of '93.

Raven worked part-time at Wonderworld Books & Games in Burien, WA, which was the Seattle suburb where we lived, so my younger brother and myself often met up with him at the store so he could drive us over to his apartment for the session. Or my mother might drop us off, or sometimes another player would pick us up and bring us home on his way to/from his own place. If you look a the 1993 edition (or just the wikipedia page on it) you'll see it's printed by Wonderworld Press, which was the same company/owner as the game store. That was a pretty great game and comic shop, BTW. Still have my Tundra Press edition graphic novels of The Crow I bought there. I think I got my copy of Pauli Kidd's Lace & Steel there too.

Before we moved back, the 1993 2nd edition had been released, and both my brother and myself are in there named as playtesters, with our PCs named. Still have my autographed copy at home. Before we moved away, Raven made a point of accelerating his campaign schedule a bit to get us to 50th level and onto our God Quests, for our PCs to get the chance to win godhood. Which they did. I have a vivid memory of one of, or THE last session on the actual God Quest (we played a few times after, with our characters as deities, as well) in which Raven's RPing of a vicious, intimidating antagonist brought me (a stressed-out teenager whose parents were in the middle of a divorce and was imminently about to move away from most of my friends and back to the East coast) to actual tears. It was an intense and amazing session. I still retain some lessons I learned about GMing from him.

I think he told me that our PC gods were included in the one expansion/supplement book it got, but I never picked up a copy. Which I should probably remedy.

Raven was a wonderfully creative and charismatic GM (or "Fate" in Synnibarr parlance). He had fronted rock bands and made a living for some period busking on the street. I saw him wolf whistle at a woman across a street and throw her a grin, and she grinned back and waved. This was with him standing next to his crapbox rusty car and two gangly awkward teenagers, just as we were leaving Wonderworld for game night. But he was a pretty handsome fellow, with a muscular, gymnast's frame, a thick late-80s/early 90s black mullet and mustache, and a brilliant white smile flashing underneath the latter. He was a good and generous dude, and something of a pretty good mentor figure to me, a homeschooled teen, at the time. An example of someone trying to live a swashbuckling, creative, romantic life and be both friendly and manly, as well as generally kind.

I never heard of a conflict with Peter Adkison from him, as far as I remember, but maybe that happened in '93 or something after I moved away.

Raven and I reconnected on FB a few years ago, and he sent me playtest files for the new 3rd ed of Synnibarr by email, which I feel guilty over not reading yet.


I mean, it's hard to say what counts as the "first cross-genre game". IIRC Jon Peterson's work documents that 1977's Superhero: 2044 was the first superhero RPG, and that digging into the history, it actually started as the author's D&D campaign which transitioned to a modern/superheroes setting by the PCs passing through a gate, before becoming an actual "full" superhero RPG.

But definitely by the time I met Raven and bought that Big Blue Binder 1991 edition he had been working on Synnibarr and running it for YEARS, and a decade isn't at all implausible. I met a bunch of his other and former players. Mostly stoners and metalheads, and generally nice folks. They talked about the various iterations of the rules, including one where you could make up spells on the fly if you could compose a rhyming incantation at the table, and Raven would work with you on the spot for what it did.



Yup. Exactly. Seeing his reactions to BLM and CHAZ on FB since we reconnected there a few years ago have been disappointing. I've "debated" with him a little about some of his stuff, but I don't want to get into politics here. His crazy post about the Ensure seems related. Some mental health struggles, it appears, along with extended economic ones, combining with his longstanding penchant for dramatization and storytelling, to exaggerate what he's been through. I don't doubt that it's based on his reality, though. I know he's gone through some really rough years, a house fire where he lost most everything, etc. I suspect something similar is going on with the Adkison grievance. Dramatizing and exaggerating a real event to the extent of distorting the facts.


No, you've misread him. He's making a ballpark estimate of how long it would take to write all that IF one were to do it in one pass, to support his claim that he'd been working on it for many years prior to the publication of the 1991 edition, since the rules do indeed seem to have gone through several iterations prior to that.


Yup.
There is a strong chance we've met in that reality of 30 years ago. My group play tested the expansion, but weren't name (some of that was fallout from me leaving for the Army, I think).
 

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Raven was a wonderfully creative and charismatic GM (or "Fate" in Synnibarr parlance).

I think your story highlights how much difference there can be between GMing and game design. There's often an assumption that the two skills cross over. And, to be fair, it was much more true in the early days of RPGs. But Synnibarr is also proof of how it is sometimes impossible to capture that GM lightning in a book, no matter how hard you try.

I bought a copy ages ago, though it was quite creative even if it didn't work as a whole. Fun in a 'Rifts, but only more so' way. Even if the system didn't work it was worth mining for ideas. I don't see why it gets put up there with stuff like F.A.T.A.L. and RaHoWa that's actively hateful.

There are different types of "bad". Synnibarr and FATAL are different types of extreme, but it's hard to deny that Synnibarr is anything other than extreme. And it doesn't help that both Synnibarr and Raven lean hard into being "edgy".
 

darjr

I crit!
Oh I guess that wasn’t the name, it is “Shamans”.



@Mannahnin

I’d like to add that I’m not sure it’s much better.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I think your story highlights how much difference there can be between GMing and game design. There's often an assumption that the two skills cross over. And, to be fair, it was much more true in the early days of RPGs. But Synnibarr is also proof of how it is sometimes impossible to capture that GM lightning in a book, no matter how hard you try.
Yes, there's a lot of truth here. I tried running a campaign, very briefly, after moving back to NH, but did not have nearly the GMing chops to make it work, even though I had the (parodically complex) rules down pretty cold, as an RPG-obsessed teen.

There are different types of "bad". Synnibarr and FATAL are different types of extreme, but it's hard to deny that Synnibarr is anything other than extreme. And it doesn't help that both Synnibarr and Raven lean hard into being "edgy".
I don't think the 1991 or 1993* editions of Synnibarr are edgy at all. Definitely not by the standards of the 90s.

It is kind of a precursor to SenZar, maybe, in being MAXIMUM ACTION and POWER.

(*or, now that I remember, the 1989 or 1990 edition I also had)
 
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
More memories emerging.

I remembered that the edition in the big blue three ring binder I bought at DragonFlight actually predated the 1991 edition. The 1991 edition has a Dameon Willich cover, with a reasonably absurd cheesecake Winged Warrior on the cover in a see-through chainmail top. The 1993 one has a comparatively polished and professional-looking cover with a Ruby Drake/Red Dragon making a breath weapon attack on a pair of adventurers on a hoverbike.

The binder was navy blue, with a black image of a dragon/drake on it, the same image as in the third piece of art I'm attaching here. I'm not sure if that edition was from 1990 or maybe 1989, but Raven definitely sold and distributed it around Western Washington State. So there was definitely at least one edition offered and distributed for commercial sale prior to the 1991. It's the same dragon that was in the Synnibarr ads in Dragon magazine, so it does look like he was offering those by mail order sale too. I should troll through Dragon issues from maybe 1988-1990 and see if I can find the first Synnibarr ad.

Oh, also, I found Raven's account of the beginning of Synnibarr on the website for the game. He talks about his first exposure to RPGs with Metamorphosis Alpha in 1976, and how that set the seeds of him starting work on, or at least getting the idea for, Synnibarr in '79. How long it was after that before he first produced a written set of rules I don't know. Or how long after that he started printing runs of copies and selling one of those editions. It might not have been until the "Big Blue Binder" edition, or it might have been earlier. I don't have any evidence either way.

 

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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
@Mannahnin

I’d like to add that I’m not sure it’s much better.
Definitely not ideal from a modern perspective, but my recollection of the Shaman class/culture in the game (both from the time and occasional revisits to the book in the subsequent years) are that it was intended to be respectful. Definitely a bit fetishized, romanticized and idealized, like you'd see in say a Marvel or independent comic of the period.
 

Wicht

Hero
I bought a copy ages ago, though it was quite creative even if it didn't work as a whole. Fun in a 'Rifts, but only more so' way. Even if the system didn't work it was worth mining for ideas. I don't see why it gets put up there with stuff like F.A.T.A.L. and RaHoWa that's actively hateful.
For what it's worth, I don't think it really gets lumped in with F.A.T.A.L.
Nearly everyone agrees it is, if nothing else, a serious effort and not actually bad in any moral or ethical way.

It is rather a demonstration that some people's imaginations write checks their innate talents have a hard time cashing.

Synnibar Introduction said:
"By the time Synnibarr was finished and ready to take off, the stellar storm was only 2 months away. But before Synnibarr could depart, a child was born whose heart was as black as hell itself. The young child was born a Mutant. Her powers were unknown and never fully understood.

After she was born, she aged to adulthood within 15 minutes. She appeared to be drawn, for no known reason, to the fusion reactior as a moth is to a light. Once in contact with it, she attempted to draw and contain its power, but this proved too much for her abilities to handle; the resulting disaster almost forestalled the launch of Synnibar.
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
Both Synnibar and FATAL are bad games, but bad in completely different ways. Synnibar is "bad-but-fun movie you'd see on MST3k," the type where the movie, dreadful as it may be, is as much fun as the riffing. Pod People or Alien From L.A., for example.

FATAL is more like a gore-filled snuff film where you'd get arrested just for watching it.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
An example is that Raven points out that there are 1,400 spells and abilities. FOURTEEN HUNDRED. Those represent small things like a martial artists doing a leg sweep to a godling calling lightning down on a city to a mecha shooting missiles and that same godling.
He's not wrong that he was ahead of his time there: That's essentially the same way 4E or MMORPGs work: a special ability is a special ability, whatever you label it.

That and $5 will buy him a cup of coffee, though, and little more.
 



jolt

Adventurer
I have the most recent edition (whatever that is), but it's packed away somewhere and I don't feel like looking for it. I got it a couple of years back on the secondary market for a good price. It's wild and crazy and completely over the top, but it never feels multi-genre at all. It's for the same reason that putting lightsabres and X-Wing fighters into D&D doesn't suddenly make it a space opera game.

It's all Extreme Power Action!!! but the genres are little more than descriptive tags bolted onto damaging abilities. Whether something is martial arts, or high tech, or psychic powers etc. has little bearing on anything. It's superheroes on LSD. And not just just Marvel and DC either but also 90's Image. Imagine trying to play GURPS but how many points you have to build your character is randomized and every setting book ever written is simultaneously in play. So your group of Valkyrie ninjas could be protecting Witchworld from Clan Tremere vampires while trying to guide the Horseclans out of the Village into Aquilonia with the worldship flying through the Thranx Commonwealth and trying to avoid the undead Klingons in their cloaked Autoduel vehicles (and that was just session 0). But it does all of that while never feeling like any of those genres.

As written, the rules are a mess. It feels like a series of stream of conscious notes that haven't coalesced into a finished product yet. I did run the game once and it worked. But you have to be willing to do a freeform "rulings not rules" kind of game and get everyone to buy into that. You also have to be willing to ignore any sentence that begins with or ends with, "But that's not how it works". It's an interesting curiosity piece, but is not remotely worth the asking prices on the secondary market.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This thread really makes me want to pull my copy of Synnibarr (a beat-up old copy of the second edition that I picked up for a song at a used bookstore a few years back) off the shelf and page through it some more. I knew it was widely regarded as one of the worst RPGs ever made when I bought it, but somehow I don't think I ever appreciated just how it had earned that reputation.
 


Dausuul

Legend
Yeah, I played Synnibarr with Raven as well, as a teenager. Met him at DragonFlight convention at UW in probably '91 by randomly signing up for a session he was running, enjoyed it, played another, bought the edition that was then for sale (big blue three ring binder, all black and white printing), and signed up for sessions at another convention or two over that year/the next, and then joined his home group in '92, I think, playing regularly with him until my family moved back to NH from WA in May of '93.

Raven worked part-time at Wonderworld Books & Games in Burien, WA, which was the Seattle suburb where we lived, so my younger brother and myself often met up with him at the store so he could drive us over to his apartment for the session. Or my mother might drop us off, or sometimes another player would pick us up and bring us home on his way to/from his own place. If you look a the 1993 edition (or just the wikipedia page on it) you'll see it's printed by Wonderworld Press, which was the same company/owner as the game store. That was a pretty great game and comic shop, BTW. Still have my Tundra Press edition graphic novels of The Crow I bought there. I think I got my copy of Pauli Kidd's Lace & Steel there too.

Before we moved back, the 1993 2nd edition had been released, and both my brother and myself are in there named as playtesters, with our PCs named. Still have my autographed copy at home. Also before we moved away, Raven made a point of accelerating his campaign schedule a bit to get us to 50th level and onto our God Quests, for our PCs to get the chance to win godhood. Which they did. I have a vivid memory of one of, or THE last session on the actual God Quest (we played a few times after, with our characters as deities, as well) in which Raven's RPing of a vicious, intimidating antagonist brought me (a stressed-out teenager whose parents were in the middle of a divorce and was imminently about to move away from most of my friends and back to the East coast) to actual tears. It was an intense and amazing session. I still retain some lessons I learned about GMing from him.

I think he told me that our PC gods were included in the one expansion/supplement book it got, but I never picked up a copy. Which I should probably remedy.

Raven was a wonderfully creative and charismatic GM (or "Fate" in Synnibarr parlance). He had fronted rock bands and made a living for some period busking on the street. I saw him wolf whistle at a woman across a street and throw her a grin, and she grinned back and waved. This was with him standing next to his crapbox rusty car and two gangly awkward teenagers, just as we were leaving Wonderworld for game night. But he was a pretty handsome fellow, with a muscular, gymnast's frame, a thick late-80s/early 90s black mullet and mustache, and a brilliant white smile flashing underneath the latter. He was a good and generous dude, and something of a pretty good mentor figure to me, a homeschooled teen, at the time. An example of someone trying to live a swashbuckling, creative, romantic life and be both friendly and manly, as well as generally kind.

I never heard of a conflict with Peter Adkison from him, as far as I remember, but maybe that happened in '93 or something after I moved away.

Raven and I reconnected on FB a few years ago, and he sent me playtest files for the new 3rd ed of Synnibarr by email, which I feel guilty over not reading yet.


I mean, it's hard to say what counts as the "first cross-genre game". IIRC Jon Peterson's work documents that 1977's Superhero: 2044 was the first superhero RPG, and that digging into the history, it actually started as the author's D&D campaign which transitioned to a modern/superheroes setting by the PCs passing through a gate, before becoming an actual "full" superhero RPG.

But definitely by the time I met Raven and bought that Big Blue Binder 1991 edition he had been working on Synnibarr and running it for YEARS, and a decade isn't at all implausible. I met a bunch of his other and former players. Mostly stoners and metalheads, and generally nice folks. They talked about the various iterations of the rules, including one where you could make up spells on the fly if you could compose a rhyming incantation at the table, and Raven would work with you on the spot for what it did.

And when I first encountered Synnibarr I had never seen anything like it. I was a fanatical Dragon reader, and always perused all the ads as well as read the reviews, and an obsessive game store shelf browser. I read or at least examined and skimmed every game I could possibly lay eyes on. I had GURPS and liked it. I started in on Palladium with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness. But while BRP and GURPS were universal systems intended to handle nearly any genre, usually that was one genre at a time, or maybe mixing two. Synnibarr's maximum overdrive mix of fantasy, sci-fi, superheroes and martial arts all rolled into one heady ball of craziness seemed unprecedented.



Yup. Exactly. Seeing his reactions to BLM and CHAZ on FB since we reconnected there a few years ago have been disappointing. I've "debated" with him a little about some of his stuff, but I don't want to get into politics here. His crazy post about the Ensure seems related. Some mental health struggles, it appears, along with extended economic ones, combining with his longstanding penchant for dramatization and storytelling, to exaggerate what he's been through. I don't doubt that it's based on his reality, though. I know he's gone through some really rough years, a house fire where he lost most everything, etc. I suspect something similar is going on with the Adkison grievance. Dramatizing and exaggerating a real event to the extent of distorting the facts.


No, you've misread him. He's making a ballpark estimate of how long it would take to write all that IF one were to do it in one pass, to support his claim that he'd been working on it for many years prior to the publication of the 1991 edition, since the rules do indeed seem to have gone through several iterations prior to that.


Yup.
So... he was basically Eddie Munsen?
 




MGibster

Legend
I have sold RPGs for nearly 30 years, and if I have ever heard of this game, I have long since forgotten it.
If you asked me to give you a list of RPGs my memory, Synnibarr wouldn't make the cut as I'd never think of it. But when someone mentions it I remember it. One of my friends owned Synnibar, but we never actually got around to playing it. Kind of like Battlelords of the 23rd Century.
 

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