Imagine a city where reality is shaped by dreams, imagination, and ideas; where talking apes and bison-headed gentry idle and toil alongside human beings; and where magic is as real electricity and the crystal radio.
Welcome to the world of “Itras By.”
Authored by Martin Bull Gudmundsen and Ole Peder Giæver, “Itras By” is a card-based tabletop role-playing game that gives players the freedom to improvise and go wherever their imagination takes them. And just as the human mind can take us to the most fantastic of places, “Itras By” is expanding its figurative borders beyond its 1920s Europe setting.
“The Menagerie” is the expansion to “Itras By” that gives birth to a new region called Imperia Manila developed by Tobie Abad—the Pinoy game designer behind two-player RPG “A Single Moment,” and who was part of the team that brought us “7th Sea: Pirate Nations.”
“‘Itras By’ is a surreal role-playing game set in a city reminiscent of Europe in the 1920’s,” explained Tobie. “Imperia Manila stands close to the Fringe Zones, having slipped through the fitful dreams of an elderly man named Juan.”
According to Ole, Imperia Manila shows “how the setting can be shaped by impulses from other regions and mythologies.”
Manila in a dream
“‘Itras By’ was one of those games that caught my eye when I first heard about it,” said Tobie. “I wrote a very honest review on how much I loved the game back in 2013. When Ole was thinking of creating a supplement for it, he remembered me as being one of the first to review the English release of the game when he saw my name pop up announcing the release of a game I wrote. It seemed almost kismet, for me, at least.”
From the get-go, Ole was transparent about his eagerness to see something Philippine-inspired in the “Itras By” expansion.
“He stressed what was most important was that it is something we, as writers, were inspired to write about,” said Tobie. “And admittedly, that’s a wonderful sense of creative freedom that doesn’t always happen when one is tapped to write for a supplement.”
Tobie incorporated numerous elements of Philippine culture, mythology, and history into Imperia Manila.
“Imperia Manila’s entry into the world was through the dreams of Juan Tamad,” he said. “Tikbalangs, Manananggals, and Tiyanaks find new life in the setting in unexpected ways. A Tikbalang rules over the place as datu from a crumbling concrete building in the shape of a face within the confines of a Balete tree.”
He added: “Manananggals are Titas who spend their time gossiping while leaving their lower bodies left on display on balconies as they wear the latest fashions. Even our devotion towards the Virgin Mary, our penchant for cursing (with words and supposedly through magical means), and our love for food and festivals are elements that make up the unique little area called Imperia Manila.”
While Tobie is proud of all his creations, there are two things about Imperia Manila he is extremely happy with.
“I will admit to having a soft spot for the Manananggal Titas,” he said. “The idea of them as social butterflies just strikes me as something so close to home and yet so visually unique. But my favorite would have to be Inang Bai, who was inspired by Carlo Vergara and his fantastic creation, Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Inang Bai was a lonely woman in Imperia Manila who could not find love until a star fell from the sky and embedded into her forehead. I do hope he liked that homage.”
The incorporation of Imperia Manila into “Itras By” is likely to give rise to plenty of interesting scenarios.
“I'm hoping to hear from people who have tried exploring Imperia Manila,” said Tobie. “I’ve already read one review which celebrated the setting as the most interesting since he noticed they were drawn also from old pre-Spanish myths. I’m excited to hear from others who might try the setting and find other ways the stories within relate or connect with them.”
Working with Tobie encouraged Ole to learn more about the Philippines, as well as made him more curious about its history and mythology.
“As a journalist in a Northern European country, what I’ve usually written or read about the Philippines is strongly predicated by current-affairs stuff,” he said. “But before I was a journalist, I was a student of history, so this was a nice, quirky way to get a little more context. The thought occurred to me that the Philippines feels more ‘Itras By’ than I knew when I made the suggestion, because of the particular, historical blend of cultures, being situated at the crossroads of a lot of international trade and travel for centuries, etc. It was interesting to see how well Tobie's contributions, through that filter, fitted with the rest of the 1920s mélange of ‘Itras By.’ ”
Gaming for a better world
Tabletop role-playing games serve many purposes. They entertain, provide a satisfying social experience, foster imaginative thinking, improve problem-solving skills, and raise our curiosity about various cultures and legends. “Itras By,” however, performs an additional service.
Part of the book’s proceeds go to international humanitarian non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders, a.k.a. Médecins Sans Frontières.
“[It’s] a small way of merging our love for gaming with our desire to help make the world a better place,” said Tobie.
“The project is kind of a hybrid,” explained Ole. “Twenty percent is what Martin and I get from the profits of every English core-book sold. Our ‘royalty’ or ‘creators cut.’ [RPG download store] DriveThru and printers get some, and [publisher] Vagrant Workshop gets some… What we decided with ‘The Menagerie’ was that, instead of trying to divide those 20% between our 40 contributors (which would be a pointless exercise for this kind of niche product), we’d donate that to Doctors Without Borders. I suggested them because it's an NGO I have a lot of respect for, that do important work in many regions.”
The “Itras By” core book describes the game’s goals thus:
“The end is to free the thoughts from their usual patterns. The intention behind the game is to liberate the impulsiveness and creative power of the players, maybe even rendering them a slight bit wiser.”
With its uniquely bizarre themes revolving around surrealism and the imagination, and its developers’ resolution to give back to the real world, “Itras By” seems set to achieve those goals. — BM, GMA News