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By Krister Sundelin
March 19th, 1964, was not a Thursday like any other. Worldwide, people were glued to their television sets or flocked to home appliance stores to watch the first Moon landing. It didn’t matter that it was in the middle of the night in Europe.
Just two days earlier, the gigantic atomic rocket Kaguyahime – affectionately called Monsieur Renard (“Mister Fox”) in France because of its orange-red paint job – had launched from Tanegashima space port.
At 04:50 Greenwich Mean Time, the joint Japanese-French project reached its climax as the rocket gently touched down in Mare Nectaris. Just under two hours later, Commander Toyomi Ichi and Captain Yvette Collard stepped off the elevator and onto the Moon’s surface.
Distorted by the long distance from the Moon, the first words from the lunar surface echoed around the globe in broken English:
“We make this step together, not as conquerors, not as representatives of Japan and France, but as humans from the planet Earth, and as explorers of a new world.”
Most people in Europe were late for work that day.
The world of The Troubleshooters
The Troubleshooters is Helmgast AB’s new action-adventure roleplaying game. Heavily inspired by French and Belgian comics, the game is set in an alternative mid-1960s, where the characters have exciting adventures all over the globe.
The official start date of The Troubleshooters is January 1965 in the age of science, progress and cool cars. For the most part, the history in The Troubleshooters is not that different from the real world. It is still a fact in The Troubleshooters that the World Wars happened, and Europe is divided into a Western bloc and an Eastern bloc since the war. But there are some differences.
We are not interested in simulating history, and we don’t want to constrain you by a fixed history that you can’t change. Instead, we want you to have the freedom to be wrong and do things your own way without being bothered or hampered by know-it-alls.
One of the best ways to tell people that it’s okay to be wrong in a historical setting is to showcase some demonstrable differences. That way, nobody can complain about you being wrong. In The Troubleshooters, that event is the Franco-Japanese Moon landing in March 1964.
Just as we’re not picky about the timeline in The Troubleshooters, there isn’t a fixed geography either. The world is generally like our own, but we take liberties with it by adding imaginary countries. Some examples include the island kingdom Sitomeyang in South-east Asia and the People’s Republic of Sylveria in Europe.
Sources of inspiration
Imagine a world where you travel the world like Tintin, unmask heinous villains like Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang, unravel mysteries like Nancy Drew, do heists like Carmen Sandiego, stop evil masterminds like Spirou and Fantasio, solve crimes like The Saint, and even catch spies like The Man from UNCLE. That’s the world of The Troubleshooters.
French and Belgian comics are the main inspiration. If you think Tintin, Yoko Tsuno, Spirou et Fantasio, or Franka, you’re definitely in the right ballpark. Many of them and other similar European comics or bande dessinée are still published, and many of the older albums are being translated and republished as anthologies in English.
It is sometimes said that roleplaying games are fantasy shopping. Planning for and getting skills, abilities, magic items and whatnot is not that much different from shopping.
In The Troubleshooters, there is also another element: fantasy tourism – going to exotic and exciting places without ever leaving the room.
Fantasy tourism is a huge part of The Troubleshooters, and also a part of the comics tradition that The Troubleshooters is inspired by. The adventures created by the great comics artists Carl Barks, Hergé and Hal Foster have one thing in common: they were inspired by National Geographic. Even though they rarely left their hometowns, they still managed to portray stories that took place across the entire globe thanks to this inspiration, and they brought us along for the ride.
The zeitgeist of The Troubleshooters
If you have to pick two words to describe the zeitgeist of The Troubleshooters, then it is probably “progress” and “optimism”.
The Second World War has ended and Europe has been freed from the yoke of National Socialism. Europe has largely recovered and rebuilt, and science and technology promises a better future for everyone, no matter which side of the Iron Curtain they live on.
Through music and mass media, a youth culture is emerging and counterculture and anti-establishment views are in the air. The conflict in Indochina is catalysing a peace and anti-war movement. And in the homes and on university campuses, women have found their voices and taken their place in society.
Against this stands the Octopus, a secretive and sinister organisation with roots in the Thirty Years War in Europe. They have operated in the shadows for a long time, but the world order that they orchestrated was disrupted with the world wars. Now they are preparing to emerge from the shadows to openly dominate the world!
Things that don’t (or almost don’t) exist
The era of The Troubleshooters is different from the world of today. The world is more analogue, more mechanical, more electrical, and nowhere as digital as today.
Cell phones: There aren’t any cell phones. There are radio telephones at best: they use VHF or UHF to connect to the regular wired telephone network at a receiving station. Radio telephones are not only expensive, but also heavy. Most of them are built into vehicles.
The majority of people only have a landline connected to a single telephone in the home, usually in the hall of the house. In older apartment buildings, there is one line to the doorkeeper’s desk, which tenants can use for a fee. Companies have several landlines connected to a switchboard, where receptionists connect incoming calls to the right recipient.
EU: The European Union hasn’t been formed yet. There is the European Economic Community (EEC), but it is still more of an economic trade agreement than a political union, and it only has six members.
Fast food franchises: Fast food does exist. However, it’s mostly in the form of diners, pubs, kiosks or stands. Fast food franchises are mostly an American phenomenon, so don’t expect double golden arches on the horizon in every city in Europe.
Home video: If you want to watch a movie, you go to the cinema. If you’re lucky, you can get some movies on film which you can play back using a projector.
The internet: The idea of linking computers together is primitive at best. It is done by the military to link radar sites to command centres, and by airline companies to book tickets and hotel rooms. It is certainly not an information or communications network. If you want to reach someone, you don’t use email or social media: you call them, visit them or send a telegram or letter. If you want to look up something, you don’t google it: you visit a library.
Things that do exist!
Long distance telephone calls: With the slow decline of telegraph services, long distance telephone calls are becoming more commonplace. You can instantly recognise them by the low hiss on the line. The easiest way to place a long distance call is by the use of the operator of the telephone company, who will do the routing to the destination. Long distance calls are often expensive.
Longwave radio: You can set your ordinary radio to the longwave band and turn the dial until you find a transmitter half a continent away. The sound quality will not be fantastic, but you will be able to listen to the greatest hits from the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Space stations: Well, there are two: the US Aurora, and the Soviet Budushcheye-1. Aurora is a science platform, consisting of cylindrical sections joined in a cross-like pattern. It is strictly off limits to non-US Air Force personnel, causing many to speculate that it is a secret weapons platform.
The toroidal Budushcheye-1 was similarly off-limits to non-Soviet citizens, but that limit has now been lifted. In theory, it would be possible for a non-Soviet astronaut to visit Buduscheye-1.
Steam trains: There are actually still steam trains running, even in Europe, although steam locomotives are being replaced by their diesel and electric counterparts. In the undeveloped world, steam trains are also chugging along. Many narrow-gauge rail lines take locals, goods and adventurers into forests, jungles and mountains.
Telegram: Although you can place international telephone calls, it is still often easier and cheaper to send a telegram if you want to reach someone on the other side of the planet. In the big cities, telegrams are generally delivered within the hour. Telegrams are paid for per word, usually by the sender.
Youth culture: Until recently, you were a child, and then you were an adult. Starting some time after the war, the youth began to be seen as something of their own, unique group – to a great extent because they are an attractive market. As an example, portable record players, and the pop music and rock’n’roll they play, are aimed at youths. But this goes both ways: youth are starting to influence culture directly. The Japanese edition of Time Magazine has even listed school girls collectively among the 100 most influential Japanese persons in history.
Spy tech and weird tech: “Spy tech” is defined as extreme high tech beyond the market’s most cutting edge technology. If it is available in the real world today, but not in the 1960s, it’s probably spy tech. Mainframe computers are not spy tech, only very very expensive and non-portable. Hand-held computers with wireless networking (i.e smartphones) would be spy tech. Spy tech also includes gadgets depicted in spy movies from the era – laser cutters, wire shooters, radio tracers, listening devices, and holograms. “Weird science” is anything beyond us today, either because it is too advanced or just comic book technology. This includes human-like robots, anti-gravity, mind control projectors, clones, or ray guns.
In the next post, we’ll talk about the rules of The Troubleshooters and how we wrote them.