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Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi Review as a Roleplaying Game Setting

I just finished Summerland and it is one hell of a book. The protagonist is a hardworking woman spy in the “Winter Court” which is the living spies who are on the hunt of an NKVD mole in the British “Summer Court” which are the dead spies who operate in the land of the dead known as Summerland. How do you catch a spy that is already dead?

I will have some spoilers below but this book is not only a great story but it would be a fantastic setting for an RPG particularly a World of Darkness Mage/Wraith game or as a recursion in Monte Cook’s The Strange setting. Or an even more interesting possibility as the main world in the Strange just introducing it a bit earlier with the Quickened being the dead or ecto-warriors.

The book is just a hair over 300 pages so it is a quick read overnight but is packed with lots of ideas. Characters explain about how a few geniuses use technology to communicate and then alter the land of the dead. If you are familiar with Mage: The Awakening then this book is basically what would happen if a Sons of Ether used Spirit Magic and made the technology mainstream and available in the late 19th century.

Imagine World War I with ecto-tanks technology that alters sensitives (mages if we use the World of Darkness terminology) to channel soul life force into weapons of war allowing a single person to lay waste to those lacking this death science/magic. Hannu even taps into a bit of Leibniz with Luz as the hardcore of a soul leftover when a person fades away after death which reminds me of the Monad concept either as the luz or as the part of the self that leaves all that behind depending on how you look at it.

The big baddie for most of the book is the “Presence” which is the ghost of Lenin who absorbs other souls into his mind becoming kind of a like an AI super hivemind. Stalin is also in the book as a rebel seeking to overthrow the Presence and create chaos that he can prosper in.

Everything in the land of the dead is made from the dead if it lasts for very long or it can be fed Vim (yes makes me think of vis from Ars Magica)  to evade fading. Dreaming dead can create things in their dreams and wake up to them in their rooms which is interesting. It is implied that artistic ghosts can do the same while awake too. Characters can teleport if they have the coordinates to the location but it is tiring and causes a loss of Vim. If the dead don’t get enough Vim than they start to fade becoming less aware and less of themselves so Vim I assume becomes a sort of currency provided by pensions if you’re lucky and if not you’re in trouble.

With the evolution of the Science of Death, they figure out how to create a “Ticket” which allows the knower to survive and flourish in Summerland without fading like the majority of people end up doing after they die before this advance. There are also aetherbeasts as the soul energy is not limited to just humanity.

A fun campaign could be as ghost-warriors on the periphery of Summerland defending it from raving monsters of either animal origin or psychopathic origin as some killers survived the Fading without a Ticket before the Science of Death developed. The Fading can be resisted with Vim energy or the actual souls of others wholesale rather than just the energy the souls create ie Vim.

Summerland has its own geometry and limitations such as Faraday cages preventing travel when the ghosts are on the co-location of the deadlands and earth. The dead can see the living and their emotions at times with the perceptive dead able to glean ideas, emotions, and motives from those they observe.

As a GM it would be easy to use the setting anywhere from the late 19th century when the first ecto-radios or during World War I with the rise of death science altering people into weapons of war and death or the 1930s when the book happens.

Certain other aspects of the story remind me of the Old Ones in Call of Cthulu or the Planetovores from The Strange. A Void Engineer/Sons of Ether/Dreamspeaker Mage/Wraith campaign as mentioned above would be pretty interesting especially if you add the Nephandi concept which Stalin would really fit quite well.

I really hope someone snags the IP for an RPG ectopunk/deadpunk/ghostpunk campaign because there is a lot of potential in this setting for some good roleplaying.


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