As someone who loves RPGs and has worked at designing, writing, and publishing them for the past twenty years, naturally I try to read RPG products from time to time. Partly this is out of professional interest, partly in search of tidbits I can use in the games I run, and partly for the fun of reading through a well-written, well-put together product.
Since I know that the dozen or so of you out there reading this blog include a few gamers, I thought I’d post some quick “reviews” of RPG books I’ve read recently and enjoyed. Hopefully some of these will spark your interest as well and you can pick up a copy. ;)
First up is Progenitors, Greg Stolze’s superhero setting using the Wild Talents rules; it’s published by Arc Dream. Greg was kind enough to give me a copy at GenCon last year.
Progenitors is a hefty tome, weighing in at 376 pages. And what a 376 pages it is! The central premise of the setting is that superpowers are basically transmitted like a disease, getting progressively weaker (or odder) in each successive “generation.” From that core idea Greg has crafted a rich, detailed setting that features a month-by-month history spanning most of the last several decades of the twentieth century, a host of intriguing NPCs, gadgets and technology, and other such fun stuff.
As one might expect from the man who was in part responsible for Unknown Armies, the Progenitors setting is a pretty dark one (or perhaps one should say “realistic,” as superhero settings go). It’s not the sort of thing I would run on its own; that’s just not my group’s style. However, it would be a great “alternate Earth” to visit — the focus of a major story arc in a campaign that uses some other setting on a regular basis. Even if you don’t want to go that far, the central premise of “superpowers as contagious illness” makes for a great plot in just about any superhero campaign.
So in short — if you like settings that are for superheroes, well-written, detailed, or even all three at once, you should definitely give Progenitors a look. Besides, Greg says if he sells enough copies he’ll let me out of this cell.
Goblin Markets: The Glitter Trade
One of the best bits of swag I brought back from my recent trip to the Great Northwest was Goblin Markets: The Glitter Trade, by Phil Brucato and some of his partners in crime. I had the chance to hang out with Phil and catch up one evening, and he gave me a copy of this book. Nominally it’s written for his Deliria Urban Fantasy RPG. But since most of the book consists of discussion of what goes on in goblin markets, and descriptions of specific NPCs and markets, it’s readily usable in any modern-day campaign that involves magic regardless of which rules are involved. For example, reading it on the plane home I had a couple of ideas for scenarios for my STORMlords campaign, which isn’t anything like the default Deliria setting.
As you can guess from the title, the book deals with the subject of goblin markets — places where the creatures of Faerie engage in commerce with mortals in one way or another. (The term’s inspired, of course, by Christina Rossetti’s poem of the same name, which is frequently mentioned throughout the supplement.) Whether you’re looking for an enchanted item, a dream, a medicine to cure a deadly illness, or simply enlightenment, you can probably find it at a goblin market... assuming you’re willing to pay the price.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book; it kept me captivated through a couple long flights and an extended layover in O’Hare International. The writing is spot-on — full of information and ideas, yet light enough that you go through it at a steady pace and enjoy yourself in the process. Like I said above, it gave me some ideas for my own campaigns before I’d even finished it. If I stopped to think about it I could probably use many parts of it in various Superhero, Fantasy, and Urban Fantasy campaigns; it’s a rich mine of inspiration. If you run or play in any sort of game involving magic (particularly in modern-day settings), you owe it to yourself to get a copy of Goblin Markets.
Designers & Dragons
This massive tome (over 400 hardbound pages) is a collection of Shannon Appelcline’s carefully-researched articles on the history of every major (and many minor) companies in the RPG industry over the past forty-some years. (Fair disclosure time: like many industry professionals, I helped by critiquing articles about companies I’m familiar with, specifically Hero Games and Last Unicorn Games.)
Each chapter of this book is an in-depth look at the history of a specific RPG company and its products. It’s full of fascinating details about how companies came to be, prospered, made mistakes, and either overcame them or eventually left the RPG marketplace for various reasons. If you have even the slightest interest in the history of the RPG hobby, you should pick up a copy of this book — it’s compelling reading. Each chapter has references at the end to chapters about related companies, making it fun to sort of skip through the book at semi-random rather than read it cover-to-cover. If I have any complaint with it at all, it’s the absence of an index; a book like this both needs and deserves one.
As I understand it, Designers & Dragons was produced in limited numbers by Mongoose Publishing and there are no plans to reprint it. So you should move fast to get yourself a copy... if they’re still available at all.