Thursday, November 5, 2009

Real Life Isn't 3e So Why Am I Buying Magic Items?

There are some reviews of some (extremely) inexpensive pdf dowloads buried in here, after the rambling intro, so, to help you find them, here's a table of contents:

Rambling Intro
Tome of "Forgotten Magical Items" [sic] Vols 1&2 by Jon Volden
Buck-a-Batch Magic Items 1, 2, and 3
Buck-a-Batch Potions 1, 2, and 3
Buck-A-Batch Magic Wear 1 by Creation's Edge Games
Green Devil Face 1-3 by Lamentations of the Flame Princess (James Edward Raggi IV)


So, y'know, not to harp on it or anything, but a few days ago I won this contest. The prize was a 31$ gift certificate to RPGnow...

...and therein begins a tale because I'm not joking when I say it took me longer to spend the prize then it did to write the adventure that won the contest. This is because I am everything that's right and wrong with DIY and old school RPGers: On the upside, I don't think I need to buy supplements and adventures and new products to have fun playing the game but, unfortunately, I don't think I need new supplements and adventures and new products to have fun playing games.

So, if you're an RPG publisher--especialy an indie RPG publisher like the people who sell their stuff on RPGnow--I suck. I haven't bought a game book since the early Clinton administration.

Nevertheless, I accept the challenge to spend 31$ at RPGnow.

So, how to do it...After about an hour of clicking around aimlessly I decided I needed some rules about what I wasn't going to buy:

Games? I am just now getting my players used to playing D&D semi-regularly, it'll be a long time before we get bored with it, and it'll be probably forever before we play a new game that somebody I know doesn't already own. Whole games are pretty expensive (especially considering how many are free now).

Adventures? There's so many and it's really hard to know which ones are good, plus it always feels harder to learn a new adventure someone else wrote than to write my own. The World's Largest Dungeon was tempting but:

A) It cost 4 bucks more than my prize
B) It has every official monster in D&D, but most monsters suck. So how much of it could I really use? Fiendish darkmantles? Seriously?
C) I've never heard anything good about it.
D) The point of the World's Largest Dungeon is to say you finished the World's Largest Dungeon, but I'd end up changing it so much it wouldn't be The World's Largest Dungeon any more, it'd just be a bunch of semi-connected maybe-good dungeons like I could've bought separately,
E) The idea of a giant dungeon that is a magical monster-prison created by supernatural forces is the lamest and most cop-out-est way you could've figured out to get every monster into the same dungeon and it offends me.

Monster books? I think I'm way too big of a monster snob to get any decent value-for-money out of a monster book I can't actually hold in my hands and look through before I buy.

So the only thing left is books of stuff--magic items and traps. In terms of inspiration-per-dollar-spent, books full of nothing but nonstandard magic items seem like a good bet, so: here's what I got, and here's reviews of it...

Tome of "Forgotten Magical Items" [sic] Vols 1&2 by Jon Volden

X.P. 100 G.P. $9.95 (each)

Upon initial inspection, these will appear to be ordinary pdf downloads containing (flavor-lite, mechanics-only) verbal descriptions of various magical items--the first book containing weapons and armor, the second, miscellaneous magic items. Anyone with an intelligence of 9 or higher will notice that the vast majority of these are redundant or uninteresting. However, d4+1 hours of sorting through the repetitive (dozens of magical-furnishing-that-if-you-sleep-on-them-give-you-the-benefits-of-a-full-night's-rest or cooking-utensils-that-provide-infinite-food), uninspired (endless "____s of _____" that just raise an ability score a point or two), cartoony (little things that instantly grow into dragons--or bears or eagles or tigers), jokey ("toga of party readiness") and inane (thinly-disguised contemporary technological objects like copy machines or tanning oil) entries will allow the DM to find d4x10 items that are actually interesting in their own humble way and might be usable in a game ("shoes of many footprints", an arrow with an eyeball on the tip that lets you see whatever the eye can see). Whether this is worth $9.95 is left to the DM's discretion.

Buck-a-Batch Magic Items 1, 2, and 3
Buck-a-Batch Potions 1, 2, and 3
Buck-A-Batch Magic Wear 1
(1$ each)
by Creation's Edge Games

The Buck-a-Batch magic item books are a lot like The Tomes only 3e style: while the Tomes have no graphic design and are peppered with amateurish illustrations, the Buck-a-Batches all have (the exact same) very professional-looking graphic design and no illustrations. The Tomes are rules-agnostic (though really more like rules-atheist) the BABs have detailed d20 rules including how to make each item. The lamest items tend less toward post-Gygaxian we-were-stoned-when-we-wrote-this lameness like the Tomes' "Axe of Accidents" and more to the post-WoTC we-were-playing-Final-Fantasy-when-we-wrote-this lameness like the "Potion of Enemy Adaptation (Undead)"--that is, the Buck-a-Batches err more on the side of soulless systemization and symmetry than on the side of hippie loopiness. If there's an Orb of Acid in a Buck-A-Batch pdf, you can be sure the next entry'll be an Orb of Electricity and then an Orb of Ice and an Orb of Chaos and an Orb of Law...etc.

The good items in the BABs, on the other hand, tend to be the kind of thing that could've just as easily come from the Tomes--a potion that, when broken, creates a mist over a certain area that has an entertaining variety of diffferent random effects on whoever walks into it, for instance. Wherein lies some sort of lesson about D&D aesthetics, I suppose.

In the end, though, I'd say the BAB's have a slightly better item-to-cost ratio than the Tome (about 5 decent items per dollar spent, with "Magic Items 3" being the bottom of the barrel).

Green Devil Face 1-3

By Lamentations of the Flame Princess (James Edward Raggi IV)

RPGPundit's review of Green Devil Face 1 is wholly accurate and kinder and more thorough than anything I could write here about the first issue of Green Devil Face. GDF 1 is an extended in-joke with stats, basically. I only bought it because it was bundled cheap with the other two.

Green Devil Face 2 and 3 are much different and much better. If you don't already know, they're basically collections of trap rooms or other gimmick-locations that Raggi and other contributors came up with. There's a dopplegannger-replacement room, a chess room, a mummy-and-tar-trap room, a-thing-suspended-over-an-abyss room, etc.

Whether or not I ever use any of the rooms--and whether the authors are yet competing on the highest gimmick-room-inventing-levels--I find the idea of a collaborative room-submitting e-'zine interesting. It's like an issue of Dungeon with only the good parts included. The traps are elaborate enough that you get a window into how different people run their games*, and they effectively set the ball rolling to think up your own ideas--or at least they did for me.

The first two cost 1.50$ and the last, cheapest, best one costs 1.25$ and contains a few ideas I might actually use.

*There is a certain trap room in one of the Green Devil Faces that is a marvel of expressionistic art--in the sense that it perfectly reflects the (online) personality of the contributor who wrote it (not Raggi): It will immediately strike anyone meeting it as unusual, intriguing, and sophisticated, yet it's so hard to tell what will set it off that it's tempting to avoid interacting with it altogether.

1 comment:

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

I'm stupid.

I buy a ridiculous amount of RPG stuff. Foolishly hoping to find something, anything. But it's all disappointing crap. Except Fight On! and some other basically amateur DIY stuff.