Review: Dragon Empires Gazetteer

So, instead of reading that pile of philosophy and classics I had in reserve to keep me entertained over the holidays, I ended up whiling away the hours by reading Paizo’s new Pathfinder RPG sourcebook Dragon Empires Gazetteer off my laptop screen. Since it’s a rare example of a gaming supplement I’ve actually read cover to cover, I figured I might as well tell people what I thought about it.

Dragon Empires Gazetteer is the inevitable fantasy Asia counterpart to the fantasy Europe and fantasy Africa of Avistan and Garund, covered in the much bigger Inner Sea World Guide. The fantasy Asia continent of Tian Xia is covered in the space of 64 pages between soft covers, and it’s actually pretty good.

Tian Xia is divided into 28 regions. These include states, such as the not-Japan of Minkai, the military dictatorship of Amanandar ruled by an ethnically Taldan warrior aristocracy, and the tengu nation of Kwanlai, as well as wild regions like the Forest of Spirits, the Wall of Heaven mountain range, and the great Valashmai Jungle. Each of these gets a page of description. We also get a few new races. The regular lineup of demihumans can be found in Tian Xia, but only elves and half-elves are found natively.

The kitsune are fox shapeshifters, who are able to switch between a humanoid fox form and a human form that allows them to pass as humans. The racial description hints at racial kitsune feats in Dragon Empires Primer that would enhance their shapeshifting abilities and allow them to turn into a fox. We also get the nagaji, who are a big and burly servitor race bred by the naga who rule Nagajor; the tengu birdmen; the monastic, reincarnated samsarans from the mountains of Zi Ha; and the wayangs, a race of tricksters from the Plane of Shadow.

The races are the beginning and end of rules items in the book, with the exception of the Moon subdomain (of the Darkness domain) dropped into a sidebar in the religion chapter, and the rest of the book is devoted to setting information. The rules items, I suppose, has all been relegated to the Primer. In the religion chapter we also get the list of deities worshiped by the people of Tian Xia. Some of these, like Desna, Pharasma and Abadar, are also found in the Inner Sea region, but most of the lot are local, such as Daikitsu, the goddess of agriculture and patron of kitsune; Shizuru, the Empress of Heaven; Yaezhing, the Minister of Blood; and my absolute favourite, Sun Wukong.

I dunno, I just like the idea of there being a deity of doing stupid crap while drunk. I’m now trying to figure out a way to combine worship of Sun Wukong and Cayden Cailean into the same player character.

In addition, there’s ten pages or so on life in the Dragon Empires. Languages, a few notes on trade, what’s life like for the regular Joe.

Dragon Empires Gazetteer ties in with the Jade Regent Adventure Path, currently in its fourth volume and just entering Tian Xia, and Year Three of the Pathfinder Society campaign, where the year’s metaplot is tied with Tian Xia and the first modules set there have just come out. There’s also an upcoming Pathfinder module Ruby Phoenix Tournament, which I believe will also work as the culmination of the PFS metaplot for the year.

There is one error that I noticed in my PDF. When discussing the lost empires of Tian Xia, the book says that the map on the opposing page should depict the extent of these empires at their height. However, the map depicts the current political makeup of the continent and notes points of interest within regions. Then again, a map of the fallen empires of Tian Xia would mostly consist of three large, overlapping blobs in the middle, forming the Lung Wa, Shu, and Yinxing empires.

The Lay of the Land

Tian Xia is a big continent that, until about a century ago, was dominated by a succession of big empires. The latest of these was the Lung Wa imperium, which dominated most of the landmass until disintegrating around the same time Aroden died. The reasons or circumstances of Lung Wa’s collapse are not elaborated upon, which struck me as a strange and annoying thing to omit. There is a suggestion that it might be connected to Aroden’s death (who was not worshiped in Tian Xia). The three largest splinters are the militaristic Lingshen, the bureaucratic Po Li, and Quain with its thousand heroes and monasteries of martial artists. In addition, there are smaller splinter states that are culturally farther away from the Lung Wa heartland. There’s Amanandar, which is essentially a colony of Taldor. There’s the aasimar nation of Tianjing. There’s Chu Ye, which was overrun by oni, and Kaoling, which was taken over by hobgoblins. There’s the sorcerer-ruled Dtang Ma and the pacifistic Hwanggot, which regained their independence when Lung Wa fell. Also, there’s Bachuan, which is ruled by filthy totalitarian communists.

Not all states in Tian Xia are built on Lung Wa’s ruins, though. There’s Hongal, which is a steppe ruled by nomads, and the feudal state of Minkai. They’ve got samurai. There’s also the elven kingdom of Jinin, whence comes the coolest line in all of Dragon Empires Gazetteer: “Ruler: Shogun Jininsiel Ryuikiatsu of the Bamboo Court of Silver Leaves (LG male elf samurai 15)”. There’s the pirate isles of Minata, the naga kingdom of Nagajor, and Xa Hoi, which is a real empire ruled by dragons.

Overall, we get a good spread of different countries. They’re not all nations of hats, but they’re different enough that I can more or less remember their names and schticks after one readthrough. The regions are interesting, and there’s adventure in the air. They’re not living in vacuums, either, but interact with one another – Po Li, Lingshen and Quain are in a Mexican standoff with one another, the hobgoblins of Kaoling threatening the elves of Jinin and the samsarans of Zi Ha, tensions rising on the border between Bachuan and Hwanggot, the tengus of Kwanlai are being forced to shape up into a real nation state by the threat of the kraken-ruled Wanshou to the north.

That’s What She Saïd

I was glad to note that Dragon Empires Gazetteer does not make baby Edward Saïd cry. Well, as far as I’m qualified to judge such things, which may not be all that far. Tian Xia and its people aren’t played up as something mystical or unknowable or inferior (or superior, for that matter) to Avistan. They’re guys you can understand. Heck, they’re guys you’d want to play. Of course, as far as I can tell, the book makes a terrible hash of any mythological material it touches, but we don’t play D&D for historical or mythological accuracy, and in any case, D&D does this to everything. The brand new Bestiary 3 features the iku-turso, an aquatic monster that has precisely dick to do with Iku-Turso, son of Äijö, as he is depicted in Kalevala, our national epic. It’s D&D, it’s what it does. We deal with it.

Tian Xia also isn’t treated as a monolith. Though the Inner Sea Gazetteer presents a single ethnicity, Tian, and a single language, Tien, for the natives of the continent, the Dragon Empires Gazetteer brushes off such simplicity as ignorance born of distance and lack of contact. There are seven different human ethnicities in Tian Xia (the tian-dan, tian-dtang, tian-hwan, tian-la, tian-min, tian-shu and tian-sing), and a bunch of languages. Tien, the official language of fallen Lung Wa, serves as the Common for the continent. There’s variety.

The book also avoids making the Kara-Tur gaffe. Kara-Tur, the original D&D not-Asia that tied in with the original Oriental Adventures hardcover, was a singularly uninspired work. For examples of how much creative energy it was infused with, there’s a mountain nation of monasteries ruled by a High Lama. It’s called Tabot. There’s another nation located on a peninsula extending from the land of Shou Lung towards the island nation of Kozakura. It’s called Koryo. With Dragon Empires Gazetteer, I am happy to note that I cannot draw equivalencies between nations quite as easily. Sure, Minkai is essentially a fantasy Japan, and Hongal is fantasy Mongolia, and Bachuan is a fantasy Communist China, and Zi Ha is kinda like Tibet, but it’s not 1:1. It’s the fine line between inspiration and just plain lazy. There are, of course, things you must have – if your fantasy Asia doesn’t have a fantasy Japan and fantasy Mongolia and a monastery with a bunch of bald guys breaking bricks with their hands, you should reconsider if you really know what you’re doing. These are essential and identifiable tropes. Just mix it up a bit, make it your own, and for all that is good and holy, come up with some good names. Greyhawk’s not-Japan is called, I kid thee not, “Nippon”. Fortunately, it does not exist outside of a label on a world map most fans are happy to treat as apocryphal, if only so they can ignore Orcreich.

In Closing

But back to Dragon Empires Gazetteer. It’s good, and interesting enough that I read it in full from the screen of my laptop, which is not something that can be said of a whole lot of books. I’ll be putting it to good use once my Jade Regent campaign kicks off, sometime next year (I hope) and in Pathfinder Society.

For full disclosure, I bought my PDF copy normally through the Paizo webstore.

Review: Isle of the Unknown

Along with Carcosa, last Thursday saw the release of Isle of the Unknown, a 125-page full-colour hardcover setting book. Like Carcosa, it is written by Geoffrey McKinney and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and it is a sandbox setting.

The pages of Isle of the Unknown are liberally sprinkled with art, from small monster pieces by Amos Orion Sterns to the full-page magic user illustrations by Jason Rainville. It is laid out in a clear, readable fashion and is nice to look at. Unfortunately, the full-page pieces have printed out rather dark, which is clear when comparing them to the PDF version, which looks much nicer.

The PDF is not as nifty as Carcosa, in that there are no hyperlinks in the text or the map, but what it does do better than Carcosa is pagination. While Carcosa’s page numbers do not match up from page to PDF due to each page spread being counted as a single page, this has somehow been fixed in Isle of the Unknown. I have no comprehension of the wizardry required for such feats, but evidently it can be done. This is the one thing that Isle of the Unknown does better than Carcosa. Mind you, the lack of hyperlinks in Isle of the Unknown is not as bad a thing as it might be in another type of book, because the only thing you would want hyperlinked is the hex descriptions, all of which are easily accessible via bookmarks.

The two books are good examples of how PDF publishing should be done in general. You have all these interesting options to increase usability that the dead tree edition is lacking, so why not use them? I think the bare minimum should be an option to turn off background art so stuff can be printed without wasting any printer ink, a liquid that, by weight, is more expensive than human blood, crude oil, or gold. At least nobody is trying to peddle us files without bookmarks anymore, though I own a few examples like that as well.

Ruleswise, it’s old-school D&D and ought to be compatible with pretty much whatever version you want. Armour Class is expressed in terms like “as leather”, so you won’t even need to figure out whether it’s counting up or down or where the starting point is.

The Lay of the Land

Isle of the Unknown is a sandbox setting. We have an island, slightly under 35,000 square miles in size, divided up into 330 hexes, each of which covers the area of some 86 square miles. Each hex has something of interest. Broadly speaking, these can be divided up into monsters, magic-users, statues and towns. The latter are of the least interest, at least to the writer, and we’re only given population figures and perhaps a plot hook for each.

The book’s setting defaults to a sort of medieval Mediterranean. Architecture and statues are described as Greek or Roman, a few NPCs referred to as Turkish or Arabic and references to the real world are abundant. However, as the preface explains, everything can be changed easily, which is also why no proper names are given. Nearly all of the clerics on the island are described as wearing red surcoats with white crosses, which is how the Knight Hospitallers used to dress at one point in their history. Incidentally, the introduction also mentions that “the societies, flora, and fauna of this predominantly mountainous and wooded isle resemble those of the French territory of Auvergne circa A.D. 1311,” where the Hospitallers controlled a grand priory. While I am not certain and there’s a woeful gap in my education here, I suspect that McKinney is trying to work in a reference to Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne. I wonder if reading the stories would give some sort of context to the isle and its weirdness.

Anyway, the three other things this island has in abundance. Weird monsters! I haven’t counted, but I think there are over a hundred different monsters on the isle. These range from giant parrots that are on fireand humanoid swans with human faces on their chests that shoot strength-draining feathers to a vaguely lizardlike creature that “looks like a slightly elongated raspberry”, and koalas with suction cups. All of them are illustrated, which is nice, since some of them (like the raspberry thing) would be really difficult to visualize otherwise. They don’t have much in the way of context or ecology or any sort of explanation. That’s all up to the GM. What matters is that they’re there, they’re weird, and most of them are hostile.

Then there are magic users. Here and there, scattered across the isle, are secluded magic users with strange and unique powers. They are mostly not hostile, and indeed, fighting them is almost certainly a losing proposition. Not all of them are illustrated, but thirteen of them are illustrated in a series of zodiac-themed, full-page art pieces that I like very much. They are also weird.

Finally, there are statues. Scattered across the isle are mysterious magical statues with strange properties. Some of them are hot to the touch, some of them grant blessings, some of them stand a good chance of killing you. The only illustrated statue is the one on the cover.

There isn’t much in the way of history or background to the isle and its high strangeness, just a list of legends that may or may not be true. The hexes do not exist in vacuums, though, and construct small implied stories of their own. For instance, the villagers in this hex consider the forest in that hex a taboo and may get cross if the PCs go there. Such detail is sparse, however.

In conclusion, Isle of the Unknown is a very good-looking book. It’s an interesting sandbox setting, though the weirdness wanders into the realm of absurd comedy a bit too often to remain effective. The cartoonish art style of the monsters does not exactly help. Still, a capable GM knows what to keep, what to drop and what to adjust, and though it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere, I get the feeling that the setting isn’t even meant to be used straight out of the book.

For a full disclosure, I received my copy from the publisher as thanks for helping him unload the pallets of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown, and am probably strongly biased.

An Explanation for the Long Absence

It is said that one should never blog about why one has not blogged, but I’ve averaged one post per month since the con season ended, and such neglect of the readership is just unprofessional.

Basically, there has been a convergence of events and circumstances that have sapped my inspiration and will to do anything beyond the very basics of keeping a campaign going. For one thing, the calendar is slowly rolling over to the ninth week of my interesting cough that remains undiagnosed but has proven quite impervious to a veritable battery of prescription medicine. We don’t know what it is, but thus far it hasn’t killed me, so we remain optimistic that if nothing else, it is susceptible to the march of time. Preferably moreso than I am.

However, now that I’ve got a convention to work on, I feel somewhat energized and should be resuming my regular schedule of updates (sporadic, but rather more frequent than it has been). There’s a selection of unfinished drafts to finish up, gaming to discuss, news to disseminate, books to review, Planescape to revisit. I’m also drafting up a wondrous item for Paizo’s RPG Superstar 2012, with a deadline of January 7th. If the previous years have taught me anything, it is that interesting wondrous items are hard to design and that if nothing else, I’ll have a magic item to post on the 25th. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to misplace my creations from past years. Last year I wrote up a magically treated afterbirth, which I’m rather sorry I managed to lose.

So as not to make this post entirely self-indulgent, I will now give you an adventure outline rolled from the random adventure generator in the 1993 Finnish roleplaying game Elhendi, a high fantasy RPG about elves, which I just picked up the other day.

The quest is given to your characters by (*roll 1d10* 3.) a respected mage (*roll*) who’s also an elf. They wish you to (*roll*) protect (*roll*) a female (*roll*) human, who-(*roll*)-se circumstances are presently unknown, but current location is (*roll*) in a dark forest, which is inhabited by (*roll*) fearsome trolls. Should they accomplish this task, they will be rewarded with (*roll*) new weapons and armour.

Believe me, rerolling isn’t worth the trouble. The tables will not produce anything that’s interesting in its own right, though a capable GM can make an interesting adventure out of even something as banal as this. For instance, if this guy is such a big shot wizard, why isn’t he doing this himself? Is there something he’s not telling us, or can he not be seen in the woman’s company? And who is she anyway and what is their relationship? Romantic? Political? Adversarial? Come to think of it, why is she in the forest if there are trolls in there, and why aren’t we told this? Would the information be harmful to someone if it came out? Scandalous? One might also wonder why the wizard has weapons and armour lying around to be handed to adventurers when the barter economy is a thing of the past.

In tomorrow’s post, I will tell you why Isle of the Unknown isn’t quite as good as Carcosa, but still has one achievement over it.


Review: Carcosa

So, it’s finally here. The anticipated reprint of Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa, published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, finally came out yesterday, after all sorts of printing and delivery delays.

The wait was worth it.

What we’ve got here is a 288-page, A5-sized hardcover. The art by Rich Longmore is black and white, but the maps of Robert Altbauer are in glorious (and a bit garish) colour. In addition, the pages themselves are subtly coloured, with faded hues of green and purple playing in the margins and behind the text. It does not, I should hasten to add, hamper readability, but makes the whole book seem more like some sort of alien grimoire. The layout is clean, the art is good, and the book is overall a very stylish package. It also has a lovely smell.

There’s also a PDF version available, and it’s one of the best gaming PDFs I’ve seen. It’s layered for printer-friendliness, bookmarked, and linked up the wazoo. Even the map hexes are linked to the pages where they are described. This is excellent work, and I’d like to see it become the industry standard, though I don’t have much hope of that happening. Neither Posthuman Studios nor Paizo, who otherwise know their PDF work, have gone quite this far with their stuff (Posthuman doesn’t have links, Paizo doesn’t have layers). This is how you take advantage of the electronic format, kids. The only complaint I have is that since in the PDF a single page spread counts as a single page, the page numbers on the book and the PDF no longer match up.

What Is It?

Carcosa is a setting and rules supplement for your old D&D game or retroclone. Its native system is LotFP’s house system, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, but pretty much all retroclones are more or less mutually compatible anyway and there’s no reason this wouldn’t work in your campaign of Labyrinth Lord or Mentzer’s Red Box D&D (though like all most retroclone stuff, this one uses the ascending Armour Class [starting at 12, as LotFP’s does]).

The genres of the work would be the weird tale and sword & planet. The influences it names or suggests include Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, Howard’s Worms of the Earth and David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, and, of course, Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow. I am also reminded of other things – Jack Vance, August Derleth, Lord Dunsany, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otso Ilmari – though I’m pretty sure that last one is not numbered among McKinney’s inspirations, no matter how unconscious or indirect.

It is like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, if Expedition to the Barrier Peaks had been horror. There are no demihumans in the world of Carcosa, just 13 races of men, each a different colour, from green to white to black to new colours like dolm, jale and ulfire, from A Voyage to Arcturus, though also evoking The Colour out of Space. There’s a very good reason this book doesn’t have colour art outside of the maps. It’s gonna make painting miniatures tricky. There are no magic items, just the technological armaments of the Space Aliens. There is no magic missile or sleep, there are the Blasphemous Glyphs of the Night Ocean and the Ninety-Six Chants of the Leprous One.

The book starts with a few unconventional dice conventions. Under the Carcosa rules, whenever combat begins, everyone first rolls from a chart what their hit dice type will be for this combat and then uses dice of that type to roll their hit points. Your hit dice might be d12s in one fight and d4s in the next. The same is true for Shub-Niggurath. Damage is determined every round in a similar fashion. This is rather quirky, and there’s also a suggestion on how to handle things if you elect not to use these rules. It seems like combat in Carcosa is unpredictable and deadly business.

Then there are a few new rules for characters, including the sorcerer class, which is basically same as fighter, except they can use rituals. Incidentally, Carcosa uses only two character classes – the fighter and the sorcerer. No clerics, no magic-users, no demihuman races. The book doesn’t even use specialists (LotFP’s name for the thief class), but mentions that they will not violate the tone. There are also a couple of pages of psionics rules. Characters with high enough mental stats have a chance of being psionic, which is rolled at character generation.

What there is not is a lot on the setting itself. There are no historical timelines, just mentions here and there that Space Aliens (described like they Greys) have a colony on the planet, the human races were created by Snake-Men untold millennia ago and that the Primordial Ones (Lovecraft’s elder things) manipulated the civilization of Carcosa until someone let the shoggoths out and everything went to hell. There is also very little on the human races, though it’s mentioned that the natives in Peter Jackson’s King Kong are at about the proper level of sophistication.

Oh, and alignment determines only how you stand in relation to the Great Old Ones. Lawful is against, chaotic is for, neutrals try to avoid the whole business.

Then there’s the magic of Carcosa. Spellcasting takes the form of rituals, and all rituals are for summoning or controlling the gods and monsters of the world. There are 96 different rituals in the book, all with names that drip purple prose, such as The Sixth Undulation of the Tentacled One or Serpentine Whispers of the Blue-Litten Pillars.

So, magic in Carcosa applies to the Great Old Ones, and was developed by the Snake-Men. This means it’s Bad Stuff. Pretty much everything that is not a banishment ritual will require human sacrifice, all described in a clinical and detailed fashion, like this: “The Sorcerer must find or dig a large pit with walls and floor of coal. The sacrifices—101 Dolm children—must then be bound and flung into the pit. The two-hour ritual requires the Sorcerer to don the above-mentioned armor and climb into the pit and slay each sacrifice with an obsidian axe. Afterwards he fires the pit.” (The Primal Formula of the Dweller) And there are worse rituals. Like, Josef Fritzl kind of worse. “We could illustrate this ritual but it’d then become illegal to sell or possess under obscenity laws in several major markets” kind of worse. The cover sleeve for the book says “Warning: For Adults Only! Contains explicit descriptions and illustrations of black magic and violence.” It’s not kidding.

The rituals are surprisingly uncomfortable reading, and really drive home the point that people who deal with the tentacled stuff are evil. They are to be opposed. Then there are the banishment rituals for putting down that which (hopefully) someone else has called up and for the most part require no sacrifice whatsoever, though Banishment of the Lightless Chasm, for driving off the Squamous Worm of the Pit, requires you to kill a snake.

It’s charming how naturally you can get a campaign concept and a motivation for your characters just from the spell list. There’s nothing in the book about how adventurers fit in the world or the society (as far as it exists), or what sort of adventures they should or could have, but such things flow naturally from the spell list. I mean, unlike in most D&D settings, where adventurers are outsiders from society and regarded as strange and dangerous people, in Carcosa going out to kill sorcerers is actually a sane and rational reaction. This, to me, is the strongest horror element in the setting.

After the rituals, we get monster stats and descriptions. Carcosa has its own interpretation of the Cthulhu Mythos. Here, Azathoth dwells in the centre of the planet and the races of B’yakhee, Deep Ones, the Great Race, Mi-Go, Primordial Ones and Shoggoths are all spawned by Shub-Niggurath. Cthulhu is still imprisoned in sunken R’lyeh, though. This section also features long, descriptive quotations from H.P. Lovecraft, which I approve of. Yes, you can fight Azathoth. No, you’re not likely to win.

The largest section of the book is the sandbox itself, 400 hexes’ worth of the planet of Carcosa. One of the hexes being ten miles across, this translates to 86 square miles per hex and a total of 34,880 square miles, or slightly larger than the country of Jordan. Each of the hexes has two points of interest described. For an example, let’s take hex 0115. It contains the following two points of interest: “Castle of 6 Jale Men led by a chaotic 7th-level Sorcerer” and “A handful of curious and ancient roadways crisscross the withered heaths of this hex. The roads appear to be made of huge slabs of granite skillfully pounded into the earth. They glow with a soft light in darkness. Any attempts to remove the slabs will fail.”

There’s loads of stuff the PCs can run across and that the GM can build their own plots around. Who is that sorcerer in the castle and what’s his agenda? No idea, it’s the GM’s job to make something up.

Carcosa has a presentation I feel is very typical of old school D&D. You’re presented with a lot of stuff, but very little in the way of advice on how to use it or what to do with it. While it works for your normal Tolkien and Howard fantasy since everyone already knows that stuff, I think that more outré material such as Carcosa could have a bit more hand-holding. Fortunately, the writing is good and positively dripping with atmosphere and inspiration, which eases the Game Master’s job in this respect – and, well, you don’t need to specify that the people who are sacrificing children to call up tentacled abominations from beyond the stars are the bad guys.

We are also given an introductory adventure called “The Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer”, which details, over 20 pages, some of the points of interest in hex 2005. The titular Gardens, of course, are a dungeon.

After that it’s some helpful tables for random encounters, random robots, Space Alien armaments, spawn of Shub-Niggurath and so forth, as well as reference tables for rituals.

My Thoughts

Carcosa is a very good book. Apart from being extremely well put together, it is written in an evocative manner and brings the setting to life despite not really detailing it much. It conjures up images from films like 10,000 B.C. and Salute of the Jugger. It’s a primitive, post-apocalyptic world, where people are preoccupied with survival and appeasing gods whose existence leaves no room for doubt. And they hate you, personally.

It is a weird and terrible place. A bit of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, a bit of Vance’s Dying Earth, a bit of Burroughs’ Barsoom, perhaps shades of Gor in the mixture of high technology and Stone Age culture. Unlike the modern man of Lovecraft’s tales, the mankind of Carcosa is acutely aware of their cosmic insignificance, though probably unable to articulate it.

This is excellent work. If you have an interest in old school D&D and aren’t put off by the more extreme material in the rituals section, you really have no reason not to buy this. I can’t really find anything I could consider an error or mistake or a bad idea. Even the lack of real setting information kinda works to the book’s advantage. It really is an alien, unknown, perhaps unknowable world. There is a sense of mystery and wonder. I am usually not a fan of such bare bones sandboxes, preferring something more akin to Paizo’s Kingmaker adventure path, but damn if this isn’t good enough for me to make an exception. And seriously, that PDF is a thing of beauty.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know James Edward Raggi IV, the publisher, and received my copy of the book (As well as Isle of the Unknown. And pizza.) from him as thanks for helping him unload the four cargo pallets of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown (I feel like Satan’s little helper). In other words, I’m probably biased as all hell. I’ll try to do Isle of the Unknown over the weekend, but no promises.

Ropecon 2012 – Back in the Saddle Again

Well, Ropecon is coming again. The chief organizers – Heikki Ahonen, Jussi Leinonen, Eino Partanen and Jukka Seppänen – were announced last month. The dates have been declared as 27th to 29th of July, 2012. We have even confirmed our first guest of honour, Peter Adkison, formerly of Wizards of the Coast, nowadays of Gen Con.

And yeah, I say we. The composition of the organizing committee has just been announced, and I’ll be reprising my role from 2009-2011 as the Master of Game Masters. I’m looking to introduce a few final improvements to the GM system at Ropecon and training my henchmen to the best of my ability. This is the last time I’ll be handling this particular job at Ropecon, at least for the time being.

I’m also looking for a subordinate to handle the scenario writing contest, since I’m starting to have credibility problems even in my own eyes.

I’m looking forward to working on Ropecon again. While I doubt anything can top this year’s con, we will do our very best. We’ve got an excellent team (as far as I know – some new faces in the ranks). We even have all three intelligent bears on the committee. We shall rock mightily.