Friday, February 10, 2012

Best RPG Sourcebooks, The Uncomfortable Majority

Greetings! It’s time for another installment of Atomic Dragon Battleship! It’s amazing (and a little scary) how quickly the routine business of the day seems to expand to fill the time you have. Over the last couple of weeks I made three trips to the dentist (two for my daughter, one routine checkup for me), nine trips to the Y, reviewed the edited file of my upcoming novel Prince of Ravens, and outlined a new action/military thriller that I’m anxious to try out… and somehow after all of that I find myself wondering if I got enough done.

Anyway, this month will see two of my final game product releases from Wizards of the Coast: Player’s Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, and Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures: Angels 20. Elemental Chaos is a sourcebook providing interesting new options for characters who draw their power from the elemental planes, while A&A Air Force Minis is a brand-new collectible miniature game of WW2 fighter combat. In my next couple of blog entries I’ll talk more about these releases and my part in them, but for right now I want to make sure I don’t jump the gun on the previews and coverage that Wizards of the Coast is providing.

Gaming: I happened to be sorting out my gaming resource shelf the other day, and I stumbled across some of my favorite RPG sourcebooks of all time. The Campaign Module series of sourcebooks for the Middle Earth Role Playing Campaign Modules were, in my opinion, some of the best “geography”-based sourcebooks anybody ever printed. They were published way back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, so they’re a real blast from the past (although many were reprinted in second editions well into the ‘90s). The titles I have on my shelf include Gorgoroth, The Grey Mountains, Empire of the Witch-King, and Lost Realm of Cardolan, but there are a dozen more covering places such as Mirkwood, Isengard, Harad, and so on. You can find ‘em kicking around on Ebay and various hobby collector sites if you look around, but they can be pretty pricey these days.

So, what made these books so good? First of all, many featured the awesome cover art of Angus McBride, and scads of excellent maps by Pete Fenlon (and others). The case-point presentation isn’t terribly helpful, but the overall organization is generally quite good. But the thing I really admired about these sourcebooks was the fact that they were excellent, excellent DM toolkits. Each one provided a good snapshot of the history, geography, flora, fauna, and key NPCs of the area. Most importantly, a good half-dozen adventure locales or sites of interest were mapped and described in detail. They weren’t quite adventures per se, but they were adventure *ingredients*, just the sort of thing a DM could take and turn into a great little dungeon. Finally, a number of the campaign modules included actual fleshed-out adventures, so you could just run something right out of the book if you had a mind to.

I was such a fan of the format and style of the ICE campaign modules that I tried very hard to steer Forgotten Realms sourcebooks along similar lines when I was creative director of the line early in the 3rd Edition days. The FR book that shows this emphasis most clearly is Silver Marches, which I am still quite proud of. Ed Greenwood did most of the writing for Silver Marches (with some help from Jason Carl), but I pitched in with a lot of additional description and sites to make that book into the best “DM toolkit” we could make. If you look through Silver Marches you’ll find maps and materials to create half a dozen good dungeons or short adventures, plus a pretty good “microcampaign” set in and around Deadsnows. To make sure we weren’t just reiterating things that had already been said in Savage Frontier and The North, I encouraged Ed and Jason to make up tons of interesting new Realmslore… which is how many of the little forests and hamlets in the area first got their names and descriptions.

Unfortunately it was hard to convince our business team to do more DM-oriented sourcebooks like Silver Marches when the better money seemed to be over in player-oriented splatbooks. It was a constant struggle to get those “DM-toolkit” books on the product schedule. We did manage to maintain some elements of the format in sourcebooks such as Unapproachable East and Underdark, but we never produced anywhere near as much of the Realms “geography” sourcebooks as I wanted to see. In fact, I often had to promise our brand folks that we were actually just packaging player splat options in different wrappers. I felt that was a major missed opportunity at the time, and I still think so today.

Current Events: So much going on I don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll limit my remarks this time to a simple observation: I never, never imagined that the pro-choice/pro-life debate was going to surface in this election, but now it’s on. My gut impression is that this is a big political advantage for Obama, since anything that distracts from the questions of whether the economy and job situation are really recovering and whether Obamacare is constitutional seems to be to his advantage. Americans won’t vote to make abortion illegal; only 23 percent of Americans (as of a 2010 Gallup poll, the quickest recent poll I could find on the topic) think abortion should be banned. In other words, if Obama can make the election into a referendum on whether women have the right to choose *at all*, he wins.

However… only 22 percent of Americans (same poll) think a women’s right to choose should be unrestricted (abortion should always be legal regardless of circumstances). So that suggests to me that 55 percent of Americans are in the middle, in a place where they don’t want to think about it or generally want to leave the status quo alone. I wonder if the big storms caused by the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood brouhaha and the Obamacare “no religious exception” mandate represent that huge 55 percent in the middle reacting to *attempts* (perceived or real) to change the status quo, one way or the other. In other words, we shouldn’t draw the conclusion that the country is overwhelmingly pro-choice because Susan G. Komen got blasted for their actions, or overwhelmingly pro-life because Obama was ambushed by the Catholic rebellion. I think the lesson is that America doesn’t want to make a war out of this right now and is going to react angrily to anyone who seems to trying to stir one up.

The Finer Things: Pistachios. My dad used to eat pistachios all the time. A bowl of pistachios was a permanent fixture within easy reach on football-watching days. But I just don’t ever think to buy pistachios for gnoshing. Anyway, the women’s group at church has a sale of various sorts of nuts each year, and I picked up a bag of pistachios mostly to be a good sport and support the cause. I soon learned that I’d forgotten how much I like ‘em! So now I’m into my second bag, and I have to say if the ladies are still selling them on Sunday, I might be getting a third.

Oh, and pitchers and catchers report tomorrow (for the Mariners). Awesome! I like football just fine, but there’s just something magical about spring training and the promise of a new baseball season. You read it here first: The 2012 Mariners are going to improve by at least 10 games from last year’s team. Of course, that’s a tepid prediction of 77 wins, but given how tough the Rangers and Angels are looking, I think that would be quite an accomplishment.

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