February 19th, 2004

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Book of Vile Darkness

Mike loaned me the Book of Vile Darkness a few days ago, and I've been reading that. Short summary of what I've read so far: it's a lot better than I feared it would be.

I'm actually in favor of the idea of the book; I like the idea of a book that shows a GM how to portray great evil in such a way that it throws the good deeds of the players into sharp relief. But I feared that it would give typical D&D treatment and reduce everything to flavorless mechanics, i.e., "He does 2d6 damage instead of 1d10, because he's eeeevil." Such things do little to strike dread into my heart.

The book is not completely free of that sort of thing, admittedly (for example, hard-to-heal vile damage seems to me like a nuisance instead of a heart-chilling effect), but it usually rises above it. Had I realized it was by Monte Cook, I might have been more optimistic about it, for it does bring in some of the traits I liked about Arcana Unearthed:

- Lots of flavor. I've noticed this particularly in the spells section that I've just been reading, where almost all the spells are appropriately creepy. The first example that comes to mind is spider hand, which turns one of the caster's hands into a monstrous spider that can act independently.

- Flexible mechanics. For example, there are some nefarious magic components that can be used to enhance any evil spell. That's a nice versatility. (Though there's some wonkiness on the pricing of those components, though--a large dragon's heart should cost much more than the feather of an intelligent flying creature, but as it is, the dragon's heart costs 7gp and the feather costs 20gp.)

- Smoother transitions in mechanics. For example, many of the spells aren't all-or-nothing based on a single saving throw; you get multiple saving throws to throw off some dire effects, or they have a lessened effect if the save is made. The mechanics for sacrifice leave you very likely to get some boon, even though the quality of the boon depends on the roll.

- Genre emulation. I see some efforts to avoid some of D&D's wonkinesses. For example, corrupt spells involve some sort of ability drain--so there's a good reason not to pump them out every day.

There are some ideas that would fit well into my campaign's themes. In particular, some of the prestige classes would fit well... but I'm not sure where to fit more nefarious NPCs into the adventures I have sketched out. Must think on that.
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What RPG Books Do I Want?

I've realized lately that I'm really having trouble identifying roleplaying stuff I really want to buy. I'm getting pickier than I used to be, and so I'm often having the experience of going to Phantom of the Attic and discovering that there's nothing I really want to buy.

One big factor is that RPG books have gotten more expensive over the past few years, and the amount of money I'm willing to spend on RPG stuff has decreased. So in general, I'm having trouble deciding to buy an RPG book unless I think it will be useful as well as a good read. (Or unless it's particularly cheap.)

So, D&D stuff would seem to have the greatest utility, since I'm running a D&D game and all. But finding useful D&D stuff is harder than it looks, because of the circumstances of my game:
My PCs are levels 8-10 currently.
I expect the campaign to be over in another 5-6 levels--probably by the end of 2004.
I've got about enough adventure ideas to finish out the campaign, though I'm having some difficulty fleshing them out.
I've been frustrated enough with D&D that I don't expect to run another campaign of D&D for at least a year or two after this campaign ends.

Fleshed-out adventures that fit my campaign would be ideal purchases. But these are hard to find. By my estimation, less than 10% of published adventures are for characters of these levels (Dungeon magazine runs level-appropriate adventures less than once every three issues), and most of those adventures have their own plots that don't really fit with my plot and my world. (But you know of any published adventures that fit my list, please do let me know.

Another option might be adventure pieces--maps, encounters, monsters, treasure, NPCs. I do get use out of the support of that sort provided on the Wizards of the Coast web site. But there aren't that many books published in this niche, and for most of them, the yield of stuff useful to me is pretty low. Monster books can be an exception; a monster book will usually have four or five monsters that tickle my fancy. I used to quail at the thought of paying $30.00 for a book that would yield me five monsters, but I've become more willing to do so now.

There are, however, a hojillion books published with a bucket of feats and prestige classes. And I don't care. All five of my PCs together are only going to get about a dozen more feats. I don't think any of my PCs are going to take a prestige class, and I have a sufficiency of prestige classes for the few NPCs whose stats are going to matter much. Feh upon all these.

What I really yearn for is GM advice and guidance. If there was a book on DMing that described common player tactics at various levels and how to adjust the game to meet those capabilities, I would gladly pay a lot for that. I know of no such book, though.