Yes, we where menaced by a giant wasp at Gary’s tonight.
But, more importantly, I picked up three gaming books today.
Firstly, on my way home from American Eagles (where I bought way too much stuff for future modeling products for my Orks, but in a good way…) I stopped by Alex’s place and grabbed the copy of the 4e Essentials Rules Compendium. From there I headed over to Gary’s where (before the menacing) I grabbed copies of Heroes of the Fallen Lands (the first of the Essentials player books) and Hamlet’s Hit Points (in hard-copy – I already own the .pdf).
First of all, let me say that it makes me happy just to be able to stack these books up. They’re all the same format (HHP is shorter than the other two, of course) and $20 apiece. Easily-portable, perfect-bound books at a price tag that has remained my “casual purchase” threshold for the last decade or so make me happy, in general. But I derive a special personal gratification from being able to stack my D&D books with what I consider more serious-minded (and in this case almost scholastic – but more on that later) works. In fact I could put my Essentials books next to Burning Wheel on the shelf and there wouldn’t be any outward incongruity.
(Aside: The art in both BW & 4eE seems eminently thematic to me. This is not a critical response to the art so much as it is ingrained expectation from my years of gaming. I don’t really like the glossy, prone-to-smudging paper in the Essentials books, but it lets WotC include the kind of colorful, cartoonish-in-a-good-way art that really evokes the “wow factor” that 4e ought to be about. In fact, that’s kind of one of my complaints about the Dark Sun material. Gaming art does a lot for my appreciation of a game’s tone, and the 4e DS art is too upbeat, in a way. Burning Wheel’s art, OTOH, reminds me of the best of the GURPS art (and there was a lot of GURPS art that was sadly far from great), boldly black and white ink-work that takes advantage of the chromatic limitations of what was primarily an economic decision…)
The Rules Compendium looks to be a very good book. I haven’t had a chance to really dig into it yet, although I’ve seen many of the more major changes previewed online already. What surprised me a bit about my quick skim was both how much non-mechanical play advice there was and that a lot of the material seemed aimed at players.
Now, the play advice is all stuff we’ve seen in the PHB2 and DMG2; not word-for-word, but it does seem to cover a lot of the same ground, albeit not as thoroughly. But for a new DM or player this is invaluable advice, and personally as a 30+ year veteran DM I find this kind of “refresher” to be both entertaining and valuable in it’s own right.
The player-focused information seemed a bit odd to me – it’s called simply “Rules Compendium”, but I’ve been under the impression that this was at least technically the GM book of the lot. I worried that, even at only $20 apiece, most non-DM players simply aren’t going to bother with the Rules Compendium (“that’s DM stuff!”). And on a practical note just getting them to read the non-crunchy parts of the book is liable to be a chore. But what I found when I cracked the Heroes of the Fallen Lands book was that a lot of this advice (the player-centric parts, in particular) is repeated.
Now, this is kind of a catch-22. I know that I, and probably a lot of DMs, am going to want both of the player books in addition to the Rules Compendium. I haven’t opened the books side-by-side to see if they’re exactly the same – well, except for the example of play I did check that and it is indeed, word-for-word the same thing. So I’m paying twice for the same material. But I guess I’m OK with that…
HotFL was more of a guilty-pleasure purchase for me, anyway. I enjoy playing 4e, and I’m going to want the stuff in there (and in HoFK, and in neither case do I personally considered the DDI to be sufficient), but primarily I DM. And one of the great things (for me) about 4e is that I don’t really need to know all of the player-side stuff. But it’s fun to have.
Hamlet’s Hit Points I’ve already mentioned – I got the .pdf a few days ago and have already been reading it. In the introduction (titled: “How To Pretend You’ve Read This Book”), Mr. Laws states: “If you walk away from reading this book thinking, “Well, that seemed obvious, now that I think of it,” and your gaming subtly improves as a result, it has done it’s job.“. And yeah, wow, I’m not even through the beat-map of Hamlet (the first of three, the other two being Casablanca and Dr. No) and I’m already having that reaction. Well, I haven’t actually gamed since reading it, so I can’t say that my gaming has subtly improved, but there’s not so much direct gaming advice in here as food for thought.
There are a few things that nag at me, however. Mr. Laws points out that certain scenes in plays / movies can’t easily be replicated in RPGs because of POV issues. And this is something that I’ve been chewing over myself, recently. I really want to be able to add not only third-person scenes with dramatic irony and stuff to my games, but also soliloquy / internal monologue for the PCs. And I’d like to have a way to foster a kind of pseudo-conflict between PCs, specifically more dramatic beats. This stuff isn’t anything that the book has really solved for me (yet – I’m not a third done with it, of course) but then I didn’t really expect it to. It’s more about helping me think about this stuff in what is hopefully a more constructive way.