Sunday, November 4, 2018

My DriveThruRPG POD Haul

For those do don't know, the DriveThruRPG website offers not just game books in a digital Portable Document Format (PDF), but also physical Print-On-Demand (POD) copies, much like with I have a TON of PDFs on my computer and backups storage mediums (disks, USB sticks, etc.), along with a small tablet to read them, and I love that I have access to a lot of gaming resources (legal or otherwise) at my finger-tip, but I also like to run games with actual physical books instead of fumbling through a sea of digital files that cannot be booked-marked or recalled with any amount of speed. Here is something about having books right there at your desk and in your shelf. Plus, a number of the current PODs are for old, discontinued products, with a good number providing extra income to their creator (although, I could care less about WotC or who ever took over White Wolf Publishing).

Mind you, in a number of cases, retro-clone POD books are cheap enough to buy out of hand, but I still have to save-up for them. It this case, I had to save up for months to buy these "big books":

OK, firstly, months back I got the re-print of the classic Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel.

For a while I was reading through some pirated PDFs about the setting and fell in love with it. It is a rich and beautiful backdrop deep in history and culture. To me, this is true fantasy, as its far beyond the mundane and ordinary fantasy we see everywhere today. This is not a setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms where you can jump right in without effort. Tékumel requires a bit of research (and some mental adjustment) to get into. I know this is really off-putting to most, but I eat the setting details up like candy. As a fan of the Barsoom Saga, I'll usually fall back on the Tsolyáni culture to round-out the Barsoom people... or a derivative there off. Buying the hardcopy felt great, as I know it would go to Baker's estate.

I quite enjoyed the book, but I could care less about the rules. I'm more interested in the setting itself, so I put my sights on Swords and Glory vol. 1: Tékumel Source Book, which I ordered last month, along with the next book...

For few a years now, I have been in an '80s nostalgia-driven classic cyberpunk kick. Back in the '90s I was into the cyberpunk genre, but the only thing available was Shadowrun, but I never liked that game. All I wanted was pure, unadulterated cyberpunk! No punk-rock elves! No street-mages! No dragon-CEOs! I have a number of cyberpunk RPGs on my files — Shadowrun, Cyberspace, GURPS Cyberpunk, C.O.P.S., etc. — and I like to mix things up, but the cyberpunk backdrop that really stood out is Cyberpunk It has all the right mix of elements: Gibson/Sterling-styled "Mirrorshades" cyber-punks; Bladerunner-like backdrop; Tech Noir-styled bars bathed in blue & pink bisexual neon lighting; OCP-like Machiavellian corporate politics; Mad Max-styled Nomads (and Water World-styled Pirate-bikers for good measure) Rage Against the Machine-like Rockerboys; weapons, gear and vehicles that look like concept art form late-'80s OVA-era anime; a sex-positive attitude towards nudity and sexuality; and a fashion sense and outlook that is so entrenched in the 1980s.

Now, I'm not a fan of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules: I find the game mechanics to be dull and I never liked Humanity Loss, as I see it as a wonky limiter on the number of cybernetics that you can install. Plus it makes no sense that a few cosmetic implants that change your physical features in smalls ways (color-changing hair/eyes/skin, glow-in-the-dark tattoos, etc.) and things that folks do even think about (blood-filters, contraceptive implants, and the like), above and beyond the major mental and physical alterations, would push someone into becoming a murderous psychopath. (If anything, only have the cool, useful things strip one's psyche.) It also has a strange aversion to recreational drug-use in that "Reefer Madness" sort of way. I don't care what Maximum Mike said: Cyberpunk is vary much "Dungeons & Drug-Dealers"! Much like in the real-world, safe recreational drug-use is a skill all its own (hell, even as a kid I was taught: "Even with weed, always know the person you are buying drugs from!"), and drug-dealers do not last long peddling bad shit.

But still, I bought the reprint of Cyberpunk (second edition, version 2.01). You might be asking way I would put money down on a system I don't care for. The truth is, I see the Cyberpunk 2020 setting as a foundation for my own cyberpunk games. I can add, mix, alter and remove things as I see fit, using a rule-system of my own choosing. I have a ton of other cyberpunk-related books, RPGs, movies and anime to work with. More over, there is a a great resource for EVERYTHING Cyberpunk 2020-related called Datafortress 2020! It list every item, weapon, armor, cyberware, lifestyle and vehicle found throughout the history of CP2020 and than some. It expands on Night City. Goes into the major military conflicts in Africa and South America. And it really flesh out the Nomad culture. (All while using a lot of images found on countless search results.) I highly recommend that site, even if you are not into the CP2020 setting.

The Tékumel Source Book and Cyberpunk reprints arrived a day before Halloween and I have been reading both. The Tékumel Source Book is full of great information, but lacks page numbers with it indexing. Everything is in 1.XYZ index numbers with the "1" being the book, the "X" being a section of a broad topic and "Y" and "Z" going into more and more specific topics. As such, I'm having to write the section headers and index numbers on the top corners of each page to be able to find everything as the sub-section headers tend to get buried it the walls of texts. Due to a lack of artwork, I cannot rely on them to "landmark" sections, so I'm more dependent on the indexing. The top-page headers I put in looks like this (bun in pencil):

Early History — The Historical Empires
1.200 — 1.310

Besides that issue, I really enjoy what it has too offer. Its going to take more time to fully absorb it, but so damn worth it!

Beyond the rules, the Cyberpunk 2020 book is great! The artwork is good, although I wised that it was a little less prudish. I have seen the non-English CP2020 books, and they have less restraint. (Although, if I had my way, Tim Bradstreet, with his hard realistic, film noir style, would totally be apart of their artist pool.) What I really enjoy about the game is how it is presented like a series of magazine articles with magazine adds here and there for notable equipment. I love this! It really adds to game immersion. When you read the start of the chapters it really casual and, much like actual magazine articles, you'll find quotes from the chapter placed in sidebars as large, bold text to really highlight what the section is about. You'll find newspaper articles related to a situation only to turn the page and find a game scenario about it. You'll find quotes form the likes of Johnny Silverhand, a rebel Rockerboy, Morgan Blackhand, the "Solo's Solo", and Maximum Mike, who is essentially the Word-of-God for the game (the game was written by Mike Pondsmith). With all the art, tables and sidebars, is hard to to get lost in this book.

In both cases, the books kind of suffers from the black & white line illustrations due to how both setting love vivid colors. In Tékumel, they love bright, contrasting colors. Houses, clothing, banners, the works: Bathed in bright colors with a lot of meaning. Cyberpunk maybe a futuristic film noir, but it is covered in Hajime Sorayama-styled chrome, with the bold color contrast of Patrick Nagel, and the aforementioned blue-N-pink bisexual neon lighting. (Although, that would have made the reprints more expensive and time-consuming.) Also, I'm not above altering the artwork of a new or reprint RPG, if I have issue with it — I did this for my Crimson Blades books and some others. Being line art, it makes my job way more easy.

If there is one thing I wish DriveThruRPG had for Tékumel is Book of Ebon Bindings. Is is a book about demonology and the occult. Damn good stuff!