Friday, 21 August 2015

What the Shelf?

Corey Ryan Walden

My RPG collection is not particularly large. My wife and I have very limited space. For the past three years we've lived in a one-bedroom apartment, necessitating some conscious choices about what stays on my gaming shelf. My collection is not particularly unique; I have no "collectible" items. As much as I'd like a Woodgrain OD&D box set, I don't see that happening any time soon. Regardless, I am really grateful for my collection. What follows is my top 5 list of indispensable products. In other words, my stranded-on-a-deserted-island list.

5. Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 
For about six months I scrimped and saved to afford the box set (and the equally expensive shipping costs to the bottomless void at the end of the world). It was the cover artwork and the interesting name that initially attracted me. It was very evocative of an importantly divergent D&D setting. This game pushed me to finally read H.P Lovecraft, R.E Howard, and C.A Smith's literature. Sure, it had been on the reading list for awhile, but it came at the right time. I love the Hyperborean setting, and the medley of dark sword & sorcery inspirations. It's a great game, and I have nothing but respect for Jeff Talanian. If you do not own this game, at least grab the PDFs.

4. Basic Set (Moldvay)
This one has to be included here. When introducing new players, I find this is my go-to edition. It's essentially OD&D but with tighter/more coherent rules. I love it. You can play it with a d20 and a handful of d6s, or throw in alternate weapon damage. It's readily adaptable, and I love the Erol Otus cover artwork. Plus, it doesn't get much better than a 30-odd page rulebook!

3. T1 - The Village of Hommlet (Gygax)
This adventure is iconic not only for me personally, but for a lot of people. I first played through this module with 3rd edition rules, but it was still distinctively old school. It has giant frogs that WILL kill half the party, bandits, cults, a dungeon, Gygax's signature "friendly" NPC who is really going to murder you in your sleep. What's not to like? 

2. AD&D (1st Edition)
This was my very first D&D experience. Although it was not the "current" edition of the day (3rd edition was), there was something about the lo-fi vibe that had me both terrified and tantalised. I had about 3 characters die in the space of as many hours. But rolling those weird dice, being absolutely confused by all the odd mathematics, and never knowing whether death was around the corner had me instantly addicted. I've kind of cheated here because I've included all three core books, but you need them all, right?

1. OD&D (Wizards Reprint)
Up until a year ago I had never played this edition of D&D. I read some shitty scan off the internet before I bought this, and was impressed with how you really can boil D&D down to some very simple elements. I wrote The Black Ruins in an afternoon, using bullet points for all the encounters, and ran it the same day. It worked, and it worked well. The system gets out of the way, and the play takes over. This is the quintessential DIY edition. Play a vampire if you like, just as long as it begins "relatively weak" and works its way "up to the top". Unlike some of the more complex editions of D&D I find this edition so esoteric you cannot help but begin tweaking with it. Making new classes/races/spells/items/monsters is a breeze. I liked that the Wizards reprints threw in most of the additional supplements, but I really appreciate the 3 little brown booklets. 

Bonus Contenders!
Here are 5 extras that fit outside my strict top 5, but are among my favourites:

5. A Red & Pleasant Land (Smith)
If you have any inkling of OSR stuff you probably know about this one already. Great artwork, great ideas. From my own experiences it's not hugely functional (I've only used the random items table within a game), but it's an exceptional blueprint for how malleable D&D can be. This book is "art" in the sense that it challenges the reader beyond their assumptions of creating and running a game. It is indirectly an instruction manual of how to take your games further. My first encounter with it had me going: "Huh...I never thought of that." Ever since, I've been telling myself to think outside the box more. 

4. Yoon-Suin (McGrogan)
This, along with A Red & Pleasant Land is inspirational reading. This setting is laden with tables, and in this sense it is very functional, but again, it challenges me to push the creative envelope with my own endeavours. I doubt I'll ever run a Yoon-Suin campaign, but I may plug it into a game somewhere, or use the adventure generators. More than anything, I just love reading the thing. I'm a huge sucker for Matthew Adams' artwork. Plus slug men. 

3. Fever-Dreaming Marlinko (Kutalik)
I play in Chris' G+ campaign so I am a bit biased. But before I knew Chris, I was a fan of the Hill Cantons material. The Hill Cantons Compendium and Slumbering Ursine Dunes are good, but this is Chris' current masterpiece in my opinion. It's short, sweet, and is accurately reflective of how hilarious playing in a Hill Cantons game is. The Slavic influences in his work, as well as his (warped*) imagination/sense of humour are the strong points of this booklet, making it something pretty unique.

2. Gary Gygax's Necropolis
Okay. I ran this badboy around 2003/2004. We played it every weekend for a good six months. There was character death aplenty, horrible traps, terrifying monsters, tricks, traps, the works. This is one of my all time favourite adventures. It's about time I ran it again. 

1. Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets
A very useful set of tools to use with OD&D. Full of vintage vibes, and typewritten amateurism. I like random tables.

So there you go. That's my list. What's yours?

*Describing someone as "warped" in this context is a huge compliment. 

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