Extraneous Voices of Picayune > Tomes and Illusions

Adventures in the Discount Book Bin


So my local(ish) bookstore has netted me a large number of $1-3 books. Most of the these books are quite unexpectedly bad, topical, or horribly dated.


The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game

Hardback, slickly put together, but the material is disjointed and I have no greater feel for Jack Vance's work than when I started (Other than its pretty much bizarro). There are some things that I do like about the game. There is a huge amount of emphasis placed on character interaction, and a general avoidance of combat, and impressive wound penalties. Persuasion has 7 different forms of expression (charismatic, glib, intimidation) and is countered with 7 different rebuffs (Naive, wary, simple minded, etc) so it brings a huge degree of depth to effing with other characters.

The concept of pre-written one liners handed out before the scenario seems a tad cheesy or lame, but I could see it being more fun if the pile of quips is created by the players for each other to say, rather than bruised purple prose. People might talk like that in Vance's books but I dont imagine a gaming group is going to do that for more than 10 minutes.

Another mechanic I liked is that players are not expected to be virtuous or noble in their methods or intent. Apparently the Dying Earth is full of asshats and the game is a sort of brinksmanship game of getting what you want and screwing everyone else as well as you can without getting caught in the attempt. There is even a chapter on casual cruelty (using allies as bait, or an intimation that a character from one of the books almost got seconds from a girl after she was 'abused' but only declined after being put off by how bad she smelled) so there's that.

What cheap books have you gotten recently and did you find any gems?

Ray Winninger's UNDERGROUND

Published in 1993, this book predates the internet, but sees the future is in computers, computer technology, and apes many of the common tropes of the cyberpunk genre but hearkens to the Vietnam era, leading to the Supersoldiers coming home to a hostile reception, endemic crime, poverty, and violence. It does make so social statements, some of which 21 years down the road have come frighteningly true (Corporations being declared to have the same rights as a citizen is just a step along the way to sovereign corporations) while others comically have not, such as the $5000 shoulder mounted fax machine.

Some highlights, or frightening points

Tastee Ghoul and Sweeney's: cannibalism isn't just legal, it's now one of the highest grossing (in more than one way) restaurant franchise in America. Tastee Ghoul is fast food cannibal, while Sweeney's is more of a TGIFridays upscale pub. People can sell their bodies to the food companies to be turned into food for the masses, generally at about $750 for an adult male.

Pre-Frontals: genengineered humans with 45 chromosomes, reduced mental capacity, bred to be menial laborers addicted to junk food made by the corps that funded their development. Also, lacking rights, they are frequently abused, murdered, and put on the menu. Derogatory called cro-mags, cros, slopes, etc

Artificial Brains: Tired of being angry and broke? Sell your brain. Your mind and memories are downloaded into an artificial brain which is put into your head. You are dumber, but now predisposed to be happy and industrious, plus the money you make from selling your original brain more than covers the cost of the replacement and puts money in your pocket. Two birds with one something or other.

Braindrives: harvested brains are turned into biostorage systems for computers.

Brain Theft: some enterprising individuals take to killing people to steal their brains to sell to the companies that make the brain drives.

Animal Brains: There are friendly autonomous robots all over the place, eager to please and to help. Because sitting in the head of these robots is the brain harvested from intelligent animals, modified, programmed, and wired into the system. Fido never has to die, after he kicks the bucket, his brain can be used to make you a menial robot servant.

There is also a three tier trauma system based around the mental instability that comes from extensive genetic modification, cybernetic grafting, PTSD and the overall horror of life in 2021

Men in Black
The Official RPG, West End Games

First off, I want my $2 back.

The 1997 release corresponded with the release of the movie, and the book is packed with pictures from the movie. That being said, the overall quality of the book it poor, the pages are all matte, and the text and the pictures and the illustrations are visually flat, many sections of the book are hard to read.

It attempts to come off as a light hearted almost slapstick comic, and lets be honest, fails horribly. The constant pranking and jokes are completely at odds with the deadpan MiB, who keep their cool in even the most ridiculous situations. It feels more like a mutant hybrid of the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and MiB. It even has a tagline: Bring a Sponge.

There are comprehensive details about the aliens and the weapons used in the movie, but most of it is schlock. The system is a tree based D6 engine that seems made for people who are only minimally interested in RPGs.

Overall the book feels like a slapped together attempt to cash in on the movie.

If I decide I want to run a MiB based game, I would recommend the Guide to the Technocracy, with emphasis on gadgets and aliens instead of magic and reality deviants.


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