It’s time for another entry in my occasional little series where I look at old Knights of the Dinner Table compilations and consider what lessons for actual play we can learn from the dysfunctional situations the comic presents. By this point in the series it’s really gotten into its groove, and the characters more defined – which means that there’ll arise some stories which, whilst funny enough to merit being in the comic, don’t really fit the cast we’re used to. So Jolly and his colleagues took the obvious step of introducing some new characters…
Chuck Tingle’s famously rapid pace of production evidently applies to RPG material as much as it does to his unique “Tingler” brand of erotica. Hot on the heels of the core rulebook to his The Tingleverse RPG comes The Tingleverse Monster Guide, covering monsters ranging from “Abracadaver” (an undead stage magician) to “Zombie Bicycle” (a zombie bicycle).
A small bestiary is presented in the core Tingleverse rulebook, but Tingle evidently understands the joy of monster books. Of all the original AD&D hardbacks, it seems to my anecdotal experience that people have more fond memories of leafing through the Monster Manual than any other book.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide is often praised for being a dense pile of both useful refereeing tools and Gygax’s extended explanation of why the game is structured the way it is, but is organised so strangely and hops between those two different modes of writing so randomly and is generally so dense that it doesn’t lend itself to idle browsing very well. The Player’s Handbook is rather lightweight, especially when compared to the Player’s Handbooks of subsequent editions, partially because both TSR and Wizards would dial back on Gygax’s philosophy of keeping as much of the system opaque to players as possible and because Wizards-era editions would include substantially more character customisation options than core 1E AD&D did.
The Monster Manual, however, was endless fun to dip into. You had those charming (if rudimentary) illustrations of the monsters, you had those fun descriptions of them, what’s not to love? In general, this has remained true for subsequent editions too, with 2E in particular going the extra distance in terms of rooting the monsters in their ecosystem and the setting, an approach which Tingle takes here.
By and large, then, we have here a conventional monster book – each NPC or creature depicted here has a jolly little illustration by Chuck, and each entry provides the creature’s stats, physical description, combat techniques and lifestyle. The make or break question when it comes to this sort of thing is the imagination of the contributors and their ability to come up with interesting and unique monsters, or distinctive variations on existing themes (like the various flavours of dragons in D&D, or the various types of Reverse Twins or physically embodied abstract concepts or living objects in The Tingleverse). Fortunately, the imagination you are dealing with here is Chuck Tingle’s. ’nuff said.
Mansions of Madness is a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios put out by Chaosium in 1990 (a reprint over a decade later would tack on an extra scenario), based around the loose common theme of having a significant building (if not several) at the hub of the investigation. Though fairly elderly by the standards of the game line’s entire lifetime – Call of Cthulhu was a mere 9 years old when the book came out, the game is now some 38 years old – it’s still widely recommended to this day, with players and Keepers still finding much to enjoy in it.
Indeed, I’ve played through some of the scenarios in it myself in the past, enough that I think it’s safe enough for me to look at it for myself to see if it’s worth the hype. I liked the parts of it I’ve played through, but was it merely down to the unquestionable talents of the Keepers involved?
Authentic Thaumaturgy by Isaac Bonewits is a system-agnostic RPG supplement with a long heritage; its original edition came out in the 1970s from Chaosium, whilst Steve Jackson Games put out an extensively revised version in 1998. Though it’s available in an e-book edition from Steve Jackson Games’ e23 storefront, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a reprint: not only did Bonewits die in 2010, but in 2018 Moira Greyland, daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley, implicated Bonewits as having a peripheral role in the abuse that she suffered at Bradley’s hands.
Either edition purports to offer more or less the same thing: an analysis of tabletop RPG magic, a discussion of what real-world magical practitioners believe and do, and a proposal for a magic system based on real-world practices and the sort of effects people claim to get out of them. The whole thing is written from the perspective that the point of an RPG is to be a realistic simulation, and therefore Bonewits has little time for magic systems which don’t resemble real-life magical practices, even though such systems might be more suitable for, say, presenting a challenging and exciting game, or for providing an interesting feature or metaphor in a story. I, a highly trained scientist, can enjoy science fiction stories can be enjoyed even when the science involved has been discredited or was never that realistic to begin with: why can’t Bonewits do the same for fantasy stories whose treatment of magic doesn’t match his worldview?
And the thing is, that worldview is decidedly central to the book, and it’s rooted in the late-1960s/early 1970s neopagan scene that Bonewits emerged in. The thing is that Bonewits clearly has a highly developed personal ideology of what magic is and isn’t and how it works, and he seems to be personally offended by different ideas in the field.
Cthulhu in R’lyeh eternally lies
Somewhere in the depths of the sea
But soon, says the cultist
Tomorrow Belongs To Thee!”
So, Chaosium has turned its attention to Weimar-era Berlin in Berlin: The Wicked City, a 7th edition supplement primarily written as a passion project by David Larkins (with assistance from product line gurus Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy). This is a chunky supplement which provides a rich level of detail on Berlin as it existed in the span shortly after World War I – in which street violence and radical politics rubbed shoulders with a rich nightlife that included unprecedented freedom to explore drugs, sexuality, gender, and identity – to the period just before the Nazi takeover, at which point street violence and radical politics rather rubbed out said nightlife, save for those sections saved by NSDAP patronage.
Despite my little filk above, however, this isn’t just H.P. Lovecraft’s Cabaret – though there’s inevitably a major overlap of themes. Yes, the bars and cabarets and theatres of Weimar-era Berlin do get a close examination – as does the underworld of drugs and the unprecedented freedoms enjoyed by the LGBT+ community at the time, though in the latter case the text does offer sufficient depth to note that the community wasn’t a monolith; there, as in so many areas of German life, an extreme fringe of proto-fascists existed, and the community had a social pecking order in which crossdressers and those cultivating an androgynous presentation tended to be looked down on a little by everyone else.
Accountability disclaimer! This Kickstopper article’s going to be about a trio of projects run by UFO Press, owned by Liz and Jay Iles (with Jay being the lead designer on most of the material I’m about to discuss). These are friends of mine I know in real life, so if that makes you want to apply a grain of salt to my opinions and question my objectivity on the subject… don’t care, writing article anyway.
Anyway! This Kickstopper article’s going to be a little different from the usual one because I’m going to be reviewing a series of three linked Kickstarters – the first one being for the original edition of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, the second for the 2nd edition of that game, and the third for The Next World – a set of additional settings for Legacy. These three Kickstarters chart the birth and rise of UFO Press from one small indie publisher among many to one which, to my admittedly biased eyes, seems to be punching above its weight in the industry, with Legacy getting widespread critical recognition – there’s currently a Bundle of Holding offer dedicated to the 2nd edition – as well as a crucial commercial leg up thanks to a distribution deal with Modiphius.
Jay’s been able to shepherd her game from a passion project reliant on DriveThruRPG’s print-on-demand arrangements to deliver hard copies to a series which gets traditional print runs and wide distribution via one of the industry’s current major players, and hopefully this article might highlight how that’s possible thanks to the combination of interesting content, delightful presentation, and excellent Kickstarter management that UFO Press has been able to bring to the table.
Chuck Tingle is probably our greatest living satirist, his primary platform being the titles, blurbs, and absurdly photoshopped covers of his short stories (“Tinglers”) on Amazon. Oh, sure, there’s the content of those stories too – but I would be willing to bet that Chuck works on the basis that 99% of people wouldn’t actually sit down and read any of his erotica about urbane dinosaurs, friendly living objects, manifested abstract concepts, or sexy unicorns and bigfoots; the joke has to be delivered in the title and blurb, ideally just the title, and then the actual action of the story is fairly self-evident from there.
Nonetheless, for what’s basically a long-running repetition, refinement of, and iteration on the same basic joke, the whole Tingler thing seems to be going from strength to strength. It certainly help that Chuck – despite portraying himself as a somewhat naïve figure on his Twitter feed and reliant on his “son name of Jon” to get by – actually seems to be remarkably savvy. When the Rabid Puppies’ block voting attack on the Hugo Awards was at its peak, they got Tingle’s Space Raptor Butt Invasion nominated in the short story category. Whilst this seems to have been intended both to denigrate Chuck and the Awards by making them look silly, Chuck took things in hand, turning the incident into an opportunity to advocate for more or less all the causes which the Puppies disliked. (The peak of his counter-trolling came when he declared that if he won, he’d have primary GamerGate target Zoë Quinn collect the award on his behalf.)
That’s the thing about Chuck – he’s got this magic touch which has taken his long-running joke about getting pounded in the butt by sexy night buses or billionaire dinosaurs or alluring manifestations of abstract concepts or your own butt and made it strangely wholesome for work that still retains one foot in the world of erotica. His Twitter feed is a mashup of his surreal take on the universe and moments of clearly expressed, unequivocal good lessons about self-acceptance and treating each other right. He’s like the Mr. Rogers of Dadaist literary pornography who just wants to prove that love is real.
Now the long-running Tingle joke has taken on yet another dimension – that of a tabletop roleplaying game, The Tingleverse, named after the multiverse which his stories take place in. The concept of the game has players taking on the role of inhabitants of this universe – Humans, Unicorns, Bigfoots and Raptors are viable PC races in the core book, and you get to choose from classes like “Sneak”, “Wizard”, “True Buckaroo”, and “Bad Boy” (Chuck notes that being a bad boy doesn’t limit your choice of gender in any respect). Beginning your adventure in Billings, Montana, Chuck’s hometown that prominently features in all his stories, you’re encouraged to go forth and do good in the world against the encroaching forces of the Void, as represented by evil Void Crabs, dubious Reverse Twins, and the vile force of darkness and destruction known only as… Ted Cobbler, who anyone who’s not sufficiently high level just perceives as a perfectly normal resident of the neighborhood.