Thursday, November 15, 2012

Glimpses of the Unknown: RPG Items I Like

WHAT IS IT?

As a gamer I feed on ideas- I'm reading books, watching TV, scanning the web for hooks. So sourcebooks that distill that down for me are particularly appealing.

Game lines offer several kinds of “plot hook” book. You have something like S. John Ross’ Big List of RPG Plots which sets up a conceptual framework with lots of twist variable, the more linear and closed approach of Eureka which offers a complete story, and the structure of Legend of the Five Rings which presents a set-up, twist, and then several directions the story can go in. Glimpses of the Unknown offers neat ideas and concepts and leaves the execution and solution of those to the GM. That’s my preferred approach- I generally ransack sourcebooks for these kinds of ideas. I want books that generate ideas for stories, rather than plotting it from A to Z. Options for endings should be variable or open. Something like the Citybooks clicks for me because it offers those kinds of open set ups and ties them to NPCs and places.

The trick here is that rather than generally covering the World of Darkness or a particular line, Glimpses of the Unknown, covers all of the WW rpgs in brief. That’s both an advantage and a disadvantage. (Glimpses of the Unknown on RPGNow)

PRESENTATION
Glimpses of the Unknown is a standard size WW...wait, Onyx Path...product. I suspect most will pick this up as a 50-page pdf, but it can also be purchased as a PoD softcover or hardcover. The text design follows the format of most of the other WoD books- clean two-column design, watermark bleed on the vertical page edges that doesn’t get in the way, and decent white space. There are a few switch ups, such as the fiction at the beginning, but it looks good and does the job well. The artwork’s uniformly good and varied. The cover illo is assembled from that scattered art and serves as the watermark. It strangely shows up as four separate pages in the book, though. The writing’s good- I’m not sure how deliberate it is, but there’s definitely a tonal shift between sections.

MATERIAL
There’s a two-page piece of game fiction at the start of the book- tight and evocative. I’m not usually a fan of game fiction, but this sets up the weird to come. There’s a one page introduction to set things up.

Each section takes up four pages. These cover World of Darkness, Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, Promethean, Changeling, Hunter, Geist, WoD: Innocents, and WoD: Mirrors. Within they present three things:

Seeds: These are a paragraph or two, simply setting up a premise, a few details, and then offering some options about where to go. Usually that means a key question or two to help the GM flesh things out. Each has about 4-6 of seeds.

Plotlines: These are more elaborate ideas, a campaign arc or full campaign premise. These are multi-paragraph concepts. While these have more details and concepts, they’re still written openly. Each section has 2-3 plots.

Other Stuff: Each section also has a new concept. Many of these are specific to the rpg (a new spell for Mage, Goblin Contract for Changeling, Ceremony for Geist). However a couple of the ideas could be more generally used. There’s the idea of Unnatural Phenomena and the new merit Supernatural Lore- useful for cross-over games or games where another type plays a role.

A couple of the sections shift this formula slightly. The Hunter section has “tiers” for each of the entries, suggesting increasing levels of twist and danger. I assume this is a concept from the rpg itself. The material on WoD Mirrors provides seeds and plots for each of the three “versions” of WoD presented in that book. There’s an odd link across the book with references to “Outsiders” in several sections. These reference a rules sidebar later in Glimpses, which is actually only a few paragraphs. As I read the repeated mentions, I assumed there would be more here on this new concept.

Of course, my interest is squarely on the Changeling material, which is why I actually picked this up in the first place. Let me look at that more closely. Of the six seeds, two of them are OK, two are good, and two immediately made me consider integrating them into a story right away. One of them nicely ties into the new Goblin Contract “Hospitality’s Hold.” This three dot contract enforces the commitment to Hospitality. When a Changeling violates those rules, they take on a visible mark on their Mein. These Violation Marks could be used as a nice device- as in the case of the plot seed where players have to deal with a newcomer who bears many, many of these.

I really like both of the plotlines offered here- one of them drawing the players and freehold into the complexities of Court dynamics. This would be a great way to put players into contact with characters representing the factions. The second plot offers an interesting choice for the players- and depending on how the GM presents the key NPC. The plots aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive and offer ties back to a couple of the plots.

A few of the plots in each section really only work in the context of that particular rpg. However the greater share could be adapted to other games and settings. That makes this book that much more useful. The exception are the Innocents and Mirrors sections at the end, which reflect their split from the main WoD. The material for Mirrors presented here actually makes me want to track down a copy of that book. I love some of the ideas here- one of which reminds me of the Dunkelzahn arc from Shadowrun.

OVERALL
This is a decent supplement. At first I assumed I'd be irritated by the scattershot approach. But there's enough adaptable ideas in each section that I stopped worrying about that quickly. Instead my concern is that I want more- I'd like to see a follow up to this, perhaps with a higher page count.