to Lovecraft Country! This series of sourcebooks, edited by the late, great
Keith Herber, is one of many high water marks for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu
line and heralds the start of its 1990s golden age. Disclaimer: I love these
books so very hard.
Unveiled was first, written by Herber and published in 1990. It details, block
by block, H.P. Lovecraft’s famed witch-haunted town of Arkham, MA, home to
Miskatonic University and no shortage of terrible mysteries.
is an ambitious book and I can’t think of any RPG sourcebook project quite on
the same scale as Lovecraft Country. When I said block by block, I wasn’t being
facetious – the book details every noteworthy building, person and secret
within the city limits, from Keziah Mason’s Witch House to Herbert West,
Reanimator. This is everything you need to run scads of games in Arkham, even
after you’ve finished the four pre-written scenarios included in the back. The
book also includes, in true handouts-loving Chaosium fashion, a lovely
reference map for players and a copy of the local newspaper (this is silly, but
it also blew my mind when I saw it as a kid).
said, Arkham Unveiled is a touch on the dry side, perhaps necessarily so, as it
is the first example in a new kind of sourcebook. It does provide a solid
foundation for the other volumes in the series, which get increasingly wild (I
should mention that I covered the final and perhaps best sourcebook in the
series, Escape From Innsmouth, back in October).
of note: the series was revised, expanded and reprinted in the early 2000’s. In
Arkham Unveiled’s case, it was reissued under the name H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham.
The 1990 edition is superior – the 2003 edition does switch out one of the
scenarios, but is bogged down with a section that makes the book compatible
with the loathsome D20 system and features hideous 3D videogame-style character
got the first Spelljammer box as a birthday gift back in 1990, and because of
my birthday’s proximity to Christmas, I associate the two. The connection I
feel between D&D’s space fantasy setting and the holidays is spurious at
best, but this is my roleplaying game Instagram feed, so.
Spelljammer is weird. I love Spelljammer to itty-bitty pieces, but it is
ridiculous. The ridiculousness might actually be what makes in great, kind of
like the movies in MST3K.
travel is possible in the D&D universe by means of magical artifacts called
Spelljamming Helms. Space is depicted using a version of the Ptolemaic system,
with planets contained within crystal spheres and connected by an elemental gas
called phlogiston, that serves as a kind of interstellar ocean. There are
dozens of spacefaring races in Spelljammer, all with their unique (and often
silly) ships themed to their physical appearance. There’s a lot of Jules Verne
here and things that would have been called “steampunk,” had the term been widespread
at the time.
was a hugely ambitious campaign setting and served as the launch setting for
the AD&D 2E in 1989, if you can believe it. (I can’t imagine something as
weird as Spelljammer coming out today at all, let alone launching something.)
Conceived by Jeff Grubb, one of the key design goals of Spelljammer was to
connect all the existing TSR campaign settings – thus Krynn, Toril and Oerth
are all places Spelljammer characters can hail from and visit.
Holloway’s art and ship designs define the box set – he’s great at balancing
the cool and the doofy in a way that is appealing. That falls off with future
supplements. In a historical context, this is TSR’s first real high concept
setting, but they hadn’t yet figured out how important a strong aesthetic was
in anchoring a setting like this for players. In this way, Spelljammer is a clear,
if flawed, stepping stone to settings like Dark Sun and Planescape (which was
Spelljammer’s philosophical replacement as the connective tissue between all
TSR worlds), both of which fuse high concept material with strong visual style.
Pet Shop - This isn’t just any pet shop. This pet shop sells only creatures of reptilian origin. Snakes, lizards, turtles, and monitors. Being related to his product, doesn’t phase the lizard-folk shop owner.
Wine Shop - Filled from wall to wall with wines from the ages. Some wines in the shop were created by great lords while others were made by orcs and goblins. The owner is a crotchety old man whose teeth have been stained by years of daily wine drinking.
Hat Shop - Top hat, bowler, beret, bonnet, and turban. This shop has them all. If you need something to cover your head, Miss Wemblmore the halfling has what you need.
Spice Shop - Spices have been an important part of society. These spices have all sorts of uses. Most pertain to flavoring foods, but some can be used medicinally and others magically. The shop keeper hails from far away lands and boasts stock representing her homelands.
Furniture Shop - If you are looking to furnish a hovel, home, manor, or castle, furniture is a must. Making sure that your home has the proper furniture starts with picking the lumber and hiring the proper carpenter.
Bone Shop - Entering a shop that sells bones can be a bit of a disturbing experience. Seeing the shopkeeper can be downright traumatizing. Goblin skulls, orc teeth, horse femurs, and tiefling jaws all find themselves in use in one way or another. Watch your back in the shop, no one knows where the shopkeep gets the human toes.
Fruit Shop - Delicious, juicy, and colorful, this fruit shop boasts all the local produce you would see in a market. In the back of the shop they stock special fruits only found from far away and magical lands. Fruit that comes from living breathing trees, fruit that sprouts wings and flies, fruit that drips with liquid magma when cut open. This shop has it all.
Adventurer Shop - A shop with a single book inside. Within the book is a list of names. Each name corresponds to an adventurer ready to go on a quest, for the right amount of coin. There is no shopkeep and the book mysteriously cannot be moved from its central pedestal.
Statue Shop - Each statue has been carefully and skillfully carved from dozens of materials ranging from wood to platinum. Perhaps a skilled artist could convince the shop owner of hosting his work in the shop to sell.
Seed Shop - If you want to start a farm, grow a tree, or observe the process of life, these seed will provide more than enough for your needs. Many seeds are of unknown origin and effect. Take a risk and reap the potential reward of your unknown crop.