First Impressions of Veins of the Earth

If I lived in a world where time wasn’t a thing, where there was enough time in the day to do dad and husband things, work, read, play, and nap; I would blog more. Like yesterday you all were talking about the most boring class and cleric kept coming up and I could probably do ten thousand words about how clerics are boring because the class usually idolizes the god and the god’s plan, but not the ritual, and how if your cleric was mechanically steeped in a tea of swinging thuribles, church politics, self doubt, and sacrifice, they’d be more fun. Replace healing touch with some sacrament wine of healing, you’ll be on the right track. I ran out of time though.

If I had more time I would write a post about sycophancy and how more often than not, when someone claims that a success is because of sycophancy then they are dismissing the ability for swaths of people to digest something intelligently, on their own. The post would talk about how sycophancy spreads and how intelligent people can be brain-numbed into just blindly throwing out a thumbs up, but at the end of the day claiming success (in RPGs, anyways) via sycophancy is probably more often the mutterings of someone who says “I can do that but better” but then doesn’t do that. “Sycophancy is real but probably rarer than we think” would be my first sentence maybe.

I watched this GDC talk from Mark Rosewater (who wrote some episodes of Roseanne, and also a few game things) where he talks about lessons he learned in designing Magic the Gathering and one of the lessons was about how a game can be widely liked and not be successful; but a game needs at least a few people that love it to be successful. My post on sycophancy would tie back into the video and say something about how if everyone is saying nice things about an RPG book that our first move shouldn’t be moaning about all the people trying to look cool by liking the cool thing: it is really possible for a gripful of people to like something because it’s good and it is possible that those people arrived at that point with their own brain-thoughts. We can have success, we should make books without suffering impostor syndrome, we can make money and all of us can like the same thing. It’s totally okay. I think what happens is that something comes out and everyone is like “yep that’s cool” and then 3 people are like “i fucking love this more than my own mom” and we only hear those 3 people and then there is some signal to noise problems and we accidentally hear sycophancy. Well, we need those 3 mother-hating-lovers because that’s how everyone else learns about the thing in the first place. Those 3 people probably have informed opinions on the thing they love. (*)

At any rate this is all because I thumbed through Veins of the Earth and it’s really good so far (to start: the introduction should be put in the MLA handbook and labeled How To Introduce Your Elfgame) and it bums me out to know that there will be people saying that I only like it because someone else liked it. I want to be someone who goes on to talk about how good this is without being accused of trying to cuddle in bed with some dreamy, popstar RPG author. Even more so, I don’t like the idea that people who comment on this post to agree with me might also be accused of liking it to be part of the crowd (or vice versa. If you hate this book it’s fine, just don’t hate it simply because someone else likes it, and if you see someone hating the book don’t accuse them of hating them it because you like it, ask them why they hate it). More so, what I am trying to say is let’s not use this book as a weapon to divide one another in to groups we don’t give a shit about.

If you’re looking for an opinion from someone who doesn’t buy every LotFP thing there is (that’s me, I don’t care for the baked in setting but I do like the rules I guess) then here is my opinion: Veins is going to be a great read and a great visual experience. By far my biggest gripe so far is that I wish Scrap had done the character sheet. I’d really like to see her aesthetic blanketed over something meant to be a tactile utility. (The sheet does look good as is, don’t get me wrong) I’ll be reading through the rest of it this week instead of sketching during coffee, but here are some initial thoughts:

The prose is good. Real good. This is the kind of RPG stuff I like; while I do prefer rules light systems I prefer a heavy wind bagging of flavor to carry it. Patrick does a good job of meandering about his ideas but doesn’t drive off the cliff. I think something more RPG books could learn from is to use the actual world to describe the fake world much better; one of the monsters sounds like radio static. I know exactly what that sounds like. Am I going to play a game where there are radios? Not like to, really, (love my fantasy tropes) but if I were at the table I would totally describe something as sounding like radio static and the first player to say “dude I am a medieval elf what’s a radio” would be uninvited to my birthday party. So if you’re wondering if this book is written to be used at the game table, or if it is to be used on the coffee table I would definitely say it can be used at the game table. I don’t have a coffee table but I do use big books to press my scanner lid down.

The art is also real good, although some of the smaller page-decorative art falls a little short. I think the cover should be have been the illustration on p217. Scrap shines when given the room to do so which I think is a pretty interesting thing to think about when also thinking about a book about tight dark spaces. The book is full of art. This book is beautiful. Her art is jarring and striking and you can use the same words to describe cave walls and dark-place-feelings as the words used to describe the illustration.  The layout is spot on, but my brain does have trouble switching from the striking hurried illustrations to the mechanized diagrams. But that’s on me, not the team for this book.

The encumbrance rules are really good, almost like a step up from the inventory management from Diablo, but not stepping into the realm of doing math to figure out how much shit you can stuff in your pocket without walking slow. Oh I also really like the 100 caves section a lot. I think that this book could use 50 more pages of mechanized RPG system, and it could have been it’s own game. If it were my job to turn this into an RPG I would make it so that you picked your race and your class by thumbing through the book and finding anything you like and then you be that.

Another thing this book is doing that I love: selling really well. The best of the best in the DIY scene is getting better and better, and selling better and better. This is nothing but a net positive for RPGs. This book means that when David’s Behind Gently Smiling Jaws finally hits (I’m glaring at you David) it is going to have an even wider audience.

(* disclaimer: yes, people buy shit based only on the fact that an author or illustrator or musician they love created it; they buy it before they read reviews or steal it or whatever: this isn’t sycophancy, this is called being a fan)

Veins of the Earth via LotFP / DriveThru.

That GDC talk from the guy who wrote some Roseanne and other stuff.