Saturday, March 30, 2024

Blood, Smog & Steel

"Gooood evening, and a fine First Shift to all you hard workers out there~! This is your nightly news and weather forecast. Let's start the shift off with some good news: productivity continues to trend upward, meaning that we are well on our way to achieving that 2.5% quarterly increase we've all been hoping for! Give yourselves a pat on the back on your way in- but not before casting your ballots! Mr. Bartos' careful deliberation is over, and he has sent down his list of nominees for the role of replacement foreman. May the victor honor the memory of Foreman Solt, who was taken from us too soon by a tragic linotype accident. Our hearts go out to Mr. Solt's family, and above all to Mr. Bartos, who has soldiered on despite the loss of so dutiful an employee. In his boundless magnanimity, Mr. Bartos has elected not to fine Mr. Solt's next of kin for ruining an entire batch of molten antimony. Instead, he has given the workers of Floor C an opportunity to show their commitment and team spirit by garnishing their wages to cover the lost profits and opportunity cost of new hires. Moving on! You also have an exciting walk home to look forward to tonight thanks to ash storms and a richer than usual smog bank, so do be sure to rent a premium respirator and stop by the company store for a fresh filter on your way out. Mr. Bartos would hate to lose another one of his beloved ducklings. Until next broadcast, goodnight and good work to you all! Bartos Type Industries; In Service Of Excellence™ ."

— Nightly loudspeaker announcement, Bartos Manorfactory

"Why didn't Orbiq show up for his first shift? Line 12-I is starting to back up!"

"You didn't hear? Couriers picked him up. They found wood splinters on his clothes."

"Really? Damn it. He's dead for sure... who's gonna cover his shift on such short notice!?"

— Stockyard Banter, Tilatosh Manorfactory

It has been a little over eighty years since anyone saw the sun in this land that has come to be known as the Burgravate.

A few old shells are still around who saw it, or claim to have seen it, but they're a dying breed. The ones who are left tend to keep quiet about it whenever management is within earshot- and management is always close, either out in the open or lurking in the shadows cast by the all-enveloping smog clouds.

Some folks think things should be different, but good luck getting them to admit that to anyone. Team players don't talk dissent, and dissenters don't stay alive for long. Everyone else just does their best to keep their heads down and do their own time; your shift's gotta end sometime, right?

The Burgravate

The new name for a very old land (or was it many lands?) that were quite different up until a few centuries ago. But those names and histories have been lost, their peoples and cultures flattened. Now it's all Burgravate in every direction you look.

This place is a sprawling city-state forever basking in a starless night of its own creation. Towering edifices combining factory and aristocratic manor work around the clock to spew a thick layer of smog, soot, and other particulates over the city, fueled by the unceasing toil of its workers. It lies at the unbeating heart of a vast wasteland made of dust, toxic waste, and scar tissue.

As the smog expands, so too does the waste, and the borders of the Burgravate follow soon after, creeping along like a slate grey glacier.

At the helm of this noctoforming project is a tenuous alliance of vampires and their servants. Theirs is a tangled web of rivalries and intrigue, but nothing brings them together quite like keeping the commoners in check. They keep the living busy, fed, and dependent, and in exchange they rule their respective district-fiefdoms with leisured impunity.

Time is a vexing and slippery thing in the Burgravate. With no sun to measure the days with, there are no days. The standard unit of measure is a 24-hour night divided into three 8-hour Shifts. The only timekeeping devices are the horns and claxons of the factories.

You are not to know how much time is left; only when that time has come.

The Vampires

The twitchy, undulating ruling class of the Burgravate, forever watching from their grey-litten manor house windows or strolling the streets in clothes so bright and fine that not even the ubiquitous ash of this land can touch them. They'd be notable for how pale they are, if everyone else wasn't suffering grievous vitamin D deficiency. They are the ones who penned the first contract that so many humans consigned themselves and their descendants to darkness for. Nowadays they call themselves barons, dukes, overseers, executives, and a number of other self-given titles.

They are enthusiastically unsubtle bloodsuckers who long ago murdered subtext.

Vampires possess many superhuman traits, if comparing them to humans at all can be considered appropriate. They possess supernatural speed, strength, grace, and intelligence, as well as magnetic personalities fueled by a terrifying charisma that seems to ensorcell their targets. They have been known to verbally berate people to death for minor infractions.

They also have an unnerving ability to be... present. By some unknown means, they seem to see and hear most of what transpires within their districts. They may appear out of a darkened corner or the blind spots of human vision at any moment, giving them the appearance of omniscience and omnipotence. And as the sun vanishes from collective memory, they appear ever more invincible for it.

The cause of vampiric sunlight allergy is not known; not even to them. Plenty have theorized about a mundane or magical origin for it, but little has come of it. Some vampires are terrified by this great unknown; others don't give a damn why and just worry about finding solutions, and so devise ever greater ways to protect themselves from the Lurid Enemy while expanding their influence.

Where or how vampires are created is not known. All that is known is that a new one will be introduced to the city every few generations to found a new district, and then in short order they will be treated as if they had always been there. The most popular theory in the Burgravate is that the process takes place somewhere deep down beneath the Yawn, where neither light nor living reach.

Vampirism is considered by a few deeply haunted scholars to be somewhere in between a magical enchantment and a set of dramatic mutations. While most vampires externally resemble humans, their internal biology is radically different, more closely resembling that of certain winged arthropods. Whether they were originally human or just resemble them by design or coincidence is unclear.

Famous allergies and weaknesses like garlic, silver, and wooden stakes are complete fabrications. They are lies propagated by vampires generations ago, as part of a broader disinformation campaign against their enemies. They went so far as to outlaw and heavily police the above substances once they rose to power, in order to keep up the appearance that they are dangerous. More than one would-be vampire hunter has gone to great lengths and expended enormous resources obtaining such contraband from Brighter Parts, only to realize too late that they are woefully ineffective.

In truth, any sufficiently grievous bodily harm can kill a vampire. Dismemberment is good. Explosions are better. Direct exposure to the sun is a guarantee. Some theorize that you could starve one to death by denying them blood, but none has ever seen a vampire become so much as famished within the Burgravate.

Vampires don't technically drink blood; their gastrointestinal tracts are completely nonfunctional and vestigial, just like their lungs, pancreas, and reproductive organs. Instead, they siphon their victim's blood up through ducts in their fangs and filter it through a specialized organ at the base of the skull. The blood is then stored in soft tissues all across the vampire's body for gradual absorption.

Vampires are not known for their temperance. They will drain an entire body dry in a single sitting before they stop feeding, and many will go for seconds or thirds if they have them within reach. This feeding frenzy typically leaves the vampire grossly swollen and tick-like, but also sluggish and vulnerable to attack.

Recently fed vampires will sleep off a meal in as secure a location as possible. This often takes the form of an armored enclosure deep within their manor that can only be opened from the inside. Wishful thinking on the part of some human rebels has led to these chambers being dubbed "coffins", but in reality they bear little resemblance to the funerary boxes of old. They're closer to sumptuously decorated panic rooms.

The Burgrave

The ur-vampire, retired founder of the first smog factories, and enigmatic ruler of the Burgravate and all its constituent manors. They are said to 'live' in the kingliest of all estates deep beneath the surface, accessible via the bottom of the Yawn; a spiraling former pit-mine at the heart of the Burgravate. They are 'said' to live there because no one knows for sure. The Burgrave has never been seen by any living shell, and the vampires keep tight-lipped about them.

Their activities as ruler of the city are opaque but far-reaching and of grave consequence. Messengers said to represent the Burgrave occasionally bring orders up to the surface in pursuit of some unknown agenda. These 'Couriers' are a task force of dhampirs charged with enacting the Burgrave's will. The Couriers answer to no other vampire but the Burgrave themself, and have been known to act against dissenting lords and ladies with surprising prejudice.

The Burgrave is rumored to...

  • ... Possess powers beyond those of regular vampires, including but not limited to invisibility, flight, mindreading, precognition, animal magnetism, and long-distance exsanguination.
  • ... Be preparing for a major military expansion of the Burgravate in the near future, with the end-goal of world domination.
  • ... Be so swollen from constant feeding that they are confined to a single grand chamber in their palace deep below the Yawn, naked and luxuriant upon a pile of desiccated corpses like a dragon on its hoard.
  • ... Not exist at all. The illusion of an all-powerful, far-reaching ruler operating from the shadows serves the other vampires perfectly well, both to keep their mortal charges in check and to justify any actions they take on the world-stage. If this Burgrave Conspiracy is true then there is no central government in the Burgravate, and the Couriers are just independent mercenaries playing their part and acting in the interests of the current highest bidder.

The Yawn

A massive, spiraling gyre at the center of the city. It was once the first pit-mine of the Burgravate, where thousands of tons of coal were carved out by countless miners over the first few centuries. It once fed the fires that darkened the sky enough for the first vampires to walk cautious and veiled during the day. Now it lies dead and silent like a festering wound in the land's flesh, its veins of useful minerals exhausted.

Dead and silent doesn't mean empty, however. Quite the opposite. Processions of dhampirs wind up and down its corkscrew pathways at all hours, sending out orders and bringing back reports, shipments of goods, and the occasional condemned shell.

So sterile and picked-clean of old mining equipment is this place that it looks eerily beautiful, like a work of land art devised by some mind possessed by manic genius. Perhaps it is for this reason that the manorfactories directly abutting the Yawn are considered the nicest, most scenic of all districts. The living are discouraged from staring for too long, though. The Yawn can be... captivating.

The Manorfactories

Massive agglomerations of factory space, warehouses, and stockyards watched over by towering industrial-gothic monstrosities that house each district's vampire and their personal estate and staff. They are imposing, impenetrable, and an awful pun besides.

As the home of its resident vampire and the center of industry, each manorfactory is essentially the capital of its given district. They stand arranged in a near-perfect grid pattern stretching for hundreds of kilomiles in every direction, interrupted only by the largest natural features and landforms too stubborn to be flattened or hollowed out by labor.

Each manorfactory consumes massive amounts of fuel in deliberately inefficient furnaces that belch forth the smog that sustains the Burgravate's rulers. Most of this fuel is coal hewn from local mines, each an upstart little imitation of the venerable Yawn. But so long as it burns, the hungry furnaces aren't picky: there are no landfills and no graveyards in the Burgravate.

Manorfactories tend to be dedicated to a single industry that complements its neighbors. A large minority of manorfactories are concerned with the production of luxury goods that keep the resident vampires comfortable and conspicuous. Slightly more than that are dedicated to producing the tools, engines, food, and other necessities that keep the living side of the district more-or-less alive.

The remainder of manorfactories in the Burgravatethe majority-serve no other purpose than to produce smog and keep living people preoccupied with labor. Many workers don't even know what their jobs accomplish, if anything- just that they create a whole lot of sparks and loud noises, and that they're being graded for how many they make per shift.

Residential areas for the living are built directly into their respective workplaces in the form of repeating honeycomb dormitories- not that anyone living inside them would know what in the world a honeybee is. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that most people can roll out of their bunk and onto the factory floor. Easier to control them that way.

The palatial building at each manorfactory's heart, often referred to as "the offices", towers over the rest of the district like a panopticon of spires and stained glass windows. Within each is an opulent labyrinth populated by teams of dhampirs, highly-paid and higher-strung service workers, and of course the resident vampire, who is boss and baron all rolled up into one taut evening suit.

The Dhampirs

A dhampir is a formerly living mortal who has undergone the voluntary process of being partially fed upon by a vampire in order to induce... changes. They are emphatically not half-vampires, nor are they considered to be descended from or "sired" by their respective vampire patron in any way. Vampires, it is known, are entirely incapable of reproducing (or wanting to).

Dhampirs were once living humans until they paid exorbitant fees and indentured themselves for several lifetimes of servitude to a single vampire in exchange for a chance at dhampir status. Most prospective dhampirs never get that far, and most who do end up dying anyway because of their benefactors' unquenchable appetites.

They exhibit several vampire-like qualities such as extended lifespan, physical durability, improved strength and reflexes, etc. Dhampirs need not (and cannot) feed on blood, but some of them are known to drink a glass of the ol' Fresh Red every now and then in emulation of their "betters", just to feel fancy. It is believed that they are also more resistant to the sun than their creators, but to what degree is unclear.

How much a vampire feeds on the dhampir-to-be determines how humanlike they remain. Just a little bite keeps them essentially human but enhanced; a moderate feeding creates something superhuman, gaunt, and severe; being all but drained leaves them monstrous, desiccated husks of their former selves, listless and sullen but able to perform tasks single-mindedly, like a supernatural lobotomy patient. Calling the latter group "ghouls" is strongly discouraged, and may constitute a hate crime in some districts.

Contrary to popular perception, dhampirs are not actually charmed or glamored toward their benefactors in any way; they really are just that yuppy and sycophantic. Real go-getters, you could say.

Dhampirs comprise the majority of each vampire's personal staff and assistants. They are crucial to the nightly operation of just about every system and industry in the Burgravate, acting as a sort of middle-management caste between their employers and the ashen masses below. They are also the only people entrusted with operating the Sableways.

The Sableways

A network of coal-fueled locomotives that crisscross the Burgravate and beyond, delivering goods and personnel wherever the vampires decree. Smaller railways service individual districts, which are connected together by a larger, strictly regulated national rail that extends all the way out to Brighter Parts beyond the Burgravate. The trains are crewed and serviced entirely by dhampirs; the living are not trusted with such things.

Every Sable engine and car is as overengineered as the manorfactories, making them downright malevolent to behold and disquieting to ride inside of. Ominous interior lights, constant howling, noxious smoke that vents out from strategically-placed exhaust pipes to create a billowing "mantle" of darkness, etc. Most living folks run the other way when they hear one screaming down the rails, for fear of being told to board for a destination unknown and best unfathomed.

Other than that, the Sableways are genuinely some of the best public transit in the world. Engineers in Brighter Parts are working to devise a more human-friendly adaptation of them.

The Living

Someone has to keep the wheels of industry turning for the vampires. Unfortunately for the residents of the Burgravate who yet live, it's them. The majority of the human population is kept as docile workers and an occasional food source by their vampiric employers. They avoid using the word "cattle", usually.

Groups are kept divided with almost no travel or contact between districts, except at carefully controlled checkpoints. These rifts between communities are fostered and deepened by vampire propaganda, which seeks to undermine any sense of unity they might develop. Common is the occurrence that a vampire announces how "those shiftless ne'er-do-wells on the other side of the fence" have ruined another shipment, forcing the district to work even harder to catch up.

Humans here are usually pale in complexion regardless of race or ethnic background, thanks to generations under the smog. Having a light coating of ash on them at all times adds to this effect of depressing uniformity. Despite this, many communities have been isolated from one another for so long that they now possess different cultures, practices, and dialects, insofar as they are allowed to exercise them.

Leading causes of death in the Burgravate are respiratory illness and workplace injury. Direct predation by the upper class is a highly visible cause of death, but statistically not even in the top 10; more die from scurvy alone. Most deaths by vampires are judicial sentences carried out on lawbreakers, but failed dhampir transformation constitutes a sizeable (and growing) minority.

Clothing manufactured for use by the living tends to be drab, utilitarian, and concealing. Ornamentation is likely to get confiscated or caught in a machine. Therefore, personalization of masks and respirators is a common, if limited, means of self-expression. Most districts consider someone not to be dressed if they don't have a mask on hand.

Children have it rough. Average height is slowly decreasing with each generation, and rickets is common. Many parents feel bad bringing them into the world and workforce, but that is another dimension of life that is not up to the living to decide on. Well, technically it's a choice, but few people decline for the same reason they don't decline a second shift of unpaid overtime: you're better off seen as a team player.

The Resistance, As It Were

Despite what the local human resources office might tell you about employee satisfaction and productivity, not everyone has been ground down into compliance by the vampires. There are those who realize (or have been made to realize) that there is an alternative. There is another choicealbeit an equally painful one—that they can make instead: fight.

Some are true believers in the occultated sun, who want to see the land restored to the way it was before cruel avarice poisoned everything. Others consider it a fairytale, but don't care one way or another; they see a bad situation, and want to make it less bad. Still others have more personal or short-term goals in mind; revenge, escape, sheer unmitigated boredom, etc. All camps differ in their ends, but are united by the means: killing vampires. Or trying to, at any rate.

Rebels operate in small cells scattered across the outskirts of manorfactories. Their movement is nascent and vulnerable to being snuffed out early, so they chiefly concern themselves with staying alive and undetected while pursuing modest goals. Their activities include stockpiling supplies, minor acts of sabotage at strategic locations, and many discreet forms of passive resistance.

Perhaps their most important goal of all is fostering moments of fleeting communication and cooperation between people of different districts; a sort of living class solidarity.

Just getting people from one district to see one from another as equal is a daunting task by itself: all their lives, both have been raised to believe that any benefit enjoyed by the other is a detriment to themself, and that only one's own vampire is in any position to better them. That has to change before anything else can be accomplished. Even if by some miracle a single district liberated itself tonight, it would be their living, breathing neighbors who'd be sent in to break them with a ferocity born of desperate self-preservation.

It is the rebels' hope that someday they can unite the districts in a general uprising against their masters with the intent to overthrow the Burgrave and shut down the smog factories. It's a dim hope, but not as dim as the sun.

Perhaps it could be managed with support from sympathetic parties in Brighter Parts...

Brighter Parts

Simply put, Brighter Parts are the rest of the world beyond the Burgravate, where the sun is rumored to still shine. Officially, the sun is a spurious myth propagated by criminals, anarchists, and disgruntled employees- all of which are synonymous with one another. But the vampires are still a few mortal generations away from hammering that belief in as "fact". Until that time, workers are kept as ignorant of the outside world as possible, and incidentally the converse is true as well.

Parts closer to the Burgravate are none too happy to catch some of its pollution whenever the wind changes- nor are they eager to see the smoggy domain encroach on them bit by bit as new contracts are negotiated. But the vampires have excellent PR, and their manufacturing exports are important to the regional economy, so political will to do anything about it is low for the moment.

The only way to reach Brighter Parts is by crossing the miles of blighted, trackless wasteland surrounding the Burgravate. The fastest way to do this is by taking a Sableway, but to do so you'd either have to get the OK of the vampires, or enact a daring hijacking. You could also try hoofing it across the lightless wastes, but there is a multitude of starving, toothy reasons why the fences around the outermost districts are designed to keep things out as well as in.

Friday, March 29, 2024

A Boring History Lesson on the Much More Interesting Talislanta, the Game That Won't Die

I started writing about Talislanta a few weeks ago and realized I was cramming way too many things into a single post again, so I've decided to split the wordcount up a bit.

You can read the more gamey bits here once those are finished.

1st Edition

In 1987, after several trips and false starts, a tiny publisher named Bard Games, headed by a weird and eclectic saxophonist named Stephen Michael Sechi, released the first edition of the Talislanta roleplaying game. It distinguished itself from other fantasy worlds of the time with its relative lack of inspiration and/or derivation from Tolkien or European mythology, in favor of a slightly more exotic and more obviously post-apocalyptic feel (not to say that LotR isn't a post-apocalypse story).

It's more influenced by Horror Person Lovecraft's Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath (my favorite thing by Lovecraft ever, partly because the fussy Cheez-It eater hated the story himself) and Jack Vance's Dying Earth setting- though interestingly, this did not extend to pilfering Vance's magic system like certain other games of the time were doing.

To simplify greatly, Talislanta is a game of optimistic post-apocalypse. The world was trashed by the fall of a magical empire 600 years prior in a Great Disaster, leaving the world scarred and full of magical aberration. You pick your character from dozens of archetypes ranging from mage-hunters, to mutants, to lizard people, to hyper-intelligent snails, and have yourself a Weird Fantasy adventure with occasional magitech and airships thrown in.

From its inception Talislanta was played using a skills-based resolution system where every action is decided using a single d20 roll on the Action Table. The Action Table operates on intent, and weighs the outcome against what you wanted to happen with possible mishaps or unforeseen bonuses depending on how bad or well you roll. It was consciously streamlined in a way that most systems making use of the d20 in the '80s were not.

2nd Edition

Between 1988 and 1990 a series of Talislanta books was published that updated the game to second edition piecemeal. These were small rules revisions, additional character backgrounds, some optional systems for edge cases of gameplay like mass combat, etc. These books were then collated into a single gamebook plus a world atlas. As far as new editions go it was a rather mild update, on par with the AD&D 1E to 2E jump.

Bard Games then went out of business.

That would have been the end of the story of Talislanta, if not for the timely arrival of a plucky young TTRPG company that had just recently emerged on the scene and was looking to grow its modest catalogue. The company decided to go out on a limb and buy the license to publish a new edition of Talislanta in collaboration with Sechi in 1992.

That company?

Wizards of the fricking Coast.

3rd Edition

At this point WotC were a brand new company that only had one other game, The Primal Order, to their name. Hell, they hadn't even started Magic: The Gathering yet. What a weird, small world we live in. And what a glimpse into what could have been. Imagine if they had stuck with Talislanta or other weird little games like Everway instead of snapping up D&D and going the way they did.

Regardless, this gave Talislanta another lease on life, and for 2 more years WotC published the third edition of the game. The differences in this edition were more pronounced, shifting the game away from a purely skills-based system to one that combined skills and more traditional character level progression. The timeline also advanced 20 years, with new developments and subplots that found their way into some of the first full-length adventures for the game, also published under WotC.

WotC then dropped Talislanta in 1994 and pivoted to other projects like MtG, which proved to be explosively popular at the previous year's Gen Con.

Anniversary Edition

The license shifted hands again then, to a small Canadian company named Daedalus Entertainment. Daedalus' only other RPG was Feng Shui but their primary focus was on the collectible card game Shadowfist, which shared a universe with Feng Shui. It was kind of a weird urban fantasy Legend of Five Rings situation. It seemed like the trend of a new edition with every new publisher would continue with Daedalus, but development of the next Talislanta languished for years, and eventually the CCG crash of 1997 bankrupted the company with no new Talislanta published.

But 1997 was an auspicious year. It would be Talislanta's 10th anniversary, and Sechi hoped to have a new book out in honor of the date. So he shopped the license around a little more, and eventually found Pharos Press. I'd never heard of them before, and they don't even have a Wikipedia page these days, but they seem most notable for publishing the first edition of Nobilis back in the day. Pharos got to work, but production was plagued by setbacks that delayed publication repeatedly, until finally 1997 came and went with only a mostly-finished new edition extant in the form of a handful of ashcan prints. The licensee was also nasty to work with and "treated Tal fans like sh*t" during that time, reports Sechi.

4th Edition

Sechi pulled the license from Pharos Press after that, and took some of the ashcans with him. When the publisher Shooting Iron took over and in Sechi's words saved the day, they based their version of Talislanta on the unpublished Pharos draft, to the point that the failed 10th Anniversary edition and the successful fourth edition of 2001 are mostly identical. Or at least that's the usual claim that people, including Sechi himself, have made; the ashcan copies are extremely rare, and I don't believe they've ever been scanned and uploaded to the internet, so I haven't been able to take a look for myself.

When people talk about how Talislanta is the game that just won't die, this is what they mean. Every time a deal falls through or a publisher up and evaporates, it springs up in another mutation of itself somewhere else. And this isn't because of some massive fandom clamoring for more. Don't get me wrong, Talislanta has always had very devoted fans. But they've always been more of a cult following due to the game's relative lack of mass appeal compared to the leviathans that came to dominate the industry. Yet they've shown up for the game year after year and helped carry it forward into the new century. Sechi's stubborn determination to manifest his game the way he's envisioned it certainly helps, too.

Talislanta fourth edition (AKA the Big Blue Book) scrapped the character level mechanic of third edition, refined its magic system to be more freeform and versatile, and reined in most of the bits of NPC-centric metaplot that started to become prominent in third edition. You will sometimes see it written online that Talislanta refuses to have a metaplot, but I think it's more accurate to say they tried it early on, found it didn't work super well with the rest of the game, and then dropped the idea. Whatever the reason though, Talislanta took a step back and tried to become more evergreen with its content at a time when years-long adventure paths and character-focused stories with their own continuities and regular installments of new lore were becoming the norm.

Shooting Iron published Talislanta materials until 2005, at which point it relinquished the license after its largest distributor went out of business without paying them. This cut out most of the money the company should have made off of fourth edition. But instead of languishing in development hell for years again, Talislanta quickly and successfully changed hands to Morrigan Press, which then published a slew of fourth edition material. It took 18 years, but the game finally had a peaceful transfer of publisher power!

Talislanta d20

Sechi shifted toward music as a full-time career at this time in his life, and he let Morrigan Press go wild with the license without any direct involvement from him. As a result, Morrigan Press was perhaps the most prolific of all Talislanta publishers. It released about a dozen titles for fourth edition in 2005-2006, as well as an OGL d20 adaptation of the game. They even blurred the lines between the two parallel versions of the game by including dual stats for both games for their monsters in the 4th edition Talislanta Menagerie.

Everybody and their auntie was scrambling to shoehorn their IP into a d20 book in an attempt to ride the wave of almost-mainstream success enjoyed by D&D 3E at the time, no matter how weird the fit was. I call this the 3E Gold Rush, for lack of a better name. It's unsurprising that even Talislanta joined ranks with such names as Iron Kingdoms, Farscape, and World Wrestling Entertainment. If it sold well, it could have buoyed the IP as a whole.

Did anybody actually play this one, or was it only used
as episode fodder by early YouTube gaming channels?

The d20 version tries its best to emulate the other edition within 3.5E without shaking too much up, but even at a glance it's not the same. I might give it a full blog post comparison someday, but for now I'll leave it at a few observations.

Only some of the playable cultures in the base games make the cut in d20, although balance between them is as stylistically wonky as in the source material. There's a "Restricted Classes" rule that some species have that is never explained anywhere in the book. Are they forbidden from playing that class entirely? Can they only not start as one at 1st level? Is it a matter of class level caps? They never state. 

Some of the classes they wrote or retooled are interesting choices, like removing rage from Barbarians and making them more wilderness warriors with a few Ranger abilities. Others raise my eyebrow in suspicion, because I think they were stolen from other third-party d20 books.

Take for example the Scout class' 15th level ability, Heroic Sacrifice, which lets you continue to fight even after being reduced to -10 hit points, not dying until the end of combat. It's unusual, flavorful, rules-wonky, and almost identical to the 15th level Borderer class ability from the Conan the Roleplaying Game, another d20 book first published in 2003.

I recognized such a weirdly specific "your wilderness scout's ability is to die for your friends" class feature immediately from my days when I gave a crap about the Hyborian Age. It's very clearly ripped from it and then slightly tweaked. Heck, even the way the text is formatted in each book cuts some of the words up in identical ways.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not decrying Morrigan Press' writers here. I don't think they did anything especially wrong by copying an ability from another OGL property; that's kind of the reason why we have those licenses to begin with. Some of the Conan stuff was extremely shallow and in the spirit of the 3E cash-in craze too, for fairness' sake. It's just kind of weird and funny to me.

They do an admirable job trying to port freeform magic over without falling back on Vancian magic, which I fully expected them to do for an OGL game. But it's a good job achieving what's ultimately an imperfect fit, and it leaves the d20 skill system begging for even greater abuse than usual; modes of magic are skills in this version of the game, you see, and d20 skills can be... janky.

Also the book suffers from a few editing issues, like the unforgiveable "Gamemaster's Only" chapter heading.

5th Edition

After dipping their toes in d20 for a bit, Morrigan Press returned to more traditional Talislanta in 2006, but in yet another form; fifth edition. It is largely a continuation of previous Talislanta rules, with some minor alterations like a magic rework, and some big ones like the point-based character building system. The builder brought Talislanta in line with many other skill-based RPGs, but it also took something that was somewhat unique and appealing about Talislanta—character archetypes—and relegated them to a mere optional rule buried toward the back of the book. It wasn't a fanbase breaker, but among the criticisms made about fifth edition, this was among the biggest.

And I slightly agree? I know that sounds weird coming from the guy who abhors impositions like race/class limits or race-as-class. Don't get me wrong, I would 100% enjoy building a character from scratch (and probably will in a New System, New Face post sometime). But the bundles of abilities, gear, and lore that archetypes are were designed in a fun way that help add to the characterization of the world without locking players into a single gameplay path, similar to how Dark Souls starting classes work.

If archetypes were limiting in the long-term the way D&D classes are, or if Talislanta the game was intended to be played with universes other than Talislanta the setting, I'd welcome the change fully. But that isn't the case, so I am left feeling a very slight amount of loss from the change.

Perhaps the changes in fifth edition played a part, or perhaps there was a lot else going on behind the scenes, but the end result is that in 2008 Morrigan Press went out of business, as so many other publishers of Talislanta tend to do. The curse returned, and for almost a decade the game laid dormant.

Talislanta: The Savage Land

But Talislanta isn't only a game. It dabbled in short stories since the '90s, with the release of the Tales of Talislanta anthology. And in 2015 Talislanta returned to narrative storytelling via graphic novel.

In the Tales of the Savage Lands web comic, Sechi and artist Ben Dennett tell the story of the Vandar endling Severus as he tries to survive in the Age of Confusion immediately following the Great Disaster that ended the world. It's a story of loss, struggle for survival, and the sheer smoldering ruin of the world, quite unlike the tone of modern Talislanta. The comic was eventually completed, taken down, and then published for sale with the help of a Kickstarter as The Savage Land - The Graphic Novel in 2017.

Savage Land served as a distant prequel to the modern age of Talislanta, as well as the first car in a new Talislanta hype-train. Also in 2017 Sechi teamed up with Nocturnal Media, headed by Stewart Wieck, one of the founders of White Wolf, of all people. Their mission was to turn the Savage Land setting into a new edition of Talislanta.

They started a Kickstarter campaign with an ambitious goal: a new Talislanta book, x5. First, they would publish the nearly complete Savage Land for normal Talislanta rules. Then, they would port it to D&D 5E, Savage Worlds, Pathfinder RPG 1E, and OpenD6.

The KS launched on March 29, 2017, coinciding with the game's 30th anniversary. It started off good and got better, funding in ~12 hours and steadily blowing through stretch goals day after day before totaling just under $70k (out of an initial goal of $10k) a month later. Things were on the up-and-up, and it looked like the shotgun approach would work.

Of course, this being Talislanta, that couldn't last for long.

First, Stewart Wieck died in June, throwing the continued existence of Nocturnal Media into jeopardy. Then, it became clear that despite funding very successfully, the project had bitten off more than it could chew: the number of orders placed by Talislanta's devoted fans could not justify porting The Savage Land to every system they had planned. Savage Worlds and Pathfinder had to be scrapped, leaving just the Talislanta, 5E, and D6 versions. Somewhat understandably, a wave of refunds quickly followed as people who had wanted those specific books backed out. Then, somebody linked a spambot to the refund survey form and spoiled all of the response data, forcing the whole process to start over again.

This was in addition to a host of other, more minor issues like BackerKit glitches, delays in printing and fulfillment, and all the other stuff you tend to get with big Kickstarter projects.

But in spite of all of the screwups and bad luck, Talislanta: The Savage Land launched in 2019.

... Aaand since I didn't back the KS and I don't happen to have $50USD to burn comparing and contrasting the three different books, I have to keep actual details of this edition to a minimum.

I never said I was a good historian.

But! I do know a few things for certain.

Savage Land expands the scope of gameplay by including an optional campaign mode where each PC is the leader of a tribe struggling to survive in this new dark age. Leading, protecting, and helping your tribes flourish can allow you to eventually forge larger polities that can then exert their will on the continent at large, enforcing the 'order' of empire on the vacuum left behind by the sudden and literal fall of the Archaens.

It can even set the stage for your own custom campaign in modern Talislanta, where the actions of one party and their tribes can fundamentally shape the face of the world for the folks who come along 600 years later.

The Great Disaster has also caused a rash of anti-magician prejudice, which causes the prequel to be a lower-magic setting compared to modern Talislanta. You can still use magic if you so choose, but your character has a higher chance of being killed by an angry mob than you might normally expect.

Going into the 2020s (and all the existential fun those have been so far), I might've expected Talislanta to coast along with this new edition for a few years, publishing a handful more books before reentering dormancy, like it always does. Not so.

6th/Epic/Final Edition

Last year saw a campaign to fund the 6th edition of Talislanta, also known as the Epic Edition for the name of its new publisher, Everything Epic, who also seems to have inherited rights to all of The Savage Lands products after Nocturnal Media shifted to focusing on its outstanding projects in the wake of Wieck's death.

6E/Epic is intended to be a greatest hits album of every edition up to this point, synthesized together into a truly gigantic set of tomes that sets out to complete the game and the world as Sechi always envisioned it. It will consist of a player's guide, menagerie, and world atlas, accompanied by a novel, and a 5E conversion guide, because we're in the midst of our own 5E Gold Rush at the moment.

It's also known as the Final Edition because, well, this is it.

The game will be considered finished after this point, and no further development is planned. In a market where so many recognizable IPs chug along on creative fumes for as long as it's possible and profitable to, I respect the desire for a clean cut and a graceful bowing-out after so long a fight.

I hope they nail it. We'll see, when the books ship sometime this year.

But at the time of writing, the end of Talislanta is not yet written, and this overdone overview can finally peter out.

4/12 Edit: I was remound in the comments below to include a link to the official Talislanta website where ALL of the older editions of the game are available for free, forever, after Sechi released them under the Creative Commons license. Dive into the trove here.

Let's Dig Into: Talislanta 4E

It's time for a less indie but still not quite mainstream RPG that has recently captured my interest: Talislanta. Originally this was going to be part of the "New System, New Face" series until I realized how ill a fit that would be, which we'll get into later. But even without character generation shenanigans, I feel this game is very worthy of going over.

It's gonna get quirky.

In 1987, after several trips and false starts, a tiny publisher named Bard Games, headed by a weird and eclectic saxophonist named Stephen Michael Sechi, released the first edition of the Talislanta roleplaying game. It would become semi-famous, or at least an enduring cult classic, both for its fresh setting compared to many other TTRPGs on the market in the late '80s, and for its stubborn refusal to die, like so many other titles of that era did.

You can read my unnecessarily long-winded post about the history of the game as an IP in the companion piece over here, when I finally finish it.

Talislanta 4th Edition is the version of the game that I'm most familiar with, and which seems to enjoy the most popularity online at the moment. So that's what I'm going to be focusing on in this post, where I actually look at the gamey bits.

If you want to read along, or if you want to learn about the game without the filter of my yapping, note that digital copies of all of the old editions of Talislanta are available for free forever because Sechi released them under the Creative Commons license.

The World

Talislanta distinguished itself from other fantasy worlds of the time with its relative lack of inspiration/derivation from Tolkien or European mythology, in favor of a slightly more exotic and more obviously post-apocalyptic feel (not to say that LotR isn't a post-apocalypse story).

It's more influenced by Horror Person Lovecraft's Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath (my favorite thing by Lovecraft ever, partly because the fussy Cheez-It eater hated the story himself) and Jack Vance's Dying Earth setting- though interestingly, this did not extend to pilfering Vance's magic system like certain other games of the time were doing.

In the backstory of Talislanta, the eponymous continent (located on the world of Archaeus, orbiting a binary star system somewhere in an unknown galaxy) was dominated for eons by the First Folk. The First Folk were a mysterious and vaguely amphibian/reptilian species that existed long before mammals. Eventually mammalian peoples called the Wild Races (sometimes derisively called "sub-men") evolved and stumbled ass-backwards into an ancient crashed alien spaceship, where they learned magic. One of the Wild Races then used magic to forcibly unite their brethren, overthrow the First Folk, and begin a millennia-spanning golden age as the Archaen Empire.

No, it's not 'Archaean' like I am constantly having to stop myself from typing here.

Like all despotic magocratic empires, the Archaen Empire eventually did something to wreck the planet. Details are vague, but it's believed they did something with just a little bit too much magical energy in their floating sky-cities that sent them hurtling from orbit and nuking large sections of the continent in an event known as The Great Disaster.

Six centuries later, the world is still toast, but things have settled down enough to start moving around again. Sure, much of the land is still mutant-choked wasteland or so magically irradiated that normal weather phenomena include "black lightning" or "icicle rain", and the number of super-powered plants and insects rivals a Dark Sun monster manual, but that can all be managed by a couple of weirdo drifters, no problem! It's an optimistic and enthusiastically adventure-friendly apocalypse.

I am barely scratching the surface here, though. Out of the 500+ pages in the 4th edition rulebook, over 300 of them are dedicated to a traveler's guide to Talislanta told from the perspective of the kooky mage Tamerlin. This is sandwiched between ~100 pages of rules up front and the remaining 80 or so of GM advice, tables, and appendices in back. The world is the heart of the book, as well as the game.

The People

Talislanta advertisements past and present proudly proclaim that the game contains "NO ELVES" (or dwarves, or orcs, or any other standard fantasy species). This tagline is hilarious to me for how narrowly, technically true it is, though Talislanta does deliver a markedly different flavor of fantasy that I find interesting.

Dozens of humanoid and not-so-humanoid species are descended from the Wild Races, Archaen survivors, magical hybrids and experiments, and extraplanar entities that came into existence over the course of the past few ages, and the vast majority of them are playable. Some of them are quite unique, like the giant mollusk philosophers called Snipes, chill anthropomorphic Mogroth sloths, or a person from the Marukan culture that has been generationally cursed to always be poor, depressed dung merchants. I'm pretty sure one of the editions even lets you play an Equs, which is literally just an intelligent lizard-horse.

Other options seem visually unique at first glance, but thematically fit into one or more of the slots normally occupied by more standard fantasy creatures. About a half-dozen are essentially humans with different cultures and different technicolor skin tones like green or purple; the Kang are Blizzard Orcs who look like red reptile people; the Ur are Tolkien Orcs who look like Blizzard Orcs; Thralls are the precursors/inspirations/rip-off victims of later Dark Sun's Mulls except albino and tattooed to hell; and the Ariane are mystical enlightened precursors who look identical to the Drow of other games, and are so excruciatingly elvish that TVTropes just sticks them under that trope heading in the article.

Tropes aren't bad, though. Having some of the familiar around helps accentuate the weirdness of the rest of the world's flavor. It also serves a gameplay function by getting player archetypes and their attendant flavors and concepts out the door and into the player's creative headspace quickly and easily.

Speaking of archetypes...


Talislanta is a classless game. Instead it has archetypes, which are similar to the starting packages and character backgrounds we've seen in games like d100 systems or Soulslike vidyas. Each archetype is a combination of species, abilities, starting skills, possessions, and explicit or implied history such as profession or societal role. They occupy half a page each, and mostly consist of second-person lore snippets and a headshot.

Side note, I love these giant goobers and want to set aside
my hatred of all food long enough to give them snacks.

They're simple, easy to approach, and just picking one constitutes the majority of actual character creation in most editions of Talislanta. You could probably use it in place of a proper character sheet in a pinch. Next, you can raise or lower a few of your attributes and make skill selections allowed by your archetype to personalize your character, before going on to shopping and doing the finishing details. Notably (for me, at least) there are no derived attributes in 4E, unlike previous editions and many other d20 games.

Archetypes are why I can't exactly make a New Face using 4E, because it'd be the shortest post I've ever made. But as soon as I get more familiar with the 5th edition (of Talislanta, not the D&D 5E adaptation of Talislanta, which is a separate game that also exists, I know it's confusing) I'll definitely fiddle around with the point-based character building rules there.

There are over 100 archetypes to choose from in the core book, even excluding the NPC-only options. Speaking of which, I think those are kind of a silly imposition. The game does not care about balance from the outset; different archetypes have wildly varying power levels right out the gate, and the game wears this on its sleeve as another manifestation of its flavorful weirdness. But certain archetypes are singled out as for NPCs only in the book, and the choices feel arbitrary. Some are a little weaker overall or less geared up to start adventuring, while others might be more unusual to see abroad considering their society, but so what? Why withhold this tiny shred of player freedom?

He asked rhetorically while acting like "just ignore the NPC tag" isn't an option.

After picking one, you don't have to conform to your archetype, and your character can grow in any direction you choose. Your Snipe Sage can embark on the path of a savage brawler, or your Kharakhan Giant can try their huge, calloused hand at magic. You can't alter your starting attributes after character creation (not even hit points, in a weirdly TROIKA!-esque design choice), but skills are unlimited. Overcoming your archetype's inherent deficiencies and specializing into something unusual is just a matter of time, and surviving long enough to get XP for your next skill rank.

But before I launch into how to get and spend XP, I should probably touch on how the game is actually played.

The Action Table

I might find the gameplay of Talislanta more compelling than its setting. Across all editions of the game (besides the d20 system offshoots), there is one central mechanic for basically every action and reaction a character can take. Appropriately enough, this is called the Action Table.

The Action Table is a single d20 roll that functions on intent. How well you roll explains how well you succeed at the thing you wanted to do, possibly with unforeseen good or bad consequences. That's right; Talislanta's been dabbling in the "fail forward" philosophy since the 1980s.

What you want to do also determines which skill, attribute, and/or miscellaneous modifier is most appropriate to add to/subtract from the roll. Instead of meeting variable DCs like in other d20 systems, here the situational difficulty of an action is expressed through a Degree of Difficulty modifier that can range from +10 (trivially easy) to -15 ("beyond extreme" as the book calls it).

Once you tally your mods and roll, you compare it to the Action Table and the GM arbitrates the results. Some have clear precedent in the written rules, like how a Partial Success on an attack roll might result in dealing half its damage rating to the target. Others are up to more flexible interpretation, like how a Mishap while leaping between rooftops could consist of wonking your face on the far ledge before falling all the way down.

You can also accept a stacking -5 penalty to take multiple actions per turn until you roll a Mishap, which creates an interesting dynamic where you have to strategize and decide how much you want to press your luck. Because taking multiple turns at once is awesome, but if you fail it could backfire spectacularly and erase some or all of your erstwhile success. 

The complications and windfalls are very dependent upon GM arbitration, but the direction for the action to go in and the rolls themselves are entirely player-facing. This extends to combat, where players roll defenses like Dodge or Parry against enemy actions, and things like weapons and armor are passive modifiers to the Action Table or its results.

What you end up with is a game that shifts player responsibility around and switches up the cadence of the player-GM conversation compared to D&D, without any real radical changes.

It's a sleek system, and I wanna steal it for something someday.

You might notice a similarity between this and the unified system of True20, like what Blue Rose uses. They have quite a bit in common, including the lack of emphasis on any other die size besides d20. Talislanta does use a more robust skill list however, and True20 hangs onto many elements of the basic 3E d20 system that Talislanta is not beholden to (unless of course you're playing the Talislanta d20 or the upcoming Talislanta for D&D 5E versions).

Also unlike the other not-quite-d20 games is how Talislanta handles magic, as I alluded to earlier.


Magic in Talislanta has seen better days- or worse, depending on how you view the multiple apocalypses that have happened thanks to rampant misuse of the arcane. Magic as it is practiced now is weaker and less understood than in the Archaen days, and as such there are certain things that magic is incapable of doing. You can't control time, blend two orders or modes of magic together at once, revive the dead, or create new life wholesale. These are hard limits that cap the magical shenanigans you can expect in the game, making magicians less game- or world-breaking than your average wizards or CoDZillas. Unless of course the GM decides to start handing out old Archaen magic...

Magic in 4E is essentially an extension of the skill system that uses the exact same Action Table. You learn different "orders" of magic that are best thought of as different ways of conceiving of magic, and styles in which that magic is harnessed; they are the sum of cultural traditions, taboos, and local mythologies. Example orders include elemental magic, shamanism, necromancy, cartomancy, witchcraft, etc.

Orders are mechanically differentiated by the advantages and disadvantages they possess, like cartomancy being very discreet and quiet, but requiring a deck of Zodar cards to function at all. They also have a unique class of enchanted item that can only be made by that order, like special wands or protective medallions tuned to the order's style of magic. Each order also has a list of available modes, and the bonuses and penalties that they give to each.

Modes are 12 forms that magic effects can take: alter, attack, conjure, defend, heal, illusion, influence, move, reveal, summon, transform, and ward. These may resemble schools of magic from other systems, but instead of being lists of specific, thematically related spells, each mode is essentially the guidelines for creating your own custom spells of that type on the fly. Some modes can also be reversed like the OD&D spells of old, such as summon spells being reversible to banish summoned entities. The book gives a few example spells for each order, but they're really only there to get you thinking about how to produce your own magical effects.

Amusingly, in-universe this is not how magic works. Instead, each Talislantan magician is assumed to have memorized hundreds of discrete little spells that they pull from on the fly like the world's most flexible Vancian mage, and players are encouraged to come up with evocative names for each as a way of fleshing out their identity as a magic-user. It's purely a gameplay contrivance that we the players design all of our spells on our own.

I think they should have made freeform magic the case for the lore too; it's just more interesting and fits the world better.

Custom spells operate on intent and require a roll on the Action Table like everything else, with bonuses or penalties depending upon how strong, specific, long-lasting, broad, etc. the desired effect is. For example, say a magician wants to cast an illusion spell. They increase the spell level according to how long a range (in 50' increments) they want for the spell, duration (for every round above 5), and how many features the spell has; extra senses affected, animation, complex elements, etc. More stuff means you roll with a bigger penalty.

Even the biggest modes that have multiple optional spell features are never longer than 1 page each, which means there's little bookkeeping. And since you acquire new modes the same way you do skills—by spending XP and many in-narrative weeks training—you're likely to gain more spells at a very gradual rate that lets you get used to each mode, and find creative uses for them.

Other Skills

The rest of the game's skills cover almost everything else that isn't casting spells or killing folks. They range from climbing, to engineering, to fluency in individual languages (including a universal sign language, which might be the first one I've seen in a fantasy TTRPG), to oddities like fashion sense or playing Trivarian, which is a weird abstract 'game' of skill unique to the two-brained Sindaran species.

But what I like the most is that they devised little nets for some of the gaps between listed skills, since those can never be exhaustive in a game limited only by the creativity of its players and the tolerance for nonsense of its referee. No matter how hard the writers try, there will always be edge cases. To help with that, they came up with Backgrounds.

Backgrounds are your character's choice of, well, background. Nomadic, Rural, Urban, and Wandering characters are each assumed to have basic familiarity with tasks and concepts important to the environments in which they grew up. As such, they each function as fallback skills for broadly applicable categories; if you aren't skilled in anything else appropriate for the situation at hand, you might be able to justify a roll on your Background skill.

And That's It

The game is deceptively simple and easy to pick up despite the weight of the tome it comes in. Other books in the edition flesh out more areas of the game and world, and many of the resources from previous (and even later) editions are mostly compatible with 4E. But you really don't need much to get started with Talislanta.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

The EverQuest RPG is a Pile of Baffling Design Choices Masquerading as a Generic d20 Cash-Grab

In the past I've touched on the early-to-mid 2000s phenomenon of everyone and their auntie adapting their property to d20 rules under the OGL. D&D 3E wasn't as market-stagnatingly powerful as 5E has become, but it was the game's first true brush up against mainstream popularity, whereas in the 20th century it had only enjoyed mainstream awareness (and occasional mockery) from other media.

This 3E Gold Rush for lack of a better term happened for pretty understandable reasons; nothing quite like the Open Game License existed previously and there were many early adopters of this novel concept, pushing out a single d20 book wasn't too risky for the average publisher considering the likely return on investment, and it was a pretty reliable way to introduce your IP to a wider audience.

Or at least that's how things started.

By the mid-2000s the market had hit 3rd party product saturation, and it was increasingly difficult to distinguish oneself amid the sea of similar d20 adaptations. There was also growing consumer cynicism toward the seemingly huge number of poorly-made books shoved out in order to ride the wave of market success that was already flattening by that point. It was a little bit like when self-published e-books became really big on Amazon and other platforms a few years later: an amazing opportunity for creative freedom and art also created a sucking mire of garbage and vacuous opportunism as a byproduct.

I'd insert a joke about capitalism here, but I haven't had my coffee yet, and in the spirit of our subject today I will not be going back to make edits.

That isn't to say there weren't some good adaptations out there that made the system work for their particular worlds and fictions; there absolutely are, you just have to know what you're doing when you're bending and bashing a semi-generic, semi-simulationist thing like d20 into different shapes that it wasn't originally intended for.

I honestly don't know which camp today's topic falls into. The creators obviously cared about transferring the original experience to tabletop, as opposed to just mapping existing names to existing features and calling it a day. But their care was a hacksaw that they used to Frankenstein together a bewildering pile of design choices that borders on endearing to me, because I have a weird habit of dragging out and trashing things that I end up feeling mildly positive toward.

I should probably examine that urge soon.

Anyway, we're talking about the EverQuest TTRPG!

AKA Keith Parkinson's Greatest Hits

Beginning in 2002 and topping out at a respectable 17 publications total, the EQRPG was Sony Online Entertainment's answer to the d20 craze by way of Sword & Sorcery publishing. It was not marketed using the d20 System logo and branding however, because of the plethora of small but cumulative changes made to the game in order to better replicate the systems and gameplay loops of the 1999 MMORPG. These include significant differences in character creation, progression, and the specifics of magic and combat.

There's plenty to cover, so let's get right into it.

Character Creation

To start off, randomized ability score generation is thrown out in favor of a modified 27 point-buy system. This isn't unusual by itself, since 3E was when point-buy became essentially coequal with (and often preferred over) 4d6-drop-lowest. What's odd is that this point-buy exists alongside a conversion system that allows you to transfer your character from the MMO to tabletop. So if you and your EQ guildies decided to sit down and play pen-and-paper instead of the video game version because, I dunno, maybe your dialup is particularly bad one summer weekend since it's 2002, then you would have a relatively easy time recreating your toons if you really wanted to.

As I understand it, the stat cap was 255 back in the day, but climbed steadily with each expansion since then. So I don't think you could convert a high-level character so easily these days. Then again at that level of play you'd be swimming in number soup, so maybe that's not a real issue.

Next you pick your race, which has far more weight in this game than in others. This is because EQ, like other D&D derivatives of the '90s, uses hard racial limits on character class- the first of several "AD&Disms" we'll see. Although I will say that in this case it is even stricter than what is found in AD&D, because in those editions there was at least an assumption of ultimate DM fiat with permitting certain character options. Not so with EQ; the list of available race/class combinations is all you get, because that's all you got in the video game (at the time of publication, at least; limits have mostly been removed in recent decades).

Note the saddening lack of playable frogloks, berserkers, etc.
No content after The Shadows of Luclin got ported to tabletop.

Besides being major gatekeepers to character class, species also comes with the bonuses and penalties you'd expect of 3E. Modifiers tend to be bigger and more swingy in EQ, despite usually cancelling one another out to total ±0. For example, the magical and slightly cone-headed Erudite humans get a whopping +6 to Int and +2 to Wis, but also -2 to Dex and Cha, and a -4 to Str. Similarly the woad-covered Barbarians of Norse-Gael inspiration get +4 to Str and +2 to Con, but also receive what I like to call the "orc treatment", -2 to all mental stats. This makes each species fairly specialized to a role, which feels redundant with the class lists that already point them in that same general direction.

For 4 out of the 14 playable species, another AD&Dism becomes an important factor: percentile XP penalty. Barbarians, trolls, ogres, and the reptilian iksar all suffer varying degrees of reduced XP award in exchange for their stronger innate traits, ranging from -5% to -20%. These numbers are ported directly from the early years of the MMO, with the somewhat surprising exception of halflings' +5% bonus, which was dropped for the book. Note that these are in addition to any penalties earned from multiclassing.

I'm not fond of XP modifiers in tabletop to begin with, but these mods really make me yearn for Level Adjustment. At least that can (usually) be bought off at a later point when racial abilities cease to make a significant impact on character strength. But in EQ, these numbers are forever. And with the standard level progression going all the way to 30 instead of 20, there's a lot of room for a gap to form that limited regeneration or Large size just won't close.

This gap is even more pronounced than in the MMO, I'd argue. In EQ online every XP penalty or loss from death is ultimately a measurement of extra time that needs to be invested by you, the individual. You can keep your troll shadowknight on par with your friend's human rogue by logging in during off hours and grinding a bunch of mobs to compensate, because even though it's a very social game, it's set in a living world and you aren't limited to a single circle of friends from start to finish. But D&D is a fundamentally party- and session-based game, which creates a lot of headache for the GM and anyone wanting to solo on the side in order to keep up with their friends.

On paper it's all quite similar to the bonuses and penalties that everyone gets in the MMO however, and it seems like that's what they were aiming for in the end. Good or bad, the writers often try to reify as much material from the virtual game for the textual one as they can. At least they didn't also include the class-based XP penalties that combine with others multiplicatively? Otherwise that troll shadowknight would be taking a combined -68% hit to every single reward.

Once you've selected your species, it's time to pick a class, spend your skill ranks, and select a starting feat like usual. Unlike usual, you also receive 5 "Training Points" to spend on more skill ranks or energy resistances, or to save up for your next feat or your first ability score increase. Training Points are awarded every level, and either supplement or entirely replace the standard skill, feat, and ability increase tracks of 3E. They are meant to simulate the Alternate Advancement system introduced in the Shadows of Luclin expansion, except instead of having to wait until level 51 to start dumping experience into it instead of new levels, you get a trickle of both from the very start.

There are limits in place so you can't dump all your points in one area, but overall it's a pretty unguided and freeform system for deciding how you want to improve your character outside of class abilities. Another way of describing it could be "time-consuming newbie trap", because of the extra bookkeeping required, and the increased chances of spending yourself into a corner if you haven't plotted stuff out in advance. The things up for purchase also don't really share multiples with the amount of points you get every level, which feels odd and awkward to me? It's like when they rig the prices in F2P MMOS so that you always have slightly too much or too little in-game shop currency to buy a thing you want, except they're not even trying to sell you anything here- it's just busywork.

Once you're done with all the essentials, the rest of character creation is mostly identical to your average 3E game. Name, gender, age, etc. You're also encouraged to choose a deity, with the welcome addition of an agnostic (read: fantastical apatheism) option for certain non-priest characters.

Alignment is present, which feels kind of weird. There are planes and loosely aligned factions of "good" and "evil" in the cosmology and lore of EQ, but moral alignment remains just shy of being an objective, bracketed thing in the MMO. Not so here, where the classic 9-point alignment system exists, with the words "lawful" and "chaotic" replaced by "orderly" and "discordant" because the latter terms have slightly more currency in the lore of Norrath.


Fortunately you're not limited to spending training points to get skill ranks; those are bonus ranks you can buy in addition to your usual class amount + Int every level. And refreshingly, no class in EQRPG is saddled with 2+Int skill points per level; most have 4+Int or more, and the lowest is 3+Int. This means that your average character is more likely to engage with some of the changes that EQRPG makes to the skill list.

For the record, EQ online has skills, but they don't work anything like 3E skills. They're closer to the skills of a d100 system or maybe Elder Scrolls games, where they encompass most character actions like types of attacks or spellcasting, and improve with use. I remember back when I made my fourth or fifth burner email in a row to play free trials of EverQuest as a kid (my parents don't believe in credit cards so I could never subscribe), I found a big group of people sitting around in the Mines of Gloomingdeep spamming each other with long text macros. I learned that this was to mutually improve their language skills; however much text your character 'heard' other people say in other languages slowly trained them in that language until the language cypher was removed entirely from their interface.

Luckily you don't have to do that here, nor will you run into a scenario where you get a neat new weapon but your skill in its type is a 1, forcing you to spend hours grinding it up to par. But it does create a case in the self-imposed constraints of trying to make EQ work in d20 where the writers just didn't (probably couldn't) port things over. Instead, they worked with the existing skill system and made a few more modest changes.

For starters, unlike most other d20 systems (and all of the memes about massaging orcs or seducing dragons), EQ actually does use the automatic failure and success rules for rolling 1 and 20 on skill checks, respectively. This doesn't include Take 20 checks, of course. And I'm slightly disappointed that they don't lean into it more by including skill crits or fumbles.

The skill list itself looks somewhat different, too. Since it was based on 3.0E rules you see the usual Sense Heading/Wilderness Lore divide and things like that. But we also see some additions to the list lifted straight from EQ online, like Alcohol Tolerance, Channeling, Meditation, and Taunt.

Alcohol Tolerance (Con) is a weird skill, both in its purpose and how it's used. You don't ever make Alcohol Tolerance skill checks by themselves; instead, you make a check, consult a table to find your check result, and then gain a corresponding bonus to your character's Fortitude save vs. inebriation when consuming large amounts of alcohol.

The reason you would ever invest in this skill is because alcohol is double-edged buff food in the EverQuest universe. Succeeding at your saves allows you to benefit from the positive effects of a specific drink, such as "metabolic" bonuses to Strength or Charisma-based checks, while only suffering the minimum penalties for getting sauced; usually a stacking -1 to Dex, Int, and Wis. Credit where credit is due, the writers did not pick the low-hanging fruit of giving dwarves a racial bonus to Alcohol Tolerance.

Channeling (Con) is a rebranding of Concentration, plain and simple, but Meditation (Int, Wis, or Cha depending on class) is an equally vital new skill for all casters. It controls spellcasters' ability to regenerate mana, and to prepare spells quickly. As with EQ online, casters have a mana pool and are limited to 8 prepared spells at any time (unless you spend feats to expand that number up to a max of 16).

But you can sit and meditate to regenerate spent mana per hour based on your ranks in this skill, and you can swap one spell out for another by taking a number of full-round actions equal to the spell's level minus your ranks in Meditation, minimum 1. You don't even need to leave slots empty like a wizard in 3E. The end result is that Meditation is the skill for casters, and it enormously improves their versatility and sustainability throughout a long and varied day of adventuring.

Taunt (Cha) is... such an aggravating missed opportunity. The language of aggro, taunts, and tanking may originate with early MMOs like EverQuest, but the thematic concept of heavily armored adventurers covering for and protecting their squishier counterparts has existed since basically the beginning of modern fantasy as a medium. D&D has sorely needed something like a taunt ability to reflect this element of the fiction for years, and even today in 5E it's only beginning to approach the concept with some success here and there. Obligatory shout-out to Barbarians of the Ancestral Guardian path.

So what is EQRPG's version of Taunt? A move action opposed by your target's Sense Motive to force them to target you with their attacks for 1 round. Said Sense Motive check can get pretty high bonuses if the target is already attacking someone else, can't understand the taunter, etc. So if a wolf got the drop on your party and is munching on the wizard (AKA the exact moment you'd want a reliable taunt ability), your 1st-level warrior could be looking at a DC of up to 30, plus whatever the actual Sense Motive check result is. The skill was a valiant attempt, but a failure.

There's also a whole host of custom Trade Skill, uh, skills which are new but don't do anything especially weird, so I won't go into them in depth. Baking, brewing, and shaman-exclusive alchemy all make different buff consumables. Pottery makes everything from humble jars to magical grenades. Tinkering, exclusive to gnomes, creates all manner of technological inventions, though thankfully they avoided going the way of guns, combat automatons, and power armor. The d20 rules for crafting and using things like that always tend toward jankiness in my experience.


Obviously feats didn't exist in EverQuest in 1999, nor when they were making these books, so their role here is to give 3E players something familiar, as well as pad out the class feature lists. Returning feats are mostly identical to their 3E counterparts, some with altered math to match the new rules here and there, like metamagic feats increasing mana cost by a percentage instead of higher spell slots, etc.

This section originally went into whiney detail about how they made the baffling decision to make Weapon Finesse worse by rewriting it to be selected per weapon type, but then I looked up the 3.0E version of the feat and realized that's exactly how it used to be.

I need to stop taking the QoL updates of 3.5E for granted, as weird as that is to say.

There are a few additions that give martial characters something resembling goodies, though. In EQ online anyone with a shield can perform Bash attacks, and members of the larger species—Barbarians, ogres, and trolls—can deliver Slam attacks in addition to their normal auto-swings. Bashes deal very little damage, but they're good for interrupting spellcasting and even stunning enemies briefly. Slams do much the same, but don't require a shield. There's also a Kick used by monks, rangers, and warriors of any size that functions similarly, but for some reason that was dropped for EQRPG.

The remaining Bash and Slam feats give you a special off-hand attack and a natural weapon, respectively. It's odd calling Slam a "feat" though, because it's only available to Large species and Barbarians, and they all get it automatically at 1st level. If you're using a magic shield or have a magic piece of armor on your shoulder, knee, or other slam-appropriate location on your body (a sequence of words I never want to type ever again), they count as magic attacks for the purposes of bypassing damage reduction, but any enhancement bonuses don't actually transfer to better attack or damage rolls. 

The feat gestures vaguely toward Bash's use as a spellcasting interrupt in the MMO, but it only increases the Channeling DC vs damage taken by 2 when you use it that way. Considering a shield's low damage (1d3 to 1d6 depending on size) you may as well save your Attack of Opportunity for your normal weapon; assuming the enemy spellcaster isn't just casting defensively, which feels like an oversight made when porting the attacks over. Using both at once on top of a full-attack option is a cheap way to throw a lot of attacks at the enemy though, and it's way more efficient in terms of BAB and feat cost than going down the finnicky Two-Weapon Fighting and Dual Wield feat lines.


The classes themselves are actually pretty uncontroversial when seen through the lens I'm using here. They resemble a mix of the EQ online classes and their D&D counterparts where there are overlaps like paladin and ranger, and they are slightly more true to the EQ class where there isn't anything comparable in base D&D, like shaman or shadowknight. They rely on a lot of bonus feats (and "bonus" feats that merely unlock a feat you still need to pay training points for) to flesh out class ability rosters, but each also receives at least one list of selectable powers, stances, or other abilities unique to their class identity.

Unsurprisingly for a 3E-inspired game, pure martial classes get a really raw deal compared to casters or even hybrids (which also get full BAB and high-level stance abilities just like martials do). This is doubly unsurprising, because EQ online also tended to treat a lot of its nonmagical classes like trash. The life of a warrior is pain. It's obviously a bad design choice, but by the standards of the time it's not an odd one.

More peculiar to me is how classes and equipment proficiencies interact.


Armor typing is essentially unchanged from 3E, but weapon proficiencies have been tweaked. Only simple and martial categories exist, but these have been subdivided into many more types like one-handed slashing, hand-to-hand (blunt), or archery (piercing). For the most part these map to the weapons each class can wield in the MMO without creating too much work deciding where weapons from other d20 books should fit, but it also creates some weird edge cases within its own core content.

One example is how rogues are proficient in piercing weapons. Since there is no one-handed vs two-handed distinction within piercing weapons, this means your average rogue knows how to wield a heavy pick or a halberd as well as a dagger. Alternatively, a shaman normally limited to "tribal" weapons can fight just as effectively with a rapier or even a spiked chain, that infamous old mainstay of 3E trip builds which somehow made it into the list.

Weapons have also been given a new "delay" parameter that is meant to emulate the different speeds that weapons swing at when you are auto-attacking in EQ online. Daggers attack more times in a minute than a mace, a mace more than a big two-handed axe, etc. The way they try to do this in EQRPG is by giving each weapon a delay number that tells you which of 6 tables to look at when you're calculating your character's BAB and iterative attacks per round. It's like if AD&D's weapon speed factor was designed to impact raw DPS instead of initiative, but it's just as annoying to track.

You also have to familiarize yourself with at least 2 or 3 of these tables, because haste and slow effects alter these delay numbers. This is in addition to adding or subtracting whole additional attacks depending on the power of the particular effect, a la 3.5E Haste.

Let's finish up the subject of weapons by talking about procs.

Procs, or programmed random occurrences, are effects placed on a piece of equipment or given by an ability that occur with a set frequency in response to X criteria being met. When you swing your sword and sometimes it blasts the target for extra fire damage, that's a proc. It's pretty clearly inspired by D&D weapon enchantments that only take effect on a certain die roll, like vorpal swords. In EQ online there is a huge number of proc weapons that each have their own formula being computed behind the scenes to determine how often they trigger their effects, usually expressed as PPM (Procs Per Minute).

In EQRPG the writers opted not to go for calculations like that, mercifully. But they still wanted to include proc weapons somehow, because they include some of the most iconic weapons in Norrath. Instead they went for a much simpler system where if a weapon has a proc effect, then every time you roll to attack you also roll against its proc DC. Rolling for a proc is a Dexterity check that scales with the relative power of the proc's effect, starting at 20 for the lowest. Proc effects exist in addition to more normal 'static' effects placed on a weapon, so it's possible to find a flaming longsword that also has frost (proc).

I kind of like this decision, but I kind of don't. By decoupling certain effects from the 'on crit only' enchantments we see in 3E, you might see them used by more characters than falchion- or rapier-wielding crit-fishers. It's tied to an ability score that people probably won't bump super high since Dexterity didn't become a true god stat until Pathfinder 1E, but EQRPG throws enough stat bonuses around that they might be semi-consistent; I haven't done the math there. But the big thing for me is that you have to roll every time you attack to see if you proc. The book recommends you pick a differently colored d20 specifically for that, and just huck both dice at once with every attack. So past a certain wealth level you may as well hand 2d20 to everyone who isn't a dedicated spellcaster.

Speaking of dedicated spellcasters, we may as well move on to that whole mess.


As I alluded to earlier with my brief gloss over classes and the Meditation skill, dedicated spellcasters are strong in EQRPG. They also require a whole lot of extra bookkeeping, because both mana pools and spell costs can rise into the dozens and eventually hundreds of points. The caps for those pools can also fluctuate throughout the day from spells, gear bonuses, or ability damage. A good comparison for what you're dealing with is the 3E psion's power point pool.

Spells go up to 15th level in EQRPG, even though it would have made sense to just throw out that legacy system alongside all of the other changes being made. Spell lists cleave very close to their EQ counterparts, usually mimicking damage, healing, CC, and buff spells as well as the two games' very different math systems will allow.

There are fewer spells with noncombat applications here than in 3E, which makes full casters slightly less godlike than say, conjuration wizards in D&D. EQRPG wizards can still do things like hop across the planes and dominate a combat scenario, but they do so by traveling to very specific landmarks from the game world and by dealing direct hit point damage, respectively. Monsters are limited in the same way, with the majority of NPC casters and spell-like ability repertoires geared toward combat. This flattens encounter design quite a bit, which is a big loss in my opinion. Although the worst part of player magic limitations to me is the truly lamentable loss of the prestidigitation cantrip.

I also wish the editors had gone through the spells a little more closely. Spells tend to be organized into spell lines with only the 1st rank explained in full, but the descriptions of spells are given alphabetically. This requires you to flip back to that first spell for reference when looking at differently-named spells over a dozen entries deep into a line. This gets especially annoying because most spells are just increasing amounts of direct damage or healing, and so much space and effort could be saved by consolidating all the different ranks in a line together on the same page.

Buff spells love to add odd-numbered ability scores, or more awkward percentile modifiers to the mix like -10% mana cost or +66% movement speed. One haste-adjacent spell I found even adds staggered bonus attacks depending on whether it's an odd or even-numbered combat round, a la AD&D fighter weapon specialization rules.

And sometimes, the writers' math just doesn't add up.

Beyond the Player's Handbook, which has been the focus of this post, there were many other EQRPG books. You get the usual GM's guide and monster manuals, some are region-specific gazetteers like Faydark or the moon Luclin, others are dungeons or adventures taken from the MMO, and a few provide new magic spells and items, or NPCs. All of it is pretty standard stuff you see coming out of any 3rd party d20 series that lasts long enough. They all follow in the footsteps of oddity set by the handbook rather than doubling down on anything, however. The weirdest thing I found in those supplements was a weirdly good, high-level spell named "Skin of the Cabbage".

4/23 Edit: Somehow I forgot to mention another bit that EQRPG does differently throughout its adventures and modules, and only remembered it while working on my post about the Diablo II games. You get experience points for completing quests in this game. This is the norm for video RPGs, but it was pretty rare in D&D prior to its experiments in alternate tracks of advancement starting in 4E.

At its core, this is extra mechanical incentivization to pursue a satisfying narrative conclusion over plain old murder and theft. Which you might think would be unnecessary in a game called EverQuest, but unfortunately it was the one to introduce the world to some of the worst MMORPG grinds ever. Quest rewards in tabletop therefore act as both a faithful mechanic and another means of avoiding what the original game is guilty of. End Edit.

As poorly as some of these systems conversions performed, and as strange or pointless as the concept of porting an MMO to tabletop can feel, I kind of applaud the writers behind the EQRPG? They could have phoned this series in so hard and made a very forgettably bad product, but they chose to try and do something with it instead. The art direction also helps; though most interior illustrations are not by Keith Parkinson, they all try to emulate the feeling of those old cover art spreads. The page borders and chapter heading plates even evoke the chunky old user manuals you used to get with every disc set. Even if it's certainly not the EverQuest, it tries hard to be an EverQuest game.

The same can't quite be said of its sequel.


After 2003 rolled around with 3.5E, there was a second surge of OGL games. Among this wave were a few "second editions" of games that had previously published under 3.0 rules that set out to update their games for the new rules. Sometimes the changes were meaningful and allowed a game a fresh start where they corrected their past mistakes and moved closer to their vision of what the game could be. Sometimes they were like the glorified textbook reprints that you have to shell out over $100 to use for a single semester in community college.

EverQuest II RPG is... kind of both?

EQ2 pushed the game's timeline forward a few hundred years and nudged it over an alternate universe or two. Set in a version of Norrath where the moon exploded and rained destruction across the planet, many familiar sights from the first game were destroyed or irrevocably altered. Entire continents were broken up into disconnected islands, prompting the early story to be focused on hopping on a boat and exploring what the world has become.

EQ2RPG (these acronyms are getting stupid, but just bear with me for a little longer) is also set in this different Norrath, but it still shares most of its 3E DNA with the previous game. It cleans up that 27-point character generation slightly, and makes Training Point prices cheaper across the board, as well as providing a few more options for it. The skills vs cross-class skills mechanic is removed, making it so that class skills are the only ones you can buy at 1st level, but everything after that is equally available. Even race/class limits are done away with.

Another big change in accordance with EQ2 online is Archetypes. The MMO genre was shifting toward a more rigid class role structure of tank, melee DPS, ranged DPS, and healer at this time, not just in the way characters performed in end-game content, but in the way they were conceived of to begin with. An example of this is the elimination of hybrid classes as their own unique category, and shoving everything else under the umbrellas of Fighter, Mage, Priest, and Scout in EQ2.

Everyone starts off as one of these 4 archetypes in the tabletop version as well, but can specialize into a class starting at around 5th to 7th level, and an advanced class specializing even further starting at around 10th. Some of these options were alignment-locked in the MMO at launch, but not so here. In fact, alignment was dropped entirely! 

In essence, classes and advanced classes are the prestige classes of 3E, but grafted onto generic starting classes as branches in a series of multi-path character trees. MMO class specs, if you will. Of course you the tabletop player aren't limited the same way your MMO character is; multiclassing is still an option in this ruleset, which creates kind of a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

Not that you'd necessarily want to stunt your progression with multiclassing; you're kind of on a tight schedule. After all, you're only just reaching your character's real class identity and fruition of the arc of mechanical growth at 10th to 12th level. That's the bottom of the valley where most campaigns die in typical 20-level D&D, let alone the 30 levels of EQRPG.

This strikes me as an odd and probably unintentional mistuning of progression, because in the source material most characters could finish with their archetype and start on their class as soon as they left the tutorial zone, the Isle of Refuge. Most GMs don't rocket you from 1 to 6 in a session or two, though; something that can be done in about an afternoon in the video game becomes something many days or weeks in the making in tabletop. In general that's fine, and to be expected; tabletop is just slower on average. But I don't think that's what the writers were intending here.

At least the starting archetypes aren't devoid of depth, thanks to Talents.

Talents are another very MMO'y term injected into the game that act as an answer to the problem of bloated, sometimes very lopsided class feature rosters. Every few levels—more frequent for Fighters and Scouts, less often for Mages and Priests—you receive a talent point that you can spend on your choice of class talent, which is a single discrete class feature. Many have minimum level requirements like feats, and also like feats a few are clearly traps that are best avoided. But otherwise you can pick the order and type of abilities you get. Classes and advanced classes also give talent points with their own pools of abilities to draw from, but you can always spend them on features from previous lists as well.

This system has no parallel with anything in EQ1 or EQ2 to my knowledge, but it's also just kind of good on its own. I liked it when Pathfinder did something similar with most of their classes, and this feels like a more drastic prototype of the same idea.

In other ways, EQ2RPG refused to advance, not even to match its online counterpart. Sometimes it even regressed slightly.

As an example, EQ2 removed all XP penalties; at launch, the only thing you'd suffer from was XP debt from dying. EQ2RPG did not remove the penalties put in place by its predecessor. In fact they added more for new species like the kerra and ratonga, and made them slightly worse for existing ones, by bumping trolls up 5% to match what they'd originally been saddled with in EQ1 online.

Spellcasting remains fundamentally unchanged from its predecessor, although they did tidy up the lists partially by condensing spell lines into the same spell with multiple ranks, like I was complaining about up above before I bothered to finish doing my research down here in the present. Where once there may have been project lightning, followed by thunder strike, thunderclap, thunderbolt, etc. you now just have 2 markedly different spells with 3 ranks each. It's a step in the right direction I think, but it's weird that they didn't go all the way with the fix.

They also decided to bring back the 3.0E rules about how weapon sizes affect what a weapon counts as in somebody's hands, instead of just going by size category alone? Not even the first EQRPG did that, and it's so weird to see it pop up now.

The sequel also feels like it had way less of a budget than its older counterparts. The vast majority of the art in this book is either a CG still lifted from the promotional campaign for the video game, or an in-game screen shot or loading screen asset. I recognized about a dozen different frames from the charmingly goofy series of new player introduction videos that SOE hosted for a while.

The usage of preexisting assets isn't bad in and of itself, or at least I don't think so; it's just that EQ2 wasn't a very good-looking game one year after launch, and its low-res and weirdly lit graphics don't do the book any favors. Especially not when the models and spell effects have been awkwardly cut out of an existing screen shot and then transparencied onto the page.

Don't even get me started on that mitten hand.

#UnpopularOpinion tract time, I always thought the extremely cartoonish kerra from the trailer for the cancelled EverQuest Next project still looked better than the soulless, plasticine meat puppets of EQ2. Stylization is like light rust resistance for your character designs. Even if they're not that good to begin with, they won't age quite as rapidly.

Another indicator of the lower effort put into the sequel by the publisher is that half the classes are missing from the Player's Guide. The Priest and Mage archetypes aren't even playable without consulting the Spell Guide that was published exclusively in PDF form in 2005, over a year after the first book went to print. Apparently Sword & Sorcery released a free PDF of some basic low-level spells on their website in the interim, but to my knowledge it's lost to link rot nowadays.

Even with the Player and Spell guide, EQ2RPG is kind of unplayable by itself. It still needs several books from the first RPG to give it the monsters, magic items, GM tools, etc. to make a working campaign with.

The creators supposedly said that going forward, all new books would support both EQ1 and EQ2. I say 'supposedly' because Wikipedia says so, but there's been a [citation needed] tag on that sentence since October of 2007. A list on the White Wolf Wiki references 3 cancelled books that were referenced in issues of White Wolf Quarterly or Sword & Sorcery Insider; these were to be EverQuest II Gazetteer: The Shattered LandsIslands of Mist, and Kunark: Past and Present, the title of which allows us to infer that the plan to support EQRPG 1 and 2 simultaneously was real, at least at one point.

But planned or not, new books never happened. Troubled production ultimately led to the entire EQRPG line getting quietly shelved after its second edition sloughed out onto the scene. I have no evidence to back it up, but I can't imagine sales were great either. The 3rd-party d20 market had not grown less saturated during this period, after all.

The End, Finally

Like so many of my rambles, I'm not sure how to end this. I began wanting to lightly mock the existence of these books, and I suppose I did in the end. But I also grew strangely fond of this weird little experiment. It was at the periphery of a massive shift in the industry, and though I don't think its effects could be felt very far or for long, I like it for having existed. If only so that folks like me with nothing better to write about can do a bit of RPG archaeology and wonder at what came before.

One thing it did leave me with, was a question of how other people received this game in its day. EQ has always had lore and story if you look hard enough for it, but the 'role' has always taken a backseat to the 'play' in this game, whether it takes the form of exploring the relatively huge living world, earning DKP in raids, or just grouping with new and old friends.

But what stories have EQ role-players been able to tell, both on-and offline? What memories and experiences did this tabletop edition help create, rather than merely mimic? Is this game beloved to anyone out there?

And can someone please explain the Fippy Darkpaw meme to me? Weren't there like a dozen other gnolls? Why'd he get so popular?