Thursday, June 01, 2006

Passing on Ptolus

If you follow the D&D scene in any way beyond keeping up on Wizards stuff, you've probably heard of Monte Cook's Ptolus. This upcoming product is a zillion page mega-module/campaign setting from Malhavoc Press, one of the few d20 design houses I truly respect. But I don't plan to get Ptolus anytime soon, and today I'm going to talk about why.

First of all Ptolus is a 'city of adventure' type setting. City adventures have a fine pedigree going back to the original Conan stories, but urban settings don't speak to me the way rural environs do. That's why my Greyhawk campaigns tend to keep the eponymous city off-camera. I'm much more interested in the green fields of the Wild Coast or the Bandit Kingdoms, or the pine forests of the Thillronian Peninsula. The Shire has always been my favorite part of Middle Earth, even though I'm no hobbit fan. A big stinky quasi-medieval city is hardly worth defending, but my good guy PCs will fight and die for a green and pleasant land. (And the modernized-by-magic cities that have become popular in recent years just turn my stomach. ) You can probably chalk up this attitude as the psychic residue of a happy childhood on a farm. In my mind a city is a place where you go and do things and then come home. The thought of spending most of a campaign in a city just does not sit well with me.

My second concern is that although I like several products from Malhavoc Press, I'm not sure it's the place to go for setting material. Truth be told, vast swaths of Arcana Evolved's flavor text leaves me cold. I can totally work with the implied setting built around the the mechanics, but the actual setting stuff just falls flat. Heck, it's almost an admission of the inherent weakness of the Arcana Unearthed setting that the newer version included a metaplot update. I'm still quite fond of AE. Heck, I think my next fantasy campaign will be AE-powered. But it speaks to a flaw in the setting when I keep looking for other settings in which to set my campaign. Some days I seriously consider kludging Arcana Evolved's classes and races into Northern Crown or Harn or whatever-setting-catches-my-eye-today. I'm a lazy bastard of a DM, so I don't normally go looking for extra work like that. Now, AE and Ptolus aren't one and the same, but my reaction to AE's fluff does not set me up to feel confident about buying Ptolus.

Finally, there's the price. One hundred and twenty bucks. Yes, this product is monster-sized and yes, it is Monte Cook's magnumn opus. But come on. I am not spending that much money for one friggin' RPG book. Not when I look at what else that $120 could buy me. I could buy 3 Eberron hardbacks and 3 of the 4 modules out for that setting. Or if I wanted to give Monte Cook my money I could buy all three Iron Heroes hardbacks, the three PDF modules for IH, and the Iron Heroes Battlebox and only spend like 7 bucks more. Or I could get everything I want but don't have yet for Arcana Evolved, spend less than $120, and still get two books and a slew of accessories and PDFs. Or I could hit eBay and purchase some seriously overpriced out-of-print stuff, like the old Tom Moldvay module Seren Ironhand and the Spinward Marches Campaign for Traveller. Or I could buy both Northern Crown hardbacks and spend the other 70 bucks on Harn crapola.

I guess the real issue price-wise is that I don't normally spend a hundred bucks at a single pop on RPG stuff. Even the $80 asking price on Amazon is more than I normally blow in one outing. The shiny new hardbound editions so prevalent in the industry are just barely within reach of my comfort zone, and then only one at a time once in a while. Otherwise I'd already own those two Northern Crown books. Call it stinginess, call it sticker shock, call it whatever you want. But $120 or even the $80 sounds too much like real money for me to be blowing it on one big piece of gamestuff. That same $120 might last me a year bottomfeeding for out-of-print stuff on eBay.

Sometimes I like to convince myself that I'm Average Joe Gamer Guy. I play the Dungeons & Dragons just like the kids and generally get along with other fans in the hobby. But this tendency towards Super Deluxe Editions and World's Largest Whatevers is making me feel like trendsetters in the industry are going in one direction and I'm going in another. It's weird to feel alienated from your favorite hobby.