Cugel's Compendium of Indispensable Advantages
Cugel's Compendium of Indispensable Advantages Capsule Review by Phil Masters on 15/12/01
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
A collection of Stuff for the Dying Earth RPG. But there's subtly more to it than that, so that it deserves a wider audience.
Product: Cugel's Compendium of Indispensable Advantages
Author: Aaron Allston, Robin D. Laws, Phil Masters, and fellow rogues
Category: self-review of RPG
Company/Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Line: Dying Earth
Page count: 72
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Phil Masters on 15/12/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Far Future Comedy
I am, of course, one of the three names on the cover of this book. (Four, in truth, when one counts Jack Vance. Which one should, he being the originator of this setting, without whom we are nought - but he is not one of the authors of this book in question.) However, being a supplement (actually the first full-scale supplement) for what is something of a niche game, Cugel's Compendium might escape widespread attention from fantasy RPG fans. Which I think would be a pity. So I'm going to write about it briefly here.
The book is simply a collection of extra ideas for the Dying Earth RPG, which has been out for a few months now. Chapter 1 is a collection of magic items and materials; chapter 2 is a collection of mundane (or at least, non-magical) items; chapter 3 is a listing of cantraps (minor spells); chapter 4 introduces the idea of "tweaks", minor specialised applications of broader skills which characters might learn (giving them useful but specific advantages and a kind of personal "trademark"); chapter 5 is a collection of essays and notes on negotiating and debating techniques (very important in this setting - and in this game, which pays as much attention to argument styles as it does to combat); and the appendix is a random costume generator. There's also a functional index, which is more than too many RPG supplements manage these days, and a double-sided character sheet.
The reason that I think this should be drawn to the attention of a wider audience is that it provides a fine model of how to raise (or, okay, lower) the tone of any fantasy RPG. And I say this with a certain amount of honest modesty, as I just provided material within a framework defined by someone else. Stuff from this book could easily be adapted to almost any game system, and once there, it would add humour and weirdness. Which, gods know, most fantasy RPGs need.
For example, any dungeon-basher would be quite happy to acquire magic items such as Peltaron's Rapier of Plangent Glaciation, or Sultresser's Interogatory Pendant, or Wa's Convenient Parrot - but all of these items, while useful, could easily get a PC into deep trouble if used carelessly, and are distinctly not just another 2 longsword. Likewise, chapter 5 could encourage gamers to argue, finesse, haggle and attempt to con NPCs, rather than just buying from, selling loot to, or hitting them... (And thus should certainly be read by GMs as well as players.)
And the random costume generator will definitely improve the dress sense of many PCs. And lower the taste level of any campaign.
In other words, while the book is definitely aimed at Dying Earth players - and has its full share of game mechanics, to be honest - it can be treated as a general fantasy game supplement. And a pretty unique one at that.