Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: The Tome of the Black Island

I like worldbuilding. I like it more than rules tinkering (sorry Doug). I like it more than GMing. I like it more than playing. I say this to explain why I generally shy away from “fluff” articles and books that present premade world material. That’s the stuff I love to create, and those publications are taking that away from me! Interesting rules tweaks? Yes, please! Advice on how to run my creation in a game? Certainly! Options for playing a character in my world? Hell yeah! Hand me a world already made? No thank you. Keep this in mind as you read my review of The Tome of the Black Island by J. Edward Tremlett.

This month, I got a bit blindsided by one article in GURPS Pyramid#3/91 – Thaumatology IV. As usual, I gave the issue a cursory perusal to see where I wanted to begin. I helped review C.R.’s Codex Duello, so I marked that for last. W. A. Frick’s Technomysticism doesn’t cover a topic I, personally, care for, so that got bumped down the list, too. Ted Brock’s The Thaumaturgy of Metallurgy looked specific to standard spell magic, and being an RPM guy, I set that aside for later idea-mining. This month’s Random Thought Table had some interesting thoughts, as usual, but is a small offering. That brought me to The Tome of the Black Island, a systemless article about the mad writings of a depraved and corrupted wizard. I was intrigued.

I started reading it, expecting to find it far too fluff-heavy. I thought I’d get turned off pretty early on, but after about one sentence, I couldn’t put it down. It drew me into the story the way H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe did when I first starting reading them. Heck, it read like something out of the Cthulhu mythos. And as the plot twisted and turned, I couldn’t help but keep reading about Maldrick Udelholfen’s lust for power and how it ultimately destroyed him. The mad sorcerer’s tale perfectly married the sublime with the grotesque in an orgiastic display of gothic horror. I loved it.

But Tremlett’s real accomplishment lay in what he held back. Why didn’t those servants try to escape the fire? Why did Udelholfen return so disfigured? He waits until you think the story is over and you’ve dropped your guard. It’s time to read how to use the Tome in your game, what it contains, where it might pop up, – the crunchy bits. And as you examine those spell descriptions and possibilities, he hits you with another wave of horror. Now everything makes a little too much sense. Did I really want to know that? Oh god.

So when I say this article is excellent, take it as coming from someone who generally doesn’t want this sort of thing in his monthly issues. I feel like I might have missed out by dismissing some of Tremlett's past articles, too. I will say, I plan on going back and rereading them all. I’m going to check out his blog, Spygod, too.

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