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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chaosium's "Magic World" Appears to be a Critical Failure

I do accept guest posts. Here is one such from an "Anonymous Tavern Patron":


Tenkar (or Grumpy, whichever you prefer),

I don't think this is really news, but I figured I would share with you some thoughts on a product I got my hands on recently.

I have always been a fan of d100 systems like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Basic Roleplay. So when I heard about Chaosium releasing Magic World, and that it would be a distilled compendium of only fantasy material within their BRP line, I was excited.  I even remember you posting a comment on Dorkland! about this product at one time. I love the BRP 'gold book,' but man it is taxing sometimes to go through all the skills during character creation. So I waited patiently for the financial opportunity to present itself and I ordered a copy of Magic World.

And man... how I have been disappointed. Honestly, it is one of the laziest attempts at a publication I have seen in awhile. There are about 30 errata issues with the book. Some of which is from basic information just plan missing. Also, there is a lot convoluted explanations from copied and pasted material from other systems, like bad math on how rolls should be determined (if that makes sense). Not to mention a lot of typographical errors. But for me the major flaw is that the layout of the art being just plain terrible. Much of the art was scanned or imported with extremely low resolution making much of it pixelated and stretched, or so dark and washed out that I can't tell what the hell I am looking at. Even the banner on the title page has 'Magic World' blurry with bad aliasing. The fucking title page? Come on!

I don't know, maybe I am making too big a deal out of it, but for me art is always a deal breaker. I can tolerate some errata issues if the art is excellent and presented well. It is like listening to bad sound while watching a beautifully shot movie. In this case the movie wasn't shot so well either. I am all for supporting the hobby. I am willing to shell out good hard earned cash for products from varying publishers/companies big and small. Hell, I have even bought PDFs and turned around and paid for hard copies because I like the product so much. But the product has to be worth it. On top of all my complaints, what really pissed me off (despite all the issues) is that the book is priced at 40 dollars soft cover, and 20+ dollars for the PDF. And it doesn't look like a second printing is coming anytime soon, so folks are stuck with all the errors with a 40 dollar price tag.

Am I making too big a deal out this? Does art make or break a tabletop product for you? Do you think errata (even this much) is just part of the way things are? Just wondering.

Great questions. I'll add my own:

At what point does a product's physical failures out weight it's gaming potential?

20 comments:

  1. I was looking forward to this as well; but when it got to my FLGS and I took a look at it, I found myself putting it back on the shelf. I'm not sure why. I didn't sit down with it, just paged through and read a paragraph here and there. Even though it should have been a no brainer, I lost interest. Maybe it was the artwork, although I tend to consider that to be a garnish unless it directly relates to game material (e.g. this is what a Billywumpess looks like). It's a shame, it should have been Ben Affleck in Phantoms, instead it's more Ben Affleck in Daredevil.

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  2. You might look back at the errata problem with GDW's MegaTraveller for a similar degree of complaint.

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    1. Something like 60 pages of errata iirc just for the core books.

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  3. I'd like to see a list of the errors that were found. I have run several game sessions with MW and haven't run across any particular issues. Not saying they aren't there....but perhaps I am not as dedicated to the cross-system identity of BRP over the last three decades to notice these things.

    Also: I know art can be subjective to a degree, but I was quite comfortable with the look and style of this book. Obviously from your Anonymous Poster YMMV but I absolutely do not see eye to eye with this person on the issue. What can be said is that a fair portion of the art in MW is recycled from earlier products, so this leads to two issues: first is if you liked the old stuff seeing some of that art back in circulation might be a nostalgia issue for you. However if you disliked that art when it was new then obviously MW is probably not going to appeal.

    Either way I strongly disagree with the assertion here that Magic World appears to be a critical failure on the grounds that some random poster who refused to put his name to his assertions says so. I have run into no egregious errata issues with MW and also have no problems with the art style. The game plays very well and is a new permanent placement on my book shelf as a decent easy-to run BRP fantasy variant.

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    1. Now, to play my own devil's advocate: if you want to suggest a book is a critical failure, look at some sales figures. Not sure what the print sales on MW are, but if you search for it on Chaosium's site the download count will come up, and right now sales of the PDF are at 484. So they've sold a bit under 500 PDF copies so far. Depending on whether you lump Chaosium and MW with the alternative/OSR/indie crowd or not that's either not bad or miserably low. For contrast, the BRP core book has about 651 downloads (and 1951 downloads for the errata) but I know it's been through a reprint and a hardcover release so my guess is print sales outstrip PDFs by a fair margin for Chaosium products. They could probably change that by lowering their PDF prices, as your anonymous reviewer suggests, but that's an entirely different topic of discussion and I still tend to fall on the side of the fence that the hobby's own worst enemies are it's cheap ass fans...but that's just MHO.

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  4. If there's misinformation, missing information and "bad math" to determine rolls, just how much "gaming potential" can there be?

    I wouldn't bother with this product, as it is described here.

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    1. Yeah but I've run a whole campaign with this product and ran into none of the issues this "reviewer" is describing. And I put my damned name to my reviews\ and stand by them.

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    2. I do know who it is, and I dont have a problem with anonymous posters so long as they are not posting personal attacks.

      the post title is mine though, based upon the poster's take on the product

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    3. Heh...if you were fishing for reactions then you got me good. I concede! But I do think the poster on this is off base. I need more evidence as to what they're talking about; the person's views on the game don't jive with my own detailed readthrough and actual play experiences.

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    4. @Tori - if you post your thoughts (dare I say rebuttal) on your blog, I'll be more than happy to link or share / guest post you over here.

      I have no horse in this race, as I'm very happy with OQ2 ;)

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    5. I shall indeed work on a rebuttal. I am combing through the book now to see if I can find any of these errata issues. The problem with gamers is we are a pedantic lot and where one person might overlook a typo another might see that as damnable...so it's hard to say. I'll let you know when I've got the rebuttal up (Thanksgiving week throwing a monkey wrench in the blogging).

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  5. First negative review I've seen for the product, actually, so of interest to me. Chaosium is somewhat notorious for copy-paste products with little or no editing, and their whole "monographs" line is similarly famous for being poorly edited.

    I, too, am curious what the technical/mechanical errors are in the book - if any of them are holdovers from prior books that were copied from in the first place.

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  6. The bigger you are (and we know it's relative here in "Murder Hobo Elf Game" land.) The more is expected of you. Seems fair to me. But, what a bummer. Seemed like a good idea for a book the became the epitome of the Fantasy Heartbreaker.

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  7. I like Magic World. It's good to have an uncluttered version of the Elric!/Stormbringer 5th Edition rules in print. Complaints (or praise) about art and layout are about as subjective as it gets, and one person's opinion about such things is no valid reason to declare a book a critical failure (or success). I'm definitely not a fan of all the art contained within MW, and I prefer the layout of Elric!/SB5 to the layout of MW. But having this stuff in print an readily accessible is worth the price of admission to me.

    I have played in several MW games and I haven't run into any significant, show-stopping errata. So put me in the camp of wanting to see examples of what was so glaring or problematic as to result in such a downright hostile review.

    I do agree that the price feels a bit high, especially for the PDF. But Chaosium isn't exactly known for being budget-priced when it comes to any of their products, physical or digital.

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  8. I don't think I've seen a publisher yet able to do a release without an obvious typo (i.e. anyone could spot it) or a layout problem (that's more of a personal thing). Case in point: Better Than Any Man; I have some huge problems with the column layouts in some places, but I'm able to a) eventually find out which column goes where so I can make sense of it, and b) cut a tremendous amount of slack because it was free. So, to answer the original question, when a text contradicts itself or it becomes too much trouble to attempt to make sense of it, I think the problems have outweighed the potential.

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  9. I've been runnibg games with MW as well and haven't seen any glaring problems either.
    As has been said, art is subjective... and for my tastes too much is made of the art in game books in that it really has no bearing on how the game plays. We are playing the games, right? Not just displaying them on the coffee table?
    If Anonymous Critic wants to discuss the actual playability of the game he oughtta come up with something more concrete than these vague accusations, which might after all just come down to matters of taste.

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  10. (Apologies in advance for the necromancy, as I just stumbled upon this.)

    I'm another person who was looking forward to MW for a while, but then put it down after perusing it in my FLGS.

    While I'm happy to hear that there are people who are running enjoyable campaigns using the product, I feel compelled to say that dismissing complaints with the layout and look of the book as "YMMV" or "art is subjective" is decidedly unfair. It's clear that the person doing layout for MW not only lacked a basic understanding of typography and page design, they obviously also lacked full understanding of how to use their chosen layout software and the basics of digital image manipulation. Leaving aside the quality of the individual art pieces featured in the book — many pieces are good or at least comparable to a lot of typical RPG art — the *presentation* of those pieces is very shoddy.

    There are objective standards in graphic design, and by those metrics MW's presentation is a failure. If we accept that the content of the book itself is worthwhile, it's unfortunate that Chaosium chose to present it as they did, much less at a price-point on the high end for paperback RPG texts.

    Again, I commend those people who are having fun with the game. But let's not turn a blind eye to the very obvious faults in the book's physical production.

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    1. Try not to make the error of assuption that all people have the keen eye of a graphics designer. I have noticed none of the issues you describe and suspect you'd have to teach me how to "look" at the product to spot the issues you refer to. From a non graphic-designer layman viewpoint I find MW very utilitarian and friendly to use. And no idea how I ended back up here in this post but I've run two more multi-session campaigns with MW since the last time I posted on the subject, and still no issues with system or errata.

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  11. i picked this up several times and found typos and disapproved of recycling too. Some ppl i respect seemed to be enjoying it so i looked at again and have gotten it. In practice ive quite enjoyed it and im stealing ideas for my brp games. Ive played most brp products since i started gaming in 84 and played 70s versions with friends. Having read it oive forgiven the problems and have enjoyed it. So 6 months of snubbing it on quick glance seems to have been hasty now im digging it.

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  12. Great game, Chaosium openly states that MW is purposely a 'recycling' of Elric! because 1) they no longer held the license and 2) wanted a generic setting. I have run it and see no problems with the rules, and I like the old art, so the art works for me. It's a solid game, and adding Advanced Sorcery with its cool magic styles makes it even better.

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