Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Viper Vine

The viper vine is monstrous.  That’s pretty much what you need to know.  It’s not special in terms of its abilities—its captivating cloud of pollen is strong but not unusual for a plant creature.  It’s special because it’s size Large, 20 Hit Dice, and Str 26.  The viper vine is how you scare mid-level PCs who think they’re above Mother Nature.  When you step on a vine and its response is to spit out the thighbone of the hill giant it was chewing…well, that’s a special moment.

Visiting a jungle giant village, a clueless adventurer breaks one of the stern taboos of this matriarchal people—he touches a giant maiden’s bow.  The only way to avoid a death sentence is to find the materials to replace it—including the fibrous wood of a viper vine.

Trying to sneak onto the estate of the rokurokubi Death’s Love Song is a dangerous undertaking.  The hag’s “little bonsai tree”—a stunted (use the young template) but still quite powerful viper vine—is allowed free run of the grounds on the estate’s western side.

Leafcutter ants are known to farm fungi and aphids.  So it should be no surprise that the antlike formians are similarly talented.  On jungle worlds they ride viper vines through the undergrowth the way nomads on other worlds ride giant worms across the desert—goading them with pheromones and carefully applied cold magic to train them into service.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 279

Are any of you Games Workshop fans? 

I read White Dwarf for the porn.  I look at the pictures, peruse the articles, and I fantasize.

I mean, I’m never going to paint a mini.  (That is sadly so not in my skill set.)  I’m not going to learn a miniatures game system.  If I had a friend who played regularly and had an army ready for me, I’m sure I’d push some units around a table in his basement, but that’s it.

But for the last four years or so, I’ve bought White Dwarf pretty regularly.  I never subscribed (even though that would have saved me money), but I had it pulled along with my comics at my comic book store.  I like the mythologies of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K worlds, I love reading battle reports (especially the older-format ones, where they felt more like short fiction than roll-by-roll replays), and I like just generally getting a slightly different take on the classic fantasy race archetypes.  (Plus Space Marines!  Because Space Marines.)  Mostly I just like getting a monthly gaming magazine as a springboard for fantasizing.  Like I said, it’s essentially porn.

Anyway, you probably know by now that White Dwarf has changed formats—a 32-page weekly(!) magazine and then a classy 228-page monthly release called Warhammer: Visions that’s mostly photography.

Clearly I’m not the audience for this; the audience is the real players.  I’m just what we used to call (back when I was forced to teach English 101) an overhearer.  But I have some thoughts anyway. 

First of all, the business rationale for W:V is immediately clear: It’s a single book printed in English, French, and German.  That means in one printing you’ve served the U.S., Australia, the U.K. the vast majority of Europe and half of Africa.  It’s also clearly for the miniature painter audience—it’s page after page of glorious photos in close-up, with a touch of lore or scene-setting and no rules to fret over.  If you’re the slightest bit of an artist or have ever painted a mini as part of any hobby or game system, you’ll enjoy this book.  (And since many of the photos are photos that will get used in the weekly anyway, it’s getting more value out of similar content.)

The new abbreviated White Dwarf I’m less sure of the point of.  I’ve read speculation online that it’s about managing new release info or something.  I’m sure the further blending of the online and print worlds also had something to do with it: I’m guessing doing a short weekly magazine makes it easy to serve the appetites of online and iPad audiences, and the print is icing on the cake maybe?  This is total speculation on my part, of course.  GW could very well just have their release schedule so well managed at this point that there’s something new to talk about every week, and an audience hungry for it.

But what I haven’t seen yet in the two issues I have so far is the reason I got into WD in the first place: battle reports.  (The one in W:V is a mere eight-paragraph synopsis.)  Long-form articles.  A sense of the world.  Fiction, or even vignettes.  So far the shorter magazine, by the very nature of its size, seems weighted toward the kind of pieces that dominated the front and the back of old WD: new releases, a couple discussions on tactics, and peeks behind the scenes at the WD offices.  All appetizer and dessert, with no meal.

And then there’s the cost.  Old WD (around 150 pages): $10 a month.  New WD: $4 each  Add in W:V at 12 bucks a pop, and that’s a whopping $28 every month. 

That’s a lot to spend just for a fantasy.  That’s a lot to spend period.  And without the things that hooked me about the magazine in the first place…  It’s too much.

I’m also struck by two thoughts.  First, I don’t have time for things that I love, let alone things I only like.  I’ve just started to let my subscription to The New Yorker lapse, for instance.  After exactly 20 straight years.  I started getting it as a sophomore in high school (yeah, I was that kid).  But it’s a weekly mag…I can’t bring myself to throw them away until they’re read…and I haven’t read one in three years.  So they pile up, and finally I had to do something.  It feels like murder letting it go…letting those great voices go unread…  But I can’t be the guy crushed by newspapers in his own house either.

If I don’t have time for The New Yorker, a White Dwarf with no battle reports doesn’t have a prayer.

Also, I think we lose something when we oversegment and overtarget our audiences and publications.  I don’t think White Dwarf benefits in the long run by talking to gamers and miniature painters separately.  I think they were better off talking to both audiences at once, because there was more chance to turn one into the other, and to snag overhearers like me.  Part of the joys of a magazine, even one serving a niche hobby, is its ability to speak to several interests and audiences in every issue.  Maybe in the new post-ebook world of publishing, that’s a model doesn’t work anymore.  But it’s the model I prefer.

In any case, I’m not going to be having White Dwarf pulled any more.  There are other magazines out there—less slick and professional perhaps, but no less enthusiastic.  (I have holes in my Kobold collection to fill, and three unopened issues of Gygax to read.)  If I see one that looks appealing on the shelf, maybe I’ll snag it.  But I’m simply not going to pay that much for porn when there are other, more diverse and more rewarding fantasies to pursue.

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