Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Eventually, though, I heard enough good things about various Role Aids products that I decided to take a chance and buy one for myself. The first one I purchased with Dark Folk, which was published in 1983. The book was edited by Paul Karczag, with material by several authors (Irwin Goldstein, Les Kay, Arthur Miller, Alan Nudelman, Steve Morrison, Susan Khas) I'd never heard of and by Robert Asprin of Thieves' World fame. Its subjects, as its name would suggest, were the evil humanoid races -- orcs, trolls, goblins, gnolls, and kobolds. Each race was got its own chapter, complete with overviews of history, culture, physiology, religion, magic items, and so on. Capping off each chapter was an adventure written to take advantage of the new material presented in the book.
As you might expect from a book with multiple authors, Dark Folk is something of a mixed bag. There are some clever and interesting sections and some not-so-clever and interesting ones. In general, the material about the various races is pretty standard stuff, its primary "uniqueness" being that it doesn't always comport with the standard presentation of these races in D&D. Thus, if your image of trolls is primarily informed by the Monster Manual, you're likely to find Dark Folk's take on them original. I remember, for example, that the presentation of kobolds felt odd to me. Dark Folk claims, years in advance of this becoming a common assumption, that they were reptiles (which makes some sense considering that even the MM notes that they're oviparous). But it was the adventures that were where Dark Folk shined brightest. Again, not all of the adventures were perfect -- which are? -- but several were well done and used the information in the book to make each one feel different. In this way, an orc lair wasn't the same as a goblin lair or a kobold one. It's a small thing, sure, but, at the time, it was a revelation to me.
I never became a huge buyer of Role Aids products, despite my fondness for Dark Folk (and, later, Dwarves). Mostly, it was because TSR and other companies were producing enough RPG material that I'd instinctively buy that I already had more material than I could ever use. And there was also a part of me that continued to recoil at the notion of "unofficial" supplements to D&D, no matter how good they were. That's a habit that took many years to break. It seems silly now, but, back in those days, there was a "cultural" divide between those of us who cared about "official" products and those of us who couldn't care less about them. It's a divide that's still very much alive and even relevant given recent events.