[Sorcerer] The Dictionary Of Mu : In my hands

Scorpio Rising

Active member
So, IPR delivered and my sweaty mitts are now locked around Judd (Paka) Karlman's awesome Sorcerer supplement, The Dictionary Of Mu.

I am most pleased. There are two reasons for that:

1) I used to game with Judd when I lived in Ithaca, NY, and I think he's a terrific guy with a lot of great ideas to bring to the table.
2) This book is a steaming chunk of raw meat which will get the blood up in any suitably carnivorous Sorcerer player.

What follows is my micro-review, based on a first read-through.

What Is This Thing?

Fundamentally, I'd say that TDOM is best understood as a worked example of how to put together a Sorcerer game. Beyond the pulp sorcery goodness of the setting and some of the crazy tropes and characters entailled therein (alien grays as slaves, a pubescent female Jesus as sole dictator of a kingdom run by warrior-preists), what really stands out for me is the feeling of "Oh, so this is how you're meant to do it."

What you get

The book itself is 170 pages long, sized similarly to the Sorcerer corebooks and printed on a nice, thick stock. It's quite a solid object. It's also indescribably well produced. Luke "Burning Wheel" Crane did the design and Jen Rodgers, previously unknown to me, produced a range of simply stunning art for the book. It looks great, and its appearance definitely adds to the inspirado.

In terms of content, the book is divided into 134 pages of Dictionary entries and a 27-page Appendix entitled "How To Use This Book". The result is a suprisingly effective gaming product:

Every single dictionary entry is something you can use in your game. There are well realized characters (suitable as PCs or NPCs, and every one statted out as a starting Sorcerer character), Demons (with complete definitions, some Bound to the characters and some free-floating for your own use), descriptions of the Kingdoms of Lemuria, Atlantis and Hy-Brasil, where the game is set, and a whole host of interesting nuggets, locations and so on. There are also a number of minor rules mods which are wrapped up as concepts that the author wishes to emphasize in play and dropped into the Dictionary. So the entry for, say, "Friendship" has a description of friendship that explains why Oghma (the Dictionarist) thinks it is important, and then there is a sidebar explaining how this plays into the Sorcerer rules for Humanity.

What's particularly ingenious about this setup is that each entry is nice and short. I take this book outside with me when I'm going for a smoke break, flick to a random page and read it. Inevitably, it references two or three other entries I haven't read and I follow up on those, which in turn chain to more entries. Because everything is interconnected, every page is a valid starting point for reading, and it all comes in bite-sized chunks. Best of all, nothing in this book is boring, so you end up buzzing through stuff, getting good ideas, then frantically flipping to and fro, pursuing your interest.

Finally, the book is designed to be extended. In fact, a rule explicitly states that PCs are only eligible for advancement if their players contribute a new entry to the Dictionary. So player input to the setting is not only encouraged, it's actually mandated. And yet, because the entries are pithy, what's mandated is adding a cool concept, not writing a 2,000 word essay.

The Setting Itself

I don't want to go into too much detail here, just because I don't want to ruin all the fun that's in the book. Suffice it say that this book is like a genre collision of pulp fantasy and religious tropes. There are 4 ancient kingdoms, each ruled by a different type of despotism, terrible wastes of sand concealing vast, cyclopean ruins, ancient ships which span the stars, feral half-men who haunt the desert and live by hunting and herding gigantic insects ... in short, the Dictionary is crammed full of pulp tropes, all waiting to get into action. And yes, Asskicking Jesus really is a 14-year-old Despot Queen:

Oghma The Runist said:
[The] Damsel Messiah will take the Faithful with her when she leaves Maar'd behind for the sinners and fools whose faithless heathenry will earn them unmarked graves in the red wastes. Her gospel declares that she will take 144,000 with her when she ascends.

Oghma has not seen her list but assumes that he is not upon it. However, if you see the list and find the entry, "Oghma the Runist, son of Oghma," scratch the name from the tablet.
Part of the fun here is that everything seems so familiar. While some might cry "that's not innovative!" I'd feel they were missing the point. For me, what's so great is that everything feels like it's already known, and that means accessability for the concepts is really high. Pretty much any gamer, or anyone with an interest in fantasy, should feel right at home here in pretty short order.

And yet there is a distinctive flavour to the dying world of Maar'd. The core, cool concept is that the world itself is dying. Sorcery is defined as the ability to bring back things that have already withered and passed away, and to use their ghosts to one's own unspeakable ends. Not only does this throw open the doors to a vast panoply of possible summonings (a range well illustrated by the examples within) but it also provides an overall tone that is somewhat between funereal and mordant, as characters sift through the ashes for past glories that can still come to their aid as they struggle to hold together a world whose very reality is cracking at the seams.

This book and Sorcerer

As written, this book is a supplement for the Sorcerer RPG (written by Ron Edwards, natch). I have found only two references to the supplement Sorcerer & Sword and I think that you could get by fine with just this book and the Sorcerer core. I personally would recommend "... & Sword" because it's a very well written look at the Pulp Fantasy genre and it also articulates the intended play-style of Sorcerer better than the core, but it's not strictly necessary to make use of TDOM.

To return to my opening remarks, though, what I find so good about TDOM is that it is a "worked example". Let me be frank. The Sorcerer text is not the most approachable of all gaming books, and the staggering array of possible settings, Humanity metaphors, Themes and rules tweaks available can leave one feeling out of one's depth. Also, I know that I have found it hard to approach the game because of the feeling that it is somewhat highbrow and perhaps my efforts weren't suitable. The Dictionary of Mu kicks sand in that idea's face, then pulps its head with a rock while it is blinded. If you have wanted to run Sorcerer but not known where to begin, then I have your answer: Right here, buddy.

Some ways to use the Dictionary:

1) You can just describe the 10 sample PCs to your group, let them each choose a character, give them the photocopies and get going. Each PC comes with a ready-to-roll Kicker, meaning you can just jump into play. Judd gives good advice on how to do this.
2) You can hand out sample PCs but let players author their own Kickers, making the story more specifically your own. (This is the recommended approach for more than a one-shot.)
3) Players can make up their own characters and go.
4) You can pass the book around your group, let people read and enjoy, then say, "Okay, folks. That's what a bad mother****ing Sorcerer setting looks like. Now let's imagine our own."

But what if you don't like Sorcerer? Well, fair play to you, my friend. If you are still interested in the pulp goodness of TDOM, and willing to do a bit of adaptation, I could easily imagine using the contents with various other fantasy systems. This book would make a great resource for The Shadow Of Yesterday, Dungeons & Zombies, Conspiracy of Shadows or even The Burning Wheel (if you were willing to spend time making Lifepaths and suchlike). You could also run it with a more generic engine like GURPS, The Pool, Risus, etc. Any of these approaches would be okay, but you would have to work to incorporate the ideas of demons and sorcerers into these games if you wanted to capture the core of TDOM - the gradual extinction of the world of Maar'd and the struggles of those who use that which is dead and gone to fight for control of that which still exists.

One Caveat

The only slightly negative thing I'll say is this: The book is packed with ideas-meat, but the text is relatively sparse. The font is very pretty but it is large, and the use of generous margins, framing pages and great swaths of art mean that it's not crammed in there. Similarly, all of the rules mods presented in the text of the Dictionary itself are collated together and re-presented in the Appendix. If they had wanted to, the people producing TDOM could probably have crammed its textual contents into a work half the size.

But, geez, people. This book oozes with cool. And, IMHO, it contains just the right amount of stuff: A ballooning swell of ideas to get you going, without drowning you in minuteae or leaving you with no room to come up with your own material. For me personally, it's worth every penny I spent, and a bunch more.

Conclusion

All up, I'm very happy to have my hands on The Dictionary Of Mu. Its arrival constitutes a kind of personal tippng point in my relation to Sorcerer, in that this has been the book to tell me that I can, nay that I must, start a Sorcerer game, and soon.

If you have wanted to run (or play) Sorcerer but haven't known where to begin, get this book.
If you love Sorcerer already and want more goodness for it, get this book.
If you are at all interested in pulp fantasy and cool settings for it, get this book.
If you want to see a well-designed small-press gaming product that is low on pretension and high on raw, red meat then get this book.

That is all I have to say about that.

- Scorpio reviewing.
 

coffeestain

Retired User
I'm having a hard time getting myself interested in running Sorcerer, but using Mu in a game of TSoY has been very appealing to me.

It really is a great little supplement and source of campaign inspiration.

Regards,
Daniel
 

MetalBard

Meddlesome
Hmm... I found Sorcerer & Sword immensely useful. I may have to check this out, especially given what I've read of Paka's creations on his threads.
 

Jim DelRosso

Magnificent Bastard
Validated User
Man, now you've got me all excited that my copy may show up at my workplace today. I dearly hope it's so.
 

Chris Gardiner

Treasure Type Q
Validated User
My copy arrived here in the UK this morning, and it's lurvely. Each entry is so cool that I keep flipping ahead to peek at the coolness to come. I just can't read it fast enough. And now I'm itching to run Sorcerer.

Nice work, Judd!
 

iago

www.evilhat.com
Validated User
Dictionary of Mu is atomic goodness. There are very few gaming books that I'll read cover to cover in a day. I did with this one.
 

Eric Tolle

A product of SCIENCE!
Hmm... I found Sorcerer & Sword immensely useful. I may have to check this out, especially given what I've read of Paka's creations on his threads.
I couldn't get past S&S's absurd insistance that Conan was a Sorcerer. But on the other hand, what I've heard of Mu sounds like a lot of fun. We can always use more "Corrupt sorcerers in a dying earth" types of stories.

The real question is whether it's adaptable to a more flexible system, like say, Risus.
 

Old Scratch

Registered User
Validated User
I couldn't get past S&S's absurd insistance that Conan was a Sorcerer.
As an aside, I don't think it's absurd at all. Conan performs what could be seen as rituals within the context of Sorcerer, the most obvious example being in the Tower of the Elephant. Also, keep in mind that Sorcerer is not necessarily a guy who looks like Gandalf. In Sorcerer, it can merely be a celebrity, a golfer, or a person with their own personal demons like alcoholism.

As for the other question, sure, it can be used for nearly any setting, and I see no problem running it with Risus.
 

Shadow Rat

Spelljammed
Validated User
This book just arrived by mail and is in my grubby little hands.... and I am opening it... and... damn that looks awesome... and *pop* my head exploded from the pretty.

Can't wait to give it a read through.
 
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