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The Thirteenth Shelf: Odds & Sods I – GMing, Tools, and Fiction – Introduction by Mike

Being the GM can be isolating at the Game table, especially when a problem strikes. It’s usually too late when you’re in the hot seat to do much research into solutions (unless the problem is so grave that you end the game session early). Sure, if it’s only going to take a couple of seconds, go for it; but most of the time you can’t know that for certain.

One of the most effective ways of combating that problem is to have built up a stockpile of answers and advice and experiences in advance, letting them lie fallow in your subconscious / memory until the conditions are right for them to spring to mind. And that’s where the books on this shelf, and the next, come in. Not to mention Campaign Mastery (and like sites) in general.

It’s frequently too much to ask of yourself that you remember every piece of advice that you’ve ever heard or read, let alone the factoids and contextual information that you’ve soaked up through reading. It can be argued that knowing where to obtain a fact or procedure is more important and useful than having that fact or procedure memorized. Even having some idea is better than none.

There some tools and techniques that can help place the information you need at your fingertips, and I’ll do an article on the subject sometime soon – not that my recall is all that good!

But in the meantime, the best thing you can do is read, and to read a variety of books on a variety of subjects. The more isolated a fact is, the more likely it is to be forgotten. Reading a book on Greek architecture lays groundwork for the next book you read (at least for a while); if there are any connections, they will link up. An article on Orcish temple practices, perhaps, which also reminds you of a brawl in a house of parliament somewhere in the world, and before you know it, you’re associating church administrative practices with styles of government without even realizing that “Greek Temples” has established the connection.

The more you read about GMing, the more you stockpile other people’s experience and expertise in your own head, even as you open that mental landscape up for new readings and experiences to slot into surprising and unpredictable connections that help you remember the important things.

Relevance to other genres

To a certain extent, genre is irrelevant to the craft of GMing. Characters are still characters, adventure is still adventure, narrative is still composed of words describing locations, people, and events. The principles of what makes an interesting character don’t change, either.

Yes, there are nuances that can profoundly impact on these things differently from one genre to another, but the heart of the process remains unchanged.

A large percentage of references that can assist the pulp GM will also be useful to others. The degree of overlap will vary with the type of resource, but there can be surprising moments of serendipity even in references that are not obviously or directly applicable. A lot of sci-fi can be applied to magic systems, for example.

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many books on many shelves

Photo by freeimages.com / carlo lazzeri

Shelf Introduction

This shelf is divided into four major sections, the first of which has been subdivided into four subsections. Because there’s nothing on the list that doesn’t fit into one of those subsections, they have been treated as though they were sections in their own right everywhere but in this introduction and in the master taxonomy.

The observant and astute (with memories like elephants) may have noticed that the taxonomy of the next two shelves has been rearranged (don’t bother checking the front desk, that’s been updated to the new structure). While part of the reason was to balance a number of additional books on treasure to be included on the next shelf, an equally great consideration was the time-limited item which leads off the Steampunk section.

1. Fiction & Books about Fiction – In an ideal world, every idea would be completely original, every time, except where it deliberately wasn’t. In the real world, inspiration can be required. We’re listing fiction (an extremely select and limited selection) and books about fiction in four categories.

1.1 Steampunk – There is more than a little crossover between Pulp, Steampunk, and Scifi – and ample content-oriented justification for inclusion of selected works from the genre on this list. Steampunk is slightly-sci-fi-oriented-pulp-adventuring-set-in-an-earlier-era, or at least, it can be considered that.

1.2 Pulp Fiction – If we simply listed pulp fiction, there would be many hundreds of entries in this subsection. If we attempted to cull the list, we would be sure to cut someone’s favorite, or praise something they hated, or lambaste something they liked. We’ve kept this list manageable by not doing anything of the sort. But there are still a few resource that can’t be ignored.

1.3 Alternative History – Mike has mentioned in a number of articles at Campaign Mastery that one of the keys to keeping the entrepreneurial spirit and sense of optimism that followed the First World War (people really did think that it was the War To End All Wars) in the Adventurer’s Club was to make the Great Depression shorter and milder than in real-world history. Blair and Mike knew that they couldn’t eliminate it altogether for two reasons: first, they wanted some of the ramifications to take place, and second, the depression was an inevitable outgrowth of the economic and financial policies of governments, investors, and banks in the 1920s. Monkey with things too much, and the results would have been unrecognizable. That immediately put the campaign in an Alternative History, one that has required careful shepherding by them ever since. They are perpetually finding social or economic consequences to either the Depression or to the New Deal, which loses a great deal of its imperative when the Depression is more minor. Fortunately, both Blair and Mike were well schooled in Alternative Histories. And, of course, with every adventure since, the drift away from the world we all know has continued, sometimes by a little, and sometimes by a lot.

1.4 Period Sci-Fi – Some pulp is undeniably early sci-fi in a 1920s-1930s setting, and some early sci-fi is undeniably pulp in orientation. Once again, it would have been very easy for this subsection to overwhelm the rest of the list. We have very deliberately been restrained in dealing with this sub-section as a result. Because it is likely to have less direct relevance, we have deliberately included very little space opera.

2. General Books & Tools – Some resources are useful regardless of genre. There was always going to be a section dedicated to those resources. We could have vastly increased the size of the list if we had listed websites that we use for various things – timezone calculations, for example. There are a heap of these that we have accumulated over the years, mostly by identifying a need and searching for a site that satisfied it, sometimes by finding a site and realizing that it could satisfy a need that we had not yet encountered. At some future point (after this series finishes), Mike will put together an article specifically on those internet resources. But, in the meantime, here are resources that come in printed form.

3. Names – Mike has written a major series of articles on choosing the right name, the benefits that result, and the approach that he uses, and has taught to Blair. In a nutshell, he contends that getting the name right not only does half the character generation for you, it does half the work of delivering characterization of NPCs to the players. That is, perhaps, a slight exaggeration, but in principle, and as a writer, Saxon has to concur. These are some of the books that they refer to in order to select those names.

4 Writing – And, speaking of writing, it too is a major threat of articles here at Campaign Mastery. There have been not just one but several series of articles dedicated to the subject. Ultimately, the act of GMing is a task of creation and communication; the first is in common with writing for other purposes, and the second is the entire purpose of writing. Books about the art of writing are an easy fit for the GMing part of the list.

A Recurring Note On Images:

Wherever possible, we have provided an illustration showing the cover of the book or DVD under discussion scaled to the same vertical size (320 pixels for Recommended Books, 280 for DVDs, 240 for items in the ‘For Dummies’ Sections). Where there was none available, we have used a generic icon.

Prices and Availability were correct at the time of compilation. But in some cases, that was more than eight months ago.

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Fiction & Books about Fiction

Steampunk Kickstarter Campaigns

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Spacer Boston Metaphysical Society

1185. Boston Metaphysical Society Trade Paperback – Madeleine Holly-Rosing (writer/creator), Emily Hu (artist), Gloria Caeli and Fahriza Kamaputra (colorists), and Troy Peteri and Shawn Aldridge (letterers), cover by Emily Hu and Gloria Caeli

The Boston Metaphysical Society Trade Paperback collects the six issues comic series and adds a new ten-page story, “Hunter-Killer” which features an Airship Battle. The overall narrative is about “an ex-Pinkerton detective, a spirit photographer, and a genius scientist who battle supernatural forces in late 1800’s Boston. The comic also includes such notable historical figures as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Harry Houdini as part of the story line.”

Now, even if that collective bunch didn’t sound like a bunch of Pulp PCs (it does), those notable historical figures were definitely around during the pulp era. But even beyond such relevance to the pulp genre, the entire comic sounds like a case study in how to adapt existing history to suit a campaign, and especially a pulp campaign.

The comic has been consistently nominated for awards since the project started in 2013.

Right now, it’s in Kickstarter (ends March 3, 2017): http://kck.st/2kT8SqU (In the interests of full disclosure, we have to add that both Blair and Mike are backers, and Saxon may be considering it).

If the Kickstarter Fundraising has concluded (and these posts will be around for a lot longer than the campaign!) then head to the The Boston Metaphysical Society website to inquire about availability and prices http://www.bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com. But it’s fair to say that it will never get cheaper than it is right now.

One of the backer levels also gets you an anthology of short stories and novellas that includes background for some of the characters.

But on top of that, there is stretch goal number two, which has only just been achieved (as these words are being written) which includes a PDF comic bundle, and we want to especially call attention to those.

The Ballad Of Sally Sprocket and Piston Pete

Stretch Goals

First up, The Ballad Of Sally Sprocket and Piston Pete (Pictured, Story and Art by Alejandro Lee) – this may be a steampunk western strip but it reads like a pulp adventure cast backwards in time. A “last-of-his-kind robot getting by in life in the Wild West as a tinkerer. Things take a turn when he saves a mysterious little girl from death, and she is remade into a cyborg whom he adopts and names Sally Sprocket. Follow this unlikely duo’s adventures as they battle electromagnetic mad scientists, steam-powered prospectors and more!”

The Legend of Everett Forge is another steampunk western set in an alternate 1889 where machines control the American West. This one is slightly less pulp-applicable but if Dr Tesla is around somewhere to open a portal into another dimension for the PCs to explore, who knows?

Bayani and the Old Ghosts has, as its protagonist, an 11-year-old island boy who tries desperately to care for his sick father and feed his small family – but the sun has been shining for a month and night refuses to fall, the land is growing parched and fish are moving farther and farther from shore. Bayani and his friend Tala undertake a perilous quest to rescue the nine kidnapped daughters of Lady Moon and ultimately save their village at the instigation of the Rain God, Pati’. This is right out of the ‘noble savage’ sub-variety of pulp. How well it would adapt to a more “high-tech” group of PCs, I don’t know, but the potential is there.

Sepulchre is a fantasy adventure in which the two protagonists take on a crime family that has inflicted terrible harm on both of them. Nothing pulp about that, then, is there? Are you kidding – that plot outline could have come straight out of a pulp magazine!

As of right now, we don’t know what the next stretch goal will be, but M Holly-Rosing has been dropping hints that it’s going to be mega. But it’s hard to see how this deal could get much better for a Pulp GM. Check out the Kickstarter, because by the time you read this, the new stretch goal should have been announced.

Those links again:
http://kck.st/2kT8SqU
http://www.bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com

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Books About Steampunk

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The Steampunk Bible

1186. The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature – Jeff VanderMeer and SJ Chambers

“The Steampunk Bible is the first compendium about the [Steampunk] movement, tracing its roots in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells through its most recent expression in movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Its adherents celebrate the inventor as an artist and hero, re-envisioning and crafting retro technologies including antiquated airships and robots.” 152 customer reviews give this book 4.4 out of 5.

Hardcover, 224 pages, 53 used copies from $7.56, 41 new from $13.51.
http://amzn.to/2kIdalq
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The Steampunk User's Manual

1187. The Steampunk User’s Manual: An Illustrated Practical and Whimsical Guide to Creating Retro-futurist Dreams – Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich

“…offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top.” By the same author as The Steampunk Bible (above).

Kindle ($15.18) or 256-page Hardcover (23 used from $9.43, 41 new from $12.76).
http://amzn.to/2kIf1GL
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Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos

1188. Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker’s Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts – Thomas Willeford

In the same vein as the previous book, this is “filled with do-it-yourself projects, Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker’s Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts shows you how to build exquisite, ingenious contraptions on a budget.”

Kindle ($11.51) or 240-page Paperback (34 new from $13.98, 29 used from $10.67, 1 collectible at $31).
http://amzn.to/2kmR5rC
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The Steampunk Adventurer's Guide

1189. The Steampunk Adventurer’s Guide: Contraptions, Creations, and Curiosities Anyone Can Make – Thomas Willeford

Another book on the same subject by the author of the previous listing – this is not our primary field of expertise (though it is tangential to it), and so we’re hedging our bets by listing several works that look equally promising.

Kindle ($11.80) or 240-page paperback (33 used from $3 and 41 new from $5.07).
http://amzn.to/2loWpuz
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1,000 Steampunk Creations

1190. 1,000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art (1000 Series) – Dr Grymm

“Packed with 1,000 full-color photographs, 1,000 Steampunk Creations features a stunning and mind-boggling showcase of modified technology, art and sculpture, home décor, fashion and haberdashery, jewelry and accessories, and curious weapons, vehicles, and contraptions.”

320 pages. Paperback (21 used from $14 and 16 new from $31.77) or Flexibound (18 used from $8.98 and 9 new from $16.64).
http://amzn.to/2lkUuv0
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Books About Pulp Fiction

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The Blood'n'Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction

1191. The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction – Ed Hulse

Lavishly illustrated but with depth of narrative to go with the pretty pictures, this is the most promising work on the subject that we can recommend. Outside our normal price limits, but beggars can’t be choosers – and these are at least affordable (barely).
http://amzn.to/1VDxVtI
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The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines

1192. The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines – Peter Haining

Haining’s books have a reputation for being long on images and short on text. This book sounds no different, but there’s a shortage of quality affordable works on the subject and Haining is better than nothing. The cheapest copies are currently available at this link http://amzn.to/1p35ESO but if they run out (or go above $30) there are more at this link: http://amzn.to/1SSNLCF

NB: Library listings and Amazon leave the “s” off the end of “Magazines” even though it is clearly visible on the cover.
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Danger Is My Business

1193. Danger Is My Business: an illustrated history of the Fabulous Pulp Magazines – Lee Server

Although the book contents suggest that this is lavishly illustrated, reviews suggest that the 157 illustrations on 144 pages are chosen for their significance and not for their eye-candy value. Though Server admits that many of the estimated one million stories that appeared in the pulps were mediocre (and he gleefully quotes from examples of the worst), he argues that the pulps created “an innovative and lasting form of literature” whose descendant genres now dominate mass entertainment.
http://amzn.to/1QLW1PB
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The Art of the Pulps

1194. The Art of the Pulps: An Illustrated History – edited by Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse, and Robert Weinberg

This book breaks all sorts of rules for us, but it’s too relevant to deny. It’s twice our acceptable price range, but that’s because it’s brand new – or, at least, it will be on September 28, 2017, because that’s when it is being published. That’s still more than eight months from now!

Surprisingly, for a book so far removed from publication, there are extensive details of the contents available, and those details are enticing.

“Award-winning authors and collectors Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse, and Bob Weinberg assemble a team of experts in each of the ten major Pulp genres, from action Pulps to spicy Pulps and more, to chart for the first time the complete history of Pulp magazines—the stories and their writers, the graphics and their artists, and, of course, the publishers, their market, and readers.
    “Each chapter in the book … is organized in a clear and accessible way, starting with a 1500-word overview of the genre, followed by a selection of the best covers and interior graphics, organized chronologically through the chapter.” There are “more than 400 examples of the best pulp graphics …
    “All images are fully captioned (many are in essence “nutshell” histories in themselves). Two special features in each chapter focus on topics of particular interest” (the two examples cited aren’t especially pulp-relevant but are both topics that rarely get much attention).
    “There are two additional chapters focusing on the great Pulp writers and artists.”

All of which sounds excellent. In fact, our only reservation (despite the price) is the page count – 240 pages seems rather short to pack all those graphics into, never mind the chapter text and special features. Of course, the page size (which we haven’t been told) might ameliorate this situation; all we can say at the moment is that the pages are square in proportions. If the pages are 5 or 6 inches to the side, our concerns would be vastly increased, if 9 or 10 inches, they would be greatly relieved.

240 pages, hardcover, $39.99, released September 26, 2017.
http://amzn.to/2koG7lb

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Books About Alternative History

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The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories

1195. The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories – edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates

This collection of short stories and novellas includes some that were commissioned exclusively for the volume and a number of classics of the Alternate History subgenre. Since virtually every Pulp Campaign will take place in an alternate-history world, there can be any number of useful ideas and tidbits to be extracted.

Kindle ($6.91) or Paperback, 512 pages (19 used from $2.87, 11 new from $8.31).
http://amzn.to/2kPChVB
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What Might Have Been

1196. What Might Have Been: Imaginary History From Twelve Leading Historians – edited by Andrew Roberts

“Award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has assembled a team of his prominent colleagues to consider what might have happened if major world events had gone differently… George W. Bush’s former White House adviser, David Frum, considers a President Gore response to 9/11, while Conrad Black wonders how the U.S. might have entered World War II if the Japanese had not bombed Pearl Harbor. Whether it’s Stalin fleeing Moscow in 1941, as envisioned by Simon Sebag Montefiore, or Napoleon not being forced to retreat from it in 1812, as pictured by Adam Zamoyski, these essays posit a fascinating, sometimes horrifying parallel universe.”

The writers are experts in their individual fields of knowledge, but some people found that this did not necessarily qualify them to tell a good story (or even to tell a bad story well), and some seem to assume that the reader knows almost as much as they do. There was also criticism than none of the alternate histories leads specifically to the cover image of the Nazis planting a flag on the moon, though there are a couple that could lead to that outcome.

Kindle ($13.82) or 224-page Hardcover (23 used from $0.41, 7 new from $25.93).
http://amzn.to/2lrYJ4z

Paperback (38 used from 1 cent, 19 new from $6.04).
http://amzn.to/2k4COyw
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If The Allies Had Fallen

1197. If The Allies Had Fallen: Sixty Alternative Scenarios of World War II – Dennis E Showalter and Harold C Deutsch

“From the Munich crisis to the dropping of the first atom bomb, and from Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States to the D-Day landings—historians suggest “what would have been” if key events in the war had gone differently.” This book was originally published under the title “What If? Strategic Alternatives of WWII”, which led to one customer being very unhappy. Written by experts, this is consequently a relatively dry and academic book to read according to some, suffering from the same problems as the one previously listed. What’s more, they clearly were disinclined to speculate too far beyond the central variation at hand, largely discounting the potential for one change to have domino effects on those not directly involved. On the other hand, the minutely-detailed expertise lends the stories a far higher quotient of plausibility, and makes it relatively easy to search for more information on any scenario that piques your interest.

The other failures of this book are two-fold, one excusable, and one less so. Firstly, we are still learning things about the War, for example about the economic plight of Germany shortly prior to and during the war years (the Germans were running up massive deficits and printing money like confetti, and destroying the ledgers immediately they were no longer needed to hide the true state of the economy, Stalin entered into the Pact Of Steel expecting Hitler to betray the alliance, buying time until he learned whether or not the Japanese were again going to invade Siberia as they had previously done; on learning that they had no such intentions, he was able to redirect the manpower and material from the East in time to counter the invasion when it finally came; without that intelligence, Leningrad might well have fallen before the Winter, and Moscow shortly afterwards). Much of this information came from KGB files only released after the end of the Cold War, and without it, the behavior of two of the principles – Hitler and Stalin – cannot be understood. That undermines the credibility of the entire book, but worse is to come; the second flaw is the assumption that, unless directly affected by the postulated change to history, events will follow the same course as those of history, completely ignoring the possibility that the cause of the divergence may have other repercussions.

Despite these flaws, as a foundation and starting point for your own what-if games, this is a useful book to have read and fully digested, and so we recommend it.

Kindle ($9.48), 304-page hardcover (20 used from $0.01, 10 new from $13)
http://amzn.to/2lsAZ0f

Paperback (42 used from 1 cent, 33 new from $9.84)
http://amzn.to/2kJigxr
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Hitler Triumphant

1198. Hitler Triumphant: Alternative Histories of World War II – Peter G Tsouras

This is a book similar in concept to the preceding one, but the variations are based around analysis of battle strategy and key decisions by the Nazi leadership. Far more often than we often realize, history is shaped by a failure of the imagination (which was the ultimate cause cited for the Apollo I fire, many years later) or, in some cases, by an excess of it when applied to how we envisage events unfolding in consequence of our actions. Both effects were rampant throughout the war.

While this book still suffers from the problems of ignorance, and the assumptions, interpretations, and biases used to fill the resulting gaps in understanding, in every other way this avoids the pitfalls of the previous offering. It is quite readable and more willing to embrace the wider ramifications of the changes of circumstance that lead to the specific historical alteration under consideration. However, to accommodate that breadth, some sacrifice in breadth and variety of potential variation are sacrificed; the individual speculations may be more credible, but there are not as many of them within these pages.

The authors of each essay are military historians and experts in tactics, so the expertise and detail level remain high, but there is a greater appreciation of the principles of the old tale of “for want of a shoe”.

Paperback, 256 pages, 23 new from $10.84 and 25 used from $3.99.
http://amzn.to/2k4ZYoN
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The Collected What If

1199. The Collected What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been – edited by Robert Cowley

This omnibus collection brings together two books previously released as a series, “What If?”, “What If 2”, both with the same ’eminent historians’ subtitle. The first dealt entirely with military questions, while the second included non-military variations on history. Most emphasize the actual history and limit speculation to immediate and reasonable possibilities, which limits the scope of the book somewhat as there is limited consideration of the snowballing of implications. As such, these serve as foundation and inspiration only; actually using any of these as foundations for a campaign will still require research and effort by the GM.

At least one Amazon customer remarked that the book was too self-indulgent without really explaining the remark. The more serious critique provides substance to explain many of the less-informative low-scoring reviews, in the form of a non-committal attitude to the speculations being entertained: “It’s not written like ‘this is what would happen’…it’s more written as ‘this is what happened… but kind of could have been different, maybe if this happened… but it probably wouldn’t have happened… and anyway it didn’t’.” That reviewer also added, “Every story ends with a preachy ‘but history HAD to happen this way because it would have been worse…’ [statement.]” The suggestion is that in trying so hard to avoid writing historical fiction, the contributors – or perhaps the editor – have fallen into the trap of historical inevitability.

Nevertheless, since we aren’t overburdened by any such need to be felicitous to historical truth, this book can be extremely useful to the GM of several different genres of campaign.

Hardcover, 827 pages, 24 new from $7.83, 190 used from 1 cent, 5 collectible from $9.80.
http://amzn.to/2ktiJWm

The two volumes collected in this omnibus are also available individually, but there are so many cheap copies available of this omnibus that we haven’t bothered listing them here.
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What Ifs of American History

1200. What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been – edited by Robert Cowley

A third volume in the series, reviews of the Omnibus listed above lead us to believe that the content are not included in that single-volume collection, but that might be incorrect information. We recommend the exercising of caution – if interested, buy the omnibus first and then verify for yourself that this is not incorporated into that work.

“In this new collection of never-before-published essays, our brightest historians speculate about some of America’s more intriguing crossroads. Some irresistible highlights include: Caleb Carr on America had there been no Revolution; Tom Wicker on the first time a vice president, John Tyler, succeeded a deceased president and its surprising ramifications; Jay Winik on the havoc that might have resulted if Booth had succeeded in his plan to assassinate Johnson and Seward as well as Lincoln; Antony Beevor on the possibility of Eisenhower’s capture of Berlin before the Soviets’ arrival there in 1945; and Robert Dallek on … what might have happened if JFK hadn’t been assassinated.”

One reviewer offers the opinion, “Where the majority of the essays fail is that they don’t provide details of how significantly American History would change due to those non-events happening & in the case of the essay on John Tyler say he had to be president. For fans of alternate history, this book is a bust simply due to the lack of attempts at re-writing history which is what made the previous 2 installments work.” However, because the contributors all have experience in writing for popular consumption, the readability level of this book is reportedly even higher than that of the previous volumes in the series.

Hardcover, 320 pages (20 new from $4.98, 91 used from 1 cent, 10 collectible from $4.45) or Paperback (32 new from $4.98, 93 used from 1 cent, 4 collectible from $7.50).
http://amzn.to/2k4IrS8

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Books About Period Sci-Fi

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Before The Golden Age

1201. Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s – edited by Isaac Asimov

Anyone who has ever read one of Asimov’s anthologies knows what to expect – to anyone else, you’re in for a treat. Not only does Asimov give an introduction to each story, these often contain his personal recollections of the period in question. And value for money is a given, which is why this (and its sibling volumes below) are our primary recommendations in this category.

Hardcover, 986 pages (that’s not a typo), 26 used from $13.98; paperback, 1 collectible at $18.00.
http://amzn.to/2k3WC5k

This book has also been split up into a trilogy of smaller books (Before The Golden Age, Books 1, 2, and 3). These are often in shorter supply than the omnibus hardcover listed, but can also become a cheaper alternative, even in aggregate – if the omnibus grows short in supply and high in price:

Book 1
Paperback: 23 used from $0.01, 8 new from $32.95, 4 collectible from $4.99
Mass Market Paperback: 4 used from $14.95, 1 new at $26.99, 1 collectible at $29.95
http://amzn.to/2knl8iw

Book 2
Mass Market Paperback: 10 used from $3.49, 3 new from $38.94, 1 collectible at $29.95
http://amzn.to/2k3P3jI

Book 3
Hardcover: 26 used from $13.98
Mass Market Paperback: 5 used from $7.49
http://amzn.to/2ksDOAc
Mass Market Paperback (different cover): 17 used from $1.98
http://amzn.to/2kPn8DJ
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Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction

1202. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction: 36 Stories and Novellas – edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg

Okay, here’s where it starts to get a little tricky. This is not the same anthology series discussed above. These stories were published in 1939 and 1940, the above dates prom earlier. but this is a compilation of two volumes of another series, “Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories”, volumes 1 and 2 – copies of which you can also sometimes find available here and there, and which usually include one or more additional stories each that have been omitted from the omnibus. This is actually a reprint of a much earlier edition of this book; Mike was given a copy for Christmas in 1983, and it is one of his most treasured and possessions and sources of inspiration for everything from Fantasy to Pulp to Superheros to, yes, Sci-Fi.

Hardcover, 350 pages, 21 used from $4.25, 7 new from $31.98, 3 collectible from $14.
http://amzn.to/2knygnX

Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Second Series)

1203. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Second Series): 28 Stories and Novellas – edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg

Sequel to the above, collecting the next two volumes of “Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories”. 1941 and 1942.

Hardcover, 723 pages, 32 used from $0.43, 7 new from $20, 3 collectible from $20
http://amzn.to/2ksIMwF

Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Third Series)

1204. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Third Series) – edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg

Sequel to the above, collecting the next two volumes of “Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories”. 1943 (omitting The Iron Standard by Lewis Padgett) and 1944 (omitting Far Centaurus by A.E. van Vogt; Deadline from Clive Cartmill; Sanity from Fritz Leiber and Invariant from John R. Pierce). Unfortunately, this is the only entry for which specific information about exclusions has been made available.

Hardcover, 633 pages, 18 used from $4.29, 6 new from $24.99, 5 collectible from $9.83
http://amzn.to/2ksJPg5

Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Fourth Series)

1205. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Fourth Series) – edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg

Sequel to the above, collecting the next two volumes of “Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories”. Some omissions reported but not specified.

Hardcover, 632 pages, 51 used from $0.01, 6 new from $43.29, 7 collectible from $9.80
http://amzn.to/2knyT0I

Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Fifth Series)

1206. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Fifth Series) – edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg

Sequel to the above, collecting the next two volumes of “Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories”. 1947 and 1948. Some omissions suspected. Contains 33 classic stories and novellas.

Hardcover, 641 pages, 37 used from $0.01, 10 new from $10.05, 3 collectible from $9.00
http://amzn.to/2kIELTy

Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Sixth Series)

1207. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction (Sixth Series) – edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg

Sequel to the above, collecting the next two volumes of “Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories”. 1949 and 1950. Some omissions suspected. Contains 33 classic stories and novellas.

Hardcover, 624 pages, 23 used from $0.01, 9 new from $12.75, 2 collectible from $9.80
http://amzn.to/2llmvme
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The History of Science Fiction

1208. The History of Science Fiction (Palgrave Histories of Literature) – Adam Roberts

What is Science Fiction? The heart of this scholarly history of the genre is the author’s contention that it can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece but was specifically founded in its modern form by the Reformation in the 17th Century. However, if you read the customer comments at Amazon, you will quickly learn that the book can be of immense value to the GM even if you don’t buy into that theory. One review seemed relevant in multiple ways: “This books is bad news, especially since it should have been such good news. Science fiction is in need of a good historical survey, but this isn’t it. The writing is choppy and labored. The author endlessly uses phrases close to “this x reflects science fiction’s central dialectic,” but in neither the preface nor the postscript does he do an adequate job of explaining this dialectic[1]. At times, the factors in contradiction within the dialectic seem to be as simple as the tension between technology and mysticism. At other times, Roberts has a more complex theory involving the interplay between Catholicism and Protestantism, which, believe me, don’t ask. The narrative aspect of the history is awkward and lacks flow. The only primary sources used in the text is the science fiction itself; the author has apparently visited no archives [2,3]. The bulk of the book is taken up by plot summaries.”

Notes:
[1] Dialectic: (1) the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions; (2) inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.

[2] The commenter appears to mean archives of past critical review and literary history.

[3] This claim is a little rich, as later in his review, he complains that the author has clearly based an argument on a number of past critical analyses, and in fact comes close to plagiarizing them, without identifying or crediting the source.

Bottom line on this book: its comprehensive and focuses on the published works themselves, wrapped in the superstructure of a definition of science fiction that may be too broad for some, but that at least ensures that the entire field is covered, however briefly.

524 pages, hardcover ($69+ for a new copy, used cost almost twice as much) or paperback (5 used from $25.13, 22 new from $21.61).
http://amzn.to/2koc8Kp
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Trillion Year Spree

1209. Trillion Year Spree: The History Of Science Fiction – Brian W Aldiss and David Wingrove

In 1973, Aldiss wrote “Billion Year Spree” as a history of Science Fiction and embedding some controversial ideas into the text, such as the contention that the prototypical modern science fiction novel was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (I agree, others don’t) and that Hugo Gernsback did more harm to science fiction than good (I disagree as do most others I know). This 1986 work expands and updates the original without modifying those opinions one iota, adding six new chapters. In particular, once the work reaches the Gernsback era, objectivity and reference value appear to be discarded in a fit of obstinate pique that would have done Harlan Ellison (who is legendary for such displays) proud. Unfortunately, the commencement date of Gernsback’s professional association with the era is 1926, meaning that most of the content pertaining to the pulp era is tainted by what one commentator described as ‘petulant over-defensiveness and hypersensitivity’.

In our opinions, the Aldiss perspective is a reflection of the distinction between critical success and popular success, the same force that leaves many people shaking their heads at the end of each Oscars/Grammies Night wondering ‘what were they thinking?’ We think that both have their place and are equally valid, but that much critical review and praise is pretentious self-aggrandizing and social politics, attempting to shape opinion on broader issues than to simply provide a functional appraisal of the work in question. But that’s not especially relevant.

It’s also worth adding that this book won the 1987 Hugo Award for best non-fiction.

For reasons of the criticism of the treatment of the Gernsback era and resulting damage to the utility of the book as a reference, the Roberts book got the nod as a preferred reference recommendation despite the flaws reported, a choice confirmed by the availability standards we have set for this series. But we aren’t here to make up people’s minds for them; when superiority is not clear-cut, our preference is to present both choices, warts and all, and leave readers to make up their own minds, which is why we are granting an exception to those restrictions and listing this book.

Hardcover, 511 pages, 15 used from $5.14, new copies and paperback also available.
http://amzn.to/2ktARPM
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Sci-Fi Chronicles

1210. Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction – edited by Guy Haley

Promises “an arresting blend of incisive text, infographic timelines, and stunning photographs, each chronologically arranged entry features an entertaining overview written by a science fiction expert”. Specialist subjects such as the life-cycle of sci-fi creations (book to movie to TV series to books) get in-depth spotlighting, as do major franchises within the genre. The book is divided into 5 sections, of which the first two (1818-1940 and 1920-1950) are directly relevant to the pulp period. The book gets extra kudos for looking beyond the mainstream with entries focusing on everything from Russian Cult Classics to Australian Franchises. Covers movies, novels, video games, manga, graphic novels, and more. Every such book has a natural focus on three things: cover art, imaginative art in general, and media (TV/movies), simply because they provide the “visuals” to accompany a “visual history”.

Paperback, 576 pages, 21 used from $5.49, 30 new from $5.93) or Hardcover (10 used from $22.95, 16 new from $22.84).
http://amzn.to/2k5eg8y
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The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

1211. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn

“Science fiction is at the intersection of numerous fields. It is literature which draws on popular culture, and engages in speculation about science, history, and all varieties of social relations. This volume brings together essays by scholars and practitioners of science fiction, which look at the genre from different angles. It examines science fiction from Thomas More to the present day; and introduces important critical approaches (including Marxism, postmodernism, feminism and queer theory).”

Robert Moore of Vine Voice has this to say about this book: “Anthologies are notoriously inconsistent. Most contain several essays considerably below the level of the best pieces and many contain a few utterly miserable ones. On the downside, no essay in this collection truly stands out; on the upside, there really isn’t a weak entry in the volume. I honestly cannot think of another collection of which I can make that statement.”

“The essays in the book are broken down into three separate sections. The first section deals with the history of Sci-fi, from precursor works to the magazine age to various decades after. The second and most academic section deals with various academic approaches to Sci-fi, including Marxist, feminist, postmodernist, and queer theory. The final and most wide-ranging section covers a variety of themes such as gender, race, hard science fiction, alternate history, space opera, film and TV, and religion.” (It’s also worth noting that though academia may recognize some of these divisions, many fans and authors do not, and oppose attempts to impose artificial restrictions and hierarchical categorization on the field, while others are militantly supportive of a particular subgenre).

Kindle (rent $10.52, buy $28.13), 323-page Paperback (34 new from $24.49, 21 used from $19.95), Hardcover (28 new and used from $96.17).
http://amzn.to/2k5m3Ud
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The Secret History of Science Fiction

1212. The Secret History of Science Fiction – edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

We were of two minds about including this book of relatively modern sci-fi until we read the description of the content that we are about to quote. As you do so, note the asterisks:

“Exploring an alternate history of science fiction, this ingenious anthology showcases eighteen brilliant authors leading the way to a new literature of the future. These award-winning stories defy trends, cross genres, and prove that great fiction cannot be categorized.
    “Two strangely detached astronauts orbit Earth while a third world war rages on. A primatologist’s lover suspects her of obsession with one of her simian charges*. The horrors of trench warfare dovetail with the theoretical workings of black holes*. A dissolving marriage and bitter custody dispute are overshadowed by the arrival of time travelers*. An astonishing invention that records the sense of touch is far too dangerous for Thomas Edison to reveal*.”

That’s five stories cited, four of which – marked by the asterisks – seem directly translatable into a pulp setting, and at least two of which a profoundly provocative to at least one of us.

Paperback, 380 pages, 38 used from $0.27, 28 new from $8.77.
http://amzn.to/2kJPSLE
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Science Fiction Of The '30s

1213. Science Fiction of the ’30s – edited by Damon Knight with Jo Knight

There are lots of science-fiction references and autobiographies on individual authors of the period, the result of a resurgence of interest in the roots of the genre which took place in the 1970s. There are also innumerable science fiction anthologies. This book contains three essays by Knight on the subject, covering (respectively) the beginning, middle, and end of the period, and 18 stories, but it is not without its shortcomings. It’s noted and noticeable that Knight is not a fan of this period of the genre, resulting in some criticism of a lazy job of selecting the content, and there is virtually no information provided on the stories themselves, though some can be gleaned from elsewhere (Wikipedia is your friend).

Why does any of this matter? First, the writers are obviously going to be available as NPCs during the pulp era. Second, there is the general applicability of period sci-fi creations to pulp technology (rocket packs, etc). Third, the way these writers saw the future (or even variations on their contemporary era) can tell you quite a bit about how the perceived the times they lived in. And fourth, there can be useful ideas for genre-appropriate plots and adventures.

Hardcover (23 used from $0.79, 1 new from $77.04, 1 collectible from $9.92) or Mass Market Paperback (17 used from $0.47, 2 new from $75.09):
http://amzn.to/2k47X5i

More copies: Hardcover (15 used from $3.49, 3 new from $27.99, 1 collectible at $14.50) or Paperback (2 used from $19.95, 1 new at a totally absurd price just shy of $2500):
http://amzn.to/2k3yW5P
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Armageddon 2419 AD

1214. Armageddon 2419 AD & The Airlords of Han by Francis Nowlan (Sci-fi novel)

If you aren’t familiar with the title, here’s a name that you are more likely to know: Buck Rogers. Bears VERY little resemblance to the TV show of the late 20th century – and, for that matter, only passing resemblance at times to the character’s appearances in various comics and movie serials. As with a great deal of fiction from the era, there’s an undercurrent of xenophobia and racism, but – under the social and historical background of the novel’s setting – that’s not entirely a negative.

The novel itself takes the side of the American protagonists, and like many B-grade movies and stories, grants them superiority due to the purity of their hearts, empathy, and superior tactical abilities. Lest any Asian readers be upset at the stereotypes depicted, let us point out that – at least initially – they are shown as having advanced in technology farther and faster than the Americans, and being far superior in tactics and numbers – but in the process, there has been a dehumanization. This is a morality play about the blind pursuit of technology wrapped up in an underdog-vs-the-system heroic rebellion and war yarn. And the technology and style are very pulp.

NOT to be confused with the version published under the same name and author AFTER being rewritten (and drained of all charm) by Spider Robinson, even if the rewrite does often have the prettier covers. There are hints that copies are beginning to run out, but we also note at this page that a new edition is to be published any day now.

Paperback $10 Kindle $1.99
http://amzn.to/2bl95wX
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Gladiator

1215. Gladiator by Philip Wiley (Sci-fi novel)

Aside from the collections and anthologies listed earlier, there are only two novels that we all felt strongly enough about to list in spite of our general rule of thumb against fiction (plus, of course, the occasional ringer that Mike has snuck through when the others weren’t looking). This is the second of them.

“Gladiator” is one of a number of sources believed to have been instrumental in inspiring the creation of Superman, dating from eight years prior to that characters first appearance. Hugo Danner, the protagonist, is born with superhuman strength, speed, and intelligence thanks to genetic experiments by his father. Compelled to conceal his abilities from a suspicious and uncomprehending world, his attempts to find a place in society that will accept him for what he is lead to a series of occupations – boardwalk strongman, Foreign Legionnaire, politician, and archaeologist.

While it would be unusual for a pulp PC to be as ‘blessed’ as Danner, it would be entirely acceptable for a group of PCs to posses those abilities collectively, and much of the ‘outsider’ subtext is also appropriate to pulp heroes – or more modern superheros, for that matter. Lastly, of course, the publication date of the original and the fact that it had a contemporary setting at the time makes this a window into the pulp era for the vast majority of us who weren’t around to see it first-hand.
Paperback from $5.07 Kindle $0.99
http://amzn.to/2biEO2t

Paperback (pictured) $3.95 Kindle $8.37
http://amzn.to/2kqyBWW

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General Reference Books and Tools

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The Universal Almanac 1997

1216. The Universal Almanac – John W. Wright, General Editor (Andrews & McMeel)

We have newer almanacs and Wikipedia but time and time again we turn to the 1996 version of this volume to find the information we’re looking for. Strikes a better balance between the US and the rest of the world for general reference than most Almanacs. There may not be enough cheap copies of the one we use, but there are for some other years:
1992 – http://amzn.to/1L97w6e
1994 – http://amzn.to/1UkzQEO
1996 (the one we use) – http://amzn.to/1SQF1No
1997 (pictured) – http://amzn.to/1WGtO09
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The People's Almanac

1217. The People’s Almanac – David Wallechinsky

Dirt cheap and very readable, covering subjects that most almanacs don’t even glance at in passing, such as “Footnote people in history”. However, it has been criticized for wild inaccuracies and a tendency to accept a good story over an honest one. Since the world in which we game is open to reinvention as necessary, as a pulp resource, that might actually make this a more valuable reference. There are two more editions, reportedly with the text completely rewritten each time – we have linked to the one with the most copies available. The second is entitled “The People’s Almanac 2” and the most recent is “The People’s Almanac 3”. Both are also available through Amazon.
http://amzn.to/1WI2MVW
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The CIA World Factbook 2014

1218. The CIA World Factbook

On those few occasions when Wikipedia and both of the above-listed volumes let us down, the CIA World Factbook has our backs. This is the material the US Government compiles for their public servants, embassies, etc, to use for preliminary briefings on what they need to know about various countries. Of course, there have been many changes in the world since the 1930s, so liberal interpretation is sometimes required. One year, we gave copies of this plus a third almanac that we found cheap on Amazon to all our players for Christmas for their own use as reference material. It’s hard to come up with a better recommendation than that. Updated and republished annually, ironically, the older the volume, the more useful it is liable to be for pulp purposes by cutting out more subsequent history.
Kindle editions go back as far as 1990 http://amzn.to/2apmeXv but the earliest print edition with enough copies available cheap (second-hand) is the 2014 version http://amzn.to/2awYVtN (pictured). As you would expect, the newer the edition, the closer the price becomes to the Amazon price of about $13, so if the cheap 2014 copies run out, check the 2015, 2016, and (yes) 2017 editions.
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Positive Trait Thesaurus

1219. The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A writer’s guide to character attributes – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

This volume contains a number of positive traits that can help characters achieve their goals, each on a single page. Each entry describes reasons why that trait might realistically emerge, associated attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. There are also character examples from literature, film, and television, advice on using them to hook readers while avoiding common personality pitfalls (useful for the GM in creating plots that enable the PCs to shine), insights on human needs and morality, and guidance on how the traits can be used to overcome character flaws. Last year for Christmas, we gave our players copies of this and one of the two related volumes that follow – again, the highest recommendation we can offer.
http://amzn.to/2afjjDG

Negative Trait Thesaurus

1220. The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A writer’s guide to character flaws – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

if you’ve read the preceding entry, you know exactly what to expect from this volume, which is arguably as useful to the GM as it is to a player.
http://amzn.to/2aZSfFj

Emotion Thesaurus

1221. The Emotion Thesaurus: A writer’s guide to character expression – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Presented in a similar format to the above-list books by the same authors, this volume assigns a page or more each to 75 emotions and lists body language, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. The goal is to convey the emotional state of a character as effectively and stylishly as possible as quickly and effortlessly as possible. We don’t know any GM who hasn’t struggled with that from time to time, or who doesn’t think they can improve in that respect. Nevertheless, we only bought this volume after being impressed by the two preceding ones. It didn’t let us down.
http://amzn.to/2ay9NIj

Urban Setting Thesaurus

1222. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A writer’s guide to city spaces – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

A new entry in the series from the same authors, we have copies on the way but have no hesitation in recommending this one, sight unseen. A list of the sights, smells, tastes, textures and sounds for 120 types of urban location is just the start and more than enough justification for inclusion in this list.
http://amzn.to/2aNqe7R

Rural Setting Thesaurus

1223. The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A writer’s guide to personal and natural spaces – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Discovered at the same time that the “Urban Setting” volume came to our attention, at first glance this might seem less useful to the Pulp GM than that is expected to be. That was our initial impression, too – but then Mike reviewed how many past adventures from the Adventurer’s Club campaign had some sort of wilderness or natural setting element – 21 out of 28 adventures (including some that haven’t yet been run). Minimum. But this volume also deals with locations in school and home settings, and that easily elevates the relevance even beyond this score, which more or less speaks for itself. I think we were misled initially by the term “Rural” in the title – learn from our mistake and put this on your shopping list.
http://amzn.to/2aMR4N5
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Master Lists for Writers

1224. Master Lists For Writers – Bryn Donovan

Polish your narrative passages, plots, dialogue, and characters using this excellent resource which contains, according to Amazon: • lists of phrases for describing facial expressions, body language, gestures, physical appearance, and emotions • 175 master plot ideas, including romance, high-stakes, family, and workplace stories • lists of words for writing action scenes and love scenes • inspiration for figuring out character traits and quirks, backstories, occupations, motivations, and goals • lists for describing settings and writing dialogue • lists of good character names for contemporary stories…plus medieval England, Regency England, Wild West, and WWII settings • and more!” The physical book is available (unknown quantities), and there are also Kindle editions available from each of the amazon sites we checked.
http://amzn.to/29WNxLp
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How to Draw Fantasy art and maps for rpgs

1225. How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps: Step by Step Cartography for Gamers and Fans – Jared Blando

This book isn’t one that any of the authors have read, but it gets 4.5 stars on Amazon and a similar rating across a number of RPG sites & Reviews. That tells us that it’s worth listing here. Second-hand copies start at about US$9.00, which is only fractionally cheaper than the Kindle edition – which in turn is only a whisker cheaper than the price of a new copy.
http://amzn.to/2bXav19
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Mapping

1226. Mapping – David Greenhood

This isn’t explicitly for RPGs, but it holds a similar rating to the book listed above. While there’s nothing about fantasy art (so far as we can tell), this instead includes information on how to get the most out of existing maps. In fact, that seems to be about half the book – and that makes it worth including as an additional reference.
http://amzn.to/2cyPVpf
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Public Speaking For Dummies

1227. Public Speaking For Dummies – Malcolm Kushner

This book has two-fold relevance. First, a lot of what the GM has to do is somewhere in between a private conversation amongst friends and public speaking, so under the logic detailed under “Creative Writing For Dummies” (elsewhere on this shelf), this is worth listing. Secondly, many NPCs will give speeches in the course of a GMs campaigns, and knowing how to give that verbal narrative the extra “oomph” of a ‘good’ public speaker can only help (if there was a “Speech Writing For Dummies” we might have listed that instead – but there isn’t). If you’re lucky, you may be able to get a copy of this for as little as 1 cent.
http://amzn.to/2bR82X8
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Voice & Speaking Skills For Dummies

1228. Voice & Speaking Skills For Dummies – Judy Apps

Another offering not listed on the official “For Dummies” site (that we could see), discovered in the course of gathering links. The relevance should be obvious after the above. Copies start at $5.95.
http://amzn.to/2biL3mU
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Voice Acting For Dummies

1229. Voice Acting For Dummies – David and Stephanie Ciccarelli

Some people are naturally gifted at this. Some people aren’t. Even if all you get out of this book is a tip or two on making two NPC voices, engaged in a conversation, distinctive, this is worthwhile putting on your shopping list. There are lots of separate listings for this book but most of them are ridiculously overpriced – one enthusiast is even trying to get $195 for his copy. Prices on the page we’ve linked to start at a far more modest $10.50.
http://amzn.to/2caAV5j

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For-Dummies Books of General Use

In most cases, we haven’t read any of these, and are recommending them for consideration based purely upon the publisher’s descriptions and on general principles except where otherwise noted. This also shifts the content of each review from one of “this book is recommended and here’s why” to “this book might be useful and here’s why”. We have made the assumption that availability and price would fall within our parameters, or close enough to them; we have rarely found this not to be the case.

Selected works were so promising and so relevant, that they have been promoted to the main list of recommendations, excluding them from the above caveats.

A note about Complete Idiot’s Guides

While the “For Dummies” series has a website that lists all the books currently available in the series, there is no equivalent for the “Complete Idiot’s Guides”.

Our blanket advice is that if Amazon lists a “Complete Idiot’s Guide” that matches the subject of one of our “For Dummies” recommendations, you should buy both.
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Cognitive Psychology For Dummies

1230. Cognitive Psychology For Dummies – Dr Peter J Hills PhD and Dr J Michael Pake

The science of how people understand and think about things. Players are people. So, in a manner of speaking, are characters. While a more technical book on the subject would be too much for a GM’s needs, this book should provide the perfect foundation. There are reports of historical inaccuracies but for our purposes it seems fine. Mike lobbied hard for the elevation of this book into the main list but his coauthors were unmoved.

From $12.20.
http://amzn.to/2biQcxS
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Critical Thinking Skills For Dummies

1231. Critical Thinking Skills For Dummies – Martin Cohen

This book didn’t actually appear on the publisher’s supposedly complete list and was discovered while gathering links for the others listed. Would you like to be able to think faster and more clearly, be better able to identify what’s important and what’s not, identify assumptions and assess conclusions and in general think more independently? That’s what this book aims to teach you to do. Reviews show that this book is not suited for dip-in reading but is completely worth the effort of reading cover-to-cover. From $5
http://amzn.to/2bzlvFs
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Drawing For Dummies

1232. Drawing For Dummies – Brenda Hoddinott and Jamie Combs

The ability to sketch an illustration, diagram, or map on the spot is invaluable. Even if no GM really likes relying on his ability to do so, again, any help is worth considering if you can’t already do this – so much so that we almost elevated this into the main list, being held back only by doubts as to the direct utility of the content when applied to RPGs.

The latest edition starts at $2.44 http://amzn.to/2bRKvX8 but there are copies of the older edition (pictured) available for as little as 1 cent http://amzn.to/2cavjru.
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Dungeon Master For Dummies

1233. Dungeon Master For Dummies

The following comments refer to the 2006 edition: This was possibly the most disappointing For Dummies book that Mike have ever read. He was hoping for something on the order of “Through Dungeons Deep”, with tips on characterization and roleplaying interactions and… well, this isn’t that book. Quite frankly, the examples in the 3.x Player’s Handbook will make you a better GM than this will. It’s not even the right genre (though there’s enough overlap in the art of running an RPG regardless of genre that if this was any good, we would recommend it anyway). To read the product blurb, you would expect it to be brilliant. It isn’t, don’t buy it. In fact, we’re not even providing a link.

We notice that there’s a new, 4th edition, and that a third co-author has been released. But Mike was so bitterly disappointed by the 2006 edition which contained not one word of information that was useful to him that he doesn’t trust it, and would not be budged from that position.
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Mechanics Of Materials For Dummies

1234. Mechanics Of Materials For Dummies – James H Allen III

We haven’t actually read this book, but the relevance is easy to state: How strong is concrete? If it’s been doped or cut? How about steel – and substandard steel? How much weight can a wooden beam support? If it’s been sawed through three-quarters of the way? The textbook Mike studied at university was too technical to recommend, but it is hoped that a “For Dummies” will be simple enough to give you the information you need on the subject as a GM – or at least provide the foundation for understanding Wikipedia pages on the subject.

There are some copies from $11.46 http://amzn.to/2bqDKuY
and more here for a little over $15 http://amzn.to/2bqEnoh.

Note that all the editions on offer (and there were lots more that we didn’t link to) describe themselves as the “First Edition” even though (so far as we could tell) there is no Second Edition.
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Probability For Dummies

1235. Probability For Dummies – Deborah J Rumsey

If there’s one subject that’s at the heart of RPGs, it’s probability. Mike has read several books on the subject – or, more accurately, the relevant chapters of many books on mathematics in general – and found that some explain it clearly and some confuse even someone who already knows the subject well enough to study higher mathematics at a university level. And that’s without factoring in the way that some explanations can be clear to one person and so much Greek to the person sitting next to them. We haven’t read this book, and so don’t know which camp it falls into. The subject is sufficiently central to RPGs that we’re recommending this anyway.
Copies start at $1.18.
http://amzn.to/2bDLrkY
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Statics For Dummies

1236. Statics For Dummies – James H Allen III

Did you read “Statistics”? A lot of people do. If so, look again.

Any dummy knows that the strength of a material is only half the story when it comes to assessing loads. “Statics” is the other half – the calculation of how much force the material has to resist with that strength.

This is being included mostly at Mike’s insistence (neither Blair nor Saxon had even heard of the subject), simply because of the number of occasions when he has found the introductory course on the subject that he studied at university to be useful, either directly, or as an analogy for some other complicated situation that’s arisen in-game, like estimating in-play the point of overload of an electrical grid.

The cheapest copies seem to be about $8.50.
http://amzn.to/2bIDw4o
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Strategic Planning For Dummies

1237. Strategic Planning For Dummies – Erica Olsen

Villains are going to make plans, that’s just a fact of the GM’s life. Strategic Planning is all about identifying and minimizing the risks of failure of plans, i.e. making those plans more effective. The orientation may be toward business, but isn’t villainy business-as-usual for arch-enemies and world conquerors?

Note that when we visited Amazon to gather the link to this book, they were incorrectly describing a companion work, “Strategic Planning Kit For Dummies” as a newer edition of this book. Mike notified them of the inaccuracy, so hopefully this is a completely redundant warning, but just in case: It’s not, don’t be fooled.

Copies start at $0.01.
http://amzn.to/2bIEKNh

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Books About Names

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The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook 2nd Edition

1238. The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook 2nd Edition – Sherrilyn Kenyon

May contain factual errors that would lead to character names that would not stand up in a published novel, but useful for the general English-speaking GM who only wants characters whose names sound realistic. For anything further, use as a starting point, nothing more. If only it had an Australian Names section… Available with both the fancy cover (shown) and a much plainer cover but don’t be fooled, they are the same book. Copies ranging in price from $0.40-$10 http://amzn.to/29BwF9Y and $12-$22 http://amzn.to/29LKE0v.

Amazon also lists more expensive copies if you search for them (be sure to include the author’s surname) and there is also a Kindle edition.
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100,000 Baby Names

1239. 100,000+ Baby Names: The Most Complete Baby Name Book – Bruce Lansky

We have (and use all the time) a much older edition that only lists 50,000 Baby Names. Offers lists of christian names both common and uncommon, with meanings and alternative formulations, by nation, which is why we find it so invaluable. Need an Armenian name? No problem. How about a Sanskrit Name? You’ve got it! A Zuni name? Coming right up! Also has an invaluable section on creating a unique name.

To use, find the country you want, select the name that “looks” or “sounds” right (or is at least close), then look up the name in the main book for more information.

Amazon $0.01-$10 http://amzn.to/29Ks0EJ and if those run out, there is a Kindle Edition available.
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penguin dictionary of surnames

1240. The Penguin Dictionary Of Surnames – Basil Cottle

Alphabetic list of British surnames with meanings and what part of the country they come from.
http://amzn.to/29BoeeU
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Encyclopedia Of Surnames

1241. Encyclopedia Of Surnames – John Ayto

An alphabetical listing of British surnames, providing famous people of that name (both real and fictional), links to other surnames, and meanings. With similar content to the previous recommendation, readers should decide for themselves if they need both resources. We are uncertain as to how much overlap there is; all we can say is that the Penguin book seems to have more entries.
http://amzn.to/29yhAEc
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Names Through The Ages

1242. Names Through The Ages – Teresa Norman

Lists of names from various periods in history, starting in the Middle Ages and ending in the recent present, with notes on the society, politics, religion, and naming conventions of the era. Only covers the British Isles, France, and the USA. Useful more for the naming of older NPCs and historical figures (we think) because our impression is that it jumps from pre-WWI to post-WWII.

$0.01-$32 http://amzn.to/29AYMF8

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Books About Writing

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creative Writing

1243. The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Creative Writing, 2nd Edition – Laurie E. Rozakis

We looked at several books in this particular category but only this one seemed to hit the mark. The others were full of advice and information that was irrelevant to an RPG application (though not necessarily to preparing a game supplement or adventure for Publication, which is a whole different bouillabaisse. Copies start at 1 cent.
http://amzn.to/29bdBTo
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Growing Great Characters from the Ground Up

1244. Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up – Martha Engber

Tools and techniques for character development. Cheap New Copies are becoming limited in number but there are still plenty of second-hand ones spread amongst several Amazon listings.
http://amzn.to/2k7Nc93
and
http://amzn.to/2kvOo9s
and
http://amzn.to/2kWWAA4
– search for more with the title and author’s surname by clicking here.
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Create A Character Workshop cover

1245. Create A Character Clinic 2nd edition – Holly Lysle

Mike has recommended this book on multiple occasions and even built whole articles around it, notably Not Like My tribe – Sophisticated Primitives, Part 1 & Part 2 and Creating Alien Characters: Expanding The ‘Create A Character Clinic’ to Non-Humans. Get your copy from http://bit.ly/23AL9tR for US$10 (PDF only).
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Careers For Your Characters

1246. Careers For Your Characters: A writer’s guide – Raymond Obstfeld & Franz Neumann

This isn’t all that useful for developing characters for an RPG (or a novel) because it is haphazard and incomplete. It works as a starting point for the development of feature characters and for developing caricatures that are effective as minor NPCs – which is what a GM needs, a lot of the time. There is also some inspiration to be had from the ‘myths about the job’ section. Details provided include job descriptions, earnings, educational requirements, daily life on the job, the profession in fiction (a list of characters/works with characters belonging to the profession in question, and the aforementioned ‘myths’ sections. We’ve linked to the cheapest copies but all three Amazon sites checked have more – search for “Careers For Your Characters Obstfeld” to find them if the cheap copies go over about US$20 or equivalent.
http://amzn.to/29N3j9H

This is also one of those unusual situations in which the hardcover can be cheaper than the paperback, so look closely at your options.
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Plot & Structure

1247. Plot & Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish – James Scott Bell

We haven’t read this book (yet) but it sounds excellent and it is quite likely that this caveat will change in due course.
http://amzn.to/29MbcyL and there is also a free kindle edition.

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For-Dummies Books About Writing

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Creative Writing For Dummies

1248. Creative Writing For Dummies – Maggie Hamand

Writing RPG adventures is an art unlike any other. Part radio play, part novel, and part improvisational theater. Occasionally the GM may have to throw in anything from the lyrics of a hit song to a stanza of poetry to a blow-by-blow description of a sports game. Anything that might just possibly help with this ridiculously complicated task is worth considering. This book promises expert insights into plot, character, setting, genre, style, and dialogue and to help unlock your creativity. All of which sounds good to us!

From $11: http://amzn.to/2bJ5YSu
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Playwriting For Dummies

1249. Playwriting For Dummies – Angelo Parra

Refer comments on “Creative Writing For Dummies”, above.
Copies start at $7.88.
http://amzn.to/2bqG3xU
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Screenwriting For Dummies

1250. Screenwriting For Dummies – Laura Schellhardt

Refer comments on “Creative Writing For Dummies”, above.

There are two editions of this book; the newest one starts at $5.38 http://amzn.to/2bDMf9h but the older one (pictured) is probably good enough for our purposes and costs the relatively attractive price of just $0.01! http://amzn.to/2bCtajk
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Writing Fiction For Dummies

1251. Writing Fiction For Dummies – Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

Refer comments on “Creative Writing For Dummies”, above. You can currently pay just $5.41 for this book http://amzn.to/2bJfDZc. However, it’s entirely possible that the book below would be more appropriate to the genre.
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Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies

1252. Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies – Deborah Halverson

See above.

So, why would we suggest that Young Adult Fiction might be a better foundation for writing Pulp than general fiction? It comes back to something Saxon said while we were negotiating discussing the fundamental nature of pulp as a genre (after all, we needed to have at least a working definition in order to exclude as much as possible that wasn’t relevant), and then reiterated in his afterword for the third shelf: “In a pulp campaign, every[thing] should be extraordinary, dramatic, exaggerated, hyped, energized, distinctive.” Subtlety and Nuance are tied up in the back of the railway car leaving town, and anything else that might get in the way of action/drama/melodrama either has to get with the program or take a back seat.

That includes adult relations (to phrase it delicately) and copious quantities of blood and gore and extremes of language – in fact, all the things that might turn a PG- / NRC- into an M- or R- rating. And those just happen to be exactly the things that have to be toned down or sanitized for young adult fiction. Sultry, not sluttish, is the guiding principle. “Exaggerated violence” – Indiana Jones and Die Hard – not realistic or extreme violence. You can nudge and wink at adult relations – but then draw the curtain and turn the camera elsewhere.

Copies start at just under $8.
http://amzn.to/2biNmGr|
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Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing A Novel

1253. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing A Novel – Tom Monteleone

While there were a number of “For Dummies” books on specific types of writing, “Novels” weren’t one of them – though it would probably form part of the remit of “Writing Fiction For Dummies”, which we listed earlier. This is another ringer.

We were divided over whether or not the Fiction-vs-Young-Adult-Fiction would also limit the value of this book to the point where it should not be listed. Ultimately, though, it was decided that the term “Novel” encompassed both, earning it recognition on this list.
http://amzn.to/2kwqMBC

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Afterword by Saxon:

One consequence to the reshuffling of content is that the afterwords that were written in advance not only had to be reversed in planned sequence, but now risked referring to content removed from that shelf. The danger of a logical disconnect is one of the prices being paid for extra time to back the Kickstarter. For example, Saxon’s opening comments make more sense when you realize that he expected them to be part of the second-last shelf of the reference library. If you notice anything of that sort, don’t blame the writing; it’s just the way events worked out!

As we get towards the conclusion of the Pulp Reference series we’re also getting towards the pointy end of running a campaign. Not just coming up with a high concept, creating a setting and crafting characters to live in it, then writing stories to entertain the players. We’re talking about the actual running of the game. This can be daunting. Fortunately the advice given by the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is always relevant: ‘Don’t panic’.

Role playing gaming is fortunate enough to have several decades worth of games mastering advice and tips on hand.  Stuff from the earliest days of printed magazines and carrying forward through numerous internet articles. Some of it has been by professionals, others has been by fans who have shared that such-and-such a technique worked for them. A lot of it has then been distilled down into guides, some of which are system specific but a lot of which are general in nature.  

It doesn’t necessarily need to be RPG-specific advice either. There are many guides for writing in general or for specific genres that may have useful tips on plot structure, creating mood, or using pacing to maintain suspense. As a pulp-specific example, Raymond Chandler’s line “When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand,” has been expanded into the advice that when the plot begins to slow and the characters have time to think, that’s when to give them some urgent new problem to deal with.

That said, a large amount of this advice is for use in the middle of the game, when the pressure is on. Nobody can be expected to remember everything, and even the old adage – that you don’t need to know everything, you only need to know where to look it up – will only take you so far when you’re so busy multi-tasking that you don’t even notice that you’re overlooking something. Fortunately I’ve found that practice makes things easier over time (although the nervousness beforehand has only diminished rather than vanished altogether). But in any case, remember that all tips are support tools. Don’t be afraid to make things up. Don’t be afraid to tell the player, “I don’t know. Let’s try it this way for now, and maybe we can come up with something better later.” Never forget that role playing is supposed to be fun for the games master as well as the players, and that stress is not conducive to that.

Now go play, have fun.

Next in this series (in early February): The 14th shelf – More Odds & Sods!

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