Letters from the Flaming Crab: The Household Magic Catalog
Honorable Mention of my Top Ten of 2016
This letter from the planes-hopping vessel UCS Flaming Crab, faithfully transcribed by J Gray, clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with…35 pages of content? Woa, that is A LOT for the low asking price…so let’s take a closer look at this pdf…
…and once we do, we’ll realize that the title was not kidding: In the tradition of Aurora’s (At this point, if you get this reference, you’re part of the old guard…) or, more fittingly, the Sears catalog – for those of you not in the know (and my German readers), picture this like a Quelle or Neckermann catalog that peddles wares that can help in the household. However, here, this concept is framed by the alternate-earth “Ladies Paradise and Company of New York” company.
And from the get-go, you notice something that immediately sets this apart: J Gray’s layout for this humble pdf sets it apart as one of the most concise and mighty layouts I have seen in ages; his passion for Castle Falkenstein and extensive historical knowledge immediately show upon opening this pdf: From art déco-style fonts to the artworks, which blend historic pictures with a knight-style variant of the classic “I want you” Uncle Sam poster, the aesthetic integrity of the pdf transcends the text itself. Speaking of the latter: Yes, this picture is on a page encouraging the purchase of war stamps!
In fact, the items presented actually go one step beyond: We have visual representations, a sales-pitch-like summary of the item’s benefits and the proper rules-material required for the respective item, creating a thoroughly holistic illusion of a magical catalog. Furthermore, the choice of these items does help render this pdf a thoroughly unique experience, from the first to the last of them.
(As an aside, in case you’re wondering – this review is based on V. 2.0 of the pdf.)
The armoire of elegance, for example, auto-prestidigitates and mends clothing put inside it! I’d *SO* get this one! Tired of bad food while adventuring? The breadboard of instant breakfast will conjure up new and exciting dishes each day and may even help cancel poisons! Alchemical tonics that increase Int and Wis when imbibed before sleeping, mirroring the often cocaine- or laudanum-laden potions of the age, can also be found! What about a magical alarm clock? Extending ladders? Or a wagon that faithfully follows the user to the destination in question? (And yes, its movement is affected by difficult terrain.) Perhaps your lawn is just not fancy – with the right and proper fluid, you can return vibrancy and life to your green (and plant creatures can benefit from a bit of healing). Similarly, quicker plant-growth! What about self-completing mowers, automatic brooms or the like?
Notice something? Yep, these items, just like in a catalog, are organized by area of application – and fret not, an extensive index has also been included, with prices intact for your convenience. Regarding kitchen-appliances, magic scent-negating candles, cloths that negate allergens (I’d so need those IRL…) poisons and diseases can also be found…and the allergen-angle actually provides some rather interesting narrative tricks an enterprising GM can use! The freshen spell can restore spoiled food to proper shape, while scales of recipes can destroy food…but also net you the ingredient list, which, once again, just begs to be used for an investigative game!
A lazing lounger can help with power naps and fortification versus fear and emotion aspects and the mantle of pride can be used to make sure that your guests appreciate your trophies…and you. Need music? The spirit ministrel may take care of that need while entertaining. Throwing pillows inflict no damage, but can render the target asleep on a failed save and the spell update decor makes sure you’ll never again be left behind by a trend in the fancy salon-culture!
This, as you may have noticed, is incredibly concise and includes sweeteners to help end the nauseated condition, ever-warm bottles for the offspring (or those enjoying Glühwein/mulled wine with spices) – an automated puppet show, an enchanted nanny’s latch, a toy chest that expels living creatures and allows for instant and precise access, toy soldiers (as a nitpick: The set is once called “Spielmann” and once “Spilemann” – the former is correct), pain-relieving ice that’s hot provides relief from arthritis and pain-based effects. Jefferson-style desk chairs increase the Int of those sitting inside and helps keep one’s privacy by making others leave the working mind alone. Quick-retrieving desks, spell-organization, cleansing feather tokens, conjuring forth birds to fetch objects, sun-sensitive curtains open automatically…and the whammy rug lets you generate static electricity you can fire in short-range jolts…and it’s kid-proof to boot!
In a perfect consequence of the style of the pdf, we actually also get a fully detailed order blank as an amazing hand-out! As mentioned before, the index with items by category is really helpful: Spells list classes, alchemical items weight, Craft DC and price and magical items list their prices and auras, adding this perfect final flourish to the pdf.
Editing and formatting are very good on both formal and rules-language levels – I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout is, as mentioned, absolutely inspired, creating a perfect illusion of a fantastic catalog. The artworks chosen, both classic and original, seamlessly fit in with this aesthetic, making the vision represented in this pdf absolutely inspirational. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with detailed, nested bookmarks to the individual items and spells.
Alex Shanks-Abel, J Gray, Phoebe Harris, Kelly Pawlik and Kendra Leigh Speedling have created an inspiring tome here, but beyond the deserved praise for the authors and the layout herein, the editors/playtesters Alex Shanks-Abel, J Gray (who also acted as the dev), Jeffrey Swank and Lucus Palosaari deserve special acknowledgement. Why? Because, in spite of the different authors with varying levels of experience, the book actually has a unified narrative voice – it does not read or feel like a book written by x different folks – it reads like a delightfully fantastic catalog and has this distinct and hard to achieve aesthetic unity of visuals, text, tone and theme. In short, this is a perfect example of how to create a holistic, thoroughly inspired book that can act as a colossal hand-out if you want it to! Beyond the confines of Pathfinder-rules, allotopias of alternate earths, whether they be Castle Falkenstein or similar settings, can also benefit vastly from getting this book. The logic behind the objects, behind what you’d be able to make in a magical world, is impeccable, the illusion practically perfect. Oh, and you get A LOT of material for the more than fair price-point.
If utility magic and everyday magic, a magical society or the like are even remotely close to what you want, then this is a no-brainer. Granted, you won’t find mind-blowing items here, but oh boy, they are COOL. They feel like actual magic to me. However, I maintain that this book also serves as excellent material for low or rare magic games! It makes sense that e.g. some wizards studying all day in their towers, some decadent civilization, would have such objects; in fact, if you’ve completely abolished vanilla magic in favor of a more fairy-tale-esque aesthetic, then these objects, focusing on utility, would work perfectly as well. Finally, if you need furnishing for the realms of fey or magical schools/academies, then this delivers in spades, bringing a sense of heart-warming wonder to the game, one that transcends what you’d usually expect. This pdf made me happy while reviewing it – because its execution is on par with the fantastic concept, because it has a vast array of uses and because its content will show up in other games of mine as well, regardless of rules-systems. Abuse-proof, hilarious, nigh-perfect, this is a prime example of a pdf that deserves 5 stars + seal of approval as well as being considered as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
This shows passion, dedication and soul – it’s a pdf where the creators obviously poured their heart’s blood in it. Get this pdf. I guarantee you will not regret it!
You can get this inexpensive, delightful, creative and well-crafted pdf here on OBS!