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PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk (Basic)
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PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk (Basic)

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The King of the Fairies rules a magical world of mischief, intrigue, danger, and adventure rivaling anything the human world can offer. From brownies, leprechauns, pixies, and sprites to pookas and even centaurs, all creatures of the enchanted woodlands reveal their secrets for the first time.

Product History

PC1: "Tall Tales of the Wee Folk" (1989), by John Nephew, is the first "PC" (Player Creature / Creature Crucible) supplement. It was published in September 1989.

Origins (I): Farewell to Gazetteers. In 1988 and 1989, the Gazetteer series of Known World supplements was winding down for a number of reasons. First, the "square" of land that had been laid out for the series was filling up. GAZ12: "The Golden Khan of Ethengar" (1989) and Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia (1989) would be the last supplements set above ground in that area. Meanwhile, TSR was becoming convinced that high-numbered module codes lowered sales. Finally, Bruce Heard also noted that there had been "two years of Gazetteer domination in [the Basic D&D] line".

It was time for something new.

Origins (II): Hello to Creatures. To replace the aging Gazetteer series, Known World Kzar Bruce Heard outlined a new series of Creature Crucibles. Each would focus "on a general type of creature, such as Woodland Beings, the Sea People, Giantkind, Dragons and Lizards, Swamp Things, etc." (Only the woodland beings and sea people books would actually get written, alongside books about lycanthropes and the people of a flying city.) The Crucibles would also move away from the geographical structure of the Gazetteers to instead focus on creatures (and adventures they could play in).

Origins (III): A Careful Contract. As Acquisitions Editor for TSR, Bruce Heard was very experienced with writing contracts for his freelancers that exhaustively detailed what should be included in a book. Thus, the five-page description of "Tall Tales" that John Nephew received contained an extensive description of how the 96-page supplement should be laid out.

This premiere Creature Crucible was divided between a 64-page creature book and a 32-page adventure book, with the creature book focusing on a set of new D&D classes (races) — including advice on GMing these new races, discussion of their secrets, and extensive rules for creating PCs. The outline also called for ten pages on the "campaign setting" — which meant that the setting of the Known World was to be minimized, but not abandoned. To allow for this minimal geographic description, designers would be writing about a "limited region", not "a full size nation". This region was to fall within the lands of one of the previous Gazetteers — with "Tall Tales" obviously fitting within the realms of GAZ5: "The Elves of Alfheim" (1988).

Origins (IV): Many Sources. Nephew of course used Known World material as references when working on "Tall Tales", including GAZ5: "The Elves of Alfheim" and GAZ10: "The Orcs of Thar" (1988). Other inspiration came from readings in Irish Folklore and from Nephew's recent involvement with a student-run production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1590s). So if you're wondering where the pookas and sidhe came from, let alone the Fay Court, that's where.

(Even more sources are listed in the bibliography in "Tall Tales".)

Origins (V): The Art of Magic. One other source might have been notable in Nephew's writing of "Tall Tales": Ars Magica (1987). This roleplaying game of wizards in the Middle Ages was the product of a small publishing company called Lion Rampant, made up of college students from St. Olaf College — as it happens, the traditional rival of Carleton College, where Nephew himself was studying. By late 1988, Nephew had joined their gaming group, and would join Lion Rampant as well — variously as an acquisition editor and even the President for a time.

It's not hyperbole to say this Minnesota gaming group might have been the most important gaming group of the '80s, because many of its principals went on to influence the industry. That starts with Ars Magica's designers, Mark Rein•Hagen and Jonathan Tweet. Rein•Hagen would co-found the White Wolf Game Studio, publisher of Vampire: The Masquerade (1991), and TSR's biggest rival in the '90s; while Tweet would produce a few proto-indie roleplaying games before becoming the lead designer of D&D 3e (2000). Nephew himself founded Atlas Games, which produced one of Tweet's earliest indie works and continues today as a publisher of card games and roleplaying games. And they weren't the only members of the club to hit it big. Nicole Lindroos went on to co-found Green Ronin; while Lisa Stevens would become Wizards of the Coast's first paid employee before founding her own Paizo Publishing, which became Wizards' biggest rival in the '10s.

Back in the fall and winter of 1988, when Nephew was working on "Tall Tales", he was also getting to know the Ars Magica crew. Some of the Art of Magic probably influenced his work as well.

About the Book. Like the Gazetteers, "Tall Tales" contained two books, one coming in at 64 pages and the other at 32 pages. However the focus of the two books was different for this first Creature Crucible: the books were labeled as a "DM's Booklet" and a "Adventure Booklet", with no "Player's Booklet" in sight.

Expanding D&D. The Gazetteers tended to each introduce one or two new classes for Basic D&D. "Tall Tales" blew that out of the water with a total of 13(!). They were all race-based classes (which was a common feature of Basic D&D).
The brownie, centaur, dryad, hsiao, leprechaun, pixie, sprite, treant, wood imp, and woodrake were all in Heard's original specifications for the book. Nephew added the faun, pooka, and sidhe — with the latter two obviously coming from his interest in Irish mythology. One critter was dropped from Heard's original listing, the sasquatch, because Nephew didn't think it fit.

Nephew followed the model of "The Orcs of Thar" when he wrote character classes for what were essentially D&D monsters. As would be shown down the road in D&D 3e (2000), the biggest problem with monstrous PCs of this sort is figuring out how to balance their notable powers with low-level D&D characters. "Orcs of Thar" largely handwaved the problem, saying that some classes were "younger specimens of their race". "Tall Tales" instead started some of the classes with negative experience points. Treants had the most: they had earn 48,000 to become a "normal monster" and another 48,000 to become 1st level!

"Tall Tales" also contains new fairy spells, a little bit of equipment, and of course the skills that were ever-present in Basic D&D.

Adventure Tropes. "Tall Tales" contains many short adventures, running the gamut of levels from Basic to Master. Some are "lairs", which was Heard's original concept for the short adventures, but others focused on myths. There's also a long Basic level adventure, "The Lost Seneschal". It's an encounter-focused adventure with plenty of wilderness travel, but the wilderness is quite constrained, not an open hex crawl. There's also a heavy story underlying everything — making it more an adventure of the '90s than the '80s.

Exploring the Known World. "Tall Tales" introduces a small corner of the Known World, The Dreamland. As planned by Heard it's a part of Alfheim, but Nephew also extended it a bit into Darokin to get away from elfin rulership. (The larger fay kingdom is actually said to be "without borders", including faerie from all over the Known World, which introduces a large new group of creatures to the setting.)

There's also a big change to the cosmology of the Known World in "Tall Tales". Previous books described the Known World's outer planes as five spheres: energy, matter, thought, time, and entropy — with entropy opposing the rest. "Tall Tales"
reveals that there's a cycle where life and chaos alternate in power. When chaos is ascendant, then the sphere of entropy blossoms into its own energy, matter, thought, and time, but in the present reality, those spheres are instead born of the sphere of life and controlled by order.

NPCs of Note. "Tall Tales" brings the mythological characters of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night's Dream into the Known World, including High King Oberon, Queen Titania, and even Robin Goodfellow.

About the Creators. Nephew started writing for Dragon and Dungeon magazines, then contributed to Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (1988) and WG7: Castle Greyhawk (1988). This was his first solo project.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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October 26th, 2006
Lots of fun to be had here; not least with level-advanced faeries to throw at your players (as annoyances, more than direct enemies). Watch out particularly for high-level Pooka.<br><br> <b>LIKED</b>: Humour, presentation, damn [...]
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96
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TSR 9254
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File Last Updated:
April 11, 2016
This title was added to our catalog on April 12, 2016.