I don’t usually write reviews, but I’m going to make an exception. Because Pergamino Barocco is a little gem.
First, it’s a leading example of what I think we should be doing more of: it’s a roleplaying book that is also an artwork. And I happen to be lucky enough to have a copy that’s not strictly a work of mechanical reproduction, being hand-bound in silk.
Now this is not a smart commercial decision for anyone working in the publishing system – the number of books that can be made this way is strictly limited by the spare time of the maker. It’s also not a smart proposition for an artist working in the gallery system – it’s full of writing that gallery buyers won’t read – and worse, gameable content that the art public definitely won’t play, and it’s labour-intensive to reproduce and the written content is laser printed game book style stuff, not hand-written or hand-printed self-conscious art object stuff.
So why do I think we should be doing this kind of thing? Because out here in the deep DIY end of the hobby, where we aren’t dependent on commercial sales or marketing focus groups or the manufactured value of the gallery system, we actually can. We can make things that don’t fit in the usual boxes and we can find a few like-minded souls who will enjoy them and maybe create a laboratory for experimenting with new forms of expression and do something else.
And Pergamino is definitely something else.
It’s also pretty damn good in the content, even if you don’t get the hand-bound version. It’s a collection of a dozen or so very detailed little spells designed specifically to blow the mind of anyone who’s got used to feather fall or sleep. You know how DnD promises this whole Vancian flavour but in the end a lot of the spells are kinda pedestrian? These are full-on Vancian whimsy: exploitable, backfiring, specific, demoniacal, baroque. Even more so than the spells in Nephilim or Elric. And the booklet provides a kind of primer for making more spells in the same vein, because Roger’s method is eminently copiable – he has made a spell book by misreading historical spellbooks. Each spell is illustrated with a woodcut or engraving from Robert Fludd or Edward Kelley or the Malleus Maleficarum or someone like that, which is reinterpreted into something else, that is just as wondrous and strange as the original but also smart and usable and ready to game.
And literate. A pre-lapsarian hut where you cannot lie or engage in violence. A spell for making treasure coins recount their histories (ie direct you to other hordes and hoarders) in the voices of their stamped emperors.
And although it came out like a year ago, I think right now might be its right moment because Patrick and Scrap’s just-released Deep Carbon Observatory is also something else, and the two products point in two different directions for the possibilities of what Zak Smith calls folk-art witchery.
And it has an easter egg (at least one, I guess). And it’s short but delightfully formed, which suits my current impatience.
So if that sounds good to you, go get it. And harass Roger Giner-Sorolla and Paolo Greco into making another one, because you can never have enough oddball spells to act as dungeon traps, plot generators or villain nobblers, even if your players aren’t the kinds of munchkins to work out how to use them to break your game.