« At least once in this essay, I wrote 'Weir" as "Weird." I'm certain no one has ever done that before in Andy Weir's life. | Main | An unreasonably warm rain »

Eric: I believe it's actually an old Austrian word that means "Under the Koffler." But I could be wrong.


People who know me know one of my favorite role playing game developers is Mister Chad Underkoffler. Which is a fun name to type, but that's not germane to the discussion at hand. One of the earliest essays I ever wrote on this website was in praise of Chad's innovative and creepy Dead Inside. Last year, I enthused at length on Truth and Justice, the first really new and innovative superhero RPG to come along in quite some time. All Underkoffler, all superior. This stuff was and is just plain good.

Well, Mister Underkoffler (seriously -- take a moment, grab a pen, and just write Underkoffler. It's an unexpectedly complex pleasure!) has come out with his third RPG -- this one somewhere between an expansion and a campaign sourcebook. His subject matter this time is fairy tales -- true, honest to Christ kid's stories that start in Oz, segue into Wonderland or Neverland, take a sharp left at Narnia and travel back through Grimm with an intent of making Mother Goose pay protection money. It's called The Zorcerer of Zo, and it's good. It's damn good. It's got wonder and hope mixed together with just enough ironic self-awareness that you can play it any way you like. If you want to be Cinderella twenty years later, with six kids and a mortgage payment due because her layabout husband isn't good at anything but being Charrming? You can be. At the same time, if you want to be a walking and living set of Tinkertoys, rebuilding your limbs into new and useful structures you can be that too. It's one part Through the Looking Glass, one part Wicked, at least two parts Sondheim's Into the Woods and a scosh of Willy Wonka to taste.

And it's available for preorder right now. This preorder is for a resplendent softcover book, and within a day of preordering you get The Zorcerer of Zo as a PDF, so you can launch into it immediately even before you get the book itself. I heartily recommend it.

Or I would heartily recommend it. But you see, there's a hitch. I edited the book.

This is a new line for me. I've been a professional RPG writer and developer for several years now, which is heaps of fun and occasionally gets me money. This is the first time I'm being paid to edit a book though. To offer my command of English and my perspective as a reader and a RPG writer and player to improve a work. I was thrilled to get the gig and I loved every minute of doing my job.

However, that means I get a small slice of royalties from this here book. So if I come on here and say "Dude! You totally need to buy this book because it rocks!" it's at least a little unethical, because I get some of that thirty bucks.

The temptation is there, of course. It's Christmas. I have bills to pay. Not to mention the price of gasoline -- half the time in Canada, which is an ancient First Nations word that means "ninety-five cents a liter." You shelling out cash for this book makes my car go vroom, and that makes Eric a happy person. But if I don't preface my advocacy with "by the way -- I make money from this, so my opinion may be colored by that," I become a dick.

No one wants to be a dick. Jesus Christ, it's Christmas.

At the same time, I honestly do think Zorcerer of Zo is a fantastic game, unlike anything else out there. It uses an even lighter version of Underkoffler's Prose Descriptives Qualities (or PDQ) system -- which means it's like ten minutes between grabbing the game and playing it. Its got a sense of style and wonder, and it has an in-depth description of the first campaign ever run in Zo -- which both shows you the sensibility of the game and gives you ideas galore. And it contains a complete and playable campaign world which you can use, steal from or ignore as you see fit. I think anyone who likes fairy tales, fantasy or role playing games would get their money's worth out of it.

So. I'm stuck on the horns of a dilemma. How do I extol the virtues of a good game, heartily encourage you all to buy it (and thus increase my own cashflow), maintain my professional sense of ethics, and manage not to be a dick in the process?

I have no idea.

So buy the game anyway. The man's name is Underkoffler, for Christ's sake. That's reason enough right there.

Come with me... and you'll be... in a world of pure imagination....

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 7, 2006 4:24 PM


Comment from: Robotech_Master [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 5:04 PM

You know, between this and your previous entry, I think I'm starting to sense a theme...

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 5:07 PM

Actually, now I'm seriously tempted to stat up Cheshire Crossing in Zorcerer of Zo.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 6:19 PM

I feel like you're cheating us here, Eric. The title clearly says "The Zanfabulous Zorceror of Zo". You're trying to hold out valuable awesome adjectives on us, and we don't take kindly to missing awesome adjectives, Mr. Burns.

Also, this is Herr Underkoffler's (ooh, that's even more fun to type) fourth RPG. Don't forget, he's also responsible for Monkey Ninja Pirate Robot, the Role-Playing Game. Which reminds me, I have to finish the scenario I wanted to run in that and mess with people in.

Also, I'm fairly certain that the rules of the game say that if you are up front about your involvement with the book, you're allowed to pimp it all you want and you are not a bad person for it.

Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 7:01 PM

Gods, I hope that pimping books is okay if you own up to being biased. I mean, otherwise, I'd be eligible to guest-star in a Ranma 1/2 episode.

Comment from: LurkerWithout [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 8:04 PM

Wow. I exsist according to TypeKey again. So this preorder thing. It'll still be around next week when I have spare money again? Because if I can get an actual book I'm definately interested in this...

Comment from: rhymeswithaj [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 1:36 AM

All right, after reading for more than a year I've finally been pushed into registering with TypeKey.

This looks like it will be the first RPG book I've bought since I gave up on GURPS in high school due to a lack of playing partners and the realization that I was buying the books to read rather than to play from.

This is the kind of story I live for - I grew up on the likes of Patricia C. Wrede, later Pratchett and Tom Holt, and now Jasper Fforde's 'Nursery Crimes.' I read Bill Willingham's Fables religiously. I own the DVDs of Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Hell, I've taken college courses on Slavic Folklore and 'The Fairy Tale.'

And I read lots of praise of Dead Inside and Truth and Justice thinking, "Y'know, this sounds cool, but it's not my kind of storytelling. And where would I find the time to play anyway?" (Being a drama major seems to leave little time when I'm not in rehearsal these days.)

And with this one, I don't even care if I have a chance to play it. I just want to read it and let it run wild with my slightly twisted imagination. And if I can find some friends to rope into a game, so be it. I mean, it's got gaming, it's got fractured fairy tales, and it's got Eric Burns.

A triple crown. I'm sold.

Comment from: Stan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 9:02 AM

In this case, rather than just giving your biased opinion, you should give mild pimping (as you've done) and give people the tools to decide - which you've left off.

I'll help pimp since I like ASM but have no connection to them.

The game uses Atomic Sock Monkey's PDQ (Prose Descriptive Qualities) rules. They're very simple so non-gamers should be able to pick them up reasonably easily. Personally, they're a bit too simple/abstract for me, but they're solidly done.
You can download the core rules for free here:

I have Truth & Justice - it's thoroughly thought out and of top quality. It's takes into account that there are lots of subgenres within supers.

You can get free previews of ZoZ:
This one includes the extensive TOC so you can see what's covered.

This character sheet gives you an idea of just how simple the PDQ rules are.

Personally I'm torn. Money is tight this month so I may hold off a few months.. If there was a PDF only option for $10, then I'd definitely buy it

Comment from: alschroeder [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 11:47 AM

I don't roleplay particularly, but I see nothing wrong with plugging a book you edited, as long as you mentioned you edited it up front. Go for it!

Comment from: J.(Channing)Wells [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 12:29 PM

Why, why, why did you do this to me, Burns?

I just got a magazine from my Alma Mater, proudly proclaiming that this year's mainstage season includes Into The Woods, and there I was, wailing and gnashing my teeth that I went to college six to ten years too early to have a shot at being in the second-best musical ever written (surpassed only by yet another Sondheim, the indescribably sublime Sunday in the Park with George), busily thinking of clever turns of phrase regarding which of my many body parts I would have given to do ItW...

...and now you dangle an RPG in front of me! Trapped, as I am, in the frozen wilds of Wisconsin, with nary a proper gaming table in sight! You're in CAHOOTS with the University of Iowa folks, aren't you? All with the trying to make me bitter and frustrated and such...

...on a slightly more serious note, I don't suppose that anyone planning on purchasing the book was also entertaining notions about running a PBEM or some such? With the impending close of Narbonic, I'm on the market for another online RPG...

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 2:18 PM

Hmm... play by email, eh...

I dunno... as much as I love the concept, I've noticed people tend not to actually participate when they say they will. The closest I've ever come to something that did work was a sort of fanfic in which me and other forum-goers on a local BBS wrote stories about characters we created (mostly, characters that were originally for D&D games).

I'd love to do something like that again, and maybe use some of the more dedicated writers from that to one day try a PBEM.

Comment from: Sempiternity [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 4:09 PM

Eric, I'd just like to give you a big thanks for introducing me to Dead Inside with that early essay of yours! While i've never played any of Chad's awesome games it was your essay which led me to the indie community and helped turn my rpg gaming wonderful again. Games that tell you how to play them - it's perfect!

It's great to see you getting paid to contribute to the awesome! No reason not to advertise something you love...

(PS: I haven't done it, but it seems a lot of people are playing games via Skype these days.)

Comment from: Stan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 4:36 PM

Channing, if you'll run, I'll play.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 4:52 PM

Skype, you say? I hadn't thought of that, but it's brillian, Sempiternity. Thanks for the heads-up.

Now all we'd have to decide upon would be who would be up for it, what day and time to do it, and of course who would run the thing.

Comment from: Andy Weir [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 8, 2006 9:06 PM

Heya. Planning to do a little remote gaming? Might I whor-- er... suggest Gametable?


When I moved to Boston, I found myself 3000 miles away from my gaming group, so I wrote it. It's RPG-independant, and written in Java, so will run on any system.


Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 10, 2006 7:18 AM

Elizabeth, what about as a guest oni in an episode of Innuyasha?

You know, I see "PDQ" and I naturally think of PDQ Bach. Maybe it's just me.

I am curious about something. How difficult is it to be an "independent" RPG publisher? I have some inkling about writing RPG, but running a company (even if it's just yourself) sounds challenging. I just wonder about that.

Comment from: Stan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 10, 2006 10:25 AM

miyaa, I don't run a company but I casually know a few who do. If you want to make a living, it's incredibly difficult. If you want to do it as a hobby, it's reasonable. The layout and art can be hard if it's not your thing - you might need some help - but it's not insurmountable.

RPGs have a small but thriving straight to pdf market. This is lower risk since you don't have to shell out for a print run. You also don't have to deal with distributors or warehousing.

There are several small publishers active at the forums of therpgsite.com if you want more info.

Comment from: Alkari [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 10, 2006 11:07 AM

Oddly enough, I just picked up the Ninja Burger RPG yesterday and was surprised to see it uses Sr. Underkoffler's PDQ system. Talk about coincidence.

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 11, 2006 8:40 AM

Does anyone else think Eric is AWOL? He's not commenetd on the deep plant in Narbonic. At all.

Comment from: Joshua Macy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 11, 2006 11:03 AM

Andy, as far as Gametable, do you recommend using the 1.1 or the 1.2 beta?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 11, 2006 5:06 PM

Kayschea -- I've been pretty ill the last several days, followed unfortunately by a death in my family. Comments will sadly have to wait, though I did e-mail a BWAH to Shaenon when I saw it.

Also sadly, people are by now used to my being AWOL.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 11, 2006 6:13 PM

Sorry to hear about the family loss, Eric.

As for AWOL... I wouldn't know what you're talking about. I just read old archives, and I hear a sleepy, slightly nasal voice coming from Snarky in the corner, repeating the words I'm reading...

Comment from: Cornan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 12, 2006 9:10 PM

Not sure what the protocol is in these situations, but here it goes.

I've used gametable that Mr. Weir was kind enough to make. A friend of mine who lives in Fresno wanted to run a D&D game and I live in Oregon so we got gametable, msn messenger, and ventrillo (free, and if you have anyone who hosts on a server you should be able to set up part of it for vent so you have a steady IP to connect to) and we were ready to play the game.

Gametable was awesome at being able to help us visualize the scene beyond what we could do with just words or ASCII drawings. If you're going to be doing any type of remote rpg playing I'd highly recommend it.

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?