Jun 26

A GM Reads: Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn


My revised reading challenge for 2017 is to focus upon what a GM can take from the books I read. I lift out characters, events, creatures, plots or themes from each book. As a GM, you still need to read the book to gain the most benefit, but each review brings a few ideas for the GM.


My latest book to review is Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, edited by Robert Asprin. This book was published by Penguin in 1984, but seems to have fallen out of print. The Good Reads website describes it as follows:


The world’s top fantasy writers spin stories and loop the loop with each other’s characters in Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, the second collection in this unique anthology series set in the amazing city of Sanctuary, where you can enjoy the quiet elegance of Ambrosia House; sample bizarre pleasures at the House of Whips; sip ale in the Vulgar Unicorn, and listen to some of the most strange, dangerous, magical and deadly tales ever told…

Philip Jose Farmer, A.E. Van Vogt, Robert Asprin, Lynn Abbey, Janet Morris, David Drake and Andrew J. Offutt have dreamed up a world of wonders – a fabulous reading adventure!


Read more at Good Reads


For a long time I steered away from short story collections, preferring to spend longer with the central characters. However, as I push my own writing, I am drawn more to this length of story. This collection of tales shares a setting and many of the characters. The format works well, even if the writing style varies between the various authors.



For the GM

Once again, I have several ideas to share after reading this book. Primarily, this book shows the potential of running city campaigns. There are all manner of characters and locations in these looping stories. Sanctuary is also known as Thieves World, so this book is full of dives, thieves and immoral characters. This book is a great primer for any GM wanting to run a gritty urban fantasy game.


Building on from the card magic noted in my review of Dawn of Amber, this concept is presented again here. The S’danzo use a more conventional tarot-style deck, but it is still interesting to read how the deck is used for fortune telling and general divination. If your campaign uses card magic, then “The Fruit of Enlibar” short story will be of interest.


Finally, here is a plot to use on your campaign. What if a temple suddenly appeared in the city giving out powerful weapons to the poor or desperate. How would the authorities react? What if some of these weapons proved to be cursed? The plot could then develop with the confiscation of these weapons, only to load them onto a ship, which promptly sinks in a curious storm. How many people will try to salvage the ship? This is not quite the story in Tales of the Vulgar Unicorn, where is runs over multiple stories. Yet, it would make a fascinating central plot for a city campaign.



Happy Reading




2 pings

  1. I read the whole series years ago, but enjoyed the interwoven character lines – definitely a lot to draw on for a fantasy city (and of course Chaosium/Midkemia did that with the Sanctuary/Thieves World RPG setting they produced).

      • Phil on June 27, 2017 at 6:27 am
      • Reply

      Hi Harald,

      The interwoven stories written by different authors is such a clever concept. The style of the architecture reminds me of New Pavis, despite the Tudor-style buildings on the cover.

      Glad you also enjoyed the series.

      Thanks for sharing

  1. […] The next GM Reads was Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn edited by Robert Asprin […]

  2. […] The previous GM Reads was Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, edited by Robert Asprin […]

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