This book was cute.
That's exactly what I said about Legends of Earthdawn: Volume 1, and it continues to be true. Cuteness has been preserved. It's just a really fun and interesting idea to present a setting by making a bunch of urban legends and travelers tales and then suggesting ways to adapt them into adventures (and if the pattern holds up, I'm probably the only person who's ever going to call Unknown Armies "cute.")
Of the two Legends of Earthdawn titles, however, I think Volume 2 is probably slightly less cute than volume 1. I think it comes down to volume 2 having a more focused premise - it is ostensibly a collection of journal entries, obtained by the Great Library of Throal and assembled into a handy reference for adventurers. Which, okay, is just how FASA liked to do things, but in this case, it did mean that the stories sometimes fell into a formula - "oh hey, we're somewhere no one's ever been before . . . my god, what is that thing that is killing us . . . I, as the sole survivor, am writing this account so people don't go back to where we were and get killed by the thing."
And then, of course, it's adapted as an adventure, where the PCs do, indeed, go back.
Now, I don't want to be too cynical here. Plenty of the stories broke the mold. One was told by the monster itself, fondly reminiscing about how it killed those people who got shipwrecked near the lighthouse it was inhabiting. PCs can't go there, because the monster is long gone, but they might run into in during their travels. And on a more positive note, there was nothing at all creepy about the Skytree River, a river that ran on the top of the trees and contained living, memory-preserving emeralds that the talking tree-top piranhas would catch for you if you impressed them with your ability to ride the rapids nude (everything in that river hates "the work of Name-Givers," up to and including clothes).
Actually, there was something a little creepy about the way the narrator used the fish-friendly skinny dipping as an excuse to sneak a peek at his female adventuring companion, but he had the good grace to be embarrassed about it, and it all came across as fairly innocent. In the end, nobody died at all.
Also, we got a couple of examples of the nested framing device reaching a third layer. The Great Library's compilation contains a journal that relays a story told to the adventure. Has there ever been an rpg setting built on a purer form of hearsay?
I'm kind of embarrassed at how short this post is turning out to be. I'm looking at my notes and all I'm seeing is little bits and pieces I liked from the stories, but the stories themselves are so short (all come in at under two pages) that there's little difference between a summary with enough context to demonstrate what I liked about it and a full-blown spoiler.
So I'll leave you with something I liked from one of the stories' set ups. The first story in the book came to the Great Library when one of the scholars shot a bird for dinner and discovered a note tied to its leg. An unlikely coincidence, to be sure, but an amazing way to start an adventure. I'd love to spring that on a group of PCs some time. "While out hunting, you find a plea for help . . . one that will never be answered because of you." You'd have to be some kind of monster to ignore that prompt.
Anyway, I really liked this book. Another example of Earthdawn working right in its wheelhouse. It's a shame this "minifiction + adventure seed" format never really caught on (as far as I know), because I'd love to see what sort of tidbits other settings might offer up.
Ukss Contribution: One of the stories was called "Masquerade of Death's Dreams," and it presented a unique way to bring the dead back to life. What you do is wear a special mask and do a ritual to transport your sleeping consciousness to Death's realm. There, you find a masquerade ball, filled with a bunch of random ghosts . . . and the ghost of the person you want to bring back to life. You go around the room, dancing with and chatting up the masked ghosts and when you think you've found the person you want to resurrect, you unmask them. If you're right, they are brought back to life. If you're wrong, the ghost unmasks you and steals your life.
I like it because it's mythic and spooky and gives you some great roleplaying opportunities. Much better than a bland "raise dead" spell, even if it fills the same gameplay niche.