Before I begin this review of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s recently released RPG-inspired perfumes, I need to confess to you that I do not in fact actually play D&D. I tried! On several occasions! Ok, maybe just two, but it was enough for me to know that this sort of RPG is not for me. I was a tiefling bard named Pickles McGillicuddy, and, as you can tell, I took things very seriously. But it all made me very anxious and fretful, having to remember all of my stats and spells and whatnot, and I never knew what I was supposed to be doing or what was expected of me and it was not fun. Nothing against my companions, they were grand! Just… D&D is not the realm in which I find a good time.
Oddly, enough, I like watching movies about it and reading about it? Especially the sorts of stories where things go tits up and bonkers!
I watched a series of incredibly low-budget, ridiculous films from Dead Gentlemen productions a while back, The Gamers & The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and they were a hoot. I recall that the D&D episode from Community was a lot of fun, and I of course totally lived for the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon in the 80s every Saturday morning. I won’t lie. I just watched that YouTube video for the intro to the show that I linked to in the last sentence, and my heart skipped a beat and I felt that very same exhilaration that I did 40 years ago, in anticipation for the adventures of Hank, Eric, Diana, Presto, Bobby, and Sheila! Also, not exactly D&D but if you ever get a chance to read John Coyne’s Hobgoblin, a story of a teenager deeply obsessed with a fantasy role-playing game inspired by Celtic mythology, you’ll become acquainted with one of my favorite books when I was a teenager. It’s one of those lurid, cautionary tale-type books, but I thought it was the coolest, and I wanted a whole bunch of friends to role play with. Even though I suspect I would have found it just as nerve-racking and anxiety-inducing as I do now.
ANYWAY. In 2020, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast took steps toward building a more inclusive series of fantasy gaming worlds–one that represents a wider array of belief systems, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and cultures. One of the major changes they implemented is that there are no longer any inherently evil races. Wizards of the Coast recognized that the monstrous characterization of specific in-game races hit too close to the real-world experiences of many of us who belong to minority racial and ethnic groups. Because I am dating a life-long nerd who D&Ds weekly, I was aware of the shift, but I’m not informed or experienced enough regarding D&D to offer a really nuanced opinion except that it’s a good thing.
In the collection I am reviewing today, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has celebrated this fresh and complex exploration of the range of ethics, virtues, and cultures in fantasy role-playing games and literature. What stories could now be told? Where might an orc turn to find inner peace? How might a bugbear give back to their community? What challenges can this diverse group of adventurers now overcome?
Kobold Barista (freshly brewed coffee with ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and cream) A seasonal latte from your favorite local cafe; sweet cream, a dusting of autumnal spice melange, and the scent of roasted coffee beans, lightly caramelized and almost nutty, ground with aromatic pods and seeds and bark and roots.
Tiefling Therapist (white and red sandalwood, champaca attar, frankincense, and brimstone) Rich, velvety, vanilla-sweet floral with warm, apricot woodsy tea-like notes, it smells like sacred wine drunk by the moon and sun; a holy gloaming.
Bugbear Doula (motherwort, angelica root, and warm russet fur splashed with chamomile tea) Sniffing this straight out of the bottle, it’s a gorgeously delectable blackberry danish, but that’s so fleeting an impression I almost feel like I imagined it, especially considering that what it soon becomes is a warm, sweetly herbaceous musk, earthy, with a faint but lingering bitterness. The blackberries have all been plucked and it’s almost like they were never there at all. A nap on sun-warmed rock softened by moss. Nightfall, dreams, the cool dusty flights of bats and swallows.
Lizardfolk Park Ranger (pine needle, oak bark, sweet birch, stream-polished stones, lichen, dark mosses, nootka, hazelnut, rivulets of amber, and blackcurrant bud) This is an extraordinarily beautiful scent and tremendously evocative–there’s a whiff of something wild but also so safe and tender about it, when the scent first blossoms on my skin. The rushing creek below and the warmth of an old man’s strong, calloused hand, leaves crunching under small feet, he pauses to show his granddaughter a buckeye tree, tucking a sprig of Queen Anne’s lace in her pocket, telling her a snapping turtle might bite her toes off if she’s not careful! Then: the soft, soapy scent of a grandmother’s bubble bath, the soft pilled fuzz of a flannel nightgown, buttery, pearl-sugared bedtime cookies from the rusted blue tin. All of these memories, that seem so very long ago but also close at hand, like I could reach into yesterday and just as easily tug its sleeve. On my grandfather’s deathbed, he called me by the name of his sister and asked what we were wearing to church on Sunday. His childhood memories, just as near, just as vivid. Will memory always be this strange tug of rope? I’m 45 now and recall that autumn day, 40 years ago, without even having to close my eyes and step back into the byways of my brain. It’s always, always waiting just right there. And now, right here, with this fragrance.
Drow Yoga Instructor (wild plum, indigo lavender, and a tranquil tendril of sandalwood incense) An elegant plummy lavender incense, more breezy than smoky, the sort of scent you could close your eyes and totally space out and lose time while wearing, and yet it’s strangely grounded, too. Something earthy, rooty that tethers you, calls your essence back into your body before Lala Land claims you completely.
Drider Crossing Guard Perfume Oil (fig, black pepper, nutmeg, and black plum tea) This is such a confusing thing…from the notes I wouldn’t think it would smell like this, but: if you are a lover of such things, this is a fresh, fancy fantasy plate of all of the ripest, juiciest fruits you can imagine. I can’t pick anything out in particular, but wet on this skin this is definitely a pulpy, opalescent bounty of sweet, dripping fruit flesh. A few hours later it is a faint fruity-peony-vanilla. I realize neither of those two notes are listed, but I can’t argue with what’s on my wrist. Just reporting what I smell! Actually…in looking at this next scent, I have to wonder if maybe these two were accidentally mislabeled? Hm! A mystery!
Beholder Optician (eucalyptus leaf, white amber, pink bergamot, strawberry, and sheer, crystalline vanilla musk) In rereading this list of notes, all of these bright, electric fruity aromas are definitely what I smell in Drider Crossing Guard. The bottle labeled Beholder Optician carries a scent dry and figgy, woody and plummy and accented with a gentle grassy spice. Over time this just gets plummier, but not in a really fruity way, more like a plum wearing a handknit shawl and a bonnet and a monocle? I don’t know what that means. A Mother Goosey plum? An Ida Outhwaite fairytale illustration of a plum. Whatever it is that I am poorly trying to articulate, it is a freaking gorgeous interpretation of plum.