21 May 2018

Tolkien exhibit at Oxford

If you're a fan of Middle-earth, and you can manage a trip to Oxford between the 1st of June and the 28th of October, you should check out this exhibit: 'Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth'. It looks amazing.

I lived in Oxford for two years over two decades ago (1992-94). Strangely, I have not be back since, even though my time there greatly influenced me and shaped the course of my subsequent life. Needless to say, this exhibit sorely tempts me to return. Happily, there is a chance I'll be in England in September. If that works out, I'll definitely try to go to this exhibit ... as well as check out some of my old haunts.

05 May 2018

Mythras Bundle of Holding

Curious about Mythras (formerly RuneQuest 6)? Well, over the next two days you can get a rather impressive bundle of Mythras PDFs for a very low price!

The Starter Collection (14.95 USD [retail value 47 USD]) includes:

  • Mythras core rulebook ($15)
  • Mythras Imperative (free)
  • Classic Fantasy ($20)
  • Three Mythras adventures:
  • A Gift From Shamash ($4)
  • Xamoxis' Cleansing ($4)
  • Madness & Other Colours ($4)
If you want more, you can get the Bonus Collection (threshold starts at 24.95 USD  [retail value 52 USD]):

  • Mythic Britain ($18)
  • Mythic Britain Companion ($5)
  • Mythic Rome ($14)
  • Mythic Rome Maps (PWYW)
  • Three Classic Fantasy adventures:
  • M1 The Terror of Ettinmarsh ($5)
  • G1 These Violent Delights ($5)
  • N1 Tomb of the Mad Wizard ($5)
Design Mechanism's nominated charity is the Electronic Frontier Foundation

More information on this Bundle of Holding can be found here.

And Newt Newport (of D101 Games) recently reviewed Mythras at his 'Sorcerer Under Mountain' blog. 

13 April 2018

A Lyonesse FRPG is coming!

Exciting news from the good people at the Design Mechanism: they will be producing a freestanding RPG (using the Mythras rules) based on Jack Vance’s classic Lyonesse trilogy!

Here is the announcement:
Jack Vance’s high fantasy masterpiece, Lyonesse, is to be brought to life in a new roleplaying game by The Design Mechanism. Licensed and approved by Spatterlight Press, Lyonesse is a standalone game based on the acclaimed Mythras system. 
The Lyonesse trilogy – Suldrun’s Garden, The Green Pearl, and Madouc – tells the story of the Elder Isles, and the ambitions of King Casmir of Lyonesse to bring its fractious kingdoms under his sole rule. Lyonesse is a setting of high chivalry and low cunning. Noble knights rub shoulders with self-serving tricksters, while capricious fairies and child-eating ogres haunt the dense expanse of the Forest of Tantrevalles. Itinerant magicians peddle charms and potions at the Goblin Fair, while kings hoard magical treasures such as the prophetic mirror Persilian. Great armies clash in fierce battles, while the navies of Lyonesse and Troicinet seek to outwit each other on the coastal seas. The new religion of Christianity coexists with the older gods of Hybras, such as Lug of the Sun, Matrona the Moon, Sheah the Graceful, and innumerable parochial half-gods. 
Using The Design Mechanism’s Mythras mechanics, the Lyonesse roleplaying game is presented as a standalone game with all the rules necessary for play. The book will provide a detailed overview of the Elder Isles and its history, its kingdoms and politics, and, of course, its movers and shakers, from King Casmir to the arch mage Murgen; from Shimrod to his nemesis Faude Carfilhiot; from villains such as Visbhume and Torqual, to heroes like Aillas, Dhrun and Madouc.
More information can be found in this PDF.

I’m thrilled by this unexpected development. Vance’s trilogy is one of my all-time favourites. And, of course, Mythras is a brilliant system. Two of my favourite things mixed into one package!

01 April 2018

Tolkien: world-creator and (almost) code-breaker

Over at the Goodman Games site is a short essay on J.R.R. Tolkien. It covers the usual information on the good professor, and comments on the influence of Middle-earth on Dungeons & Dragons. The author (Chris Doyle) is somewhat sceptical of Gary Gygax’s attempts to minimize Tolkien’s influence on the game—and correctly so, in my view.

Anyhow, I learned these two facts about Tolkien from the essay:
“As a child he is said to have been bitten by a large baboon spider, which could have been an influence of his later writings of Shelob in The Lord of the Rings. As the Second World War raged on, Tolkien was tapped by the British government to become a codebreaker. He agreed, and received formal training from the cryptographic department and even took classes at the London headquarters of the Government Code and Cypher School. Later that year he was informed his services would not be required.”
Also, my wife sent me a link to this 'brackify' of the Elves of Middle-earth. I can't make any sense of it. (More specifically, the various 'pairings' generally seem incoherent.) 

13 March 2018

My favourite role-playing games

Apropos of nothing, here is a list of my favourite role-playing games...

Mythras (formerly RuneQuest 6 and Mongoose's RuneQuest II). 

This is the game that I've played (as opposed to GM'ed) the most in recent years. Highlights include: (a) playing a half-Melnibonean sorcerer in the Young Kingdoms (using MRQII) and (b) playing a Roman mystic-philosopher (in Mythic Britain). Among its many virtues, Mythras has (hands-down) the best combat system I’ve found in a RPG yet.

Call of Cthulhu

I've run a fair amount of this over the years, both campaigns and one-shots. It is probably my favourite game to run overall.

Classic Dungeons & Dragons (including Basic/Expert D&D, AD&D, and related 'retro-clones' [e.g., Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC] and 'pseudo-clones' [especially Crypts & Things]). 

I haven't played too much 'classic D&D' in recent years—except for a short AD&D campaign and a number of sessions of Crypts & Things (a game to which I contributed some rules)—but it remains a constant love for 30+ years.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (especially as modified for Adventures in Middle-earth). 

Finally, an 'in-print' version of 'D&D' that I enjoy! I'm currently running an AiME campaign. It's a pretty solid realization of Middle-earth.

Elric! (a.k.a. Stormbringer). 

An old favourite (especially Elric!/SB5e). It’s a fantasy version of BRP (Basic Role-playing) that is easy to run and has a lot of flavour. While I think that the MRQII version of the setting (now out of print, alas) does a better job in realizing the Moorcock’s multiverse, I have fond memories of this game. 

Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP). 

I haven't played this game in years (the last time, I think, was 1999-2000), but I cherish my ICE collection of MERP adventures, campaign guides, and (especially) maps. Indeed, I am using some MERP material in my current AiME campaign. I ran my first 'real' (i.e., coherent) RPG campaign using MERP while in high-school, and still look back fondly on it. To this day I enjoy reading the critical charts.

There certainly are other games that I’ve played and enjoyed over the years (e.g., Traveller, Star Frontiers, Thieves’ Guild, DragonQuest, The One Ring, Trail of Cthulhu, etc.). But the ones listed above are the ones that stand out for me.

21 February 2018

Iain M. Banks’ Culture is coming to television…

Consider Phlebas—Iain M. Banks’s first novel about the Culture—is coming to Amazon television.

I’m excited by this—but also nervous. I’ve praised Banks before here. He’s my favourite science-fiction writer of the past century. Hopefully Amazon will do a good job with this.

For a great analysis of the Culture (focusing especially on Consider Phlebas), check out this excellent essay, “Why the Culture Wins: An Appreciation of Iain M. Banks,” by Joseph Heath (a philosopher at the University of Toronto). It’s scholarly but also fun—a rare combination!

(Hat tip: Lawrence Whitaker.)

07 February 2018

Conan to tread onto the small screen?

Well this news is rather intriguing:
"Amazon is developing drama series Conan, based on the books by Robert E. Howard.
Conan retells the classic character's story via a return to his literary origins. Driven out of his tribal homelands, Conan wanders the mysterious and treacherous world of civilization where he searches for purpose in a place that rejects him as a mindless savage.
[T]he creative goal [is] to return to the original Howard literary works and produce a series that is faithful to the spirit of his Conan character. Conan the Barbarian, aka Conan the Cimmerian, was created by Howard in 1932 in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales magazine."
(More information here.)

While I've always enjoyed the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film since I first saw it as a fantasy-obsessed lad, the Schwarzenegger movie has almost no connection to the original Robert E. Howard tales (and the less said about the sequel and the 2011 version the better). A series actually based on Howard's Conan stories could be great. And I think that a television series probably is a better way to adapt the stories, given their episodic character, than a movie.

I really hope that this becomes a reality-and that it turns out to be as awesome as it has the potential to be.

By Crom! 

21 January 2018

The 'Piano Man' of Erich Zann

The title of this article says it all: 'Someone Realized An HP Lovecraft Poem Maps Perfectly to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”'.

The poem in question is 'Nemesis'. And it's classic Lovecraft.

I think that the first version of the song is especially good.

Thanks internet!

11 January 2018

Update on 'Into the Borderlands'

As I mentioned several months ago here, Goodman Games is publishing a version of the classic Basic Dungeons and Dragons modules B1 (“In Search of the Unknown”) and B2 (“The Keep on the Borderlands”), with 5e D&D stats included, as well as some new optional material. I have a deep fondness for those modules, as they were the first ones I ever used decades ago when learning how to play RPGs. And even after all of these years, B2 remains (in my judgement) a solid—and, with a creative DM and good players, a very entertaining—mini-campaign setting.

Here is an update on the main features of the product, entitled Into the Borderlands:
The current layout weighs in at 368 pages. We still need to add a few things and anticipate it will close out at around 380 pages. Wow, that’s a big book! The hardcover includes the following:
  • Restored scans of two complete printings of the original B1: In Search of the Unknown. Specifically, the second and sixth printings, one featuring the original monochrome cover and the other featuring the later color cover by Darlene.
  • Three complete monster and treasure assortments for stocking the dungeons of In Search of the Unknown (which are “un-stocked” in the original 1E edition).
  • Restored scans of two complete printings of the original B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Specifically the second and fourth printings. These are distinguished the change in monster stats between the two printings (Dexterity scores were included in early printings). The later printing also features six interior illustrations that were not present in earlier printings.
  • A complete, “pure” 5E conversion of In Search of the Unknown, including tables for stocking it with creatures.
  • A separate chapter with a few new encounters for the Caverns of Quasqueton, all inspired by references in the original work.
  • A complete, “pure” 5E conversion of The Keep on the Borderlands.
  • A separate chapter with a few new encounters for The Keep on the Borderlands, all inspired by references in the original work.
  • Appendices with 5E stats for newly introduced monsters, hirelings and followers, and magic items.
  • A chapter of introductions and testimonials.
Um, okay. I'm still looking forward to this… But 380 pages?!? That seems ridiculous.

Specifically, including scans of 2 printings for both modules strikes me as excessive. Personally, I'd prefer a straight-up 5e conversion, with some optional supplementary material, as I already own multiple copies of the originals. Nonetheless, I can understand including one scan of B1 and B2 within the product. Two scans, though, just seems excessive, especially given how minor the changes are between the printings.

Despite this gripe, though, the only real question for me is whether to get the print version or just the PDF…

[Above are a couple of illustrations from B2 by the amazing Erol Otus: a colour view of the keep (from the back cover of the module) and the dangerous Hermit.]

10 January 2018

DiTerlizzi on Trampier

I’ve mentioned in the past at this blog my deep and abiding fondness for the art of David Trampier (1954-2014). 

Well today I discovered that the artist Tony DiTerlizzi has a lovely tribute to ‘DAT’ here. (DiTerlizzi is best known to RPGers for his work on the wonderful AD&D Planescape setting. Apparently he also is known for some children’s stories and stuff.)

[Trampier's Fire Giant from the original G3 module]

[DiTerlizzi's middle-school version]

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.