06 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is very good

So I just saw Blade Runner 2049Here are some immediate reactions (no spoilers!):

·       It’s very good. I give it a 9.7 out of 10.

·       But…it’s not as good as the original (well, maybe as good as the initial theatrical release, the one with cheesy voice-over and the tacked-on happy ending, but not as good as either the ‘Director’s Cut’ or the ‘Final Cut’).

·       While not as good as the original, Blade Runner 2049 nonetheless builds interestingly on the original; it does not detract from the power of the original by ‘ruining’ elements of the world (so think ‘Aliens’ not ‘Highlander 2’).

·       It’s visually stunning. In this respect, it is equal to the original (though of course that’s not a fair comparison, given the greater budget and technical power available for the sequel). 

·       The world-creation is amazing—just as it was in the original, but the new film expands the world in interesting ways by going places (geographically, intellectually, and visually) that the original did not.

·       The acting is uniformly excellent.

·       The story is compelling. Perhaps there are some holes, but nothing leapt out at me while watching the film.

·       The music is good, but not quite the equal of the original Vangelis score. Towards the end of the film it became slightly distracting.

So overall it’s a great film. See it! As a sequel, though, it doesn’t quite capture the ‘lightning in a bottle’ of the original. But it is a very worthy follow-up. I certainly plan to watch it again soon…

30 September 2017

OK, I'm now excited for Blade Runner 2049

When I first learned that a sequel to Blade Runner (my all-time favourite film) was in the works, I was not thrilled. Why mess with a singular work of art?

But after the first trailer was released I began to think that the sequel might not be so bad after all. And now it is receiving almost uniformly positive reviews (like this one). It currently enjoys a 98% 'fresh' rating at Rotten Tomatoes

So now I'm excited to see it! It's a nice feeling...

While you're waiting for the film to be released properly, there are three short 'prequels' available at Youtube to re-familiarize yourself with the world: (a) "Blackout 2022" (an anime short); (b) "2036: Nexus Dawn"; and (c) "2048: Nowhere to Run". As the dates imply, these short films fill in some of the history between 2019 (when the original film, now quite amusingly, takes place) and 2049.

07 September 2017

Music-Movie-Fantasy Crossover Images

Over the years I’ve acquired a few cool ‘nerd’ shirts and hoodies (or at least I think they’re cool; my wife seems to disagree). For the most part, the image on one of these shirts is drawn from a single source. Examples in my collection include the two-headed snake image of ‘Thulsa Doom’ from the original Conan film, and the ‘White Tree of Gondor’ symbol from The Lord of the Rings. Some mock the ubiquitous ‘university’ promotion shirts. For instance, I have a few ‘Miskatonic University’ ones (e.g., ‘Go Pods!’, ‘Miskatonic Metaphysics Faculty Member’, ‘Miskatonic University 1930 Antarctic Expedition’, etc.) and one ‘Mordor University’ shirt (I like to tell my students that the graduate program there has a terrible attrition rate).

But probably the most unusual shirt that I own is this mash-up of the movies Reservoir Dogs and The Lord of the Rings:

(From left-to right: Sauron [notice the ring!], the Balrog of Moria, the Witch-king of Angmar, the Mouth of Sauron, a Nazgûl [Khamûl?], and Saruman.) 

I also have a shirt with an image that tweaks the cover of Joy Division’s classic Unknown Pleasures album to include Barad-dûr:

But probably the most unusual mash-up I’ve ever encountered is this one:

Wow. So there is a market for Leonard Cohen - Game of Thrones crossover fan merchandise. (“First we take King’s Landing, then we take Berlin…”) That … is unexpected. 
Pity the shirt is so damn ugly (I couldn’t bring myself to get one).

06 September 2017

Middle-earth Adventurers: Backgrounds

I mentioned recently that I had started a campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-earth system (which modifies 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons in some interesting 'Tolkien-esque' ways). In case anyone out there is interested, I thought that I would post the characters' backgrounds here. Since culture and history are so important in running a good Middle-earth campaign, I put some careful thought (in collaboration with my players) into these backgrounds. Hopefully they are somewhat flavourful and interesting. (The pictures are taken from various C7 AiME books.)



HENGIL (S. ‘Eye-star’) FOROS

Dúnedain (martial) – Warden (class) – Foresight of their kindred (virtue)
Seeker of the Lost (background) – Determined (quality) – Dark Secrets (specialty) – Lure of Power (shadow weakness)


Hengil was born in the wilds of Eriador, far to the north of Lake Nenuil, in the ancient lands of his family, the Great House of Foros. Lords of land no longer, Hengil’s family nonetheless still dwells in their ancient territory.

In his teens Hengil displayed unusual foresight and a capacity to inspire with poetry and history. Sensing an aptitude for scholarship, Hengil’s father sent him to dwell with the Dúnedain and Elves of Imladris. There the young man learned the lore of his people, as well as knowledge of how to fight and survive. Hengil planned eventually to join the Rangers of the North, as his forefathers had for generations, to help their endless guardianship over the few peaceful settlements that lingered in Eriador. A prophetic dream, however, changed everything.

A gift of his ancient lineage, Hengil sometimes observes events with great vividness while dreaming. Some of these dreams are of things that happened long ago to the Dúnedain of the North, and especially his family, but most of the time they seem to reveal things in Hengil’s future. A year ago, he had a most unusual vision whilst in a deep slumber. In it he saw his ancestor—Cúthalion (‘Strongbow’), last Lord of the Foros—blow the great mithril horn of his family, “Fuinavar” (‘gloom-refuser’). Hengil knew immediately that what he was witnessing occurred during Arthedain’s final battle with the hordes of the Witch-King of Angmar, almost a thousand years ago. The horn had been forged in lost Númenor, and had the ability to inspire and remove fear in all those who fought on the side of the Light.

Despite rallying the forces of Arthedain with Fuinavar, Hengil saw his ancestor ultimately struck down by the Witch-King himself. The terrible eldritch tyrant seized seized the horn and Hengil’s vision faded. But the dream did not end! Though he did not see anything for a few moments, Hengil sensed that many centuries had passed. When his vision returned, Hengil saw the glorious horn, still brilliant silver despite its great age, locked away in a tower of shining black stone. The tower stood upon a mountain ridge amidst a waterfall deep within a vast forest. Hengil then awoke.

In his subsequent research, Hengil discerned that the tower likely was located somewhere deep within Mirkwood. How the horn could have travelled there he had no idea. But he now sought to recover it! And so Hengil departed from Rivendell on a quest to recover the ancient artefact of his family, one perhaps that could help the Dúnedain in their enduring struggle against the Shadow.



Barding (prosperous) – Warrior (class) – Swordmaster (virtue)
Fallen Scion (background) – Proud (quality) – Story-telling (specialty) – Lure of Power (shadow weakness)


During the golden age of the kingdoms of Dale and Erebor, the Galmunds were one of the leading Dalish aristocratic families. They served the line of Dalish kings in defending the northern realm for centuries. During the reign of King Bladorthin, the family—with the assistance of skilled dwarven masons from Erebor—built a magnificent tower some leagues outside of the city. Men of Dale worked their lands, and the family became quite wealthy. They dwelt in their glorious tower, along with their manor within the city, throughout the reign of King Bladorthin and his son King Girion.

Tragedy struck the family in the year 2770 of the Third Age. Smaug descended upon Dale and Erebor—destroying the former and occupying the latter. The surrounding settlements also were laid waste by the terrible dragon. Most of the Galmunds were slain that terrible day. The few who survived fled to Esgarath. There they dwelt for almost two centuries, in a comfortable but diminished state, until the death of Smaug five years ago.

Ulvmund is the last of his family line. The rest of his family—his mother, father, brother and sister—were slain when Smaug wreaked destruction upon Lake-town. Distraught at his loss, the young man devoted himself to training in arms, helping to rebuild Dale, and serving King Bard. While he has found favourable service under his new king, Ulvmund aspires to re-establish the Galmund family as one of the preeminent forces within Dale. Part of this ambition is to find, clear, and rebuild the ancient Galmund tower. Another part is to achieve such glory that King Bard eventually will appoint him a royal advisor and a leader of the Dalish soldiers.

To this end, Ulvmund hopes to perform deeds of heroism and nobility, thereby gaining honourable renown. He also hopes to raise funds so that he eventually can reclaim and rebuild the ancient Galmund tower. His dream is to resurrect the ancient glory of his family—and he shall not be deterred, no matter the foes he faces.



Beorning (martial) – Wanderer (class) – Brother to Bears (virtue)
Hunted by the Shadow (background) – Elusive (quality) – Swimming (specialty) – Wandering Madness (shadow weakness)


Hartmut was born near the great Anduin River, in a modest but ancient family holding located north of the Old Ford and south of the sacred Carrock. Like his father, Hartmut became a hunter. He ranged widely across the Anduin vale and into the northern reaches of Mirkwood (though he prudently avoided the lands still claimed by the reclusive Wood Elves). Because of an ancient bear-bond made by his ancestors, Hartmut felt more comfortable and skilled while hunting at night. 

Last autumn, in the western eaves of Mirkwood under a dark moon, Hartmut witnessed something that scarred his mind and soul—and changed the course of his life forever. Pursuing a magnificent stag deep into the woods, a light caught his eye. Because of this distraction, the stag escaped. Having lost his prey, Hartmut decided to investigate the light. 

Scouting deeper in the forest the hunter stealthily approached a small clearing. Warily hiding at the edge, Hartmut spied a band of strange looking Woodmen arranged in a semicircle around an altar of black glassy stone. Behind the altar stood a man dressed in a grey cloak; upon the cloak were sewn a myriad of black web-like patterns. The man’s face was hidden in shadows, but his hands were sickly pale. Bound upon the altar was a small child. Confused at this strange sight, Hartmut witnessed the terrible ritual progress: the cloaked figure spoke harsh, strange words that burned the hunter’s ears, and then plunged a dagger into the child’s chest. In shock, Hartmut let out a shout of outrage. Alerted to his presence, the malevolent congregation turned upon the Beorning and tried to capture or slay him. Fortunately, Hartmut’s skills served him well that day, and the pursuit failed. Hartmut roused his brothers the next day, yet no sign of the black altar or the vile men could be found. The cultists and their shadowy leader had disappeared without a mark…

Since that terrible day, though, Hartmut frequently has had the sense of being watched, especially at night by inhuman eyes—yet when he looks about to see what is observing him, he sees nothing. In the corner of his eye, though, shadows linger…

Troubled by the vile sacrifice he witnessed and his worry that he frequently is the object of an ill-willed gaze, Hartmut decided to journey away from his homeland for a few seasons. Learning of King Bard’s call for brave souls to help Dale, Esgaroth, and Erebor establish peace and prosperity in the lands around the Long Lake, the beorning travelled east. Perhaps his concerns might fade through heroic actions elsewhere? Still, if Hartmut could find and destroy the terrible cult, he surely would… 

01 September 2017

Have a pint at the RPG pub

There is a new forum for discussing role-playing games: the RPG pub.

So far it appears to have an active and friendly group of folks, most of whom seem positively inclined to the kinds of games discussed here. I haven't bothered to visit any RPG fora in many months, but I like the vibe of this place, so I may post there (sporadically) in the future. (A friend described it to me as: "Like the RPG site, but without the assholery.")


19 August 2017

New Mirkwood Campaign

Last year I noted that I was pleasantly surprised by Adventures in Middle-earth—Cubicle 7’s adaptation of the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules to the world of Middle-earth. Simplifying greatly, C7 sliced-out a lot of inappropriate ‘D&D-isms’ (e.g., the magic system, the standard classes) and inserted a number of ideas from their The One Ring game (e.g., rules for journeys, corruption [Shadow], fellowship phases, etc.). The result is a version of 5e that seems reasonably well adapted to Middle-earth (at least in my view).

I recently started a campaign set in Middle-earth with three players. In addition to the setting material provided in C7’s Loremaster’s Guide, I’ve drawn on some of my old ICE Middle-earth Role-playing (‘MERP’) material—a couple of modules and the Mirkwood campaign book—as well as some old White Dwarf MERP adventures by Graham Staplehurst (in particular, “Dawn of the Unlight”), and my own ideas and knowledge of Middle-earth. I have a campaign arc loosely sketched, but I hope to run adventures that also are responsive to the characters’ decisions and goals.

For the most part, I’ll be using my old MERP regional maps in the campaign. While the Cubicle 7 maps are attractive, nothing beats the ones by Peter Fenlon:

We’ve had three sessions so far, with a fourth planned for this week. Overall I’m pretty happy with how things are going. I’ll post more about it here (soon-ish).

14 August 2017

A nice tribute to the art of David Trampier

I’ve mentioned my longstanding adoration for the art of David A. Trampier (‘DAT’) in this blog a few times. One early post features the iconic ‘Emirikol the Chaotic’ picture from the original Dungeon Master's Guide. And when I ranked my top-5 favourite FRPG artists, Trampier was ranked #1.

I mention this because there is a nice piece on DAT’s work at Tor.com by Saladin Ahmed. If you too are a fan of Trampier’s unique style, check it out. (Apparently the piece was first posted in 2011 and was reposted today.)

10 August 2017

The Design Mechanism improves its Charisma score

The Design Mechanism—publisher of the excellent Mythras roleplaying game (formerly RuneQuest 6)—has a smashing new website and forum.

I'm pleased to see that their ‘Mythic Earth’ line is chugging along nicely, with Mythic Constantinople scheduled to come out in the autumn.

07 August 2017

Ancient black dragon uncovered

Last summer, while visiting my parents, I uncovered some old fantasy pictures that I had composed while a young lad (ages 11-15). These were inspired primarily by my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons activities during those halcyon years.

My favourite is the ‘Dragon Slayers’ picture (which I posted almost a year ago). And here are a couple of (far less cool) paladins.

Inspired by last night’s epic episode of Game of Thrones, I thought that I would post this picture of a black dragon today:

As you can see from the signature, this was composed in 1984. I'm not sure why I never finished colouring the wings...

15 July 2017

Valar Morghulis

Like 99.9% of the global fantasy nerd community, I am looking forward to the seventh season of The Game of Thrones, due to start tomorrow evening.

Since the series only has 13 episodes left, and given its propensity to kill off major characters in unexpected ways, the question naturally arises: who will survive to the end? Vox assesses the chances of 15 important characters here. While I agree with author Todd VanDerWerff that Samwell Tully is the most likely character to survive at the end (someone has to be able to tell the whole story, after all), I disagree with some of his other predictions. Specifically, I think that Tyrion Lannister is more likely to survive than Jon Snow (as I can see Snow going out in a blaze of glory in the final episode, whereas Tyrion will carry on with cunning and bluster no matter what), and I would place Arya Stark’s odds of making it out alive quite highly—above those of Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. Finally, I would rank Bran Stark’s chances above all other characters except Samwell, given that he seems to be pivotal to the entire history of Westeros.

While not ‘major characters’ in any sense, ravens appear regularly in the series. This is because ravens are central to the communication system of Westeros. This is one of the reasons why I like the setting so much. I’ve been fascinated by ravens since a teenager, when I first learned about their high intelligence. It turns out that they are capable of planning for the future.

[Image found somewhere on the intertubes]

07 July 2017

Mythras (RuneQuest 6) and OpenQuest Developments

I’m a bit late in reporting on this, but the good people at the Design Mechanism have been producing monthly adventures for their superb Mythras role-playing game (formerly RuneQuest 6). This strikes me as a great thing to do for any game, but especially a rather ‘crunchy’ one like Mythras. This kind of regular support helps people try Mythras—including different variants and settings—without too much work or cost. I’ve already obtained two of the adventures, and look forward seeing more.

One adventure in particular warrants special mention. It’s called The Colour of Madness, and has a very strong ‘swords-and-sorcery’ flavour—with a distinctly ‘Moorcockian’ accent. This is no coincidence, as an earlier version of the adventure was written by Lawrence Whitaker for the ‘Young Kingdoms’ fantasy setting. (Whitaker wrote Mongoose’s MRQII-based Elric of Melniboné line; he also wrote a lot of material for Chaosium’s Stormbringer and Elric! games back in the day.) If you own (or can track down) Whitaker’s Elric books for Mongoose RuneQuest II, especially the core book and the Cities of the South supplement, then this module will help you run a rather cool Young Kingdoms campaign with Mythras. (For a sense of what such a campaign might be like, check out this—sadly not-yet-finished—campaign log. I believe that one possibility for that campaign was the Colour of Madness adventure, but our characters decided to flee, er… travel to the East instead…)

Since I’m writing about my favourite fantasy d100 games in this post, I should also mention that D101 Games has updated OpenQuest. The ‘new’ version (really a fixed up and mildly improved version of the 2nd edition) is called OpenQuest Refreshed. It features a nice cover by the talented Jon Hodgson:

OQ author Newt Newport summarizes the main changes in this blog post. If you want a fantasy BRP/d100 system that is somewhat lighter than Mythras, I highly recommend OpenQuest as the way to go!

14 June 2017

Dead Light (Call of Cthulhu adventure summary)

As I've mentioned before here, I've been running a sporadic Call of Cthulhu 7th edition campaign since Halloween 2014. Most of the adventures I've run have been new ones written for the 7th edition version of CoC (the only exception is "The Haunting"). One of these adventures is Dead Light. Below is my brief summary of that adventure, along with some impressions of it.

Dead Light (Massachusetts, late November 1922).

- Bertrand Smyth (professor)
- Max Brewster (private investigator)
- Helen Tilton (photo journalist).
(More information available here.)

Summary (warning: spoilers!)

Pleased with their job dealing with the Corbitt house, Stephen Knott hires the investigators again. In addition to owning and managing several properties within Massachusetts, Knott is a collector of rare artefacts and eldritch texts. He has learned of an unusual item owned by a Dr. Godfrey Webb of Greenapple Acre cottage (located in a rural part of Massachusetts). After some correspondence with Webb, Knott has arranged to purchase this item, and wishes the investigators to pick it up for him and return it to Boston. He gives the investigators a cheque for $1000 for the item, about which he seems to know suspiciously little.

The investigators drive to Bolton where they have dinner. A terrible storm is brewing, but they decide to press on. Continuing on their way, their car hits a woman who runs suddenly out onto the road. She seems dazed but not seriously hurt, and mumbles that her name is 'Emelia'. The investigators take her to a nearby diner. While there, the electricity goes out. The diner subsequently is attacked by … an eldritch ‘floating light’! An elderly woman is killed by the light – she is consumed from within by strange and malevolent otherworldly energies. Everyone is terrified, and the storm becomes even worse.

Eventually Amelia revives somewhat, and explains that she is Dr. Webb’s niece. She and her uncle and were robbed earlier that evening at Greenapple Acre cottage. In the process of the robbery, however, the eldritch light attacked. Terrified, Amelia fled, only to later be hit by the investigator’s car. Mary Laker, who works at the diner, is questioned by Helen at this time, and confesses that she knows about the robbers. Despite the storm, the investigators, along with Amelia and Mary, proceed to the cottage.

While at the cottage, the body of Dr. Webb is discovered. Shocked, Helen goes temporarily mad, and cannot see. Bertrand and Max rummage through Dr. Webb’s notes, and figure out that Webb has been summoning the ‘dead light’ for decades in order to eliminate ‘undesirable’ persons for clients. Horrified, they infer that Webb had summoned the dead light when the robbers invaded the house.

The dead light creature returns, and consumes Mary. Fortunately, Bertrand and Max figure out how to defeat the creature from Dr. Webb’s notes. A ritual captures the dead light, and the party spends the rest of the night at the cottage. Helen’s sight returns, and the investigators concoct a story for the police in Bolton (something involving ‘ball lightning’). Amelia (now owner of the cottage) is placed in therapy. The artefact that Knott sought to purchase has been destroyed.


This is the only scenario in this campaign that my group completed in a single evening (our sessions typically are 3-4 hours long). This was a good thing. Not because the adventure is bad -- I think it's quite good -- but because it is a 'survival horror' scenario, and I doubt that its intensity could've have been resurrected effectively after a significant break in play.

As my summary indicates, Dead Light is somewhat different from most CoC scenarios. The investigators are fighting against a hostile enemy under dire conditions. The 'clock is ticking,' so to speak, against them. Moreover, they are thrust into this dangerous situation unexpectedly, and with little prospect of immediate escape (as most of the roads and telephone lines are down thanks to the storm). So it likely will offer a real change of pace for most groups. The sense of relief that my players had at the end of the session was palpable.

(I should mention that I modified the 'solution' to dealing with the dead light somewhat [I can't remember precisely how, as I ran it over a year ago]. This is because I found the options offered in the text to be too difficult for my group: two of the three players were new to RPGs, having only played one previous CoC scenario so far. Perhaps I was being too nice, but the scenario seemed adequately deadly and scary nonetheless.)

The scenario would work well as either a 'one short' or an 'introductory adventure.' As an introductory adventure, the Keeper will need to come up with some reason for the characters to be travelling together, but once that is sorted, the events will force them to work together and to deal with a supernatural menace, thus giving them a connection for later scenarios. For my group, I had to contrive a way to make it follow from the previous scenario ("The Haunting"), but this was easy to do.

Overall, I think this is a fun 'single-session' adventure, and am happy to give it 8/10.

07 June 2017

The Growing Cyclopean Pile of Cthulhu Games

This article at NPR—“H.P. Lovecraft's Monster Is Wrapping Family GameNight Up In Tentacles”—discusses the ever-growing number of board games based upon Lovecraft’s ‘Cthulhu Mythos.’

I must confess that I’m not a ‘board game’ person. I rarely play them—and when I do, it’s invariably because others want to, and they teach me the rules. Now I have nothing ‘against’ board games; I just don’t really have anything ‘for’ them either. (There was a time in the distant past when this was not the case. Much of my final year of high-school was spent Axis and Allies. But that was a long time ago! And I had a lot more time back then…)

I’ve owned Arkham Horror for a decade now, and yet have never played it. Every time I’ve tried to read the rules in the past my eyes glaze over after a few minutes. Strangely, the AH rules seem more involved than those of Call of Cthulhu—and it’s not clear to me what AH does better than CoC (aside from being prettier and eliminating the need for a Keeper). Now I’d be happy to try AH with someone who was already quite familiar with the rules and could show me the ropes. But I just don’t have the patience or interest to sort them out myself.

In addition to board games, there also seems to be a growth in the number of Lovecraftian role-playing games being produced in recent years. Yet, aside from playing in a couple of one-shots with other systems (including one game of Trail of Cthulhu), I’ve stuck with The Call of Cthulhu for decades—indeed, CoC is one of the games that I’ve played the most in recent years. CoC does what I need to do, really well, and I simply don’t have much interest or patience (or time) to learn new RPG systems these days. I’m happy to read about new settings or adventures, but reading new game systems generally bores me (in fact, I have yet to properly read through CoC 7e; when I’ve run that system over the past two years I’ve primarily relied upon the ‘quick start’ rules and my general knowledge of BRP).

So while I’m happy to learn that more people are enjoying Lovecraftian games (both board games and RPGs) these days, I’m also pretty content to stick to the Lovecraftian game—CoC (5e/6e/7e)—that I’ve been using since eldritch times.

[Image of the Cthulhu Wars game from the NPR article.]

16 May 2017

Hydra versus Kali

It might not be beloved within the art world -- as this hilarious review at Art News makes clear -- but this statue by Damien Hirst, "Hydra and Kali," is pretty epic:

This one, "Andromeda and the Sea Monster," is rather 'metal' as well:

Check out the creepy spiders on the back of Andromeda's stone:

09 May 2017

Maybe Blade Runner 2049 will not be terrible?

So two years ago (!) I expressed the view that the planned Blade Runner sequel was a bad idea. The original film is the greatest science-fiction film ever, and it's completely self-sufficient. Tacking on a sequel, I claimed, would only diminish the original (among other things, if Deckard survived for another 30+ years, it would eliminate the possibility that he was a replicant, a possibility that the original film wonderfully left unresolved).

But having watched (and read an analysis of) the new trailer, I may have to reopen my mind on this question... Perhaps the sequel will not be so terrible after all.

I mean, I have to give credit to the film makers for at least keeping Atari in its dystopian vision of the future:

04 May 2017

The True Origin of the Flail Snail?

Of the many strange and absurd creatures included in the original AD&D Fiend Folio, perhaps none has been more often mocked and ridiculed than the poor 'flail snail'. Personally, I've always had a bit of a soft spot (er...) for the monster, as it strikes me as a perfect example of the whimsical 'a-wizard-did-it' approach that was employed in the construction of so many classic AD&D beasts.

But perhaps the flail snail has some historical legitimacy? Apparently, as this Vox video explains, Medieval illuminated texts often included pictures of knights fighting snails in their margins...

29 March 2017

Mythras Swords and Sorcery Advice

Thinking of running a ‘swords-and-sorcery’ style Mythras (RuneQuest 6) campaign? This thread at the RPGsite contains some helpful advice.

(Also, this older thread on using Mythras for Hyboria [the world of Conan] is pretty interesting.)

28 March 2017

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition

So it turns out that the Planescape teaser that I mentioned earlier was for the forthcoming 'Enhanced Edition' of the Planescape: Torment computer role-playing game. ("NewbieDM" was right!)

Here is the official announcement.

While I'm disappointed that we won't be seeing a new version of the Planescape campaign setting for 5e D&D, at least not in the immediate future, I'm happy to see an 'enhanced' version of the classic Planescape: Torment CRPG coming out soon. The original PS:T is probably the greatest CRPG ever produced, rivaled only by the Baldur's Gate series. (While PS:T has a better story and setting in my view than the BG games, it has less replay value and is less of a 'sandbox'.) The fact that Chris Avellone, the Lead Designer of the original game, is involved gives me confidence that this will be great.

I still have my original box set for the AD&D version of Planescape. Maybe replaying the CRPG will motivate me to dig it out again...

27 March 2017

Classic Dungeons and Dragons modules to be reprinted

Well this is interesting: Goodman Games has partnered with Wizards of the Coast to publish some classic D&D modules in hardback form.

Here is the full press release:
Jump into Classic Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Modules with Collector’s Editions from Goodman Games 
First Volume Contains B1 and B2 Converted to Fifth Edition, Plus Insider Commentary, and Original Art
Goodman Games is pleased to announce a partnership with Dungeons & Dragons to publish deluxe collector’s editions of classic D&D adventure modules! These commemorative editions will appeal to fans of Dungeons & Dragons across multiple editions. Each volume will include digitally restored, high-quality scans of the original 1970’s-era adventure modules, presented in their original published form. In addition, each volume will include a conversion of that original adventure to the fifth edition rules set. This format allows nostalgic gamers to re-live the adventures of their youth, and play those adventures again in a modern rules set! For gamers with families and children ready to receive the torch of gaming, this volume is the perfect format to share fond adventures with the next generation playing the Dungeon & Dragons fifth edition rules. 
The first hardcover collector’s edition will include B1: In Search of the Unknown and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. These classic adventure modules were played by millions of gamers in their original editions. Among other things, the book includes:
  • Commentary by gaming luminaries on the history and development of these modules, including gaming legends such as Frank Mentzer and Luke Gygax who were “on the inside” when these modules exploded in popularity.
  • A new interview with gaming legend Mike Carr, author of B1: In Search of the Unknown and early gaming pioneer.
  • Digitally restored scans of both B1 and B2, including multiple printings of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. B2 went through nine printings in its original form, and there are material differences between the first three printings and subsequent editions. These include changes in monster stats and significant differences in interior art. Two printings are presented in their entirety to highlight these differences. The historical material also includes the true story behind the cover art of B1, which was the only cover image TSR ever published that featured the signatures of both David Trampier and David Sutherland.
  • A thorough and complete conversion of both B1 and B2 to the 5E rules set, fully playable with the original maps.
  • New 5E content providing additional detail on the areas surrounding the Caves of Chaos, including, at long last, the Cave of the Unknown.
  • Additional material for playing B1: In Search of the Unknown, including several completed monster and treasure assortments ready for play.
  • A variety of additional essays, commentary, and other material for play.
The deluxe hardcover volume is anticipated to be available at Gen Con with general release in September 2017. For additional information, visit Goodman Games online at www.goodman-games.com. 
Between this line of products (the announcement indicates that the B1+B2 volume will be only the first of many) and the forthcoming Tales from the Yawning Portal, it is clear that WotC is trying to appeal to the 'old school' crowd in at least some of their 5e D&D products.

I for one welcome their pandering!

25 March 2017

The Return of Planescape?


There is a brief note on this 'countdown' at Enworld.

20 March 2017

A New Thing for your Crypts

Crypts & Things remains my favourite old school ‘pseudo-clone’. (The new edition is perhaps somewhat more entrenched in its default setting than I would like, but nonetheless it’s overall a marked improvement over the earlier edition.) So I was delighted to learn that D101 Games is producing a new fanzine for the game entitled From the Shroud

According to D101's blurb, the initial issue includes:
  • Achievements. A short system that sits alongside the experience system to reward characters for things they have done in their adventures, making them memorable events and useful benefits.
  • The Secret of Skull Hill. A short adventure of mystery and otherworldly delights featuring the schemes of an alien parasitic race and their attempts to reunite the body and soul of their host god.
  • By their Master’s Dark Command. The sad and short lives of Sorcerer’s apprentices revealed, and the useful things they become after death detailed.
  • Exotic Liquid Relief by Neil Shaw. Is your character bored with quaffing bog standard Blackmire’s Best whenever they need to regenerate 1d6 Hit Points? Well Neil Shaw provides details of a variety of brews to make your character’s life more varied and interesting.
  • Generic Life Events. This table is if you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of Life Event tables in the main rule book or simply after a OGL version you can base your own efforts off.
  • Useful Items of the Kindly Ones. Minor magical items left behind by the gods who used to care about Zarth.
  • Things to Find in Great Pots. A short random table for the harried Crypt Keeper for that inevitable moment when the players ask “so that pot you mentioned just now, what’s in it?”
  • The Tea Party of Doom. A short encounter somewhere in the dark dismal woods with a crazy immortal Alchemist who has been playing with the psychoactive toads and their potential to provide tea..

Good eldritch stuff! In addition to Crypts & Things, the material looks useable with most other 'old school' D&D-ish games, including of course Swords & Wizardry (from which C&T draws many of its rules).

And sorcerers: if you’d like to submit something to a future issue, here is the dark knowledge you’ll need.

13 March 2017

Buffy turned 20 last Friday

As if I needed yet another reminder of my advancing age, one of my favourite television series of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, premiered 20 years ago last Friday.

I was not a fan of BtVS in its early years. The premise seemed rather ‘silly’ to me, so I did not bother to watch the first few seasons. I was in graduate school at the time, and some of my peers would rave about it while we hung out in the computer room or grad lounge. But I didn’t start watching it until around 2001-02. I didn’t have cable, and so only received about 3 televisions stations on my crappy old box. One of those stations, though, played BtVS reruns late at night (around 1 a.m., I think). I was struggling to write my dissertation at the time, and so would often turn on the tube after a long day of procrastination and self-loathing, only to catch an episode. Very quickly I realized what a fool I had been to write off the series before! Within a couple of weeks I had purchased DVDs of whatever previous seasons were available for sale. By the time the series ended after 7 seasons I had watched every episode (even the bad ones) at least twice. In the years that followed I watched the entire series again at least twice.

While I have not thought much about the series in recent years—I last watched the entire thing with my spouse around 2009 (shortly after we got married)—it has given me countless hours of joy. Its mix of humour, horror, adventure, and drama was—and remains—unique.

Anyhow, it seems that the folks at Vox are big fans of Buffy as well, as they posted a ranking of all 144 episodes, from the worst to the best. I think that the ranking is broadly correct, though I would of course quibble with some specific decisions. In particular, I would rank ‘The Body’ at #1—in fact, “The Body” may be one of the greatest television episodes ever. I certainly can’t think of a more powerful one in any series!

Yes, there definitely are some weak BtVS episodes (“Beer Bad” is … bad). But at its best, BtVS was amazing. And even its middling episodes remain superior to 98% of what’s available on television. (Okay, maybe it’s only 97% these days, thanks to such excellent shows as The Game of Thrones).

All of the ‘top 10’ episodes are truly epic. Thanks Joss!

12 March 2017

Logan is excellent

This is just a brief note about the new 'X-men' film Logan. It is excellent. I think that it is well worth seeing even if you don't care for 'superhero' movies.

I'm not a huge superhero fan myself. I see perhaps 50% (at most) of the superhero films that come out these days. (I didn't bother seeing the previous X-men film, and of course I've avoided all the recent DC films.) Moreover, with a few exceptions (e.g., The Dark Knight), I generally find even the superhero films that I do enjoy to be quite forgettable (e.g., I had a good time at last year's Doctor Strange, but it slipped from my mind as soon as I stepped out of the theatre).

Logan is not like that. I saw it last Tuesday and it has intruded into my thoughts since then on a regular basis. It's a powerful film. It's a character-driven film. And it's dark --- but not excessively so. It's ending is sad but satisfying. It's not like any superhero film I've ever seen.


26 February 2017


A noteworthy recent article from The Onion: “Grown Man Refers To Map At Beginning Of Novel To Find Out Where Ruined Castle Of Arnoth Is Located.” (Um… what’s so funny about that?)

On a more serious note, I very much doubt that I would have become as enthralled with fantasy fiction and role-playing games were it not for maps. I love them!

Professor Tolkien’s maps of Middle-earth inflamed my imagination as a young lad reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings almost as much as the stories themselves. When I listed my top five favourite fantasy artists of all time in this blog, number four was Pete Fenlon, simply because of his wonderful maps for ICE’s Middle-earth line during the 1980s. Here is one sample:

This map of the ‘Young Kingdoms’ made the world of Elric feel alive and exciting to me when I read Michael Moorcock’s novels as a teenager:

Here is the (somewhat superior) version of that map included in the Stormbringer RPG:

One of my favourite contemporary fantasy writers is Joe Abercrombie. His ‘First Law’ novels are superb. But something that vexed me greatly about the original trilogy was the lack of any maps. I vaguely recall that Abercrombie gave some half-baked rationalization for not including maps, but thankfully he subsequently has relented on this matter. The short story collection Sharp Ends provides readers—finally!—with an ‘official’ map of the ‘First Law’ world.

Maps: they exist for a reason people!

23 February 2017

The ultra-cool dwarf and the seven planets

Okay, this is (apologies in advance) ultra-cool:
Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away ...
The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.

(More here.)

For a 'hard' (or 'hard-ish') science fiction setting -- one in which there is no faster-than-light travel -- a single solar system with 3 life-supporting planets (and four other earth-sized ones, capable of being settled) sounds ideal.

The only downside to this discovery is that it makes me worry (once again!) about Fermi's paradox. (Alastair Reynolds's "Revelation Space" novels provide a cool -- but quite disturbing -- explanation for Fermi's paradox. Well worth reading, if you haven't checked them out yet!)

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