Sunday, April 26, 2009

How to make my day

Hire Ken Hite as a line developer for a series of licensed Call of Cthulhu books and have one of the first titles be This Scepter'd Isle: Call of Cthulhu in Elizabethan England.

What's that you say? It's already happening?


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dragon Warriors in a Nutshell

I received Dragon Warriors and the Bestiary for my birthday and I've been happily devouring it for the past couple days. My own personal plans are to use the rules as a basis to finally run a Magnamund campaign, but I'd highly recommend the game to anyone who is interested in fantasy more firmly rooted in Medieval history and folklore.

I lifted a bit of the introduction in a comment to Scott over at the World of Thool blog, and I thought I might as well re-post that passage here. I think it sums things up nicely; I know when I read it I started grinning like a kid.

"Our aim was to put something dark, spooky and magical back into fantasy role-playing. Loathing the medieval Disneyland of Dungeons & Dragons, with its theme-park taverns, comedy dwarves and cannon-fodder profusion of monsters, we made [the game setting] as vividly dreamlike as the Middle Ages seem in stories, a place dripping with European folktale sensibility.... Fantasy games like D&D--or, these days, World of Warcraft--belong to the George Lucas or Chris Columbus branch of role-playing. Dragon Warriors would be a movie by Guillermo del Toro or Tim Burton. In literary terms, if D&D is Eragon, then DW is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell."

For those not willing to pony up the dough for a hardcopy, the game recently became available in PDF too.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Things have been quiet around here...

...because I've been busying myself with miniatures painting. Basically, a couple years ago I made the mistake of offering to take commissions on miniatures painting projects--which in turn sucked up all my own time for painting my own miniatures--and I've just recently completed what I've sworn to be my last commissioned project. So I've been making up for lost time. If your interests run in those sorts of directions, feel free to mosey over and have a look.

I'm still working on that post about my reimagining of Rifts Europe. Initially I thought it would be rather modest, but it's sort of, well, ballooned into a much larger project. So look for a post on that in the near future.

In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions of what to call my alternate Rifts setting, I'd love to hear 'em. It gets a little cumbersome having to write out "my alternate Rifts setting" all the time, and besides, my version doesn't even technically have Rifts--it has Gates. But I don't think calling the setting "Gates" has the same ring as "Rifts". So you see the quandry I'm in...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The OD&D Real Life!

Yesterday, while idly looking at the dust jacket blurb of a book on the founding of Jamestown called Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America, my jaw dropped as I read this:

Four centuries ago, and fourteen years before the Mayflower, a group of men--led by a one-armed ex-pirate, an epileptic aristocrat, a reprobate cleric and a government spy--left London aboard a fleet of three ships to start a new life in America.

So let me get this straight...

What we have here are four rag-tag individuals who, having once established themselves financially and socially close to home, leave with a small army of hirelings, followers, and henchmen to establish a stronghold on the edge of an untamed wilderness. And this group of professional adventurers includes:

* A Fighting-Man ("a one-armed ex-pirate")
* A Magic-User ("an epileptic aristocrat"--epilepsy, of course, often being mistaken for magical powers in days of yore)
* A Cleric (a "reprobate" one, no less)
* A Thief ("a government spy")


On the boards a few months ago Paul Elliot talked about running a classic B/X D&D mega-dugeon campaign using pretty much the exact classes cum professions listed above and using limestone caves on the aristocrat's grounds as the dungeon. The idea struck me as quite clever, especially since the conceit would be that magic and magical items only work underground, where the rules are different. I see no reason why the same rationale couldn't be applied to the New World as well.

And this is yet another endorsement for the Gryphons of Califerne campaign that I'll run...some day...

Friday, April 10, 2009


Just thought I'd pass along some news about companies that are acknowledging the validity of PDF marketing...

First--and talk about unexpected--none other than Palladium Books will be throwing their proverbial hat in the virtual ring starting April 15th, or so says

Second, good ol' Chaosium is coming through with a free "lite" version of their Basic Roleplaying rules. So all you folks who have been holding off on checking out the system due to cost concerns have no excuse now! There's also a free, fan-created BRP mag available to download at the Chaosium site as well.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

For all your modern urban fantasy/horror campaigns...

I've seen a lot of Top 10 Lists on the Internet, but this one has to be the weirdest yet. The Guardian has helpfully provided us with a list of the Top 10 grimoires in history. So for all your Ken Hite-inspired crypto-history urban horror games, you now have a magical starting point for what every well-read sorcerer (be they PC or NPC) will have in their library. Thanks Guardian!

1. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Although one of the more recent grimoires, first circulating in manuscript in the 18th century, this has to be number one for the breadth of its influence. From Germany it spread to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch, and once in cheap print was subsequently adopted by African Americans. With its pseudo-Hebraic mystical symbols, spirit conjurations and psalms, this book of the secret wisdom of Moses was a founding text of Rastafarianism and various religious movements in west Africa, as well as a cause célèbre in post-war Germany.

2. The Clavicule of Solomon

This is the granddaddy of grimoires. Mystical books purporting to be written by King Solomon were already circulating in the eastern Mediterranean during the first few centuries AD. By the 15th century hundreds of copies were in the hands of Western scientists and clergymen. While some denounced these Solomonic texts as heretical, many clergymen secretly pored over them. Some had lofty ambitions to obtain wisdom from the "wisest of the wise", while others sought to enrich themselves by discovering treasures and vanquishing the spirits that guarded them.

3. Petit Albert

The "Little Albert" symbolises the huge cultural impact of the cheap print revolution of the early 18th century. The flood gates of magical knowledge were opened during the so-called Enlightenment and the Petit Albert became a name to conjure with across France and its overseas colonies. As well as practical household tips it included spells to catch fish, charms for healing, and instructions on how to make a Hand of Glory, which would render one invisible.

4. The Book of St Cyprian

Grimoires purporting to have been written by a legendary St Cyprian (there was a real St Cyprian as well) became popular in Scandinavia during the late 18th century, while in Spain and Portugal print editions of the Libro de San Cipriano included a gazetteer to treasure sites and the magical means to obtain their hidden riches. During the early 20th century, editions began to appear in South America, and copies can now be purchased from the streets of Mexico City to herbalist stalls high in the Andes.

5. Dragon rouge

Like the Petit Albert, the Red Dragon was another product of the French cheap grimoire boom of the 18th century. Although first published in the following century, it was basically a version of the Grand grimoire, an earlier magic book which was infamous for including an invocation of the Devil and his lieutenants. The Dragon rouge circulated far more widely though, and is well known today in former and current French colonies in the Caribbean.

6. The Book of Honorius

Books attributed to Honorius of Thebes were second only to those of Solomon in notoriety in the medieval period. In keeping with a strong theme in grimoire history, there is no evidence that an arch magician named Honorius lived in antiquity - as manuscripts ascribed to him stated. Through prayers and invocations, books of Honorius gave instructions on how to receive visions of God, Hell and purgatory, and knowledge of all science. Very handy.

7. The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy

Cornelius Agrippa was one of the most influential occult philosophers of the 16th century. He certainly wrote three books on the occult sciences, but he had nothing to do with the Fourth Book which appeared shortly after his death. This book of spirit conjuration blackened the name of Agrippa at a time when the witch trials were being stoked across Europe.

8. The Magus

Published in 1801 and written by the British occultist and disaster-prone balloonist Francis Barrett, The Magus was a re-statement of 17th-century occult science, and borrowed heavily from an English edition of the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy. It was a flop at the time but its influence was subsequently considerable on the occult revival of the late 19th century and contemporary magical traditions. In the early 20th century a plagiarised version produced by an American occult entrepreneur and entitled The Great Book of Magical Art, Hindu Magic and East Indian Occultism became much sought after in the US and the Caribbean.

9. The Necronomicon

A figment of the ingenious imagination of the influential early 20th-century writer of horror and fantasy HP Lovecraft, this mysterious book of secret wisdom was penned in the eighth century by a mad Yemeni poet. Despite being a literary fiction, several "real" Necronomicons have been published over the decades, and today it has as much a right to be considered a grimoire as the other entries in this Top 10.

10. Book of Shadows

Last but not least there is the founding text of modern Wicca – a pagan religion founded in the 1940s by the retired civil servant, folklorist, freemason and occultist Gerald Gardner. He claimed to have received a copy of this "ancient" magical text from a secret coven of witches, one of the last of a line of worshippers of an ancient fertility religion, which he and his followers believed had survived centuries of persecution by Christian authorities. Through its mention in such popular occult television dramas as Charmed, it has achieved considerable cultural recognition.

The Fane of St. Toad

As I'm sure you're all by now aware, Dave Areson's passing was confirmed yesterday by multiple sources. In my earlier post on Tuesday, when his death had initially been misreported, I had announced an intention to run a game in Mr. Arneson's honor as the best way I can see of remembering the man and his literally unimaginable contributions to our hobby.

Amityville Mike over at the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope has now kindly provided for all of us the means to do just that, a little dungeon called The Fane of St. Toad. Head on over, download it, and drop it into your next game, regardless of what system you're running or genre you're playing in, if not in whole then at least in part. For my part, at least, it's the best way I can think to honor the memory of gaming's Quiet Titan.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

BRP Training Rules

I'm anticipating some potential situations in my BRP Banestorm game involving Des's character taking a year or more to train in a skill or suite of skills. As such, I'm lifting the Training and Practice rules from Pendragon's Winter Phase, converting them to percentile values, and dropping them wholesale into my campaign. Feel free to use these for your own fiendish purposes as well. Training montage optional but highly recommended.

Throughout the course of a campaign a character may, through patronage or payment, be able to take some time off to "train up" a skill or set of skills. The exact cost requirement of such training is left to individual GMs to figure on a case-by-case basis, but the time requirements are set. For each year a character takes to train, forgoing any other opportunities for adventure or self-improvement, the player may choose to apply one of the following benefits:

1. Raise a single attribute value by one point.
Restrictions: An attribute can not be raised higher than its maximum cultural/racial value, which is usually 15, 18, or 21. For normal humans in a primitive or pre-industrial society, no statistics may be increased after age 35.

2. Train Skills Up to 75%.
Get (1d6+1) x 5 skill points. Distribute the skill points among as many skills as desired, including skills which were previously rated at default.
Restrictions: No skill may be increased by 75% with this method.

3. Train a Skill Up to 100%.
Increase a single skill rated at 75% or higher by 5%.
Restriction: Even with this method, you can not train a skill higher than a rating of 100%.

Multiple years may be spent in training, although the GM may wish to impose a practical limit--say, four or five years--at which time the character reaches a point of diminishing returns. The GM may also wish to limit in advance which skills and attributes may be raised by any given training program.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This One Goes Out to Dave

So Grognardia's reporting that Dave Arneson has passed away. Another link to the past lost.

When Gygax passed, I ran my next game session as a tribute to him--it wasn't easy, but I managed to integrate a nice little mini-dungeon crawl into my then-current Pendragon game. This time around, I'm actually running a D&D campaign--set in the Wilderlands, no less--so engineering a suitably Arnesonian tribute should be a snap. I'm not sure what I'll do yet, but I'm thinking that whatever it is it should feature a robot or lasers. Maybe I'll have an NPC traveller from far-distant Blackmoor show up.

I think the best way to honor the memory of any gamer, be they legendary designer or close personal friend, is to run a game in their honor. So this next one's for you, Dave.

EDIT: Blarg, I jinxed myself--session got canceled. Ah well, this will give me a little extra time to come up with something. I'm thinking of having one or more Blackmoorian NPCs show up during the course of the adventure.

EDIT 2: And apparently news of Mr. Arneson's death has been greatly exaggerated. It must be said, though, that the signs don't seem too good. Maybe it is for the best that this happened--Mr. Arneson was never as visible a figure as Gary Gygax, and the premature news of his death has, I think, prompted many to reflect on the monumentality of his contributions to the hobby. That he's still alive to hear the outpouring of well-wishes and "thank yous" is perhaps a silver lining on all this.

Lulu + WOTC=Raging Against the Machine?

I was going to post an update to my situation with Lulu, but I guess I should say something about the whole WOTC-PDF-OMG-WTF-BBQ thing that's going on. Actually, I'll let Scott over at World of Thool sum up my feelings:

This does not, however, ground the Airwolf-level roflcopter for folks who enjoy watching these things unfold. I apologize in advance for my shaddenfrooda.

Well said.

Apart from feeling badly for my friend Tim, who just bought three or four 4e PDFs last month and will no longer be able to access his downloads, I have no real emotional stake in this. I will say, just for the record, that I was probably going to buy a PDF of the PHBII, as I'm set to join my first 4e campaign in the coming weeks and wanted to play a bard, but I guess WOTC just lost out on that guaranteed sale. Sucks for them.

Now, on to the original point of this post: Lulu. Unlike WOTC, I can say that Lulu does a good job of correcting its SNAFUs. It took two days to hear back from customer service, and they wanted me to send them pics of the misprinted book. I did so, and heard back from them 24 hours later: they were printing a new copy and shipping it out ASAP. Five days later (which by Lulu standards is lightning quick)--about three weeks after I put in my initial order--I had a copy of Fight On! #4, the real deal, in my grubby little mitts. So jeers to Lulu for screwing up in the first place, but cheers for fixing their screw-up the right way, and here's hoping that's the only time I'll have to deal with that.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Happens When You Summon Godzilla

Seeing these two blog posts today reminded me I've been meaning to share a video. It's from North Korea and was Kim Jong Il's entry into "giant monster" cinema genre (I guess he fancied himself a cinematic impressario before becoming the focus of a personality cult). The full tragically gripping details behind the making of the film are another story altogether. Today I want to focus on the visuals. Check this clip out:

What I find so interesting about this movie is that it's set in "medieval" Korea. Have there been other giant monster movies set in pre-industrial times? At any rate, that right there is visual inspiration for all your "orientalist adventure" needs. To riff off Jeff Rients' point, if I were running an OA/Ruins & Ronin-type game, there'd be no dragons, at least not in name. Instead, I'd use the dragon stats to represent my giant monsters (daikaiju, if you will) as they rampaged across rice paddies and temple complexes. Muhahahaha.
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