17 January 2017

Reclaiming the word 'millennial'

An important story from The Beaverton: "1000 year old wizard reclaims word 'millennial'."

An excerpt:
“A youth of the ages 20-35 may have experimented by taking ayahuasca at a summer festival in the desert. However, that is mere child’s play. My Friday nights consist of sacrificing the soul of a centaur to Beelzebub during high moon.” Ragnicius bellowed from the back of a tavern, “Only children of the 990s will understand this to be true!”
Indeed. The kids these days know nothing of eldritch lore...

15 January 2017

Ancient images of paladins uncovered

While the magic-user (later rebranded as the 'mage' or 'wizard') always has been my favourite Dungeons and Dragons (or AD&D) class to play, in my early years I also seemed to have been quite fond of the paladin. This now strikes me as a bit puzzling, as paladins now rank at the bottom of my list (behind even clerics!).

I was reminded of my youthful fondness for lawfulness and goodness recently while at my parents' house for the holidays. There I uncovered some more pictures from my early teens (I posted another piece of youthful 'art' -- "Dragonslayers" -- a few months ago).

Here is "Eric the Lawful" (a character I created, no doubt, in reaction to Trampier's classic "Emirikol the Chaotic" from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide):


And here is a character whom I remember using quite a bit in my early gaming days: "Emric Bogg."

I'm not sure why I never finished this picture (which is on a big piece of bristol board). You can see the outline of his right arm and sword in pencil if you look closely. Why didn't I spent another 20 minutes to finish poor Emric in ink? Only my 13 year old self knows.

I uncovered a few more pictures recently, and will post them here in the near future. So if you like amateur teenage D&D art, stay tuned!

28 December 2016

Rogue One is very good

I finally saw the new Star Wars film Rogue One today. It was a pleasant surprise! My expectations for the film were quite low, but it now ranks as my second favourite Star Wars film of all time, ranked behind only The Empire Strikes Back (and tied for second with A New Hope).

Here are three things that I especially liked about the film:

1. The character of the droid ‘K-2’. I think that this droid may now be my favourite in any Star Wars film. Sorry Chewy! (And I wonder if the name ‘K-2’ was a subtle reference to Inspector Jacques Clouseau’s sidekick from the original “Pink Panther” movies?)

2. The film explains what always struck me as an obvious hole with the original 1977 movie: namely, why the Death Star would include such a fatal flaw in its design, such that a single well-aimed shot from an X-wing fighter could destroy the whole thing. That Death Star design flaw now has a plausible rationale!

3. While the good guys succeed in their mission (this is no spoiler, at least not to anyone who has seen the original Star Wars film), it is not a traditional ‘happy ending.’ Instead, the ending is both tragic and hopeful.

Two minor criticisms:

a. The computer-generated ‘resurrection’ of Peter Cushing (who died in 1994) as ‘Grand Moff Tarkin’ struck me as rather creepy and even distasteful. Frankly, the film didn’t need to use Grand Moff Tarkin at all.

b. Forest Whitaker’s character ‘Saw Gerrara’ was pretty pointless. I was expecting more from him.

Those quibbles aside, though, Rogue One is my most pleasant movie surprise in a long time.

And the final scene with a young Princess Leia brought a tear to my eye. (RIP Carrie Fisher.)

21 November 2016

The Haunting (Call of Cthulhu adventure summary)

Since October 2014, I've been running a (very) sporadic Call of Cthulhu 7th edition campaign. Most of the adventures I've run have been new ones written for the 7th edition. The one exception is "The Haunting," which of course dates back to the beginning of Call of Cthulhu. Since "The Haunting" was included with the "quick start" rules for 7th edition, I started with it. Below is my brief summary of that adventure. (I will post summaries and impressions of the other adventures in the near future.)

The Setting:

1920s Massachusetts (Boston and Arkham), i.e., "Lovecraft County."

The Investigators:

Helen Tilton. Freelance photographer and journalist.
- Originally from Toronto.
- Sometimes works for the Boston Globe.
- Has Marxist sympathies.

Bertrand Smyth. Lecturer in Archaeology. Originally from London.
- Visiting lecturer at Harvard University (1922-23).
- Specializes in Ancient Greece.
- A veteran of the Great War.
- Cousin of Stephen Knott (property-owner and collector of rare artifacts).
- A bit of a ‘fuddy-duddy’ (dresses in an unstylish Edwardian manner).

Max Brewster. Private Investigator. Bostonian (originally from Lowell MA).
- A forty-ish, slightly greasy, gumshoe.
- A specialist in dodgy divorce cases.
- Plenty of street smarts, but little formal education.

The Scenario: The Haunting (September 1922).
[Warning: Spoilers below!]

Stephen Knott – cousin of Bertrand Smyth and owner of several Boston properties (‘Knott Properties’) – hires Max Brewster to investigate the ‘Corbitt house’. Knott has had trouble selling the house because of rumours that it is ‘haunted.’ Helen becomes involved because she knows of the house’s reputation and thinks that there may be a story worth pursuing. Bertrand agrees to assist in the investigation as a favour to his cousin. After some preliminary research the party investigates the house and discovers that it is indeed haunted. Poor Bertrand is tossed out of a second-story window by an animated cot, and later is attacked by a floating knife. Battered and frightened, the investigators leave the house.

Before returning to the house, in the course of their investigations, the party explores the ruins of the ‘Chapel of Contemplation.’ They come across some strange symbols amongst those ruins – symbols that look to have been recently painted. The symbols are of three Y’s arranged in a triangle, with a staring eye in the centre. 

A previously hidden basement also is discovered. There the investigators locate a moldy journal and an ancient tome (the tome later is identified by Bertrand to be the Liber Ivonis). Employing her connections with the Boston police department, Helen subsequently discovers that the church had been subject to a secret police raid years ago because of alleged unsavoury ‘cultish’ activities. The ‘pastor’ of the church, Michael Thomas, was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison on five counts of second-degree murder. However, he escaped from prison in 1917 and remains at large.

Eventually the investigators discover a hidden crypt beneath the Corbitt house, and encounter the undead sorcerer Walter Corbitt. It seems that it was Corbitt who had been causing all of the mysterious difficulties within the house since his ‘death’ in 1866 (including the deaths and mental illnesses of the house’s occupants over the past several decades, most recently the Macario family). After a tense struggle, the investigators defeat Corbitt, and the vile sorcerer’s body dissipates into dust. The investigators decide not to mention Corbitt’s existence to anyone else, including Stephen Knott. 

After their victory over Corbitt, the investigators resume their old lives as best they can, but remain in touch because of their shared experience (which they cannot discuss with anyone else). Bertrand studies the Libor Invonis and learns some things that mankind was not meant to know…

Thoughts on the scenario:

This is a solid adventure that (obviously) has stood the test of time. The players were appropriately creeped out as their investigators learned more about the Corbitt manor and the Chapel of Contemplation. The final encounter was quite tense, with Corbitt taking control of Helen and almost killing poor Max! 

One weakness with the scenario is that not much is provided in the text in terms of advice for bringing the investigators together and motivating them to work for Stephen Knott. In this respect, I think that "The Edge of Darkness" is a better beginning adventure, as it provides a compelling reason for the investigators to work together and go on the mission in question (it also provides more structure for players unfamiliar with role-playing games).

That criticism aside, though, we all enjoyed this adventure. It was a good way to test out the 7e rules. I would give it 8/10.

15 November 2016

Beren and Lúthien book coming next year

This news is a few weeks old, but since I'm too busy to write a proper post right now, I thought that I would mention that there is a Beren and Lúthien book coming next year. (More info available here and here.)

Last month I finally got around to reading The Children of Húrin -- and thoroughly enjoyed it! I've been getting back 'into' Middle-earth over the past few month (in no small part thanks to Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-earth book), and so am looking forward to picking up Beren and Lúthien once it's available.

For someone who's been dead for over four decades, Prof. Tolkien certainly is quite prolific!

24 October 2016

The End of Dark Dungeons

Jack Chick has passed away.

Chick was the author of numerous fundamentalist Christian comics. The most famous, for fans of role-playing games at least, was the (unintentionally) hilarious Dark Dungeons—which eventually was adapted into the (intentionally) hilarious film by the same name.

At least Chick was spared yet another Halloween…

15 October 2016

Not the Sons of Fëanor again!

I've been busy with the damnable 'real world' of late (hence the scarcer-than-usual blogging here in recent months). But I would be unforgivably negligent if I did not mention this recent New York Times story: "After Mudslides and Flooding in Iceland, Elves Are Suspects."

I have a few things I'd like to write about once I get over my current pile of work and forthcoming journeys. Among them: Some thoughts on The Children of Hurin (and a couple of other novels I've read recently), the new revised Crypts and Things, some Mythras updates, some notes on my recent Call of Cthulhu (7th edition) campaign, and some further thoughts on the new Middle-earth supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.

Also, I'm planning to revamp this blog sometime soonish (among other things, I'll be revising the links, blogroll, and so forth).

So, gentle readers, I promise to be back with further musings at the end of the month!

17 September 2016

Initial Impression of Adventures in Middle-earth

A while back I mentioned that Cubicle 7 was producing a Middle-earth supplement for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition (“Can Gandalf be a 5th edition D&D magic-user?”). Well the PDF of that supplement is out now. It’s called Adventures in Middle-earth. I have it, and after spending a few hours going through much of it, I have to say that I think that it looks quite promising. It does a solid job of adapting the 5e rules to Tolkien’s world, something about which I had been somewhat sceptical.

Cubicle 7 provides a general overview here, and a preview is available here.

The game is firmly set in post-Hobbit northern Middle-earth. The starting date is 2946 of the Third Age, five years after death of Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies. The maps and cultures focus on the ‘Wilderland’ (roughly, Mirkwood and its surrounding territories).

There are eleven ‘cultures’ available to player characters. (These cultures replace standard D&D ‘races’.) They are: Bardings (those people from Lake-town who followed Bard to re-establish the city of Dale), Beornings (the hairy followers of Beorn), Dúnedain (the ‘Rangers’ of Eriador, that is, the surviving ‘High Men’ remnants of the lost kingdom of Arnor), Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, Elves of Mirkwood, Hobbits of the Shire, Men of Bree, Men of the Lake (the townsfolk of Esgaroth, now largely recovered from Smaug’s attack), Men of Minas Tirith (Gondorians), Riders of Rohan, and Woodmen of Wilderland. So seven of the eleven cultures are from the Wilderland. This is mildly annoying, as simply adding a few more cultures – say, Elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien, Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and another Gondorian culture or two (perhaps Men of Dol Amroth and Pelargir, the other two main cities of Gondor in the late Third Age) – would have covered most of the PC-worthy cultures of north-western Middle-earth. Ah well, this is obviously a minor irritation.

There are six new classes. They are (with options in parentheses): Scholar (master healer, master scholar); Slayer (rider, foe-hammer); Treasure Hunter (agent, burglar); Wanderer (hunter of beasts, hunter of shadows); Warden (counselor, herald, bounder); and Warrior (knight, weaponmaster). The classes strike me as quite flavourful and appropriate for Middle-earth.

You may notice that there are no traditional spell-casting classes! While there are some (quite limited) magical abilities available to characters in the form of ‘virtues’ (cultural feats, such as ‘Wood-Elf Magic’ or the Dwarves’ ‘Broken Spells’), or higher-level class abilities (such as the Scholar’s 17th level ability ‘Words Unspoken’ and 18th level ability ‘Words of Command’), none of the classes can prepare and cast spells in the manner of D&D clerics and wizards. The authors note that you can add such classes (or any other D&D class for that matter) if you think that they fit into your vision of Middle-earth, but they did not want to include them amongst the ‘core’ set. This strikes me as the right approach. While there are characters within Middle-earth who have magical abilities (both ‘goodly’ individuals like Malbeth the Seer, and certain other Dúnedain, as well as the dark sorceries practiced by likes of the Mouth of Sauron and other ‘black’ Númenóreans), the D&D magic system is generally a rather inappropriate way of modeling them.

The backgrounds are rather flavourful as well, and help explain the characters’ goals and motivations. They include: loyal servant, doomed to die, driven from home, emissary of your people, fallen scion, the harrowed, hunted by the shadow, lure of the road, the magician, oathsworn, reluctant adventurer, seeker of the lost, and world weary. Each background gains two skill proficiencies (so ‘loyal servant’ gets ‘insight’ and ‘tradition’, whereas ‘the magician’ gets ‘performance’ and ‘sleight of hand’) and a special feature (e.g., ‘doomed to die’ has the feature of ‘dark foreboding’). Players also should select a ‘distinctive quality,’ ‘specialty,’ ‘hope,’ and ‘despair’ for their characters based upon their backgrounds. I really loved this section. It shows how D&D 5e backgrounds can be shaped to immerse characters within the ethos of the setting.

The equipment section covers coinage, trading and bartering, and the world’s different standards of living (e.g., ‘martial’ and ‘prosperous’), which are determined by characters’ cultures. Also covered are weapons, armour, and special culture-specific items (like ‘Dalish fireworks, ‘Dwarven toys,’ pipeweed, etc.). The discussion of herbs, potions, and salves is brief but very good – and quite ‘Middle-earth-ish’ in flavour. Finally, a number of colourful ‘cultural heirlooms’ are presented – such as ‘Dalish Longbow’ and ‘Axe of Azanulbizar’ – that characters can gain if they take the ‘Cultural Heirloom virtue’ or (rarely) find them as treasure during their adventures.

I haven’t gotten to the rules for journeys, the Shadow, the Fellowship phase, and so forth yet, but my quick skim of them has me rather excited. I think that this is going to be a fun game to play! I am looking forward to checking out further books in this line.

Indeed, I’ve already started digging though my old MERP collection, thinking about what materials to convert, what campaigns to run…

For a more complete overview and review, see this post by Rob Conley at his ‘Bat in the Attic’ blog.

Oh yeah, I should mention that the book is beautiful in terms of art and layout!

30 August 2016

Dungeons and Dragons artifact from 1983

I found this slightly damaged artifact in the basement of my parents' house today. I'm pretty sure that I drew it in 1983. I was 12 or 13 at the time, and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had become my life.

Ah, memories!

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