27 August 2015

New Tolkien novel

For someone who has been under the sod for more than four decades, J.R.R. Tolkien certainly is quite prolific.  He has a new novel out: The Story of Kullervo!

I have yet to read The Children of Húrin.  Now I think that I'll read the two novels together sometime this autumn.

08 August 2015

The future of RuneQuest and the Call of Cthulhu

The dramatic recent developments at Chaosium, and its new relationship with the Design Mechanism, generated a fair amount of discussion on a number of RPG discussion boards (e.g., RPGnet, BRP Central, and the DM forum).  Overall, though, I think that these changes clearly bode well for the future of both the RuneQuest and the Call of Cthulhu games.

The biggest downside to the new arrangement, in my view, is the likely disappearance of an in-print setting-free version of RuneQuest one year from now.  That’s a real pity.  I worry that baking Glorantha into the RQ core book will create a barrier for potential players who are interested in RQ – say, for their own settings, or for those supported by the DM (e.g., Mythic Britain, Luther Arkwright, Classic Fantasy) – but not in Glorantha.  I have nothing against Glorantha.  (It’s not really my cup of tea, so it’s unlikely that I would ever run games in it myself, but I’d be fine with playing in a Glorantha campaign.)  I just think that everyone would be better served with a setting-free version of the RQ core rules and a separate campaign book for Glorantha.  It’s early days, though, so perhaps a setting-free version of RQ (even simply the ‘RQ Essentials’ PDF) might survive.

That complaint aside, though, having RuneQuest distributed alongside Chaosium’s other games will be a great boon for the game and its community.

As for the Call of Cthulhu, the print version of the new edition has been stalled for far too long, and the PDF version needs to be cleaned up.  Getting the 7th edition rules finished up and in stores is key to keeping the game and its community healthy.  Right now one can purchase modules that use the 7e CoC rules in game shops, but not the rule books for those modules.  Fixing up, publishing, and distributing 7e CoC is the top priority for the ‘new’ Chaosium, and rightfully so.  Whatever one thinks of the 7e version of CoC (I think it’s fine, though I thought 6e was just fine as well), it is time to get those wheels turning!

In short, with the new leadership at Chaosium, and its new relationship with the Design Mechanism, the future for the two premier ‘BRP’ (‘d100’) games – RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu – looks very bright.

05 August 2015

Six-packs of Ancient Greece

Ever wonder why the cuirasses of those ancient hoplites had such well-sculpted muscles?  Well here is the answer.

03 August 2015

A new Dungeons and Dragons movie? Uh oh...

[How can the 2000 film ever be topped?]

Make a saving roll versus aesthetic outrage.  Apparently there is a new Dungeons and Dragons film in the works:
The upcoming Warner Bros motion picture will be based on a script by David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans) and produced by Roy Lee (The Lego Movie, How To Train Your Dragon) with the involvement of Hasbro chief executive Brian Goldner and chief content officer Stephen Davis. It will take place in the popular D&D campaign setting of the Forgotten Realms.
Well, at least it's not going to be based on those horrible Dragonlance novels.

More details here.

31 July 2015

Design Mechanism's statement on the future of RuneQuest

We now have an 'official statement' on the future of RuneQuest:
The recent news that Moon Design Publications’ management team (Rick Meints, Jeff Richard, Neil Robinson and Michael O’Brien) would be taking over at the helm of Chaosium has naturally created a lot of interest and speculation. It has clear implications for the Design Mechanism, and Pete and I would like to issue a statement making clear to everyone where we stand as a company and where RuneQuest stands as a game system. We cannot and will not speculate or discuss Chaosium’s existing game systems such as Call of Cthulhu, Basic Roleplaying or Magic World. 
We (Design Mechanism) license the RuneQuest trademark from Moon Design Publications. We entered into a licensing agreement that comes up for renewal around this time next year and part of the contract and business plan I proposed when first negotiating the license was to insist in a full review and assessment of our progress with RuneQuest as a property. Our license is not perpetual, and that review process had already begun before the recent announcement. 
With Moon Design now becoming part of Chaosium, the RuneQuest trademark transfers to Chaosium – its place of birth. Until the license we have expires next year, RuneQuest will continue to be published by the Design Mechanism and the core rules will remain in print. From July 2016, the following will take place: 
1. RuneQuest reverts to Chaosium.  
2. Pete and myself will become the new lead writers for RuneQuest as a Chaosium brand line with specific responsibilities for developing the system and its supplements. 
3. The Design Mechanism as a company will continue. Chaosium and Design Mechanism have signed a new contract whereby we can continue to write, produce and distribute our own RuneQuest supplements, and can continue to support the lines we have already started to develop. 
4. The RuneQuest 6 mechanics remain the core of the system, but as the trademark is now held by Chaosium, we have been contracted to develop a new version of the game based in Glorantha called, simply, ‘RuneQuest’. This game will appear in July 2016 (or possibly earlier). This new version will roll together all the work we have done on ‘Adventures in Glorantha’ into a standalone RuneQuest game. 
5. At that point, RuneQuest 6 will go out of print as its own title. Design Mechanism will find ways of ensuring full compatibility across our supplements, the new version and RQ6. 
6. Effectively immediately, Chaosium will sell Design Mechanism’s existing (and future) books through its various channels. Indeed, this increases Design Mechanism’s exposure, extends its reach and removes a huge administrative burden from the shoulders of a two-man team. 
Pete and I are delighted to be working with Chaosium. We are pleased to be able to return RuneQuest to Chaosium stronger than it has been since it left home for Avalon Hill back in the mid 1980s. Even better, it comes back to a revitalised Chaosium that carries a clear mandate of excellence, transparency and commitment to its fans and creative contributors. We are especially happy to have the opportunity to work closely with Rick, Jeff, Neil and Mike and to become part of the Chaosium family. But what makes this even more special is that the Design Mechanism carries on as a company, continues to publish and support RuneQuest, and will always engage with its loyal and faithful fans. 
More details will emerge as various pieces come together. We will communicate and discuss them with you just as we always have. Pete and I really are excited and happy with the new direction and we hope you will share our enthusiasm and optimism for the future! 
Long Live Design Mechanism!Long Live Chaosium!Long Live RuneQuest!
Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash    July 31st, 2015

More changes at Chaosium

A surprising announcement today at Gen Con concerning Chaosium:
GEN CON, Indianapolis - Greg Stafford, founder of the iconic game company Chaosium, used the "Future of Chaosium" seminar at Gen Con today to announce that Moon Design Publications has become part of the Chaosium ownership group. 
The Michigan-based Moon Design acquired the rights to Stafford's legendary game setting Glorantha and the game systems RuneQuest and HeroQuest in 2013. It is the publisher of the critically acclaimed Guide to Glorantha, multiple nominee in this year's ENnie Awards, and winner of the 2015 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. 
Going forward, with Moon Design now part of the Chaosium ownership, Chaosium becomes the licensed publisher for RuneQuest, HeroQuest and other products related to Gloranthan universe, and will continue to publish the famous Call of Cthulhu line. 
"I'm really excited to see Glorantha and RuneQuest return to their proper home in Chaosium," said Greg Stafford, "The band is now back together, and we're ready to rock on". 
The four principals of Moon Design are the new management team of Chaosium. The new officers of the company are Rick Meints, President and Secretary; Jeff Richard, Vice President and Creative Director; Michael O'Brien, Vice President - Product Development & Community Outreach; and Neil Robinson, Chief Financial Officer. 
"Our first priority is leveraging the experience from Moon Design's previous successful Kickstarters to fulfill everything the backers are waiting on for Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, said Rick Meints, new Chaosium President. 
Greg Stafford, who founded Chaosium in 1975 and was its original creative force, becomes Chairman of the company's board of directors. Sandy Petersen, whose own involvement with Chaosium began in 1980, continues as a director of the company board, along with Meints, Richard, O'Brien and Robinson.
Chaosium will also continue to work in partnership with Sandy Petersen's Petersen Games, with upcoming releases including the Cthulhu Wars "Onslaught" expansion, and God's War, an epic boardgame set in Glorantha. 
"I for one welcome our new Lunar overlords", said Sandy Petersen at the announcement.
(From the Chaosium blog.)

It's hard to keep up with these developments!

And I wonder what impact this will have on RuneQuest 6, given Greg Stafford's comment concerning its "return to" its "proper home in Chaosium."  Hopefully this might mean that RQ6 will be distributed by Chaosium in the future?

27 July 2015

Praise for the Warlord Chronicles

[Mont St. Michel is Ynys Trebes in the first novel, the capital of Benoic within Armorica.]

A significant influence on the recently published RuneQuest 6 campaign book, Mythic Britain, is the Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell.  I read the series a couple of months after joining Lawrence Whitaker’s Toronto-based Mythic Britain campaign, and regret not reading it earlier.  Not only are the novels excellent in their own right, but they do a superb job of conveying the nature and feel of late fifth and early sixth century Britain, including the religious and cultural beliefs of the Britons of that time.

The trilogy consists of The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur.  The novels cover over four decades (from roughly 480 to sometime after 525), although there are some scenes that take place decades later.  The entire story is told from the perspective of Derfel Cadarn, a former Saxon slave who is raised within the household of Merlin at Ynys Wydryn (Glastonbury), and eventually becomes one of Arthur’s chief warlords in his conflicts with other Britons and, following the achievement of a fragile unity amongst the Britons, against the Saxons.

An elderly Derfel relates the story of his life and the tale of Arthur to a young Queen Igraine of Powys, who visits him regularly at the monastery in which Derfel spends his remaining days.  Derfel writes his story in Saxon since Arthur was a pagan and is not looked up favourably by the Christians who now dominate Powys and the other British (non-Saxon) lands.  (Igraine collects Derfel’s scrolls to be translated by a scribe in her houseful.)  The head of the monastery, the old and miserable Bishop Sansum, especially is not fond of Arthur – for reasons, both amusing and infuriating, that become clear as Derfel relates his story.  While Derfel is now a Christian, as he relates his tale we can discern that his conversion is not especially sincere (though he never explicitly states this), whereas his loyalty to Arthur is unwavering.  We also know that at some point in his earlier life Derfel lost one of his hands, and experienced a profound romantic love.  These things are revealed early on, and motivate the reader to find out how and why they happened to Derfel – as well as, of course, learning the details of the harrowing and tragic story of Arthur himself.

I will not reveal any further details about the story here.  While the basic characters will be familiar to most – Arthur, Merlin, Mordred, Nimue, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad, Tristan, and so forth – Cornwell’s presentation of them is distinctive and almost certainly will surprise most readers.  The depiction of Lancelot in particular is quite … different from the standard portrayals.

What I want to note briefly here are some things that I found especially compelling about the novels.

1. The depiction of warfare is impressive.  Cornwell describes vividly what it is like to be in a shield wall.  Other combats are described in gruesome, blow-by-blow, detail – but never get bogged down.  The mundane activities necessary for war also are described.  I would be hard pressed to think of another novel that does such a good job in this respect.

2. The depiction of the society is deeply immersive.  Reading the novels I felt like I really was there in 5th and 6th century Britain.  And, for the most part, it was not a pleasant place!  Indeed, post-Roman Britain comes across as a kind of post-apocalyptic society.  Culturally, politically, and technologically, the land is a shadow of its former self.  In one scene Arthur’s army uses a Roman bridge across the Thames, and he laments that no one in Britain could build such a structure in his day.  Such knowledge, along with order and peace, has been lost, seemingly forever.

3.  The conflict between the druids, whose religion and influence clearly are on the wane, and the Christians plays a central role in the novels.  (There also are other cults: the one of Mithras the warrior god is important in Derfel’s life; the cult of Isis plays an important role in the story as well.)  This religious conflict – including the way in which the pagans regard the Christians, and vice versa – is portrayed vividly by Cornwell.

4. Finally the treatment of magic and the gods is very interesting.  Since the entire tale is told from the perspective of Derfel – and Derfel very clearly believes in the gods and magic – he describes what he witnesses and experiences as though the gods and magic really do exist.  For the most part, though, readers can interpret the events that happen as not involving the gods or magic.  In other words, many of the events described by Derfel are open to alternative, perfectly naturalistic explanations.  This ambiguity breaks down somewhat towards the end of the series, as some of the things that happen seem quite difficult to interpret in a non-supernatural way.  But this is the case only if we assume that Derfel is accurately reporting what he saw and experienced.  After several decades his memories may not be so clear – and, moreover, invariably are coloured by his supernatural beliefs – so he may not be the most reliable of narrators.  Consequently, the question of whether magic ‘really exists’ in the world described by Cornwell is left unanswered – an aspect of the novels that I really enjoyed.

In short, the Warlord Chronicles are a great read.  I highly recommend the series to any fan of fantasy of historical fiction.

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