30 December 2015

Crypts and Things versus Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Both Crypts and Things and Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea are products of the 'Old School Renaissance.'  Both games present ‘swords and sorcery’ variants of different versions of ‘old school’ Dungeons & Dragons: 0e D&D (as reworked into Swords and Wizardry) in the case of C&T, and 1e AD&D in the case of AS&SH.  And both games draw upon the same literary sources: the ‘weird fantasy’ writings of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and the like.

I quite like AS&SH, especially the art and setting, and I highly recommend that people check it out.  But I’m partial to C&T.  This should not be surprising, I guess, given that I contributed some ideas to it.  (The industrious Newt Newport, author of C&T, drew upon a number of my house-rules for Swords & Wizardry when writing the game.)  I’m looking forward to the new, expanded version of C&T, which should be coming out in 2016.

Anyhow, the reason why I mention these two fine games now is that there is an interesting conversation concerning them over at the RPGsite.  I encourage all fans of classic swords and sorcery fiction to check them out!

19 December 2015

Old School Con 5.5: Featuring VIPs Loz and the Grognardia Guy

If you live in Toronto or are within easy travelling distance, and feel like playing some ‘old school’ role-playing games for a day, consider attending OSCon (5.5) on Saturday, January 16th, 2016.  There will be a number of different games available, including Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons (various editions), Labyrinth Lord, and RuneQuest 6.

Design Mechanism’s Lawrence Whitaker (‘Loz’) – author of numerous RPG books over the years, and co-author of RuneQuest 6 – will be there, running a couple of RQ6 games: a Luther Arkwright adventure in the morning, and a Mythic Britain adventure in the evening.  I highly recommend playing in one of Lawrence’s games if you have the chance, as he is a superb Game Master.  I know this from experience, having played in a couple of his campaigns (one set in the Young Kingdoms and one set in Mythic Britain) over the years, as well as few shorter adventures from time to time.

Also running a few games of Empire of the Petal Throne is James Maliszewski, the fellow who used to write the Grognardia blog.  I have to confess that I’m a bit surprised to see Maliszewski as one of the Con’s VIPs, given how his ‘Dwimmermount’ kickstarter turned out.  I was not interested in, and hence did not back, ‘Dwimmermount.’  And I only casually followed the massive disaster that it became.  But my impression is that there were, and presumably still are, many within the ‘old school’ community who feel that they were badly burned by his abandonment of that project.  Perhaps, though, all that is water under the bridge now?  (I have no idea.)

In any case, OSCon should be good fun.  I took part in the second one (summer of 2012, I believe), during which I ran a Call of Cthulhu game.  I won’t be running a game this time around, but I look forward to playing in a couple.

14 December 2015

Chaosium Comment Confusion

In response to my last post  in which I criticized Chaosium’s decision to abandon RuneQuest 6 and instead develop yet another version of the game (the fourth one in less than a decade) – I received the following comment from 'MOB', Vice-President of Chaosium:

You are of course welcome to voice your opinion about Chaosium's plans for the new edition of RQ. But what's with the OTT headline? Anyone reading just that could come away with the impression the company has been mortally wounded and is about to go under. Which is absolutely not the case. Not cool at all. 
Despite whatever "insider knowledge" you say you have, the ongoing relationship between Chaosium and TDM continues to be completely amicable: we are not just professional colleagues but long-standing friends. Someone's already posted the link to our Q&A about the new edition, which makes clear it is far from being just a "modified version of RuneQuest 2" and in fact retains many core elements of RQ6. Loz and Pete will rightly feature in the credits of the new Chaosium edition, and we have wished them well for the direction they are taking with the TDM successor to RQ6 (just as they have wished us well). While Chaosium and TDM have mutually decided to work on our own things for now, we all agree the door remains firmly open for future collaborations. 
MOB  VP – Chaosium
While I’m grateful to MOB for his contribution to the discussion, I found this to be a rather strange comment, for a few reasons:

1. I can’t imagine that anyone who read my previous post would interpret it, or its title, as commenting on Chaosium’s financial condition. I think that it’s obvious that my remarks concern only Chaosium’s decision regarding the future of RuneQuest. I cannot control how others interpret what I write, obviously, but Chaosium’s interpretation does not strike me to be a very plausible one at all. (And anyone remotely familiar with Chaosium would surely know that the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game is far more popular, and thus presumably far more important for Chaosium’s financial health, than Runequest.) 

2. As for my “insider knowledge,” I didn’t reveal any of that knowledge in this post – except for the timing of Chaosium’s decision not to use RQ6 in the future (which MOB obviously does not dispute, as it's knowledge that I did in fact have).   

3. Chaosium goes to great pains in the comment to emphasize how amicable things are between them and the Design Mechanism. That’s wonderful. But it has no connection to anything that I stated in the post. At no point did I claim or even suggest that relations between the two companies are now unfriendly or hostile. 

In any case, RuneQuest aside, I certainly do hope that the new Chaosium succeeds, as I am a huge Call of Cthulhu fan. Moreover, I actually am pretty happy with the (somewhat controversial) 7th edition of CoC – as is clear from my review of it (the RPGsite version), and my ongoing use of it in my current CoC campaign. I was a backer of the kickstarter, and am grateful that the new management has taken charge of sorting that out. My impression is that they’ve been doing a very fine job with it. I’m also excited about Chaosium’s reinvigorated Cthulhu Mythos fiction line.

To conclude: (a) I don’t intend to post anything more about Chaosium’s new direction for RuneQuest here (unless something especially newsworthy occurs); and (b) I wish them well, and likely will continue to support (and blog about, etc.) their work on Call of Cthulhu. So that’s that.

05 December 2015

Chaosium fumbles fatally with its plan for a new RuneQuest


Chaosium’s ‘new’ version of RuneQuest will not be based on RuneQuest 6.  Instead, it will be a modified version of RuneQuest 2. Thus there has been a divorce, so to speak, between Design Mechanism, which will continue to publish and support RQ6 (albeit eventually under a different name), and Chaosium.

I’ve known about this for a few weeks now, but had to keep my lips sealed until an official announcement was made. (Ironically, I received initial news of the split the day after my post on the bright future for RuneQuest 6 with Chaosium.)

Here is the official announcement from Design Mechanism:
As you may have heard following announcements and comments made at Dragonmeet today, it appears that the next version of RuneQuest (to be published by Chaosium) will be based on a new version of Basic Roleplaying using RQ2 as its underlying core, with some adaptations made by the Chaosium team. Pete and I cannot say anything ourselves about these developments, except to note that Chaosium’s RuneQuest will not use RQ6 to anywhere near the extent originally envisaged following the GenCon announcements back in August. 
We are delighted however, to announce that RQ6 will continue under a new name. We will be announcing that name in due course, but the game system you have grown to care about will live on – as will all the supplements we have created so far, and the ones we intend to release. Pete and I have no direct involvement in RuneQuest’s future per se and so will be devoting our energies to Design Mechanism products. 
I’m sure this news will raise many questions, and some we will not be able to answer – a fact that is simply beyond our control. However we can talk freely about the next printing of our rules and will be very happy to do so. 
We wish Chaosium every success with both BRP and RuneQuest.
Loz and Pete

This is, in my view, an absolutely horrible decision on the part of Chaosium.

Why would they want to split the RQ fanbase yet again? And why would they think it wise to go back to RQ2?

Now, I could see Chaosium opting to use the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition rules as its base for BRP and the new re-Glorantha-ized RQ (even though it's not as good a system as RQ6, and has been somewhat controversial amongst longtime CoC players). That at least would 'unify' all their RPGs under one system. But what they're doing instead is baffling.

I will continue, of course, to play and support RQ6. And while I prefer a setting-neutral version of the RQ6 rules, and so am happy that that version will continue in the future (with a new name), I do regret that RQ6 will not enjoy the additional exposure and distribution that it would have had it been part of Chaosium's line.

Ah well…

30 November 2015

Building the Star Wars universe

[Image from here.]

I like Star Wars well enough. More precisely, I love episodes IV and V (the original film, "A New Hope," and "The Empire Strikes Back"). I'm lukewarm on episode VI (everything until the Ewoks appear on screen is fine, especially the opening story involving Jabba the Hut). Like most sensible folks, I prefer not to think about episodes I-III at all. Overall, I find Star Wars to be a mixed bag. So I'm not exactly a 'fan'.  But I am looking forward to the new films. I hope that they recapture the spirit of the first two films.

This article on the new Star Wars franchise is quite good.  Not only does it discuss what is happening with the forthcoming films, in a broad sense, it also has a nice discussion of shared 'world building'.

Here are a couple of passages:
"All these people are describing more than just a franchise. What they’re talking about is a paracosm, psychology-speak for an imaginary world. Lots of little kids have them—especially creative ones. So do writers. Think Narnia or Yoknapatawpha County. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is an obvious example, with its multiple languages, cultures, and thousands of years of history." 
"Lucas was the original keeper of the Star Wars flame, but now we all live in his paracosm. And come to think of it, maybe comics aren’t the best analogy; this is more like Dungeons & Dragons. (I mentioned: nerds.) Shared universes are distributed paracosms. The allusions frame out a world, and our imaginations build the rest—so we become invested in that alternate reality, not only as consumers but as participants."
Only a few more weeks until the new 'episode'!

29 November 2015

Dungeon Master Nietzsche


More of these gems can be found here.

Alas, the image is obviously phony. As most scholars know, Nietzsche was a first edition 'Gygaxian grognard' all the way. (E.g., see his important discussion of "halfling paladins" as the contemptible "last men" in Thus Spake Zarathustra.)

18 November 2015

Life in the Year 2000

These images of life in the year 2000, as envisioned by some 19th Century artists, are pretty cool.  I think that they would be quite useful for a ‘steampunk’ style game, or perhaps a ‘parallel’ within the Luther Arkwright multiverse.

I found this one especially amusing:
If only teaching were so easy in the 21st Century!

31 October 2015

Happy Halloween 2015


Here are 10 haunted sites from across the world to give you some chills this eldritch evening.

(The picture above is "Head of a skeleton with a burning cigarette" by Vincent van Gogh.)

30 October 2015

The Future of Chaosium, Basic Roleplaying, RuneQuest, and the Call of Cthulhu

There have been many changes happening within the Basic Roleplaying ('d100') world, specifically, with Chaosium and the Design Mechanism.  (Some of the ownership changes already have been mentioned in an earlier post.)  Here is my understanding of the changes that I think will be of most interest to gamers.

1. The RuneQuest 6 rules will form the basis for the next generation of Basic Roleplaying (BRP).

Chaosium will be coming out with a new version of BRP, to be called Basic Roleplaying Essentials (‘BRPE’).  BRPE will be a rules booklet (32 pages!) that, like the famous one of yore, will serve as the ‘core’ for all future Chaosium games (with one important exception, which I’ll get to below).  BRPE will be based upon the RuneQuest 6 rules.  (Fortunately for devotees of the earlier version of BRP, it looks like the ‘gold book’ – and various other products, like Magic World – will continue to be available as PDFs.)

So for fans of RQ6, the future looks bright with BRPE.  Already a BRPE-based version of Mythic Iceland is in the works.

2. The next version of RuneQuest will use the RQ6 rules but will be set in Glorantha.

Chaosium plans to publish a ‘new’ version of RuneQuest next year.  The rules will be those of RuneQuest 6, though perhaps with some minor changes.  One big change, however, is that Glorantha will be included within the core book, and the rules will be adapted for that setting (in terms of magic, cults, beasts, cultures, and so forth).

I’m not too keen on this move myself, as I prefer the setting-neutral version of RQ.  But if the rules themselves will not change (much), I’m not too bothered, as I already own 5 copies of RQ6, plus the PDF.  Also, it is not clear yet whether something like the PDF version of RQ6 or ‘RQ Essentials’ will continue to be available after next summer.

In any case, the 32-page BRPE rules will obviate somewhat the need for a system-neutral version of RQ.  (I say ‘somewhat’ as BRPE will not include any rules for magic, stats for monsters, and a few of other things that are essential for running fantasy role-playing campaigns.)

3. The Design Mechanism will continue to publish material for RuneQuest.

Design Mechanism’s settings will continue to enjoy support.  So Mythic Britain, Monster Island, Luther Arkwright, and the like, will not be disappearing anytime soon.  

Lawrence Whitaker previews the Design Mechanism’s plans for the near future in the following post (with further discussion at the DM discussion board):
Our release plans have had to be modified, and Pete and I have a few things to work out - more around how rules are handled than the titles we publish. Some things I can expand on. 
1. More Mythics - Mesopotamia, Saxons and Greece. Not sure what will happen with Mythic Constantinople. Mob says he still wants to do it and has an outline written (indeed, Pete and I have played in part of it), but it’s a long shot. Mythic Britain will be extended by both a Logres, Saxon-based campaign (written by Paul Mitchener) and more scenarios from me (I have one I’ll be playtesting at a couple of local cons and with my own group). 
2. More Arkwright - Scenarios and Parallels. I’m actually keen to see submissions for Arkwright adventures so if you have an idea, let me know. 
3. More Sword and Sorcery - I’m actively thinking about expanding the Scourged Earth setting hinted at in the GM Pack, and resurrecting a set of Elric/Stormbringer scenarios I wrote many years ago to fit with the setting. One scenario is complete and I’m working on another. I’ve also been fleshing out the Scourged Earth/Wall background with some physics and dimensions for the Wall itself. 
4. More Thennla - I have Jon’s Taskan Campaign waiting for review and layout. I’ve postponed work on this pending some of the rules considerations we need to make, but it will certainly appear. I will also be talking to Jon about Assabian Rites as the next book. 
5. More one-offs - Short scenarios and so on. 
6. A project we can’t announce yet, but is genre-based and should be a lot of fun. 
What you won’t see from us is any Gloranthan material. That will be handled through Chaosium. However, I’m heavily involved in laying out Ian Cooper’s ‘Coming Storm’ books, and I’m very keen to create an RQ stat pack for it. 
There will be a much fuller announcement on Design Mechanism’s future this side of Christmas. There are going to be some important changes, but we’re still writing, developing, commissioning and publishing our own stuff, so from that POV, it’s business as usual.
All this sounds pretty great, and I’m looking forward to checking out a number of these items when they become available.

4. The print version of Call of Cthulhu 7th edition is coming along – finally.

The kickstarter campaign for the 7th edition of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game has been beset with a surfeit of problems and delays.  They are too numerous to catalogue here (and, frankly, I’ve long since stopped following the progress of CoC 7e).  But thanks to the new management team at Chaosium, we should be seeing the print versions of CoC 7e, and associated materials, in the very near future.

(Like other backers of the kickstarter, I’ve had the PDF version for a while now, although I expect that it will be updated in the near future to match the books.  And I recently received the PDF for Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors.  So the wheels are turning, at long last.)

5. No ‘unification’ of the Call of Cthulhu and the RQ-based BRP systems.

While BRPE will serve as the core for most future Chaosium role-playing games, no changes will be made to the CoC 7e system.  So Chaosium’s role-playing game lines will not be fully ‘unified’ – though, of course, CoC 7e and BRPE will share many similarities, given their common ancestor.

Whatever one thinks of 7e CoC (and I think it’s perfectly fine), this decision makes sense.  The last thing that Call of Cthulhu needs now is another revision!   Let the game be played for a few years, at least, before even contemplating any changes.  Moreover, I’m not sure that BRPE would be a great fit for CoC.  Combat is very detailed in RQ6 and BRPE – and the awesome combat system is, of course, one of the things that makes that game great – but combat really is not the focus for most CoC games.  Overall, I think that the core CoC rules need to be even ‘lighter’ than those of BRPE.  Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but even if so, it should be some time before Chaosium contemplates producing another version of CoC.

6. The discussion board ‘BRP Central’ is now the official Chaosium board.

Here it is the link to BRP Central, in case you’d like to join!

I’ve been a member for a few years now, though I don’t post there too often.  That may change in the future, however, given all of the exciting developments with respect to BRP.

Conclusion:

So those are top ‘news items’ concerning the future of RuneQuest, Basic Roleplaying, and the Call of Cthulhu games – at least to the best of my knowledge.  Overall I think that the future is very bright!  ‘BRP Essentials’ looks like a great introduction to the system (I’ve skimmed through a draft).  The Design Mechanism will continue producing brilliant settings and adventures for RuneQuest.  And the Call of Cthulhu looks to finally be stirring from its rest in deep, dark R’lyeh.

10 October 2015

The Epic of Gilgamesh: Expanded Edition

After only 4000 years, the Epic of Gilgamesh is being updated.

08 October 2015

Edward Snowden solves the Fermi Paradox?

Over a year ago I briefly mentioned the ‘Fermi Paradox’ in a post.  It seems that Edward Snowden has a solution!  Namely: alien civilizations share a universal need to keep their communications secure. Consequently, "alien signals are simply too well encrypted to be distinguished from background noise."

This actually strikes me as an eminently plausible explanation.  And it certainly is far less distressing than the one offered by Alastair Reynolds in Revelation Space.

27 September 2015

Eldritch Apartment for Rent

If you will be spending some time in Providence, and you are a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos, you now can rent Lovecraft's old apartment...

Perhaps it should be advertised on "Cool Airbnb"?

24 September 2015

"Frodo, Don't Wear the Ring!"

This song from the excellent Flight of the Conchords is quite entertaining...

13 September 2015

The Dungeons and Dragons film that never was

I was playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons on almost a daily basis during the early 1980s.  I read every issue of Dragon magazine in those days (which I loyally purchased every month from a hobby shop called ‘Fads’), paying special attention to the writings of Gary Gygax.  So I remember quite vividly Gygax indicating that a ‘major’ Dungeons and Dragons film was in the works.  Ultimately, and – I thought at the time – unfortunately, no such film was produced.

I always wondered what had happened with that promised film, and what its script might have been like.  This recent article at The Escapist sheds some light on the matter.  In particular, it presents an outline of the plot of the film.  Frankly, the story is terrible.  Best that this stinker was never produced!

05 September 2015

A Year of Great Gaming Comes to an End

[Spinoza with his huge d20 in Amsterdam]

I spent the 2014-2015 academic year (roughly, September 2014 to August 2015) on sabbatical in Toronto.  Amazingly, I managed to get some research and writing done while at the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto.  More importantly, though, I managed to get some great gaming done!

Here is what I did:

1. I played in roughly 15 (I can’t recall the precise number) sessions of RuneQuest 6 within the Mythic Britain setting (GM: Lawrence Whitaker).  This was one of the finest role-playing experiences I’ve had as a player – surpassed only by the Young Kingdoms (MRQII) campaign which I played in during the spring and summer of 2011.  (The GM for that earlier campaign also was Lawrence.)

2. I played in 3 sessions of RuneQuest 6 using the Luther Arkwright setting (GM: Lawrence Whitaker).  Lawrence ran the sample scenario from the book – which, amusingly, is set in an alternative parallel version of Toronto.  Hopefully I will be able to return for the final session of this adventure sometime this autumn or winter.

3. I ran (‘keepered’?) 7 sessions of Call of Cthulhu 7e, covering 3.5 scenarios.  (My initial impressions of 7e are noted here.)  I hope to return to this campaign, on occasion, in future visits to Toronto.  At the very least, I have to finish up the current adventure, set at the famous (and infamous) Miskatonic University.  (The classic 1920s New England ‘Lovecraft county’ setting was used.)

4. I ran (‘DM-ed’) 2 sessions of Dungeons and Dragons 5e.  (The first two parts of the ‘Mines of Phandelver’ adventure included within the 5th edition ‘Starter Set.’)  I would like to continue this campaign in the future, but I’m not sure if that will be possible.

5. I played in a ‘one shot’ session of Trail of Cthulhu (GM: Chris).  (This was most definitely a one shot, as all of the PCs turned into giant worms at the end!)

6. I played in 2 sessions of … something.  It was a Cthulhu-esque adventure set in the Free Congo State during 1907.  I can’t recall the name of the system, unfortunately, but the adventure was quite compelling (very reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness).  (GM: Chris.)

These were all live tabletop games.  (I also ran a few sessions of AD&D 1st edition online.)  That’s is pretty good, I think, at this stage in my life and career (viz., a middle-aged professor).

I plan to write up an overview of the Call of Cthulhu campaign at some point, as well as some more of my impressions of D&D 5.

In the meantime, alas, back to teaching…


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.

21 July 2015

Who is the Greatest Wizard of Literature?

[Gandalf by Frazetta]

Who is the greatest wizard of literature?

A brief exploration of this important question can be found here.

Sadly, there is no discussion of Elric.  He probably could kick the mystical arses of Merlin, Gandalf, and the other guy ('Dubbledee' or something) combined.


[Summoned demons + soul-sucking sword = victory]

08 July 2015

Physics and Dungeons and Dragons


A sample:
STUDENT ONE:
If my half-elf wizard fell off a castle parapet high enough to kill him, could he cast the Dimension Door spell to teleport safely onto a lower surface before landing? My Dungeon Master said the impact would be fatal but I don’t think so.
HIGGS:
Hmm. Well, this wasn’t what I had in mind when I opened the floor, but in the spirit of education, let’s entertain the idea. This basically asks if the momentum is conserved after your wizard relocates, yes? It’s been years since I role-played a spellcaster, but even in quantum experiments teleportation appears to conserve momentum. Fatality depends primarily on how long he’s been falling and secondarily on how heavy he is. For humans in earth gravity, most falls above 46 meters are deadly, but I can’t speak for half-elves living in whatever escapist fantasy you’ve constructed for yourself. So, yes. Your Dungeon Master is most likely correct. What an enjoyable diversion! Thank you for that thought experiment. Now, who has a question specifically over the concepts we’ve covered in today’s lecture?

07 July 2015

Short Interview with Sandy Petersen

It happened three months ago, but here is a brief interview with Call of Cthulhu creator Sandy Petersen entitled (amusingly) "Call of Cthulhu Was The First Role-Playing Game To Drive People Insane."  (The interview takes place before the recent big changes at Chaosium.)

I found this piece of advice on how to run a successful CoC game spot on:
What do you think is the key to running a successful Cthulhu RPG session?
Petersen: Sensitivity to what the players are experiencing, and flexibility to adapt to that. You have to time the creepy bits for the moment that the players are actually feeling creeped out. You can't force dread upon them.


Lovecraft on the 6 Star Wars films

Because, um, well … why not?

This is perhaps the best description of one of the worst scenes from the worst of the films ('The Phantom Menace'):
A Terrible Speed 
In a strange place where insects speak with the voice of men and creatures with the hideous corpulence of slugs rule a race is held. This is no running of the horses. Human children compete against things which I hesitate to even describe. Listen to me, Carter, when I tell you that children were lashed to chariots of screaming steam engines and flung through the air at great speed. A beast which I mistook for an otter at first, but which was far more devious and cruel, sought to kill a human child. For what purpose, Carter? The sheer horror of this realm is too much to bear. I assume the child was killed, for I could not bear to watch any longer.
(Warning: Lovecraft's racism is not ignored in the post to which I linked above.)

29 June 2015

Peter Jackson really likes Hobbit-holes


It would appear that Peter Jackson really is quite fond of Hobbit-holes ('Smials').

Also: here are the most metal deaths of Middle-earth.  A decent list, but shouldn't the death of the Witch-King of Angmar be somewhere on it?  (Thanks to my friend Marcus for the link.)

12 June 2015

Some more Chaosium news

Following up on the big change over at Chaosium, Sandy Petersen chats at Yog-Sothoth.  Among other things, he speculates on the possibility of bringing Pendragon and Glorantha back to Chaosium in some way.  Of greatest interest to me, Petersen proposes that Chaosium will steer more carefully their BRP (Basic Role-Playing) line of products, including Magic World (the 'de-Moorcockized' version of Stormbringer 5th edition).

Also, Chaosium is having a big clearance sale!

11 June 2015

Christopher Lee RIP


Actor Christopher Lee has passed away at the age of 93.

The man was a legend and will be missed.

He made me cheer for Saruman!

03 June 2015

Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen return to Chaosium

Greg Stafford, founder of Chaosium, is back with the company as President and CEO.

Sandy Petersen, creator of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, also is back with the company, and seems to be in charge of the CoC line.

Wow.

The announcement is here.

UPDATE (June 4):
There are some interesting bits of info from Sandy Petersen in this thread over at Yog-Sothoth.

18 May 2015

Luther Arkwright and the Tyrant of New Toronto


The Design Mechanism has released a preview PDF for their forthcoming RuneQuest 6 book, Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels.  Check it out here (link opens the PDF directly).

This is the basic premise of the setting:
"The Characters are agents of the Valhalla Project, people aware of the existence of the multiverse and possessed of talents and qualities the Valhalla Project needs in its bid to safeguard and preserve the fundamental structure of the parallels. Other forces, principally those known as The Disruptors, seek to destabilise or control the multiverse for their own ends. The Valhalla Project’s agents oppose these plans and frequently work in the shadows, frequently alone, to target Disruptors and ensure that each parallel is free to develop without a malign, external influence."
I’ve only skimmed the preview PDF, but it exudes a strong Moorcock-ish and steampunk-ish vibe.  And the book looks to be loaded with game material that will be helpful for RQ games independent of the Arkwright setting.

But as someone who has spent much of his adult life in Toronto, and continues to do so, I could not help notice that the book’s main scenario is set in a place called “New Toronto.”  New Toronto apparently is located in a parallel universe enduring a horrific ice age following the misuse of terra-forming technology. 

Here is a snippet from page 135:
“Only a few hundred years since the last glaciation, society has already reached an early industrial age with ice-clippers carving paths across the ice from settlement to settlement.
The largest settlement, with over 10,000 people is New Toronto, built on the remains of the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto megaplex. The settlement’s leader is Mayor Frode, a massively corpulent man, assisted by a clockwork exoskeleton. More and more people flock to New Toronto when word spreads of the available work and relatively plentiful resources.”
Mayor Frode?  Sure, the new ice age is horrible and everything, but another Ford, er, Frode regime in Toronto is just too terrifying to contemplate – even in a fantasy role-playing game!

[Behold, the eyes of pure evil]

03 May 2015

Scientists Dig Tolkien


Did you know:
  1. There is a region in Australia called "Mordor Alkaline Igneous Complex"?
  2. There are a pair of asteroids named "Tolkien" and "Bilbo"?
  3. This is a 900-pound ancient crocodile named "Anthracosuchus balrogus"?
More such info here!

25 April 2015

Book of the New Sun: the television series?


I’ve recently posted links to articles on Gene Wolfe and The Game of Thrones television series.  A good friend of mine (this guy), who is a massive fan of Wolfe’s ‘New Sun’ stories, recently explained to me why The Book of the New Sun would make an amazing GoT-style televisions series.  

Here it is:
I really think it would make a great HBO series! Here's why: 
1. It is completely episodic
2. The characters are amazing:
A giant and his fox-faced companion
The most beautiful woman in the world (until the augmentation-magic wears off)
A resurrected woman who coughs up the lead slugs that were forced down her gullet to sink her body(!).
A robot who has repaired himself with found biological human body parts.
And a professional torturer who turns out to be Jesus, but not before he consumes the flesh of his aristocratic girlfriend and absorbs her memories and personality. And then proceeds to have sex with literally every woman he encounters in the story....and then becomes the king. 
3. The settings are amazing:
Buenos Aires in a million years is quite a different place.
The citadel in the middle of the city is actually a spaceship, but no one realizes it.
The city is surrounded by a mile-high wall to protect it from rampaging giant aquatic aliens who are currently quiescent and laying in wait in the oceans deep.
The mountain ranges to the north (the Andes) have been under the rule of this particular civilization so long that every single one of them has been carved into the likeness of one king or another.
Further north the "rotting jungles that circle the waist word' divide our heroes land from the "Ascians", their sworn enemies and Ascia is the ultimate totalitarian state: people may only speak by quoting from a collection of approved texts. 
4. Mysteries abound:
Is the hero's lover really his grandmother?
Is the injured robot actually from North Korea in our era (not kidding)
Is the giant actually a baby version of the giant evil aquatic aliens?
Is the fox-faced guy actually the giant's homonculus-slave? 
5. And finally, like "Lost"...there are no answers!
Fair enough!  (Although I'm not sure about #5.  Years later, I still get annoyed when I think about "Lost".)

I personally would love to see such a television series.  But I’m not holding my breath…

24 April 2015

Gene Wolfe and The Book of the New Sun

There is an interesting (and thankfully succinct) piece on Gene Wolfe in the current issue of The New Yorker.

I vividly recall reading The Book of the New Sun fifteen years ago.  It is probably the most difficult fantasy series I've ever read.  Yet I enjoyed it thoroughly, and am grateful that I worked my way through the five books (the original tetralogy plus The Urth of the New Sun).

16 April 2015

Class Struggle in Westeros

“Wildlings of the north unite!  You have nothing to lose but your cumbersome furs!”

Okay, here is another short post with a slight political philosophy flavour.  Fans of the Game of Thrones television series (and/or novels) may enjoy reading: “Can Marxist Theory Predict the End of Game of Thrones?”  (Don’t worry, gentle readers, you don’t need to be a Marxist [I’m not] to enjoy it.)

This part struck me as especially quote-worthy: 
Westeros needs capitalists – such as those who frown puritanically at us from Dutch portraits in the 17th century. And they should, as in the Dutch Republic and the English civil war, launch a revolution.
But that can’t happen in the secondary world of fantasy fiction…
There is a reason so much fantasy fiction adopts the conceit of a feudalism that is always in crisis but never overthrown. It forms the ideal landscape in which to dramatise the secret desires of people who live under modern capitalism.
‘Secret desires’ indeed!  (Am I wrong for wishing that I could be Jaqen H'ghar more than any other character in the series?  Ah well, "valar morghulis"…)

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