16 May 2017

Hydra versus Kali

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

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

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

09 May 2017

Maybe Blade Runner 2049 will not be terrible?

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

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

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

04 May 2017

The True Origin of the Flail Snail?

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

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

29 March 2017

Mythras Swords and Sorcery Advice

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

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

28 March 2017

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition

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

Here is the official announcement.

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

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

27 March 2017

Classic Dungeons and Dragons modules to be reprinted

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

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

I for one welcome their pandering!

25 March 2017

The Return of Planescape?


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

20 March 2017

A New Thing for your Crypts

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

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

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

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

13 March 2017

Buffy turned 20 last Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 March 2017

Logan is excellent

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

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

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


26 February 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Maps: they exist for a reason people!

23 February 2017

The ultra-cool dwarf and the seven planets

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

(More here.)

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

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

10 February 2017

Crypts and Things Reloaded has arrived

Actually, the new edition of Crypts and Things has been out for a while now, but my hardcovers arrived only last week:

I have yet to delve into this new version (while I was a Kickstarter backer, as far as I can tell I never received the PDF version last autumn, and I was a bit slow in ordering in my physical copies). However, once I have a chance to look properly through the book over the next few weeks, I’ll post my thoughts here.

(Of course, it’s hard for me to be objective when it comes to C&T, as it draws upon some of the house rules that I developed for Swords & Wizardry many years ago.)

Based upon a quick skim, it looks like Newt Newport has added a lot of cool stuff to this version! And the new art is quite impressive.

Praise Crom!

28 January 2017

John Hurt RIP

Actor John Hurt has passed away.

Not mentioned in the obituary linked above (and, I suspect, in most others) is Hurt's role as "Aragorn" in the 1978 animated film version of The Lord of the Rings. That was a film that, when I saw it as a wee lad at a repertory cinema in London (Ontario), awakened in me a lifelong love of fantasy.  (I recognize now that that version has many flaws, but when I was a child it was simply magical.) Hurt's voice acting for Aragorn was perfect for the character.

[The death of Boromir from the animated LotR film.]

The film version of 1984 also had a profound impact on me. (I saw it before I read the original Orwell novel.) I couldn't get it out of my mind for weeks afterwards, and read the novel and Animal Farm shortly afterwards. Both books greatly shaped my life as well (though obviously in very different ways than the LotR movie).

The Elephant Man, which I also saw as a teenager, had a similar affect on me. It moved me to tears and I thought about it for a longtime afterwards. I think it made me try to be a better person. Few films have that kind of power.

(And of course Alien is one of the greatest science-fiction/horror films of all time...)


18 January 2017

Ultimate Dungeons and Dragons gaming table

Apparently there is a show called "Super-Fan Builds." In this episode the lucky super-fan receives an amazing ('ultimate') Dungeons and Dragons gaming table. It's worth a watch. I'll think that you will find the super-fan featured in this episode to be quite entertaining.

The reason why I know about this episode is that it features an old friend of mine, Robert, as the 'super-fan.' For a few years during our PhD program (2000-2002, if I recall correctly) we regularly gamed together. Rob is a hilarious person in general (he also was active in an improv comedy group at the time), and he brought that gift to our games as a player. The other players were great as well.

That grad student group remains one of my all-time favourites. Sadly, we all live in different parts of the world now (Rob lives in Los Angeles), so we don't have too many opportunities to see each other in person these days. It's good to see that some of us are still engaged with the hobby -- Rob even more than myself, it would seem!

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!

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