24 November 2020

The Monsters of Trampier

I’ve mentioned before here how much I adore the art of Dave Trampier (“DAT”). His work very much shaped the way in which I visualize fantasy adventuring—especially the more “gritty” kind characteristic of early AD&D and the World of Greyhawk

Of course, I’m not alone in my admiration! Today I stumbled upon a rather nice tribute to Trampier’s art in the Monster Manual at Heavy Metal (which I was surprised to learn still existed—I have distant memories of the magazine from my adolescence, but had assumed that it had gone the way of the Dinosaurs). 

The article mentions Trampier’s final year, including his interest in reengaging with the fantasy role-playing community, but which was thwarted tragically by his death in 2014. I find Trampier’s tale to be a mysterious and melancholic one. I can't help but wonder what amazing works he might have produced had he not walked away from it all in the late 1980s. But I am profoundly grateful for the invaluable contributions that he did make to our hobby.

Here are two of my favourite DAT illustrations: the Lizard Man and the Rakshasa. 

24 October 2020

Forty Years of Playing RPGs

Today I am 50 years old. *sigh*

Finding myself in a reflective mood, I decided to go for a long walk yesterday. (It also was likely the last warm day in Toronto for 2020, so I wanted to take advantage of the t-shirt weather while it lasted.) On my journey I discovered a tree with eyes and a hidden gargoyle. I always delight in discovering such things. 

Since I received the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (the Holmes edition with ‘chits’ instead of dice) on my 10th birthday, today also marks four decades of my involvement with role-playing games. I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like without this crazy hobby. So thanks to my parents for their gift (even though, I’m sure, they regretted it many times during my teenage years).

What better way to celebrate this occasion than with a “Magic Missile” beer while wearing a “Magic Missile” shirt? I believe I do 5d4 +5 damage!

I hope to keep playing RPGs for another 40 years. Sláinte!

23 October 2020

Lenard Lakofka RIP

Another legend from the early days of D&D, Lenard Lakofka, has passed away.

In addition to the “L” modules, Lakofka helped to shape the world of Greyhawk: his “Lendore Isles” were incorporated into the setting, and he described many of the deities of the Suel people. And of course there is “Leomund’s Tiny Hut” – both the spell and the column in Dragon.


22 October 2020

My Favourite Games these days

In case anyone is curious, here are my current favourite role-playing games (in no particular order):

Mythras (including Lyonesse). 

I’m playing in a Mythic Babylon campaign right now, and look forward to digging into the (very thick) Lyonesse tome over the next couple of months. I have some ideas for a Lyonesse campaign that I might sketch here. (I should also mention that one of the best campaigns in which I ever played used the Mongoose RuneQuest II system, which is an earlier incarnation of Mythras [very similar in terms of core rules]. Here is my log of about two-thirds of that campaign.)

Crypts and Things

This excellent game draws upon my Swords & Wizardry house-rules.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (and OSRIC).

The old reliable warhorse.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition (including the Adventures in Middle-earth variant system). 

I hope to return to my Greyhawk campaign using D&D 5e soon, as well as finish up the log of my recent epic Middle-earth campaign.

Against the Darkmaster

This is a quasi-clone of MERP, ICE’s old Middle-earth Roleplaying game. It has been shorn of MERP’s explicit Tolkien references, and introduces some rather cool refinements and additions to the system. I plan to write something about this exciting new game very soon!

Call of Cthulhu

Yeah, “old reliable.” My favourite system for one shots and short campaigns. Alas, I haven’t played it in over two years. I would like to run either a Cthulhu Invictus or a Dreamlands campaign someday.  

(I’ll add a new section on the right with links to these games in the next day or two.)

19 October 2020

Dragonlance brouhaha

It looks like we may be spared another twee Dragonlance trilogy: “Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast is facing a lawsuit from Dragonlance co-creators Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman over scrapped plans for a book trilogy.”

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that, as a teenager, I enjoyed the original Dragonlance trilogy. I also owned a few of the modules and enjoyed the interesting maps and art at the time, but never managed to run or play them. Even just reading the adventures, though, I could tell that they were designed to compel the players to certain predetermined outcomes (what we today would call “railroading”). I preferred the more “open-ended” format of the earlier modules.

As the years went by, I came to view the success of the Dragonlance novels and modules as quite unfortunate. The setting’s success altered the default aesthetics and adventure philosophy of AD&D. The game moved away from the “Gygaxian” (or “Vancian”) swords-and-sorcery ethos that had characterized its earlier “Golden Age,” wherein outcomes were not predetermined, and no player characters were “essential” to any overarching plot. (Of course, DL was hardly the only factor that contributed to this change – the ouster of Gary Gygax no doubt played the most significant role.) 

By the late 1980s I had stopped buying AD&D products altogether. (I regret this somewhat, as it meant that I missed out on Planescape and some of the other cool 2nd edition settings. I did pick up some D&D Gazetteers and the Rules Cylcopedia, but those were my first “nostalgia” purchases, as they seemed “retro” even then: they reminded me of my “early days” using the classic Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert D&D rules, and X1’s “Known World.” But I digress…) 

Anyhow, I really should let go of my decades-long resentment of Dragonlance. That water has long since passed under the AD&D bridge. If others prefer their fantasy schmaltzy, so be it. It harms me not. Hopefully fans of the setting will get their new trilogy is due course.

15 October 2020

Netflix Developing Conan Series


Perhaps inspired by the success of its series The Witcher, Netflix is developing a new fantasy series featuring everyone’s favourite barbarian, Conan of Cimmeria. The details, alas, are scant at this stage

Hopefully this new series, should it actually come to fruition, will draw primarily on the original stories by Robert E. Howard. It’s frustrating that no “Conan” film or series has actually used the original source material. (For the record, I am quite fond of the 1982 film. But the main character is not REH’s Conan!)

Back in 2018 I reported that Amazon was developing a Conan series. Interesting that it’s now in Netflix’s hands. I guess Amazon is focusing on its Middle-earth series instead.

29 September 2020

The 38-year old Dungeons and Dragons campaign

Robert Wardhaugh, a history professor at the University of Western Ontario, has been running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for thirty-eight years.

The campaign setting sounds rather interesting:

"Being a history professor and always loving history, I wanted to create a world where I was able to use the history of our world. My world is an alternate Earth, so you can be Roman, you can be Greek, you can be Sumerian, you can be Babylonian, you can be First Nations," explains Wardhaugh.

I’m really quite impressed by this accomplishment. It’s one thing to have played various role-playing games—including some extended campaigns—for many decades. (I’ve been playing, off and on, for almost four decades now.) But to keep the same campaign going for so many years it truly remarkable. 

Also, I was amused to learn that this campaign is based in London Ontario. I grew up in London—it’s where I learned to play role-playing games, and where I ran various AD&D and MERP campaigns (as well as dabbling in numerous other games) from around grade five until the end of high-school. (I would not describe London as an especially exciting city—it’s definitely the world’s #2 London—so it may be easier to keep a game going there over many years than, say, Toronto.)

This is a great accomplishment. I’m envious of Wardhaugh for what sounds like an amazing campaign. But I’m depressed when I realize that, should I keep my current Greyhawk campaign going for another 38 years, I’ll be dangerously close to the “venerable” age category for humans! 

21 September 2020

Some Classic Dungeons and Dragons Settings to Return?

Dungeons & Dragons will be revisiting several classic campaign settings over the next few years. During the closing panel of D&D Celebration 2020 yesterday, Wizard of the Coast's Ray Winninger confirmed that D&D's upcoming slate of publications will include several classic settings highly requested by fans. "I can tell you that there are three of the old settings that we're working on right now that you'll be seeing in the next year or two, including some that the fans have been asking for a very long time " Winninger said during the "Inside the D&D Studio Panel." Some of the more highly requested settings from fans include Greyhawk, Spelljammer, Planescape, and Dragonlance, all of which were seminal and influential settings for past (and current) generations of players.
Personally, I'd love to see Greyhawk in print again. It's my favourite 'classic' TSR setting, and the one that I’ve been using as DM in my most recent D&D games. However, I worry a bit about how it would be handled by the current team at WotC. I'm not too keen on some of the post-Gygaxian history for the setting (especially the break-up of the Great Kingdom). I rely primarily on the 1983 box set for my setting information. Nonetheless, I think that the recent Saltmarsh book was quite good, so perhaps a resurrected Greyhawk will be handled well.

My favourite ‘unusual’ setting is Planesape. I’d love to see a new version of it. The great thing about Planescape is that you can combine it with pretty much any other setting (Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, homebrew #978, etc.). But it also has its own very distinctive style and ethos. (And Planescape: Torment is one of the greatest computer role-playing games of all time.)


Kudos to the Watchmen

HBO's 2019 mini-series, The Watchmen, won the Emmy for best limited series (along with 10 other awards) tonight. 

I don't watch award shows (I think it's been at least 30 years since I watched one all the way through) and generally don't care about them as they typically do not track genuine excellence (always remember: the execrable "Forrest Gump" beat out "Pulp Fiction" for best picture in 1995). But I'm delighted that this excellent series, one of the best ever created, received this recognition and consequently will enjoy a wider audience.

11 September 2020

Grognardia resurrected

Some readers might recall the blog Grognardia, which played an influential role in the rise of the "Old School Renaissance" over a decade ago, along with publications like Fight On! and Knockspell, as well as "retro-clones" such as OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry. (Out-of-publication editions of D&D and AD&D, of course, were discussed even before the "OSR" became a thing at sites like Dragonsfoot.) 

In 2012 new posts abruptly ceased appearing at Grognardia. After eight years, though, the blog is back, and in a big way (with, among other things, a two-part interview with Jeff Grubb). 

I don't always agree with the views expressed by James Maliszewski but his posts often are interesting to read. I'm glad Grognardia is back. 

Blog Archive

About Me

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