16 September 2019

Mythic Babylon cover

My friend and gaming colleague Chris Gilmore (‘Hartmut Hare-Eye’) is the co-author of the forthcoming Mythras setting book Mythic Babylon (it will be part of the Design Mechanism's 'Mythic Earth' series). The book won’t be coming out until next year, alas, but the Design Mechanism has previewed its cover. It looks suitably epic:

I know little about Babylonian mythology aside from the Epic of Gilgamesh (a novelization of which I read years ago). So I’m really looking forward to this, not only for the gaming content but for educational purposes as well.

08 September 2019

Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophers: The Sci-Fi Debate

It’s been a while, but there is a new installment (number VIII) of “Dungeons & Dragons & Philosophers” at Existential Comics!

Read the whole thing here.

Kudos to Dungeon Master de Beauvoir for adhering to the old school D&D philosophy of permitting ‘science fiction’ elements into her campaign.

(A pity, though, that the comic doesn’t mention the ‘classic’ role-playing game Cyborg Commando!)

28 August 2019

The Lost City (B4) to rise again

Cool! The fourth ‘Original Adventures Reincarnated’ book from Goodman Games will be The Lost City (B4). 

From GG's announcement:
“First published in 1982, B4: The Lost City was designed as a stand-alone adventure for use with the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. Author Tom Moldvay wrote the adventure with the intent of teaching novice gamemasters how to craft and run a dungeon. For that reason, many areas of the original adventure—including much of the titular city itself—are left undefined. And if you’ve read any of our earlier releases in the OAR series, you know that those areas are not going to be left blank for the Fifth Edition translation!
OAR #4: The Lost City will combine scans of the original edition of the module with 5E conversions and new material, as we’ve done with prior books in the OAR series. The conversion is being handled by Chris Doyle and Tim Wadzinski, the same team responsible for OAR #1: Into the Borderlands and OAR #2: The Isle of Dread.
At this time, the target release date is June 2020, but we will keep you updated as time passes. And not just about the release date—we’ll also be giving you sneak peeks and behind the scenes info on the book!”
I'm very happy with what Goodman Games did with B1-2 and X1. I'm looking forward to their treatment of S3 (Expedition to the Barrier Peaks) and am thrilled that B4 is now in the queue.

It's a bit odd, though, that Goodman Games will be lurching from the Basic/Expert (B/X) Dungeons and Dragons line to the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line for S3, and then back to B/X for B4.

[Some adventurers versus 'Zargon'. Picture by Jim Holloway]

Also, it’s a pity they're skipping B3, Palace of the Silver Princess. It would've been nice to have a reprint of the 'forbidden' version along with the 'expurgated' version! (For an interesting discussion of B3, check out “The Day the Old School Died” at the Alexandrian blog.)

[The original orange cover version of B3. Picture by Erol Otus.]

13 August 2019

OSRIC and Dangerous Dungeons

Some good news for old-school gamers! Thanks to ‘Pres-Gas’, there is now a Wiki for OSRIC (Old School Reference and Index Compilation)—the ‘retro-clone’ for 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Also available: the material for Dangerous Dungeons! For over a decade now Kellri has been putting together a massive supplement for OSRIC (+ 1e AD&D). I wasn’t sure if it would ever be made available to the wider public—but now it is! (I made a small contribution to DD: a system of ‘background professions’ for characters, originally posted at this blog.)

Enjoy, gentle readers!

[Trampier's picture of a dragon vs. some kobolds in the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide]

09 August 2019

The Second Age of Middle-earth—and only the Second Age!

Here is further confirmation that the forthcoming Amazon television series set in Middle-earth will take place during the Second Age (as recently mentioned at this blog):
Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, who is supervising the show’s development, told German fansite Deutsche Tolkien that the estate has refused to allow the series to be set during any period other than the Second Age of Middle-earth.
Spanning 3,441 years, the Second Age begins after the banishment of the dark lord Morgoth and ends with the first demise of Sauron, Morgoth’s servant and the primary villain in The Lord of the Rings, at the hands of an alliance of elves and men.
One advantage of having the series take place during the Second Age (noted by Shippey in the article) is that it gives the writers more room to develop stories and characters than they would have if the series were to take place during the later part of the Third Age (the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) or the First Age (the time of The Silmarillion). In contrast to the First and Third Ages, Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age primarily are timelines and overviews of key historical events. However, the series—thankfully!—will be constrained by the events that Tolkien did note (so the series, Shippey notes, “must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say”).

This is perhaps the best combination: a set of fixed events ensuring that the series can ‘stick the landing’ (the first defeat of Sauron in the Last Alliance would be a great way to end the series) while allowing genuine ‘creative room’ for the writing team.

So I remain cautiously optimistic about this…

(The linked article’s headline is rather misleading, I should note, as it seems to ignore the plethora of ‘plots’ throughout Tolkien’s many writings on Middle-earth. Moreover, if the series is set during the Second Age, it is ridiculously incorrect to claim that it’s an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.)

[Celebrimbor forging a ring of power. Cover art for ICE's Treasures of Middle-earth by Angus McBride.]

06 August 2019

Tales From the Sorcerer Under the Mountain

I’m not really a fan of Kickstarter these days, but I made an exception for this one: Newt Newport’s Tales from the Sorcerer Under the Mountain (from D101 Games).

It consists of two things:

  1. A set of old school rules—namely, a lightly tweaked version Swords and Wizardry (which is itself a ‘clone’ of 0e D&D), not Crypts and Things (so expect clerics, dwarves, and so forth).
  2. An adventure—called The Sorcerer Under the Mountain—with stats for both S&W and 5th edition D&D.

Okay, I need another 0e D&D clone like I need a hole in the head...

But… the adventure is inspired by the distinctly British style of fantasy role-playing of the early 1980s, as manifested in such products as the classic Fighting Fantasy adventure books, early White Dwarf magazines, the U1-3 AD&D modules, and the like.

Even though I grew up in Canada, I very much appreciate this aesthetic. Fighting Fantasy books were quite ubiquitous there—you could buy them in most bookshops—and helped me pass many afternoons and evenings when I couldn’t get together with my friends to play D&D or MERP. Also, the gaming store at which I purchased most of my early supplies (“Fads” in London Ontario) stocked White Dwarf, which always seemed like the ‘cool’ alternative to Dragon.

The title ‘The Sorcerer Under the Mountain’ seems like a clear homage to the Fighting Fantasy book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (which I recall as the most frustrating of the FF books—I don’t think I ever ‘won’ it). So for that reason alone I’m looking forward to checking it out!

[The Warlock by Russ Nicholson -- one of my favourites!]

04 August 2019

Coddefut’s Stipule: a Lyonesse adventure

As I’ve mentioned a few times here, I’m really looking forward to the forthcoming Mythras-based Lyonesse FRPG from the Design Mechanism. While the FRPG likely will not appear this year, there now is a ready-to-run Lyonesse adventure available: Coddefut’s Stipule. It can be run using the core Mythras rules (or the freely available Mythras Imperative).

Here’s the DM blurb:
What is afoot in Silkspindle Tower?
A small town on the Dahaut coast has a distinct problem: its fishermen are going missing, vanishing from the seas with their boats and catches, never to be seen again. People are scared; could this have something to do with the wizard Coddefut who once lived in the tower? Never! He disappeared 20 years before, so perhaps this is mere coincidence.
But Moribund, the devious burghermeister of the town, sees this as an opportunity. There are several individuals in the community who are especially vexatious to him, and this is a chance to prove that he, Moribund, is not a man to be vexed. Thus, these persons of interest have been gathered together and ordered, as a matter of civic duty, to venture out onto Coddefut's abandoned island, and investigate.
Coddefut's Stipule offers an introduction to the incredible world of Lyonesse, as described in Jack Vance's acclaimed fantasy trilogy: 'Suldrun's Garden', 'The Green Pearl', and 'Madouc'. The adventure is also a taster for the Lyonesse roleplaying game being produced by The Design Mechanism, and gives a sneak peak at some of the wonderful rules and magic the game will include to simulate Jack Vance's inimitable style.
Complete with 6 pregenerated characters, Coddefut's Stipule is fully compatible with the Mythras (and Mythras Imperative) rules, and is ready for play.
I’ve skimmed the adventure and it looks very good. The beginning is something of a ‘railroad’, but that’s fine for a ‘one shot’ (it could be reworked for a proper campaign). The pregenerated PCs are all quite distinctive and colourful, exactly the kinds of protagonists one would expect in a story by Vance. The 'Vancian charts' for town names, inn/tavern names, landlords, and meals are great, as are the sample fairy spells. Overall the adventure has a pungent Vancian flavour!

01 August 2019

Pathfinder 2nd edition

The second edition of Pathfinder has been released. I'll be curious to see how it fares in the market, given that the entire point of the original Pathfinder was to serve as a 'clone' (or 'almost-clone') of 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons. What is the role of PF 2e now that it is no longer a variant of 3e D&D? I guess it's to be a rules-heavier alternative to D&D for players who like 'crunch' (not that 5e is 'rules light' exactly, but it's certainly 'lighter' than any official version of D&D published since 1999).

There is a helpful review of 2e PF at EN World. (Hat tip: C. Robichaud.)

From the review: "A character is built out of feats..."

Aaaand I'm out.

30 July 2019

Númenor coming to the telly

This Rotten Tomatoes article goes over what is known publicly at this stage about Amazon’s future Middle-earth television series.

Some key points (for me at least):

1. Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey and concept artist John Howe are involved.
2. The series will take place in the Second Age.
3. The series will (most likely) focus on Númenor over other regions of Middle-earth (as I suspected in an earlier post).
4. Sauron will be a major character, perhaps with his Nazgul serving him whilst still (largely) human (i.e., 'pre-wraith').
5. Other possible characters: Celebrimbor, Ar-Pharazôn, Elendil, Elrond, Galadriel, and Gil-Galad. (And of course there is a chance that everyone’s favourite rhymer, Tom Bombadil, might make an appearance—hopefully in song! /s)

It would be a dream-come-true if the series covered:

a. The rise of Númenor to great power.
b. The forging of the rings of power by Celebrimbor and Sauron (the latter in his fair guise as ‘Annatar’).
c. The War of the Elves and Sauron (during which Eregion is destroyed, Celebrimbor slain, and Sauron ultimately defeated by the Elves under Gil-Galad with the aid of Númenor).
d. The decline of Númenor—ultimately leading to the capture of Sauron and Sauron’s subsequent corruption of Ar-Pharazôn.
e. The invasion of the Undying Lands by the Armada of Ar-Pharazôn: Númenor is destroyed, but the Faithful escape and join the Númenorean colonists in Middle-earth; there the Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor are established.
f. The War of the Final Alliance, with the Men of Gondor and Arnor allied with the remaining Elves against a surviving Sauron (who no longer can assume a fair form) and his hordes of orcs, trolls, and evil men (including the ‘Black Númenoreans’ of Umbar).

Such a series—if done well—would be amazing. May the Valar will it!

26 July 2019

The Dungeon Masters are now the Professors

Fellow philosopher—and fantasy fan and role-playing gamer—Christopher Robichaud is senior lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Apparently he has quite the office!

[Photo of Robichaud in his domain from here.]

Here is his explanation of his engagement with popular culture:
As a philosopher and ethicist, why is pop culture a part of your work?    I sometimes joke that philosophy is wasted on philosophers. It's only half a joke. I love the discipline. I love my colleagues who are professional philosophers writing mostly for professional philosophers. There's so much good that philosophy can do in the public, at large, but you sort of have to meet them halfway. So, my way of meeting folks halfway is by saying, "These popular cultural things that you love—Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or Dungeons & Dragons or superheroes—there are some interesting philosophical ideas here."  

And here he mentions his ongoing D&D game:
Any Easter eggs in the office? Anything hidden that people wouldn't notice?    In the corner, there are a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons books; I run Dungeons & Dragons game out of the Kennedy School. A couple times a month, people—including a Cambridge city councilor—play with me and a bunch of the students.  

Living the academic nerd dream!

Christopher edited the volume Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy and authored this blog’s review of Curse of Strahd.

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