10 April 2019

D and D is cool

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece explaining "Why the Cool Kids Are Playing Dungeons & Dragons."

Of course, I have known that D&D is 'cool' for over 30 years now...

One thing mentioned in the essay -- which elicited from me an old man, 'you-kids-these-days', reaction -- was this: "Adding to the newfound popularity are thousands of D&D games broadcast on YouTube and the live-stream service Twitch." For the life of me, I cannot comprehend the appeal of watching others play games online. That sounds about as appealing as watching other people drink beer or eat chips. The point of role-playing games is to play. But whatever -- it's obviously no harm to me if others enjoy that sort of thing, and if it gets more people interested in playing RPGs, and thus growing the hobby, then so much the better.

24 March 2019

Not one but two forthcoming Vance-based games

I’m a big fan of Jack Vance’s fantasy works—in particular, his Lyonesse trilogy and his Dying Earth stories. So I’m quite excited about the Design Mechanism’s forthcoming Mythras-based Lyonesse role-playing game. (For an interesting discussion of the first Lyonesse novel, go here.)

To my amazement, though, I completely missed the announcement a few years ago of another Vance-based role-playing game: namely, one from Goodman Games set in the Dying Earth. Since the original announcement claimed that the game would be available in ‘late 2017’, I was worried that the project had been abandoned. However, this GG post from about two weeks ago (March 12th) indicates that it’s still on the cards.

It looks like the Dying Earth RPG will be based upon the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game. I’ve never played DCCRPG, but based on my reading of the ‘quick start’ rules (which I picked up a couple of years ago), I’m not sure I’m too keen on it. While I quite like old school games—I even contributed to one (Crypts & Things)—the particular interpretation of ‘old school’ offered by DCC (e.g., the ‘funnel’ for 0-level characters; the randomness of the magic system) does not really resonate with me. At the same time, though, I’m open to the possibility that my ‘pre-play’ assessment is off, and I’d be happy to try it someday. And if the DCC system is suitably adapted for the Dying Earth setting, I’ll definitely pick it up and give it a shot!

(Goodman Games has a brief discussion of Vance’s writings here.)

21 March 2019


After 10 years of the same thing, I'm testing out a new look for this blog.

Initially I just wanted to replace the picture. (The above 'Dragon Slayers' drawing is something that I did in 1983 [when I was 12 or 13].) But that led me to make other changes...

I'm not sure I like this current look, although I do think it's more 'readable' than the old one.

I may tweak it some more in the near future. Comments or suggestions would be appreciated (but, obviously, not necessarily acted upon).

17 March 2019

Larry DiTillio, RIP

According to RPG.net, Larry DiTillio has passed away.

Within the role-playing games community, DiTillio is probably best known as the co-author of the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign, Masks of Nyarlathotep.

Masks one of those amazing campaigns that I've read and read about -- and want to run someday...

Sad news. RIP Mr. DiTillio.

07 March 2019


By the Valar! It looks like the forthcoming Amazon Prime Middle-earth series may be set during the Second Age and will encompass Númenor.

If you go to the most recent map of Middle-earth and scroll over to the bottom left (southwest) corner you can see the legendary island kingdom of the high men:

And the map does not merely depict Middle-earth at the end of the Second Age, but an earlier time. This is because it includes Ost-in-Edhil and Eregion—the land of the Elvish smiths, including Celebrimbor (second only to Fëanor in his skill), which was destroyed by Sauron’s armies following the creation of the Rings of Power in the middle of the Second Age. (The surviving Elves fled the ruins of Eregion and, under the leadership of Elrond, founded a hidden enclave: Imladris, better known as ‘Rivendell’.)

For further discussion of this map and what it might portend for the series, check out this article at Tor. (Among other things, the article wisely cautions us against becoming too excited about the prospect of a series set during the Second Age. Perhaps there will be only some ‘flashback’ scenes set during the Second Age, but the story itself will take place well into the Third Age.) 

UPDATE: This Polygon article seems confident in asserting that the series will be set during the Second Age. And an Amazon Prime tweet from earlier today says: "Welcome to the Second Age." Hmmm....

04 March 2019

Hawkmoon is coming to the small screen

Well this interesting: BBC Studios is adapting Michael Moorcock’s Runestaff tetralogy into a television series.

Hawkmoon is not my favourite character amongst Moocock’s ‘Eternal Champions’—I find Corum, Elric, and von Bek to be more nuanced and engaging protagonists. But some of Hawkmoon’s companions, such as Huillam d'Averc and Oladahn, are quite colourful. And the main villains of the series—like the withered and ancient Emperor Huon, who dwells in a fluid-filled sphere in Londra, and the sybaritic and cunning Baron Meliadus, who is Hawkmoon’s chief antagonist throughout the series—are brilliant. The Granbretans in general should be interesting to watch, as they wear animal masks at all times in public (the subjects of the Emperor belong to various ‘orders’, each with their own totemic animal).

But the star of the series, if it’s done properly, may be the setting itself: the post-‘Tragic Millennium’ future earth, wherein the vile Empire of Granbretan threatens all of Europe and, indeed, the world. The series encompasses much of this world—from Syria and the Ukraine in the east, to North America in the west—so it has the potential to showcase some amazing scenery and sets. And then there are the battles: I look forward to scenes wherein the warriors of Count Brass’s Kamarg, mounted on giant flying flamingos, are met by the Granbretans’ baroque ornithopters and terrible ‘flame lances’. 

Hopefully BBC Studios will do justice to Moocock’s world and story. I’m cautiously enthusiastic…

21 February 2019

The forthcoming Middle-earth series: Calenardhon?

As noted at this blog previously, Amazon Prime is coming out with a television series set in Middle-earth. Rotten Tomatoes has posted an article that goes over everything that is known publicly about the series at this time (and also engages in a fair bit of fun speculation).

Assuming that the series takes place close-ish to the time of The Lord of the Rings—the RT article suggests that the protagonist likely will be a young (i.e., under-90) Aragorn—there are some intriguing possibilities for the series to explore. My curiosity was especially aroused by the prospect that those two over-looked Istari, the Blue Wizards, might get some screen time:
“This might be mere speculation, but there are few characters in the young Aragorn timeframe Tolkien fans would love to see in the Amazon series. Returning to that curious region in the far East and the topic of the Istari, two of their number, the Blue Wizards, immediately trekked to the East as part of their mission in Middle-earth. Only mentioned in Tolkien’s unfinished tales, they either succumbed to Sauron’s influence or died as they failed to sway the Easterlings away from the Dark Lord. Presuming Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien estate includes unfinished material like the tale of the wizards, they would be ideal characters to utilize in the series. They could be villains, fallen heroes or anything in between. They could even be Aragorn’s guides in the East. And as their role in the War of the Ring was never revealed, they offer the series’ writers greater flexibility in the storytelling and characters without predefined destinies.”
The Amazon ‘preview’ map can be viewed here. I’ve noticed that some place names have been added gradually over time (and presumably will continue to be added in the future). One thing that stands out to me about the map in its current state—the significance of which is mentioned in the RT article (much to my surprise)—is that it includes ‘Calenardhon’ (which means ‘green region’ in Sindarin).

As those familiar with the history of Middle-earth know, ‘Calenardhon’ was a northern province of Gondor. It was depopulated in 1636 (of the Third Age) by the Great Plague, and overrun by the Balchoth (Sauron-influenced ‘Easterling’ invaders) in 2510. Gondor was aided in defeating the Balchoth at the Battle of the Field of Celebrant by the Éothéod under the leadership of Eorl. The land subsequently was given to the Éothéod by the Steward Cirion in return for this assistance. The Éothéod became known as the ‘Rohirrim’ and the land ‘Rohan’.

If the map is meant to accurately depict Middle-earth during the time of the series, then it must take place at least five centuries before the events of The Lord of the Rings. I have a dream that the series is set during Gondor’s civil war, the ‘Kin-Strife’ (1432-1448). Perhaps?

[Angus McBride’s cover for the 1995 MERP book The Kin-Strife]

[UPDATE (2019-02-25): Fixed the links in the post (I placed the link to the RT article in the wrong place, and failed to include the proper link to the map).]

13 February 2019

Tolkien trailer

The first trailer for the forthcoming biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien is now available for your viewing pleasure (all 55 seconds of it). You can watch it, and read a bit about the film, here at Screen Rant.

[Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien]

The film focuses on Tolkien's early life (up to and including his time in the Great War). I'm ... cautiously optimistic. I really hope that it does justice to this literary giant.

05 January 2019

Temple of the Flayed Lord

In case you need some inspiration for a new Cthulhu Mythos style cult (also eminently useable for fantasy and historical role-playing games):
Mexican experts say they have found the first temple of the Flayed Lord, a pre-Hispanic fertility god depicted as a skinned human corpse.
The institute said experts found two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec. It had an extra hand dangling off one arm, suggesting the god was wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim.
Priests worshipped Xipe Totec by skinning human victims and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration.
The Popolocas built the temple at a complex known as Ndachjian-Tehuacan between AD 1000 and 1260 and were later conquered by the Aztecs.
More information on the charming Xipe Totec and his ancient Popolocas followers can be found here.

30 December 2018

Conan wanders through Canada

By Crom! This is brilliant: artist Kris Friesen has inserted Conan (the Cimmerian with mighty thews) into a number of murals throughout western Canada (especially Edmonton).

Here’s the barbarian slurping noodles in ancient Khitai, er, I mean China:

And here is Conan—perhaps repenting for his previous praise for hearing the ‘lamentations of the women’—marching in a women’s rights march:

Finally, here he is being splashed in a pool:

I suspect that that mustachioed hipster will soon regret his action…

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