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. 

02 September 2020

Herbert West, Health Inspector

And so, another autumn term begins! I start teaching tomorrow.

I (thankfully) will be teaching online. My university is pursuing a "hybrid" approach to instruction during the 2020-21 academic year, with roughly 60% of teaching purely online, 20% a mix of online and in person instruction, and 20% in person (with everyone wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart, etc.).

Reading the various memos from the administration on the reopening of the campus over the past couple of weeks has led me to think that their plans for in person instruction are as grounded in reality as this piece:
"Arkham Board of Health Feedback on Miskatonic University's Draft Plan For A Safe Campus Reopening."

Anyhow, best wishes to all the teachers, professors, and students out there. Stay well!

29 August 2020

RPGs as an escape to a kind of normalcy during abnormal times

I enjoyed reading, and hence recommend, this article: “Plague Comforts: Dungeons and Dragons is the Real World Now,” by Will Peischel.

I certainly have found playing RPGs online to be a great way to stay in touch with old friends (in my case, a couple of friends from my undergraduate days). And gaming over the years has provided a kind of ‘structured escapism’ that has helped me deal with the stresses and uncertainties of adulthood (which frustratingly seem to become more, rather than less, acute with each passing year).

Unlike the author and many of my friends, though, I’ve had far less time than usual to devote to my hobbies, including role-playing games, thanks to the pandemic. Indeed, I haven’t been running any games myself. However, I recently joined a Mythic Babylon campaign, and hope that I can resurrect my Greyhawk campaign sometime next month. I could use a partial return to 'normalcy.'

16 August 2020

A return to Icewind Dale

As I’ve mentioned before here, when it comes to classic Dungeons and Dragons settings, I’m much more of a “Greyhawk” person than a “Forgotten Realms” person. But I do like aspects of the Realms.

It’s a bit unfortunate what the Forgotten Realms setting has become over the past few decades. Decisions made during the era of fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons especially were quite misguided. (The “Spell Plague”? Blech!) The original “grey box” version was (in my view) quite good. Nonetheless, even now, after all these years and missteps, there are potions of the Realms that I continue to like. I still think that the Moonshae Islands, the Sword Coast, and Icewind Dale are cool regions with lots of potential for interesting adventures.

One of the reasons why I remain fond of the Icewind Dale region is the classic computer role-playing game set there, for which there is an ‘Enhanced Edition’ version. I still play it occasionally, especially when I’m too busy with “adult life” to get a proper role-playing game campaign together. In fact, I’ve been playing IWD EE lately—improved with some fun new ‘mods’ to keep it fresh. 

 [The party in the village of Kuldahar]

[Some rest and relaxation in the "Whistling Gallows" inn of Lonelywood]

So, I am somewhat intrigued by this forthcoming product: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. I’ll pick it up for nostalgia reasons alone. (I thought that the “D&D Next” module/mini-campaign setting, Legacy of the Crystal Shard, was quite good.) The art alone looks gorgeous. 

Finally, also related to the Forgotten Realms, check out these early maps by Ed Greenwood.

Okay, that’s enough Realms stuff for now. I have a few things about Greyhawk that I hope to post in the near future (in addition to my final campaign notes for my Adventures in Middle-earth Mirkwood campaign.) Stay safe and healthy!

08 July 2020

Jim Holloway, RIP

As many of you no doubt already know, the artist Jim Holloway passed away just over a week ago (on June 28th).

Joseph Goodman has a brief essay on Holloway’s work—“Remembering Jim Holloway”—over at his Goodman Games website. I especially liked this observation:
“Jim brought a playfulness to TSR’s in-house stable of artists. His fine linework and natural humanoid poses were informed by an inner chuckle. You could tell this was a man who saw humor with every glance. As an artist, he brought that humor to the surface. Every battle, every monster, every spell: just beneath the surface—and occasionally right on top of it—there was a joke waiting to happen.”
Here is his famous cover illustration for B4, The Lost City (now rereleased as part of Goodman Games’ “Original Adventures Reincarnated” series):

Deep within the Lost City dwells the Lovecraftian horror "Zargon":

Holloway’s work for D&D, AD&D, and Paranoia are well-known. The interior art of Gary Gygax’s Monster Manual 2 was entirely by Holloway. He also did some work for ICE’s Middle-earth line. Below are some pictures from the Pirates of Pelargir module.

Holloway’s pictures often made me laugh. They frequently portrayed adventurers as fallible and foolish. I’m sad that we will see no new works from his prolific pen.


04 July 2020

New Lyonesse and Mythras adventures

The good people at the Design Mechanism have released a couple of new adventures for Lyonesse and Mythras: 'In High Dudgeon', and 'Meeros Doomed'.

Below are the adventure descriptions.

Games Without Frontiers...
Every year, the villages of High and Low Dudgeon meet for the midsummer games. Every year for the past 10 years, Low Dudgeon has lost. The villagers are suspicious; what is High Dudgeon's secret? Could it be magic? Could it be some secret training technique? Is it outright cheating? Enter the intrepid characters, visiting the villages to enjoy the games, but drawn into the intrigue of Low Dudgeon's misfortune. And if the true source of High Dudgeon's success isn't found before the current games end -- well, things could get ugly.
In High Dudgeon is a Lyonesse scenario for 2-6 characters, and involves a high degree of investigation and social interaction. The adventure is complete with maps, and a plethora of colourful non-player characters. Also included are four pre-generated characters -- Madam Neneveh's Festive Fellows -- designed for use with the adventure.
The City State of Meeros lies broken. Queen Herathos wants the renegade priestess, Kara, brought to justice to atone for her treachery. The characters are tasked with venturing to distant Kopash, and charged with making her arrest.
But is all as it seems? Powerful forces are plotting to destroy Meeros completely, and those who have protected the city may well be the ones who secure its doom.
The characters must uncover traitors, travel into monster-infested swamps, confront sorcerous fiends, and perhaps even ally themselves with Meeros' ancient foes, the Badoshi Warlords, if they are to avenge the Doom that has come to Meeros!
This mini-campaign follows on directly from events found in the Mythras core rules, and the scenarios Sarinaya's Curse, and Meeros Falling, although it can also be played stand-alone.
I’ll be getting both of these. My hope is that once a few more adventures come out for Lyonesse I can string them together—and add some of my own—to run a campaign later this year (or possibly early 2021). 

Speaking of Lyonesse, I finally picked up my printed copy of the rules, which had been languishing in my post office box for several weeks. It’s a beautiful volume. And it is thick (almost 4 centimeters / 1.5 inches)! 

I’m really looking forward to reading this tome properly over the next couple of weeks. I already have the PDF, which I’ve dipped into occasionally over the past month, but I generally find that I need a proper physical book to read something like this from cover to cover. E-books and PDFs are helpful and convenient, but they can’t replace proper paper.

27 June 2020

Four months of Chaos

I am starting to think that serving as Chair of my Department during a pandemic is highly suboptimal with respect to my ongoing happiness and wellbeing. 

Since my university closed all of its physical buildings and switched everything online in mid-March, my life has been consumed by work (learning how to use new online tools; managing the transition online for my own teaching as well as helping my colleagues; frequent meetings with other Chairs, Deans, and so forth to address the endless problems caused by the shut down; more meetings since the end of term to figure out what to do in the autumn; and—unrelated to the pandemic—trying to finish my obscenely overdue book).

Consequently, blogging here has been quite minimal. I also haven’t done any gaming at all.

It’s been a grind. The only thing that has kept me sane was hiding from the world with my wife in my parents’ cabin on Lake Huron. Alas, that’s over now.

I’m in the midst of moving right now, but hopefully things will settle down in July and I can return to at least a bit of gaming and somewhat more frequent blogging.

Sorry for the whine.

24 June 2020

Review of Crypts and Things Remastered

There is a quite informative review of Crypts and Things Remastered at Ynas Midgard's RPG Blog. (It was posted over a year ago, but I only just recently came across it.) 

Since I’m a great fan of C&T (and contributed some rules to it) I thought that I would mention it here, in case anyone was curious about the game.

Do you have that “Orcish” look? The splendid brow of a Uruk-hai?

"Lord of the Rings TV series issues New Zealand casting call for 'funky-looking' people"

"Talent agency job ad lists long skinny limbs, acne scars, facial lines, missing bones and large eyes as desirable features.”

Some of my friends would be perfect for these roles ("skinny limbs," "large eyes," etc.). (Not me, of course...)

19 June 2020

Ian Holm sails to Valinor

The actor Ian Holm has passed away.

Most readers of this blog no doubt will be familiar with Holm’s role as the android “Ash” in the original (and best) Alien film, as well as his portrayal of “Bilbo Baggins” in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit). He was perfect in both roles. He also superbly played “Napoleon” in Time Bandits. I’ve long been a fan of his work in general, including his portrayal of “Fluellen” in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Henry V.


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