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.

24 July 2019

Rutger Hauer RIP

Rutger Hauer -- no doubt best known for his nuanced portrayal of the replicant 'Roy Batty' in Blade Runner -- has passed away at the age of 75. (More information here.)

Here is a scene -- the death speech of Roy Batty -- that is forever seared into my memory.



RIP

19 July 2019

Alan Moore retires

More than any other author, Alan Moore transformed the comic book genre from something (generally perceived to be) for ‘kids’ and ‘teens’ to a medium capable of telling adult stories (often quite dark, disturbing, and thought-provoking).

Now, it seems, he is done.

I’ve only read a fraction of Moore’s work—I’m not exactly a ‘comics’ guy, though I do enjoy them occasionally, and read many of the ‘greats’ (Moore, Gaiman, Miller, etc.) during the 1980s and 1990s. But I’ve probably read more of Moore’s work than that of any other ‘graphic novel’ author.

And I vividly recall reading The Watchmen series when it was first released in 1987—I was in high-school at the time—and being completely blown away by it. The Watchmen remains, in my view, the greatest single superheroes story ever told.


08 July 2019

The Spider Cult of Mirkwood: a summary of adventures 1–6


Notes:

- Some of these summaries link to longer posts.
- The full index—including character profiles, campaign notes, etc.—is here.
- The regional maps are by Peter Fenlon (from ICE's Mirkwood).
- The pictures of Radagast and Rhosgobel also are from ICE's Mirkwood.
- The picture of the basilisk is from C7's Rhovanion Region Guide.

1. The Spider Orb (May 2946).

The company meets for the first time in Esgaroth. They agree to help the villagers of nearby Ulgarstat with their troubles. In doing so, the party discovers both giant intelligent spiders and a black glassy stone with eldritch writing on it—all within a nearby but dark corner of Mirkwood.

1.5. Fellowship phase in Esgaroth (May-June 2946).

The company learns something about the black orb and its malevolent nature. They subsequently formulate a plan to journey to the Wood elf town of Celebannon, to consult with the Sindarin sage Luinwen who dwells there.

2. Into Mirkwood and Back Again (Mid-late June 2946).

The company journeys to Celebannon on some merchant rafts. There, within the inn ‘Dindraug’, they meet the Lake-man scout Rothaar One-Leg. They travel with Rothaar into the depths of Mirkwood, and help the scout recover the merchant Thal Eolsen’s chest from goblin brigands and a troll whilst rescuing a comely caravan guard. The company returns to Celebannon whilst being followed by nefarious spiders. In Celebannon they learn more about the black orb from Luinen.


2.5 Another Fellowship phase in Esgaroth (Late June – late August 2946).

Hengil (following the advice of Luinwen) decides that the black orb—a malevolent artefact related somehow to Ungoliant—should be rendered unto Radagast the Brown for safekeeping. Also, Ulvmund learns the location of his family ancestral home—razed by Smaug 170 years earlier—from the merchant Thal Eolsen.

3. To Bar-en-Dindol and Beyond (September 2946).

The company travels from Esgaroth to Dale, and then northwest from Dale to the ruins of Bar-en-Dindol—the ancient tower of Ulvmund’s ancestors. There they encounter vicious wargs, at least one ghost, and recover the ancient sword of the Lords of the Galmund family.

4. The Grey Mountain Narrows (September 2946).

The company leaves Bar-en-Dindol and travels along the Men-i-Mithrin (‘Grey Road’)—between the northern eaves of Mirkwood and the southern ridges of the Grey Mountains—and come across an ancient dwarf statue looking sternly south, as well as several living dwarves (Hár, Borri, and Snorri) fighting a band of goblins. After helping the dwarves, the party is taken to the secret hideout of the dejected dwarf lord Frár (‘the beardless’). The company wins a riddle contest against the rescued dwarves, and acquires a dwarf companion—Tholin the trader—for their journey to the Old Ford. While the company journeys to the shack of Amfossa the Trapper—which is located at the conjunction of the Mithlin (Greylin) and Langwell rivers at the head of the Anduin—they encounter, and successfully drive off, some vicious wargs, including a large one that had tracked them from the ruins of Bar-en-Dindol.


5. Down the Anduin (October 2946).

The company rests for several days at the enchanted shack of Amfossa the Trapper. They then journey south in a raft guided by Narlin the northman trader. Whilst drifting along the great river, the companions spot a giant kingfisher—the Kingfisher Lord—before arriving in the small town of northmen traders known as Maethelburg (located where the Sirros river joins the great Anduin). Tholin guides the adventurers to the ‘Blue Giant’ inn and the ‘Golden Foam’ tavern. There the Dúnedan Warden learns of the brigand Cruac, as well as of a giant in the wilds who challenges all he encounters to games of riddles. From Maethelburg the company journeys by foot to the Old Ford. At the ‘Hall of the Crossing’ the companions learn that many Beorning and Woodmen travelers and families have disappeared in recent months. Tholin says farewell, and the party continues south. They encounter an enigmatic old man with a long white beard, dressed in a white cloak, who does not identify himself to the party—but gestures oddly at them, filling their hearts with courage. This proves to be a boon, as the next day the companions stumble upon a vile basilisk—a terrible creature from ancient times that dwells in the hidden corners of Mirkwood and the surrounding wilderness. Ulvmund is paralyzed and Hartmut poisoned by the noxious breath of the boar-sized reptile before it is finally slain by Hengil. Battered and sickened, the three adventurers stagger into Rhosgobel two days later, where they are healed by Radagast the Brown.




5.5. Fellowship Phase in Rhosgobel (Winter 2946-47).

Radagast takes the spider orb from the party and buries it in his hallowed grove; the grove’s enchantments, the wizard believes, will contain the stone’s malevolent aura. He explains that the stone seems to be connected to an ancient spider cult of the Woodmen. This cult supposedly disappeared with the rise of the Necromancer almost two millennia ago, but (clearly) seems to have returned. The companions winter in a stone cottage within the Woodmen village, near the wizard’s home. Hengil receives a book of lore from the wizard, while Hartmut and Ulvmund receive special herb pouches. Hengil and Ulvmund try to hunt with the woodmen but fail miserably; Hartmut, however, learns to prepare healing salves. Radagast and the companions are visited by Arciryas (a scholar from Gondor, and student of Saruman). Radagast tells Arciryas that Saruman has been traveling about the Anduin Vale throughout the past autumn and summer searching for something—the party infers that it was Saruman whom they had met earlier in their travels!



6. The Barrow of the Spider Cult (March 2947)

As spring approaches Radagast tells the companions that some of his owl friends have reported strange happenings at an ancient Barrow of the Woodmen to the north. Giant spiders and cloaked Woodmen have been going into and out of the barrow with great frequency. Armed with a dagger of Númenor—a gift from the wizard—the party agrees to investigate. They stop at Woodmen Town en route. There they stay at ‘The Gentle Leaf’ inn and meet the dwarf Bofri (son of Bofur). Hengil learns from the Woodmen that many of their kin have disappeared in recent months. At the barrow the company encounters woodmen cultists—including one, Bodaric, capable of using dark sorcery, and who poisoned Hengil with his words alone—and a deft spider. Within Bodaric’s lair the party finds a map of central Mirkwood—a black spider symbol is located at the head of the Gûlduin River. After eliminating the cultists, the company discovers a vile shrine with another black orb upon an altar. The party takes the orb, and heads back to Rhosgobel. During their trip they come across the burnt remnants of a Woodmen cottage; the company rescues a young woman, Varya, who describes an attack by cultists and spiders. The companions take her with them to Rhosgobel.


6.5 Fellowship Phase in Rhosgobel (late March to early April 2947)

The companions meet with Radagast and the Sindarin lord, Haldir of Lorien. At this conference the party learns more about the ancient spider cult from Haldir; they also learn that the black tower at the head of the Gûlduin River is ‘Sarn Goriwing’ (Sindarin: ‘Abhorrent Spray’s Stone’). Hengil realizes that this is the tower from his prophetic dream in Rivendell! Radagast recommends that the company investigate this tower and try to end the threat posed by the cult. To aid the characters, Haldir gives them three Elven cloaks, some Elven rope, and a map of an ancient Wood Elf trail through the Mountains of Mirkwood. Radagast asks one of his Raven friends—‘Quesse’—to accompany the party and act as a scout for them.

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