30 March 2020

Lyonesse is coming

The good folk at the Design Mechanism have received the proof copy of their forthcoming Lyonesse book:

Lawrence Whitaker writes:
“It's a big book – 510 pages in total – but this is a complete, standalone game containing everything you need to roleplay in Jack Vance's Elder Isles."
As I’ve noted before (many times), I’m quite excited about this game! Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, and Mythras is one of my all-time favourite role-playing games. Consequently, I think that this is going to be awesome!

I’m looking forward to bossing around some sandestins while thwarting the Ska…

29 March 2020

Salutations from Limbo

This was the scene from my family's cottage on the shore of Lake Huron (near Goderich, Ontario) this morning:

My spouse and I are in quarantine here. The coast is largely devoid of people right now. Only the soft lapping of the waves and the occasional cries of birds break the eerie silence.

It's beautiful and sad at the same time. I feel like we stumbled through a portal into a forgotten region of Limbo.

Hope all of you are doing well during this difficult time.

27 March 2020

Cubicle 7 to end Middle-earth RPG lines (Updated)

Some dramatic news out of Cubicle 7:
We have some very unfortunate and unexpected news to share. Contractual differences arose recently which we have been unable to resolve, and so we have decided to end our licensing agreement with Sophisticated Games. It is with regret that we have made this very tough decision to withdraw.
This means we will cease publishing The One Ring and Adventures in Middle-earth™ in the first half of 2020. 
Full report here.

This is very disappointing news, as I think that their Adventures in Middle-earth products are among the best books yet published for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons.

Fortunately, C7 is having a sale now so that you can round out your collection before it all sails away to Valinor.


UPDATE (2020-03-27): The discontinuation announcement from C7 is from last November, so this is not really 'news'. (The sale date is for today, and I mistakenly thought that the announcement also was published today.)

However, on March 9th The Free League (Fria Ligan) announced that it will be taking over both lines (AiM and TOR)! So the journey goes on...

(Thanks to Rev. Lazaro for correcting me!)

23 March 2020

Gandalf the Existentialist

Some wise words from Gandalf the Grey for these dark days:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
[J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring]
[Picture of Gandalf by Kent Burles, from ICE's 1993 book Valar and Maiar.]

Hope everyone is hiding out in their hobbit holes as much as possible these days. 

If you must venture out for vital supplies (lembas, pipe-weed, dwarven ale, etc.) or essential work, be sure to keep one wizard’s staff or two hobbit-lengths away from others.

Take care! Mára alma ana tye.

09 March 2020

Max von Sydow RIP

Actor Max von Sydow has died at the age of 90.

His performance in The Seventh Seal ensures his cinematic immortality. It’s one of the greatest films ever made, and von Sydow was perfect in it.

But like many others of my generation and interests, my first exposure to von Sydow’s acting was in Conan the Barbarian, in which he played the bitter King Osric. (Shortly afterwards, he played the evil Brewmeister Smith of Elsinore Brewery in the Canadian film Strange Brew, which, as the name of the brewery indicates, was loosely based on Hamlet.)


26 February 2020

Some Thoughts on Greyhawk and the Golden Age of Gygax

I started an online Greyhawk campaign last autumn (as mentioned in this post). In preparation for it, I reread most of Gary Gygax’s classic World of Greyhawk campaign setting (the 1983 ‘gold box’ version, which is my favourite, even though I prefer the art in the 1980 ‘folio’). I also reread bits of other Greyhawk-related works by Gygax (modules, some of the ‘Gord’ novels and stories, etc.) and portions of the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules. Doing this reminded me of the singular character of his work.

[Trampier's front page PHB illustration. Does it depict EGG?]

In his publications from about 1977 to 1984 — what I think of as the ‘golden age’ of his creative output — Gygax's writings conveyed a very strong ‘vision’ for AD&D, and especially the world of Greyhawk. These works have a distinctive character and ethos. As I read them again, I realized that I rather liked ‘Gygaxian’ fantasy. (Or rather, I realized again that I liked it. Although I spent many weekends poring through The Dungeon Master’s Guide and various modules in my youth, I didn't really appreciate the uniqueness of Gygax’s work as a teenager. I subsequently went on to focus on other RPGs before ‘rediscovering’ AD&D and Greyhawk about 16 years ago, as part of my reaction against 3rd edition D&D. While my current campaign uses the 5th edition D&D rules, I strive to maintain a ‘1983’ ethos during our group’s sessions.)

The AD&D books are works of art — flawed, yes, but bursting with idiosyncratic creativity and energy, often drawing on eclectic and diverse sources. The ‘artifacts and relics’ section of the DMG alone is an evocative masterpiece. The original 'Drow' are among the greatest fantasy villains of all time. Many of Gygax's modules are remarkable in terms of their vision and originality (the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun is a masterpiece of ‘weird’ fantasy). And the World of Greyhawk is a colourful swords-and-sorcery setting (with some Tolkienesque flavourings added, thanks to the inclusion of dwarves, elves, orcs, and so forth).

When I read Gygax's work (AD&D, the modules, etc.) I find his ‘vision’ to be clear and distinctive. In my view, it's primarily ‘Vancian’ in its literary inspiration (namely, Jack Vance’s early ‘Dying Earth’ stories), but with elements from the fiction of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Poul Anderson, and others, plus bits of Michael Moorcock and J.R.R. Tolkien. And of course Gygax drew upon real world history quite a bit. It’s an odd mix, to be sure, but it works overall (in my judgement).

For the most part, Gygax’s later (post-TSR) work never really interested me (except, somewhat, for the Castle Zagyg material, which of course was an attempt to ‘reconstruct’ some elements of his earliest campaign). And I found many of the Dragon editorials (i.e., ‘rants’) written by him while he was at TSR grating and pompous (especially the infamous anti-Lord of the Rings one, which caused my adolescent self great dismay). While my few interactions with him online in the early part of this century (within a couple of Q&A threads at RPG forums) were pleasant and informative, I suspect that I should be grateful that I did not know him better, as I doubt (based on my limited knowledge) that I would have found his personality and views congenial overall. But so what? It’s his positive creative contributions that count. (Many of my favourite authors are people whom I probably would not be that fond of in real life, e.g., H.P. Lovecraft.)

Despite their flaws, I find the materials that comprise golden age ‘Gygaxiana’—the core hardback AD&D rulebooks (plus Monster Manual 2, and some parts of Unearthed Arcana), the classic modules (G1-3, D1-3, S1, WG4, etc.), the World of Greyhawk, and so forth—to be evocative, unique, and wonderful fun.

14 February 2020

Happy Valentine's Day from HPL

H. P. Lovecraft (in a letter to J. Vernon Shea, 1934):
"I didn't slop over in youthful romance, since I didn't believe -- and still don't -- in the existence of sentimental 'love' as a definite, powerful, or persistent human emotion. I have always regarded marriage as composed of friendly regard, mental congeniality, social foresight, and practical advantage; to which at first the element of biological eroticism is added."
I'm sure that my spouse will swoon once she reads this written in her card tonight...

27 January 2020

A Lovecraft Cinematic Universe?

H.P. Lovecraft’s classic story, “The Colour Out of Space,” is one of my all-time favourites. So I’m relieved to see that the reviews for the new film based upon it, directed by Richard Stanley and featuring Nicolas Cage, have been generally positive. It’s at “84% fresh” right now at Rotten Tomatoes.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to see it myself — the film doesn’t appear to be in wide release, and is not currently playing anywhere in Milwaukee — but see it eventually I shall!

(Alas, the film title uses “Color” not “Colour” in its title. Pity. I’ve always found amusing Lovecraft’s adamant use of British spelling in all his works, despite being American himself. And as a Canadian, “Color” just looks wrong.)

This review at Ars Technica, in addition to including a nice slideshow of stills from the movie, has a brief explainer called, “Why Aren’t There More Lovecraft Movies?” But it looks like we will be getting at least two more, including The Dunwich Horror. This in particular looks intriguing:
“With Dunwich Horror, we'll go on campus and get back to Miskatonic University… We'll also get to deal with the Necronomicon, the black book at the core of the mythos.”
I really hope that this new “Lovecraft cinematic universe” does not disappoint fans of the original tales!

17 January 2020

No second season for the Watchmen

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, HBO's series The Watchmen is superb, almost a perfect sequel to the original comic series.

Alas, it looks like there will be no second season. While the first season presents a complete story and ends very well, I must confess that I'm a little disappointed. Among other things, I wanted to learn the fate of Nite Owl. But if Damon Lindelof isn't interested in returning to the world then there's no point in HBO putting out some inferior product.

Nothing ever ends? Looks like Watchmen did... But it least it ended well.

(Thanks to C. Robichaud for the tip.)

16 January 2020

Christopher Tolkien RIP

J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95.

Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar.
Nai elyë hiruva. Namárië!

(More information available at The Tolkien Society and TOR.)

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