28 September 2012

Rolemaster Public Playtest

The new folks in charge of ICE are conducting a public playtest for the forthcoming version of Rolemaster.

I have many fond memories of playing Rolemaster 2e -- and, even more so, MERP -- decades ago (mainly during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and most recently in 1999).  But I think that ship has sailed for me.  (Of course, I would not rule out checking out the final product, once it's available.)

23 September 2012

Hobbit History

I found this to be an interesting article on the history of The Hobbit.  I already knew about the revision that Tolkien made to the original version of the story in order to render it consistent with The Lord of the Rings.  But this final point made in the article was new to me (in the sense that I never had noticed its significance before):
So thorough was Tolkien’s assimilation of his earlier work that even the revision of The Hobbit itself was incorporated into the story. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf and Frodo talk about the fact that Bilbo’s book (published as The Hobbit) contained a false account of the story of his finding of the Ring. Gandalf explains that the Ring had already begun to take hold of Bilbo, and when he told the story in his book, he made up the part about being given the Ring by Gollum in order to bolster his personal claim to it. The “true” story, the revised version, was only discovered later, but copies of the original could still be found in circulation.
The article also includes a nice gallery of Tolkien’s art (including the piece above).

13 September 2012

Cthulhu Canada: The Sanatorium

August 1923 -- Toronto

The investigators – Prof. Nigel Blackthorne and Dr. Pierre Rioux – spend a full month on leave from their respective jobs, recovering from the wounds, both physical and psychic, acquired from their investigation into the curious case of Mr. Corbitt.

During this time, Pierre receives a letter from one of his former professors from medical school, Dr. Aldous Brewer.  In the letter, Brewer invites Pierre to visit him at his experimental sanatorium on Mid-Lake Island (which, as its name implies, lies in the middle of Lake Ontario).  Desirous to get away from the city for a few days, Pierre decides to accept the invitation, and convinces Nigel to come along with him.

Pierre and Nigel take a motorboat, controlled by an ancient Australian mariner who now works for Dr. Brewer, to Mid-Lake Island.  Once there, they discover that something has gone horribly wrong at the sanatorium.  All of the staff appears to have been slain – including Pierre’s former teacher, Dr. Brewer!  Much to their distress, the investigators discern that Brewer apparently was slain as part of some kind of dark, blasphemous ritual.

Nigel is puzzled to discover several books on ancient Egypt, including several newspaper clippings, in Brewer’s library.  Apparently these books and clippings are related to one of the inmates, ‘Darlene,’ who had been found years earlier in the backstreets of Montreal, with no memory of her identity.

The remaining inmates are attended to by Pierre as best he can.  Investigating for the rest of the night and throughout the next day, while ensuring that the inmates come to no harm, Pierre and Nigel learn that a terrible creature from another world inadvertently has been summoned by one of the inmates, an especially sensitive but schizophrenic poet.  The investigators discover that the creature sucked the ‘life force’ from the sanatorium’s maid, leaving her corpse a withered husk.

While exploring the rest of the island, Pierre and Nigel come across a rock with strange carvings, and disturbingly recent blood stains.  They also explore a lighthouse.  Much to their dismay, the lighthouse proves to be occupied by the creature that previously ravaged the sanatorium!  The creature is a roiling mass of gassy spheres, nearly transparent in the summer daylight, with a shifting, oily iridescence.

Barely escaping with their lives, the investigators return to the sanatorium.  There they discover, in the maintenance shed, one of the sanatorium’s former orderlies, Mr. Johnson, standing over the sacrificed body of one of the inmates, engraving bloody eldritch symbols onto her flesh.  Horrified, Pierre and Nigel shoot Johnson dead, and infer that he had fallen under the control of the creature from another world.

Following various leads from their investigations, and especially the notes of Dr. Brewer, Pierre decides to hypnotize Darlene, believing that she may have submerged memories from a previous life relevant to their present dire situation.  They learn that one of her personalities in an earlier life was that of the Egyptian princess ‘Annephis,’ a priestess of the cult of Bast.  During her time, Annephis turned back a horrific race of beings referred to only as ‘Those Who Wait.’  Annephis learned from her goddess how to destroy the creatures, and constructed many Elder Signs with which she and her followers drove the creatures into the Nile where they perished.  With the help of ‘Annephis,’ the investigators construct their own Elder Sign.

Nigel and Pierre then debate what to do.  They decide to load up a wheelbarrow with cans of gasoline, and return to the lighthouse.  They spread the gasoline on the stairs and floor of the lighthouse.  Igniting the gasoline, the eldritch creature is forced from the building.  Unfortunately, one of the creature’s pseudopods hits Pierre on the head, scarring his face with burning acid.  The pitiable physician collapses unconscious, his life force rapidly draining away.  Fortunately, the pseudopod withdraws in reaction to Nigel’s brandishing of the Elder Sign.  After a terrible struggle, Nigel uses the Elder Sign to force the creature over the side of the cliff.  Upon falling into the lake, the creature is destroyed, as fresh water is one of its (surprisingly mundane) weaknesses.

Nigel returns to sanatorium, bringing the unconscious Pierre with him in the wheelbarrow.  Unable to leave the island (as the motorboat had been destroyed by the mad Mr. Johnson), and lacking any way to communicate with the outside world, the investigators wait for the police to arrive.  In the meantime they bury the bodies left by the creature’s wave of destruction, and take care of the surviving inmates.

The investigators’ time on Mid-Lake Island proved to be anything but the idyllic escape that they had hoped it would be!

Fortunately, the subsequent two years proved to be far more prosaic for Nigel and Pierre…

09 September 2012

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea now available

As OSR Con II was winding down last month, the artist Ian Baggley introduced himself to me and said a few nice things about this blog, which I quite appreciated.

I think very highly of Ian’s art, and have posted some examples of it a few of times before.  This picture of an Elder Thing strikes me as especially superb, worthy of its eldritch subject matter:

(I would be delighted if some pictures like the one above by Ian were to make it into the forthcoming 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu.  He has a real talent for portraying the weirdness of H. P. Lovecraft’s and Clark Ashton Smith’s weird creations.)

Anyhow, my brief encounter with Ian reminded me that Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is now available.  I must confess that I lost track of what was happening with Jeffrey Talanian’s intriguing game about a year ago.  But it finally has appeared, and, following a quick skim of the PDF, it looks superb.

Since I already have (and contributed to) Crypts and Things, which covers the same genre but is much lighter on the rules, I doubt that I’ll ever actually run the ASSH system (but hey, I’ve been known to change my mind!).   Nonetheless, there are many things I can envision borrowing for future games.

What most impresses me, based on my quick skim, things I’ve read before (including the ASSH adventure ‘The Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent’), is the setting.  While the setting is not Smith’s ‘Hyperborea’, it clearly is inspired by Smith’s work (in fact, it reminds me more of Zothique than Hyperboria), as well as that of other legendary pulp authors, such as Lovecraft and Robert Howard.  It’s a great setting, and would fit in quite nicely in, say, the cosmology of Michael Moorcock’s ‘Million Spheres’, or perhaps a hitherto unknown part of Lovecraft’s ‘Dreamlands’.

One gripe that I have, though, is the map, which is certain to eat up way too much ink if printed.  I wish that an ‘ink friendly’ version had been included.

If you are interested in checking out Talanian’s version of Hyperborea, it is available qua PDF for a very reasonable price (10 USD) at RPG Now.  The box set also is available for 50 USD.

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).