31 August 2013

Interview regarding Dungeons and Dragons Next

I haven't been following the development of Dungeons & Dragons 5e (or 'Next') at all.  I am somewhat interested in what is finally produced -- who knows, maybe I'll like it!  But spending the time and effort to follow the playtest and related news just hasn't been something that I've been interested in doing.

However, this interview with Bruce Cordell and Robert J. Schwalb is both brief and somewhat informative, and thus may be worth reading if you have a casual interest in 5e.  Especially noteworthy is the concession that 4e essentially "blew up" D&D!

29 August 2013

Russ Nicholson on Monster Island

Monster Island – the book that is a combination of a sandbox setting and a bestiary for RuneQuest 6 – recently arrived in my mailbox.  Although I’ve only managed to skim through it thus far, it looks great (if you’re curious about it, there is a helpful review at RPGnet). 

One thing that I noticed immediately is that Monster Island features some illustrations by the magnificent Russ Nicholson.  I’ve mentioned my high opinion of Nicholson’s work previously, and so was delighted to see some new pieces by him in this excellent product.

Here are a couple of Nicholson’s pictures from Monster Island (taken from his blog post):

I think that the pieces nicely convey the terrifying weirdness of the setting!

20 August 2013

10 August 2013

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules

Chaosium has sent out the new Quick-Start rules to backers of their 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter Project.

I've printed them up and hope to read them over at some point in the relatively new future.  Unfortunately, I'll be quite busy for the next several days (moving apartments, among other things).  But as soon as I can read and reflect upon the 7e Call of Cthulhu Quick-Start rules, I'll write up my reactions here.

RuneQuest 6 review + update

'Pookie' has a superb review of RuneQuest 6 over at the Reviews of R'lyeh blog.

Also, the RQ6 indigogo campaign exceeded 30,000 USD, which means leatherette hardbacks and full-colour slipcases for backers!

06 August 2013

Two Vancian Thoughts

Following Jack Vance’s recent death, I decided to re-read the Cugel novels, The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel’s Saga.  (Both books I had read over two decades ago, but only minimally remembered.)  I also finally read the original Dying Earth collection of stories.  I’ve read Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy twice previously – in fact, it’s one of my favourite fantasy series of all time – but strangely had largely neglected his Dying Earth writings until now.

After reading these tales of the Dying Earth, and enjoying them enormously, I had two thoughts that I decided to share here.

First, the influence of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique on Vance is manifest.  This especially is the case with the Dying Earth collection, which strikes me as almost an homage to CAS.  Like those chronicled by CAS, Vance’s protagonists are often hapless and arrogant, but occasionally sympathetic.  Both CAS and Vance enjoy skewering religious and political authorities, especially by showing the hypocrisy and vanity of such individuals.  And of course, both authors vividly depict a temporally distant earth that is simultaneously familiar and exotic, mundane and magical.

Second, it is hard to overstate the influence that Vance had on Gary Gygax and his version of Dungeons and Dragons and, even more so, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  There are, of course, the obvious influences – most notably, the entire D&D spell-casting (‘Vancian’ or ‘fire-and-forget’) system, but also magic items like ‘ioun stons’ (which Gygax used with permission from Vance), and the horrible lich ‘Vecna’, whose left hand and eye are described as artifacts on page 124 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.  

These influences are well known, and hardly worth mentioning.  But what struck me upon reading these books is the extent to which the magic-user class clearly is modelled almost directly on Vance’s magicians, such as Turjan, Mazirian, and Iucounu.  Many AD&D classes have direct literary influences.  The ranger class clearly is based upon Tolkien’s Aragorn, and the monk class purportedly is based upon the character of Kwai Chang Caine (from the 1970s television show ‘Kung Fu’).  I had always assumed that magic-users as a class were somewhat generic, meant to accommodate characters as diverse as Merlin and Thoth-Amon.  But I now think that Vance’s magicians are the direct source of the D&D and AD&D magic-user class.  This seems obvious to me now, but it only occurred to me upon reading these books over the past few weeks.  (Similarly, I think that the ability of thieves to use scrolls – with a chance of such attempts going horribly wrong – was inspired, at least in part, by the character Cugel.)

Anyhow, I highly recommend Vance’s Dying Earth stories to anyone who enjoys fantasy literature with a sharp sardonic bite.  I very much look forward to reading Rhialto the Marvellous in the near future.

04 August 2013

Swords and Wizardry Complete is beautiful

I finally got the 'Otus cover' version of Swords and Wizardry Complete a couple of months ago, along with Grimmsgate (which has the same cover illustration).  And I have to say that, in terms of its art (both internal and external), this version of S&W has to be the most attractive rulebook the 'OSR' has yet to produce.

The cover art for Crypts and Things also is superb, of course.  What I like about the covers for both Swords and Wizardry Complete and Crypts and Things is how well they capture the spirit of their respective games!

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