31 July 2014

Happy 60th Anniversary to The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings was published on July 29th, 1954.

(Okay, I’m two days late.  *sigh*)

Here is a nice piece on its 60th anniversary by Ethan Gilsdorf.

21 July 2014

5e Players Handbook Preview

Here is a preview of some of the art that will be in the 5th edition D&D Players Handbook.  It also includes the pages from that book that present the ‘Warlock’ class.

Overall, I think that the art is solid.  I love the scene of the wood elf forest city.  I dislike the pictures of the two wizards, both of whom are striking rather silly ‘action poses.’  The other pictures are fine, in my view, and have the virtue of portraying adventure scenes rather than adventurer poses.

On balance, based on what I’ve seen so far, I like the art for 5e a lot more than that of 3e (and, based on my limited exposure, 4e).  I never cared for the ‘dungeon punk’ look that was introduced with 3e, so I’m glad to see that it has been purged, for the most part, in the new edition.

The Warlock class looks interesting, but I’m puzzled as to why it is an ‘arcane’ spell casting class as opposed to a ‘divine’ class, given that it receives its powers via a ‘pact’ with a ‘higher-power.’  Nonetheless, the Warlock seems quite flavourful.

At some point (hopefully this summer) I’ll sit down and read through the Starter Set and the free Basic Rules in order to arrive at a judgement concerning 5e.  However, based on the snippets that I’ve read so far, I think that I like it much more than I ever did 3e (and 4e, of course, is simply beyond the Pale).

20 July 2014

Kane and Crypts and Things

I’ve been reading the ‘Kane’ short story anthologies by Karl Edward Wagner over the past few weeks.  So far I’ve finished Death Angel’s Shadow and The Book of Kane, and presently am in the midst of Night Winds.  I eventually plan to read the Kane novels as well – Bloodstone, Dark Crusade, and Darkness Weaves – though I likely will take a break after I finish up Night Winds, and so probably will not complete the entire Kane series until sometime this autumn or winter.  Based on what I’ve read so far, however, I recommend these stories to any fan of ‘swords-and-sorcery’ fiction.

Wagner is a solid writer who describes his scenes in an economical but evocative manner.  The stories generally are engaging, and sometimes have genuinely surprising twists in them.  The world in which the stories take place is a classic swords and sorcery one.  There is magic in the world – indeed, Kane himself practices sorcery at times, such as in the story “Undertow” – yet it is generally subtle, dark, and eldritch.  

Kane himself is an unsympathetic yet strangely compelling character.  He does a lot of very evil and savage stuff, yet nonetheless comes across as intelligent and even charismatic.  Evil as Kane frequently is, his enemies, including putative ‘heroes’ like the band that hunts Kane in the story “Cold Light,” often are no better, and frequently quite a bit worse.  The world of Kane is a morally grey one, with the darker shades predominant.   

I had a hard time finding any maps of Kane’s world online.  The one below is the best one that I could find.  I also could not find much information on the world itself.  It seems to be inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria, insofar as it is a mythical ‘pre-history’ version of earth.  (Wagner himself was a great Howard fan, and helped publish three anthologies of the original, unmodified versions of the Conan stories.)  

The character of ‘Kane’ seems to be based loosely upon the Biblical ‘Cain,’ though with some noteworthy differences.  For instance, in “Misericord” Kane claims that Adam was his father and that Eve was his stepmother (thus implying that his actual mother was Lilith?).  Part of Wagner’s fictional history, I suspect, is the idea that later myths concerning Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were based roughly upon the ‘real’ Kane and his origins.

Anyhow, I’ve found myself thinking repeatedly, as I’ve been reading these stories, that the world of Kane would make a great setting for Crypts and Things (my favourite OSR ‘near-clone’ FRPG).

14 July 2014

New York Times and Guardian articles on Dungeons and Dragons

Related to the release of the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons and the game’s 40th anniversary, there were two articles on D&D in major publications yesterday: one in the New York Times, and one in the Guardian.

03 July 2014

Basic Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Free PDF

I'm sure that most people who are into RPGs already know about this, but the 'Basic Rules' for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons are available in a free PDF here.

(Alas, I'm not sure when I'll be able to look them over, as I'm crazy busy with other stuff right now...)

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