30 December 2018

Conan wanders through Canada

By Crom! This is brilliant: artist Kris Friesen has inserted Conan (the Cimmerian with mighty thews) into a number of murals throughout western Canada (especially Edmonton).

Here’s the barbarian slurping noodles in ancient Khitai, er, I mean China:

And here is Conan—perhaps repenting for his previous praise for hearing the ‘lamentations of the women’—marching in a women’s rights march:

Finally, here he is being splashed in a pool:

I suspect that that mustachioed hipster will soon regret his action…

26 December 2018

Two Decades of Baldur’s Gate

There is a decent article at PC Gamer on the 20th anniversary of the classic computer role-playing game (CPRG) Baldur’s Gate (BG).

I must confess that BG—and the other ‘Infinity Engine’ (IE) AD&D-based CRPGs, including Baldur’s Gate II (BG2), Icewind Dale (IWD), and Planescape: Torment (PST)—have given me a surprising amount of joy since 2000 (when I first played BG). This is despite the fact that these games almost derailed the completion of my PhD 2000-2002.

[A map of the region covered by the original Baldur's Gate game.]

I’m not a fan of CRPGs or video games in general. I’ve never played any massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs), like the World of Warcraft. With respect to computer games, I played far too much Civilization during the 1990s. However, I only dabbled with Diablo during that decade, and simply couldn’t get into it. The same applies to most other CRPGs that I’ve tried over the years. But—aside from Neverwinter Nights (NWN)—BG, BG2, PST, and IWD are the exceptions. 
(I like Neverwinter Nights, and I’m glad that there is now an ‘Enhanced Edition’ version that I can play on my Mac. I especially appreciate the wide range of fan-produced modules for NWN, some of which are superior to the original, rather lacklustre campaign. But I never found NWN as engaging as the IE games. One reason is that I find it far less visually impressive, despite being ‘3-D’ [I’ve never understood the appeal of 3-D in anything: movies, games, etc.]. Another reason is that NWN employs the 3rd edition D&D rules, which I like less than AD&D. But enough of NWN…)

There are a few reasons why I find the classic IE games like Baldur’s Gate to be special. One reason is aesthetic. The music is magnificent. And visually, I find these games beautiful to look at. The screenshots below (with the ‘game information sections’ cropped out) don’t really do justice to how great the games look on a large computer screen:

[The player character in BG is from Candlekeep. Towards the end of BG, the party returns to Candlekeep. Here is the party and some Seers.]

[The party discovers a dragon mural in a dungeon during the Siege of Dragonspear.]

[The party at the top of the Iron Throne headquarters within the city of Baldur's Gate.]

[The symbol of Bhaal burnt onto the surface of the Boareskyr Bridge.]

Another reason why I’m a fan of the IE games: their stories and characters. The BG series and (especially) PST have engaging overarching storylines, with multiple paths to success, including different routes for ‘good’, ‘neutral’, and ‘evil’ inclined characters (as well as for characters of different classes, etc.). To a great extent, the settings in these games are genuine ‘sandboxes’: they have maps with loads of optional encounters, quests, and areas (to be explored or ignored as you wish). Since they have overarching plots, though, there are some ‘necessary’ areas and encounters, but these often can be resolved in different ways.

The IE games also have some wonderful NPCs—both characters that can join your party, as well as minor characters with whom you can interact. Here is one exchange between two party members—Jan Jansen (an irreverent gnome illusionist/thief) and Keldorn (a serious paladin of Torm)—that I think is quite funny:

And since I teach philosophy in the real world, I find amusing this exchange in the town of Trademeet in Baldur’s Gate II:

With respect to the settings for these games—the Sword Coast, Amn, and Icewind Dale of the Forgotten Realms (BG, BG2, and IWD), and the torus city of Sigil within Planescape (PST)—I delight in the ways that they embrace the ‘stew’ of disparate elements that make up ‘D&D’—and somehow make them work. By this I mean such elements as ‘Vancian’ magic-users, Scottish dwarf fighters, ‘Christian-not-Christian’ paladins who associate freely (often in the same adventuring party) with ‘paganistic’ druids, the Great Wheel cosmology, the Blood War (the eternal conflict between Chaotic demons and Lawful devils), and so forth. This all somehow makes sense in these games—and in fact is one of the reasons why I returned to D&D for some of my tabletop gaming after a long absence (most of the 1990s).

And then there are the ‘mods’ (which I believe is short for ‘modifications’, although it may also be short for ‘modules’). The ‘modding’ community—which has been reinvigorated in recent years thanks to Beamdog’s release of ‘Enhanced Editions’ of the IE games—has helped make these games, and especially the Baldur’s Gate series, highly re-playable. Mods can provide new NPCs (including characters to join your party), additions for existing NPCs (e.g., expanded dialogues for party members in BG1), new magic items, new encounters, and even entirely new adventures for your games. Install enough mods and your next BG2 game will be quite different from all previous ones! 

Finally, while I prefer playing tabletop RPGs to CRPGs, there have been times in my life when this wasn’t possible, and the IE games (as well as NWN) were there to fill the void. Even when I am lucky enough to have a regular group, adult life makes getting together for games rather difficult (adulting is tough!). Thankfully, I can ‘dip into’ my Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, or Icewind Dale game for an hour whenever I like. 

So, to Baldur’s Gate I say: happy birthday old friend!

14 December 2018

Jack Vance’s Lyonesse: read it, discuss it, play it

As I’ve mentioned before here, the good people at the Design Mechanism are producing a role-playing game based upon Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy. While the RPG will use the DM’s excellent Mythras system, the game itself will be self-standing (i.e., all of the rules will be in the core Lyonesse book, along with the setting material).

Here is a preview of the cover for the forthcoming DM book:

Vance’s Lyonnesse trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy series of all time. It fuses ‘high fantasy’ with the dark humour and weirdness of Vance’s Dying Earth stories. I’ve read it twice before—once in the early 1990s, and again about sixteen years ago. Upon learning of the DM’s forthcoming game set in the Elder Isles (the mythical lands south of Ireland where the stories take place), I decided to read the trilogy again. I’m now two-thirds of my way through it—I only have Madouc (the final volume) to go.

By happy coincidence, Lyonesse will be discussed at the Tabletop Role-players’ Book Club blog in January (starting on the 2nd). The plan seems to be to read the book (if you haven’t done so already) in December, and then discuss it with other gamers early in the new year.

Especially cool is the fact that the DM’s own Lawrence Whitaker (‘Loz’)—co-author of Mythras and RuneQuest 6, and author of numerous Elric!/Stormbringer RPG books, as well as many other fine things—will be taking part! 

So, gentle readers, do yourself a favour and: (a) read this brilliant trilogy; (b) take part in the January discussions at TTRBC; (c) buy the DM Lyonesse RPG; and (d) have some adventures in a fantastic past-that-never-was.

27 November 2018

New version of the 5e D&D Basic Rules now available

The ‘basic rules’ for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons are now available in a single PDF. Here is what is included: “The Basic Rules runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options; in addition, the rules contain 120 spells, 5 backgrounds, and character sheets.”

My favourite ‘complete’ but ‘minimal’ version of D&D remains the Moldvay/Cook edition of the B/X (Basic + Expert) rules... 

But the 5e version of ‘Basic D&D’ is probably now my second favourite version. I’m itching to use them to run a 5e version of The Keep on the Borderlands or The Lost City. If only a print version were available! 

In addition to incorporating errata and the like, the new PDF includes a number of (surprisingly evocative) sketches by Richard Whitters. Some samples:

27 October 2018

G+? Isn’t that worse than an F?

The imminent end of Google-plus is now old news. For some interesting thoughts on this development and its potential impact on the role-playing community (especially the ‘old school’ wing) I recommend this post by Melan at his Beyond Fomalhaut blog.

I vaguely recall joining G+ many years ago, but after a few forays into it, I decided that it wasn’t for me. The interface just rubbed me the wrong way. Among other things, posts quickly disappeared and subsequently were difficult to find. For the life of me, I just couldn’t see why anyone thought it was a better platform for discussing RPGs than forums and blogs.

Anyhow, my sympathies to anyone who found G+ helpful, interesting, or fun. People who were fans seem to be migrating to the (unfortunately named IMO) ‘MeWe’ place. I wish them well.

(Speaking of blogs, I really need to update my ‘blog roll’ here. I removed the old one a few months ago—it was too static [I want the version that shows the most recent posts] and out of date [many of the blogs were ‘dead’ or had become focused on topics of little or no interest to me]. I’ll do it some day—I promise! I just need RL to stop stomping on my soul every day…)

24 October 2018

Ancient ship = Eldritch horrors

“More than a mile beneath the surface of the Black Sea, shrouded in darkness, an ancient ship sat for millennia unseen by human eyes — until the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project happened upon its watery grave last year.… [T]he trading vessel plied the waves in the days of Plato and Sophocles, when the city-states of ancient Greece had scattered colonies all around the Black Sea.”

Sometimes a real world news event writes a cool Call of Cthulhu scenario for you…

(Though I’d replace the “Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project” with the “Black Sea Miskatonic Archaeology Project” -- and move everything back to ~1930.)

15 October 2018

Greg Stafford RIP

Greg Stafford passed away on October 11th.
Stafford was the founder of Chaosium—one of the most important companies during the early days of role-playing games (perhaps second only to TSR)—and creator of the acclaimed Pendragon RPG. He helped to create—and provided the setting (Glorantha) for—one of the greatest and most influential RPGs of all time: RuneQuest. In his role at Chaosium during its ‘golden age’, he helped to shape and support two of my all-time favourite RPGs: The Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer. By all reports he was a generous genius. It is hard to believe that another one of the greats from the mythic era of role-playing is gone.

Here is the announcement at Chaosium.

[Part of William Church's map of Glorantha from RuneQuest 2nd ed.] 

04 October 2018

Saga's Sword

This sounds like the beginning of a fantasy epic: a young girl named 'Saga' finds an ancient sword in a lake...

But it actually happened: "An eight-year-old [Saga Vanecek] found an ancient pre-Viking-era [~500 AD] sword while swimming in a lake in Sweden during the summer."

UPDATE (2018-10-22): Saga describes her experience.

19 September 2018

Scottish dwarves

Another insight from Existential Comics:

This is a great comic, by the way. I've mentioned it here before. There are a number of strips on 'Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy', all of which are worth reading.

06 September 2018

The Resistance inside Nyarlathotep's Death Cult

"In the year-and-a-half since the Black Pharaoh replaced the Oval Office with a literal blood fountain throne, I’ve watched as the hits keep on coming. The executive cabinet is wracked with scandal, ordinary citizens who signed the cultist oath are making good on their grave pacts, and, of course, the entirety of the country’s water supply is now teeming with pulsating eggs from some kind inter-dimensional parasite. It’s easy to look at these kinds of headlines, to read these sorts of leaked stories from the desiccated Capitol Hill, and see an unsustainable administration. Rumors of reversal incantations are beginning to make the rounds, and if our Commander-in-Chief is not careful, It could find Itself cast back among the stars beyond the universe. The past few weeks, in particular, have seen our President certainly live up to our campaign slogan 'I See All, and It Shall Burn.'" 
"But it’s important Americans know there are still some of us upholding the tenets envisioned by the original Necro-Party. We are part of a different kind of Resistance, one that still supports the foundations scrawled within the Tome of Infernal Torment, and not the whims of a Mad Anti-God who cares not for the literalist interpretations we hold so blasphemous. We believe the Tome is, was, and will forever be instrumental in wresting reason from the minds of the multitude. It may provide faint solace, but we felt we owe it to our fellow subjugates to let them know all is still very much for naught." 
"We still believe utter ruin can be brought to the land through the proper rituals and unhallowed traditions, not by this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-tentacles kind of governing."
From: "I am Part of the Resistance Inside Nyarlathotep's Death Cult" by Andrew Paul at McSweeney's.

09 August 2018

Lyonesse map draft

The good people at the Design Mechanism have shared this draft of their map of the 'Elder Isles' for their forthcoming Lyonesse RPG (based upon their Mythras system). The map is by Daniel Hasenbos, and the final version will be in colour.

I can't remember the last time I've looked forward so much to a new RPG...

08 August 2018

Colbert and Manganiello talk about Dungeons and Dragons

In this interview Stephen Colbert and actor Joe Manganiello spend about 9 minutes talking about (almost) nothing other than Dungeons and Dragons. Truly, we live in a very different world than the one in which I lived as a teen...

I have to confess that I had no idea who Manganiello was before this interview (apparently he was in 'True Blood', a show that I stopped watching after a couple of episodes). But he struck me as a decent, down-to-earth fellow, someone with whom I'd be happy to roll a few d20s.

The interview, needless to say, is quite entertaining.

03 August 2018

The Frost Giant's Daughter coming to TV

[Frank Frazetta's classic picture of Conan fighting the frost giants.]

I mentioned a few months ago that Amazon is planning a series based on Robert E. Howard's famous Conan character. At that time I hoped that the series would follow (more or less closely) REH's actual stories.

Well it looks like this will be the case. According to producer Ryan Condal, the first episode will be based upon "The Frost Giant's Daughter":
“I think the Conan purists will be very pleased [...] If anybody knows and follows the saga [‘The Frost-Giant’s Daughter’] is... the earliest story in Conan’s life. He’s basically just left Cimmeria and he’s running around as a mercenary with this Viking band of warriors called the Aesir... I’ve put [the Conan stories] back in [chronological] order and the idea is to tell Conan’s story over the time of his life.”
My hopes for this show are starting to build. Don't disappoint me, Crom (or "to hell with you!").

27 July 2018

Spider Cult of Mirkwood Campaign

Here is the index of my posts on my Spider Cult of Mirkwood campaign. It will remain in the section of this blog entitled ‘Some of my RPG Stuff’ (always found in the upper-right corner). This index will be updated as new entries concerning the campaign are posted here. 

[Part of Peter Fenlon's beautiful map from ICE's Mirkwood]

General Description:

This campaign takes place in Mirkwood and the surrounding regions—the Long Lake area, the ‘narrows’ north of Mirkwood and south of the Grey Mountains, and the Anduin Vale—about five years after the events described in The Hobbit (it starts in late spring 2946 of the Third Age).

I’ve drawn on a number of different resources for this campaign. In addition to the works of Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien (of course!) and my own imagination, I’ve made use of some of ICE’s old Middle-earth Roleplaying (‘MERP’) materials, in particular their Mirkwood setting book, and the more recent books from Cubicle 7, especially the Loremaster’s Guide and the Rhovanion Region Guide. However, I’ve changed a lot in what I’ve taken from the ICE and C7 materials. Finally, the campaign idea was inspired partially by an old White Dwarf MERP adventure—‘The Dawn of Unlight’—written by Graham Staplehurst. I’ve used very little from the adventure itself except for the core idea (namely, a secret ‘cult’ devoted to Ungoliant), but I’ve always liked Staplehurst’s adventure and am delighted to finally make us of it.

The system I’m using is Adventures in Middle-earth, which adapts the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons rules for Middle-earth. I think it does a pretty good job!

Character Information:

  • The character backgrounds for: Hengil Foros (Dúnedan Warden of Rivendell), Ulvmund Galmund (Barding Warrior of Dale), and Hartmut Hare-Eye (Beorning Wanderer of the Anduin Vale).

The Adventures and Fellowship Phases:

Some related posts:

[A picture by Charles Peale from ICE's Mirkwood.]

16 July 2018

Forthcoming visual history of D&D

I am curious about this forthcoming book: Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History. One thing that it reveals is that many iconic D&D monsters—such as mindflayers and beholders—were sketched initially by teenagers for Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

An aspect of D&D that I have long loved—and which distinguishes it from most of the other RPGs that I have played over the years—is its unique creatures and mythology. (As I’ve mentioned before here, this is one of the reasons why Planescape is probably my favourite ‘official’ D&D setting, as it builds on these distinctive elements instead of merely mashing together ideas from mythology and fiction.)

Also, if this page is representative of what will be found in the book, it should be well worth obtaining for the art alone:

16 June 2018

A note on my Spider Cult of Mirkwood Campaign posts

As you may have noticed, I’ve posted a lot about this campaign over the past day or so. The reason: my Adventures in Middle-earth campaign is starting up again (after a 5-month hiatus). I’ve been going through my notes and trying to organize them. It’s surprising how many things I’ve forgotten about since we started up over a year ago! 

In an attempt to get (somewhat) organized, I’ll create a single ‘index’ and ‘log’ for the campaign. This index will join a few others that I’ve posted here for my games over the years (the links to which can be found in the upper-right corner of the blog). It should be posted in a few days. The log will include summaries for each adventure. These will be a few sentences long each. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or energy to keep writing up ‘complete’ recaps for each adventure. The one’s I’ve already posted will stay up, of course, but I probably will not be doing any more, except perhaps for the final adventure in this campaign storyline (given its importance).

[Part of Chris White's cover image for ICE's Southern Mirkwood book.]
(Notice the Woodmen hiding in the tree huts in the background!)

15 June 2018

To the Tower of Bar-en-Dindol (Spider Cult of Mirkwood campaign part 3)

September 2946...

[A portion of P. Fenlon's magical map from ICE's Mirkwood.]

The agents of Thal Eolsen are successful in their inquiries, and the merchant provides Ulvmund with the location of his ancestral home. The Galmund fiefdom was located about 90 miles northwest of Dale. The family’s ancient tower was located atop a hill that overlooked a small lake, near the ‘Grey Road’—the Men-i-Mithrin—which runs north of Mirkwood (it once connected Dale and Lake-town to the dwarven holds of the Grey Mountains). The tower was called ‘Bar-en-Dindol’, which means ‘dwelling at the silent head’ in Sindarin (it was named by the first Lady to dwell at the tower, who hailed originally from Gondor and thus was fluent in the elvish tongue).

Excited by this news, Ulvmund implores his companions to help him investigate his family’s ancient land and stronghold. Hengil and Hartmut agree, so long as the companions then travel to the Anduin Vale and transport the malevolent black orb to the wizard Radagast.

The companions journey to Dale, and then onwards to the Galmund ruins. En route, on a grey and misty day, the company spots a rider in the distance. The rider does not approach the party, but instead gestures to the northwest; he then rides away, disappearing into the mists.

Eventually the companions reach the ancient land of the Galmund family: the small lake, village, hill, and tower. Unsurprisingly, the village and tower are ruins, though the main floor of the tower remains largely intact.

[Image taken from ICE's Bree supplement.]

Within the tower, the companions discover some wargs (survivors, no doubt, of the Battle of the Five Armies). They defeat two of the vile creatures, but Ulvmund is knocked unconscious, and an especially large and vicious warg escapes to the north.

While Ulvmund slumbers he has a remarkable dream:
Ulvmund sees the tower of his family as it must have looked two centuries ago. Made of firm, clean stones, carefully mortared and smooth, the tower reaches into the sky for a hundred feet. It is a bright spear in the grim Marches. Bright eyed Northmen stand on the top, looking toward the dolorous peaks of the Grey Mountains. Below the Silent-Head hill, stretching along the small Quiet Lake, is a hamlet of farmers and fishers.  
The peace and beauty of the scene is shattered when a black shadow passes over the tower and hamlet. The dragon has come! Smaug, for a malevolent reason known only to himself, desires to extend his desolation far beyond the ruined cities of Dale and Erebor. The wooden buildings of the hamlet erupt in flame; the villagers are all slain to a child. The great tower is not spared: with claw and fire, its upper reaches are destroyed. The guardsmen, servants, and other inhabitants are reduced to ashes or plummet to their deaths. Once the lands about the Silent-Head hill have been blasted, the dragon moves on to wreak destruction elsewhere. 
The vivid nightmare concludes, and Ulvmund awakens in a cold sweat. Standing before Ulvmund’s prone body is the translucent image of his ancestor, Lord Alaric. With an expression of great sadness, he makes a gesture that Ulvmund understands to symbolize a well. The ghost then points to the southeast from the well. Finally, as he begins to fade, Alaric points directly at Ulmund and nods. After a few seconds the image disappears. Were it not for its vividness and detail, Ulvmund would swear that he was still dreaming.
Following the instructions given by Lord Alaric, the companions discover a tunnel and three skeletons (the fleeing members of the Galmund family). The Galmund family sword is recovered. Having been crafted by the dwarves of ancient Erebor, the blade remains in excellent condition despite its many decades of neglect.

The next day the companions depart along the Men-i-Mithrin (“Grey Road”). Ulvmund Galmund vows to return someday, though, to rebuild and resettle his family’s demesne.

A plan is made concerning the Black Orb (Spider Cult of Mirkwood part 2.5)

Late June – late August 2946...

 [From ICE's Mirkwood (map by Peter Fenlon).]

Upon returning to Lake-town, the company returns the locked box to the merchant Thal Eolsen. Delighted, the merchant rewards each companion with 20 gold coins. Eolsen also offers a boon to each member of the company. Hengil accepts a finely crafted sword, whereas Hartmut accepts a mighty longbow. Ulvmund requests that Eolsen use some of his many contacts to find what information he can about the Galmund ancestral home, including its precise location. (Ulvmund knows only its general location, as most of his family and their records were destroyed when Smaug razed their home in T.A. 2774.)

Hengil spends much of July and August meditating and studying some of the ancient texts of the elves [healing corruption caused by the black orb]. He also decides, with advice from Luinwen, that the black orb should be taken someplace west of Mirkwood for safekeeping—either to Radagast the Brown, Saruman the White, or Galadriel of Lothlórien. Radagast is selected by the company, as he is closest.

Into Mirkwood and Back Again (Spider Cult of Mirkwood adventure 2)

Mid-late June 2946...

The companions leave Esgaroth with a caravan of four barges. The barges push up the Celduin River to trade with the Wood Elves. After 4 days of travel, the floating caravan reaches the Wood Elf town of Celebannon.

[Map of Celebannon from ICE's Mirkwood.]

The companions go to the only inn in town—‘Dindraug’—where they learn from the Elven traders that the spiders of Mirkwood have become more active in recent years, since the disappearance of the Necromancer. The forest goblins, on the other hand, have become less active during the same period.

Hengil visits the Sindarin scholar Luinwen’s abode. He asks the scholar to help him learn more about the black orb. She agrees, but tells the Dúnedan that it will take her several days of research.

Rothaar One-Leg, a scout and warrior in the employ of the Lake-town merchant Thal Eolsen, arrives at Dindraug early in the morning. He meets the party and informs them that his caravan has been ambushed by a band of goblins, working with a large creature. He does not know what the large creature is, as he was not with the caravan at the time of the ambush; instead, he was scouting the trail ahead of the caravan, and discovered the dead guards and wagon ruins upon his return. Rothaar believes that the goblins have taken at least one guard prisoner, as well as the loot from the wagon.

[Rothaar by Liz Danforth, from ICE's Denizens of the Dark Wood.]

The companions agree to help Rothaar, as does a young (rather eager and naïve) elf hunter named Galen. After Rothaar rests for a few hours and the heroes prepare themselves, the party departs Celebannon, heading southwest along the Elf-path.

In the late afternoon (June 22nd) the party reaches the ambush site. Hartmut identifies the tracks of the mysterious ‘large creature’ as those of a hill troll; the others belong to forest goblins. The beorning then leads the party to one of the hidden rest spots known to him in the region. 

The next day Hartmut and Galen follow the tracks to small clearing; within the clearing, halfway up a rough hill, they two spot a dismal cave. The party convenes at the edge of the clearing; they spy a goblin lurking near the entrance to the cave. Hengil sneaks up to a bush halfway to the hill. There he makes a pheasant sound to draw out the goblin guard. The goblin leaves to investigate; it is promptly shot and slain by Hartmut and Ulvmund.

The company then approaches the cave. Alas, their attempt at stealth fails miserably, as the goblins inside are alerted and they ask the party something in the grotesque Orcish tongue. Unable to answer, the companions charge in to confront their nemeses. After a brief combat, the goblins flee further into the caves. The vile creatures are pursued—eventually a terrible struggle ensues. The goblins are promptly joined by a massive troll, which quickly knocks poor Galen unconscious. With his mighty axe, however, Hartmut manages to chop the troll to death.

[Another picture by Liz Danforth from ICE's Denizens of the Dark Wood.]

Following the desperate mêlée, the party discovers a concealed ‘chimney’—clogged with webs—that leads up and out of the cavern complex. Ulvmund also discovers a kind of ‘saddle’ strapped to the back of the troll. The companions deduce that the saddle is designed to enable a large spider to ‘ride’ the troll as a kind of mount—fortunately, and to the relief of all, there is no sign of the spider itself. After some careful exploration, Hartmut uncovers a finely crafted locked box—the prized possession of the merchant Thal Eolsen, taken from the caravan. Rothaar promises the party that the merchant will reward them greatly for the box’s return.

The party returns to Hartmut’s safe-hold and camps for the night. The following day they journey to Celebannon. During their trip, though, Ulvmund senses that the group is being followed. The Dale-man’s intuition is vindicated when Hartmut spots some spiders following them within the trees. Upon being discovered, the spiders retreat further into the forest. The party, badly battered by their fight with the goblins and troll, elect to return to the elven village rather than pursue the spiders.

The company spends a few days (June 24th – 27th) resting in Celebannon. Luinwen has completed her researches concerning the black orb. She gives Hengil the ‘Legend of Unlight’ (which concerns the poisoning of the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin): 
The Tale of Ungoliant
…Therefore Melkor said to her: ‘Do as I bid; and if thou hunger still when all is done, then I will give thee whatsoever thy lust may demand. Yea, with both hands.’
A cloak of darkness she wove about them when Melkor and Ungoliant set forth: an Unlight, in which things seemed to be no more, and which eyes could not pierce for it was void.
Upon the mountain-top dark Ungoliant lay; and she made a ladder of woven ropes and cast it down, and Melkor climbed upon it … Then Melkor laughed aloud, and leapt swiftly down the long western slopes; and Ungoliant was at his side, and her darkness covered him.
And in that very hour Melkor and Ungoliant came hastening over the fields of Valinor, as the shadow of a black cloud upon the wind fleets over the sunlit earth; and they came before the green mound Ezellohar.
Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died.
And still she thirsted, and going to the Wells of Varda drank them dry; but Ungoliant belched forth black vapours as she drank, and swelled to a shape so vast and hideous that Melkor was afraid.
Hartmut then tell Luinwen—and the other companions—of his past encounter with the ‘spider cult’

The party bids farewell to Luinwen and Galen, and returns to Esgaroth with Rothaar.

14 June 2018

Fellowship Phase in Esgaroth (Spider Cult of Mirkwood part 1.5)

May-June 2946...

[A picture of Esgaroth by J.R.R. Tolkien]

Having completed their first adventure together, our heroes—Hartmut, Hengil, and Ulvmund—spend some time resting in Lake-town.

The companions take the locked chest (which they had discovered within the spidiers’ mound) to Aelfwine, a skilled locksmith in Esgaroth. Within the chest are revealed 2 Dwarven coins and 2 gems (aquamarine and moonstone). Hartmut asks some dwarves in town for more information about the chest. He discovers from them that it is likely from Moria (before its fall to the Balrog).

Hengil researches the black stone. He learns that the etchings on it say (in a corrupted form of Quenya): “Submit to the glory of the Unlight!” Hengil also learns that the stone is likely from the Mountains of Mirkwood, where ‘black glass’ is common. Finally, Hengil is told that an Elvish sage in the village of Celebannon, named ‘Luinwen’, may know more about the stone and the meaning of what is written on it.

Ulvmund researches the spiders of Mirkwood. He learns that there are at least 2 different kinds of spiders: ‘attercops’ and the larger ‘great spiders’. Moreover, these giant spiders are intelligent and can speak the mannish tongue. While evil, though, the spiders are not servants of the Necromancer (but have been known to cooperate with the Necromancer’s minions from time to time).

The companions make plans to travel to Celebannon in the Woodland Realm to learn more about the black stone.

Video that explains Dungeons and Dragons to the uninitiated

This Vox video that explains Dungeons & Dragons (and, to some extent, role-playing games more generally) is pretty good. I especially liked the discussion by the participants about why they play the game (8:00-9:40).

Next time I'm asked by a non-RPGer to explain the hobby that has been a disturbingly large part of my life since the age of 10, I may simply refer them to this video.

10 June 2018

New settings for Dungeons and Dragons 5e?

It looks like some new settings for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition will be announced by Wizards of the Coast later this year ("Dungeons & Dragons plans to announce several additional publications in 2018 which will add new campaign settings for players outside of the Forgotten Realms").

Personally, I'd love a 5e version of Planescape. It's my favourite 'official' setting ever published by TSR (though, tragically, I've never run or played in a pen-and-paper campaign). It is, I think, the most 'uniquely AD&D' setting ever -- it's 'mythology' in rooted in AD&D's distinctive, weird cosmology (the plethora of planes and their relations to each other), as well drawing heavily on singular AD&D creatures like the Githyanki, Tieflings, and so forth. I appreciate its strange mix of being a hub within a Moorcockian multiverse (and its associated 'law-versus-chaos' factionalism), and its gritty proto-steampunk aesthetic (I'm not a huge fan of steampunk generally, but I like the way it is expressed in the look and ethos of Planescape). Also, thanks to the presence of so many portals ('doors') to other planes, it's easy to connect Sigil to other D&D worlds. So I really hope that this happens!

As for other old TSR settings, I suspect that Mystara (which I used to really dig, but find a bit too 'goofy' these days) and Greyhawk are just too similar to the Forgotten Realms to be done again with full-blown campaign books. Yes, I know that the fans can spell out many 'important' differences among these settings, but from a distance they're all 'kitchen sink D&D' worlds'. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But WotC already has FR.

I'm not that familiar with Spelljammer. It never grabbed me back in the day. But I'd have an open mind to it, if a new version were to be published. Likewise I would consider checking out a 5e version of Dark Sun, which always struck me as quite intriguing, but I never picked up for some reason during 1990s. Among the more recent settings, I don't know much about Eberron, but it looks distinctive and I would consider looking into it as well, should a 5e version be produced.

However, I have zero interest in Dragonlance. In fact, I loathe it. I personally would be grateful if it never reappears as an official setting (though if it does, it should be easy enough to ignore). It gave my teeth too many cavities back in the 1980s...

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