08 July 2019

The Spider Cult of Mirkwood: a summary of adventures 1–6


- Some of these summaries link to longer posts.
- The full index—including character profiles, campaign notes, etc.—is here.
- The regional maps are by Peter Fenlon (from ICE's Mirkwood).
- The pictures of Radagast and Rhosgobel also are from ICE's Mirkwood.
- The picture of the basilisk is from C7's Rhovanion Region Guide.

1. The Spider Orb (May 2946).

The company meets for the first time in Esgaroth. They agree to help the villagers of nearby Ulgarstat with their troubles. In doing so, the party discovers both giant intelligent spiders and a black glassy stone with eldritch writing on it—all within a nearby but dark corner of Mirkwood.

1.5. Fellowship phase in Esgaroth (May-June 2946).

The company learns something about the black orb and its malevolent nature. They subsequently formulate a plan to journey to the Wood elf town of Celebannon, to consult with the Sindarin sage Luinwen who dwells there.

2. Into Mirkwood and Back Again (Mid-late June 2946).

The company journeys to Celebannon on some merchant rafts. There, within the inn ‘Dindraug’, they meet the Lake-man scout Rothaar One-Leg. They travel with Rothaar into the depths of Mirkwood, and help the scout recover the merchant Thal Eolsen’s chest from goblin brigands and a troll whilst rescuing a comely caravan guard. The company returns to Celebannon whilst being followed by nefarious spiders. In Celebannon they learn more about the black orb from Luinen.

2.5 Another Fellowship phase in Esgaroth (Late June – late August 2946).

Hengil (following the advice of Luinwen) decides that the black orb—a malevolent artefact related somehow to Ungoliant—should be rendered unto Radagast the Brown for safekeeping. Also, Ulvmund learns the location of his family ancestral home—razed by Smaug 170 years earlier—from the merchant Thal Eolsen.

3. To Bar-en-Dindol and Beyond (September 2946).

The company travels from Esgaroth to Dale, and then northwest from Dale to the ruins of Bar-en-Dindol—the ancient tower of Ulvmund’s ancestors. There they encounter vicious wargs, at least one ghost, and recover the ancient sword of the Lords of the Galmund family.

4. The Grey Mountain Narrows (September 2946).

The company leaves Bar-en-Dindol and travels along the Men-i-Mithrin (‘Grey Road’)—between the northern eaves of Mirkwood and the southern ridges of the Grey Mountains—and come across an ancient dwarf statue looking sternly south, as well as several living dwarves (Hár, Borri, and Snorri) fighting a band of goblins. After helping the dwarves, the party is taken to the secret hideout of the dejected dwarf lord Frár (‘the beardless’). The company wins a riddle contest against the rescued dwarves, and acquires a dwarf companion—Tholin the trader—for their journey to the Old Ford. While the company journeys to the shack of Amfossa the Trapper—which is located at the conjunction of the Mithlin (Greylin) and Langwell rivers at the head of the Anduin—they encounter, and successfully drive off, some vicious wargs, including a large one that had tracked them from the ruins of Bar-en-Dindol.

5. Down the Anduin (October 2946).

The company rests for several days at the enchanted shack of Amfossa the Trapper. They then journey south in a raft guided by Narlin the northman trader. Whilst drifting along the great river, the companions spot a giant kingfisher—the Kingfisher Lord—before arriving in the small town of northmen traders known as Maethelburg (located where the Sirros river joins the great Anduin). Tholin guides the adventurers to the ‘Blue Giant’ inn and the ‘Golden Foam’ tavern. There the Dúnedan Warden learns of the brigand Cruac, as well as of a giant in the wilds who challenges all he encounters to games of riddles. From Maethelburg the company journeys by foot to the Old Ford. At the ‘Hall of the Crossing’ the companions learn that many Beorning and Woodmen travelers and families have disappeared in recent months. Tholin says farewell, and the party continues south. They encounter an enigmatic old man with a long white beard, dressed in a white cloak, who does not identify himself to the party—but gestures oddly at them, filling their hearts with courage. This proves to be a boon, as the next day the companions stumble upon a vile basilisk—a terrible creature from ancient times that dwells in the hidden corners of Mirkwood and the surrounding wilderness. Ulvmund is paralyzed and Hartmut poisoned by the noxious breath of the boar-sized reptile before it is finally slain by Hengil. Battered and sickened, the three adventurers stagger into Rhosgobel two days later, where they are healed by Radagast the Brown.

5.5. Fellowship Phase in Rhosgobel (Winter 2946-47).

Radagast takes the spider orb from the party and buries it in his hallowed grove; the grove’s enchantments, the wizard believes, will contain the stone’s malevolent aura. He explains that the stone seems to be connected to an ancient spider cult of the Woodmen. This cult supposedly disappeared with the rise of the Necromancer almost two millennia ago, but (clearly) seems to have returned. The companions winter in a stone cottage within the Woodmen village, near the wizard’s home. Hengil receives a book of lore from the wizard, while Hartmut and Ulvmund receive special herb pouches. Hengil and Ulvmund try to hunt with the woodmen but fail miserably; Hartmut, however, learns to prepare healing salves. Radagast and the companions are visited by Arciryas (a scholar from Gondor, and student of Saruman). Radagast tells Arciryas that Saruman has been traveling about the Anduin Vale throughout the past autumn and summer searching for something—the party infers that it was Saruman whom they had met earlier in their travels!

6. The Barrow of the Spider Cult (March 2947)

As spring approaches Radagast tells the companions that some of his owl friends have reported strange happenings at an ancient Barrow of the Woodmen to the north. Giant spiders and cloaked Woodmen have been going into and out of the barrow with great frequency. Armed with a dagger of Númenor—a gift from the wizard—the party agrees to investigate. They stop at Woodmen Town en route. There they stay at ‘The Gentle Leaf’ inn and meet the dwarf Bofri (son of Bofur). Hengil learns from the Woodmen that many of their kin have disappeared in recent months. At the barrow the company encounters woodmen cultists—including one, Bodaric, capable of using dark sorcery, and who poisoned Hengil with his words alone—and a deft spider. Within Bodaric’s lair the party finds a map of central Mirkwood—a black spider symbol is located at the head of the Gûlduin River. After eliminating the cultists, the company discovers a vile shrine with another black orb upon an altar. The party takes the orb, and heads back to Rhosgobel. During their trip they come across the burnt remnants of a Woodmen cottage; the company rescues a young woman, Varya, who describes an attack by cultists and spiders. The companions take her with them to Rhosgobel.

6.5 Fellowship Phase in Rhosgobel (late March to early April 2947)

The companions meet with Radagast and the Sindarin lord, Haldir of Lorien. At this conference the party learns more about the ancient spider cult from Haldir; they also learn that the black tower at the head of the Gûlduin River is ‘Sarn Goriwing’ (Sindarin: ‘Abhorrent Spray’s Stone’). Hengil realizes that this is the tower from his prophetic dream in Rivendell! Radagast recommends that the company investigate this tower and try to end the threat posed by the cult. To aid the characters, Haldir gives them three Elven cloaks, some Elven rope, and a map of an ancient Wood Elf trail through the Mountains of Mirkwood. Radagast asks one of his Raven friends—‘Quesse’—to accompany the party and act as a scout for them.

16 June 2019

Akratic Wizardry is 10 years old

It’s hard for me to believe it, but I started this blog ten years ago today.

Over the past decade the blog has received almost a million page views (930,000). After the first year or so, the blog usually has received 6,000 – 11,000 page views per month. One month it received 23,570! (The second highest was 13,387, so that one month was anomalous.) A few months the blog ‘only’ received around 5,000 page views (which still seems like a lot to me). 

I’m amazed and grateful that so many people have bothered to visit and read my scribblings. I certainly haven’t been very disciplined in maintaining this blog (among other things, I still have to finish a few of my campaign logs). But I definitely plan to keep posting here so long as I feel the need to procrastinate—err … express my views on various fantasy and science-fiction novels, movies, television shows, role-playing games, and so forth.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting over the years!

07 June 2019

A new Mythras Companion and a future Lyonesse scenario

A new thing for Mythras! It’s the Mythras Companion.

Here is the description from the good folks at the Design Mechanism:
A compilation of additional rules and mechanics for Mythras, taken from several previous supplements and created specially for the Companion itself. Inside you will find rules for tactical combat using a battlegrid and miniatures; rules for sanity and corruption; abstract rules for vehicles of all kinds; a brand new system for resolving social conflict; and detailed rules for handling pursuits and chases.
The Mythras Companion is a handy resource for every Mythras GM, with plenty of new material to enhance your scenarios and campaigns.
While the Companion looks great—especially the rules for social conflict, sanity, and corruption—what I’m really excited about in the world of Mythras is the forthcoming Lyonesse game. So this item from the Design Mechanism newsletter caught my eye:
Coddifut's Stipule is a special scenario set in Jack Vance's captivating world of Lyonesse. Created for the 2019 UK Games Expo convention, the adventure concerns mysterious goings-on in the abandoned tower of the magician Coddifut. Why have local fishermen gone missing? What has happened to Coddifut, himself missing for some 20 years; why does Moribund the Burghermeister dislike you so much?
The scenario is 100% compatible with Mythras, and contains some specialist rules taken from the forthcoming Lyonesse RPG, to help create that unique Vancian feel. Six pre-generated characters are included, along with some sample spells for the characters able to use magic.
The scenario is not available yet (*sigh*), but Design Mechanism plans to release it in the near future (yay!).

06 June 2019

Baldur’s Gate III is coming (and other BG news)

I came across this promo trailer for Baldur’s Gate III this morning. The game is being produced by a company called Larian Studies. (I don’t know anything about them, but then I haven’t really followed the computer role-playing scene for the past fifteen years or so.) I hope that it has nothing to do with Bhaal (the Realms’ ‘god of murder’) or the Bhaalspawn—that vein was exhausted by the original series. Perhaps (based on the trailer) it concerns a plot against the city involving mind flayers? That would be interesting.

I’ve expressed my fondness for the Baldur’s Gate series before here. I don’t enjoy most CRPGs that I’ve tried, but there was a batch of these games produced two decades ago—the ‘Infinity Engine’ games: BG, BG2, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment—that were so amazing that I’ve returned to them time and time again over the years (my flagging interest boosted by the recent ‘Enhanced Edition’ versions of the games, as well as the plethora of ‘mods’ that are available for them, especially BG and BG2).

Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this. I don’t think the world ‘needs’ a BG3, but perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

[Picture of Viconia by Lius Lasahido from Heroes of Baldur’s Gate]

Also in Baldur’s Gate news: this impressive campaign setting and adventure sequence, covering levels 1-6, called Heroes of Baldur’s Gate (written by James Ohlen, lead designer of BG1 and BG2). While it uses the 5th edition D&D rules, it’s set right after the original game (1369 Dale Reckoning), and features many of the key companions, NPCs, and organizations from it: Imoen, Minsc, Viconia, Edwin, the Zhentarim, the Shadow Druids, and so forth. To be clear: the player characters are assumed to have no connection to the original campaign.

Finally, there is the forthcoming Wizards’ campaign set in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus.

[The alternative cover for Descent into Avernus]

I much prefer Greyhawk over the Forgotten Realms for my D&D games these days (for reasons I hope to explain in a future post). So I was delighted to find that Ghosts of Saltmarsh is explicitly set in the world of Greyhawk. But I have a real soft spot for the city of Baldur’s Gate and the surrounding Sword Coast—pretty much entirely due to those classic Infinity Engine CRPGs. If I ever run a Forgotten Realms D&D campaign again, I’ll almost certain use Heroes for it. (Nostalgia: it’s a hell of a drug!)

30 May 2019

Ghosts of Saltmarsh: some initial impressions

I obtained the Ghosts of Saltmarsh book a few days ago. I haven't had a chance to delve into it in detail, but here are a few initial impressions.

First, it includes a solid 'mini-setting': Saltmarsh and the surrounding territory (the southernmost portion of the Kingdom of Keoland, roughly 18 leagues north-south, 25 leagues east-west). The setting has a lot of potential for expansion by DMs. Regions that can be fleshed out by creative DMs include: portions of the Hool Marshes and the Dreadwood, all of the Drowned Forest, the Silverstand Forest, some settlements (Seaton and Burle), and ... the ruins of the Tower of Zenopus! Yes, the sample dungeon from the original Holmes Basic D&D Set is given a location here, although it's not described in any detail. However, the brief description does align pretty closely with Holmes' description (but with 'Saltmarsh' replacing the original 'Portown').

The town of Saltmarsh is described in some detail. Three different factions -- each of which are represented in the ruling council -- are described ('traditionalists', 'loyalists', and the secret 'Scarlet Brotherhood' [!]). It looks like a great base for a low-level campaign: it has enough going on to keep the interest the players, including NPCs with whom to interact, but not too much to overwhelm them (or the DM).

The region is clearly situated within the World of Greyhawk, which is a refreshing change from the Forgotten Realms. (I'm not a FR-hater -- and I think that the Sword Coast region is a decent area for D&D campaigns -- but I find Greyhawk to be a much better setting overall. Also, it feels 'fresher' given how much has been produced already for the FR.) The Kingdom of Keoland and the Hold of the Sea Princes, including the conflict between them, are outlined. I hope that this signals that WotC will be expanding other parts of the WoG in future products.

Seven adventures are included. I'm only familiar with the original U1-3 AD&D modules (The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, and The Final Enemy).The others are from Dungeon magazine. All have sea/coast themes. Wisely, in my view, U3 is presented as a higher-level adventure (it states that it's for 4-6 seventh-level PCs), with two of the Dungeon adventures inserted between it and U2. The first adventure (U1) is for first-level characters, and the last one is for eleventh-level characters. I'm sceptical that there are enough adventures included in the book to use them exclusively for a 1-11 level campaign -- likely the DM will need to add a few additional ones in order to fill in some of the 'gaps'. But the book includes suggestions for incorporating some of the adventures from Tales from the Yawning Portal -- which is my other favourite WotC adventure book. Indeed, Saltmarsh and Portal are the kinds of adventure books that I (very much) prefer over WotC's usual 'adventure path' books. I find collections of adventures that can be run on their own or combined as the DM sees fit to be more useful than a series of tightly connected adventures meant to cover 10+ PC levels.

Aesthetically, the art and layout are really nice overall. The cover (by Grzegorz Rutkowski) is striking and dynamic. The maps (by Dyson Logos and Mike Schley) are attractive and (more importantly) clear.

So my initial impression of Ghosts of Saltmarsh is positive -- very positive. I'd love to see more products like this one and Yawning Portal from WotC for 5e D&D...

20 May 2019

Game of Thrones concludes

Some thoughts on the ending of the Game of Thrones...

[Spoilers below!]

So that’s that. While I think that the last two seasons were the weakest of the series I also think that they were pretty solid overall (a ‘B+’ grade, in my judgement, as opposed to the ‘A+’ for seasons 1-4, and the ‘A-‘ for seasons 5-6). I certainly enjoyed watching them, and remain immensely grateful that this series was produced. (My grade 8 self, doodling warriors and wizards in the margins of his class notebooks, could never have dreamed of an eight-season television epic like this.)

Yes, seasons seven and eight felt rushed compared to the earlier seasons. There’s no denying that. Sometimes things happened too quickly, characters’ motivations were inadequately explained, and so forth.

And I’m disappointed about how the whole Night King story unfolded. An existential threat that had been built up for the past seven seasons seemed to be resolved in an overly tidy way (with Arya acting as ‘ninja Isildur’ vis-à-vis the Night King’s ‘Sauron’). We never learned anything about the Night King’s motivations, why he wanted to kill the Three-eyed Raven (Bran), and so forth. Even a little exploration of the Night King’s reasons for doing what he’s been doing for the past several millennia would’ve helped. Surely Bran (qua Three-Eyed Raven) would know—and be able to tell us—something? (At the same time, though, I don’t know how that storyline could’ve been resolved in a truly satisfying way. So at least I was surprised that the show did it in the first half of the final season—I was expecting it to happen in the final episode.)

Despite those criticisms (and other smaller ones), I think the series had a solid ending. I wasn’t perfect but it was solid.

Daenerys Targaryen’s decision to be ruthlessly destructive in the penultimate episode struck me as appropriate (though I would’ve had her attack the Red Keep directly first, had I written the episode). I think that one of the main reasons that episode has proven to be so polarizing is that many people misinterpreted her character—badly. I also think people were upset that Cersei did not receive her proper comeuppance—but that’s one of the main themes of GoT, namely, that just deserts are rarely dealt.

I also thought that it was appropriate for Jon Snow to be the one to kill Daenerys. (I was worried that it would be Arya—I’m so glad I was wrong!) And I was sure that Jon would not become king—the Targaryen dynasty had to come to an end. (I would’ve been outraged had he somehow ended up sitting on the Iron Throne.) I expected that he likely would die at the end—perhaps in retribution for having killed Daenerys—but having him rejoin the Night’s Watch was an ‘okay’ alternative. At least he finally petted poor Ghost!

Arya going off to play explorer (ach! that was supposed to be Tyrion—as I explained in my previous post) was a tad silly, perhaps, but then what else was she supposed to do? In any case, I’m glad Sansa survived and became Queen of the North. She ended up being one of my favourite characters.

The scene wherein Brienne wrote the final chapter of the life of Jaime was touching. The scene of the Small Council was entertaining. Yes, they were ‘fan services’, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that sometimes, especially in a final episode.

So, overall, I am fine with how the series ended. Seasons 7 and 8 suffered from being too short, and events certainly felt forced in places. But aside from Tyrion strangely losing much of his intelligence upon becoming the Hand of the Queen, the characters pretty much realized who they really were in their actions, and the ending made sense (for the most part) given the assumptions of the fictional world.

It certainly ended a million times better than Lost!

19 May 2019

The end of Game of Thrones

I clearly am not ready for Game of Thrones to end. In fact, recently I had a dream of a trailer for a spin-off series. It begins with the following voice-over: “The journeys of Tyrion Lannister did not end in Kings Landing…” This is followed by scenes of Tyrion travelling to exotic places throughout Essos (meeting kings and merchants, exploring ancient ruins, etc.). Essentially he is the Westerosi version of Marco Polo. 

[Map of Essos from here.]

For some reason, Tyrion is accompanied in his journeys by Izembaro—the character played by Richard E. Grant. (Izembaro’s theatre troupe ‘The Gate’ was based in Braavos, so perhaps they met there?)

Actually, an episodic fantasy ‘buddy’ series starring Peter Dinklage and Richard E. Grant does not sound too bad…

16 May 2019

Crypts and Things Sale

Until the end of May the products in D101 GamesCrypts & Things line are all 25% off at DrivethruRPG.

Crypts & Things is my favourite rules light(-ish) swords and sorcery FRPG. (And I’m not saying that just because some of my Swords & Wizardry house rules were integrated into it!)

If you want a D&D-ish system that captures the flavour of R.E. Howard’s ‘Conan’ and ‘Kull’ stories, or Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of ‘Zothique’ and ‘Hyperborea’, or the more ‘metal’ portions of Michael Moorcock’s ‘Elric’ saga, then C&T is for you!

Also, C&T benefits from some very creative modules! (Check out this review of Life and Death from the notoriously harsh Bryce Lynch.)

14 May 2019

The Dead Gods of the Elder Isles

A few months ago I reread (for the third time!) the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance. My main motivation for doing so was to refresh my memory of the setting in anticipation of the forthcoming Mythras-based Lyonesse FRPG. (The first novel was discussed at the Tabletop Roleplayers’ Book Club blog last January.)

A passage in the final novel, Madouc, stuck with me, as it described a pantheon—the ‘Dead Gods’—that I quite liked. (I think that this pantheon would work quite well in a different fantasy setting as well, not simply the Elder Isles.)
The under-chamberlain took Madouc into the Court of the Dead Gods. “See yonder! There stands Cron the Unknowable, across from his terrible spouse Hec, the Goddess of Fate. For a game they created the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ then, once again becoming bored, they ordained the distinction between ‘something’ and nothing.’ When these diversions palled, they opened their hands and through their fingers let trickle matter, time, space and light, and at last they had created enough to hold their interest.” 
“All very well,” said Madouc, “But where did they learn this intricate lore?” 
“Aha!” said the under-chamberlain wisely. “That is where the mystery begins! When theologians are asked the source of Cron and Hec, they pull at their beards and change the subject. It is certainly beyond my understanding. We know for a fact only that Cron and Hec are father and mother to all the rest. There you see Atlante, there Gaea; there is Fantares, there Aeris. These are the divinities of water, earth, fire and air. Apollo the Glorious is God of the Sun; Drethre the Beautiful is Goddess of the Moon. There you see Fluns, Lord of Battles; facing him is Palas, Goddess of the Harvest. Finally: Adace and Aronice stand in opposition, as well they might! For six months of each year Adace is the God of Pain, Cruelty, and Evil, while Aronice is the Goddess of Love and Kindness. At the time of the equinoxes they change roles and for the next six months, Adace is the God of Bravery, Virtue and Clemency, while Aronice is the Goddess of Spite, Hatred and Treachery. For this reason they are known as ‘The Fickle Pair’.” 
“Ordinary folk change by the hour, or even by the minute,” said Madouc. “By comparison, Adace and Aronice would seem to be steadfast. Still, I would not care to be a member of their household.” 
“That is an astute observation,” said the under-chamberlain.
[From Jack Vance, Madouc, X.2.]

I also really liked this description of the ‘Druidic’ deity ‘Lucanor’ (god of ‘Primals’):
Lucanor’s duties were three: he plotted the shape of the constellations and, when needful, altered the placement of the stars; he assigned to each thing of the world the secret name by which its existence was confirmed or denied; he regulated the cycle by which the end of the future merged into the beginning of the past. In Druidic depictions, Lucanor wore double-pointed shoes, with toes extending both forward and back. An iron circlet displaying seven golden disks clasped his head. Lucanor was a solitary god, who held himself aloof from the lesser gods of the Druidic pantheon, among whom he inspired awe and fear. 
A Druidic myth relates how Lucanor, coming upon the other gods as they sat at the banquet table, found them drinking mead in grand style, to the effect that several were drunk, while others remained inexplicably sober; could some be slyly swilling down more than their share? The disparity led to bickering and it seemed that a serious quarrel was brewing. Lucanor bade the group to serenity, stating that the controversy no doubt could be settled without recourse either to blows or to bitterness. Then and there Lucanor formulated the concept of numbers and enumeration, which heretofore had not existed. The gods henceforth could tally with precision the number of horns each had consumed and, by this novel method, assure general equity and, further, explain why some were drunk and others not. “The answer, once the new method is mastered, becomes simple!” explained Lucanor. “It is that the drunken gods have taken a greater number of horns than the sober gods, and the mystery is resolved.” For this, the invention of mathematics, Lucanor was given great honour.
[From Jack Vance, Madouc, XI.2 (footnote).]

13 May 2019

Some thoughts on 'The Bells' (Game of Thrones: S8 E5)

Some reflections on tonight’s rather epic Game of Thrones episode, ‘The Bells’…
[Needless to say, spoilers below!]

I thought that some of the key relationships were wrapped up in relatively satisfying ways (given how ‘rushed’ the final season seems overall). In particular, I was not left unsatisfied by the following relationship resolutions:

1. Tyrion-Varys.
2. Tyrion-Jaime. (I thought this scene was beautiful—surprisingly touching.)
3. Sandor-Arya. (Again, really great—a small bit of redemption for the Hound.)
4. Sandor-Gregor. (‘Cleganbowl’ was never going to be able to live up to fans’ expectations, but I thought that the fight was good fun—and it ended in a fittingly poetic way.) 

I’m a bit mixed about the Jaime-Cersei ending. I was firmly convinced last week that Jaime was heading back to King’s Landing in order to kill Cersei (and that he harshly misled Brienne about his reasons in order to sever their relationship since he expected to die in his endeavour). But given that that did not go the way that I thought it would, how they died together seemed … appropriate.

The Euron-Jaime fight was terrible. (But then Euron Greyjoy is a ridiculous character in the television series. He’s pretty much as awful as the annoying-and-unmissed ‘Sand Snakes’.) It was out of character for Euron: why wouldn’t he just grab a ship and flee once the outcome of the battle was clear? Moreover, it was pointless—it did nothing to change Jaime’s ultimate fate. Blech…

Also, while I’ve never been a fan of Daenerys Targaryen—it always seemed clear to me that she had something of the ‘mad king’ in her, and so I never regarded her as the potential ‘saviour’ of Westeros—her descent into full-blown berserker madness struck me as a bit too quick to be plausible. A bit more control in her vengeance—say, going directly to destroy the Red Keep instead of strafing every neighbourhood in King’s Landing first—would’ve made more sense. But I guess the script writers felt it necessary to really (really, really) illustrate that Daenerys is the ‘bad guy’ now.
On a more positive note, I loved following Arya through King’s Landing as everything was being destroyed around her. Some comments that I’ve read said that it went on too long, but I thought it was great. In fact, I can’t believe how tense I felt the whole time. And it provided a much needed ‘townsfolk’ perspective on the cruel destructiveness of Daenerys’s actions (and war in general). 

Overall, I’d rank this episode as tied with the second one (“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”) as the best of this (otherwise somewhat disappointing) season. 

09 May 2019

Tolkien biopic only 46% fresh

As I noted here a few months ago, I was kind of looking forward to the ‘Tolkien’ film that is opening this week. But according to Rotten Tomatoes, it’s only 46 percent ‘fresh’.


Will I still see it? Probably—but I might wait for it to hit Netflix (or wherever) first…

06 May 2019

One giant's milk latte please...

Something does not belong in this scene from last night's episode of Game of Thrones:

Disbelief: no longer suspended!

Some amusing takes on this screw-up here.

04 May 2019

May the Fourth be with you

Jedi master 'Spinoda' trains Jedi apprentice Immanuel Kant (from Existential Comics):

Check out the full Star Wars themed comic here!

10 April 2019

D and D is cool

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece explaining "Why the Cool Kids Are Playing Dungeons & Dragons."

Of course, I have known that D&D is 'cool' for over 30 years now...

One thing mentioned in the essay -- which elicited from me an old man, 'you-kids-these-days', reaction -- was this: "Adding to the newfound popularity are thousands of D&D games broadcast on YouTube and the live-stream service Twitch." For the life of me, I cannot comprehend the appeal of watching others play games online. That sounds about as appealing as watching other people drink beer or eat chips. The point of role-playing games is to play. But whatever -- it's obviously no harm to me if others enjoy that sort of thing, and if it gets more people interested in playing RPGs, and thus growing the hobby, then so much the better.

24 March 2019

Not one but two forthcoming Vance-based games

I’m a big fan of Jack Vance’s fantasy works—in particular, his Lyonesse trilogy and his Dying Earth stories. So I’m quite excited about the Design Mechanism’s forthcoming Mythras-based Lyonesse role-playing game. (For an interesting discussion of the first Lyonesse novel, go here.)

To my amazement, though, I completely missed the announcement a few years ago of another Vance-based role-playing game: namely, one from Goodman Games set in the Dying Earth. Since the original announcement claimed that the game would be available in ‘late 2017’, I was worried that the project had been abandoned. However, this GG post from about two weeks ago (March 12th) indicates that it’s still on the cards.

It looks like the Dying Earth RPG will be based upon the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game. I’ve never played DCCRPG, but based on my reading of the ‘quick start’ rules (which I picked up a couple of years ago), I’m not sure I’m too keen on it. While I quite like old school games—I even contributed to one (Crypts & Things)—the particular interpretation of ‘old school’ offered by DCC (e.g., the ‘funnel’ for 0-level characters; the randomness of the magic system) does not really resonate with me. At the same time, though, I’m open to the possibility that my ‘pre-play’ assessment is off, and I’d be happy to try it someday. And if the DCC system is suitably adapted for the Dying Earth setting, I’ll definitely pick it up and give it a shot!

(Goodman Games has a brief discussion of Vance’s writings here.)

21 March 2019


After 10 years of the same thing, I'm testing out a new look for this blog.

Initially I just wanted to replace the picture. (The above 'Dragon Slayers' drawing is something that I did in 1983 [when I was 12 or 13].) But that led me to make other changes...

I'm not sure I like this current look, although I do think it's more 'readable' than the old one.

I may tweak it some more in the near future. Comments or suggestions would be appreciated (but, obviously, not necessarily acted upon).

17 March 2019

Larry DiTillio, RIP

According to RPG.net, Larry DiTillio has passed away.

Within the role-playing games community, DiTillio is probably best known as the co-author of the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign, Masks of Nyarlathotep.

Masks one of those amazing campaigns that I've read and read about -- and want to run someday...

Sad news. RIP Mr. DiTillio.

07 March 2019


By the Valar! It looks like the forthcoming Amazon Prime Middle-earth series may be set during the Second Age and will encompass Númenor.

If you go to the most recent map of Middle-earth and scroll over to the bottom left (southwest) corner you can see the legendary island kingdom of the high men:

And the map does not merely depict Middle-earth at the end of the Second Age, but an earlier time. This is because it includes Ost-in-Edhil and Eregion—the land of the Elvish smiths, including Celebrimbor (second only to Fëanor in his skill), which was destroyed by Sauron’s armies following the creation of the Rings of Power in the middle of the Second Age. (The surviving Elves fled the ruins of Eregion and, under the leadership of Elrond, founded a hidden enclave: Imladris, better known as ‘Rivendell’.)

For further discussion of this map and what it might portend for the series, check out this article at Tor. (Among other things, the article wisely cautions us against becoming too excited about the prospect of a series set during the Second Age. Perhaps there will be only some ‘flashback’ scenes set during the Second Age, but the story itself will take place well into the Third Age.) 

UPDATE: This Polygon article seems confident in asserting that the series will be set during the Second Age. And an Amazon Prime tweet from earlier today says: "Welcome to the Second Age." Hmmm....

04 March 2019

Hawkmoon is coming to the small screen

Well this interesting: BBC Studios is adapting Michael Moorcock’s Runestaff tetralogy into a television series.

Hawkmoon is not my favourite character amongst Moocock’s ‘Eternal Champions’—I find Corum, Elric, and von Bek to be more nuanced and engaging protagonists. But some of Hawkmoon’s companions, such as Huillam d'Averc and Oladahn, are quite colourful. And the main villains of the series—like the withered and ancient Emperor Huon, who dwells in a fluid-filled sphere in Londra, and the sybaritic and cunning Baron Meliadus, who is Hawkmoon’s chief antagonist throughout the series—are brilliant. The Granbretans in general should be interesting to watch, as they wear animal masks at all times in public (the subjects of the Emperor belong to various ‘orders’, each with their own totemic animal).

But the star of the series, if it’s done properly, may be the setting itself: the post-‘Tragic Millennium’ future earth, wherein the vile Empire of Granbretan threatens all of Europe and, indeed, the world. The series encompasses much of this world—from Syria and the Ukraine in the east, to North America in the west—so it has the potential to showcase some amazing scenery and sets. And then there are the battles: I look forward to scenes wherein the warriors of Count Brass’s Kamarg, mounted on giant flying flamingos, are met by the Granbretans’ baroque ornithopters and terrible ‘flame lances’. 

Hopefully BBC Studios will do justice to Moocock’s world and story. I’m cautiously enthusiastic…

21 February 2019

The forthcoming Middle-earth series: Calenardhon?

As noted at this blog previously, Amazon Prime is coming out with a television series set in Middle-earth. Rotten Tomatoes has posted an article that goes over everything that is known publicly about the series at this time (and also engages in a fair bit of fun speculation).

Assuming that the series takes place close-ish to the time of The Lord of the Rings—the RT article suggests that the protagonist likely will be a young (i.e., under-90) Aragorn—there are some intriguing possibilities for the series to explore. My curiosity was especially aroused by the prospect that those two over-looked Istari, the Blue Wizards, might get some screen time:
“This might be mere speculation, but there are few characters in the young Aragorn timeframe Tolkien fans would love to see in the Amazon series. Returning to that curious region in the far East and the topic of the Istari, two of their number, the Blue Wizards, immediately trekked to the East as part of their mission in Middle-earth. Only mentioned in Tolkien’s unfinished tales, they either succumbed to Sauron’s influence or died as they failed to sway the Easterlings away from the Dark Lord. Presuming Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien estate includes unfinished material like the tale of the wizards, they would be ideal characters to utilize in the series. They could be villains, fallen heroes or anything in between. They could even be Aragorn’s guides in the East. And as their role in the War of the Ring was never revealed, they offer the series’ writers greater flexibility in the storytelling and characters without predefined destinies.”
The Amazon ‘preview’ map can be viewed here. I’ve noticed that some place names have been added gradually over time (and presumably will continue to be added in the future). One thing that stands out to me about the map in its current state—the significance of which is mentioned in the RT article (much to my surprise)—is that it includes ‘Calenardhon’ (which means ‘green region’ in Sindarin).

As those familiar with the history of Middle-earth know, ‘Calenardhon’ was a northern province of Gondor. It was depopulated in 1636 (of the Third Age) by the Great Plague, and overrun by the Balchoth (Sauron-influenced ‘Easterling’ invaders) in 2510. Gondor was aided in defeating the Balchoth at the Battle of the Field of Celebrant by the Éothéod under the leadership of Eorl. The land subsequently was given to the Éothéod by the Steward Cirion in return for this assistance. The Éothéod became known as the ‘Rohirrim’ and the land ‘Rohan’.

If the map is meant to accurately depict Middle-earth during the time of the series, then it must take place at least five centuries before the events of The Lord of the Rings. I have a dream that the series is set during Gondor’s civil war, the ‘Kin-Strife’ (1432-1448). Perhaps?

[Angus McBride’s cover for the 1995 MERP book The Kin-Strife]

[UPDATE (2019-02-25): Fixed the links in the post (I placed the link to the RT article in the wrong place, and failed to include the proper link to the map).]

13 February 2019

Tolkien trailer

The first trailer for the forthcoming biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien is now available for your viewing pleasure (all 55 seconds of it). You can watch it, and read a bit about the film, here at Screen Rant.

[Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien]

The film focuses on Tolkien's early life (up to and including his time in the Great War). I'm ... cautiously optimistic. I really hope that it does justice to this literary giant.

05 January 2019

Temple of the Flayed Lord

In case you need some inspiration for a new Cthulhu Mythos style cult (also eminently useable for fantasy and historical role-playing games):
Mexican experts say they have found the first temple of the Flayed Lord, a pre-Hispanic fertility god depicted as a skinned human corpse.
The institute said experts found two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec. It had an extra hand dangling off one arm, suggesting the god was wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim.
Priests worshipped Xipe Totec by skinning human victims and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration.
The Popolocas built the temple at a complex known as Ndachjian-Tehuacan between AD 1000 and 1260 and were later conquered by the Aztecs.
More information on the charming Xipe Totec and his ancient Popolocas followers can be found here.

Blog Archive

About Me

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