24 February 2023

More Middle-earth movies are coming


Is Warner Bros. studio, inspired by the dwarves of Khazad-dûm, determined to “dig too greedily”?

The studio announced yesterday that it plans to make a number of films set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The films would be developed through New Line Cinema, which produced the original three films directed by Peter Jackson two decades ago. (Read more at Variety.)


Even limited to what is available in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (especially TLotR’s appendices), I think that there are many additional wonderful stories that could be told set in Middle-earth. However, I don’t have a great amount of faith that these new film projects will succeed in this endeavour. The Amazon television series, despite some bright spots (e.g., the beautiful sets), deviated wildly from Tolkien’s writings – and for the most part unnecessarily so. (I accept that some changes are necessary in adapting a complex work of literature to film or television, but many of the changes made in the Rings of Power were ridiculous.) And despite his admirable accomplishment with the original trilogy, Jackson’s The Hobbit films are something of a mess as well. (I will never forgive the shabby treatment of Radagast!)


So I’m rather pessimistic about these new films. But perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised…

(I am cautiously looking forward to The War of the Rohirrim next year.)

18 February 2023

Preview of the new Erol Otus cover for Swords and Wizardry

Here's a preview of the new cover illustration by the legendary Erol Otus for the forthcoming version of Swords and Wizardry

I think it's meant to evoke Gandalf's famous stand-off with the balrog -- but this confrontation is outside, involves a weird insect behemoth (instead of a balrog), and the wizard is guarding his tower (I think).

I like the colours and the alien (almost Lovecraftian) look of the monster. 

10 February 2023

C7d20 and Black Flag: the coming 5e Clone Wars?


During the recent “OGL Crisis” – caused by WotC’s recent, almost cartoonish, avarice and arrogance – a number of third-party publishers announced plans to create systems “fully compatible” with 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons – but not dependent on the OGL (instead, alternative licenses would be used, such as the forthcoming ORC).  


Kobold Press is pursuing what it calls “Project Black Flag.” The system will be compatible with 5e while refining elements of it: “Kobold plans to revise and sharpen familiar mechanics while offering new, streamlined options for a core tabletop game.”


While 5e is a vast improvement over 3e in terms of reducing its “fiddliness” (and overall gratuitous complexity), it definitely could use some further streamlining in my view. So I’ll be interested to see what the Kobolds come up with.


Cubicle Seven also is developing a 5e-compatible system: “C7d20” (not the most evocative of names, alas). Their announcement mentions the version of 5e that they designed for their excellent Adventures in Middle-earth game (now in the hands of the Free League, revised and renamed The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying 5e). As I’ve mentioned before here, I am a huge fan of AiME – I ran what I thought was a very successful campaign using AiME a few years ago – and think that it’s a better system overall than “core” 5e. I expect that C7 will incorporate elements of AiME into C7d20 (I read somewhere that C7 already has revised the excellent “journey” rules from AiME for their forthcoming “Broken Weave” setting).


Among the growing family of 5e compatible systems I should also mention ENWorld’s Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition system. It’s been out for at least a year now, I think, so it was not created in reaction to WotC’s recent mischief. However, since it introduces additional complexity to 5e – hence the “Advanced” part of its name – it is not something in which I’ve been interested. Nonetheless, it’s a freestanding system, compatible with 5e, and seems to have its supporters.


Finally, at the other end of the spectrum from Level Up, is Into the Unknown. Inspired by the Basic and Expert rules for D&D from the very beginning of the 1980s, Into the Unknown simplifies and streamlines many elements of 5e while introducing a few mechanisms (especially concerning dungeon and wilderness exploration) that resemble those from earlier editions.  Like Level Up, Into the Unknown has been out for a while now (it was released in 2019). But it’s a freestanding 5e-compatible game that (hopefully) will continue to be available in the future. (I’m using a house-ruled version of ItU for my current Greyhawk campaign.)


Even though WotC has abandoned its attempt to “de-authorize” the OGL 1a (which is good news for ItU) and has “CC-ized” the 5e SRD, the projects by C7 and Kobold Press are set to continue. I’m genuinely curious to see how they turn out. 



02 February 2023

Recovery and planning in Hommlet (Greyhawk campaign)


5.1 Return to Hommlet (Flocktime 8th)


The weary adventurers — Erik (the mountain dwarf fighter from the Lortmils), Althaea (the high elf wizard from the city of Tringlee), and the brothers Godric (the human rogue from the Barony of Shiboleth) and Cedric (the human cleric of St. Cuthbert) — return to the village of Hommlet from their ill-fated expedition to the ruined Moathouse. They carry with them the body and head (sadly now separated from each other by a lice-ridden bugbear) of Elmo. Arriving around midnight, the party first takes Elmo’s body to the Church of St. Cuthbert. However, Brother Calmert informs the party that Elmo was a follower of the “Old Faith,” and instructs them to take the body to the village’s druidical grove. 


The village’s Old Faith leader, the elderly Jaroo Ashstaff, accepts Elmo’s body and thanks the party. Althaea praises Elmo’s valour and promises to donate an equal share of the loot recovered from the expedition to Elmo’s family. After learning about what has transpired at the Moathouse, Jaroo tells the party that he plans to call a meeting of the Hommlet Village Council.


The beleaguered party returns to the Inn of the Welcome Wench, wherein Erik orders six pints of Umberdeep Ale for himself, and six pints for his colleagues to share. The group then retires to their room where they collapse in weariness.


5.2 Business in Hommlett (Flocktime 9th)


The following day Cedric returns to the Church of St. Cuthbert. There he meets with Canon Terjon. Cedric updates his senior on all that they’ve discovered at the Moathouse. Terjon tells Cedric that Jaroo Ashstaff has called for a Village Council meeting on the morrow, and that the party should attend.


Althaea and Godric go the Traders’ Establishment. There they meet with the two oleaginous Oeridian merchants, the rotund Rannos Davls and the spindly Gremag. After some negotiations, the party agrees to trade a number of their recovered items (the gold and silver necklaces, a chain shirt, some quartz stones, and the like) for store credit. The wizard and rogue negotiate 50 gold coins in credit and give 10 to Hroth (Elmo’s father). Also purchased: a mule, four pouches filled with flour (requested by Althaea to deal with potential invisible creatures), two bedsheets, and a waterskin filled with four pints of oil. Godric is somewhat annoyed by the amounts paid by Althaea to the traders.


Erik talks to Smyth the smith. The dwarf requests a number of “thin” shields to cover arrow slits and the like. Smyth agrees to make some tin shields to Erik’s specifications.


In the afternoon the party reconvenes in the Inn and divides up the remaining coins from their expedition to the moathouse and battle with the gnolls and bugbears. The innkeeper Ostler Gundigoot overhears Althaea and Godric complaining about their interactions with the merchants. Gundigoot advises the party that Nira Melubb, the moneychanger, will buy gems and jewelry on fairer terms than will Davls and Gremag.


As is his wont, Erik purchases several pints of Umberdeep Ale for the party and invites Zert the swordsman to join them. The scruffy, tough-looking mercenary happily partakes of some free ale. Althaea notices an odd pair in the common room: a robed Bakluni and a hulking hairy warrior. Despite their distinctiveness, little information about them is obtained from the other partrons, including Zert.


Althaea then purchases an exquisite seven-course meal for everyone, including Zert. Godric discerns that Zert is strangely evasive when the topic of the village of Nulb is raised; according to Zert, nobody ever goes to that “rotten hole.” Zert prefers to speak of his recent jobs as a mercenary, accompanying caravans to his hometown of Dyvers to the northeast, the gnomish hold of Gneissvale to the west, the elvish realm of Celene to the south, and the various free cities of the Wild Coast to the east. 


Seeing the party enjoying themselves over piles of food and pints of ale, the half-elf Furnok approaches the party but is rebuffed with great alacrity. Eventually Zert stumbles off to bed, and the party retires for the evening.


5.3 The Council of Hommlet (Flocktime 10th)


The town council meeting is attended by the leaders of Hommlet: Jaroo (Druid of the Grove); Terjon (Canon of the Church of St. Cuthbert); Ostler Gundigoot (the innkeeper); Mytch (the miller); Burne (the wizard, representative of the Vicount); and Rufus (associate of Burne and military leader of “Burne’s Badgers”). (Not present is Hroth, the leader of the militia, who is grieving over the death of his son Elmo.)


Cedric recalls his divinely inspired dream of an evil foe of St. Cuthbert arising again, his experience at the Shrine of Istus, his long journey from the Gran March, and so forth. Also mentioned is the party’s ambush by bandits during their trip from Verbobonc to Hommlet, the strange pebble carried by the bandit leader, their expedition to the Moathouse, their various battles, and the like.


Amazed and dismayed by all this news, the Council asks the party to “cleanse” the Moathouse of the evil that has re-infested it. The Council gives the party some healing potions, taken from the Church of St. Cuthbert, and a suit of splint mail from Rufus’s supply. Burne provides the spell “See Invisibility” to Althaea. Additional rewards are promised should be party succeed in its mission.

5.4 Preparing to return to the Moathouse


Following the Council meeting the party retires to The Welcome Wench and deliberates over whether to hire anyone to aid in their mission. Cedric goes to the Church to reflect and meditate, while Godric speaks with the fledgling mage Spugnoir. The latter agrees to join the party on the condition that he receives all arcane scrolls that are recovered; he has no interest in any other treasures. Later, Althaea meets with Spugnoir, and provides the squeaky young man with the spells “Mage Armour” and “Magic Missile.” After spending several hours inscribing these spells into his grimoire, Spugnoir joins the party for dinner.


Zert enters the inn and joins the party as they dine. Erik cheerily buys several pints of Umberdeep Ale for the gruff swordsman and asks him to join the party on their upcoming mission. Godric and Althea make a more precise offer: an equal share of all non-magical treasure found in the Moathouse. Zert agrees. Cedric joins the discussion and asks Zert about his faith. The swordsman claims to be a follower of Kord, which delights Erik, as Kord is one of the few non-Dwarven deities that Erik respects (in contrast to the “kill-joy” St. Cuthbert). 


With two additional members of their company – Spugnoir and Zert – the party heads off to the Moathouse early the next day (the 11th of Flocktime). 



[Pictures from the original T1 module by David Trampier.]

[Campaign index -- including earlier log entries -- here.]

01 February 2023

Farewell (again) to "official" Dungeons and Dragons

I’m delighted that Wizards of the Coast backed off their avaricious plan to try to “de-authorize” the OGL and that the 5th edition SRD is now secure from future meddling. (For a helpful overview, check out this post at the Bat in the Attic blog.)

That said, even before the recent OGL brouhaha, I had been souring on the “official” (WotC-produced) D&D line. I haven’t been that impressed by WotC’s recent products at all. Consequently, I haven’t bought anything from them for a couple of years now. (However, I had been interested in the upcoming Planescape book. Perhaps I’ll look through it at my FLGS.) 
And I certainly do not like what I have read about WotC’s plans for 6e (or “One D&D” or 5.5e or whatever it’ll end up being called). 
It’s too bad, as I thought that WotC did a solid job with 5e. It was the first post-TSR version of the game that I found at all enjoyable and was happy to play. While I was never a fan of their big “adventure path” books, some of WotC’s earlier offerings were interesting and I’m glad to have them in my collection. (Secrets of Saltmarsh and Tales of the Yawning Portal are especially good, in my view, but of course they are largely collections of “5e-ized” adventures from earlier editions, including especially 1e AD&D. But I do think that there is a solid “quasi-sandbox” setting, with many tweakable short adventures, in the combined Starter and Essentials box sets.) 
Overall, WotC seems to have lost its way. The drive to “monetize” seems to be pushing them back to the 3e strategy of production, which is a pity. Well, I ignored WotC’s version of D&D during the dark days of 3e and 4e, so I can do so again now. 
As for Kobold Press’ “Project Black Flag,” I’m mildly interested to see how it turns out. I hope that it ends up being a cleaned-up version of 5e (i.e., streamlined and less fiddly) and that their aim is to keep in print a version of 5e for folks (like me) who dislike the direction in which WotC D&D is going. Yes, the 5e SRD is now “CC-ified” – but people like books, and there are parts of 5e that could use some fixing (by subtraction rather than addition, so to speak). No, the “Black Flag” game won’t be the next Pathfinder, but it nonetheless could do quite well (by non-WotC standards) for those who like 5e well enough and dislike what WotC is offering. We’ll see. 
In any case, I’ve cobbled together my own version of “5e” (using the Into the Unknown rules as a base but adding some house rules) to keep my Greyhawk campaign going. It’s actually been liberating to do this. My “AD&D” – Akratic Dungeons & Dragons – goes on with its light spell undiminished. 

Blog Archive

About Me

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