15 July 2017

Valar Morghulis

Like 99.9% of the global fantasy nerd community, I am looking forward to the seventh season of The Game of Thrones, due to start tomorrow evening.

Since the series only has 13 episodes left, and given its propensity to kill off major characters in unexpected ways, the question naturally arises: who will survive to the end? Vox assesses the chances of 15 important characters here. While I agree with author Todd VanDerWerff that Samwell Tully is the most likely character to survive at the end (someone has to be able to tell the whole story, after all), I disagree with some of his other predictions. Specifically, I think that Tyrion Lannister is more likely to survive than Jon Snow (as I can see Snow going out in a blaze of glory in the final episode, whereas Tyrion will carry on with cunning and bluster no matter what), and I would place Arya Stark’s odds of making it out alive quite highly—above those of Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. Finally, I would rank Bran Stark’s chances above all other characters except Samwell, given that he seems to be pivotal to the entire history of Westeros.

While not ‘major characters’ in any sense, ravens appear regularly in the series. This is because ravens are central to the communication system of Westeros. This is one of the reasons why I like the setting so much. I’ve been fascinated by ravens since a teenager, when I first learned about their high intelligence. It turns out that they are capable of planning for the future.

[Image found somewhere on the intertubes]

07 July 2017

Mythras (RuneQuest 6) and OpenQuest Developments

I’m a bit late in reporting on this, but the good people at the Design Mechanism have been producing monthly adventures for their superb Mythras role-playing game (formerly RuneQuest 6). This strikes me as a great thing to do for any game, but especially a rather ‘crunchy’ one like Mythras. This kind of regular support helps people try Mythras—including different variants and settings—without too much work or cost. I’ve already obtained two of the adventures, and look forward seeing more.

One adventure in particular warrants special mention. It’s called The Colour of Madness, and has a very strong ‘swords-and-sorcery’ flavour—with a distinctly ‘Moorcockian’ accent. This is no coincidence, as an earlier version of the adventure was written by Lawrence Whitaker for the ‘Young Kingdoms’ fantasy setting. (Whitaker wrote Mongoose’s MRQII-based Elric of Melniboné line; he also wrote a lot of material for Chaosium’s Stormbringer and Elric! games back in the day.) If you own (or can track down) Whitaker’s Elric books for Mongoose RuneQuest II, especially the core book and the Cities of the South supplement, then this module will help you run a rather cool Young Kingdoms campaign with Mythras. (For a sense of what such a campaign might be like, check out this—sadly not-yet-finished—campaign log. I believe that one possibility for that campaign was the Colour of Madness adventure, but our characters decided to flee, er… travel to the East instead…)

Since I’m writing about my favourite fantasy d100 games in this post, I should also mention that D101 Games has updated OpenQuest. The ‘new’ version (really a fixed up and mildly improved version of the 2nd edition) is called OpenQuest Refreshed. It features a nice cover by the talented Jon Hodgson:

OQ author Newt Newport summarizes the main changes in this blog post. If you want a fantasy BRP/d100 system that is somewhat lighter than Mythras, I highly recommend OpenQuest as the way to go!

14 June 2017

Dead Light (Call of Cthulhu adventure summary)

As I've mentioned before here, I've been running a sporadic Call of Cthulhu 7th edition campaign since Halloween 2014. Most of the adventures I've run have been new ones written for the 7th edition version of CoC (the only exception is "The Haunting"). One of these adventures is Dead Light. Below is my brief summary of that adventure, along with some impressions of it.

Dead Light (Massachusetts, late November 1922).

- Bertrand Smyth (professor)
- Max Brewster (private investigator)
- Helen Tilton (photo journalist).
(More information available here.)

Summary (warning: spoilers!)

Pleased with their job dealing with the Corbitt house, Stephen Knott hires the investigators again. In addition to owning and managing several properties within Massachusetts, Knott is a collector of rare artefacts and eldritch texts. He has learned of an unusual item owned by a Dr. Godfrey Webb of Greenapple Acre cottage (located in a rural part of Massachusetts). After some correspondence with Webb, Knott has arranged to purchase this item, and wishes the investigators to pick it up for him and return it to Boston. He gives the investigators a cheque for $1000 for the item, about which he seems to know suspiciously little.

The investigators drive to Bolton where they have dinner. A terrible storm is brewing, but they decide to press on. Continuing on their way, their car hits a woman who runs suddenly out onto the road. She seems dazed but not seriously hurt, and mumbles that her name is 'Emelia'. The investigators take her to a nearby diner. While there, the electricity goes out. The diner subsequently is attacked by … an eldritch ‘floating light’! An elderly woman is killed by the light – she is consumed from within by strange and malevolent otherworldly energies. Everyone is terrified, and the storm becomes even worse.

Eventually Amelia revives somewhat, and explains that she is Dr. Webb’s niece. She and her uncle and were robbed earlier that evening at Greenapple Acre cottage. In the process of the robbery, however, the eldritch light attacked. Terrified, Amelia fled, only to later be hit by the investigator’s car. Mary Laker, who works at the diner, is questioned by Helen at this time, and confesses that she knows about the robbers. Despite the storm, the investigators, along with Amelia and Mary, proceed to the cottage.

While at the cottage, the body of Dr. Webb is discovered. Shocked, Helen goes temporarily mad, and cannot see. Bertrand and Max rummage through Dr. Webb’s notes, and figure out that Webb has been summoning the ‘dead light’ for decades in order to eliminate ‘undesirable’ persons for clients. Horrified, they infer that Webb had summoned the dead light when the robbers invaded the house.

The dead light creature returns, and consumes Mary. Fortunately, Bertrand and Max figure out how to defeat the creature from Dr. Webb’s notes. A ritual captures the dead light, and the party spends the rest of the night at the cottage. Helen’s sight returns, and the investigators concoct a story for the police in Bolton (something involving ‘ball lightning’). Amelia (now owner of the cottage) is placed in therapy. The artefact that Knott sought to purchase has been destroyed.


This is the only scenario in this campaign that my group completed in a single evening (our sessions typically are 3-4 hours long). This was a good thing. Not because the adventure is bad -- I think it's quite good -- but because it is a 'survival horror' scenario, and I doubt that its intensity could've have been resurrected effectively after a significant break in play.

As my summary indicates, Dead Light is somewhat different from most CoC scenarios. The investigators are fighting against a hostile enemy under dire conditions. The 'clock is ticking,' so to speak, against them. Moreover, they are thrust into this dangerous situation unexpectedly, and with little prospect of immediate escape (as most of the roads and telephone lines are down thanks to the storm). So it likely will offer a real change of pace for most groups. The sense of relief that my players had at the end of the session was palpable.

(I should mention that I modified the 'solution' to dealing with the dead light somewhat [I can't remember precisely how, as I ran it over a year ago]. This is because I found the options offered in the text to be too difficult for my group: two of the three players were new to RPGs, having only played one previous CoC scenario so far. Perhaps I was being too nice, but the scenario seemed adequately deadly and scary nonetheless.)

The scenario would work well as either a 'one short' or an 'introductory adventure.' As an introductory adventure, the Keeper will need to come up with some reason for the characters to be travelling together, but once that is sorted, the events will force them to work together and to deal with a supernatural menace, thus giving them a connection for later scenarios. For my group, I had to contrive a way to make it follow from the previous scenario ("The Haunting"), but this was easy to do.

Overall, I think this is a fun 'single-session' adventure, and am happy to give it 8/10.

07 June 2017

The Growing Cyclopean Pile of Cthulhu Games

This article at NPR—“H.P. Lovecraft's Monster Is Wrapping Family GameNight Up In Tentacles”—discusses the ever-growing number of board games based upon Lovecraft’s ‘Cthulhu Mythos.’

I must confess that I’m not a ‘board game’ person. I rarely play them—and when I do, it’s invariably because others want to, and they teach me the rules. Now I have nothing ‘against’ board games; I just don’t really have anything ‘for’ them either. (There was a time in the distant past when this was not the case. Much of my final year of high-school was spent Axis and Allies. But that was a long time ago! And I had a lot more time back then…)

I’ve owned Arkham Horror for a decade now, and yet have never played it. Every time I’ve tried to read the rules in the past my eyes glaze over after a few minutes. Strangely, the AH rules seem more involved than those of Call of Cthulhu—and it’s not clear to me what AH does better than CoC (aside from being prettier and eliminating the need for a Keeper). Now I’d be happy to try AH with someone who was already quite familiar with the rules and could show me the ropes. But I just don’t have the patience or interest to sort them out myself.

In addition to board games, there also seems to be a growth in the number of Lovecraftian role-playing games being produced in recent years. Yet, aside from playing in a couple of one-shots with other systems (including one game of Trail of Cthulhu), I’ve stuck with The Call of Cthulhu for decades—indeed, CoC is one of the games that I’ve played the most in recent years. CoC does what I need to do, really well, and I simply don’t have much interest or patience (or time) to learn new RPG systems these days. I’m happy to read about new settings or adventures, but reading new game systems generally bores me (in fact, I have yet to properly read through CoC 7e; when I’ve run that system over the past two years I’ve primarily relied upon the ‘quick start’ rules and my general knowledge of BRP).

So while I’m happy to learn that more people are enjoying Lovecraftian games (both board games and RPGs) these days, I’m also pretty content to stick to the Lovecraftian game—CoC (5e/6e/7e)—that I’ve been using since eldritch times.

[Image of the Cthulhu Wars game from the NPR article.]

16 May 2017

Hydra versus Kali

It might not be beloved within the art world -- as this hilarious review at Art News makes clear -- but this statue by Damien Hirst, "Hydra and Kali," is pretty epic:

This one, "Andromeda and the Sea Monster," is rather 'metal' as well:

Check out the creepy spiders on the back of Andromeda's stone:

09 May 2017

Maybe Blade Runner 2049 will not be terrible?

So two years ago (!) I expressed the view that the planned Blade Runner sequel was a bad idea. The original film is the greatest science-fiction film ever, and it's completely self-sufficient. Tacking on a sequel, I claimed, would only diminish the original (among other things, if Deckard survived for another 30+ years, it would eliminate the possibility that he was a replicant, a possibility that the original film wonderfully left unresolved).

But having watched (and read an analysis of) the new trailer, I may have to reopen my mind on this question... Perhaps the sequel will not be so terrible after all.

I mean, I have to give credit to the film makers for at least keeping Atari in its dystopian vision of the future:

04 May 2017

The True Origin of the Flail Snail?

Of the many strange and absurd creatures included in the original AD&D Fiend Folio, perhaps none has been more often mocked and ridiculed than the poor 'flail snail'. Personally, I've always had a bit of a soft spot (er...) for the monster, as it strikes me as a perfect example of the whimsical 'a-wizard-did-it' approach that was employed in the construction of so many classic AD&D beasts.

But perhaps the flail snail has some historical legitimacy? Apparently, as this Vox video explains, Medieval illuminated texts often included pictures of knights fighting snails in their margins...

29 March 2017

Mythras Swords and Sorcery Advice

Thinking of running a ‘swords-and-sorcery’ style Mythras (RuneQuest 6) campaign? This thread at the RPGsite contains some helpful advice.

(Also, this older thread on using Mythras for Hyboria [the world of Conan] is pretty interesting.)

28 March 2017

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition

So it turns out that the Planescape teaser that I mentioned earlier was for the forthcoming 'Enhanced Edition' of the Planescape: Torment computer role-playing game. ("NewbieDM" was right!)

Here is the official announcement.

While I'm disappointed that we won't be seeing a new version of the Planescape campaign setting for 5e D&D, at least not in the immediate future, I'm happy to see an 'enhanced' version of the classic Planescape: Torment CRPG coming out soon. The original PS:T is probably the greatest CRPG ever produced, rivaled only by the Baldur's Gate series. (While PS:T has a better story and setting in my view than the BG games, it has less replay value and is less of a 'sandbox'.) The fact that Chris Avellone, the Lead Designer of the original game, is involved gives me confidence that this will be great.

I still have my original box set for the AD&D version of Planescape. Maybe replaying the CRPG will motivate me to dig it out again...

27 March 2017

Classic Dungeons and Dragons modules to be reprinted

Well this is interesting: Goodman Games has partnered with Wizards of the Coast to publish some classic D&D modules in hardback form.

Here is the full press release:
Jump into Classic Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Modules with Collector’s Editions from Goodman Games 
First Volume Contains B1 and B2 Converted to Fifth Edition, Plus Insider Commentary, and Original Art
Goodman Games is pleased to announce a partnership with Dungeons & Dragons to publish deluxe collector’s editions of classic D&D adventure modules! These commemorative editions will appeal to fans of Dungeons & Dragons across multiple editions. Each volume will include digitally restored, high-quality scans of the original 1970’s-era adventure modules, presented in their original published form. In addition, each volume will include a conversion of that original adventure to the fifth edition rules set. This format allows nostalgic gamers to re-live the adventures of their youth, and play those adventures again in a modern rules set! For gamers with families and children ready to receive the torch of gaming, this volume is the perfect format to share fond adventures with the next generation playing the Dungeon & Dragons fifth edition rules. 
The first hardcover collector’s edition will include B1: In Search of the Unknown and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. These classic adventure modules were played by millions of gamers in their original editions. Among other things, the book includes:
  • Commentary by gaming luminaries on the history and development of these modules, including gaming legends such as Frank Mentzer and Luke Gygax who were “on the inside” when these modules exploded in popularity.
  • A new interview with gaming legend Mike Carr, author of B1: In Search of the Unknown and early gaming pioneer.
  • Digitally restored scans of both B1 and B2, including multiple printings of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. B2 went through nine printings in its original form, and there are material differences between the first three printings and subsequent editions. These include changes in monster stats and significant differences in interior art. Two printings are presented in their entirety to highlight these differences. The historical material also includes the true story behind the cover art of B1, which was the only cover image TSR ever published that featured the signatures of both David Trampier and David Sutherland.
  • A thorough and complete conversion of both B1 and B2 to the 5E rules set, fully playable with the original maps.
  • New 5E content providing additional detail on the areas surrounding the Caves of Chaos, including, at long last, the Cave of the Unknown.
  • Additional material for playing B1: In Search of the Unknown, including several completed monster and treasure assortments ready for play.
  • A variety of additional essays, commentary, and other material for play.
The deluxe hardcover volume is anticipated to be available at Gen Con with general release in September 2017. For additional information, visit Goodman Games online at www.goodman-games.com. 
Between this line of products (the announcement indicates that the B1+B2 volume will be only the first of many) and the forthcoming Tales from the Yawning Portal, it is clear that WotC is trying to appeal to the 'old school' crowd in at least some of their 5e D&D products.

I for one welcome their pandering!

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