21 February 2018

Iain M. Banks’ Culture is coming to television…


Consider Phlebas—Iain M. Banks’s first novel about the Culture—is coming to Amazon television.

I’m excited by this—but also nervous. I’ve praised Banks before here. He’s my favourite science-fiction writer of the past century. Hopefully Amazon will do a good job with this.

For a great analysis of the Culture (focusing especially on Consider Phlebas), check out this excellent essay, “Why the Culture Wins: An Appreciation of Iain M. Banks,” by Joseph Heath (a philosopher at the University of Toronto). It’s scholarly but also fun—a rare combination!

(Hat tip: Lawrence Whitaker.)

07 February 2018

Conan to tread onto the small screen?

Well this news is rather intriguing:
"Amazon is developing drama series Conan, based on the books by Robert E. Howard.
[…]
Conan retells the classic character's story via a return to his literary origins. Driven out of his tribal homelands, Conan wanders the mysterious and treacherous world of civilization where he searches for purpose in a place that rejects him as a mindless savage.
[…]
[T]he creative goal [is] to return to the original Howard literary works and produce a series that is faithful to the spirit of his Conan character. Conan the Barbarian, aka Conan the Cimmerian, was created by Howard in 1932 in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales magazine."
(More information here.)

While I've always enjoyed the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film since I first saw it as a fantasy-obsessed lad, the Schwarzenegger movie has almost no connection to the original Robert E. Howard tales (and the less said about the sequel and the 2011 version the better). A series actually based on Howard's Conan stories could be great. And I think that a television series probably is a better way to adapt the stories, given their episodic character, than a movie.

I really hope that this becomes a reality-and that it turns out to be as awesome as it has the potential to be.

By Crom! 

21 January 2018

The 'Piano Man' of Erich Zann

The title of this article says it all: 'Someone Realized An HP Lovecraft Poem Maps Perfectly to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”'.

The poem in question is 'Nemesis'. And it's classic Lovecraft.

I think that the first version of the song is especially good.

Thanks internet!



11 January 2018

Update on 'Into the Borderlands'


As I mentioned several months ago here, Goodman Games is publishing a version of the classic Basic Dungeons and Dragons modules B1 (“In Search of the Unknown”) and B2 (“The Keep on the Borderlands”), with 5e D&D stats included, as well as some new optional material. I have a deep fondness for those modules, as they were the first ones I ever used decades ago when learning how to play RPGs. And even after all of these years, B2 remains (in my judgement) a solid—and, with a creative DM and good players, a very entertaining—mini-campaign setting.

Here is an update on the main features of the product, entitled Into the Borderlands:
The current layout weighs in at 368 pages. We still need to add a few things and anticipate it will close out at around 380 pages. Wow, that’s a big book! The hardcover includes the following:
  • Restored scans of two complete printings of the original B1: In Search of the Unknown. Specifically, the second and sixth printings, one featuring the original monochrome cover and the other featuring the later color cover by Darlene.
  • Three complete monster and treasure assortments for stocking the dungeons of In Search of the Unknown (which are “un-stocked” in the original 1E edition).
  • Restored scans of two complete printings of the original B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Specifically the second and fourth printings. These are distinguished the change in monster stats between the two printings (Dexterity scores were included in early printings). The later printing also features six interior illustrations that were not present in earlier printings.
  • A complete, “pure” 5E conversion of In Search of the Unknown, including tables for stocking it with creatures.
  • A separate chapter with a few new encounters for the Caverns of Quasqueton, all inspired by references in the original work.
  • A complete, “pure” 5E conversion of The Keep on the Borderlands.
  • A separate chapter with a few new encounters for The Keep on the Borderlands, all inspired by references in the original work.
  • Appendices with 5E stats for newly introduced monsters, hirelings and followers, and magic items.
  • A chapter of introductions and testimonials.
Um, okay. I'm still looking forward to this… But 380 pages?!? That seems ridiculous.

Specifically, including scans of 2 printings for both modules strikes me as excessive. Personally, I'd prefer a straight-up 5e conversion, with some optional supplementary material, as I already own multiple copies of the originals. Nonetheless, I can understand including one scan of B1 and B2 within the product. Two scans, though, just seems excessive, especially given how minor the changes are between the printings.

Despite this gripe, though, the only real question for me is whether to get the print version or just the PDF…


[Above are a couple of illustrations from B2 by the amazing Erol Otus: a colour view of the keep (from the back cover of the module) and the dangerous Hermit.]


10 January 2018

DiTerlizzi on Trampier

I’ve mentioned in the past at this blog my deep and abiding fondness for the art of David Trampier (1954-2014). 

Well today I discovered that the artist Tony DiTerlizzi has a lovely tribute to ‘DAT’ here. (DiTerlizzi is best known to RPGers for his work on the wonderful AD&D Planescape setting. Apparently he also is known for some children’s stories and stuff.)

[Trampier's Fire Giant from the original G3 module]

[DiTerlizzi's middle-school version]

26 December 2017

Design Mechanism Boxing Day sale

The good people at The Design Mechanism are having a rather generous Boxing Day sale. 

Here is the info:
It's the 2017 Boxing Day Sale!
From 26th December until 2nd January, there's 30% off print and PDF books at The Design Mechanism's store.
Everything is on sale, with the exception of our December 2017 release titles (Mythic Constantinople and The Lonely Lighthouse).
So if you missed out during the year, or want to introduce friends to Mythras, there's no better time to snag a bargain!
Simply use the code below at checkout to get 30% off your order.
TDMBOXINGDAY17
Mythras (formerly RuneQuest 6) is my favourite FRPG of the past decade. Check it out!

And Happy Boxing Day.

15 December 2017

The Last Jedi is solid


So I just saw The Last Jedi... Here is brief (spoiler-free) review.

It’s a fun film. Like The Force Awakens, it captures the spirit of the original trilogy. Unlike TFA, it does not retell a story we’ve seen already.

The acting is strong—especially Adam Driver as ‘Kylo Ren’. And it has some nice humourous moments in it. ‘General Hux’ (played by Domhnall Gleeson) in particular is delightful.

But it’s a little too long. The middle drags a bit. Fortunately, it ends with a bang—and has some nice twists in it.

Of the new Star Wars films, I think it’s the second best one so far. (Rogue One remains my favourite—indeed, it’s tied with The Empire Strikes Back as my favourite Star Wars episode of all time.)

In short, The Last Jedi is definitely worth seeing if you like the ‘Star Wars’ universe (even if only to moderate degree).

I give it 8.6 (out of 10).

11 December 2017

Best pint in R'lyeh?


So I had a pint of the "Blood of Cthulhu" Imperial stout tonight. (Once I spotted it on the board at The Oxley, how could I not? I'm akratic!)

It had a nice flavour: dark chocolate, cherry, and tart. Also, it packed a subtle punch (9.5% alc.).

It's definitely not a "session" drink: far too rich for that. But it's a nice way to finish a delicious meal.

When it arrived, however, I didn't know whether to say "Sláinte" or "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"!

06 December 2017

I want my MTV (Middle-earth television)

A few weeks ago I mentioned here that Amazon is set to produce a series (perhaps more than one) set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Moreover, the focus will be on events distinct from either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.

As I mentioned then, I think that there are many great potential stories to be developed out of the appendices of the LotR, Unfinished Tales, and (especially) The Silmarillion.

This article makes a similar point:
Like the LOTR appendixes and Unfinished Tales, The Silmarillion has little of the depth and detail found in LOTR or The Hobbit, but all three contain material with marvellous potential. There is the tragic tale of Beren and Luthien, whose romance is set against the backdrop of the quest for the Silmarils; there is the epic story of Elendil and Isildur; and the rise of Sauron and the forging of the nine rings. These stories may be slender in print, but they are surely rich in televisual potential. 
So I'm not alone in my hopes for the new Middle-earth television series. (Phew!) In fact, if The Silmarillion is in play, there are many, many great stories to be told...

05 December 2017

Mirkwood Adventure 1: Discovery of the Spider Orb

Year 2946 of the Third Age


Early May:

Over the course of several days, Hengil (Dúnedan Warden), Ulvmund Galmund (Barding Warrior), and Hartmut Hare-Eye (Beorning Wanderer), separately arrive in Esgaroth. They learn that notices of jobs for ‘mercenaries’, ‘adventurers’, and the like can be found in the Adventurers’ Hall within the Town-Hall Quarter.

Mid-May:

Hengil, Ulvmund, and Hartmut all read the following notice within the Adventurers’ Hall:
“Wanted: Help for the village Ulgarstat near the great wood! Gold reward! Those with strong swords, hunters’ eyes, and valiant hearts are to inquire at The Golden Gull on Bridge Street.”
That evening the three men go to The Golden Gull, where the innkeeper—a great bear of a man named ‘Baldur Baldurson’—directs them to a table in a secluded corner of the common room. At the table are two emissaries from Ulgarstat: a fair-haired young man named ‘Guntar Resticsard’ and his friend, the tall and dark ‘Aecstan’. Introductions are made—the adventurers learn something of each other and their backgrounds.

Guntar explains that he is the son of Ulgar Resticsard, the founder and leader of the village Ulgarstat. (Ulgarstat was settled on a strip of rich farmland at the very edge of Mirkwood, amidst some smaller forests, about a decade ago. It is roughly a day’s march from Lake-town.) His reason for wanting to hire some adventurers is that a number of people have gone missing around the village in recent months. Two months ago a farmer who lived nearby, to the north of the village, disappeared en route Ulgastat. Three weeks later, a peddler left Ulgarstat, announcing his plan to visit the farm of ‘Wessun Fraelsen’ to the north. The peddler never arrived. Ulgar and Wessun tracked the peddler as far as they could along the wooded trail between Ulgarstat and Wessun’s farm. Wagon tracks led halfway up the trail, and then disappeared into the forest. The two men found the wagon, but though they searched the woods around it, they could find no other signs of horse or peddler. Two weeks later, three young men went game hunting up the northern trail. When they didn’t return for supper, their fathers and brothers went after them. No trace of any of the three was found.

[Hartmut]

Aecstan claims that it is likely wolves that are causing the disappearances. Wolves had attacked the village twice in the past year. In response, six months ago a wooden palisade was built around Ulgarstat. To this claim Guntar remarks that while this may be the case, no bodies have been found…

The following day the party travels to Ulgarstat with Guntar and Aecstan. It is a short, uneventful journey, and they reach the hamlet in the early evening. At Ulgarstat, the company learns from Ulgar Retiscard (the leader of Ulgarstat) and his friend the farmer Wessun Fraelsen, of the recent disappearance of Runnal Retiscard (1st son of Ulgar) and Currael (oldest daughter of Wessun).  The party’s mission is now urgent!

Early the next morning the company—along with Ulgar, Wesson, Guntar, and Aecstan—follow the trail north toward the Fraelsen farm. The group soon reaches the site where the peddler’s wagon was found a few weeks ago. No tracks are found, but sharp-eyed Hartmut spots some webbing high in the trees, glistening in the sunlight.

Leaving the villagers behind, the trio of heroes follows the silky strands deeper into the forest. As the green canopy above them casts the company into twilight, they discover a region covered in thick webs. It is a ‘web fortress’—thick webs drape a line of trees, creating a malevolent mound. Ulvmund and Hartmut react to the sight with profound horror [they gain a shadow point each].

[Map of the area around Ulgarstat]

Recovering from his unmanly fright, Ulvmund sneaks around the mound. While doing so, he hears creatures muttering and moving. He also notices a rotting hollow log that seems to penetrate the web mound—it provides a web-free ‘tunnel’ through the morass of sticky strands.

[Ulvmund]

The company deliberates what to do next. But their conference is interrupted when two hideous spiders the size of large wolves attack! Hartmut and Hengil are paralyzed by the spiders’ poison. Fortunately, the Valar smile upon the companions as Ulmund slays one spider, and the other flees. Hengil recovers from his bite, while Ulvmund manages to draw the poison out of Hartmut.

Deciding to act before another ambush, Hengel crawls through the rotting hollow log, followed by Hartmut and Ulvmund. A dimly lit hollow is revealed. Two more great spiders drop from the ceiling of webs! But Hengil speaks words of encouragement to his companions [‘Gift of the Warden’ is granted to Ulvmund and Hartmut]. Hearts filled with valour, the fight progresses well, and the spiders are slain by Ulvmund and Hartmut.

[Map of the Spider Mound]

The companions search the interior of the foul mound. They find cocoons hanging from a tree in the northeast corner. Within the cocoons Runnal and Currael are found—damaged but alive!

Also discovered: a stone pedestal on which is mounted a jet-black orb. On the orb is written something in Quenya. Alas, none of the heroes can read the High Elvish tongue. Hengil takes the orb—and immediately feels nauseated by its malignant aura [suffers corruption]. The party also finds a small locked chest amidst the rubbish and rotting corpses that litter the floor of the spider mound.

[Hengil]

Having rescued the missing villagers, the party rejoins Ulgar, Wesson, Guntar, and Aecstan. The group of nine promptly returns to Ulgarstat. There, the company is rewarded with some gold coins. Ulgar also writes a letter of recommendation for the party.

Thrilled by their first success at adventuring, Hengil, Hartmut, and Ulvmund return to Esgaroth. There they celebrate and make grand plans for the future. Still, the black orb disturbs their thoughts…



  • Notes:
  • The pictures of the characters are taken from Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide
  • The map of the region around Esgaroth is taken from ICE's Mirkwood
  • The other maps are taken from ICE's Denizens of the Dark Wood
  • The core elements of this adventure also were taken from Denizens (the spider orb is my own, however, and is connected to a larger plot...).


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