13 March 2018

My favourite role-playing games

Apropos of nothing, here is a list of my favourite role-playing games...

Mythras (formerly RuneQuest 6 and Mongoose's RuneQuest II). 

This is the game that I've played (as opposed GM'ed) the most in recent years. Highlights include: (a) playing a half-Melnibonean sorcerer in the Young Kingdoms (using MRQII) and (b) playing a Roman mystic-philosopher (in Mythic Britain). Among its many virtues, Mythras has (hands-down) the best combat system I’ve found in a RPG yet.

Call of Cthulhu

I've run a fair amount of this over the years, both campaigns and one-shots. It is probably my favourite game to run overall.

Classic Dungeons & Dragons (including Basic/Expert D&D, AD&D, and related 'retro-clones' [e.g., Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC] and 'pseudo-clones' [especially Crypts & Things]). 

I haven't played too much 'classic D&D' in recent years—except for a short AD&D campaign and a number of sessions of Crypts & Things (a game to which I contributed some rules)—but it remains a constant love for 30+ years.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (especially as modified for Adventures in Middle-earth). 

Finally, an 'in-print' version of 'D&D' that I enjoy! I'm currently running an AiME campaign. It's a pretty solid realization of Middle-earth.

Elric! (a.k.a. Stormbringer). 

An old favourite (especially Elric!/SB5e). It’s a fantasy version of BRP (Basic Role-playing) that is easy to run and has a lot of flavour. While I think that the MRQII version of the setting (now out of print, alas) does a better job in realizing the Moorcock’s multiverse, I have fond memories of this game. 

Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP). 

I haven't played this game in years (the last time, I think, was 1999-2000), but I cherish my ICE collection of MERP adventures, campaign guides, and (especially) maps. Indeed, I am using some MERP material in my current AiME campaign. I ran my first 'real' (i.e., coherent) RPG campaign using MERP while in high-school, and still look back fondly on it. To this day I enjoy reading the critical charts.

There certainly are other games that I’ve played and enjoyed over the years (e.g., Traveller, Star Frontiers, Thieves’ Guild, DragonQuest, The One Ring, Trail of Cthulhu, etc.). But the ones listed above are the ones that stand out for me.

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.
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...

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