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Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

One of the time-honored genres of science fiction and fantasy literature involves men from Earth who suddenly find themselves on other worlds, whether through super-science, magic, or mysticism, rather than visiting as, say, a “normal” space traveler. The most famous early example would be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series, but among others are Lin Carter’s “Green Star” books and Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series. In the modern age, the popularity of games such as Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and 80s helped revive the genre, with books such as Norton’s “Quag Keep,” Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame” series (especially book 1), and Brian Daley’s “Coramonde” books.

“Starfollowers of Coramonde” is the second of two books, sequel to “Doomfarers of Coramonde,” which introduces us to Gil McDonald, an American soldier fighting in Vietnam. One moment, McDonald and his armored personnel carrier crew are fighting an enemy ambush, and the next they’re in combat with a dragon. (Spoiler: APCs beat dragons. Barely.) McDonald and his men learn they’ve been summoned by magic to Coramonde, a kingdom under grave threat from the evil wizard Yardiff Bey. McDonald chooses to remain behind in the world and helps to restore the rightful ruler, Prince Springbuck, to his throne, foiling Yardiff Bey’s plot. “Doomfarers” ends with Yardiff Bey escaping and taking with him as prisoner Dunstan the Berserker, Gil’s friend.

“Starfollowers” picks up soon thereafter, with Gil, Springbuck, and their friends and allies deciding to take the war to Yardiff Bey and his masters. McDonald and a small party head west to return a magic sword and an infant heir to the land of Vegana, currently under siege by the enemy, as well as to investigate what it is that Yardiff Bey seeks in a long-dead wizard’s writings. Meanwhile, Prince Springbuck forgoes responding to the attacks on his own land and instead leads an army to the lands of the enemy and the city of Shardisku-Salama, wherein reside Yardiff Bey’s masters.

And therein lies the problem with “Starfollowers of Coramonde.” After that set up, the book becomes one long pursuit and series of battles leading to a climactic confrontation in front of the city, itself. The large cast of new characters is thinly drawn, and it is assumed that the reader has all the background information he needs on existing characters from reading the first book. Thus there is little to capture one’s interest and give one a reason to care if one is reading “Starfollowers” first. Without the ground laid in “Doomfarers,” this becomes a rather standard fantasy quest.

But it is well done and enjoyable nonetheless. Mr. Daley showed promise as a writer, even with the occasional tendency toward a Gygaxian abuse of the thesaurus, and it’s a shame he died relatively early in his career. His setting in Coramonde is interesting, and I would like to have seen it developed further. And, similar to other books of that time, I have to wonder if this was the author’s home D&D setting. If so, I would have enjoyed playing there.

I read the book in Kindle format and was disappointed in the quality of the file. There are simply too many typos that could have been fixed with decent proofreading. Not enough to spoil the book or make it impossible to read, but enough to be an annoyance. The publisher should issued a copy-edited revision. There is also a paperback copy available.

On a scale of one to five, I give “Starfollowers of Coramonde” a straight three: enjoyable, but best read if one reads “Doomfarers” first. However, I recommend just that: buy both and sit back for a good late-summer’s read.

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polyhedral dice

Some of you among the three or four who read this blog (after blowing the dust off it) might recall that for several years I worked as a freelance writer in the roleplaying game industry, writing adventures and supplement books for various companies. Most of my work was for the late, lamented Hogshead Publishing, which held a license to produce product for one of my favorite roleplaying games, the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. (WFRP)

Anyway, I stopped working in that industry after one particularly bad experience (largely of my own doing, to be fair) convinced me it just wasn’t worth it anymore: lousy pay rates (a per word rate averaging three cents per word, what writers were getting in the 1930s), large word counts and short deadlines, no time for a regular life…. It had stopped being fun.

I had kept in touch with the hobby, however, by tracking a few web sites that dealt with RPGs, particularly James Maliszewski’s Grognardia, a now-moribund site dedicated to what was called the “Old School Renaissance,” a movement focused on reviving and supporting roleplaying games as they had been played in the 70s and 80s, centered mostly around D&D clones.

James had announced a cooperative project that he would edit called “Petty Gods,” a book of godlings and minor deities a referee could use in his campaign. You can read the original announcement of it here. It sounded like a fun project, and, after spending a frustrating morning looking for some mislaid keys, I came up with “Galdu Aurkitu, God of Things Mislaid and Found.”

Name: Galdu Aurkitu
Symbols: Keys on a ring. A single sock.
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 180′ (60′)
Armor Class: -3
Hit Points (Hit Dice) 90 (19 HD)
Attacks: Special
Damage: Special
Save: T20
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: VIII, XVII
XP: 10,000

Galdu Aurkitu is the petty god of all things mislaid and unexpectedly found. A relative of the gods of good and bad luck, Galdu Aurkitu appears in one of three forms: an elderly, forgetful man; a young woman with three walnut shells and a pea; and a helpful lad. When encountered, each represents an aspect of Galdu Aurkitu’s role: forgetting where one put something; being sure something set aside was there just a moment ago; and suddenly finding in an unexpected place something thought lost.

Galdu Aurkitu is often invoked by those looking for a mislaid object, from something as minor as the house keys to something as important as a secret treaty. He (or she) can be a capricious god. If a person annoys the god (or one of the god’s divine friends), Galdu Aurkitu will cause a needed item not to be where it was supposed to be, even though it was just put there a moment ago. The idea is not to cause harm, but to annoy and inconvenience the victim. On the other hand, Galdu Aurkitu can take pity on those who have lost something dear to them, such as the son who was sure he lost an heirloom ring, or the poor widow frantic because she can’t find the rent money. The item will be found in the least likely place to look, and it is still up to the searcher to find it. Whether causing an item to be lost or found, Galdu Aurkitu takes great pleasure in mortals’ reactions and may well be nearby, watching.

In combat, Galdu Aurkitu attacks by “mislaying” opponents’ weapons and magic items: the fighter will reach for a sword, only it’s not there – he must have left it back in camp. The wizard will reach for a scroll, only to discover it is not where it is supposed to be. In each case, the item will be in Galdu Aurkitu’s hand, who will then put it to best use. The petty god can use this power once per round.

When truly angry, Galdu Aurkitu can curse a mortal, ensuring that, for the next 24 hours, an item will be missing when most needed. This will occur once in those 24 hours. If Galdu Aurkitu particularly likes a mortal and decides to bless him or her, then something treasured and thought long-lost will be unexpectedly found and returned to them sometime in the next week, or perhaps opponents in combat will mislay a weapon or magic item. This latter blessing lasts for only 24 hours, however, and, like the curse, only happens once..

Reaction Table (roll 2d6, use INT for modifiers):

2 Friendly: Blesses 1d4 nearby targets.

3-5 Indifferent: Blesses 1d4 nearby targets if properly propitiated.

6-8 Neutral: Ignores nearby creatures.

9-11 Unfriendly: Curses 1d4 nearby targets if not properly propitiated.

12 Hostile: Curses 1d4 nearby targets.

I submitted this to James back in 2010, and then… nothing. For various reasons, the projects James had been working on, including Petty Gods, encountered near-fatal difficulties and had to be rescued by others. In fact, I had thought Petty Gods had died and had largely forgotten about it, until a few weeks ago at DriveThruRPG, where I saw this:

Petty Gods

Imagine my surprise. The PDF is free, so I downloaded it and, sure enough, there was little Galdu with his very own illustration. Apparently someone had rescued the project and it went through a few hands until the product pictured above was produced. And, judging from the PDF, the new developers did a great job.  It’s available in print-on-demand paperback at Lulu.com: I may just get myself a copy.

So, that was a long-winded way to share my amusement at still being published in the hobby-game industry. To be honest, it made me smile.

If you’re running a campaign in which minor gods could conceivably walk among mortals (as in the style of Thieves’ World or Liavek), download the free PDF and give it a look. I think you’ll enjoy it.

PS: It’s a shame James has largely withdrawn from the hobby, though I hear he still plays. Grognardia was a wonderful blog, and I’d love to see it revived.

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Hey! I made a map! All by my little old self!

Exarchate of Monckton effects on

This scratches several itches for me. First, as some of you know, I manage a small Earth Sciences library at UCLA that has an extensive map collection. And I love maps. I often look at them and think “What cool source material for fictional worlds.”

I also happen to love fantasy and science fiction literature, as well as roleplaying games. Good maps are often vital to both. I can’t tell you how often I stared at the map of Middle Earth in my copy of Lord of the Rings in high school and imagined the adventures that could take place there.

But, well, I have the artistic talent of a clam. I draw a straight line, it looks like an amoeba. It was only through the help of a good friend (Hi, Alfred!) and the services of a master artist hired by the publisher that my sketch map of the city of Marienburg became the wonderful map it is.

But there are several programs on the market meant to help one create beautiful maps on the PC and then print them out. One of the most well-known is Campaign Cartographer, which is currently in version “3+”. It’s a marvelous program, based on a CAD engine, so it’s very powerful, but it also has a steep learning curve. So steep, that, even though I’ve owned it since version 2, I never tried to make a map of it. Just kept buying the upgrades.

Now, is that silly or what?

So, after moving to the new digs, I told myself that one thing I would do is finally start learning Campaign Cartographer (aka “CC3+”). And, yes, the curve has been steep. But, at the same time, it’s been fun. There’s a helpful community at the Profantasy site, where I’ve learned a lot. “Monckton” is sort of a worksheet for me, where I try different things to see how they work. I’ve barely even started to scratch the surface of what can be done with this program, but I think I’m going to have a good time digging even deeper.

I might even get a game going, set it in the Exarchate, and let them explore the dangers of the Tower of the Astrologer. 🙂

PS: Here’s a PDF of the map, which I think shows it better than the pic above.

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A dragon made from car parts. Love it!

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Okay, this combines three of my strong interests in one: Lord of the Rings, fantasy roleplaying games, and miniatures. And it’s effin’ gorgeous. A LEGO model of the Elven enclave of Rivendell, built with 200,000 LEGO bricks. Here’s a photo of one portion:

LEGO Rivendell

You can read about it at the last link above and see the rest of the photos at Flickr. This is Geek Heaven, truly amazing work.

h/t my friend Richard Iorio II, who’s also a purveyor of fine games.

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The first trailer for The Hobbit is out!

I may not have agreed with every decision Peter Jackson and crew made in The Lord of the Rings, but, overall, I thought it was a fabulous series and a great overall adaptation of the trilogy. (Or should it be “The Trilogy,” as there is no other in it’s league?) And I have great faith that Jackson and Del Toro will do a fine job here, too.

Originally, the movie was to be in two parts, with part two showing those things that happened “off camera” in the book, such as Gandalf’s investigation of the Tower of the Necromancer in southern Mirkwood and the White Council’s attack on it, but del Toro’s comments in the Wikipedia entry make it look like that’s changed. Still in two parts, the movie would stick to facts in the book. And yet, the trailer sure makes it look like Gandalf is wandering around a spooky tower…

(Come on. We all know evil demigods like Sauron just have to have a spooky tower. It’s in the union rules.)

Ah well. Something to chew over until next year. I can’t wait. 🙂

Meanwhile, my copy of The Whisperer in Darkness came yesterday, just in time for the holiday weekend! Huzzah!  You can’t get much more “Christmas-y” than hyper-intelligent brain-stealing crustaceans stalking the mountains for Vermont.

Right?

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I really scored this weekend.

No, not like that! 😦 Get your minds out of the gutter!

This is almost as good, though(1). I managed to win the auction for a 1st-edition boxed set of Chaosium’s Stormbringer roleplaying game:

The game is based on the novels of Michael Moorcock, which are set in his “Million Spheres” multi-verse and which chronicle the adventures of Elric, last Emperor of Melniboné (which he destroys), as he travels around the world — which he destroys. (Really, if you ever meet Elric on the road, run.) The game’s title is the name of his soul-sucking demonic sword, which eventually destroys Elric.

Sounds like fun, no? 😀

I’ve always been a fan of Chaosium‘s (2) games (you can see the cover of my favorite, Call of Cthulhu, in the sidebar), and Stormbringer is no exception. The magic system is, for me, what makes it special, being based on the summoning and binding of demons, which, being creatures of Chaos, have an infinite and entertaining variety. Later editions included a “design-a-demon” system, so would-be planet-conquering sorcerers could “roll their own” and save the GM some work.

Sadly, while I own several editions of the game, I’ve never gotten to play; it’s a niche within the roleplaying game hobby, and I suspect those interested are few and far between.

But, back to the big purchase, I was happily surprised at what good shape it was in (as if new off the shelf) and that it was complete — even the original dice, it seems. It also included the first supplement, the Stormbringer Companion. I assume this was a bonus; I don’t think the boxed set ever included it.

Regardless, this is one of the better purchases I’ve made in a while, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

(1) Okay, not even close. But, what can I say? I’m a geek at heart. 🙂

(2) Sad to say, the company is a shadow of its former self.

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