Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Under Her Spell

"When a witch has a feeling it must be listened to, and promptly." - Isabella Fox, Mediocre Witch.

Under Her Spell by Bridget Essex came to me from a variety of different means.  One, which I'll mention in detail below, was because she was the author of another book I had read.  The second, though I didn't know it at the time, was because it was an update to a book I had read a while back.

First though to the book proper.  Under Her Spell (and let's be honest here. How was I NOT going to grab this book?) deals with Isabella Fox (a very mediocre witch) and her talking familiar Alice.  Isabella has just been run out of her last town and she needs a new job.  As a witch for hire, especially one that is only so-so, she doesn’t have a lot of options.   She spots an ad for a town that needs a witch to cast one spell a year. How could she possibly screw this one up? So she ends up with the town of Benevolence.  Benevolence is quiet on the verge of boring. The town is full of "Shifters", people that can take animal form and have their own type of magic.  She only has one spell to cast every year (and she is not even convinced it’s needed) and it would be the perfect gig.  Except for the Outcast.  The outcast is Emily Deer. Her ancestor betrayed the town to the Wolf of Winter and now her whole family is outcast.  Since Isabella doesn't even believe the Wolf is real (and whom she is supposed to cast the spell to ward off) she seeks out this strange, and beautiful outcast.

And that is where it hit me that I had read this book already...sort of.  I had read "One Solstice Night" by Elora Bishop some years back.  Well, Elora Bishop is Bridget Essex.  One Solstice Night is just a section in Under Her Spell.  The remaining sections cover Imbolc (a ghost story) and the Equinox (dealing with an ancient god).

The common theme though is love. Love of friends, family and of course romantic love. Though to use a quote, "there was plenty of magic."  Isabella and Emily are a great romantic couple. Emily is so down to earth and Isabella is such an air head (but in the best ways possible) that you can't help but root for them.  The only couple that is better is Virago and Holly (they are below).

There are a lot of cool locales that I hope we get to see in Essex's other books (again, see below).  The Hag Bar in the World’s Largest Swamp was a really cool idea. It was very easy to see all these witches, holding brooms and their drinks walking around, drinking, chatting.  I wish I had thought of it.     Benevolence is an interesting town.  I enjoyed the casual magic people were using and Essex did a great job of detailing the inhabitants.  The Rose Temple is a fantastic setting for any D&D game (ghosts and all) and I can't wait to read more about Arktos City from her other books.

Now I came to Bridget Essex via another book.  I had been searching for a book where a Knight falls in love with a Witch.  Spend any time here and you know I love witches but I am also fond of Paladins.  I was looking for a book then where a knight in shining armor finds a witch and falls in love with her.  What I ended up finding in my search was A Knight to Remember by Essex.  It had everything I was looking for, a dragon, a knight, a witch and even librarian (my current witch character is also a sage).  It just didn't have them in the order I was looking for!  The knight (Virago) and the librarian (Holly) fall in love, and the witch is the librarian's brother!  Still. This was also a really, really great read. It introduced me to Essex (or re-introduced me) and to her creation of Arktos City.  I will say that Virago is one of my favorite charcters ever.  She is so pure and focused on her task, duty and mission that she could have come off as a complete jerk, but instead, she was noble and just.  She really was the epitome of a paladin in my mind.
From this book and her website, I found so many other books including Under Her Spell.

A Knight to Remember is another fun read, but not much in the way of witches in it.  Though I have to admit I was cheering at the end during the Ren-Faire Jousting scene.

I am going to be reading more of Essex's books. She has a gift for writing and for making characters you really want to cheer on.  Plus I have a guess on what is going to happen next for Emily and Isabella and I need her to write the next book so I can find out if I am correct!

Bridget Essex can be found on the web at: https://bridgetessex.wordpress.com/

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 16 (16.5 if you count AKtR)
Level: Crone
Witches in this book: Isabella in Part One and Three, her classmates and various other witches in Part Two.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Isabella is a mediocre witch.  No, she is all good.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Lots of great choices to be honest. Arktos City feels like it is right out of Blue Rose.  The openness of witches, shifters and same-sex love is also right out of Blue Rose.
Virago, the knight in A Knight to Remember, is a Rose Knight in all but name to be honest.
Use in WotWQ: Hell yes! In fact I would love to have Isabella and Emily make an appearance as guest stars.  Plus her witches drink inordinate amounts of tea just like mine do. How can I say no to that?

In truth, there is so much great stuff here for a game.  Here and there in her books Essex has built a mythology and a history worth exploring. From her knights, to Arktos City, to the Temple of the Rose Goddess and her magical academy. Not to mention all the shifters and witches!

Gamers also already know the knight Virago.

Here she is on the cover of a Knight to Remember.


And again on Q Workshop's Classic RPG Dice Set!


I know, both Essex and Q-Workshop legal purchased the same bit of stock art and it might be a little tacky of me to share this.   But I will admit I bought those dice just because they had "Virago" on them.  I already have some dice for War of the Witch Queens, but I might sneak these in.

Looking forward to reading more.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Star Trek: Horror and the Old Ones

Somewhere in the Galaxy, the stars are right!

I got the new Modiphius Star Trek game the other day. I am not ready for a review, yet, but there is a lot of great stuff in the game.

It got me thinking about my terrible, horrible idea to mix Trek with the Lovecraftian Mythos and do a horror based Star Trek game.  I talked about this last year with my ship idea, the USS Protector, NCC-3120 and my idea for a Black Star game.



One of my favorite episodes of the TOS was "Catspaw" which naturally had some serious horror themes to it.  It is also notable for two other reasons.  First, it was written by Robert Bloch. Bloch not only wrote "Psycho" he wrote one of my other favorite TOS episodes "Wolf in the Fold".  He was associated with the Mythos circle through writers like  August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith.  Lovecraft's own character of "Robert Blake" was dedicated to Robert Bloch.  So his connection is as solid as they get.

Catspaw is interesting for another reason.  The main antagonists, Korob and Sylvia, are referred to as "Servants of the Old Ones".  There is no reason to doubt that these Old Ones are not the same as Lovecraft's. The idea of having the Mythos in Star Trek has appeal.  It also is not entirely foreign to Star Trek cannon.

Trek has dipped into horror many times over the last 50 years.  Here are some of the episodes I am using for inspiration.

"Wolf in the Fold" also has strong horror elements and postulates that Jack the Ripper was actually "possessed" by a malign alien intelligence known as "Redjac".  While Jack the Ripper is not Mythos, an alien intelligence is.  It is also one of my favorites too.



"Conspiracy" was one of the few stand-out episodes of the first season of TNG.  It dealt with an alien brain parasite invading the Federation.  It is too bad they never followed up on it more.  Given the time frame I am wanting to play in it is likely I won't be either, but still a great resource.

"The Man Trap" (TOS) scared the crap out of me when I first saw it. Ok, I was 6 or 7, but still.  I love the idea of an enemy that looks like everyone else.

"Schisms". This sixth season TNG episode put the alien abduction scenario to the test with aliens from a "tertiary subspace manifold" or for all intents and purposes, another dimension or universe.

"Night Terrors" from TNG's fourth season shows us what will happen if the crew can't dream.  Personally I wanted to Crusher to be a little more immune to this situation. I am sure she once had to do a 48 hour shift at Starfleet Medical back when she was an intern!

"The Magicks of Megas-tu" from the Animated Series deals with magic and witches. While not the horror implied by the Mythos, there is something to this that helps bring magic and science together.

And really, couldn't the monster from "The Thing" been a wounded Founder?

Dark Elf or Romulan cultist?
Over the years I have developed a few Trek adventures for different versions of the game. But mostly for the FASA version.

"Ghost Ship" was my pastiche of the Flying Dutchman featuring the Enterprise-B (long before I knew it was going to be an Excelsior class ship).
"Citadel of Never" was a similar adventure to a dead ship in a dead star system.
After "Event Horizon" came out I wanted to run a Trek adventure just like it, only replacing the ship with a Romulan one.

I love the idea of a fresh group of new Federation explorers running head first into the horrors of the Mythos.  Maybe they find Azatoth in the center of the galaxy or get a distress call from a planet near Yamil Zacara.

Sounds like a fun Halloween themed session.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Doctor is In!

Yesterday the BBC announced who will be replacing Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor.

If you have not seen the "reveal" video, here it is below.



So the new Doctor is Jodie Whittaker. I have seen her in a couple of things, but she is most known for her role as the mother of murder victim Danny in Broadchurch.

When I saw her name pop up as a potential casting my first thought was that it was an inspired choice, but not one that could obviously happen.
Well, I am happy to say I was wrong.


I saw the video yesterday and was quite pleased.  Jodie Whittaker is fine actor and will bring something new and exciting to Doctor Who I feel.

The Doctor and I go WAY back.  I can remember being one of the only people in my Jr. High and High School that knew of Doctor Who, let alone watched it.  It was in Jr. High that I was introduced to the Timelord in his guise of Tom Baker back in 1982-83.  Of course, we were getting these on PBS back then.  I'd stay up on Sunday night at 10:00 pm CST to watch Tom Baker's exploits on KETC from St. Louis.  Later I learned that the Champaign-Urbana PBS station was showing a DIFFERENT Doctor.  VHS tapes of shows copied in nearby Springfield IL were making their way to us.  So in high school, I learned the most amazing thing.  The Doctor REGENERATES!

Later, much, much later, I introduced my wife to the then brand new Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston and she was hooked.  I knew he was going to regenerate at the end, but did not tell her.  She freaked out, but soon she became a fan of David Tennant and the rest is well history. And the future, because now I have a house full of Who fans.

The point I am making is we have all been on this path before.


We are getting the "normal" gripes of "why does the current guy have to go?"  Those are expected and really part and parcel of being a Who fan.  I don't want Capaldi to go. I didn't want Smith to go, or Tennant or Eccleston or any of the others.

But this time we are also getting other gripes, and sadly these are also expected.   I am not going to link out, but just hit Twitter, or the discussion board of any Who or BBC related website.
Though the choice and actress is getting some nice support from others in the Who family.  Colin Baker, who's Doctor 6 announcement was supposed to mean the "end of Doctor Who!" went on to Twitter with this:



Well said.
Like it or not Jodie Whittaker IS the new Doctor.

Frankly, I think it is great and I can't wait for her turn to start.
Yes. I am going to miss Capaldi just like I did with all the ones that came before.  But for now, I am looking forward to this new Doctor.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Weekend Gaming: The Giants Fall

Today the Order of the Platinum Dragon completed their quest to stop the giants.  With King Snuure and his wives defeated, rounding up the rest was easier to do.  Including getting rid of a bunch of giant fire beetles and some red dragons.



Though the brave heroes did not count on the drow on the third level.  They took out many of their elite fighters, but a mysterious drow priestess and her wizard attendant got away.


A satisfying end to an adventure that began at Gen Con last year.

Now it is time for the heroes to descend into the depth of the earth!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #96

The issue I pulled for today was #123, but a quick look lets me know I had already done that one back in May. I mentioned then I had extras, but I guess I forgot to sort this one out.  No worries. Grabbing the next one.

I have made no secret of my general dislike of the various "funny" April Fools editions of Dragon magazine.  Not that I have anything against humor in D&D/RPGs; quite the contrary. I just like good humor. 9 times out of 10 the jokes fall amazingly flat.  Issue #96 is that 10th one that actually works.  In fact, this is one of my most fondly remembered issues of Dragon during what I think of as my heyday of AD&D.  So with that in mind lest have a look at April 1985. Ladyhawke and Cat's Eye are in the theaters, I am in my sophomore year in High School and this is This Old Dragon issue #96!

Again, the cover here is missing. Popping in my Dragon CD-ROM. The cover comes from Jack Crane and really fits the issue not at all! Well, fits it in terms of humor. But do not expect a mechanical dragon any time soon.  I like the cover though, it's fun. 

The Editorial made me laugh I admit. Printing the whole thing backward was a neat idea. I tried to do something similar with my high school newspaper and found it really difficult. This was a time before we had computers and nice layout software.  The Letters section is a mix of real and supposedly humorous ones. 

Up next is an ad for Pendragon that always caught my eye.  I wanted to run a King Arthur/Camelot game once upon a time, but never quite got there.  Too bad really, I think it would have been fun.  
Another "important" ad.  This one is for "Dragons of Autumn Twilight" the first Dragonlance, and first AD&D, novel from TSR.  1985  was that year of transition. The Golden Age was over, though I  didn't know that at the time, and the Silver Age was upon us.  This time has been described by some as the "Hickman Revolution".  There was certainly a shift that even I could feel in my little Mid-West town to me it felt like things were getting more "modern" in terms of production value.  We are still a little bit away from the release of the Unearthed Arcana and the end of Gygax's involvement with all things D&D.


Speaking of the Old Master, Gary is up with From the Sorcerer's Scroll on New Jobs for Demi-Humans.   There is a lot here really, though most will see the light of day in UA.  I am not sure if I had played an Elven Ranger before this or not, but I know I rolled one up around this time.  To me, it seemed natural. In fact, it is something you can see with my own Huntsman class
There is a little bit on Paladin dual-classing I took to heart. I loved to play Paladins back then (still do in fact).  I often would play clerics to a certain level (usually somewhere between 3 and 10) and then pick up the Paladin class if it was possible for my stats.  It was easy to rationalize; the character had to spend time in the normal service of his god (which was almost always Pellor for me) and then move up to Paladin status.  Worked remarkably well.  I did the exact same thing with my current D&D 5 Cleric/Paladin.  
For me THAT is the real Hickman Revolution; allowing me to play the character I want and the rules supporting it, not looking at the rules and deciding what character to play.  It's less about "what Hickman did to D&D" and more about the direction D&D was going to go anyway. 

Following up on this is Katherine Kerr's What Good PC's Are Made Of.  Kerr has written a number of articles for Dragon and this is just before her first novel is published.  She gives us some basic background information for characters including how/where the characters grew up and what their social class is.  It's actually interesting enough to keep for a lot of FRPGs. 

Ed Greenwood is up with Ecology of the Gulgurtha which is a surprisingly interesting article on the Otyugh and the Neo-Otyugh.  I recall coming up with a few ideas for these.  I seem to recall reading somewhere about using an Otyugh in the bottom of a cistern to eliminate waste. I also created a giant otyugh.

The Handy Art of Forgery by Keith Routley was another great article.  It's still rather timely. I showed it to my son, who is my local D&D 5 expert, he he thought it would work well enough to expand the Forgery skill of the Assassin specialization for Rogue class.  I am sure it would also work well for the AGE Rogue/Expert class with the Assassin specialization.  

Arn Ashleigh Parker discusses how to incorporate ideas from books in Books to Games? Perhaps!
The advice is sound, if simple.  Some examples are given such as Gor, Barsoom, and Middle-Earth.

Despite there being a nice big ad for the D&D Companion Rules, you would think that D&D was a dead line at this point.  I also can't recall if I was excited at seeing this or not. I have spent a lot of time talking about those rules here, I would have thought I would have remembered this a little better.

An article on Play By Mail updates. 

The special section of the issue is the April Fools section.  Up first is the "adventure" Nogard.
I'll make two confessions here. 1. I liked this, a lot. We wanted to use this and play it seriously. 2. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that Nogard is "Dragon" spelled backward. 

The "What's New Dragon" is also featured in There Can Never be Too Many Dragons. Fun little critter. Odd it was published after the What's New comic was no longer in the magazine.  The next dragon is the "Quazzar Dragon". We joked about actually using this monster too. We took it seriously when the Frequency said: "Only Once". Though at 120,600 KM across (75,000 miles) we never had a dungeon to put it in. 

And....it goes downhill. The Meanest of Monsters details the Killer Dungeon Master monster.  Not a fan BUT there is something here I have loved and used before, the Wandering Damage Table.  I have pulled this out when dealing with younger players that are getting rowdy. I play it lightly, but it always gets their attention.   Since I have that more or less memorized I ripped this one out and gave it to my son.  Sorry +Greg Littlejohn

Huh...comical races, hopeless characters...can't bother really. 

I skipped over the map of Ginny's Delight.  I'll talk about that in a bit. 

Craig Barrett is back with some DragonQuest rules for swimming in Getting in Over Your Head. One day I'll have to get a copy of DragonQuest and play.  Maybe at a con sometime. 

The Ares Section is up.
First up is Dale L. Kemper with These Are The Voyages of the Ginny's Delight. While the adventure itself didn't really appeal to me I loved the little ship Ginny's Delight. The map of the ship is in the middle of the magazine. It's about the size of a large DS9-era Runabout. It's not an attractive ship but there something about it I really like.  I converted it over to Star Frontiers and Doctor Who (FASA version).



Why is This Mutant Smiling? from John M. Maxstadt covers new mutations in the form of exta limbs and body parts for Gamma World.  This would also work well for Mutant Future or Mutant Crawl Classics.

Marvel Phile is mostly here.  Whoever owned this before me had cut out the section on Iron Man but left Howard the Duck.

Convention Calendar, ads, a big spread of Wormy and three pages of Snarf Quest.

In truth, this was a fun issue and one that seems have had a much larger, lasting impact than I originally remembered.  I mean I remember where I got Ginny's Delight, but the Otyugh and the Random Damage table origins had been lost to my memory.

Curious to see what White Dwarf was up too at the same time?  Well, check out my review of White Dwarf #64 from April 1985.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: FantasyAGE and FantasyAGE Bestiary

Continuing my massive deep dive into all things Blue Rose and AGE I want to talk about +Green Ronin Publishing's Fantasy AGE RPG and it's supplement the Fantasy AGE Bestiary.


I am reviewing both the PDFs and the Hardcover books.

A note.  These books "feel" right.  They are roughly the size of the original AD&D hardcovers (144 pages each).  All is needed now is a Game Master book that has a bunch of options for various Fantasy campaigns and you would have a nice three-volume set that is only a slip-case away of being 150% more fantastic.

I don't say the following lightly.
Fantasy AGE could give Castles & Crusades a run for my 2nd Favorite set of Fantasy Rules.  (D&D and it's variants are #1).
Yes. It is that much fun.

It is better than Pathfinder, 13th Age and pretty much everything else.

Fantasy AGE
Hardcover, full color, 144 pages. $29.95 for hardcover, $15.95 for PDF.
The book is full color, the PDF is bookmarked with a hyperlinked index.

Fantasy AGE is the "generic" Fantasy game based on the ruled that appear in both Blue Rose and DragonAge.  While there are some repetitions, the tones of all three games are sufficiently different enough to make each book worthwhile.

Chapter 1 gives us the basics of Character creation. The Usual Suspects are here; Elf, Dwarf, Human, Halfling, and Orcs.   You get your Backgrounds with some basic ideas. And our three AGE classes; Mage, Rogue,  and Warrior.  Too bad the classes are not Adept, Guardian, and Expert.
Also included here is the experience for level advancement table.

Chapter 2 discusses the AGE system.  I am not sure if the AGE system will ever "fall into the background" the same way d20 or Unisystem do for me, but it could get really, really close.  The system itself is very easy to grasp.  In AGE you really only need three six-sided dice.  Two of which should be the same color.  The off one is called the Drama Die.  We will get to all those in a bit.  The rolls of 3d6 + Ability +/- mods vs. Test Difficulty are simple enough.  Test Difficulties start at 7 (Routine) and increase by 2 for each level. So 9 is Easy.  The feel is the same as d20's Target Numbers or even Unisystem's Success Levels.  Like most systems, an "opposed" test will be one set of rolls vs another set of rolls.

Chapter 3 details Focuses, Talents and Specializations.  Every Ability has multiple focuses. The Fighting Ability has a focus on Axes and another, Polearms for example.  You can gain a new focus for everytime you go up a level.  Talents are something else. These are only granted under special circumstances.  They might be restricted by class and many have prereqs.  These include abilities like Animal Training, Dual Weapon Fighting, or Psychic.
Specializations can almost be thought of as "Sub Classes", these include Assassin, Elementalist, and the like.

Chapter 4 gives us basic equipment. Pretty self-explanatory.

Chapter 5 covers Magic and the magical arts.  While anyone can have arcane ability, only Mages can master them.   There are 12 Arcana here with various magical powers.

Chapter 6 details Stunts. These are the life, and soul of the AGE system really.
If you get doubles on any roll of the dice you may perform a Stunt on that roll.  So if the roll was a combat situation then you can perform a Combat Stunt.  The roll you get on your Drama Die (the off color one) is a number of Stunt Points you get.  You have to use them right away.  So if you get a 4 you have 4 SP and can buy any of the stunts listed for 4 or under.  These are things like "Knock Prone" or "Lethal Blow". As characters go up in level they gain access to more stunts and can buy others for less SP.  There are also non-combat Exploration and Role-playing Stunts as well. There are even Arcane Stunts that can be used in either.

Chapter 7 is the GM's Section. This covers running adventures and adjudicating the rules. There is a good section on adventure planning that is good for most games.

Chapter 8 is about Mastering the Rules and dealing with ability tests and combat.

Chapter 9 covers Adversaries and Monsters.  All the regulars are here.

Chapter 10 is all about rewards. Which includes, but is not limited to, treasure. 

Chapter 11 gives us our hook to Freeport, GR long-running setting and Chapter 12 is an adventure.

Fantasy AGE is a solid fantasy game that keeps from being a Heartbreaker and carves out new territory of it's own.

Fantasy AGE Bestiary
I have said it hundreds of time, but you can never have too many monster books.

Fantasy AGE Bestiary is one of my favorites.  This is not a rehashed monster manual. This 144-page book is stocked full of really cool, really interesting and often unique monsters.  Sure some are familiar, but that is not the point, the point is that this book is full and it will be a long time before I run out of ideas for them all.
The art is fantastic and that is a great thing in a monster book.

Each monster is listed with stats, picture, background information and plot hook ideas.
The book is so good in fact if makes me want Green Ronin to publish it with D&D 5e stats as well.

If you are a fan of Fantasy AGE or Blue Rose or DragonAge then this is a must have book.


Can't wait to do more with these books!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Another Library Sale Haul

Working on a few things this week but I want wanted to share a recent local library sale haul I found.

12 Endless Quest/Choose Your Own Adventure books for a Quarter each.





I remember reading "Dungeon of Dread" and "Circus of Fear" back when they were new.

I also found a copy of "Quag Keep" for 25 cents.
Not too bad for just over 3 bucks.

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