Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: The Simbul's Gift

I am doing the Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge again this year, hosted by Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf.  This year I also want to focus on the Forgotten Realms, so I am going to combine my reading as much as possible.

So the obvious place (to me) to start is a book about The Simbul, the Witch Queen of Aglarond.  Is that what I got?   Well...

I had been warned previously that this was not a great book, and it isn't, but it is nowhere near as bad as I was lead to believe.  The author, Lynn Abbey, has a solid reputation in fantasy novels. Her work on the Thieves' World novels alone secures her place as one of fantasy's great authors.

So I guess I was suspecting more in this one.

We get a lot about the Simbul.  She is somewhat vain (ok a lot) and capricious, but she also has plans.  She wants to get her sometime paramour Elminster a gift. She scrys and sees the perfect gift, a horse named Zandilar's Dancer. Trouble is it belongs to a half-elf lad.  Her machinations over the horse get her and the owner Ebroin into all sorts of trouble, even drawing the attention of the Red Wizards of Thay.

While I loved the background on the Simbul and like the information on Thay and the Red Wizards I felt this was really three stories crammed into one. Watching her interact with Ebroin, either as herself or in disguise, and watching her interact with a couple of Red Wizards made me realize that the Simbul has a lot of acquaintances, a lot of enemies, but no close friends. Even her people fear her more often than not.  While she is not presented in the most favorable of lights here I could not help but really like her.  I could see how she got where she was and how disconnected she must feel from everything and everyone except Elminster (who is not really in this book at all).  I wonder if she actually loves him or feels she does since he is the only other person that could possibly relate to her.  There is affection for her sisters, but even the seem aloof to her.

In the end of the tale the horse is all but forgotten and even the reasons for stealing him or not stealing him seem moot.

The Simbul is a like a storm. She comes, she goes, and she can leave destruction in her wake. Despite (or because of) that she is still a fascinating character and one I would love to read more about.

You can find Lynn Abbey on the web here: http://www.lynnabbey.com

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Books Read so far: 1
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: The Simbul, aka Alassra Shentrantra Silverhand.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches:
Best RPG to Emulate it: This book screams AD&D 2nd Edition.
Use in WotWQ: Yes.  The Simbul might end up being one of my central Witch Queens.

Forgotten Realms Date: 1368 DR

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wayward Sisters: I am the Fire

Supernatural is back with its midseason premiere,



that is really a back-door pilot to the new Wayward Sisters spin-off.

Jodie, Donna, Clare, Alex, and Patience
Currently, the episode is one of the highest rated episodes of Supernatural in a long time and getting nearly universal critical praise.  This bodes quite well for the series.  Especially a series that will likely inherit the extremely loyal fan base that Supernatural has.

So here are my five wishes for the series.

1. Focus on the Family aspect.  The characters have all been survivors of various monster attacks and have all stood up in their own ways to those attacks.  Each one though lost something in those attacks.  Jodie, Clare, and Alex all lost their entire families. Donna lost her innocence and naïveté. Patience lost a very promising future.  So each one now looks to this group to help replace what they lost.  In Supernatural Sam and Dean have each other, but that is really it.  Everyone they have known over the years has died.  Well. More or less. This group can be stronger because they all have each other.

2. Don't Forget the differences.  Jodie and Donna are both Sheriffs. Clare and Alex both lost their families.   It might be what they all have in common that brought them here, it will be their differences that keep the show going.  We have seen Jodie be silly and funny. We have seen Donna be serious. So they can play against their "type".  Patience as the newest character has the most room for growth.

3. Give us Something New.  This show cannot be a distaff Supernatural. It needs its own identity and it's own voice.  Jodie isn't going to pack everyone up in her SUV and drive across country.  The stories have to be local and therefore more immediate and even intimate.   Also.  In the course of 13 years, the Winchesters have fought every type of monster there is. Every mythological beast, every horror movie standard, every urban legend.   Wayward Sisters needs to give us new things.  Sure I 100% expect to see ghosts, vampires, werewolves still AND I would miss them if they weren't there.  But this is a chance (and there is even an in-universe justification) to give us more.

4. Don't Forget the Music. One of the things that was a huge feature of Supernatural was it's "soundtrack".  Classic rock dominated the earliest days of the show.  This ran sort of counter to other shows on the WB and then CW at the time which featured new music.  Now the show has backed off of the music (disappointment), but that is the result of the producers knowing who their fans really are vs. who they thought they were.  Also, and let's be honest, it is cheaper.
One of the things about the WB then was that shows featured all sorts of new music.  Wayward Sisters needs to get back to that.  The CW is dominated now by Superhero shows and those don't often lend themselves to new music (Black Lightning I hope will be an exception).  Wayward Sisters can do this.  The mid-season trailer/opening (above) is like a music video for the Halestorm song "I am the Fire".  Embracing newer artists like Halestorm, and hopefully, more female artists will be a key factor in giving this show it's own identity and place in the CW lineup.

5. Remember What Made Supernatural Good.  Supernatural today is not the same show it was 12 seasons ago or even 6 seasons ago.  Somethings worked. Somethings didn't.  But there are reasons it is still on the air.  Wayward Sisters needs to tap into that as much as they can. Well minus the Sam and Dean part, which is a huge draw.  The female audience (who make up a lot of Supernatural's fan base) admittedly like the show for the eye candy (read some of the fan postings on boards sometimes).  Eye candy, while that can work here, is not going to have the staying power.  So instead the producers need to be conscious of something this time that they only did on accident with Supernatural; attract and keep that female audience.  They are going to have to tap into what made Wonder Woman such a success. Strong female characters who are not victims (anymore) and can do the job they need to do.   Or to quote the Halestorm song I am the Fire, "I am the one I've been waiting for."

Hopefully we will she this picked up (I am sure it will be) and hope it is good.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Kids Are Alright, 2018

So. I got into it with one of the luminaries of the original RPG scene.  I am not going into any details (no need) save that I was a little more caustic than I should have been and I obviously hit a nerve.

But I have been seeing a lot of this around.  People not just bashing editions that are not their particular favorite (that always happens) but people bashing the players of those editions.  Often the ones doing the bash have zero knowledge and/or experience with the game in question.
Go to any group on Facebook and you will find people complaining about any edition newer than their own often with ideas of what they think is in the game but have nothing to do with the game at all.  When pressed I invariably get the same answers "oh I have not played it" or "I have neve even read it".

I am glad I did not argue the points further online, either with those groups or individuals. 

Later that day I was headed to our local fish market so my son could smoke some fish for us and we all stopped at my Favorite Local Game Store. 

That was a refreshing treat.

First off I was not planning on getting anything but they had this.


The Classic Creatures collection.  Including a giant Demogorgon, a purple worm, and Pig-snouted Orcs!  The owlbear looks like the AD&D 1 MM one, not the 5e one (I am partial to the 5e look myself).

So yeah I grabbed that.  My youngest son pointed out all of the families there.  And there were a lot, with some young kids.

One girl, maybe 9 or 10, was walking around with her dad holding her latest treasure; a collection of D&D 5th edition tiles for minis.  I saw other kids holding books for other new games and even a small group in the game room playing.

It dawned on me (though it should have been obvious).

They don't care what we say.  In fact, they are not even listening.

I have been gaming for close to 40 years now. I am full of advice.  They won't listen to a word of it.
And that is FANTASTIC!

They need to find their own ways, make this game their own, do what they want and damn what anyone else has to say because that is what is needed to keep the games alive.
The future is not ours. Only the present.

The kids will be doing fine despite us yelling to get off our lawn.

My son smoked some fish and worked up a Succubus race to play in D&D 5.



Friday, January 26, 2018

Kickstart Your Weekend: Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasures

This one is probably my fault.

So earlier this week I was organizing my notes and books for my "Secret Castles & Crusades" project (coming to you soon).  And I was working through all my monsters.  I have the hardcovers, but I also print out my PDFs to organize my material/thoughts and scribble notes on them.



Then back on Monday Troll Lords posted this.


I showed them my pictures of my binder, talked about how much I want every monster in one book and now here we are.


Ok, in truth they were planning on reprinting the book anyway, but now there is a three-ring binder option.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/676918054/castles-and-crusades-monsters-and-treasures?ref=creator_nav

If you are a fan of Castles & Crusades then this is a must buy!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #149

Grabbing the next issue of the top I see we are moving to the end of the 80s.  September 1989 I was in my Junior year at University.  I was not playing a lot, though I did have an occasional game going. AD&D 2nd Ed was the game on the shelves and tables, but it was still mixed with 1st Ed for the most part.  The music scene at the time was a vapid collection of soft AOR and look-a-like, sound-a-like hair metal bands.  To give you an idea Milli Vanilli was the number #1 act on the radio.  Tough times.  But we won't let that stop us. It's September 1989 and this is issue #149 of This Old Dragon!

The cover of this issue is one I remember fondly.  It is another really awesome piece by Robin Wood called "The Trinket".  Personally, it is the look of joy our protagonist has when she sees this little bauble that attracts me.

You can tell this is Roger Moore-era Dragon and not Kim Mohan-era.  The Moore era was a bit more stylized and had better layout and internal art. Also, most, if not all the magazine is in color.  I am not passing judgment. A lot of this can be attributed to evolution and better layout software.  In fact, there is very much a "Macintosh" feel to this.  I could be wrong though.

Also at this time, we begin to see names of people that are still active in the industry today.

Well, maybe not active in the strictest sense, but certainly infamous.  Case in point the big ad on the next page is for Mutazoids from "Whit Productions, Inc.", yes the first company from Ken Whitman.

This is followed by ads for various TSR book lines.  The novels got a HUGE pushback then and hundreds were written.

The Letters are a bit of fun.  I guess Issue #137 had a letter from a player discussing his 358-level Magic-user who had destroyed Greyhawk with a nuclear bomb he had invented. I guess he demanded that everyone mail in their character sheets so he could calculate Waldorf's XP.
I say he should have sent in Waldork's sheet for characters from other worlds to try to take him out. ;)

Sage Advice is up from Skip Williams.  This issue covers the new Player's Handbook for 2nd Edition AD&D.

Gregory W. Detwiler is up with our first real article, Magic for Beginners.  Basically some interesting ideas for magic items for 1st level characters.   While I try to avoid giving 1st level characters any magic, there are some great ideas here and ones that work with an edition of the game.  Except for maybe 4th.  4th Ed had some pretty detailed magic-item rules and budgets.

Few more pages in we get the 1988 Origins Awards winners.

The Dragon’s Bestiary: Not quite horses but perhaps better from Kurt Martin gives us a lot of different kinds of horses.  Interestingly enough the stats are still in 1st Edition. Or I suspect not so surprising.

Another Sage Advice of sorts again from Skip Williams.  This time on Gamma World 3rd Edition.

Ken Rolston is up with Orcs in Space!  Role-playing campaigns in Games Workshop’s  WARHAMMER 40,000 universe.  Or how to do more role-playing in WH4k.  My knowledge of any WH is limited to watching guys at my FLGS paint armies after armies and then playing on these huge tables in the game room.  This article addresses that perception and also talks about how to get more a role-play element in.

Articles are notably longer than previous issues.

Cheryl Peterson has a true oddity and one that really could only appear in a handful of issues around this time. Certainly not before and not really after either.  Kesmai and Beyond Updating the Island of Kesmai on-line fantasy game.  Now. By online they mean online via CompuServe.  So no graphical interface, but you can LOOK AT things or FIGHT them. If you are lucky you might even kill a monster and TAKE COINS.  I am being flip, but remember what it was like back then?  Suddenly you could interact with others, and time and distance did not matter!  Computers and computer gaming grew up with D&D and both influenced the other in a multitude of untold ways.

We get some boats and ships for Star Frontiers. No really.  From Freighters to Flying Boats Traveling the high seas in the STAR FRONTIERS game by Matthew M. Seabaugh details a lot of boats.  It's actually a neat idea.  In a couple more years Scotty will let the rest of his Enterprise crewmates know he is ready for retirement and he "just bought a boat".  So it's really not all that out there.

We get to the middle section and there are the small ads normally seen at the end of the magazine.  Makes me wonder if I am missing something, like a poster.

Richard W. Emerich has some advice on running games at Cons in Getting It Right the First Time.  It's a good article with solid advice.  Though the advice "Be prepared and run your adventure before you get to the con" won't give you the same pay-per-word count.

So there are some interesting ads in this issue.  Not the normal game-related ones but ads that I consider more mainstream.


American Heart Association, American Cancer Socity and the Give Five campaign.
Interesting really.  I wonder if the TSR management wanted to reach out to other sources of ad revenue.  Makes sense to me really.

Following these, we get the TSR Previews.  Heavy on the 2nd Edition books and Campaign books. 
In fact we get a nice big ad for the New Spelljammer system.

John C. Bunnell has some book reviews in the Role of Books.

The Role of Computers talks about the new Azure Bounds computer game.  I have to admit, I have a desire to try this game out as part of my Forgoten Realms education.  I seem to recall that their were for sale somewhere.  Anyone remember that?

In Role-Playing Reviews, Jim Bambra covers GURPS Autoduel, Cyberpunk and Top Secret SI Lancers.  Of these, R. Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk has had the longest lasting effect on the industry.  Not just for the system, or even the genre but for the introduction of "Maximum" Mike Pondsmith.  Mike had already given us Mekton and in a few more years he would give us the groundbreaking Castle Falkenstein.

Oddly enough the only article I can remember from this issue is this next one.  Time Marches On
An RPG campaign creates its own history as you play by Thomas M. Kane discusses that as the game moves on and ages it builds up it's own mythology.  I can remember sitting in my dorm and reading this, but nothing else in the issue.  Strange.

Con Calendar and Dragonmirth wraps up this issue.

So a good issue, but not a memorable one (well for me, but it was college).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More Game Prep (Come Endless Darkness)

Not much to discuss today.  I have a HUGE project deadline at the end of the month so can't dedicate too much time here.  No worries, it will pay off!

In the meantime, I got some more material for my Descent into the Depths of the Earth game.
A cooler looking player's map and more Kuo-toa minis.



A new Encyclopedia Subterranica map.



And all my "Drow" dice.

Been wanting to do this one for so long.

Monday, January 22, 2018

This Could Be Hobbit Forming, Part 2

Note: Part 1 is here and more discussion is here.

Well I have one kid down sick and another I had to rush to the ER because he cut off the tip of his finger.  (Both kids will be fine).  But that, of course, means no weekend gaming report.

What I did though was give a little more thought on what my Middle Earth game might be like.

I know there are some perfectly good Lord of the Rings/Middle Earth games out there.  I played MERP in the past and I was one of the playtesters for the Cubicle 7 The One Ring game.  I will talk about those at a later date.  There are also some other games that others have let me know work well for Middle Earth.  I might touch on those too, no idea yet.  One, Rolemaster, intrigues me because it is not the sort of game I normally would do with RM.

No. Today I want to talk about something I have wanted to do forever.  D&D in Middle-Earth.  So per my normal weekend-game prep I set some books up on the old-treadmill and went for a run.

I think by now we all know that the effect of Tolkien on D&D has been purposefully diminished over the years.  The reasons are varied (and various) but largely seem due to avoid more legal issues.

The evidence is there that Tolkien did have an influence on D&D.  Here is my copy of Chainmail with the Fantasy Supplement.


Moving in on this.


So here we have "Hobbits", "Balrogs" "Ents" and even "Nazgul" among the standard "Elves" and "Dwarves".   These were scrubbed from later editions.

Regardless of all of that, it brings up my first candidate.  Original D&D.



OD&D has a LOT going for it.  The rules are really stripped down, the class selection is few and the overall power level is what I feel represents the average to high-level adventurers in Middle Earth. Despite wizards, dragons, and rings, Middle Earth is a low magic setting.  Even great swords like those forged by the elven smiths in Gondolin are at best what, +3?  Nothing like a vorpal sword, or even a sword of sharpness.  OD&D does this really well.

The biggest issue I have with OD&D is that I already had a grand experiment with it.  Back in 1988 I spent a summer playing in an OD&D campaign with rather mundane characters; 3d6 in order, no substitutions unless an ability was lower than 7.  Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of that game.  But I am not sure if I want to do that again or not.

Naturally, I thought, maybe Basic D&D is the way to go.


I am planning on limiting my Middle Earth game to just 10th level.  If I throw in the Expert set I might go to 12.   Here again, there are a ton of compelling reasons, for me, to use this.
I love Basic era D&D.  I can do so much with it.  I also even think that race-as-class would work; except for a halfling burglar.

While I really wanted to stick with something pure D&D at about the 1-mile mark I came to a realization.  The game I want does exist.   It is OD&D like.  Limited to 10 levels. And has the feel I Want in a game.   It is +James Spahn's The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying.



Hero's Journey is James Spahn's love letter to the Hobbit and the kinds of adventures inspired by it.  This is not a grimdark game so it would fit my needs perfectly.  Plus James has worked on Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle Earth RPG so he has the background to pull it off.

Now. I have no idea if I would include my own Hedge Witch in this.  She doesn't really fit, but I pulled my book anyway to see.  Hero's Journey not only has the feel I want, but it also has the classes I am looking for.  While I am not likely to use OD&D/Basic/HJ's Wizard or Magic-user at all, I do see a spot for the cleric.  Only instead of serving gods they the scholars of Arda.  Plus we will need some healing magic.

I think I am going to come up with a basic character concept, maybe even a couple, and see how well I can create them in these games and selcted Middle-Earth dedicated games.
Obviously I will have to use a young hobbit adventurer, a dwarf fighter of some sort maybe an elf and a human too.


This won't be a long-term or even a serious campaign, but one I can run when I have the desire to do something light.

Just need to find a time to set it all in.  I am thinking at the start of the Third Age or maybe near the end of the Second Age.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #95

Ok, this really is less of a cheat than it might appear.  This issue was actually third on my list for this week, it gets promoted due to one article that I'll mention in a bit.  For now, it is March 1985, Madonna rules the radio and MTV.  Eddie Murphy dominates the silver screens with Beverly Hills Cop.  On the way to our shelves is Unearthed Arcana (more on that) but there now is issue #95 of This Old Dragon!

Our cover is something of a classic from Dean Morrissey.  I will admit I did not like it when this was new.  I liked the idea, but the cover left cold.  Over the years my mind has changed and I consider this one of my top 20 covers.  Not quite top 10, but certainly up there.

The table of contents promises a lot of things, but at the bottom we get a note from Kim Mohan.  Titled In defense of advertising Kim advises us to read the letters on the next page and then come back.  I'll talk about that in a bit.  This article is a defense of the number of ads in Dragon magazine.  He points out that while the magazine has grown the price, $3.00, has been consistent for nearly five years.  Having grown up in that time with a limited income from a paper route I appreciated the price stability.  Plus I *loved* the ads.  That's how I knew what was new and what was going on with other companies.  Some games I bought solely based on their ad in Dragon.

Ok Letters. Dan Fejes sends in one titled "Hard of hearing?" where he complains about the number of ads in the magazine AND the fact that the editors are "not listening to the readers".  Dan can't defend himself here, so me ripping into him is counter-productive.  But seriously?   I understand that no one is really made of money, but this sounds like typical entitled-gamer bullshit to me.  Unless he has a degree in economics where he can show his price per useful content ratio is somehow less...but I digress.  Forget Dan. I love the ads.  My only beef is when the ads went exclusively to TSR. But that is some time away yet.

Speaking of ads...We get our first look at the nearly-mythical D&D Set 3: Companion Rules!


Suck it Dan.

Gary is up first with Demi-humans Get a Lift in his From the Sorcerer's Scroll feature. This covers the new level and class limits for Demi-humans in the AD&D game.  A preview of sorts for the new Unearthed Arcana he announces at the end of the article.  We also get an update on the D&D movie.  That is to say that there is still a D&D movie being shopped around.
Gary mentions that Gen Con was attended by 8,000 people, the most ever of this kind of convention.  I bet it will grow!  This is cover some sort of argument over which one con was better/larger Gen Con vs. Origins.

Here is the article that bumped this issue to the head of the queue today.
The influence of J. R. R. Tolkien on the D&D® and AD&D® games. Why Middle Earth is not part of the game world by Gary Gygax.
Let's take a moment and remember when this article was written.  1985.  I.C.E. has the MERP game now and TSR has already had a litigious past with the Tolkien estate.  I am going to forward this quote first,
The popularity of Professor Tolkien’s fantasy works did encourage me to develop my own. But while there are bits and pieces of his works reflected hazily in mine, I believe that his influence, as a whole, is quite minimal.
- Gary Gygax, p. 12. Dragon 95, March 1985.
Now there are plenty of reasons for him to state this, and he follows up in the article going over now well known ground on how the pulps, Howard in particular, were the source of most of his fantasy thoughts.  None of this is really in dispute.  What follows is a breakdown of creatures D&D and Tolkien share in common and where Tolkien might have derieved them.  All of which has the benefit of being true, we know this from Tolkien's own letters, and completely not really the point.
Gygax might be trying to make the point that D&D would have come about with or without Tolkien. He might be right, but it would certainly not have come out like it was in 85.  The fertile ground that D&D grew in was tilled by Tolkien.  Others have also tilled and sown those fields, but our good professor did a little more than his fair share of work.  Plus I can't help but feel there is a bit of revisionism going on here.  Lest we forget that the original D&D rules featured Hobbits, Ents and Balorgs by those names.  Halflings in D&D are defacto Hobbits right down to their hairy feet and subrace names. Harfoots, Fallowhides, and Stoors for Tolkien and Hairfoots, Tallfellows and Stouts for AD&D.  I am not going to belabor this point really other than to point out that Gary is both correct and wrong in his article.  How much of this was oversight or even on advice from his lawyers we will really never know.  There have been a number of follow-up articles, interviews and the like since then and right on up to his death.
For me. I am content that Tolkien is a model of a good D&D world. Maybe not a by-the-book one (any or either book) but for me, Tolkien and D&D have been together since the very, very beginning.

Whew!  We are only on page 15!

The Convention Calendar is up.  I see my FLGS is having a Game Day on March 30.

Yes. They are still open and they still have the same phone number!  Well, the area code has changed twice since this ad.  It is now 847-577-9656.  Not too bad really.  Want to buy a copy of the Dragons I review?  I usually buy them here!

Ok I do want to talk about this ad.


So DragonRaid got a lot of grief in the gaming communities I was apart of.  I had some Christian gamer friends that thought it was a cheap attempt to capitalize on their faith and some even that did not want to mix their D&D and belief.  As an Atheist, then and now, I thought it was interesting. As someone who was interested in psychology then and someone with degrees in it now I also thought it was an interesting way to learn something, in this case, Bible verses.  I always wanted to see the game for myself.   You can still buy the game directly from the publisher.
Anyone ever play this game?

Next up is How taxes take their toll: The king’s collectors don’t have it easy, either by Arthur Collins is done as a faux interview.  The basic premise is how to do taxes in your fantasy medieval world.

Ecology of the Cockatrice is next from Ed Greenwood.  He has another entry later on. This is another good piece and reminds me why I liked these "Ecology of" articles so much.  They can take an uninteresting monster and really do a lot with it.

In the days before the internet, this next article by Glenn Rahman was pure gold.  Prices for the Roaring 20’s: A way to measure PCs’ purchasing power gives us price lists. I remember sitting in my then local library for hours looking up prices for one of the first Victorian-era games I ever ran.  Now it is a click away.

Katharine Kerr is back with more advice on experience rules in Credit where credit is due. This article looks to examples from other games to award some non-combat experience and in particular the use of skills.

Next is an article I actually used quite a bit. The many shapes of apes: Giving primates the attention they deserve by Stephen Inniss gives us some stats for various primates including the Gigantopithecus, which I used quite a lot.

We get to the main feature of this issue. A new mid-level adventure from Ed Greenwood called Into the Forgotten Realms.   This might not be the first official Forgotten Realms entry in the pages of Dragon, but it is the biggest so far.  Run as a tournament module at Gen Con 1984, this adventure has you begin in the Realms. There are characters provided.  It has been my plan to use this adventure in my Realms based game someday. I am still planning this.  It looks really fun to be honest.

Battles above the dungeon by Tim W. Brown has advice for combat in open spaces.

The fiction section is next, Desperate Acts, I know nothing of the story save that it has one of my favorite pieces of art to appear in a Dragon magazine. No surprise it is by Denis Beauvais.


I thought she was an awesome looking character.

The Ares section is next.

We get some new starships for the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game NOW back in print.

Penny Petticord has some answers to various GammaWorld questions.

Jeff Grubb talks Iron Man in the Marvel-Phile.  Though at this point it is Rhodey wearing the armor of Iron Man and not Tony.

We get Dolphins as a space-farring race for RingWorld by Sherman Kahn.  Now we know how they left Earth in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.  Interestingly enough a Star Trek TNG novel had dolphin crew member and I always pictured this art for it.

Small ads.
Big ad for Gen Con 18.

Wormy, Dragonmirth and Snarf.

Wow.  What another packed issue.  So much here that I remembered and so much more I had forgotten.

Want to know what I was saying about White Dwarf from the same time period?  Have a look at White Dwarf Wednesday #63.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

This Could Be Hobbit Forming!

I have been waiting years to use that title.

So an interesting thing happened yesterday.  There were not two, not three but four "Tolkien and D&D" posts made to the blogs I read all within hours of each other.  I have no reason to assume the author's all planned this, but if you are a fan of Tolkien, Lord of the Rings and D&D then it was a great day of reading.

Tolkien and D&D have had a relationship for as long as there have been a D&D.  While one only needs to look to Halflings for this there are plenty of other examples including the obvious elf and orc ones.  There are also the Balors and Treants or as they appeared in the earliest edition, Balrogs and Ents.

While it was politic for a while to dismiss the effect Tolkien had on D&D, no one really tow's that line anymore.  Gary even rather famously distanced himself from it and his followers likewise took the same point of view.

These next four bloggers are not of that frame of mind.

Tim Shorts of +Gothridge Manor starts us out in Musings from a Man Playing Two Middle Earth Games.   Tim talks about one of our other bloggers, Rob Conley, and his love for Tolkien.  We will get to him in a bit.  His point of view comes from that of the casual Tolkien fan, but also as someone that is enjoying both games he is in.  Immersion seems to be the key for Tim.  The time taken for the adventure feels different for Middle Earth than say D&D. The pacing is key.

+Jonathan Hicks over at Farsight Blogger discusses playing two other Middle Earth games as a self-described big fan in J.R.R. Tolkien and my roleplaying hobby.  His discussion centers around the classic Iron Crown Enterprises Middle-Earth Roleplaying game (of which I was also a big fan) and the later The Decipher Lord of the Rings roleplaying game using the CODA system.  Now for me both systems had their issues, but their fluff was top notch.  Hicks' post is a great narrative of games that "almost were" and some of the issues of playing in Tolkien's world. Or at least the issues of one GM in particular.  I have to largely agree with his post.  Tolkien's world(s) are huge and detailed, but sometimes that detail works against you.

+Rob Conley over at Bat in the Attic follows this up with his Why Middle Earth has been working for me. It is a follow-up to Tim Short's post above but also works as follow up to Hicks.   Rob, also a self-professed big fan, discusses his issues with the MERP system (which I largely agree with) and his enjoyment of the newer Adventures in Middle Earth from Cubicle 7 that uses D&D5 as a base.  The time period of the C7 games works well for Rob; between the battle of Five Armies and the War of the Ring.  So there is plenty of reasons (and reasoning) for young hobbits to want to go on adventures. There is also the rise in Mordor at this point and the waning influence of the elves.
Later 3rd Age Middle Earth is a time of war, but also of adventure.  Compare this to the description that Hicks gives of his Star Wars game (used by him for comparison) the characters don't have to be in some strange part of the world (or galaxy) they can be in the thick of it.

Finally, we get a long post from +Jason Vey over at the Wasted Lands, is sometimes blog about his campaign.  Jason is a huge fan of Tolkien. His post, Fellowship of the Ring: Lord of the Rings and Campaign Building, Part One, deals with as he puts it, Lord of the Rings: A Master Class in Campaign Building.   In this he builds a "Fellowship of the Ring" campaign using the book (not the movie) as a guide.  I only point out book vs. movie here since some of the differences play into the campaign building.    Jason takes a very old-school rule specific look at building a campaign based on the Lord of the Rings model.  This is a subtle difference than the posts above which deal with playing in Lord of the Rings world.  If Jason's approach could be described in a phrase it is getting back to the roots. The roots of both D&D (structure and rules) and of Tolkien (narrative).  It is not explicitly said, but the idea I get is that this is designed with OD&D in mind.  Indeed, Jason and I have talked about how if either of us were to run a Middle Earth game it would need to be using OD&D.  I suppose that Swords & Wizardry would also work, but it does not have the gravitas that OD&D has.  Plus I happen to know that Jason has copies of the LBB that still have "Ents", "Hobbits" and "Balrogs" in them, so there is that.

These posts have me thinking about trying a Middle Earth game.  Something I have wanted to try since discovering D&D and Hobbit right around the same time.   I'd love to do it with OD&D or maybe B/X D&D, but it has to be D&D proper.  I would, naturally need to remove some classes, but otherwise I think it would be great fun.



Links (to current RPGs)
Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide
Adventures in Middle-earth Loremaster's Guide
The One Ring Roleplaying Game

Monday, January 15, 2018

Slight Shift in Plans: Down, Down to Drow Town

Over the extended Christmas break we got to play quite a lot of D&D5.  My son, when not playing or running games for his cousins, also spent some time updating our Order of the Platinum Dragon characters. Everyone is right at 13th level and he wants to play them again.

So I am pulling out my Descent into the Depths of the Earth to get going on their first underdark hexcrawl.  I am of course using the Classic Modules Today conversion for 5e.


I am going to let them find their own way here, though maybe not as much as I could let them.
I really only need them to go up one more level before The Vault of the Drow.

To aid me in this I found a great alternate Player's Map at Blog of Exalted Deeds that I really like.


Looking forward to running this piece of AD&D history with my kids.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Kickstart your Weekend with Venger As'Nas Satanis

You gotta love +Venger Satanis and his Kortthalis Publishing
He is out there doing his own thing. Doing to make the stuff he wanted to play with back in the day and if we want to come along, well great. While he takes himself far less seriously than other publishers, he takes his games and books very seriously. And it shows in his production values.  So today I want to share two new Venger products with you.  First up a Kickstarter.

Battle Star Trilogy: Trek Wars


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1575519826/battle-star-trilogy-trek-wars

I'll admit it. I LOVE Alpha Blue.  I might be because I am the right demographic for it, but I also love 70s sleaze.  Anything for Alpha Blue then is good in my book.
This one will be three adventure scenarios for Alpha Blue, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinking of trying them in White Star and/or Star Frontiers.

Player's Handbook Like A Fucking Boss
Out now is Venger's latest in his "Like a Fucking Boss" series. 
Venger is a man after my own heart, and PHB-LAFB takes many nods and cues from Basic-era D&D, or at least his reading of it which is just as good.
PHB-LAFB is not a rule book or an adventure, but a collection of various tips, tricks and odds and ends to help your game along.  There are some very obvious nods to classic/Basic/OSR style play and there are nods to more modern/D&D5 style mechanics and design.  The bottom line here (and a big one for me when reading this) is I can use it with just about any game I play.
In truest old-school fashion there are plenty of tables. "Stranger Things" gives us a table of various odds and ends, emphasis on the odd.  "Honor and Fame" and "Dishonor and Infamy" are also very useful tables for rewards that reminds me of some the rules I have seen in AGE and Blue Rose; again a natural idea given Venger's own twist. 
There is a lot of great character building ideas too. Tables, checklists, backgrounds. It's all here.
For $5.00 and 33 full-color pages, it is quite worth it.
I am not quite sure if it is up to the level of awesomeness that is How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss but it is also more focused on players and characters and is half the price too.

No one does Venger quite like Venger.  Both of this products are top notch.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #52

It's August 1981.  I am hitting what is about to become the "Golden Years" of my D&D Basic playing.  Up to this point, I had been relying on a poorly Xeroxed copy of Holmes Basic (I never even knew what the cover was till almost now) and some monsters from the AD&D Monster Manual.  I had started playing a year and half before because of my interest in Greek myths.  So that had lead me to the MM and then to D&D proper. Though I was still not exactly playing proper D&D. Just a DIY version that I think many gamers of a certain age went through.  From here though I discovered The Hobbit, Tolkien and the wonderful world of Fantasy Art.  Seriously, no issue of Dragon has better captured what was going on in my life than this Issue #52 of This Old Dragon!

Ok. Let's stop here and look at this cover.  The Art is pure fantasy, but not really D&D is it.  Doesn't matter.  Dragon has had some great artists grace their covers over the decades. Many started here and got famous. Some were famous before but still growing in their fame.  Not this artist.  This is Boris Vallejo.  He was famous and popular before this.  Dragon made a lot of A-listers in the world of fantasy art, but Boris was an A-lister already.  Let's look at this cover again.  A Faerie Dragon hatching from an egg. A woman looks on (likely a faerie herself) while mountains float in the background.  It's not D&D as it was then, but it could should have been.  I want to rank this among my favorite covers, but that feels unfair.  Kinda like watching Michael Jordan join the 92 Dream Team in the Olympics.  Yes we love Mike, yes we know that he is going to kick everyone's ass. But he is the best professional there is and everyone else he meets is also great, but only at the start of their career. Still, we have more Boris in this issue and I have not even opened it up yet!

Next page is a big ad for new D&D Basic Set.  I loved these ads and wanted to find them all to see how the story progressed.


The Dragon Rumbles deals with the various different looking dragons that have appeared on their covers the last few issues.   Gamers like things to be well defined I guess. I know I was no different then.  Also don't give money to Michael Stoner and his Beholder Zine.  I guess a bunch of readers did and he ran off with the cash.  Some things never change.

The Letters cover various praise and criticism of the last few magazines.   It's issue 52 and some readers want Dragon to "go back to the way it was".  What was I saying about change?

Robert Plamondon is up first with a feature on Clerics in The Role of the Cleric.    This is immediately followed by This Land is My Land... by Douglas Loss which also covers clerics, churches and land and The Sense of Sacrifices also by Douglas Loss.
All articles strive to give the players of clerics more insight on how to play these classes with an eye towards medieval realism AND good fantasy play.  In a way this pre-sages the "feature" issues we will see more of in the next 5 to 6 years.

Sage Advice covers various questions about spells and a lot about clerics.  If you are into clerics then this is a good issue to look back too.  Interesting how there is so much in this issue that appeals to me now AND would have appealed to me then as well.  In 81 I was all about clerics, Basic D&D and already thinking a little about my future witch classes.

The next article is a two for one deal, and a must read for any student of D&D's history.
Basic D&D Points of View...From the Editors Old and New by J. Eric Holmes and Tom Moldvay is a fascinating look back at the "1st Edition Basic Game" and the "2nd Edition Basic Game".  There is an interesting disclaimer on the first page of the article that says "the opinions expressed are those of the authors and not Dragon or TSR."  Interesting. I wonder what they say to merit such a notice.


Holmes is first discussing his version of the Basic rules.  His rules, he says, were designed to teach people how to play the game that had not seen the game played before.  By contrast, the "three little brown books" (what we refer to as "White Box" today) were for people already playing and are "incomprehensible" to new players (his words, not mine, but I tend to agree).
Here we learn that Holmes had the express permission from Gary to create a "beginners guide" to D&D.  He used wording from the White Box where he could and he wanted a Spell Point system (!) that Gary quickly rejected.   The classes chosen were the ones they felt starting players would want to try.  Given this logic, there is a clearer path to AD&D from Holmes Basic D&D. 
Holmes then compares his edition to Moldvay's "2nd Edition".  We are given reasons for the simplified alignment system and for the use of a Caller.  In general, I get the feeling that he approves of it and lauds many of the new ideas it brings.
Moldvay says his piece on why a new edition of the Basic set was even needed.  I think anyone that has read and played both editions can see the reasoning now but was the reasoning then?  Well, they wanted to correct some of the flaws found in the earlier edition (corrections that Holmes applauds) and they wanted the rules to follow the same outline as the upcoming Expert edition. So now Basic flows to Expert and not to Advanced. This shift seems to come from the idea that that Basic rules need to be flexible to allow the DM to do what they want while AD&D needs to be more rigid and codified.  I wonder though, what was the business decision to move to a new separate path of D&D? Not just what gave us the Moldvay D&D, but what prompted the desire for an Expert Set so that a new Moldvay-edited Basic was needed?

I can go on forever about Basic D&D. But we are only to page 17 as is!

Moving on we get a new one from Len Lakofka in Leomund's Tiny Hut. This is so new in fact that I think this might be the first ever Tiny Hut article ever!  There is an introduction by Gary himself.  This installment covers giving more depth to the humans of the Flanaess.  Cool article and one that every Greyhawk DM should have handy.  Actually, it is good for most DMs. The article is pretty long, longer than most Tiny Hut articles in my memory.

Paul Montgomery Crabaugh gives us The Undercover Job Guide for Top Secret, though I think it could work with any spy game.  I have to admit looking at the starting salaries for some of these jobs in 1981 is interesting.

Bryce Knorr has the big feature of this issue. Boris details the life and art of Boris Vallejo.
We get eight pages of information about the man and his art.  I would have liked to have seen more art, to be honest, but I understand that it could not have been cheap to get us what we see.  Also there four photos of the artist that are all essentially the same. Not sure why that was included.  The article itself is very interesting

Giants of the Earth is next. This time Katharine Kerr covers sorcerers that like to hang out on islands.  We have Shakespeare's Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban. Though sadly no Sycorax.
She does give me a wonderful version of Circe though.  Circe, of course, is a Magic-User here, but I built my own version as a witch and shared that with you all yesterday.



Our centerpiece is an introductory Gamma World adventure Cavern of the Sub-Train by Gary Jaquet. A fun adventure on a subway line.  A fun little adventure that captures what I liked best about Gamma World; taking something as mundane as a subway line and turning it into something exciting and dangerous.

Ooo. Just when I thought the issue could not get better we get a Dragon's Bestiary!  Victor Selby and Ed Greenwood give us a lizard thing in the form of the Rhaumbusun and the vaguely Lovecraftian Pelins by Lewis Pulsipher. 

Ok. If you are keeping score at home this issue has content from Ed Greenwood, Lew Pulsipher, a bit from Gary Gygax, Tom Moldvay, Eric Holmes, Katherine Kerr and Len Lakofka. Oh. And art by Boris.  To quote a popular song on the radio of the time "They Don't Write Like that Anymore"!

Michael Kluever has a good bit on the history of siege warfare in Knock! Knock!
Great if you can't tell your catapult from a trebuchet.

Next, we get a new class. No! Three versions of the same new class!
In Wanted: the editors tell us about getting three new Bounty Hunter classes all at once and they can't tell which one is the best.
The contributors are Scott Bennie, Tom Armstrong, Robert L. Tussey,  and Kenneth Strunk. With the last two giving us our last Bounty Hunter class.
Back in the day, I would have totally worked out one class from these three.  I wonder if I should try it for a Class Struggles someday.  That could be fun really.

Lew Pulsipher is back again with some DM advice in To err is human, to repair divine.  It's interesting since a lot of it runs very counter to the adversarial DM philosophy that was popular then and often misattributed to all old school DMs and creators.
This is followed up with The best DMs will look further than the book by Tom Armstrong.
Both articles could be reprinted today and still hold 100% true and valuable.

The Minarian Chronicles continue with The evolution of the Shucassamites by Glenn Rahman.  I really don't have enough of a background to speak to this, to be honest, but I am fascinated about learning some more.

And the hits keep on coming!  John Prados is next with his Simulation Corner (a feature that completely predates my first time encounters with Dragon).  His continuing series is on game design, or maybe I should say his first one since this is 1: Choosing a Topic.  I love all the Game Design posts, blogs and videos I can get to today, but some of what they are saying was already said here if we decide to go looking for it.   In this overview, though he mentions some of the new up and comers in game design that sadly are not around at all today.  If there is a meta-lesson here it is while game design is not rocket science, managing a game company still takes a fair amount of knowledge, skill and no short amount of luck. 

Reviews are next and we look to another "Basic" this time Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying, reviewed by John T. Sapienza, Jr. in Basic Role-Playing Made Easy.  He gives these basic rules a "highly recommended".  Given that the same rules still exist more or less in the same format and guise some 36+ years later it is a good indication that he was correct in his assessment.

Off the Shelf reviews books by Larry Niven, Robert Adams, and C.J. Cherryh.  A paperback book will set you back $3.00. 

We get some comics namely What's New and Wormy. But none of the small ads that dominated the pages before the comics.

Wow. Seriously. How packed was this issue?
When Ed Greenwood is providing the "lesser" content you know it is good. 

This is Dragon at it's best.  Great articles, helpful tips and plenty of things you can use on your table for $3.00. 

Want to know what White Dwarf was doing at this time?  Check out my White Dwarf Wednesday Issue #20.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Circe for Basic-era Games

Circe by Boris Vallejo
Getting ready for tomorrow's This Old Dragon and boy is it ever a fun one.  No spoilers, but I wanted to do something above and beyond the normal offering.

The issue has articles about the Holmes and Moldvay versions of the Basic Set.
Boris Vallejo is on the cover and the subject of an article.
And Giants of the Earth deal with some Magic-users.  Including one of my all-time favorites.

Circe

I spent my childhood reading the myths of ancient Greece.  One of my favorite characters was Circe.
So when I got my first copy of Deities & Demigods I went first to the Greek Mythos.
I was not overly thrilled with how they depicted Circe, a Chaotic Evil "Black Sorceress", but I also was not surprised.
In college, I reread the Odyssey and I found Circe was much more of a complex character than most people gave credit to.  Yes, she is not good and certainly selfish.  But I like to think there is more to her than that.
The Katerine Kerr penned article in Dragon #52 is a vast improvement over the DDG version.  Given all the subjects of the magazine, I wanted to present Circe as a Basic-era Witch.

Circe has always been the poster-girl for what I call the Classical Tradition of Witchcraft.  These are the witches of myth and legend, but not the ones of faerie tales.

Circe
Witch Queen of Aeaea
Witch (Classical Tradition) 19th level

Strength: 11 Death Ray, Poison 7
Dexterity: 13 Magic Wands 8
Constitution: 10 Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone 7
Intelligence: 12 Dragon Breath 10
Wisdom: 14 Rods, Staffs, Spells 9
Charisma: 18

Hit Points: 39
Alignment: Chaotic (Neutral)
AC: 7 (Cord of Protection, AC 7)

Occult Powers
Familiar: Sow (Autolycus)
7th level: Temporary Magic
13th level: Permanent Magic
19th level: Witch's Blessing

Spells
Cantrips (6): Alarm Ward, Black Flame, Daze, Mend, Object Reading, Quick Sleeping
First (6+2): Bewitch I, Charm Person, Comprehend Languages, Detect Invisible, Glamour, Silver Tongue, Sleep,  Consecration Ritual (Ritual)
Second (5+2): Alter Self, Enthrall, ESP, Hold Person, Mind Obscure, Nausea, Suggestion
Third (5+2): Bestow Curse, Dispel Magic, Fly, Hesitate, Lethe' Curse, Mind Rash, Toad Mind
Fourth (4+1): Animal Growth, Charm Monster, Confusion, Polymorph, Slow
Fifth (4): Bewitch V, Feeblemind, Greater Command, Hold Monster
Sixth (3): Control Weather, Geas, Legend Lore (Ritual)
Seventh (3):  Eternal Charm Monster, Massmorph, Veneration
Eighth (2):  Polymorph Any Object, Imprisonment (Ritual)

Compared to the stats in the article I am very pleased with this.  The Witch Circe's occult powers more than makeup for the Magic-User Circe's psionic powers.  Granted not a one-for-one, usually with a spell swapped here an there. 

Rereading my own writing here I think that the "Witch's Blessing" occult power was very much modeled after Circe and a gift she gave Odysseus in one of the myths I read.

See you all tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Star Frontiers is Back!

Back in the early 80s I flirted a lot with Sci-Fi RPGs.  I started out with Traveller, played some FASA Doctor Who and Star Trek and finally landed on TSR's Star Frontiers.
I never got to play it very much and much of the time I played it like "D&D in Space", but I still had fun and the game had a place in my heart, if not on my table very much.

Well, Star Frontiers is back in an official form Wizards of the Coast and One Book Shelf.

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn pdf and pod
Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks
Star Frontiers: (SF AC-1) Official Character Record Sheets
Star Frontiers: (SF1) Volturnus, Planet of Mystery
Star Frontiers: (SF2) Starspawn of Volturnus

I know Star Frontiersman has always been around and they do some great work, I just never bought into their rather thin case to understoood their agreement print the rules.

EDITED: See note below about the legal agreement between Star Frontiersman and WotC.  I stand corrected.

I am really tempted to get that hardcover.  I mean really how cool would that be sitting next to my 1st Ed AD&D books?

If I wasn't so enamored with my current White Star game I would switch over.

If I get it I'll show it off when it comes in.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Another Keep, Saved from the Forces of Chaos and Evil

This past weekend we finished the first part of my "Into the Nentir Vale" game.





The characters managed to stop the cult of Orcus from opening the rift to the Shadowfell and save Keegan's Keep.  They also managed to get to 3rd level which is keeping with my desire for them to level up two levels per adventure.  They will face Orcus in E3 at 18th level.

Between this big showdown and the last session, I did some searching and looking online for more information about Harpers.  I thought about having the Harpers approach them, talking online I think it would be more in line with the Harpers watching them first.

So enter another 4e to 5e conversion, Jasic Winterhaven!  A gnome warlock/bard.  Something I am calling a Crossroads Bard.  Jasic is a Harper agent assigned to determine the value of these characters.  I am really looking forward to this.
I am basing Jasic loosely on Eric Burdon from the Animals and War. He is also a little on my late brother Mike who could play any instrument he picked up and taught me everything worth knowing about music. My love of the Beatles, Frank Zappa and the great psychedelica of the 60s and early 70s comes from him. 

I will likely get my Keep on the Shadowfell conversion up and out sometime. I think others might interested.

Up next...some prep for the next adventure.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

This Old Dragon for 2018!

I am still on vacation and it has been great.  I might even get out of my sweatpants today! Ok...to be fair I have been on the treadmill every day this week and I have shoveled snow.

What's that all mean to you good reader?
Well no "This Old Dragon" today.  Sorry.

But I have many more Dragons to give you.


I also was given a nice gift.  A friend of mine sent me his copies of the Strategic Review.
So I could add those to the mix or maybe when I am done with these Dragons.

Hope your 2018 is going well so far.  I have reviews, games and more to bring you!

Monday, January 1, 2018

First Game of 2018, Back to the Realms and the Nentir Vale

Still on my Christmas break-vacation so been playing quite a bit of D&D 5.

I am not sure whether I mentioned it or not but I am merging my Forgotten Realms and my Into the Nentir Vale campaigns.  It is not much of a stretch really.  The original intent for 4e and the Nentir Vale was to place it in the Realms, so I have that justification and plenty of material to work with.

Recap.  Earlier this year I talked a lot about my 4e collection and sunk costs.  I discussed the conversions in two different posts, 4e to BECMI and 4e to 5e for the Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens.  Both posts generated a lot of interest and I did some quick conversions in Google Sheets.
The Witchlight Fens conversion went well I quickly did them for H1 Keep on the Shadowfell.

We started with H1 Keep on the Shadowfell and I used information from Dungeon #155 for the Forgotten Realms conversions.

Truthfully the Keep on the Shadowfll could be located anywhere.  The Nentir Vale, Cormyr of outside of Denver for all the difference it makes for the characters.  Thankfully there are resources for me to use.  The Forgotten Realms Wiki has entries on both Winterhaven and the Shadowfell Keep.

This week after some initial investigations the revised characters entered the Shadowfell Keep.






It has been going great and everyone is enjoying themselves.

I now need to work out some of the Raven Queen details.  I know a lot of gods in the Forgotten Realms are dead, come back, are dead again.  So finding one isn't going to be the problem, settling on one is.   In 4e the Raven Queen is the new Goddess of Death having been given the mantle when the previous god was killed.  In my 4e game before I assumed it was Nerul, but now I think I am going to go with Bhaal.

So far the 4e to 5e conversion is working out great. I am looking forward to seeing how the other adventures fare.

Here's to a great 2018!

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