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.