Sunday, July 14, 2019

Breakthrough in Gygax/Tolkien Studies!

The question of how much Gary Gygax was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien in the writing of the first few versions of Dungeons & Dragons is one of those topics that generates a great deal of chatter on the Internet these days, usually producing more heat than light. Personally I hold to the idea that Gary was fairly indifferent to Tolkien's fiction, but included the Middle-Earth elements at the insistence of his players. However, it did occur to me recently that in addition to the occasionally-superficial borrowing of monsters and classes, there is an element of old-school play which is closely modeled by The Lord of the Rings - the Appendices, even! - than any other source I can think of.

As is well known, D&D characters who attain high levels gain the ability to build strongholds and accumulate followers. The precise rules for this vary by edition - some retroclones* being especially well-known for expanding on this playstyle - and by class, but it's a pretty universal element.

Art by Ted Nasmith
Universal in the game, at least, but perhaps not so much in the inspirational literature. I've read a bit of discussion around AD&D's Appendix N, including Jeffro Johnson's tome on the subject, and don't recall seeing this ever mentioned. As for the Appendix N works themselves, well, we have Conan famously becoming king-by-his-own-hand of Aquilonia, and maybe John Carter becoming the Warlord of Mars if we stretch the definitions some, but these both of these involve taking over an existing power structure rather than carving out a new one. For that, the best example I can think of is the later careers of Legolas and Gimli:

"After the fall of Sauron, Gimli brought south a part of the Dwarf-folk of Erebor and he became Lord of the Glittering Caves. . . . Legolas his friend also brought south Elves out of Greenwood, and they dwelt in Ithilien, and it became once again the fairest country in all the westlands." - The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A

Now, despite my clickbaity headline, I doubt this passage had much to do with what we call the "Domain Game" of early D&D. In fact, I would tend to think the concept as driven more by gameplay needs than anything in fantasy fiction at the time, though I welcome further examples. Still, it's a remarkable correspondence in concept, and one that I certainly wouldn't mind exploring at the table someday.

*Affiliate link.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Requiem For Google+

Well, it's finally happened. After much sound and fury, the Google+ social media experiment is officially over. Being something of a late adopter to things like this I was only on for the last couple years, but during that time I saw a number of informative, amusing or useful things, some of which I was able to salvage:

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Heroes of Terra Kickstarter Up

Well, I have to admit I doubted this day would ever come, but on this occasion I'm happy to be proven wrong - Jeremy Puckett and Blackwing Productions* have posted the Kickstarter for Heroes of Terra: The Mushroom War. I've mentioned this Super Mario-inspired Savage Worlds setting a time or two before, as previous versions of it were released. Most are still available at the DriveThru link posted above, and the newest is the Heroes of Terra Jumpstart*, which like the full book brings the setting in line with the newest edition of Savage Worlds (If you were a backer of the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, you should already have the Jumpstart wherever you're keeping the rewards from that campaign).

This Kickstarter is fairly straightforward, with PDF and POD options as well as some premium content-creation tiers. The stretch goals are all additional content, but I would say the target date is far enough out to not make the campaign too successful. Nothing that would require additional shipping is also a good sign.

Anyway, I'm eager to see what this version of the Mushroom Kingdom ends up looking like, and maybe even put a game there someday. I note with particular interest that the premise explicitly mentions the possibility of visitors from the "real" world, which would make the material easily integrated into a game of, say, international monster hunters . . .

Not your typical Yoshi.

*All DriveThruRPG links are, as always, affiliate links that earn me a little money if you use them.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Mappi Monday: Forgotten Ruins of the Middle Hyborian

For some time now, the minds behind the acclaimed military-space-opera novel series Galaxy's Edge, Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, have been working on a fantasy setting. There's not a great deal of information yet, although some bits can be gleaned from the Facebook page and the dedicated website. For example, yesterday the former revealed this amazing map:

Thursday, December 6, 2018

GUMTHEWS Cover Reveal

A couple of days ago, Pelgrane Press revealed the cover art for Swords of the Serpentine, their upcoming Swords-and-Sorcery GUMSHOE hack.


While I wish they'd kept the "GUMTHEWS" pun for the name, I have not yet been disappointed by a Pelgrane product and, from the looks of this article on the genre guidelines the authors used, I don't think that's going to change:

While there is as yet no release date, nor indication of whether the release will be crowdfunded or direct, I'd say this is coming along quite well.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Circlet of Fungal Power

A new magic item for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

The Circlet of Fungal Power presents itself as a typical golden crown with a velvet lining colored purple with white spots. If worn, it transforms the wearer into an Amazon warrior woman with the following attributes:

Height: 6'2, Weight: 170
STR: 9, DEX: 17, CON: 11, INT: 11, WIS: 11, CHA: 18

All other characteristics, including class, remain the same. Upon removing the crown the wearer reverts to his previous appearance and attributes, but there is a cumulative 1% chance the wearer must make a Save Vs. Transformation or have one attribute (rolled on a d6) permanently altered. The accumulated chance resets with each save, but the seventh failure results in the wearer completely transforming into Amazon form (as per the Polymorph Other spell), in addition to gaining the firm conviction that they are the heir to the throne of a far-off kingdom of intelligent toadstool people.

Inspired, of course, by this. I'm not even sorry.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Wacky Campaign Concepts: Bookhounds of Freeport!

Art by Everwho
So the other day I was reading the recent-ish Freeport: City of Adventure* from Green Ronin and noticed something interesting. For all that Freeport is a pirate-founded tropical port at the semi-pre-industrial tech level standard to Dungeons & Dragons settings, there's an awful lot of factions gathering secret libraries of information - from the Wizard's Guild, for whom scrolls and spellbooks are key professional accessories, to the orc settlement founded by a half-orc historian, to the secret archives of the local guides/explorers for hire, not to mention the map shops, alchemy labs, and more bookishly inclined temples.

Art by ilacha
This odd juxtaposition got me thinking about Bookhounds of London*, Ken Hite's Trail of Cthulhu* supplement about Depression-era booksellers getting caught up in the Tome of Eldritch Lore trade. While deeply tied to its London setting, the flavor of hardscrabble book scouts and inquiry agents is very strong, and I think there's enough to transfer to Freeport. There are a few points of similarity between the two cities, too - both are cosmopolitan port cities with sharp class divides and deep histories, although London obviously has a much vaster base to draw on. The Cthulhu Mythos, too, is a point of convergence between the two settings, although it's much more subtle in Freeport. Ironically, the non-Earth setting of Freeport means that the standard library of Mythos tomes are not as easily used - however, a crafty GM can turn this to his advantage, Who would, after all, suspect a book with a nice, safe, Elvish-sounding name like Parmofírinesse?

Which all begs the question of what system to use for this game. The Freeport booked linked above is for Pathfinder, although if I was going to run it in a D20 I might use ACKS for the economic emphasis, instead. There is not currently a GUMSHOE variant that would fit really well; however, rumors fly of an in-development game (with the delightful code-name "GUMTHEWS") that is basically a sword-and-sorcery take on the GUMSHOE engine. This sounds like the perfect way to run this game - and I'm apparently not the only one who thinks so:
Even without being able to play a book pirate this sounds like a terrific game - I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for it!

*Drive-thru-RPG Affiliate link. I make money, but not from you.