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Tuesday, 15 June 2021

A Dragon Warriors character

When James Wallis brought Dragon Warriors back from the ivied catafalque on which it lay sleeping through the '90s and '00s, one of the all-new books he released was Friends or Foes, a collection of interesting NPCs who can be used as adversaries or allies for the player-characters.

Why not throw it open to the whole DW community? Players could upload their characters for others to use or be inspired by. Characters in significant positions -- Baron Aldred's ostler, say -- could be even made semi-official.

Ah, you spotted the flaw. Somebody would actually have to do all the work. And there are always the Dragon Warriors Wiki, The Great Library of Hiabuor, The Cobwebbed Forest, and others, all with several campaigns' worth of resources free to use.

But just in case you are looking for a quick NPC, I came across a character I played briefly in Tim Harford's Legend game when Tim first came to London. (That was just before we began the still-running Iron Men campaign mentioned from time to time on this blog.) Valentine of Braying Cross was the loyal servant Sir Eustace, a vassal of Lord Montombre, so he could make a useful and dangerous foe. Incidentally, he's a 100-point character under GURPS 3e rules, which is what we played back then. I wonder what he'd look like in D&D 5th edition?

Brother Valentine

Valentine was born 964 AS, the younger son of Constantine, esquire of the parish of Braying Cross. He was entered at the Monastery of St Apollonius at the age of seven. At twelve he was abducted by slavers from Outer Thuland, where he spent the next four years until he was helped to escape by a wandering friar of the Frestonian Order. Valentine by now had an abiding dislike of heathens and wished to join the Knights Capellars, but was excluded by reason of birth and therefore entered the Frestonian Order instead.

After four years as a wandering friar he began to come to the notice of Montombre's men. At first they dismissed the over-earnest youth but gradually they came to respect his determination and iron-hard faith. Friars had by now come into fashion as confessors because the harsh rules they lived by gave them a greater air of piety than any rich priest could muster. Valentine became Sir Eustace's confessor and clerk, and gradually took on other duties as well. He relishes the insulting names his enemies know him by. Regarding himself as Sir Eustace's "sin eater", he takes all the old man's unsavoury tasks onto his own shoulders -- interrogating spies with icy efficiency, alert to heresy among his master's entourage, sniffing out malcontents in the town gutters and doing what is needful.

Valentine's learned skills fall into three categories: the academic studies of his youth, the physical abilities gained in service to Lord Egil of Thuland, and the talents he has taught himself in order to better serve Sir Eustace, Earl Montombre and the Church.

He is tall and somewhat lanky with honey-coloured hair and blue-grey eyes. He might appear handsome but for his zealous scowl and unrelenting stare. His humour is liable to be bleak. He smiles most readily when in a position to do harm to an unrepentant foe.

His vows, in common with all the Orders of friar, constrain him to poverty, chastity and obedience. He can personally own only his clothing, religious accoutrements and (if need be) a humble place of abode. His arms and armour he holds from his lord and has no private title to them. He uses only such money as is entrusted to him for specific purposes, since as a friar he can always secure a simple meal and a place to sleep in return for a blessing. His chastity was once sorely tested by a succubus that visited him in the wildwood. He repulsed it after a dire struggle and thereafter sealed himself in his cell for forty days and nights, fasting until he gained renewed strength to resist such evil. This is the source of his resistance to magic. The vow of obedience means that he must do whatever is required of him by the lawfully appointed officials of the Faith and (more importantly, perhaps, to Valentine) by his temporal lord, Montombre.

Valentine has one redeeming quality. He is fond of animals (especially cats) perhaps because they, unlike man, are a part of God's design untouched by sin. He has a quotation from the Scriptures that he likes to recite when he's about to mete out justice:

"For thus saith the Lord God: Because thou hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with thy feet, and rejoiced with all thy despite against the land of believers; behold, therefore I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries; I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord."

And while we're talking about Legend, don't miss the latest fine offerings from Red Ruin Publishing, a couple of Dragon Warriors gamebooks: Green Water, Crimson Stag and Meryon Woods -- both free on DriveThruRPG. And if those whet your appetite for DW solo adventures, you'll want to grab Village of the Damned and The Village of Frogton too.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Move over MCU

This will send a tingle up your spine. It's the dramatic trailer video for the launch of the Blood Sword 5e Kickstarter, which goes live tomorrow. There's going to be a live interview with the team at 17:00 CET and I plan to jump in on that. Those images really convey the sense of doom you should feel as you approach the shores of Wyrd -- and there's even a glimpse of a faltyn. Don't miss out!

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The acute, persistent, unquenchable craving to know

This might just be my favourite of the H P Lovecraft letters read on the Voluminous podcast. HPL shows how it's possible to hold very different opinions from someone else and still remain friends (we shouldn't need to be reminded of that) while having a robust argument with them (we all ought to be taught that).

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Everything must go

It's always a wrench having to chuck stuff out. Well, it is for me as I'm a bit of a hoarder. But lately I've had to take an "exterminate all the brutes" attitude to clearing out, so I've given a couple of boxes of gaming treasures to my wife to flog on Ebay. It's that or take them to the tip, and with classics like these that would be a crime. 

There's sets of Imagine, Adventurer, Red Giant (with Brymstone by Robert Dale), and Fantasy Chronicles - including the issue above with Steve Foster's superb Christmas adventure which I still remember us playing in his house on Western Lane.

There are some scenario books, Chaosium games such as Big Rubble, gems like Bushido and Champions, and some figurines. Take a look if you have space for them. I'd like to think they'll go to a good home.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Hard-as-nails heroes wanted

New news about Blood Sword 5e, the D&D-style RPG version of the Blood Sword gamebook saga. I've just been looking at the Quickstart and it's pretty impressive how this project is shaping up. The team is doing a stunning job, the chosen artists are top-notch and their styles mesh well with Russ' original illustrations. The 5e rules developed for the setting balance perfectly the Old School flavour of the series with a more fresh and modern RPG system, and as for the adventure -- well, I was expecting a simple adaptation or a sort of remake, and it would have been fine, but the authors have gone a lot further. “The Cursed Temple” isn't just a prequel of The Battlepits of Krarth, it rivisits the setting entirely with a brand-new plot and a truly grim, anti-heroic spirit that powerfully emerges from the story and from the characters' backgrounds. If you're into D&D-style roleplaying (90% of the gaming community these days) I think you're going to love it. 

The Quickstart is free with subscription to the project newsletter. You can also try it this weekend on Discord -- the one-shots are free to play (though with limited slots, so it's first-come, first-served) and you can also invite your friends. For once I'm leaving comments on to get your feedback. 

Friday, 4 June 2021

Try harder, Trekkers

Looking back from a quarter century on, it's hard to believe I cared that much. I'd just seen Star Trek Generations and I decided to tell Rick Berman what was wrong with it. Audacious, you might think. Pompous, even. But I stand by what I said then. If they didn't want constructive criticism, they could have written a better script. If any reader of Mirabilis has a bone to pick with me about mistakes in the story, I'll listen.

And I was aiming to help. They wanted to write a story of tragic sacrifice, but all they'd done was describe a high-stakes gamble that didn't pan out. The climax wasn't "a far, far better thing"; it was just "oops!" The letter went on:
"Mr Zimmerman is right. Heroic figures like Kirk and Spock have so often been seen to take extreme life-threatening risks that the only way to have them die in a way that works in narrative terms is when they are faced with certain death. When Spock died in The Wrath of Khan he knew in advance that his action would be fatal. But that wasn't the case with Kirk's death. Scrambling about on the collapsing bridge is the kind of thing he's done hundreds of times before. He knew he was taking a risk, but at no point did we actually get to see him make that crucial decision to sacrifice himself. In real life you could say that this turned out to be the one time his luck ran out, but the rules of real life aren't after all the rules of fiction.

"In this sense I believe Kirk's death was wasted. Obviously it is time to move on with the Trek movies now, but when a character like Kirk has been built up to such a genuinely mythic level the way he leaves life should be on a par with the way he's lived it -- full of sound and fury, and signifying a very great deal.

"This touches on a secondary problem I think you could have with subsequent Trek movies. You have a large cast there, and the awkward subplot with Data showed that it is not so easy to give time to every character and still maintain the narrative momentum demanded by a feature film. People aren't going to come into the theatres every two years to see the latest developments in an outer-space soap, and the more cerebral and complex character-based issues for which the TV series is justly famous are too subtle to carry an action movie. The best Trek films haven't just been TV episodes on a bigger screen, but stories with a big canvas and big ideas to fit.

"Mumon said, 'Do not shoot another's bow, do not ride another's horse, do not criticize another's work.' My suggestions are meant as constructive ones and I hope they don't give the impression that the movie as a whole wasn't good. It's just that I think it could have been great."
I even went so far as to enclose a five-page treatment for a follow-on Trek movie, in which the bad guys were the Yu, a neotic offshoot of humanity in the far future. Earth is now known as Terra, feared throughout the galaxy as the nerve centre of a ruthless empire. I described our time-travelling heroes' first glimpse of what was once their homeworld:
"Terra is not the blue jewel that it was in their own time, but a sinister shadow against the heavens, mustard yellow with pollution and crisscrossed by myriad lights marking out vast continent-spanning metropolises. A grim testament to the Yu's implacable totalitarian society."
A year and a half later, Star Trek First Contact came out. This time I realized the futility of firing off a letter about the flaws in the story. It would have had to be a much longer letter anyway. But there was one bit in the movie that got my seal of approval... No blue jewel, this.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

The Fabled Lands CRPG is now in early access

Do I need to say it twice? Get it on Steam, FL fans.

The early access edition features all character professions, the only limitation being that your adventures are restricted to two regions: the kingdom of Sokara and the the Great Steppes of the North. That's about twelve hours of content for a successful start-to-end playthrough that unlocks all forty game objectives.

All of the game's core features are integrated: exploration, combat, items, sailing, active and passive skills, resurrection deals, blessings, potions, tutorials, everything you might want. And the full version will open out to include Golnir and Uttaku, ie all the regions of the northern continent. And later expansions should extend across the Violet Ocean to Akatsurai, Ankon-Konu, and even those regions yet to be covered by the books.

Victor Atanasov and his team at Prime Games have done an amazing job, and they're just getting warmed up. Still need convincing? There's a playthrough by the utterly compelling master of stories Guy Sclanders here. Beats a box set of Marvel TV shows in my book. Better acting, too.