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Wednesday 30 November 2011

Dirty linen

In the spirit of intrepid explorers from Lewis and Clark to Henry Morton Stanley, lately I’ve been delving into that most alarming and hard-to-penetrate of realms, the past. And, sparing no blushes, I’ve unearthed this fragment from the back of my first published work, Mortal Combat, written with Steve Foster and published by Waynflete House, the company I set up with Nick Henfrey in 1979.

The Crypt of Lieberkuen really is a “dungeon bash” of the crudest sort. As my own games almost never involve dungeons, and certainly never of the random monsters-n-puzzles variety, it’s a little surprising to find something like this even among my juvenilia. I think the explanation must be along these lines:
Nick: “You’ll have to put in an adventure. People expect it these days in a new role-playing game.”
Dave: “That’s a whole other book. I’d have to explain the background, the politics, all that stuff.”
Nick: “Seeing as it goes to the printers next week, can’t you just do an underworld? You know, like the scenarios in White Dwarf.”
Dave: [sighs, grumbles, starts typing]
The scenario, such as it is, might best be consigned to the flames, but for a couple of points of mild interest. Anvil, the wizard mentioned here, was the character played by Mark “Min” Smith (below, looking ridiculously young) in my and Steve’s Empire of the Petal Throne campaign. The inspiration (if we can use that term) for the name came from the crypts of Lieberkühn, another name for certain intestinal glands. And – but no, that’s all.

Mortal Combat itself was an excellent game (largely the work of Steve Foster, not me) and it brought us to the attention of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson at Games Workshop, who commissioned us to design an RPG called Adventure. So I was about to say there’s the silver lining, but come to think of it, we were never paid a penny and, just as Adventure was finished, GW got the UK RuneQuest licence so they didn’t need a role-playing game of their own. So let’s put this back in its box and never mention it again. I can only plead in my defence, M'lud, that I atoned for these early sins against creativity six years later by designing Dragon Warriors.

If you are looking for a good dungeon-type adventure, let me refer you back one year to Steve Foster's superb seasonal Legend scenario "Freeze Thy Blood Less Coldly". Yes, it's that time of the year again - nearly. Yo ho argh.
THE CRYPT OF LIEBERKUEN (scenario for Mortal Combat)

Background notes on the adventure:

While drinking in a tavern, the players learn of the knight Lieberkuen, an honourable & powerful nobleman who died a hundred years ago and whose wife, Karen (a great sorceress) had built for him a grand tomb with many treasures. She also stocked it with magical guardians of various kinds, to test the mettle and ingenuity of any trying to infiltrate the tomb.

Upon travelling to the tomb (a burial mound out on the moors), they discover the entrance and steps leading down deep into the ground...

Note that in a ten foot wide passageway, characters can fight two abreast, but greater crowding than this makes combat very difficult. Magicians casting spells can stand three abreast. A torch or lantern is needed per group of four people exploring unlit places. Torches burn for one hour; lanterns require refuelling. Torchlight has a range of no more than thirty feet, and counts as "poor light" for missile use (Section 3.093). Doors are usually five feet wide and made of wood banded with metal, or sometimes wholly of metal. If bolted or barred, they may take several kicks to break in (or even several axe-blows), and this alerts beings in the room beyond. Remember to take such things as the position of open doors, direction of spiral stairways, etc, into account during combat. During exploration of some fortress or tomb-complex, characters are assumed to move cautiously, and hence movement is reduced by 25 percent.

1. A stone blocking passage. Will take three men with picks an hour to break it up, assuming average strength. However, if players think to look, they will find a hidden lever which raises it into the tunnel roof.

2. Empty room lit by magical braziers which burn continually; if touched, the braziers flare up to attack the person doing this (treat as Flaming Hand spell). On the wall is this inscription:

The Crypt of Lieberkuen. Take both doors or neither.

Remember that only characters of Learning greater than 12 can read.

3. A Grave Gaunt. If the players get the significance of the inscription in room 2, they will split the party and the others will go around to attack the creature from behind. The Grave Gaunt is using a magic sword (+1).

4. Room with marble floor and velvet tapestries along the east and west walls. The room is lit by torches on the walls. At the table in the middle sits an old man flanked by two warriors. (The old man is A 0, D 0; 7 hp; 1st rank fighter-equivalent; no armour or weapons. The warriors are A 5, D 8; 12 hp; 1st rank fighters; chain-mail, shields, swords.)

The old man says to the characters: "If you wish to gamble, you may. Otherwise leave." He takes out three cups and a gem of obvious value, and places the gem under one of the cups. Those players not wishing to gamble may go through the south door. Although he has no real powers, the old man has an aura of tremendous power and authority.

He explains the deal. He will move the cups around. If the players can guess which cup the gem is under, they get it (it's worth 200 crowns); if not, he takes an item from them – probably a weapon. He will use sleight-of-hand to cheat, and only players of intelligence 15 up will spot this. (They can always attack him, of course. If willing to gamble at all, why not gamble on him being powerless?)

5. The old man's treasure-room (entrance hidden behind tapestries). Contains: 45 crowns, 200 florins, 3 nonmagical shortswords, a flask containing one draught of the Elixir of Bramullin, and an Amulet of Fidelity disguised to look like a Talisman of Norfengu - anyone putting it on after the death of the old man (the owner) will be both the new owner and the victim of the amulet, and thus will be reduced to a mindless automaton until the amulet is removed.

6. Room with three doors, of (looking from east to west) gold, silver and lead. Before the doors floats a ghostly figure which says: "There is a statement on each door, but only one is correct. One at a time, you must choose which door to go through."

The Ghost was a rank 7 fighter in life (A 10, D 12; 14 hp; sword), and if the players try to confer, it will first caution them, and then attack.

The inscriptions are:

GOLD door-- Your goal lies through this door.
SILVER door--Your goal does not lie through this door
LEAD door-- Your goal does not lie beyond the gold door

The Ghost will read these aloud for illiterate characters. The players should pass thru the central, silver door; the others each lead to a Gorgon!

7. Here the players will meet the magician Anvil, coming from the west tunnel. He is short (5' 2" tall) and powerfully built (Strength 19: damage bonus of +6), of 8th rank with A 13, D 13; 17 health points; chainmail, great helm, morning star, crossbow. He has Reaction Speed 15, Intelligence 13, Talent 15; 82 spellpoints; +2 on Physical and Evasion Saving Throws. He wears robes of black velvet, his helmet is silvered, and he has a potion (Essence of Air) in a flask at his belt. He will join a party rather than attack, but he is an untrustworthy ally and may turn on them later.

8. Empty room, except for the body of a goblin which burrowed in from elsewhere and was slain by Anvil.

9. An altar to the patron god (actually a minor demon) of the tomb, covered with treasure. There are 100 crowns, 300 florins, 2 gems, 6 items of jewellery and a scroll of type 6. If any of this is touched, the two giant urns (in the north-west and south-west corners, on either side of the door) burst open and a Revenant (fighter variety) steps from each. They will attack any attempting to steal the treasure.

10. At this intersection, a single torch burns in a bracket on the wall. By it lie 3 dead men, slain by arrows. (See 11.)

11. A party of two bowmen. They have left the torch at the intersection (10) and wait until characters step into the passageway to begin shooting. Since they have no lighted torches with them, return shots are unlikely to hit. Note that the range of torchlight is thirty feet, and they will wait until the players are this far from the torch on the wall before they begin to shoot. (The intelligent thing for the players to do, of course, is remove the torch from the bracket and take it with them.)

The bowmen are 3rd rank; A 7, D 7; 13 health points; hardened leather armour, long bows, swords, shields. One is a sorcerer (Intelligence 16; 15 spellpoints).

12. An iron key, suspended by three thin cords, hangs from the ceiling of this chamber. The key cannot be reached directly, as a sheet of unbreakable glass is interposed just above head height. The cords pass through hooks on the ceiling and down through tiny holes in the glass to empty suits of armour (in the north, south-west and south-east), to which they are tied. The key hangs above another hole, centrally located and just large enough for it to fall through. The locked door in the south has a prominent keyhole.

If an attempt is made to synchronize the cutting of the cords – which are quite thin – it will fail, and the key will swing to one side and fall onto the glass. The best course of action is to untie the cords and steadily lower the key through the hole.

13. The Crypt of Lieberkuen. In an open sarcophagus lies the remarkably well-preserved body of the knight Lieberkuen. He appears to be asleep rather than dead, but his heart is not beating and his body is cold. He wears full battle regalia: chainmail armour (including chainmail helmet) with white surcoat, and magical shield and sword (both +1). Over his form lies a white shroud with runes sewn into it in gold thread.

Anyone donning the shroud will begin to sink into the floor at the rate of three feet per round. If an attempt is made to grab him, he will be found to be intangible. If he removes the shroud, he will solidify in the floor and die. He will continue to sink down for a minute (thirty feet), and then emerge into a second chamber below the first, whereupon he may safely remove the shroud. (Note that the others will remain unaware of what is befalling him; the umpire should send them into another room while he explains the following to the player concerned.)

The chamber in which the player finds himself is unlit. Wan light can be seen from a tunnel to the south. If he follows this, the player will come to another room, where a ghost with the appearance of Lieberkuen confronts him, saying, "You show a bravery I admire, and I reward you with the gift of my earthly prison. Throw yourself into yon pool; no harm will befall you."

If the player jumps into the pool that the ghost indicates, he will find his soul transferred to Lieberkuen's body in the crypt above. He retains his own Reaction Speed, Intelligence, Learning and Talent; but his other characteristics become those of Lieberkuen's body: Strength, Constitution and Looks of 18 (health points thus 27) and all other characteristics of 14.

The other players should be called back in at this point and told that the body is climbing from its sarcophagus. However, it will take 1-3 rounds for the player who has undergone the metempsychosis to gain sufficient control of his new body to speak. If the players panic, they may attack and kill him before he can tell them of their mistake! (If the player concerned is wise, he will lie motionless in the sarcophagus at first, so as not to surprise his companions into such rash action. Note that if the players destroyed Lieberkuen's body before the soul transfer, then the unfortunate fellow who donned the shroud can only appeal to the Gods for help.)

Friday 25 November 2011

A-hunting we will go

Back around the start of the year, we ran the news that the Dragon Warriors licence has been picked up by Serpent King Games. If you're a Legend fan, you've no doubt been waiting impatiently for more DW books and, although it all seemed to have gone quiet for a while, I can assure you that the SKG team have been smelting up a smokin' hoard of real Nibelung gold, metaphorically speaking, in the form of an all-new and frankly rather sensational DW Players Book.

The Players Book isn't quite ready for release, but SKG this week offered a little taste in the form of the new Hunter character class, which you can download from their site. He (or she) is a little bit Hooded Man, a little bit Nasir, a little bit Strider and a dash of Legolas too:
All cultures of Legend have Hunters of one sort another. Whether authorized by law, or working as poachers, Hunters stalk the wilderness for sustenance. The wild places of the world are their homes, whether forest, mountain, desert, tundra or any other climate. The Hunter excels at not only surviving in such inhospitable terrain, but in using the terrain itself as a weapon. Most Hunters are content to eke out a living for themselves, their family, or their community. Other Hunters find themselves in the employ of local lords, keeping their domains safe from poachers and assassins. Still others become thrall to the lure of adventure, using their skills for personal gain with a group of roaming vagabonds. Hunters may be found throughout the lands of Legend, even at the highest levels of society. While many nobles are trained as Knights, others excel in the skills of the hunt.
Hunters get tracking and special bow techniques, as well as stealth, traps, sneak attacks, and mastery of terrain. And at higher levels they can whip up a bunch of arrows that Hawkeye would envy. They'll make for interesting PCs and the write-up shows how SKG are fleshing out the reality of Legend with a whole range of new professions and skills that will all be there in the Players Book. Not too long now, hopefully.

Sunday 20 November 2011

A minotaur ate my saveloy

While setting up the Binscombe Tales books for Spark Furnace (Fabled Lands LLP's book imprint) I hatched a plan to turn my Royal Mythological Society stories into a little paperback using the same print-on-demand company, Lightning Source.

"What a perfect stocking filler for Christmas," said a voice on one shoulder. I've always been a bit hard of hearing on the nay-saying side, so I didn't catch what objection the other shoulder might raise. Hence the book is out this month on Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK and the Book Depository. The stocking itself is optional, but if you know anyone who likes fantasy/SF with a whimsical flavour, it's the perfect gift. Of course, I would say that.

Jamie has written a few RMS stories himself. Well, he's written the first part (that is, the letter which introduces each of the yarns) and when I get to rounding those off with Dr Clattercut's and Prof Bromfield's replies, I'll put them in the next edition. Here's a nice one of Jamie's that I'd completely forgotten about until he reminded me - a snippet with a pleasingly Dirk-like tone:
Effendis, peace be upon you,

Greetings from Ottoman Syria. I am privileged and honoured to have been made a minister by the Regency Council and put in charge of many building projects.

Recently, whilst digging the foundations of a new underground sewer system one of my workmen uncovered a curious copper jar, the lid of which appeared to be a complex clay seal. Being only an ignorant unlettered peasant, the unworthy workmen thought to open the jar, no doubt hoping to uncover gold or gems or some other great treasure but as soon as he picked it up the jar emitted a terrifying shriek. The poor workman fell dead instantly at the sound. Since then, I have taken charge of the jar. Our wisemen, scholars and philosophers are examining it. Some say the clay stopper is one of the Seals of Solomon, used to imprison demons and suchlike and must not be opened. Others say a djinn lies trapped inside. Free it and it will grant me three wishes. Still others say it is just an old jar from the days of the 9th century Caliph, Haroun al Rashid and should be put in a museum and treated like any other archaelogical find, and that the workman just happened to suffer a heart attack co-incidentally. What do you think?

Ibrahim Ismail Pasha
Public Works

The above letter is followed a few days later by this:


There is no need to continue with your investigations into the copper jar. The seal is broken. And... I AM FREE! FREE AT LAST AFTER ELEVEN HUNDRED AND ELEVEN YEARS!!!! Nor need Ibrahim Pasha trouble your thoughts anymore. He will not be replying to any correspondence in the near future. It is hard to write a letter from the inside of a small copper jar after all. And I should know, let me tell you!

Zalam the Afrit

P.S. Your Society is of interest to me. It may be that I shall come and pay you a visit.
That's one of Jamie's pastiches, but you can also read some of the pieces that are in the actual book if you've a yen to. Previously in these pages we've told the story of how Dr Clattercut was kicked while collecting trilobytes, how a ship's captain found an Atlantean relic, how Merlin is modernizing the sleeping knights, a horticultural example of the pathetic fallacy in action, a cautionary tale not to treat unicorns as cuddly, the political manifesto of a Martian warlord, and a curious incident involving two disembodied feet. So all that should tell you if A Minotaur at the Savoy is your cup of tea, eh what?

Tuesday 15 November 2011

A dream to some, a Knightmare to others

Tim Child was a visionary. That’s not unknown among television producers, but what strikes me as rarer is that he was – and is – an innovator. And one with some powers of persuasion, to boot, because he somehow talked the powers that be at Anglia TV into letting him put out a Dungeons-&-Dragons inspired game show in the prime kids’ teatime slot. And it ran for eight seasons. That was Knightmare.

I wasn’t involved in the TV production, but I always enjoyed meeting Tim and taking a look around the studios. I’d been called in to polish a novel of his designed to add backstory to the show. I ended up rewriting quite a bit, though most of the ideas were Tim’s. The only problem, really, was that he’d written it like a TV script, with lots of cross-cutting between scenes that prose doesn’t handle well.

As well as the novel, I added a 105-section gamebook-style adventure. Each year after that, Tim and Transworld (the publishers) came back and got me to do another. From now on I was left entirely to my own devices as regards both the novel and the gamebook part, so I guess they trusted me. All the editors ever asked to know in advance was the title for each book. That's a great way for an author to work!

The first few were drawn from my Dragon Warriors adventures in large part, though relocated in early 13th century Europe. In The Labyrinths of Fear, the hero Treguard got embroiled in a tourney, lost in the wildwood, and encountered the king of the elves – who was freakin’ terrifying, let me tell you. There's a funny story about that and recreational drugs that - hmm, no, better keep it to myself. I didn't inhale, let's leave it at that.

In Fortress of Assassins, which I co-wrote with Oliver Johnson, Treguard went looking for the lost heir of Richard the Lionheart. And his fourth and last outing in an historical adventure setting was The Sorcerer’s Isle, wherein he faced a quest for the Grail in the company of a resurrected Sir Lancelot. Maybe the Grail, maybe Lancelot... you'll get no spoilers here, not even two decades on.

After that the publishers asked me to take the books younger, which meant giving Treguard a back seat, moving the action to present day, and making the protagonists kids. Despite what you may think, The Forbidden Gate was my favorite in the series. I felt I channeled a little bit of Alan Garner and a dash of John Masefield. Enough to satisfy me, anyway. And David Learner, one of the actors on the show, turned it into a stage play. The children who came to see it will be in their thirties now. And that’s scarier than anything in the Knightmare dungeon.

I can give you only this little taste, which comes from Fortress of Assassins. Copyright in the text (both novels and gamebook sections) is not mine but resides with the publishers and Tim Child, so if you find any ripped PDFs online better keep quiet about them ;-)

Tim Child’s daughter once suggested publishing an omnibus volume collecting all the stories together, but nothing ever came of that – and, now that the show is receding into the mists of time, I doubt it ever will. A Kindle edition might be feasible, but you’d have to write to Transworld about that.
The Syrian Desert, AD 1212

The caravan hurrying through the low dunes was not the usual assortment of merchants and pilgrims journeying between Hamadan and Aleppo. For one thing, there were but six people in the entourage and only eight camels – a far smaller party than would usually brave the threatening wastes of the desert, infested as it was with brigands and predatory animals. And it seemed that the party was trying to he as inconspicuous as possible. There were none of the usual gay trappings of bells and colored tassels hanging from the camels' saddles. The bales of silk and silver that they had borne from Hamadan were swathed in a dull, dun-colored cloth. So also were the merchants themselves, as though they preferred to blend against the background of rolling dunes all about them.

The caravan was in a hurry – that much could be seen from the sand kicked up in their wake and the sweat-streaked, dusty faces of the men. At intervals two of the men would stop to cast anxious glances back in the direction they had come. The scene behind them was one to frighten the most hardened of desert travelers: a purple-black cloud, spinning dust devils marking its inexorable progress over the yellow dunes, was bearing down on them from the east. This would have been cause enough for alarm – caravans much larger than this one had been lost forever in such a sandstorm – but it was not the impending storm that filled the men's hearts with dread.

The two who kept stopping to look back were brothers, merchants of Venice – by the look of them too elderly and comfortable to undertake such a journey unless it promised great rewards. Their guards, grim-faced Frankish veterans, were armed with winch crossbows and swords of tempered Toledo steel. They walked with blades bared, anticipating danger.

Over the course of the day, first one and then the others had thought to see a black-garbed figure walking steadfastly in pursuit of them on the very fringe of the dust storm. It had seemed like some unstoppable creature out of Hell. Now, as the sun sank lower in the sky, the shadows at the centre of the storm grew more impenetrable and wind whipped at their cloaks. The storm was upon them.

'Santino,' cried one of the merchants in a voice edged with fear, 'we must abandon it! What are two hundred ducats compared to our lives?'

'Have you so readily forgotten the precepts of our father?' the other jeered back at him, fearless and indomitable where his brother trembled with fear. 'Never surrender what is rightfully yours – those were his words, Giacommo. Even in these heathen lands, the law of possession must hold. I paid a fair price for the thing and it is ours.'

Just as these words were out of his mouth, a searing blast of hot air struck them as if a furnace door had opened in the east. A wall of stinging sand flew into their faces. They hunched down and struggled through the cauldron of dust towards the fast-disappearing rumps of the camels.

'Close up!' the elder brother, Santino, yelled to their guards. Faint answering cries came back to them through the howling storm. Presently they saw three of the guards urging the camels back against the brutal strength of the wind. Of the fourth guard there was no sign.

'By San Rocco, where's Barthelemeo?' hollered one of the guards. 'He'll be lost – we must follow him! Barthelemeo!'

'Don't be a fool. It would be the end for us all if we did that.' Santino, was still ice cool despite the danger.

A faint answering cry came out of the swirling dust ahead. Before the others could stop him, the man who had called out blundered off into the storm, his cloak snapping about him until he was lost to view. A heart-stopping scream followed a few seconds later. The remaining four stood transfixed, nerveless hands clutching at their weapons. They backed away together, their eyes desperately seeking for signs of attack.

'Over there!' another guard screamed. They all whirled to face in the direction of his shaking crossbow. A shadowy form was materializing with faltering steps out of the storm. It was Barthelemeo, the hood of his desert cloak swept back so they could recognize his ashen face. A gush of bright blood covered the front of his chest, and a bubble of it formed on his lips as he tried to speak. No sound came above the shriek of the wind. Instead he pitched forward at their feet. Now they could see that the man's throat had been cut from ear to ear. He was still trying to say something. The younger of the brothers leaned down. He could just make out what Barthelemeo was saying: 'Master, beware… he is like the desert wind… I never saw him.' The guard twitched once, then lay still.

Giacommo got to his feet hastily. Just as he did, another of the guards gave a cry, his crossbow discharging harmlessly into the air. A jagged black throwing knife protruded from his neck, just under the ear. Even before his dead body pitched forward into the sand, Santino had drawn his sword and launched himself in the direction of the attack.

It was his last living action. As if wielded by an invisible attacker, a scimitar flashed out of the stinging wall of sand, severing his head from his body with one blow. Giacommo stood transfixed as the head rolled across the sand towards him, leaving a crescent-shaped trail of blood behind it. It came to rest against his foot. Santino's eyes stared up at him with the same cold imperious glare they had possessed in life. Giacommo slowly dragged his gaze up from his brother's head, his sword dangling uselessly by his side. He was not surprised to see that, somehow, the fourth of their guards had now joined the others in death. He had not even seen the blow that had opened up his rib cage so neatly that his vital organs had fallen to the ground between his feet. Giacommo heard a whimper of fear; it came from his own throat.

Suddenly the wind dropped, leaving a hollow silence. The swirling dust clouds drove off to the west in the direction of the setting sun, casting an eerie purple shadow over the scene of carnage. Giacommo hardly noticed the storm's passing. All his attention was focused on the figure who stood in front of him — a tall warrior clad from head to foot in the black robes of the Hashishin - the Assassins. The scimitar that had beheaded Santino still swung from one hand, its sharp blade caked with dust and blood.

`Saints . . .' moaned Giacommo. His hand brought his sword up in a hopeless gesture, but he lowered it again under the scrutiny of the assassin's eyes. Partially veiled by the swathes of the burnoose, they were of the deepest blue that Giacommo had ever seen; even the waters of the Venetian lagoon could not compare to their oceanic depths. In the face of that cold gaze, his resolve melted. The sword fell from his fingers and he sank to his knees on the sand.

He sensed the black-clad figure walking closer… and past him. Giacommo stared up, slack-jawed. He had expected to die. The figure stood silhouetted against the sullen glow of the sun as it sank beyond the westward-driving storm. With superhuman strength, the assassin flung aside the boxes and saddle-bags that had been slung over the camels. With a savage downward sweep of the scimitar, the brass binding of a chest was smashed open and delicately embroidered Chinese silks spilt out. These the assassin tossed into the evening breeze like so many worthless rags.

Giacommo knew what it was that the stranger sought. 'There,' he pleaded, pointing to one of the camels. 'Take it; only let me live.'

Striding over to the bundle he had indicated, the assassin tore it down and unfurled the cloth wrapping. A sword lay revealed – a sword whose blade shone with the white light of heaven. A black-gloved hand reverently took up the sword and raised it aloft, holding its hilt up to the sunset. For the last time, Giacommo saw the delicately worked hilt: a lion's head of gold with two amethysts for eyes. They blazed as if on fire in the orange glow.

At last the assassin uttered a sound. It was a feral cry that rang out across the sands like the call of a jackal. Then, uttering a low laugh of triumph, the assassin pulled aside the black veil. As Giacommo slipped into grateful unconsciousness, the sight of the assassin's face lingered in his mind like a brand that had been burned on to his eyes. He would remember that face to his dying day.

The assassin was a woman...

Thursday 10 November 2011

Out in the dark there burns a dream

There isn't nearly enough seafaring in fantasy RPGs and gamebooks, considering that tales of intrepid mariners facing a rapid succession of weird and wondrous adventures has been a staple of storytelling since Homer first banged his stick on the floor and told everybody to draw up a chair. Conan and Elric have done their share of nautical adventuring, following in the footsteps - well, the foamy wake - of Sindbad and Ulysses, and we have our modern equivalents in the voyages of the Enterprise, the Marathon and Farscape's Moya.

All of which is mere preamble to the main purpose of this post, which is to give a yo-ho hearty shout-out to Andrew Wright, whose gamebook adventure Sea of Madness just won the 2011 Windhammer Prize. He needs no introduction around these parts, of course, as he is editorial consultant on the Fabled Lands RPG, runs an excellent blog Fantasy Gamebook, and is author of Tin Man Games's Catacombs of the Undercity. Nobody could have deserved the prize more. Well done, Andy!

With its wide-ranging sandboxy structure, Sea of Madness is sure to appeal to Fabled Lands players and you can download it here. And, if your ears can stand it, here's the theme tune. Also be sure to take a look at previous Windhammer winners, including The Bone Dogs by Per Jorner, Al Sander's Raid on Château Fekenstein, and Stuart Lloyd's Sharkbait's Revenge - the last of which offers up lashings of piratical adventure on the high seas, bringing us full circle.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Blood, fire and iron

Alan Craddock is nowadays probably best known for his amazing coloring work on the Doctor Who comic, but back in the dim and distant he was famous among fantasy gamers as one of White Dwarf's top cover artists. Buxom girls in mithril thongs grappled with sweaty demons, and adolescent lads reached into their pockets every month for - no, titter ye not; for 85p, I was going to say.

Alan was Oliver's and my first and only choice to paint the covers of the Dragon Warriors paperbacks. As our customers for that series spread a little younger than the WD readership, the art director probably requested fewer girls and more clothing. The only buttocks on show, in fact, belonged to a Trojan-style warrior fighting a centaur on the cover of book 6.

Here is Alan's first pencil rough of the painting for book 1. It's on tracing paper and I can pretty much guarantee it has never been published before as I only just came across it while turning out my attic. Or cleaning the Augean stables; one of the two. You can see the Thor-style helmet there which later evolved into full-blown Asgardian costume including the upswept shoulders of the cloak.

Jon Hodgson famously revisited this idealized view to show what the real adventurers of Legend look like - hard, gritty and pragmatic. They can be heroes, but in Legend honor has to be alloyed with politics and compromise. It's not all wingèd helms and divine rewards for honest dealing. If you release the Grey Host from their oath, for example, don't expect the story to bend around and pat you on the head - not in Legend. You might simply find you've thrown away a vital weapon. It's not a fairytale world of neat moral payoffs, you see - which is the reason I still prefer it as a role-playing setting, actually, because what are courage and honor worth if you expect them to come with a lollypop?

Thursday 3 November 2011

Awesome comics

If you're into comics, let me recommend Strip Magazine, the new anthology title with stories by such comics giants as P J Holden (Judge Dredd), John McCrea (Hitman, The Boys), Michael Penick (Insurrection), John Ridgway (Age of Heroes) and many more. The comic is available both in print and on iTunes, and you can read more about it on the Mirabilis blog.