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Thursday, 11 March 2021

A visit to the real Legend

“It has become something of a dare for the children of Banlet to walk widdershins around the tomb thirteen times before inserting a finger into the keyhole of the wooden door. The challenge being to leave their finger in for the longest time at risk of the dead man gnawing at the tip.”

What’s the difference between Dungeons & Dragons and Dragon Warriors? No doubt whatever curve we draw around the two there will be outliers, but on the whole D&D seems to like world-shattering plots that, if you put them on screen, would involve a couple of hundred CGI experts. Dragon Warriors is much closer to ‘the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush,’ as one of our greatest novelists put it.

In one of our recent campaigns designed for playtesting the Jewelspider rules, Oliver Johnson ran a scenario in which we were able to give a cow to a farmer who had had his livelihood destroyed by rustlers. There was also a plot about finding a bottle of ‘the perfume of Heaven’ to deal with a prophecy about the end of the world, but I can’t even remember that. Real emotion is saving a few people you’ve actually met, not the millions you haven't. That’s why The Seventh Seal is still one of the best Dragon Warriors films.

In a typical D&D campaign, that perfume of Heaven would be a magic item – in effect a bit of tech – to be used as part of a CRPG-style solution, ie matching the item to the problem. In Dragon Warriors it matters that it’s holy. The cultural and theological aspects far outweigh the practical. You won’t catch Legend players saying something like, ‘Give the perfume of Heaven to the warlock because he stands at the back, so he can throw it on the monster while we hold it off.’ You wouldn’t think of a relic as a tool to help you in a fight. You wouldn’t think of tactics as something that trumps the social order. For that matter you wouldn’t even voluntarily associate with a known warlock.

But, of course, he or she may not know they’re a warlock. That’s why I particularly like Nigel Ward’s adventure of two monks in the new Red Ruin chapbook. These two fellows are not the usual cosplayers who inhabit many fantasy campaigns. They are thoroughly part of their world and they perceive everything, including their own abilities, in that light. The adventure is also a perfect example of why Miss Austen was right about the two inches of ivory, and why Michael Fane in Compton Mackenzie’s Sinister Street has a far more magical, marvellous and heart-stoppingly menacing childhood than J K Rowling was able to dream up for Harry Potter. Less is more, and “The Wickedest Man in Banlet” delivers in shudders, thrills and authentic triumph in a way that no we’re-off-to-save-the-world-again epic ever could.

You can pick up The Adventures of Cedric & Fulk free here with several of the best Legend scenarios you'll get at that or any price this year.

Other news. Here’s an interview with Joël Mallet, who has been translating the Fabled Lands books into French for Alkonost. Segueing from that, Alkonost are in talks with Mark Smith to publish his Virtual Reality books Green Blood and Coils of Hate and maybe the never-seen-before Mask of Death.

On the subject of death and cemeteries, if you enjoy the creepy frisson of a visit to Sir Rickard’s graveside then take a look at Jack Cooke’s The End of the Road, in which he drives around Britain in an old hearse in search of storied tombs.

And I’d better not let a mention of books pass without adding that my wife’s new novel Ever Rest is now available for pre-order. I’ll tell you how it came about. It’s loosely based on a short story Roz wrote twenty years ago, which in turn was based on an anecdote my school’s assistant headmaster, Mr Bishop, told me fifty years ago. He was climbing in the Alps and a body was brought in that had been carried down the mountain in a glacier. The body was a little battered but still recognizably a young man. An old woman came and kissed the body, and somebody said that she had been engaged to the man fifty years earlier when he fell off the mountain. Given that Mr Bishop was in his late sixties when he told us that (he came out of retirement to help the school out) the incident probably happened in the 1930s, meaning that the man fell into the glacier in the early 1880s. So Ever Rest really has been a tale one hundred and forty years in the making. Give or take.

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