Midnight Rogue

September 17, 2014 4 comments

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Twenty-seven years after the fact, the Sidekickcast blog has published a review of my Fighting Fantasy book, Midnight Rogue. Reviewer PJ Montgomery seems to like it, although he raises a point that concerned me at the time.

Inspired by tabletop RPG supplements like Chaosium’s Thieves’ World and TSR’s Lankhmar: City of Adventure, I set out to write a city adventure for a thief character. The best-known city in the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan was Port Blacksand from Ian Livingstone’s earlier book City of Thieves, so I set my book in the same city and called it Prince of Thieves. Ian worried that this was too similar to the title of his book, so mine was changed to Midnight Rogue.

The essence of a thiefly adventure, as I saw it, was that it should involve a lot of sneaking and very little fighting. After all, the most successful thief is one who is never seen, let alone challenged. In the first draft, fighting was always the worst possible option. That didn’t go down too well with the editors at Puffin.

Their response to my first draft was an order to add a lot more combat, accompanied by a tart reminder that “it is Fighting Fantasy after all.” I thought they had missed the point, but I set about rewriting to give them what they wanted. I shortened the city part of the adventure, adding a few combats here and there, and I used the recovered space to put in a dungeon at the end, which I hoped would satisfy them.

Midnight Rogue did fairly well – as did anything that carried the Fighting Fantasy logo in those days – but it has never been regarded as one of the better FF books. Mr. Montgomery really puts his finger on the problem in his review:

“Midnight Rogue is very much a book of two halves. It’s just a shame that one of them really isn’t anywhere near as fun as the other.”

What makes me feel vindicated, after all these years, is that the part he likes is the city adventure.

“…the first half in Port Blacksand is great. Tracking down the clues that will eventually lead you to the Eye of the Basilisk is great fun, with Davis’s writing drawing real tension out of your mission. It’s great to have a proper run around in Blacksand again, as it’s a place with a lot of character. Unfortunately, once you leave Blacksand, the book becomes just another dungeon crawl, and honestly, it’s a pretty generic one at that. ”

Could I have written a better dungeon for the end of the book? Probably. As good as an Ian Livingstone masterpiece like Deathtrap Dungeon? Probably not. But even if I had, it would still have felt odd after all the sneaking about and city exploration. Looking back, I don’t think the book could ever have worked well as this odd hybrid.

Maybe it’s sour grapes. When I wrote Midnight Rogue I was also working on the early part of the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and I wasn’t in a dungeon-friendly headspace at all. Subconsciously, I was probably trying to turn Fighting Fantasy into WFRP, ignoring the fact that it was quite happy being Fighting Fantasy, thank you very much.

Still, I’m sure every writer loves to read a review that bears out everything they thought about one of their own books, both good and bad. How intelligent and insightful this reviewer is, one thinks, and fights the sudden urge to track down the editors in their comfortable retirement and wave the review in their faces, shouting “See? SEE?”

Not that it makes any difference at all after 27 years. But still.

If you are interested in finding out more about my career as a Fighting Fantasy writer, I did an extensive interview for Fighting Fantazine a few years ago. I can’t link directly to it, but issue #7 (and all the others) are free PDF downloads. If you’re a gamebook fan from the ’80s you’ll find a lot to like about this magazine, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to learn that the hobby is still going strong in various electronic formats.

Theseus and the Werewolves

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Wait, what?

It’s all right. I haven’t created a new contemporary urban fantasy franchise with sparkly Greek heroes battling emo lycanthropes in high school. But hold on while I just make a note of that….

No, this post is going to be about my next two books for Osprey Adventures. If you haven’t heard of Osprey Adventures before, the legendary military history publisher has been branching out with two new lines aimed – at least partly – at gamers and fantasy fans.

Osprey Myths and Legends does exactly what it says on the tin. This series presents the world’s greatest heroes (and monsters) in the classic Osprey format, combining well-researched text with lavish illustration and high production values. My first book in this series, Thor: Viking God of Thunder, was well received (click here for some links to reviews), so I was asked to write another – on Theseus and the Minotaur this time. It’s scheduled for release on November 18th and features some stunning color plates by Jose Pena.

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I guess I was seven or eight years old when I first discovered this tale. I had become obsessed with Greek mythology after discovering a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library and seeing a Saturday-morning rescreening of Ray Harryhausen’s 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts on TV. Over a decade later, my first game of Dungeons & Dragons featured a fatal encounter with a minotaur. Along the way, I also read about Theseus’ early adventures on the road to Athens. But when I got stuck into the research for this book, I discovered something intriguing. Well, two things, actually.

The first is that Greek myths used the comic-book technique of “retconning.” After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus began to pop up in the adventures of Hercules and various other heroes, usually in a minor role. He was one of the super-team that took part in the Hunt for the Calydonian Boar, along with his faithful sidekick Pirithous. He appears as a wise and compassionate King of Athens in the tragic tale of Oedipus. A few writers even tried to add him to Jason’s companions aboard the Argo, but some serious timeline problems prevented their attempts from sticking. He was too old for the Trojan War, but a couple of his sons were among the Greek troops in the legendary wooden horse.

The other intriguing thing is that the core of the Theseus myth looks like it could be an allegory. Theseus lived – if he lived – at a time when Athens was growing in power and throwing off Minoan and Mycenaean cultural and economic domination of the Greek mainland. It was developing its own distinctly Greek identity, which would become the template for Classical Greek culture. There is evidence for a war – or at least a raid – led by Athens in which the famous Minoan palace of Knossos was burned. And some ancient sources refer to a Cretan general with the name, or nickname, of Taurus, the Bull. Likewise, the six enemies Theseus defeated on his journey to Athens could be seen as symbols of the various independent city-states that Athens assimilated as its influence spread across Attica. There’s little if any definitive proof that the myth of Theseus is based on actual historical events, but the coincidences do seem to be telling a consistent story, and it made my dormant archaeological reflex twitch.

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The second book, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, is for the Dark Osprey line which focuses on horror and conspiracy, and follows on from earlier volumes about Zombies and Vampires. I collected werewolf legends and trial reports from across Europe and researched shapechanger myths worldwide to paint a picture of lycanthropy that expands upon what you will find in most movies, games, and novels. It touches on the standard fare – silver, the moon, Viking berserkers, SS werewolves, and so on – but I also uncovered a few surprises. Like, for instance, the fact that there are at least four distinct types of werewolf, each with its own unique characteristics. And the Greek tradition that a dead werewolf rises from the grave as a vampire. And the ancient werewolf cult that centers on Mount Lykaion in Greece.

Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide
is scheduled for release in March 2015, and there are some interesting titles scheduled for both of Osprey’s non-historical ranges.

Osprey has also expanded into wargames with an interesting and growing range of rule sets presented in slim, affordable books. There are historical rules, of course, but they also cover mythology, steampunk, and Hong Kong action movies. My personal favorite is Of Gods and Mortals, a compact and tidy little skirmish game in which the gods of various mythologies can take to the battlefield as super-units, accompanied by mortal and monstrous followers. It has a very neat mechanic which makes gods and mortals heavily interdependent.

Osprey Publishing has a long-standing reputation for quality that is very well deserved. I’m very happy to see them expanding into these new areas, and even happier to play a modest part myself. Check out the links below. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least one title that surprises and intrigues you.

Osprey Myths and Legends
Dark Osprey
Osprey Wargames

Book Review: The American Turtle Submarine by Arthur S. Lefkowitz.

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

I picked this little book up on a recent visit to Monticello because I’ve always been interested in the subject. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m hoping to do a treatment of the Turtle for Colonial Gothic, although I have no idea when I’ll get the time. If someone else beats me to it, I’ll probably be relieved rather than disappointed.

Turtle book

The American Turtle Submarine: The Best-Kept Secret of the American Revolution by Arthur S. Lefkowitz
Pelican Publishing, Gretna, 2012. 144 pages.

First published as Bushnell’s Submarine by Scholastic (2006), this is a short and very readable book that is suitable for anyone 11 and up.

Despite its modest length and simple language, the book packs an impressive amount of information about the Turtle’s design, development, and combat operations, as well as a lot of useful background on Bushnell himself and his other inventions. There is an overview of submarine experiments before Bushnell’s time, sidebars on various background topics and personalities, and a number of very good drawings that give a clear view of the Turtle’s interior and workings.

I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in the Revolutionary War, the history of submarine warfare, or 18th-century Weird Science in general. It is particularly valuable to Colonial Gothic GMs who want to feature the Turtle or Bushnell’s other inventions in an adventure – I doubt there is a clearer, more complete, or more accessible source available anywhere.

Useful Links
Wikipedia: Turtle (submersible)
Wikipedia: David Bushnell
Rogue Games: Colonial Gothic

Other 18th-Century Strangeness
The Air Loom (Pyramid Magazine)
The Puckle Gun (Pyramid Magazine)
The Nock Volley Gun (Pyramid Magazine)
Weird Science (a post from 2011)

Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow

July 23, 2014 1 comment

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I’ve just heard that Pelgrane Press’ Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow have been nominated for a bunch of ENnie awards. So have a lot of other cool games and supplements. If you’re interested in tabletop roleplaying, why not head over to the ENnies voting booth and have your say?

Like everything else I’ve seen from Robin Laws, Hillfolk and its underlying DramaSystem mechanics are intriguing and thought-provoking. Writing my contribution during the Kickstarter campaign, I found myself thinking about roleplaying, writing, and game design in ways I never had before. The campaign was such a success that a second volume, Blood on the Snow, was needed to accommodate all the stretch-goal contributors – and that list reads like a who’s-who of tabletop roleplaying, past, present, and future.

Robin is a Man Who Knows What He’s At, and I couldn’t be happier for him. And if my contribution had anything to do with Hillfolk’s success, I’ll be thrilled. But there’s a lot of cool stuff in there from a lot of other folks, too. Check out the Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow product pages and you’ll see what I mean. Pelgrane Press has even put together a free sampler from these and all their other nominated products, so you can see for yourself.

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The Truth about Fimir

April 9, 2014 5 comments

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Over the years I’ve been asked many times, “What happened to the Fimir?” A lot of people seem to like this strange race, and there seems to be a lot of curiosity about why they were quietly dropped from Warhammer canon.

I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a post that gives the whole story of the Fimir’s creation, short life, and eventual demise – but now I don’t have to. Warhammer fan Luke Maciak, author of the excellent Terminally Incoherent blog, has painstakingly collected all the information from various sources and assembled it into a full and complete account of the beasts, and added some great insights of his own.

The Fimir reappear from time to time, both in GW publications (fleetingly) and in fan works (often in great depth). Here are a few useful links I found:

A scan of the Fimir promo from WD102, including an adventure that I still regard as one of the worst I’ve ever written, “There’s a One-Eyed Fellow Hiding to the North of Kammendun.” Oldhammer fans will also find a 3rd edition Fimir army list.

An unofficial 8th edition Warhammer army book for Fimir created by some German fans (and written, impressively, in English).

My earlier post on Forge World’s announcement of their Fimir miniatures.

David Stafford’s impressive Fimir army, with inspiration from 2000AD’s Slaine comic and broader Irish mythology.

Warpstone magazine devoted issue 25 to a Fimir special.

I’m sure this list just scratches the surface of what’s out there. If I happen upon anything else interesting, I’ll post links in the comments section below.

2013 and Beyond

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Right now I’ve got four mobile games, two tabletop RPG books, and two nonfiction books at various stages of development, and I’m also trying to keep my promise to myself that I will write more fiction.

With all this going on, I haven’t had time to put together an elegant and well-reasoned thought piece or a vivid and fascinating memory of The Old Days for this update. However, there are a few bits and pieces that might be of interest:

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North is now in its third year, and still going strong. I’m currently helping develop a great new feature that I can’t really talk about, which will be released later in the year. You’ll see some familiar faces, and I think that fans of deeper Arthurian lore will be pleasantly surprised. That’s the intention, anyway.

In other KBN news, the game is ranked #10 by worldwide revenue in App Annie’s 2013 retrospective. A year ago, it was the iTunes Store’s #1 top-grossing app of 2012. And, of course, it’s also available for Android. I’ve been involved with KBN since the very start, and I’m delighted with its continuing success.

Another Kabam title I’ve worked on also did well in 2013, according to App Annie. The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth ranked #8 by revenue in the U.S., #5 in the UK, and #6 in both France and Germany. Over the last year I worked on a narrative campaign feature that allows players to fight the Goblins of the Misty Mountains alongside heroes from the movies – and, in the most recent instalment, lets them take on the dread Necromancer from Mirkwood to Amon Lanc and beyond. Like all of Kabam’s mobile games, this is also available on Android.

Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon has just acquired a great little feature that allows your dragon to go exploring when you’re not using it in battle, and find you all kinds of interesting treasures. I wasn’t involved with that particular feature, but throughout the last year I’ve been working on new dragons, new troops, and various other expansions. More on those when I’m allowed to talk about them. Also on Android.

Beside these three, I’ve been working on localization editing for a whole bunch of games from China that are hoping to build on their success in that booming market and move into the West. Three projects down so far, and two more in progress: more when I can talk about them. There is some good stuff coming out of China, for sure, and many commentators have tagged it as a market to watch. Russia, India, and Brazil are also poised to become significant mobile-games markets in 2014, according to many analysts.

And finally in mobile gaming, I’ve been working on a new fantasy RPG for iOS. I can’t give any details at this stage, but I will say that the setting is interesting and I’ve been having a very good time developing the backstory and advising on some quite intriguing features, both in narrative and gameplay.

The two books I wrote for Osprey Adventures in 2013 have been well received, and I’ve signed up to write two more. Thor: Viking God of Thunder in the Myths and Legends line has been getting good reviews, and the new Templar conspiracy I laid out in Knights Templar: A Secret History has been well reviewed and has inspired both fiction writers and tabletop RPG designers. I’ve been contracted to write two more titles: Theseus and the Minotaur is due to be released in November this year, and I’m just starting work on a yet-to-be-announced Dark Osprey title.

I’ve also been indulging my love for historical fantasy in a few tabletop RPG projects.

Colonial Gothic, the game of horror and conspiracy at the dawn of American history, received a great boost from the release of the Second Edition Rulebook, and that was followed up with the release of the Bestiary in October.

Just open for preorders is Lost Colony, a unique two-period adventure that explores the mystery of Massachusetts’ ill-fated Popham colony in both 1607 and 1776. It is written by award-winning author Jennifer Brozek, whose previous credits for Colonial Gothic include the acclaimed Locations mini-campaigns and the groundbreaking e-book The Ross-Allen Letters, which blurs the lines between adventure and fiction.

I’m working on another Colonial Gothic supplement at the moment. I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s one that has been very long in the planning and it reunites me with a favorite collaborator from my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay days. We haven’t worked together for more than twenty years, and this project promises to be a lot of fun.

As much as I love Colonial Gothic, I am occasionally tempted by other tabletop RPG projects. When author and roleplaying luminary Robin D. Laws was recruiting talent for his Hillfolk Kickstarter campaign, I was honored to be one of the people he asked to submit an original setting for this fascinating game. I pitched Pyrates as “Firefly of the Caribbean,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

British publisher Chronicle City ran a Kickstarter campaign for their version of the Steampunk classic Space: 1889 – a favorite of mine from the 80s – and I offered an adventure for a stretch goal that, sadly, was not reached. I still hope to write it someday. Their Kickstarter campaign for Cthulhu Britannica saw me contribute to their intriguing postcard-based adventure generator. I was especially happy to be involved with this project because my first commissioned work for Games Workshop, way back in 1985, came when they were developing A Green and Pleasant Land, the first ever British sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu.

Last year I wrote a couple of articles for Steve Jackson Games’ Pyramid magazine, both about obscure guns. The Puckle Gun, a repeating heavy musket, was covered in issue 3/52 (February), while the fearsome Nock volley gun appeared in issue 3/57. I’m planning to adapt both these weapons for Colonial Gothic in the near future, possibly in an unannounced supplement that I have on the back burner. Meanwhile, I have another article – not gun-related this time – being considered for a future issue of Pyramid.

Finally, 2013 was the year I discovered the Oldhammer movement. It seems that there are a lot of folks out there who remember the Games Workshop products of the 80s with great affection, and several of them asked me to give them interviews or to share my memories of working at GW during what some regard as that golden age. I have a couple more interviews lined up, but here are links to some that have appeared so far.

So that’s what 2013 looked like for me, and what 2014 is looking like so far. As always, I’ll be covering ongoing projects in more detail just as soon as I’m allowed to talk about them. But now I’d better get back to work – there’s plenty to do.

Euro-friends!

December 21, 2013 1 comment

If you read my blog from anywhere in the Euro-zone, this might be of interest. I’ve just discovered that Amazon.de has the (English) Kindle version of “Thor: Viking God of Thunder” marked down to 0,99 Euros.

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