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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, this is a holiday-season filler, but it might be of interest to some readers.
I’ve done a few interviews over the last couple of years, mostly in the run-up to the release of the new Enemy Within campaign for WFRP 3rd edition. It seems a lot of people have wanted my memories of life at GW, the development of WFRP, and gaming in the 80s. I also managed to plug Colonial Gothic a little and mention some of my work in video games.
I hope you find them interesting, and stay warm, safe, and happy over the holiday season.
See you in 2014!
One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was a reminiscence on the early days of Vampire: the Masquerade, prompted by the release of a 20th Anniversary Edition. Well, now I feel even older. I just saw that someone is bringing back the Games Workshop – Milton Bradley fantasy boardgame HeroQuest in time for its 25th.
Jervis Johnson – he of Blood Bowl and Adeptus Titanicus/Space Marine fame – was the designer, but I sat in with him on meetings and contributed some early writing and background. I remember that the man from MB liked the fact that I’d named the Barbarian character Rogar, because his boss was named Roger and he thought that would go down especially well.
As part of the agreement, Milton Bradley developed all the HeroQuest expansions themselves but Games Workshop had the right to develop and sell Advanced HeroQuest, which was a lot deeper and more Warhammer-ish. It’s also where the Fimir found a home after failing as a new Warhammer race. I had a little more to do with AHQ, writing a few expansion articles for White Dwarf and – one of my first freelance contracts after I left the Games Workshop staff in 1990 – an undead-themed supplement called Terror in the Dark.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this new incarnation of HeroQuest. Who knows – maybe I’ll even get the opportunity to write something for it.