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2017: The Year in Review

January 8, 2018 1 comment

2017 was not the best of years, but it still brought several things on which I look back with pride – and a few things that make me look forward to 2018. Here are the year’s professional highlights from my point of view:

HAWK: Freedom Squadron
I have blogged before about my love of aviation, so when My.com approached me to work on this bullet hell shooter game I was intrigued. I crafted the main storyline about a ragtag band of heroes coming together to help a peaceful nation resist its brutal neighbor. Released last January, the game has topped five million downloads and seen a billion enemy planes destroyed. It is available at the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store.

 

Fenix Magazine

 


This tabletop roleplaying magazine from Sweden has a mix of Swedish and English content, the latter provided by renowned writers like Kenneth Hite, Pete Nash, Will Hindmarch – and lately, me. I highly recommend checking out their all-English Best of Fenix volumes, which are available in PDF form from DriveThruRPG and other online retailers. I describe their content as “thoughtful articles for grown-up roleplayers,” and whatever games you read or play, you will find something useful and interesting within their pages. I contributed to four issues in 2017, and I have plans to continue in 2018.

  • Fenix 2/17 included a reprint of “As God is My Witness,” a systemless article on the Medieval practice of trial by ordeal which was first published in Imagine magazine in 1984, and “CSI: Fantasy,” a new article on forensic folk-magic from European tradition.
  • For Fenix 4/17, I wrote “Bloodthirsty Blades,” a review of cursed swords in myth and fantasy literature, with some ideas for the GM to make them into a major part of a roleplaying campaign.
  • Fenix 5/17 included “When is a Dragon Not a Dragon?” taking examples from myth and folklore to show how dragons can be more than just a powerful boss monster.
  • Fenix 6/17 included “Creating Cults,” an examination of cults and cultists, examining the structure, organization, and goals of six different types of cult for a fantasy campaign.

 

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 4th Edition

WFRP-4th-Logo-550Toward the end of the year, British tabletop RPG publisher Cubicle 7 announced that they had won a license from Games Workshop to produce a fourth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the game that arguably started my career thirty-odd years ago. I am not allowed to go into too much detail, but I have contributed some writing to the core rulebook and I am currently in the planning phases of a project called The Enemy Within Director’s Cut. I will be going back over the beloved campaign, making some changes based on the experience of thousands of games played over three decades, and adding some new material to bring this version more into line with the vision that Jim Bambra, Phil Gallagher, and I developed for the original. That is all I can say for now, but keep an eye on this blog and the Cubicle 7 web site for more details.

 

Colonial Horrors: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond

Another proud achievement this year was the publication of this anthology of early American horror fiction, all set in or around the Colonial era. I tracked down some great stories by writers famous (Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft), obscure (Charles Brockden Brown, John Neal), and better known for writing outside the horror genre (James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne). The book has garnered some good reviews, and I am hoping to edit more anthologies in a similar vein.

 

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Colonial Horrors: Denver Life Interview and Appearances

October 9, 2017 1 comment

Hanna Smith of Denver Life magazine recently interviewed me about Colonial Horrors. You can find the interview here.

I’ll be at The Bookies bookstore in Denver on October 29th for a reading and signing. It’s at , a block east of South Colorado Boulevard: I’ll be there from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

Halloween night I will be reading and signing at Denver’s famous Tattered Cover bookstore in LoDo. The address is 1628 16th Street (at Wynkoop), and I will be there from 7:00 pm.

I will be updating this post with more information, link, and reviews as they become available.

If you aren’t in Denver, you can find the book at your favorite bookstore or e-tailer. I have posted some links on the My Books page.

 

Colonial Horrors: Goodreads Giveaway!

August 16, 2017 1 comment

Colonial Horrors

I’m looking forward to the release of my anthology Colonial Horrors in October. Between now and Halloween, I’ll be posting details of promotional events, including some readings and appearances that I will be doing in the Denver area. The first, though, is global: a Goodreads giveaway where you can win one of three copies that are up for grabs.

 

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for the book:

The most spine-tingling suspense stories from the colonial era—including Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, and H. P. Lovecraft—are presented anew to the contemporary reader.

This stunning anthology of classic colonial suspense fiction plunges deep into the native soil from which American horror literature first sprang. While European writers of the Gothic and bizarre evoked ruined castles and crumbling abbeys, their American counterparts looked back to the Colonial era’s stifling religion and its dark and threatening woods.

Today the best-known tale of Colonial horror is Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” although Irving’s story is probably best-known today from various movie versions it has inspired. Colonial horror tales of other prominent American authors—Nathaniel Hawthorne and James Fenimore Cooper among them—are overshadowed by their bestsellers and are difficult to find in modern libraries. Many other pioneers of American horror fiction are presented afresh in this breathtaking volume for today’s reading public.

Some will have heard the names of Increase and Cotton Mather in association with the Salem witch trials, but will not have sought out their contemporary accounts of what were viewed as supernatural events. By bringing these writers to the attention of the contemporary reader, the book will help bring their names—and their work—back from the dead. Featuring stories by Cotton Mather, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, H. P. Lovecraft, and many more.

The book was inspired by the success of the TV show Sleepy Hollow – now canceled, alas – and my involvement with Colonial Gothic, Rogue games’ tabletop roleplaying game of adventure, horror, and conspiracy at the dawn of American history. As I read more about the period, I found a whole body of literature – some famous, some long forgotten – and discovered the native soil of American horror fiction.

Publisher Pegasus Books has done a bang-up job of design and production, creating a book that I’m very proud of. Here are a few more links:

Colonial Horrors at Pegasus Books
Amazon
Amazon.co.uk
Barnes & Noble
Waterstone’s
Books-A-Million
Goodreads

Free!

June 28, 2017 1 comment

free

Everybody likes something that’s free – so here are some links to free and try-before-you-buy deals on some of my books and articles.

Freebies

My Freebies page has a lot of free downloads and links to old articles of mine that are still available on other sites. People seem especially fond of my AD&D articles from the 1980s.

Blood and Honor cover

Amazon is offering a free audiobook of my D&D novel Blood and Honor from 2006 as part of the trial offer for their Audible service. I beat out 1,000 other entrants in an open call to win the contract for this book, set in the then-new Eberron fantasy-pulp-noir setting designed by my friend Keith Baker. Keith is also the designer of the hit card game Gloom and the new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. I am hoping to have him as a guest on the blog some time in the next few weeks, so watch this space.

Osprey covers

Also on Amazon, the pages for my Osprey Adventures and Dark Osprey books now have “Look Inside” links and free samples for the Kindle. The “Look Inside” links are above the cover shot:

Thor: Viking God of Thunder

Theseus and the Minotaur

Knights Templar: A Secret History

Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide

Nazi Moonbase

For the Kindle samples, go to the book’s page on the Kindle store and select “Try a Sample.”

I hope you enjoy your free reading, and I hope you’re intrigued enough to buy the books! If Amazon is not your e-tailer of choice, I’ve included links to other vendors on my My Books page.

2016: The Year in (belated) Review

March 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Here it is, March already. How did that happen?

While a lot of the most popular posts on this blog are about the old days (and especially my Games Workshop days), I also like to keep readers up to date with what I’m doing now – so go to My Books and BUY! BUY! BUY!

Ahem.

Anyway, here’s a brief look at what came out in 2016.

GAMES AND BOOKS

Dawnbringer
Danish game developer Kiloo is best known for their hit mobile game Subway Surfers. They hired me to help develop the setting and characters for this high fantasy swipe-and-slash game for iOS and Android. You play a fallen angel battling demons in a ruined world, and searching for redemption along the way.
Kiloo’s Dawnbringer page
My earlier post about Dawnbringer

Of Gods and Mortals: Celts
The first army supplement for Andrea Sfiligoi’s mythological skirmish game, and yet another chapter in my ongoing love affair with Celtic history and myth.
Ganesha Games’ Of Gods and Mortals page
My earlier post about Of Gods and Mortals: Celts

The Investigators of Arkham Horror
I contributed five stories to this gorgeously-presented collection based on Fantasy Flight’s acclaimed Cthulhu Mythos boardgame.
Fantasy Flight Games’ page
My earlier post about The Investigators of Arkham Horror

Nazi Moonbase
All the Nazi super-science conspiracy theories I could find, collected and wrapped up in a unifying narrative that also explains the urgency behind the Cold War space race.
Osprey Publishing’s Nazi Moonbase page
My earlier post about Nazi Moonbase

Cthulhu Confidential
I edited the text of Robin Laws’ thought-provoking solo Cthulhupulp game, where the Mythos is arguably the least of the horrors.
Pelgrane Press’ Cthulhu Confidential page

 

ARTICLES

Pyramid 3/92: Zombies
I contributed “The Viking Dead” on Icelandic draugur and haugbui, as well as a systemless look at several varieties of “Indian Ghouls.”
Buy it here

Pyramid 3/87: Low-Tech III
“Tempered Punks” contains some systemless advice for dealing with gadget-happy players whose modern knowledge wrings unbalancing power from old-time technology.
Buy it here

Fenix, Kickstarter special edition
I contributed a systemless article titled “Mummies: A New Approach” to support this bilingual Swedish-English roleplaying magazine. It includes seven mummy sub-types based on the ancient Egyptian multiple-soul concept, along with descriptions of ancient Egyptian mummy amulets with powers to affect both the living and the undead.
Fenix Kickstarter page

Fenix #6/2016
My Call of Cthulhu adventure “Spirit of the Mountain” takes the investigators into the Wild West.
Fenix back issues page

Fenix #2/2016
“La Llorona” discusses the famous Southwestern ghost, with notes for Speltidningen’s Western RPG. I’m told that an English-language edition of Western is in the works: I’ll have more to say about that in the future.
Fenix back issues page

Aviation History, September 2016
I indulge my love of vintage aviation with “Aussie Battler,” tracing the rushed, post-Pearl-Harbor development and surprising career of Australia’s home-grown (and largely improvised) CAC Boomerang fighter.
Aviation History magazine

Freebies
I posted a couple of new pieces in 2016, including “Converting Between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic” (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and “A Green, Unpleasant Land,” which presents some previously-unpublished British Call of Cthulhu adventure seeds I wrote in early 1986 for Games Workshop’s supplement of a similar name.
Go to the Freebies page

 

 

Musketeers, Swashbucklers, and more: An Interview with Lawrence Ellsworth

September 24, 2016 1 comment

Do you like tales of swashbuckling adventure, with dashing heroes, sword duels, chandelier swinging, and repartee as swift as a rapier’s blade? Then you need to know about Lawrence Ellsworth.

Lawrence is a one-man swashbuckler revival. His recent collection, The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, contains rare tales by the creators of The Three Musketeers, The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Prisoner of Zenda, along with the work of many other writers whose names deserve to be equally famous. The first-ever Zorro story is there, along with a Robin Hood story and even a swashbuckler by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

But that’s just the warm-up: Ellsworth has something much bigger in store. Announced earlier this month, his translation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Red Sphinx (with cover art by Lee Moyer) is the first time this tale of the Three Musketeers has ever been translated into English in its entirety. To any Musketeer fan, that is pure gold.

Lawrence is a man of many parts. By day he is Lawrence Schick, legendary tabletop RPG writer and now the loremaster (yes, that really is a job title) for the wildly popular Elder Scrolls series of video games. At weekends he can be found at Renaissance Faires and other gatherings of romantics and anachronists, giving readings and looking very much like a Dumas character himself. He somehow found time to answer a few questions about swashbucklers, Alexandre Dumas, and what he plans to do next.

redsphinx

How did you first become interested in swashbucklers?

When my father was a young man in the 1930s and ’40s he was a fan of the adventure pulp magazines. When I was a boy in the 1960s, publishers were reprinting many of the best pulp tales in inexpensive paperbacks, and my father would buy them, read them, and then pass them on to me. So Harold Lamb, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard enthralled me at an early age. Poring through the libraries for any book in which the hero wore a sword soon led me to Dumas, Sabatini, Orczy, Tolkien, H. Rider Haggard, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s historicals. En garde!

What attracted you to the work of Alexandre Dumas, in particular?

In the early 1970s, just as I was beginning to think the swashbuckler genre was played out for me, the Richard Lester / George MacDonald Fraser films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers proved there were still new ways to approach it. The screenplays led me to Fraser’s Flashman novels, and that sealed the swashbuckler deal for good and all.

Lawrence Ellsworth is a nom de plume: in my day-job I’m Lawrence Schick, a game designer. In the early 1990s I led a troupe of writers who produced live-action role-playing weekends for 50 to 100 players, specializing in historical productions with romantic themes. While writing and researching The King’s Musketeers for this troupe, I became fascinated with 17th-century France. I learned French so I could read Dumas’s novels and Richelieu’s memoirs in the original language. In the process I did a translation of The Three Musketeers for fun and practice. In my research, I learned about Alexandre Dumas’s “lost” musketeers sequel, Le Comte de Moret, a.k.a. The Red Sphinx, and decided to translate it.

Just how many Musketeers books did Dumas write? Why is the situation so confusing?

Dumas wrote four books in what I call the Musketeers Cycle: The Three Musketeers (1844), set in 1626-28; Twenty Years After (1845), set in 1648-49; The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1850), set in 1660-66 (with a coda in 1673); and finally The Red Sphinx (1866), set back in 1628-30.

Where it gets confusing for us anglophones is that The Vicomte de Bragelonne is so long—296 chapters, as compared to 76 in Three Musketeers, for example—that its English translations are invariably broken up into three or four volumes, each with its own title. Different translator/publishers divided Bragelonne at different chapter breaks, and used varying titles for their sub-volumes, so good luck if you’re hunting through used bookstores for the later books and get a mismatched set, as you may find overlapping or missed chapters between the volumes.

Worse, Dumas’s subtitle for Bragelonne is Ten Years Later, which is often used as the title of the first sub-volume—and this is inherently confusing, since though it follows directly on Twenty Years After, based on the title it seems like it should precede it…. Maddening!

The usual subdivision of Bragelonne is therefore into Ten Years Later; The Vicomte de Bragelonne; Louise de La Vallière; and The Man in the Iron Mask. But not always! (When I get to translating the Bragelonne colossus, I intend to title the first volume Between Two Kings; or, Ten Years Later, restoring that confusing phrase to its position as a subtitle.)

Why was The Red Sphinx overlooked for so long, when The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask became so famous?

By 1865, his first fame past, Dumas was writing whatever would sell. Jules Noriac, editor of the weekly Les Nouvelles, needed a novel for serial publication, and asked Dumas if he would be willing to revisit the setting of his earliest success, The Three Musketeers. Dumas, who hadn’t lost his fascination with the reign of Louis XIII and his prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu, was quick to accept. The result was the original serial publication of Le Comte de Moret, a swashbuckling tale of King Louis, his adventurous half-brother Moret, and Cardinal Richelieu.

Especially Cardinal Richelieu; the novel is as much about Richelieu as it is about the Comte de Moret, which is why its alternate title is The Red Sphinx. The focus on the Cardinal explains why Dumas refused to include appearances by d’Artagnan and his three musketeer friends, as they would surely have walked away with the story. In any event, between The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years Later, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Dumas had already written over a million words about d’Artagnan and company. Why flog a dead horse?

That decision to leave out d’Artagnan and his famous friends probably accounts for how Le Comte de Moret fell between the cracks of history. It had but a single 19th-century translation into English that is now lost, and the novel wasn’t even revived in France until 1946.

Do you plan to translate the whole cycle? What are the advantages of a new, uniform translation?

I do, in fact, intend to tackle the whole shebang—my translations of The Red Sphinx and The Three Musketeers are complete, and I’m about a quarter of the way through Twenty Years After.

The advantages of a new, uniform translation of the series are consistency and readability. Though there are a couple of good, modern versions of The Three Musketeers available, Twenty Years After and most of The Vicomte de Bragelonne haven’t had new English translations in over a century. These are great novels, classics of world literature, but available to readers of English only in creaky, stiff old versions that don’t do justice to Dumas’s dynamic prose and crackling dialogue. The entire series should be on the shelf of every fan of historical adventure fiction.

In your opinion, which is the best of Dumas’s Musketeer books?

Oh, The Three Musketeers, of course—Dumas was on fire in 1844-45, when he wrote T3M and The Count of Monte Cristo, his most enduring works, both of which are crammed with bold scenes and unforgettable characters. But Twenty Years After was written right on the heels of Monte Cristo and T3M, and in some ways it’s superior to its predecessor in pacing and structure. And the sheer length of Bragelonne gave Dumas the luxury to examine his characters and themes in a detail afforded nowhere else.

The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask have each been filmed many times, and now there is the popular BBC TV series. In your opinion, what is the best screen adaptation so far?

A new take on the Musketeers comes along every few years, and most of them have their good points, but the gold standard is still the Lester/Fraser Three/Four Musketeers films, as they nailed Dumas’s tone, and with their extra length, gave the filmmakers enough time to really bring the characters to life. That said, I’m also quite fond of the just-completed BBC series The Musketeers, which focused on adding depth to Dumas’s iconic characters rather than adhering to plot, and in the process showed why those characters are still relevant and resonant nearly two centuries after they first appeared.

In your dreams, given every actor who has ever lived, whom would you cast as the four Musketeers? As Richelieu? As any other character?

A fun parlor game that never gets old! With The Red Sphinx bringing Cardinal Richelieu back into the limelight, let’s take a look at some of the great actors who’ve portrayed him over the years:

– Raymond Massey (Under the Red Robe, 1937)

– Vincent Price (The Three Musketeers, 1948)

– Charlton Heston (The Three / Four Musketeers, 1973-74)

– Tim Curry (The Three Musketeers, 1993)

– Christoph Waltz (The Three Musketeers, 2011)

– Peter Capaldi (The Musketeers, 2014)

Unbelievable! With a character so rich and many-sided as Richelieu, it’s no wonder such a plum role often goes to actors who are among the best of their generation. For the movie version of The Red Sphinx (it’s inevitable, right?), I’d like to see Kenneth Branagh take on the role.

One reads of Dumas père and Dumas fils: who was who?

Alexandre Dumas père, or senior, is the 900-pound gorilla of swashbuckler fiction whose works we’ve been discussing today. His son, known as Alexandre Dumas fils, was also a novelist and playwright; he wrote stories of manners and romance, and is best known for La Dame aux Camélias.

Many thanks to Lawrence for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find him at his web site swashbucklingadventure.net and keep up with his author appearance via his Facebook page. And, of course, you can find his books at your favorite bookstore or e-tailer.

Nazi Moonbase – The First Reviews

May 21, 2016 9 comments

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My Dark Osprey book Nazi Moonbase has been out for a couple of weeks now, and is starting to garner some good reviews. If you’d like to know what other people are thinking about the book, here are some links. I’ll add more in the comments section below as I come across them.

Amazon.com: currently rated at 4+ stars. “A great read,” “great dark fantasy … good fun!” and “very well melded fact and fiction” are among the comments.

Goodreads.com: Currently rated at 3.5 stars. “…for those of you who like science fictional worldbuilding (or Nazi Moonbase-building), you’ll have quite a treat.”

Suvudu.com: A nice background article on my book and its place within the greater realm of Nazi superscience conspiracy theories. It sums up very nicely how this became such an irresistible topic for conspiracy fans.

As a lifelong vintage aviation geek who was lucky enough to grow up during the hottest part of the space race, I had a lot of fun researching and writing this book. There are some wild conspiracy theories out there, from Nazi flying saucers to the hidden Antarctic base to the faking of the Apollo moon landings, and I set myself the task of constructing a narrative to support the proposition that every one of the conspiracy theories was true. I also snuck in a few references to movies and video games for people to find.

Whether you use it as a systemless game sourcebook or just as an entertaining read, I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Click here to order Nazi Moonbase and my other current books from your favorite e-tailer.