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!
Anyway, here’s a brief look at what came out in 2016.
GAMES AND BOOKS
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
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
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
“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
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
My interest in Celtic history and lore started in my teens. I had been reading Penguin translations of Greek and Latin literature for a while when I discovered the Irish sagas such as The Tain and the early stories of Cu Chulainn. A wave of Irish rock was hitting the UK: Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher were having their first hits around then, and a band called Horslips released two epic concept albums based on Irish mythology: The Tain (1973) and The Book of Invasions (1976). In 1978, Jim Fitzpatrick published his lavishly-illustrated Book of Conquests, and I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. In 1979, I went to Durham University to study archaeology, intending to specialize in the British Iron Age: the Celtic-dominated era that was brought to an end by the Roman invasion. (I refuse to call it a conquest – they never got us out of the hills, by Touatis!)
My Celtic obsession followed me into the games industry, and now I could back it up with some actual learning. I wrote articles for two Celtic-themed issues of TSR UK’s now-legendary British AD&D magazine Imagine: my adventure “The Taking of Siandabhair” was reprinted in a “Best Of” issue and you can download it from my Freebies page. In 1986 I created the Fimir for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, basing them on a mix of creatures from Irish and Scottish legends including the evil Fomorians. Despite some very controversial aspects of the background I created for them, they still have fans today. When I left Games Workshop in 1990, one of my first freelance projects was the HR3 Celts Campaign Sourcebook for AD&D 2nd edition. I also wrote an adventure for Mongoose Publishing’s Slaine RPG, based on the 2000AD comic property: back at Games Workshop, I pushed hard for a Slaine RPG to go alongside their Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper games, but to no avail. And a few years ago, I snuck some Welsh, Irish, and Scottish lore into the single-player campaign I wrote for Kabam’s hit mobile strategy game Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North.
The latest fruit of my Celtic obsession is a sourcebook for Andrea Sfiligoi’s excellent tabletop skirmish game Of Gods and Mortals. If you like mythology and miniatures, you should definitely check this game out. The rulebook, published by Osprey Publishing and widely available, is slim and affordable; the rules themselves are simple enough to pick up quickly and powerful enough to make for some interesting challenges. I liked it so much that I contacted Andrea out of the blue and asked if we could collaborate.
Celts was released today as an e-book via Andrea’s Ganesha Games web site (where you can also find several freebies for OGAM), and over the next few weeks it will become available in dead-tree form and via all the usual e-tailers. I am very pleased with it. I’m always happy to have another Celtic-themed project under my belt, and Andrea’s art for the project is fantastic. He (yes, it’s a male name in Italian) is ludicrously talented: a first-rate game designer (working in his second language, no less) and a talented artist to boot. Anything he does is worth your attention.
To tempt you further, here is the back cover blurb:
The first warp-spasm seized Cu Chulainn, and turned him into something monstrous, horrible and shapeless…
This supplement for Of Gods and Mortals delves deeper into the myths of the Celts. Within its pages you will find:
- More options for existing units, along with brief descriptions of their roles in Celtic history and mythology;
- Statistics and rules for six new Gods, 18 new Legends, and 10 new Mortal troop types, based on myths and folklore from across the Celtic world;
- Ten new traits, including a range of warrior-feats from the Irish sagas;
- Detailed rules for Celtic war-chariots;
- Optional warband lists to help you build a mythologically consistent warband;
- Allied forces for more force customization options;
- New scenarios, based on the greatest battles from the Celtic myths and sagas;
- A detailed bibliography for more information about the Celts and their gods.
Let the red rage descend, and feed the Morrigan’s crows with the bodies of your foes!
This story broke several months ago, but today the BBC News web site carried the most thorough and cogent account of the chupacabra mystery – and its solution – that I have seen so far. Here is the link:
While I have loved mythology, folklore, and monsters from an early age, there are few things I find more satisfying than when science and common sense provide an explanation for something that was previously regarded as supernatural. To my mind, a scientific explanation does not make the world a duller, less magical place, and a myth is no less interesting or beautiful for being debunked: it still provides an insight into humanity’s lifelong struggle to explain and understand the world around us.
And of course, the chupacabra will probably remain a potent image in fantasy and supernatural fiction and games. Rightly so: it has earned its place every bit as much as any ghost or ghoul.
Here are some links to game adaptations of the “fantastic” chupacabra:
Rogue Games’ Colonial Gothic Bestiary includes game stats for the chupacabra as well as other legendary American creatures.
If you know of any more great chupacabra resources for gamers and fantasy fans, feel free to add them in the comments below.
Every so often, I get an email out of the blue from someone who is interested in some corner or another of my long and varied career as a writer for tabletop roleplaying games. They never fail to surprise me – people are still reading things I wrote twenty years ago or more? Inconceivable! – but last weekend I got one that surprised me more than most.
Tamara Rüther is studying for a Master’s degree in Celtic Civilization at Philipps-Universität at Marburg in Germany. As part of a study of how the Celts have been presented in popular culture, she wanted to ask me some questions about my work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook from 1992.
Tamara graciously agreed to let me post her questions and my answers here on my blog. I hope you find them interesting. As for me, I’m still staggered that anything I wrote could possibly end up as the object of academic study.
– My first question then would be, whether TSR asked you to write the Sourcebook or whether you approached them about it?
– Was it your first official attempt at writing mythology/history into a fantasy-based roleplay or were there others (and if so how was this one similar or different)?
– Also, I read on your blog that you had started working on a Celtic RPG setting early on in your ‘Gaming career’. Did any of that material make it into the Celts Sourcebook or did you take a completely new approach on it when you started working on the AD&D Sourcebook?
– Possibly a slightly random question – but how much time did you put into research and how easy was it? (I’m asking because some of the books you mentioned are still used in Academia today and they’re not always easy to get.) Did you still have access to University libraries or did you have to find everything elsewhere – and how did it go?
– Also can you think of any books that you used at the time that didn’t make it into the ‘further reading’ section, but that helped with your work? (And if there’s reasons other than space issues, why didn’t they make it into the further reading?)
– Did TSR have any specific requests concerning the Celts Sourcebook (i.e. its accuracy, for example whether things should be closer to the truth or easier to understand) or were you able to do whatever you wanted? And did they do much editing after you were done?
– How closely did you work with the illustrator of the Sourcebook, or did you have any influence on the graphics at all?
– I’ve seen you’ve written other games afterwards, which more or less touch on Celtic materials (Gurps Faerie, or the more recent Camelot-related games) – do you think the AD&D research has played into that a lot, or did you treat each of these topics seperately? Also, was the approach to the topic the same each time or, if not, what were the differences?
– Compared to other Sourcebooks how popular was/is the Celts campaign? (is there anywhere I can get sales figures?)
– The book itself is out of print by now, isn’t it, but I think the PDF version is still available, so do you know whether it’s still bought today and how frequently?
– Did you get feedback on how people found it? What they liked and didn’t like etc.?
– Is there a specific age group that would be more likely to use the Celts Sourcebook more than others?
I was about six or seven, I guess, when I first became aware of mythology – Greek mythology, to be specific – and the wealth of monsters it contained. In rapid succession, I discovered a children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library, and I saw a Saturday-morning screening of Jason and the Argonauts (dir. Don Chaffey, 1963) on my parents’ black-and-white TV. Ray Harryhausen’s monsters entranced me, especially the skeletal Children of the Hydra’s Teeth.
A decade or so later, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. In my first game I ran two characters, both thieves and both killed by a minotaur in an epic battle. I bought a copy of the Games Workshop “blue book” printing, with John Blanche artwork on the cover and illustrations by Fangorn and others inside. While I appreciated the Tolkienesque elves, dwarves, and so on, it was the creatures from myth that caught and held my imagination. Now it was possible to see whether a mummy could beat a gorgon (a medusa according to the book, “gorgon” being a bull-like creature; that bothered me at the time, and still does).
To me, the monsters have always been the stars of myth, folklore, and fantasy. In search of new beasts for my D&D games I plundered my collection of mythology books and ransacked the local library for anything on myth and folklore. Along the way, I became especially interested in the undead and in Celtic faerie lore, although I still devour all kinds of monster tales from all over the globe.
Over the years, some of my favorite work has been on monsters. As well as collections for tabletop roleplaying games, I have consulted on monster concepts for historical-fantasy video games and written books and articles on some of the classic creatures from myth, legend, and folklore.
Among other things, I have created:
- Seven mummy types based on the ancient Egyptian concept of multiple souls;
- Five classes of werewolf drawn from folklore, movies, and medieval trials;
- A dozen classes of faerie encompassing creatures from all over the world;
- Over 60 types of walking dead from A (aptrgangr: Scandinavia) to Z (zmeu: Eastern Europe).
For a recent videogame project (sadly canceled and subject to a non-disclosure agreement) I defined over 400 monsters from Greek mythology, including physical descriptions, broad definition of abilities and attack forms, and notes on affiliations to particular gods, titans, and other powers.
I plan to keep researching monsters in the future, but here is a list of everything myth and monster related so far.
Blades of Excalibur (Arcade, Web), Kabam 2014 – Localization Editor
Heroes of Camelot (Card Battle, iOS/Android), Kabam 2013 – Story Designer/Writer Google Play iTunes Store
Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon (Strategy, iOS/Android), Kabam 2013 – Writer Google Play iTunes Store
Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North (Strategy, iOS), Kabam 2012 – Story Designer/Writer Google Play iTunes Store
Spartan: Total Warrior (Action, Console), SEGA 2005 – Writer
Medieval: Total War – Viking Invasion (Strategy, PC), Activision 2003 – Writer/Researcher
Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, Osprey Publishing (Dark Osprey), 2015.
Theseus and the Minotaur, Osprey Publishing (Myths and Legends), 2014.
Thor: Viking God of Thunder, Osprey Publishing (Myths and Legends), 2013.
More information on my books
Of Gods and Mortals: Celts, Ganesha Games, 2016 – co-author. Buy it here
Colonial Gothic Bestiary, Rogue Games, 2013 – co-author. Buy it here
Pathfinder Bestiary 2, Paizo Publishing, 2010 – contributing author. Buy it here
Mythic Vistas: Eternal Rome, Green Ronin Publishing 2005 – author. Buy it here
Creatures of Freeport, Green Ronin Publishing 2004 – co-author. Buy it here
GURPS Faerie, Steve Jackson Games, 2003. Buy it here
Atlas of the Walking Dead, Eden Studios 2003. Buy it here
Slaine: Teeth of the Moon Sow, Mongoose Publishing 2002 – author Buy it here
Mummy, Second Edition, White Wolf Publishing, 1997 – co-author. Buy it here
GURPS Vikings, Second Edition, Steve Jackson Games, 1991 and 2002. Buy it here
GURPS Middle Ages 1, Second edition, Steve Jackson Games, 1992 and 2002. Buy it here
AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook, TSR, Inc., 1992. Buy it here
“The Viking Dead,” Pyramid #3/92, June 2016. Buy it here
“Indian Ghouls,” Pyramid #3/92, June 2016. Buy it here
“Mummies: A New Approach,” Fenix (Kickstarter special edition), January 2016. Buy it here
“The Tathlum,” (AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook outtake), personal blog, December 2015. Download free here
“La Llorona,” personal blog, 2015. GURPS version — Colonial Gothic version
“Mummy Amulets.” Pyramid #3/17, March 2010. Buy it here
“Bloodlines,” Adventures Unlimited #6, Summer 1996.
“Black Dogs, Church Grims and Hell Hounds,” Roleplayer #30, Jan 1993. View here
“Norse Trolls,” Roleplayer #24, June 1991. View here
“Fimir,” White Dwarf #102, Jul 1988. More on the Fimir
“Magic & Mayhem: Viking!” Imagine #30, Sep 1985.
“Monsters from the Folklore of the Philippines,” Imagine #25, Apr 1985. Download free here
“Haunters of the Dark,” White Dwarf #67, Aug 1985.
“Magic & Mayhem: Celts,” Imagine #17, Aug 1984. Download free here
“Sobek, God of Marshes and Crocodiles,” Imagine #16, Jul 1984. Download free here
“Sethotep,” Imagine #16, Jul 1984. Download free here
“The Taking of Siandabhair,” Imagine #5, Aug 1983. Download free here
Other Bibliography Posts
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)
My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)
A few months ago I posted about the release of the Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft sourcebook. The shadow of the Colonial period looms over much of Lovecraft’s writing, reflected in his descriptions of Innsmouth and Arkham and taking a more active role in stories like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dreams in the Witch-House. At an early stage in its development, Colonial Gothic itself was pitched to Chaosium as Cthulhu 1776. With the release of Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft, players can experience black-powder fantasy adventures against the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos.
With the return of Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen to Chaosium, the original Lovecraftian tabletop RPG looks set for a new lease on life. Based on Chaosium’s excellent Basic Roleplaying ruleset, Call of Cthulhu has been the leading Mythos-based RPG since it first appeared in 1981. Colonial Gothic is new by comparison, but the game’s core books can offer Call of Cthulhu players and Keepers the chance to explore the dark past of Lovecraft country.
One of my major concerns while developing Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft was ensuring that the game stats for the Mythos creatures were accurate and playable. I’m not ashamed to admit that I used the Call of Cthulhu rulebook as a reference, and while it was not the only factor in developing the creature stats, it proved a very useful numerical benchmark. I came up with the following rough system for converting between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic, and I am sharing it here because I think it could be useful to players of both games.
Colonial Gothic to Call of Cthulhu
Using this system, the Call of Cthulhu Keeper can turn many of Colonial Gothic’s adventures and sourcebooks into resources for an 18th-century Call of Cthulhu campaign, or just for a time-traveling side-track from one of Chaosium’s established timelines. The following titles are of particular interest to Call of Cthulhu fans:
- Second Edition Rulebook: contains general historical and setting information, equipment, prices, common character types, etc;
- Gazetteer: describes each of the Thirteen Colonies up to 1776, with notes on local mysteries and other items of interest;
- Boston Besieged: includes a detailed sourcebook on Boston during the siege of 1775-1776;
- The Philadelphia Affair: describes the city at the time of the Second Continental Congress and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence;
- Player Companion: includes detailed templates which are easily adapted to create period Investigator types for Call of Cthulhu;
- The Bestiary: presents a range of non-Mythos adversaries for rounding out Colonial-era adventures;
- Many other sourcebooks and adventures are available in print, PDF, ePub, and Kindle formats.
STR = Might * 1.67
CON = Vigor * 2.27
SIZ: generate from scratch, referring to similar characters/creatures in the Call of Cthulhu rules.
INT = Reason * 1.75
POW: generate from scratch, referring to similar characters/creatures in the Call of Cthulhu rules.
DEX = Nimble * 2.17
Skills and spells are hard to convert directly because of differences in the two game systems. However, with a little imagination an experienced Keeper should have no difficulty in coming up with numbers that work, based on the attribute scores, the overall concept and the relevant Colonial Gothic skill, spell, and Trait descriptions.
Call of Cthulhu to Colonial Gothic
A Colonial Gothic GM can use this system to help convert additional Mythos horrors from Call of Cthulhu sources: the copyright status of the Cthulhu Mythos is complex, and limited the range of creatures that could be covered in the Colonial Gothic sourcebook.
Might = STR * 0.6
Nimble = DEX * 0.46
Vigor = CON * 0.44
Reason = INT * 0.57
Resolution: generate from scratch, based on Reason score and POW * 0.5.
Vitality = (Might + Vigor) * 2.5, rounding down.
Skills, spells, and Traits can be adapted from Call of Cthulhu descriptions. Several new Traits, specific to the Cthulhu Mythos, are listed in the Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft sourcebook. The GM will find additional Traits in the Colonial Gothic Bestiary.
Converting Dice Rolls
The AnyDice converter provides a useful tool for examining probabilities: it converts the results of any dice roll into percentages. To see the probabilities for a 2d12 roll, enter output 2d12 in the top window and click the Calculate button immediately beneath.
Are you a fan of black-powder fantasy? Do you enjoy the backstories of movies and TV shows like Sleepy Hollow and National Treasure? Do you prefer Joseph Curwen and Keziah Mason to Randolph Carter and Charles Dexter Ward? If so, you might like Colonial Gothic.
I haven’t worked on tabletop roleplaying games much over the last few years. While the industry has always been rich in ideas, it is increasingly cash-poor. This earlier post goes into some of the reasons why. But when I came across Colonial Gothic back in 2009, I was intrigued. Thanks to mysteries like the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony, events like the Salem witch trials, and classic American horror fiction from writers like Washington Irving and H. P. Lovecraft, the Colonial era is a rich environment for historical fantasy, and historical fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres. Add in the extensive body of conspiracy theory surrounding the Templars in America, the Freemasons and the American Revolution, Franklin’s alleged occultism – not to mention local legends and Native American lore – and you have a setting that can support just about any kind of fantasy and horror adventure.
The game can be played as Cthulhu 1776 – which was one of its earliest incarnations. It can involve nerve-wracking investigations of the great and powerful. Players can fight an occult war for America’s freedom, confront witch-cults and monsters, and even seek the hiding-place of the Holy Grail in lost Templar colonies.
While Colonial Gothic has received some great reviews and built up a small but passionate following, it has yet to break out from the pack of indie RPGs and achieve the success I think it deserves. But check it out, and judge for yourselves.
Lovecraft (2015) – co-author More Information
Bestiary (2013) – co-author More Information
Locations (2012) – developer
The French & Indian War (2012) – developer
Flames of Freedom: The Philadelphia Affair (2011) – developer
New France (2011) – developer
Organizations Book 1: The Templars (2010) – author More Information
Templates (2010) – author
Flames of Freedom: Boston Besieged (2010) – co-author, developer
Gazetteer (2010) – author
“Converting Between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic,” (2016) – author Download article
“La Llorona: A Legend of New Spain,” (2015) – author Download article
“The Puckle Gun,” (2014) – author Download article
Other Bibliography Posts
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)
My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)