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The Bundle of Holding

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The latest Bundle of Holding features seven titles from Osprey’s Osprey Adventures line: just $16.95 gets you all seven PDF ebooks with a retail value of $104.00. A couple of them are mine, and I’m in some very good company, including Chris Pramas, Phil Masters, and series chief Joseph A. McCullough. Here’s a link: take a look and I think you’ll be impressed.

Thor

Thor: Viking God of Thunder retells the Norse myths and covers Thor’s history from 6th-century Germany through the Viking Age to Marvel’s Avengers. Here’s a link to some of the great reviews it’s received.

Templars cover

Knights Templar: A Secret History is a roundup of history, rumor, and conspiracy theory surrounding the Templars and the Holy Grail. It even includes a brand new conspiracy theory that I made up, based on actual events and relationships, that could provide a great setting for all kinds of games. You can read more about it here: scroll down to the comments for links to reviews.

The Osprey Adventures line includes a lot of well-researched titles that are ideal as systemless sourcebooks for games. Take a look: you won’t be disappointed.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Werewolves

March 31, 2015 2 comments

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My Osprey book Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide was released last week. To celebrate, I’ll be posting and tweeting a fact a day for ten days: just a few of the things I discovered while researching and writing it. I’ll also be updating this post each day with a new fact. You’ll find more information in the book itself, and you may never look at this stock horror monster in quite the same way once you’ve read it. I know I don’t.

Like its companion volumes on Zombies and Vampires, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide collects a lot of deeply-researched information gathered from all times and places and presents it in an accessible and well-organized form for gamers and general readers alike.

For more on this book:
The first review (scroll down to the Comments section for more links as I find them).
A post about Werewolves and my most recent Osprey Myths and Legends book, Theseus and the Minotaur.

1. There are five distinct types of werewolf
As I read various ancient myths and medieval trial reports, I discovered something completely unexpected: not all werewolves are the same. I finally counted five distinct types, all of which I’ve covered in detail with histories, detailed descriptions, and case studies.
The five types are:
1. Viral Werewolves;
2. Cursed Werewolves;
3. Shamanic Werewolves;
4. Sorcerous Werewolves;
5. Obsessive Werewolves.

2. The Roman Empire helped spread lycanthropy across Europe
Until the first century, viral lycanthropy was confined to a small area of eastern Europe which became the Roman provinces of Moesia and Dacia. As Roman officials, merchants, and tax gatherers opened up the region, some of them contracted the virus and spread it throughout the Roman world.

3. St. Patrick may have rid Ireland of snakes, but he created the first documented Irish werewolves
The snakes of Patrick’s legend are a metaphor for Druidism, according to some writers. Another legend tells of certain pagans who drowned out his preaching by howling like wolves – whereupon he cursed them in the name of God, and they became the first recorded werewolves in Ireland.

4. Suleiman the Magnificent purged Constantinople of werewolves in 1542
The city was so overrun with werewolves that the Ottoman Emperor called out his Janissaries to deal with the situation. Over 150 werewolves were killed in one hunt alone.

5. Russia used werewolves to destabilize Sweden in 1790
The Swedish province of Calmar was overrun by a plague of wolves in 1790. Russia and Sweden were at war, and it was rumored that at least some of the creatures were werewolves that the Russians had created using Swedish prisoners. Sweden eventually sued for peace.

6. Buffalo Bill encountered a werewolf in 1906
According to the dime novel The Wolf Demon: Or Buffalo Bill and the Barge Mystery, the great scout and showman battled a wolf-like creature in Wyoming’s Wolf River Canyon. Cody claimed it was a werewolf, though some scholars believe it was actually a skinwalker from the local Arapahoe people.

7. The “Hounds of God” were an order of werewolf witch-hunters
At his trial in 1691, one Thiess of Kaltenbrun claimed to be a Hound of God, dedicated to protecting his community from supernatural threats. The Hounds were said to conduct raids into Hell itself on three nights of the year.

8. Britain and Germany both developed werewolf special forces in WWII
Germany’s Werwulf guerillas are fairly well-known, but Britain’s Talbot Group was founded in 1941 near Llanwelly, Wales and served throughout the rest of the war.

9. Vampires may be undead werewolves
According to a Greek tradition, a dead werewolf can rise from the grave as a vampire. However, the Greek word vrykolaka can mean both werewolf and vampire, which confuses matters somewhat.

10. Benjamin Franklin organized a werewolf militia
During the American Revolution, Patriot werewolves used their wolf forms to bring back valuable intelligence on British movements and troop strengths.

Thor Hits U.S. Libraries and Schools

March 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Rosen Thor Cover

I’ve just received a hardback edition of my Osprey Myths and Legends book Thor: Viking God of Thunder, published by Rosen Publishing in New York for the American schools and libraries market. It is available by itself or as part of the Heroes and Legends set, which also includes the Osprey volumes Dragonslayers, Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, King Arthur, and Robin Hood.

The inside of the book is the same as the Osprey edition, but Rosen’s solid hardback binding makes it more durable, and it lies flat without breaking the binding and scattering pages everywhere. And Rosen’s cover design is great. It keeps Miguel Coimbra’s fantastic art of Thor battling the frost giants, but turns the god’s name into a stony logo wreathed in lightning. I’m very, very pleased with it, and it’s strangely appropriate that my comp copy should arrive on the International Day of Happiness – another thing I knew nothing about until this morning!

I enjoyed working on this book immensely, and I’ve posted about it before. Here are some links for anyone who is interested:
Rosen Publishing (Thor)
Rosen Publishing (Heroes and Legends series)
Osprey Publishing (Thor)
Early reviews (scroll down to comments for more)
A more recent review

“Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide” – The First Review

February 3, 2015 5 comments

With a little over a month until release, the first review has appeared of my Dark Osprey book Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide. It’s short but sweet, and I’m looking forward to more.

It was a lot of fun to research and write this book. Here’s what I wrote about it a few months ago when it was first announced:

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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.

Like the other Dark Osprey books, this book mixes historical research with speculation to create a “what-if” reality which is firmly grounded in the real world. Anyone who is interested in the history and development of the werewolf myth will get something from it, and gamers will find a wealth of system-independent information and suggestions ready to use in their campaigns. Ripping the you-know-what out of effete sparkly vampires, for instance…

As I find new reviews, I’ll post links in the comments section below.

Theseus and the Minotaur

November 18, 2014 4 comments

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Just a quick reminder that my Osprey Myths and Legends book Theseus and the Minotaur officially hits the stores and e-tailers today.

Yes, I know you know the myth. Bull head, maze, fight, kill. But there’s more:

  • The story may have been an allegory for a Greek invasion of Crete before the Trojan War – archaeologists have found evidence of an attack on the palace of Knossos at the right time.
  • After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus got retconned into all kinds of myths starring other heroes.
  • Theseus grabbed Helen from Sparta before any Trojan had even set eyes on her.
  • The Minotaur wasn’t the only bull-monster he defeated.
  • Jose Pena’s art is just amazing – worth the price of the book by itself.

There’s more on this book – and another title I wrote for Osprey – in a previous post: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/theseus-and-the-werewolves/

And since I like Of Gods and Mortals from Ganesha Games and Osprey Wargames so much, I put together a bunch of Theseus-themed add-ons for the Greek pantheon. You can download a PDF here: http://bit.ly/1uqv0bb

Of Gods and Mortals: Theseus

October 2, 2014 4 comments

9781780968490-th2

I wrote in an earlier post about the Osprey wargame Of Gods and Mortals, which has had me intrigued for a while. The core rulebook already has an extensive list of Greek deities and heroes, but with my Osprey Myths and Legends book Theseus and the Minotaur due for release in a few weeks, I decided to adapt some of the characters from the tales of Theseus for Andrea Sfiligoi’s mythological skirmish game. Needless to say, the following is to be considered a fan work and no challenge is intended to any existing copyrights. Check my Freebies page for a free PDF of this post, and more!

If you already play Of Gods and Mortals, let me know what you think of these. If you don’t, and you like mythology, do yourself a favor and check it out. The core rulebook covers the Greek, Egyptian, Norse, and Celtic pantheons, and there are free downloads covering the Incas, the Japanese, and pre-Islamic Arab mythology.

Foes

Theseus already appears in the Greek force list, along with his most famous foe, the Minotaur. Earlier in his career, Theseus defeated six other foes on the road to Athens.

Periphetes the Clubber: 40 points
Q4 C2 Hammering Blow, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Periphetes was a son of the smith-god Hephaestus. He terrorized travelers on the roads outside Epidaurus, driving them into the ground with his great bronze club.

Sinis the Pine Bender: 40 points
Q4 C2 Pine Bending, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Pine Bending: Whenever Sinis is next to a tree while fighting an enemy, he can use 3 actions to make a pine-bending attack which automatically causes one casualty regardless of the dice roll. 10 points.
Sinis tricked travelers into helping him bend a pine tree, and then released it so his victims were catapulted to their deaths.

The Crommyonian Sow: 41 points
Q4 C3 Animal, Greedy, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
The Crommyonian Sow was a terrible wild pig that ravaged the area between Corinth and Megara.

Sciron: 38 points
Q4 C2 Ambusher, Traitorous Strike, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
The elderly Sciron haunted a steep cliff and begged passing travelers to wash his feet. While they were doing so, he kicked them off the cliff to their deaths.

Cercyon: 40 points
Q4 C2 Combat Master, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Cercyon was the King of Eleusis, and challenged passers-by to a wrestling match.

Procrustes the Stretcher: 35 points
Q4 C2 Smithy, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Procrustes was a mad smith who kept two beds in his house: one long and the other short. If a guest did not fit the bed Procrustes offered him, they were either stretched on a rack or their feet were lopped off, until they were exactly the right length.

Options for Theseus
Pirithous: Theseus was accompanied in many of his later adventures by the Lapith prince Pirithous. Pirithous is represented as a Q3 C2 Legend costing 48 points. When he is within 1 x Long of Theseus, they both gain the Group Fighter trait.
Antiope: Theseus married the Amazon warrior Antiope after the death of Phaedra, his second wife. Antiope is represented as a Q3 C2 Legend with the Shooter (Medium) trait, costing 47 points. When she is within 1 x Long of Theseus, they both gain the Steadfast trait.

Theseus and the Werewolves

September 7, 2014 6 comments

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

Knights Templar: A Secret History

October 9, 2013 17 comments

After I finished writing Thor: Viking God of Thunder, Osprey Publishing asked me to write a Templar conspiracy title for their Dark Osprey line. Knights Templar: A Secret History is due for release later this month, and pre-orders are open on your favorite online retailer. The first review I’ve seen tells me the finished product lived up to my intentions, which is always nice to know.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. As well as poking about in the dark corners of history, I was able to spend time reviewing the history of the Templar conspiracy phenomenon and add a brand new one of my own devising. I deliberately refrained from making up any historical facts – that would be too easy – but I really let myself go when drawing conclusions from them. It was something like kitbashing, a modeling term for the process of assembling parts from different kits in a way the designers never intended and producing an entirely new plane, tank, or whatever.

This isn’t my first book on the Templars. The Colonial Gothic Templars sourcebook was a similar exercise on a smaller scale, geared to the needs of the game and focusing on Templar activity in the North American colonies during the Revolutionary War era. This new book suffers no such restrictions, and I trace the Templars – and the Holy Grail – across the Atlantic and back again as they engage in a three-way secret war with the Vatican and the Freemasons. Are the Templars using the European Union to create a global state ruled by a heretical religion? Read the facts and judge for yourself.

Early Buzz for “Thor: Viking God of Thunder”

August 19, 2013 25 comments

I posted earlier about Thor: Viking God of Thunder, which I wrote for Osprey Publishing’s new Myths and Legends line. It was a lot of fun to research and write, and I guess that must show because it’s getting some great early reviews. I just received a very excited email from my editor, Joseph McCullough, to let me know that it has won a coveted Kirkus starred review. If you subscribe to Kirkus, you can read it here.

Kirkus is not the only place that people have been saying nice things about the book. Here are a few more:
Goodreads
Blog of Erised
Comicbuzz

The book is due for release on September 17, and it’s currently available to preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and, as they say, all good booksellers. I recently received an advance copy, and I have to say it looks absolutely gorgeous. The team at Osprey did a bang-up job with the graphic design and layout.

The Vikings have been good to me down the years. When I couldn’t find a grant to fund my Ph.D. research on the British Bronze Age, Chris Morris at Durham University found me a job processing material from his excavation of two Viking farms in the Orkneys. My first freelance project after leaving Games Workshop in 1990 was writing GURPS Vikings for Steve Jackson Games, and a decade later Steve asked me to create an expanded second edition: it’s still selling steadily as an ebook. My first video game contract was to write some Viking storylines for Interplay’s historical strategy game add-on Castles: The Northern Campaign. A few years after that, The Creative Assembly contracted me as a writer and researcher on the Viking Invasion expansion for their acclaimed PC strategy game Medieval: Total War: the add-on garnered some very good reviews and led to more freelance work and a job offer. More recently, and in a more light-hearted vein, the Russian mobile game developer AILove hired me to develop the characters and dialogue for their arcade-y Viking Tales iPhone game.

I’m currently working on a second Myths and Legends book for Osprey, and having even more fun. This one is on a Greek myth, and I’m finding all kinds of interesting corners to poke around in. More news on that when Osprey makes the official announcement.

Thor the Thunderer

January 26, 2013 4 comments

If you’re a wargamer or a military history geek, you will have heard of Osprey books. Chances are you’ll own a few.

So imagine how pleased I was when Osprey contacted me out of the blue to write for their new Osprey Adventures series. Apparently my work on GURPS Vikings and Medieval: Total War – Viking Invasion impressed someone there, because they asked me to write a book on the most popular of the Norse gods, Thor the Thunderer.

Osprey Adventures is a fairly new series, adding mythology to Osprey’s already impressive coverage of history. I was flattered that they asked me to write one of the first titles. I recently finished a second book in a different series, but I can’t talk about it yet. Watch this space….