The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part Five

December 17, 2018 11 comments

Continuing to showcase some books from the My Books page in the run-up to Christmas , here is an excellent but overlooked anthology to which I contributed a few years back: The New Hero, volume 1 from Stone Skin Press.

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If you haven’t heard of Stone Skin Press, allow me to recommend them. Their anthologies of fantasy, science fiction, and general adventure stories are intriguingly concepted, well-written, and lovingly curated. Creatively, they are yet another feather in the cap of gaming and fiction luminary Robin D. Laws; commercially, they deserve much, much better exposure than they have achieved so far.

In addition to the two volumes of The New Hero, Stone Skin Press has published Swords vs. Cthulhu; Shotguns vs. Cthulhu; The New Gothic; Gods, Memes, and Monsters; and most recently, #Feminism. Their web site can be found here.

The concept of The New Hero is the iconic hero, a trope that has received little love in recent years. Hollywood prefers the dramatic hero, whose journey can form the storyline of a movie – which is why so many superhero movies were origin stories, until Marvel got into the game – while the iconic hero takes the stage fully-formed, and instead of being changed by the world, remains true to him (or her) self and strives to change the world for the better. This is the hero of the pulps, of noir, and of comics: Batman rather than Luke Skywalker, and Conan rather than Frodo.

Since I am so well known for fantasy and horror, the offer of a spot in The New Hero offered me the chance to spread my wings a little – both figuratively and literarily (see what I did there?). As an airline brat and a lifelong vintage aviation geek, I have always loved the air adventures of the inter-war pulps, as well as earlier air adventures like Jules Verne’s Robur novels.

Eschewing magic and super-science – but allowing myself a dose of dieselpunk and a slightly loose hand with historical technology – I created a straight-ahead airpulp yarn called “Against the Air Pirates,” in which two-fisted aviator Mike Finnegan takes on a rogue German zeppelin in the Pacific of the mid-20s. I pitched it as “Disney’s Tale Spin written by Robert E. Howard.” It was a lot of fun channeling the spirit of old movies like Only Angels Have Wings and Flying Tigers, and I hope to write some more of Finnegan’s adventures someday.

Beside my modest contribution, the two volumes of The New Hero include the work of twenty-six other authors. Some names will be familiar to fans of modern fantasy and horror; more, like mine, will be familiar to tabletop gamers.

The covers, by Gene Ha, deserve a special mention. The cover for volume 1 is drawn in the style of Attic red-figure pottery from Classical Greece, which often included heroic scenes from mythology; the cover for volume 2 is reminiscent of a Japanese story scroll. Both feature vignettes showing the heroes from every single story in the book: if you look at the image above, you will find Mike Finnegan right above the word “Hero,” engaged in a desperate duel against the zeppelin’s captain.  Every time you read a story, you’ll find yourself searching for its hero on the cover.

Here’s what one reviewer had to say:

“This isn’t just a collection of short stories, it is a thoughtful analysis of what it means to be a hero, what a hero actually is. … Read these tales. They’ll give you more than the mere entertainment of well-crafted stories, they’ll give you something to think about.”

– RPGNow.com

…and the book’s page on the Stone Skin Press web site is here. Links to various online retailers can be found on the My Books page.

Tomorrow, and every day until Christmas, I will be covering another title. If you’re not done with your Christmas shopping, or if you are expecting to receive some gift tokens, take a look: you might find something you like.

Click here for Part One: Colonial Horrors.

Click here for Part Two: Nazi Moonbase.

Click here for Part Three: Werewolves – A Hunter’s Guide.

Click here for Part Four: Theseus and the Minotaur.

Click here for Part Six: Knights Templar – A Secret History.

Click here for Part Seven: The Lion and the Aardvark.

Click here for Part Eight: Thor – Viking God of Thunder.

Click here for Part Nine: Tales of the Frozen City.

Click here for Part Ten: Blood and Honor.

Click here for Part Eleven: The Dirge of Reason.

Click here for Part Twelve: More Deadly than the Male.

 

The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part Four

December 16, 2018 11 comments

It’s another Osprey book today, this time from the Myths and Legends line. This series of books set out to do for mythology what Osprey’s main lines have always done for military history: provide compact, authoritative, and well-illustrated reference works. I wrote two titles for that series, and Theseus and the Minotaur was the second.

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Everyone knows the story: maze, monster, fight, and home in time for tea. But there’s a lot more to the myth of Theseus than that.

For a start, the Minotaur was not the first enemy that Theseus faced. On his way to Athens, he dealt with six foes who terrorized the road, ranging from a rampaging pig of immense size to a deranged smith who insisted that passers-by try his bed – and then racked them or lopped bits off until they fit perfectly!

After reaching Athens and being recognized by his mortal father, King Aegeus (who would give his name to the Aegean Sea), he defeated a rampaging bull; avoided being poisoned by the evil sorceress Medea (who had set her sights on Aegeus after leaving Jason of the Argonauts); and routed a powerful faction of nobles who had designs on the throne of Athens. And remember how I called Aegeus his mortal father? Theseus had a divine father, too: the sea-god Poseidon, who had slept with his mother on the same night. Those Greek gods!

Theseus went on to become King of Athens, but that didn’t slow him down. When he wasn’t consolidating Athenian power across Greece and laying the foundations for the city’s domination of the Classical Age, he was kidnapping princess Helen from Sparta (long before anyone from Troy set eyes on her), going to the Underworld to kidnap Persephone, the wife of Hades, and having all sorts of adventures elsewhere. In fact, as the Official Hero of Athens (TM), he was retconned into a wide range of myths, until the Athenian boast “nothing [happens] without Theseus” became true.

The book is stunningly illustrated, including some magnificent plates by José Daniel Cabrera Peña. Here is what some reviewers had to say:

“Stories like Theseus and the minotaur laid the ground for the fantasy adventures we all enjoy, and understanding them a little better can only help you to appreciate their modern legacy that much more. Lavishly illustrated in full color original paintings accompanied by images taken from the span of recorded history, Davis’s book is truly an outstanding work.”

– Suvudu.com

“A very good addition to an interesting and informative series

– Goodreads

…and here’s a link to the book’s page on Osprey’s web site. It is available in paperback, ePub, and PDF formats.

Tomorrow, and every day until Christmas, I will be covering another title. If you’re not done with your Christmas shopping, or if you are expecting to receive some gift tokens, take a look: you might find something you like. Links to online retailers selling this and many of my other books can be found on the My Books page.

Click here for Part One: Colonial Horrors.

Click here for Part Two: Nazi Moonbase.

Click here for Part Three: Werewolves – A Hunter’s Guide.

Click here for Part Five: The New Hero, vol. 1.

Click here for Part Six: Knights Templar – A Secret History.

Click here for Part Seven: The Lion and the Aardvark.

Click here for Part Eight: Thor – Viking God of Thunder.

Click here for Part Nine: Tales of the Frozen City.

Click here for Part Ten: Blood and Honor.

Click here for Part Eleven: The Dirge of Reason.

Click here for Part Twelve: More Deadly than the Male.

The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part Three

December 15, 2018 12 comments

Today, I am showcasing another book I wrote for the Dark Osprey line: Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide. As always, you can find links to various online retailers on the My Books page.

This was a companion volume to two previous titles, covering zombies and vampires. In the first, author Joe McCullough had established the fiction of the Nightmen, a fictional U.S. Army unit specializing in supernatural warfare. Using this as a basis, I examined werewolves in film, folklore (including historical trials), and elsewhere.

The first thing I discovered was that there are many different kinds of werewolf. As well as the classic movie version – the “viral” werewolf – I identified shamanic werewolves created by spirit travel, sorcerous werewolves created by witchcraft – by far the most common kind in records of medieval trials – werewolves created by divine and saintly curses, and those arising from delusion and other mental illness. I also looked into other animal shapechangers, such as Native American skinwalkers and Japanese hengeyokai.

I had almost as much fun with the various werewolf-hunting organizations worldwide. In addition to the Nightmen of the U.S. Army, you will find the Tyana Society founded by Benjamin Franklin, which did much to combat British Freemasons in the Revolutionary War; Britain’s Talbot Group, founded during World War II for commando and anti-supernatural operations; the Japanese yokai jingcha, the aristocratic Zaroff Society, among others. The obligatory Nazi werewolves are covered, as are the ulfhednar berserkers of Norse traditions.

Here is what some reviewers had to say:

“I can’t imagine anyone with even a passing interest in horror and werewolves passing on this particular book, but if you’re considering doing so, then well…. just think very, very carefully before the next full moon.”

– Unbounded Worlds

I don’t usually take notes when I read a book for entertainment, but in this case I did. … [A] well-researched, lavishly illustrated and clearly organized book.”

– Goodreads

…and here’s a link to the book’s page on Osprey’s web site. It is available in paperback, ePub, and PDF formats.

Tomorrow, and every day until Christmas, I will be covering another title. If you’re not done with your Christmas shopping, or if you are expecting to receive some gift tokens, take a look: you might find something you like.

Click here for Part One: Colonial Horrors.

Click here for Part Two: Nazi Moonbase.

Click here for Part Four: Theseus and the Minotaur.

Click here for Part Five: The New Hero, vol. 1.

Click here for Part Six: Knights Templar – A Secret History.

Click here for Part Seven: The Lion and the Aardvark.

Click here for Part Eight: Thor – Viking God of Thunder.

Click here for Part Nine: Tales of the Frozen City.

Click here for Part Ten: Blood and Honor.

Click here for Part Eleven: The Dirge of Reason.

Click here for Part Twelve: More Deadly than the Male.

The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part Two

December 14, 2018 11 comments

In the run-up to Christmas, I will be talking about twelve of my books that might make good last-minute gifts for gamer and geek friends – or for yourself, if you are expecting some gift tokens. Details of all these books, including links to various online retailers, can be found on the My Books page.

I wrote Nazi Moonbase for Osprey’s excellent Dark Osprey line, which also includes Ken Hite’s The Nazi Occult and a couple of other titles of mine that touch upon Weird War II. The main Dark Osprey page can be found here.

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To write the book, I collected every Nazi superscience conspiracy theory I could find online, added a few details from movies like Iron Sky and games like Castle Wolfenstein, and created an overarching narrative that links everything together. My intention was to create an entertaining read for history and conspiracy buffs, and a coherent setting that could be used for strategy and roleplaying games set anywhere from 1945 to the near future. As well as Nazi UFOs, foo fighters, and zero-point power sources, you will find orbital mirror weapons, lunar drone strikes, and an explanation for mysterious light sources observed on the moon since the 1960s.

As one would expect from an Osprey publication, the book is packed full of historical (and not-so-historical) illustrations, including some gorgeous paintings by Singapore-based artist Darren Tan, who also illustrated The Nazi Occult. Here is what some critics have to say:

“I have to say that the author has done a superb job of melding events of the time with some rather fanciful, but fascinating fiction. It is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and give it my highest recommendation.” – Modeling Madness

“I highly recommend this book as it gives some great ideas for what if models and with the detailed illustrations give you great information for potential dioramas.” – IPMS

…and here is a link to the book’s page on Osprey’s web site. It is available in paperback, ePub, and PDF formats.

I would never downplay the evil of Nazism or the horrors perpetrated by the Third Reich, but one has to admit, they do make the perfect bad guys for a story or game. Mel Brooks once said that his mission was to ensure that no one took Nazis seriously ever again, and I see their reduction to a pop-culture trope, fueled by over-the-top conspiracy theories, as part of the same process. Your mileage may vary.

Tomorrow, and every day until Christmas, I will be covering another title. If you’re not done with your Christmas shopping, or if you are expecting to receive some gift tokens, take a look: you might find something you like.

Click here for Part One: Colonial Horrors.

Click here for Part Three: Werewolves – A Hunter’s Guide.

Click here for Part Four: Theseus and the Minotaur.

Click here for Part Five: The New Hero, vol. 1.

Click here for Part Six: Knights Templar – A Secret History.

Click here for Part Seven: The Lion and the Aardvark.

Click here for Part Eight: Thor – Viking God of Thunder.

Click here for Part Nine: Tales of the Frozen City.

Click here for Part Ten: Blood and Honor.

Click here for Part Eleven: The Dirge of Reason.

Click here for Part Twelve: More Deadly than the Male.

 

 

 

The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part One

December 13, 2018 11 comments

You can find links to buy a lot of my work on the My Books page, but in the run-up to Christmas I will be showcasing a dozen of them that make ideal gifts for the geek in your life. The first is Colonial Horrors, a curated anthology of tales from the earliest years of American horror.


The book was first published last October in hardback, and a paperback edition was released a few weeks ago: Amazon also offers a Kindle version. It is a curated anthology, with an introduction discussing the origins of horror fiction in America, and individual notes on each story.

There are seventeen tales in all, published from 1684 to 1927, all of them chosen for the light they shed on the Colonial era and its role in American horror. Just as the European Gothic features the wild mountains, crumbling castles, and ruined monasteries of that continent, so the American Gothic looks to the dark forests, inward-looking towns, and stifling religion of the colonies. From the accounts of the Salem witch trials in 1692 to the 2015 movie The VVitch with its old-fashioned typography, from the earliest tales of the Jersey Devil to the beloved and oft-adapted tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the collection covers both the familiar and the unexpected.

Unexpected, you say? How about this:

  • The legend of the Jersey Devil began in a religious dispute between two publishers at the start of the 18th century;
  • The contributions from Cotton and Increase Mather, well known for their involvement in the Salem hysteria, were believed by their authors to be nonfiction;
  • America’s first Gothic novelist, Charles Brockden Brown, is remembered today only by a handful of academics;
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, a descendent of a Salem judge, wrote horror tales as well as moral commentary;
  • The cult movie The Blair Witch Project was based (very loosely, as it turns out) on a reported haunting.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are extracts from some reviews:

“For lovers of American literature and horror fiction fans, this important anthology reveals how the religious beliefs, historical events, and folktales of the colonial period influenced the writerly imaginations that led to the evolution of the modern horror genre.”
Library Journal (starred)

“A well-curated collection of creepy, spooky, and downright weird pieces by a core group of American authors. As the nights grow cooler and the shadows longer, stoke the fire and curl up with this excellent example of true American horror.”
Booklist

“Rather than the gothic castles of Europe, these feature witch trials and dark and foreboding forests. The colonial period was truly the birthplace of American horror, as these stories point out.”
The News-Gazette (Champaign, IL)

Colonial Horrors can be found at any online retailer and at many good bookstores. The publisher, Pegasus Books, has this to say about it.

Tomorrow, and every day until Christmas, I will be covering another title. If you’re not done with your Christmas shopping, or if you are expecting to receive some gift tokens, take a look: you might find something you like.

Click here for Part Two: Nazi Moonbase.

Click here for Part Three: Werewolves – A Hunter’s Guide.

Click here for Part Four: Theseus and the Minotaur.

Click here for Part Five: The New Hero, vol. 1.

Click here for Part Six: Knights Templar – A Secret History.

Click here for Part Seven: The Lion and the Aardvark.

Click here for Part Eight: Thor – Viking God of Thunder.

Click here for Part Nine: Tales of the Frozen City.

Click here for Part Ten: Blood and Honor.

Click here for Part Eleven: The Dirge of Reason.

Click here for Part Twelve: More Deadly than the Male.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

WFRP Memories: A Rough Night at the Three Feathers

October 27, 2017 4 comments

 

Orlygg at the Realm of Chaos 80s blog has just posted a very nice piece about “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers,” which I wrote back in 1987. I wrote it largely as an experiment, to see whether multi-plot adventures could even work: people liked it, and it has gone on to be one of the most-reprinted pieces written for WFRP. After its original publication in White Dwarf 94, it appeared in The Restless Dead, Apocrypha Now, and – with Second Edition stats – in Plundered Vaults.

I’ve returned to the same format twice for WFRP, and once for d20. “Nastassia’s Wedding” appeared in Pyramid #19 in 1996, with stats for GURPS Fantasy was well as WFRP, and the Third Edition adventure The Edge of Night included a society party where Skaven were just one of many problems. “The Last Resort” in Green Ronin’s Tales of Freeport returns to an inn location, on a night beset with mummies, assassins, loan sharks, serpent cultists, and more.

In 1987, though, all this was in the future. My initial impetus for writing “Three Feathers” was the popularity (at the time) of bar-room brawl scenarios. White Dwarf 11 started it off with “A Bar-Room Brawl – D&D Style” by Lew Pulsipher, which was reprinted in The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios. Others followed – including “Rumble at the Tin Inn” for RuneQuest – and when WFRP was published in 1986, we knew it would need some adventures and articles in White Dwarf to support it (more on that here). One possibility was a bar-room brawl scenario – they were simple in structure and should be fairly quick to write, which was just what was needed since there was no official budget and schedule for producing WFRP support material during work hours.

I set to work, coming up with the Three Feathers inn (though in my mind, the feathers were bunched together on the inn sign, like the three ostrich plumes of the Prince of Wales’ insignia) and a diverse cast of characters, each with a reason for being there and some cross-plots that would bring them into conflict with others. But, as I always do, I had way too much fun developing the characters and plots, and the concept grew beyond the needs of a simple bar-room brawl scenario. First, I thought I would pick one plot, develop it, and file the rest away for future use – but then I had an idea: why  not use all of them at once?

In my mind, the Three Feathers’ inn sign looked a little more like this – but without the crown.

As far as I knew (and still know) it had never been done in roleplaying games before, but there were strong precedents in other media. On stage, colliding plots have been an element of farces since Roman times. One commentator described “Three Feathers” as “a classic British hotel farce,” and anyone old enough to remember the names Ben Travers and Brian Rix will know exactly what he means. I wanted to capture the manic action of farces like Fawlty Towers, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, and so on, blending it with the sneaking action of caper comedies like The Pink Panther.

I had to think quite hard about how to present the adventure. There was no way to know what might happen with all these plots taking place at once, especially when a group of PCs got involved. So I simply described the location and the NPCs, outlined each plot, and compiled a timeline of what should happen if the PCs weren’t there. A few words of encouragement for the GM (which can be summarized in Douglas Adams’ timeless words, “Don’t Panic!”) and off it went to White Dwarf.

Honestly, I had no idea whether it would work or not. I knew that I could handle it as a GM, therefore it was theoretically workable by others, but had I set things out well enough? Would it just confuse people, or would it all come crashing down mid-game leaving players and GMs dissatisfied and angry? It was a great relief when the first positive responses began to come in.

Oh, and WFRP did get a bar-room brawl scenario of its very own, just a couple of months later. Jim Bambra and Matt Connell wrote “Mayhem at the Mermaid” for White Dwarf 96. Then the fashion for bar-room brawl scenarios faded, and as far as I know people simply stopped writing them. Today, they are a largely forgotten style of adventure: perhaps a blogger somewhere will trace the history of the form and assess its lasting contribution to RPG adventure design. I would certainly be interested to read it.

Oh, and one last piece of trivia. I got the title from a Western called A Rough Night in Jericho. I have never actually seen it, but evidently it includes a bar-room brawl scene, as I saw a still somewhere or other and the title stuck in my mind until I stole it for “Three Feathers.” Make of that what you will….

More
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography
The Restless Dead: The Forgotten WFRP Campaign