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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 Gothic en francais

June 21, 2016 1 comment

Amis francophones! Colonial Gothic en francais: aventures surnaturelles et de complot en la Nouvelle-France des XVII-XVIIIeme siecles? Ou Gevaudin, peut-etre?

(Et ouais, je le sais, j’ecris francais comme un ecolier anglais, ou peut-etre comme une vache folle. Une argument pro-Brexit, le franglais?)

Cthulhu 1776: Converting Colonial Gothic to Call of Cthulhu

December 15, 2015 Leave a comment

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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.

Download PDF version

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.

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

November 23, 2015 15 comments

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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.

Products

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

Articles

“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

Also Visit

The Rogue Games Colonial Gothic page
The Rogue Games Store
The Colonial Gothic Facebook Group
The Colonial Gothic Google+ Community

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)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends

 

Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft

September 9, 2015 5 comments

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Preorders opened yesterday for the new Colonial Gothic sourcebook, Lovecraft. It is available in PDF, ePub, and Kindle formats as well as the physical book. It’s also something I’ve been looking forward to for some time, and here’s why: it is the first time in almost 25 years that I got to work with Tony Ackland.

If you are a fan of Games Workshop’s products from the 80’s, you’ll be familiar with Tony’s work. Tony was instrumental in establishing the look and feel of the Warhammer world, and I worked very closely with him on the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We also hung out a lot after work a lot, playing Go and talking about everything from World War II aircraft to the campaigns of Napoleon to fossils to classic horror books and movies. A significant quantity of Bass Ale was involved too, I recall.

It’s hard to pick a favorite out of Tony’s enormous output from those years, but I was especially impressed by his monster illustrations for the hardback 3rd edition Call of Cthulhu rulebook published under license by Games Workshop in 1986. For many British players, it was the first edition they could actually afford: the earlier boxed sets, imported from Chaosium in the States, were ruinously expensive.

When he retired, Tony taught himself to use a drawing tablet by creating pictures of – you guessed it – creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos. Every few days, it seemed, his friends would find another batch of unnamably blasphemous goodness in their email. And that’s when I had an idea.

I had been helping Richard Iorio of Rogue Games with the Colonial Gothic product line for a few years. We had talked about a Lovecraft-themed product often. While set in his own “present day” of the 1920s and 1930s, many of Lovecraft’s stories harked back to Colonial times, and in fact Richard had pitched “Cthulhu 1776” to Chaosium before deciding to launch Colonial Gothic through his own company. Tony’s illustrations were an opportunity too good to miss – and I think these new images hold up very well against the Call of Cthulhu bestiary from almost 30 years ago. I’m delighted to see this book come out, for personal reasons as well as professional.

The book covers the best-known gods and beasts of the Cthulhu Mythos, but there are many things that we couldn’t touch for copyright reasons (click here for more on the complex copyright issues surrounding his work and those of the other Mythos authors). If you should happen to want to use another Mythos creature in a Colonial Gothic adventure of your own, converting the stats from Call of Cthulhu is a fairly simple matter. Here is a rough method based on creatures that are common to both systems: the GM may need to make minor adjustments according to personal taste and preferred play style, but this will provide a reasonable starting-point.

Note: these guidelines are given for personal use only, and are not intended to challenge any copyrights held by Chaosium, Inc, or any other party.

Attributes
Might = CoC STR x 0.6
Nimble = CoC DEX x 0.46
Vigor = CoC CON x 0.44
Reason = CoC INT x 0.57
Resolution has no directly comparable stat in Call of Cthulhu. I recommend picking something suitable, bearing in mind that the human average is 7.

Skills
Start with the governing attribute score and adjust according to the needs of the adventure. For more accurate conversions, Call of Cthulhu uses a percentile skill system, so GMs with good math skills can calculate the odds of 2d12 results and come up with a conversion table if they wish.

Attacks
Colonial Gothic non-weapon attacks are attribute-based, so it is easy to assign attack damage. If the GM doesn’t mind a little work, it is possible to derive a damage score by cross-referencing CoC damage with damage from weapons that are common to both Colonial Gothic and Call of Cthulhu (or another Basic Role Playing game, such as Runequest).

Traits
Most creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos have Fear and Horrific Visage to reflect their effect on an observer’s Sanity. The severity of each of these Traits should be proportional to the creature’s SAN loss rating in Call of Cthulhu. Use the creatures from Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft as a guide. Other Traits are at the GM’s option: the book lists several new Traits for Cthulhu Mythos creatures.

La Llorona: A Legend of New Spain

January 23, 2015 2 comments

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Download PDF version (Colonial Gothic)
Download PDF version (GURPS)

Known in English as the Weeping Woman, La Llorona (pronounced “yo-RO-nah”) is a legend of Mexico and the Spanish Southwest. The Weeping Woman is a type of ghost or demon that can be encountered anywhere in New Spain. According to the TV series Sleepy Hollow, a sub-type is also found occasionally in the Thirteen Colonies.

This article explores the legend of La Llorona, looks into a few variations, and suggests a range of ways to use this legend in Colonial Gothic adventures.

The Legend

Almost every Spanish-speaking population north of Mexico City has its own version of this tale. The details vary, but the ending is always the same.

Her name was Maria, she lived a long time ago, and she fell in love with a handsome ranchero. Because of him, she drowned her own children in a river.

Some say she killed them – and then herself – out of grief and rage when her ranchero abandoned her. Others say these children were from an earlier marriage, and she killed them so she could be free to marry again. According to a third version of the tale, her children drowned by accident when she left them alone to go to a dance with her new beau. All versions agree that her spirit cannot rest and she is cursed to spend eternity wandering and weeping, searching for her lost children along the banks of rivers and canals.

Ever since, people have seen a beautiful woman dressed in white walking beside rivers and canals at night, her hair disheveled and her eyes red from crying. Many have heard her weeping, and a brave few have gotten close enough to hear her sob “Ay, mis hijos!” – “Oh, my children!”

Some versions of the tale are darker still. It is said that bad luck will soon befall anyone who sees the Weeping Woman, or that she will steal, and even drown, any children she finds in the course of her wanderings.

Origins

It is not known whether the legend of La Llorona is based on an actual event. However, it is enticingly similar to both an Aztec legend and a story from the life of Hernan Cortez. It also evokes an even darker being from Mexican folklore.

La Malinche

La Malinche (also known as Malinali, Malintzin, and Doña Marina) was one of twenty women given to Cortez by the people of Tabasco in 1519. She served the Conquistador as a translator and advisor, eventually becoming his mistress and bearing his first son, whom he named Martín. She spoke Mayan as well as the Aztec language, Nahual, and helped Cortez form local alliances and head off potential rebellions. Cortez is reported to have said that after God, Doña Marina was the main reason for his success in Mexico. Contemporary Aztec records almost never depict Cortez without her by his side, and they sometimes show her alone, apparently acting on her own initiative and authority.

Unlike Disney’s Pocahontas, though, Doña Marina did not keep her European paramour. Cortez abandoned her to marry a good Spanish lady. While it is not recorded that she killed her children, and some sources claim she died in 1529, other sources hint that she did not suffer her abandonment meekly. In some later fiction she lives on as a vengeful resistance leader, and even as a vampire.

Cihuacoatl

Cihuacoatl was an Aztec goddess, the most prominent of several patron deities of childbirth and motherhood. It has been said that the Aztecs honored a woman who died in childbirth as highly as a warrior who died in battle.

According to Mexican folklore, the goddess was seen shortly after Cortez appeared, weeping for the loss of her children – an omen of the fall of the Aztec empire at his hands.

Cihuacoatl had a son named Mixcoatl, who became a god of the hunt and the stars. She abandoned him at a crossroads, but regretted her decision and returned weeping, only to find a sacrificial knife where her son had been.

The spirits of women who died in childbirth serve Cihuacoatl. Known as civitateo (“divine women”) they haunt crossroads at night, steal children, and cause seizures and other illnesses.

Although these Aztec legends do not correspond exactly with the commonly-told story of La Llorona, it is easy to see how they may have influenced its development.

Game Statistics

La Llorona can be many things, ranging from a tragic ghost to a vengeful goddess. Providing full Colonial Gothic statistics and rules for every conceivable variant would take an article far longer than this one. Instead, the following paragraphs suggest a range of possible approaches to creating a version of La Llorona that fits with the tone and magic level of the individual campaign.

The Colonial Gothic rulebook provides 2nd Edition rules for ghosts, and the Bestiary covers banshees. Either one would make a good basis for La Llorona, though the banshee’s Moan trait should be cut. For a more corporeal version, the GM might use the vampire from the rulebook (without any traits except for Night Vision and Undead) or the revenant from the Bestiary. Having selected the basic stats, the GM can then add traits as desired, to create his or her own vision of La Llorona.

The Weeping Ghost

When creating La Llorona as a ghost, the main decision to be made is how (or indeed, whether) the living can interact with her. At her most harmless she may be a spectral vision as insubstantial as smoke, to be laid to rest when the Heroes learn her sad tale, find her remains and those of her children, and give them a Catholic burial.

A more dangerous version may use mind-affecting magic of some kind to hypnotize children and send them walking glassy-eyed into the river – or to possess single mothers, especially those driven to the brink of despair by their circumstances, and force them to re-enact her crime. The lives of those she kills may be an offering to the angry spirits of her dead children, or she may simply be locked into an obsessive pattern of behavior, condemned to repeat it endlessly until she is stopped.

The Revenant

A solid, physically manifested version of La Llorona presents a different kind of threat. She has the inhuman strength of a lunatic and high grappling skills, which she uses to drown interfering mortals or simply break their necks. In a simple adventure, destroying her physical form stops her for good; for a longer and more challenging campaign thread, she simply comes back the following night, or month, until her tormented spirit is laid to rest by a Catholic priest or by Aztec-derived magic.

The Goddess

In a higher-powered campaign, La Llorona can be a vengeful manifestation of the goddess Cihuacoatl, imbued with all the terrible power that implies and determined to take the life of one Spanish or Anglo child for every Aztec who died at the hands of the Conquistadores. Alternatively she could be another Aztec deity, taking her own sacrifices since Catholicism replaced the bloody Aztec rites by which she was formerly appeased. In a Robert E. Howard-style horror story, she could be one of the last priestesses of such a terrible deity.

The GM has free rein in designing such a powerful entity. The legends of the civitateo give these creatures a shifting array of attributes including clawed hands and feet and the ability to wither limbs and cause fits and wasting diseases. One interpretation of these creatures may be found in my own Atlas of the Walking Dead, published by Eden Studios for their zombie survival RPG All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

The Mortal

In a low-magic or no-magic campaign, La Llorona may be entirely mortal – an 18th-century serial killer driven to madness by a life of abuse, or by the horror of having killed her own children to save them from an abusive father, or starvation, or some other threat. She may even believe that she has become La Llorona of the stories.

Adventures

An encounter with La Llorona can enhance even a non-fantastic Colonial Gothic campaign. Rarity gives supernatural incidents – or incidents that merely seem to be supernatural – a greater impact in a non-magical setting.

Of course, the GM can always decide, in the best Scooby-Doo tradition, that the apparent haunting has a perfectly mundane cause: the “ghost” turns out to be a madwoman escaped from a local asylum, a kidnap victim leading into a mundane plot, or an attempt to play on a local legend to keep prying eyes away from a hidden gold strike or a planned robbery.

In a more fantastic campaign, La Llorona might be one of several types of restless dead, given an added authenticity by her ready-made backstory and her long history in the real world.

Bibliography
De Aragon, Ray John. The Legend of La Llorona. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006.
Beatty, Judith S. La Llorona: Encounters with the Weeping Woman. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2004.
Davis, Graeme. Atlas of the Walking Dead. Loudonville: Eden Studios 2003.
Perez, Domino Renee. There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Online Resources
“La Llorona,” Handbook of Texas http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lxl01
“La Llorona – Weeping Woman of the Southwest” (3 pages), Legends of America http://www.legendsofamerica.com/gh-lallorona.html
PDF version of this article (Colonial Gothic)
PDF version of this article (GURPS)

TV and Video
The Crying Woman (Spanish La Llorona), dir. Ramón Peón , 1933.
Supernatural, Season 1 Episode 1, The CW (Warner Bros.), 2006.
Grimm, Season 2 Episode 9, Universal, 2012.
Sleepy Hollow, Season 2 Episode 5, Fox, 2014.