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Of Gods and Mortals: Celts

December 7, 2016 1 comment

cover

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.

Brigid, by Andrea Sfiligoi

Brigid, by Andrea Sfiligoi

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!

Links

Of Gods and Mortals: Theseus

Osprey Wargames’ Of Gods and Mortals page

Ganesha Games’ Of Gods and Mortals page

Of Gods and Mortals Facebook group

Osprey Google+ community

North Star Miniatures official Of Gods and Mortals miniatures

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HR3 Q&A: The AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook

June 7, 2016 5 comments

ADD Celts

 

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?

 

Here is how I remember it, although my memory may not be 100% accurate after all this time. When I went to GenCon for the first time in 1991, I talked to a lot of people about finding work, including someone at TSR. I think it was Bruce Heard, but I may be wrong. I mentioned my background in European archaeology and my long-standing interest in the Celts, and so I suppose I proposed the idea to them, although of course it was a good fit with their HR series of supplements and they may already have been thinking that a volume on the Celts would be desirable.

 

– 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)?

 

It was not my first attempt. I had written a few historical and mythological articles already. Most were for TSR UK’s Imagine magazine, which had published two Celtic-themed issues (#5 and #17) as well as issues on Egypt, Asia, and the Vikings. When I left Games Workshop to pursue a freelance career, one of the first contracts I won was for GURPS Vikings, and GURPS Middle Ages 1 followed shortly thereafter. I wrote both of those in the months before I started work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook.

 

 

– 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?

 

I drew on the same pool of research, of course, but my embryonic game Fianna used a home-brewed game system and was set exclusively in the Ireland of the sagas, so it was not possible simply to copy Fianna material into the AD&D Celts manuscript.

 

– 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?

 

When I started work on Fianna, I was still working on my never-completed Ph.D. project at Durham University in England. I had access to the main university library as well as the Archaeology Department’s library and my own college’s library. When I started work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook, I had some photocopies of key passages from various books from those libraries along with my notes for Fianna, as well as my own copies of most of my undergraduate archaeology textbooks. While writing, I relied mostly on what was already in my head, although of course I paused to look things up as I needed to. The most research went into the monsters, I think, but I was working from books with which I was already familiar.

 

– 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?)

 

There were some books that didn’t make it into the reading list: mostly archaeology textbooks such as Barry Cunliffe’s Iron Age Communities in Britain. I tried to focus the list on titles that the general reader would find accessible and useful.

 

– 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?

 

If my memory can be relied upon, I submitted a proposal with an outline before the contract was issued. I based the structure of the book very closely on that of HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook, and I do not remember anyone at TSR asking for any changes. They requested a few minor changes after I submitted the manuscript, but these were so minor that I cannot now remember what any of them were. The only editing that I remember is the omission of the rules for the tathlum (which I have since posted to my blog ). At the time I thought this was because the subject matter was rather gruesome, involving severed heads as it did, but I never found out the reason for the cut. Perhaps my rules were weak, too – this was my first attempt at writing for AD&D Second Edition.

 

– How closely did you work with the illustrator of the Sourcebook, or did you have any influence on the graphics at all?

 

I submitted detailed art briefs as part of the contract requirement, and the artist followed them very closely. I do not remember having any opportunity to approve the art before publication.

 

– 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?

 

The AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook included a lot of material taken from the later folklore of the Celtic Fringe, especially Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. This was partly because the Irish sagas which made up my main documentary source contained very little in the way of monsters and magic and I felt that an AD&D supplement absolutely needed these elements. Since my earliest days of playing D&D, and then AD&D, I had turned to British folklore and faerie lore as a source of ideas, and at the time of writing the New Age movement, then in its early days, was beginning the process of coalescing Celtic traditions and later faerie lore into a coherent world-view.

 

To answer your question, though, I approached each project separately, but drew on the same well of education and experience – my academic background in archaeology, my lifelong interest in myth and folklore, and my emotional attachment to the history and culture of the Celtic Fringe – for each one.

 

– Compared to other Sourcebooks how popular was/is the Celts campaign? (is there anywhere I can get sales figures?)

 

I never saw any sales figures. My contract was work-for-hire (one-time payment with no royalties) so I could not even guess from how much money I made. If any sales figures still exist, I would guess that they are somewhere in the vaults of Wizards of the Coast, along with all the other financial data that came with WotC’s purchase of TSR. My guess, though, is that such figures would have been destroyed by now, or would be on 1990s-era media that are probably no longer readable.

 

 – 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?

 

I have no idea. The only source of book sales data I have available is Nielsen BookScan via Amazon Author Central, and that tells me that no copies have been sold through that channel for as long as their records go back.

 

– Did you get feedback on how people found it? What they liked and didn’t like etc.?

 

I did not see many reviews at the time. I remember hearing from one German reader who was disappointed that the book focused so heavily on the insular Celts, and a couple of reviewers were pleased that I had distinguished the Druids and Bards of Celtic lore from the standard AD&D character classes of the same names. The enech rules (which I stole from AD&D Oriental Adventures) were also well-received, I seem to remember. A few people expressed disappointment that I did not cover all the standard AD&D character races: I remember one reviewer listing the choice as “human, human, or human.”

 

– Is there a specific age group that would be more likely to use the Celts Sourcebook more than others?

 

I intended the book to be used by anyone who played AD&D 2nd Edition. At that time most players were aged 15 and up, I think, although I heard of some as young as 8 – which may account for the cutting of the tathlum mentioned above.