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2016: The Year in (belated) Review

March 10, 2017 Leave a comment

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!

Ahem.

Anyway, here’s a brief look at what came out in 2016.

GAMES AND BOOKS

Dawnbringer
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

Nazi Moonbase
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

Cthulhu Confidential
I edited the text of Robin Laws’ thought-provoking solo Cthulhupulp game, where the Mythos is arguably the least of the horrors.
Pelgrane Press’ Cthulhu Confidential page

 

ARTICLES

Pyramid 3/92: Zombies
I contributed “The Viking Dead” on Icelandic draugur and haugbui, as well as a systemless look at several varieties of “Indian Ghouls.”
Buy it here

Pyramid 3/87: Low-Tech III
“Tempered Punks” contains some systemless advice for dealing with gadget-happy players whose modern knowledge wrings unbalancing power from old-time technology.
Buy it here

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

Fenix #6/2016
My Call of Cthulhu adventure “Spirit of the Mountain” takes the investigators into the Wild West.
Fenix back issues page

Fenix #2/2016
“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

Freebies
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

 

 

Nazi Moonbase – The First Reviews

May 21, 2016 8 comments

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My Dark Osprey book Nazi Moonbase has been out for a couple of weeks now, and is starting to garner some good reviews. If you’d like to know what other people are thinking about the book, here are some links. I’ll add more in the comments section below as I come across them.

Amazon.com: currently rated at 4+ stars. “A great read,” “great dark fantasy … good fun!” and “very well melded fact and fiction” are among the comments.

Goodreads.com: Currently rated at 3.5 stars. “…for those of you who like science fictional worldbuilding (or Nazi Moonbase-building), you’ll have quite a treat.”

Suvudu.com: A nice background article on my book and its place within the greater realm of Nazi superscience conspiracy theories. It sums up very nicely how this became such an irresistible topic for conspiracy fans.

As a lifelong vintage aviation geek who was lucky enough to grow up during the hottest part of the space race, I had a lot of fun researching and writing this book. There are some wild conspiracy theories out there, from Nazi flying saucers to the hidden Antarctic base to the faking of the Apollo moon landings, and I set myself the task of constructing a narrative to support the proposition that every one of the conspiracy theories was true. I also snuck in a few references to movies and video games for people to find.

Whether you use it as a systemless game sourcebook or just as an entertaining read, I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Click here to order Nazi Moonbase and my other current books from your favorite e-tailer.

 

 

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.

Agent of the Imperium: A Traveller Novel by Marc Miller

November 25, 2015 Leave a comment

180px-Trav.cover

In the early days of tabletop RPGs, there were only two games: D&D for the fantasy geeks, and Traveller for sci-fi fans. Now the creator of Traveller, Marc Miller, is Kickstarting his first novel in the universe that saw countless star-spanning adventures. Check it out here, but hurry – the campaign closes in five days!

Dark Osprey: Systemless Game Settings, Cheap but Deep

November 17, 2015 2 comments

Dark Osprey banner

 

I’ve been writing for Osprey Publishing’s Dark Osprey line for a little while now: I have two titles published and a third on the way. It is an interesting line, full of books that blend history, fiction, and conspiracy theory to produce well-researched works gamers will love: exactly what you would expect, in fact, when a renowned military history publisher like Osprey expands into science fiction and fantasy.

I’ve blogged about my own Osprey titles before, and you can find all the relevant posts by clicking on this link. But in this post, I’d like to look at the range as a whole.

I’m in some very impressive company as a Dark Osprey author. Series editor Joe McCullough is a longtime tabletop RPG fan, and he has recruited quite a few names you’ll recognize.

War of the Worlds coverMike Brunton was the voice of the multiple award-winning Total War AAA PC strategy game series until recently. Before that, he worked on countless video games, edited White Dwarf magazine during Games Workshop’s late-80s golden age, co-wrote the legendary Realm of Chaos sourcebooks for Warhammer, and authored the rarest D&D module ever published. For Dark Osprey, he turns his considerable command of military history to the Anglo-Martian War of 1895 in his book The War of the Worlds. If you like classic science fiction, military history, steampunk, roleplaying, or miniatures wargaming, I can guarantee you will enjoy this book.

 

Atlantis coverPhil Masters was a regular contributor to White Dwarf in the 80s, and has written a number of sourcebooks for GURPS, Castle Falkenstein, and other tabletop RPGs. He was the only author Terry Pratchett trusted to adapt the Discworld into a game setting. The Wars of Atlantis is not his first work on the Lost Continent – his GURPS Atlantis sourcebook is still available – and The Wars of Atlantis holds a wealth of well-researched information on a subject that is sure to appeal to gamers of all stripes, as well as to anyone with an interest in the Atlantis myth.

 

Nazi Occult coverKenneth Hite is another prolific GURPS author, and together with gaming luminary Robin D. Laws he co-hosts the podcast Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff. His book on The Nazi Occult packs an incredible amount of information between the covers, and offers a fantastic resource to any gamemaster or tabletop gamer with an interest in Weird War II scenarios. Coming in May 2016 is his exhaustive history The Cthulhu Wars: The United States’ Battles against the Mythos. I can hardly wait.

 

zombies coverAs well as editing the series, Joseph McCullough kicked it off with Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide. Zombies are taking over popular culture right now, but Joe digs deeper into zombie lore and covers multiple types, from the brain-eating lurchers we know and love to the voodoo zombies of the Caribbean, the necromantic zombies of fantasy lore, and the atomic zombies of the Cold War era – and much more beside. He also traces the history of zombie outbreaks across the world and offers us an unprecedented level of access to the 34th Specialist Regiment (a.k.a. the Nightmen), the U.S. Army’s elite supernatural warfare unit. Somehow, he has also found time to create the wildly popular Frostgrave fantasy miniatures game for Osprey. Some old Games Workshop fans are hailing it as the new Mordheim.

Orc Warfare coverChris Pramas, founder of Green Ronin and creator of the Freeport fantasy-pirate setting, has written Orc Warfare, a systemless overview of Orc weapons, tactics, and military organization that will be of interest to fantasy fans everywhere. With Dwarf Warfare due out in January, he looks set to turn this into the definitive series on fantasy warfare.

 

To take a look at the whole Dark Osprey range, click this link. No matter what your gaming or reading interests, I expect you will find something to intrigue and entertain. And while you’re there, check out the Osprey Games and Myths and Legends books as well. One thing is for sure: when Osprey Publishing decided to expand into fantasy and games, they did nothing by halves. Just look at what they’ve announced for 2016!

 

 

 

 

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.

The Future of Gamebooks?

May 14, 2015 11 comments

Someone from a Fighting Fantasy Facebook group just asked me whether I thought there could ever be a gamebook resurgence. Is it possible to capture the same lightning in a bottle, 30 years on? Branching novels? Other applications for the numbered-paragraph format? It’s a question I come back to every so often myself.

Here’s what I told him, based on my own experience. What does anyone else think?

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The question you’re considering is one I wrestled with myself back in the 80s. The gamebook phenomenon was so huge that I was sure that there were endless applications for interactive-lit-based learning, fiction, and just about everything else. I tried a few things, from short Choose-Your-Owns for my university museum through training aids for various things, but nothing ever made it past the prototype stage.

At the time, I was mystified, and convinced that I’d missed something. Looking back, I think now that I was focusing on too small a part of the picture. Like the American rail barons who felt safe because there were no other railways but didn’t realize that railways were just one part of the transport industry, and ended up being destroyed by the growing interstates and airlines. We’re really talking about interactive storytelling.

As far as books go, I don’t think gamebooks will ever escape their origins in the young adult section. That mark will stay with them forever, and make it hard – if not impossible – for the format to be taken seriously as a form of adult literature. It’s possible to conceive of Choose-Your-Own-Adventures for adults, but I can’t escape the worry that adult readers would feel they were playing rather than reading, and that would ultimately thin the market for an interactive adult book, no matter its other qualities. But then, books are dying, or so we’re told once a year or more. With that said, though, the trusty Choose-Your-Own format is still used in some educational books for kids: for example, Capstone Press in the States has a line of “Interactive History Adventure” books. I’ve heard nothing about whether kids prefer them to standard format books, though.

Interactive storytelling is well established in the computer games world, of course, and that’s where it’s flourishing right now. Just the other day I was doing some stuff for a game developer using a program called Twine, which is basically a whiz-bang flowchart system that makes writing interactive stories a doddle. Hypertext-stack text games are an artisan-filled niche these days, but a lot of games still rely on story trees and such.

Back in the 90s, “interactive movie” was a buzzword. As well as theatrical releases, the term was also applied to computer games with a high story content, a branching narrative structure, and ambitions to artistic recognition. We never hear of them now. In games the term was tainted by overuse and frequent association with ambitious and costly failures. In movies, no one could quite get the interface right: I heard stories about cinemas fitted with voting buttons in the seat arms, but either people voted for the wierdest option just to see what would happen (or to try and break the movie), or kids rampaged up and down the aisles pressing every button they could find. Those bugs might have shaken out once the novelty wore off the format, but there was one other problem that I still can’t see a way around, and it applies to all media: in providing options, you have to create a lot more content than any one-time user will ever see. This isn’t too expensive when it’s words in a book or on a hypercard stack, but when you start talking about TV and movies it quickly becomes ruinous. You have to count on people coming back and back to try different options on a movie they’ve already seen rather than choosing to see a new movie, and it’s a very big, very expensive risk.

As to a gamebook resurgence, I think there is one currently under way, but I’m not sure that there’s a new market for gamebooks out there. What I’ve seen has been driven largely by nostalgia (including the heartwarming sight of kids enjoying the same books their parents grew up with) enabled by the community-building ability of social media and the ease of collecting offered by Ebay and other online marketplaces. Plus, of course, the ease of publishing interactive titles on ebook platforms. For a true resurgence to take place and for the medium to evolve into its next phase, gamebooks and interactive fiction/education/whatever will have to do something that makes them truly novel and interesting all over again so they can catch the imaginations of a new generation. That’s going to be a challenge, and in all honesty I haven’t a clue how that might be achieved. I’m intrigued by location-based interactives delivered via mobile devices (imagine a tour of Roman Bath, for example, with the screen showing your current location recreated in Steam or whatever, and NPCs to question about life back then), but that may just be the archaeology graduate in me. The same idea could be applied to all kinds of ARGs, and I think those may be the true successors to gamebooks, rather than a strictly literary or cinematic experience.

Imagine 22 cover

If you’re just talking about books, though, I can’t say I’m optimistic. Although gamebooks did exist (just about) before the 80s, the “perfect storm” of D&D/RPG frenzy, game system, and portability is what launched the phenomenon – and also made them a kid-teen product rather than an adult one. Imagine #22 featured an article by me and Colin Greenland analyzing the gamebook phenomenon as it stood in 1985 – it might have some pointers.) Today, there are better ways to do everything gamebooks can do, and none of them involves books. To create a true gamebook resurgence – in any market – you’d need that same combination of zeitgeist-driven content, ease of use, and novelty of presentation. Whatever that might look like, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be on paper.