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The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part Eleven

December 23, 2018 12 comments

My eleventh book of Christmas is The Dirge of Reason, a tie-in novella I wrote for Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror boardgame. It was part of a series giving an origin story for each character in the game, and my assigned character was Agent Roland Banks of the Bureau of Investigation (the FBI not being founded until some nine years after the game’s date of 1926). I researched 20s slang and did my best to channel Dashiell Hammett in this tale of a boy-scout agent forced into a situation where the rules – not just of the Bureau, but of physics and sanity – no longer make sense.

The story itself has a longer history. I first came up with the basic idea around 1982, when I had just purchased the first edition of Call of Cthulhu and was running a campaign for my college gaming group. I wrote up the first part as an adventure and sent it to Chaosium; I received a very nice letter back from Sandy Petersen himself, telling me that he liked the adventure and planned to use it in the Second Cthulhu Companion.

When that book was published in 1985, though, my adventure – then titled “Rhapsody in Fear” – was not included, so I approached Games Workshop, who had just started publishing small Call of Cthulhu adventures including the excruciatingly-titled Trail of the Loathsome Slime and the double feature Shadow of the Sorcerer and The Vanishing Conjurer (for which I wrote a sequel, “Ghost Jackal Kill,” which was published in White Dwarf #79). I got another nice letter back, this time from Call of Cthulhu editor (and future Fighting Fantasy honcho) Marc Gascoigne, encouraging me to develop the adventure further. But then I was offered a job at Games Workshop developing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and all things Cthulhu went on a back burner.

Fast-forward twenty-five years or so, and I was writing WFRP for Fantasy Flight’s third edition when I heard of the proposed Arkham Horror novella line. I put “Rhapsody in Fear” forward, and this time – with a new title and a few changes – it was published. In addition to the story itself, the handsome hardback package includes a lavish color section with reproductions of various documents from the story, and some exclusive game cards relating to the character of Roland Banks. As a side-project (my eleven-and-a-halfth book of Christmas?), I was hired to write more short fiction featuring Roland and a few other game characters for the imposing tome The Investigators of Arkham Horror.

 

While The Dirge of Reason was written as a game tie-in, I made sure that the story, with its mix of hard-boiled action and cosmic horror, would be accessible to readers who are not familiar with the game. Here is what some reviewers had to say about it:

Pulp fiction of an agreeably lowbrow caliber. That’s not a slam. It’s exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I got.”
– Goodreads

A fun read …I expect I’ll read it again several times over the years.”
– Amazon.com

…and the book’s page on the Fantasy Flight web site is here.

Tomorrow I cover the last of my Twelve Books of Christmas. 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 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 Twelve: More Deadly than the Male.

 

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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

 

 

The Enemy Within Arrives

January 2, 2013 8 comments

This morning I received my author’s copy of Fantasy Flight’s The Enemy Within campaign for 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I have to say they’ve done their usual great production job.

I knew the book would be thick, but it surprised me just how thick it was. If you’d like a look at what’s in the box, I found this unboxing video.

It’s been 26 years since the first Enemy Within campaign was launched for 1st edition WFRP. It’s a bold move by Fantasy Flight to use the same name for these all-new adventures, but their reasoning is sound. The new campaign explores the same themes through new adventures, and I was very happy they asked me to contribute to it.

I know that for some people nothing will ever live up to the original: for them, Fantasy Flight’s re-use of the name is akin to blasphemy. All I can say in response is that I wrote the best adventures I possibly could in both campaigns, and I hope you like the result.

It’s also true that the WFRP community is going through its own edition wars right now, and some diehard 1st or 2nd edition fans might regard a 3rd edition campaign called The Enemy Within as adding insult to injury. Having read 3rd edition – indeed, all three editions – in depth, I must respectfully disagree. While the mass of components that accompany 3rd edition products may be unfamiliar and even intimidating to 1st or 2nd edition grognards, the rules themselves work pretty well. The components, for the most part, are there to help make things run more smoothly: in a lot of cases, they hold text that would otherwise have been in the rulebook, so players and GMs can have it close to hand during a game.

I made a conscious effort, when writing my two chapters, to write a good WFRP adventure rather than a WFRP 3rd edition adventure. Very little of my design depends heavily on mechanics, and I hope that GMs will be able to adapt the campaign for use with earlier rules editions if they wish. It is even possible to add adventures from the original campaign and produce a grand “Total Enemy Within” mash-up that would work fairly well.

Anyway, it’s here, and I hope people like it.

The Small but Vicious Podcast

March 30, 2012 2 comments

I get interviewed about my history writing for games, and on Fantasy Flight’s new Enemy Within campaign.
http://www.d20radio.com/sbv/

The Enemy Within, Again

March 1, 2012 47 comments

In 1986 I was hired by Games Workshop to help develop a tabletop roleplaying game based on their Warhammer fantasy miniatures game. I had done some freelancing before then, but this was my first job in the games industry. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was released in time for Christmas that year, and one of the first priorities was to produce an adventure campaign for the new game that would allow players to explore the Empire and other parts of the Warhammer world. The campaign was called The Enemy Within, and it dealt with the less obvious face of Chaos: secret cults and corruption in high places that threatened the Empire’s very existence.

The campaign was largely planned by Jim Bambra and Phil Gallagher, two recent recruits from TSR UK’s roleplaying games design team. Together with Graeme Morris, for whom I am sometimes mistaken, they had been responsible for a number of successful adventures, my personal favorite being B/X1 (reprinted as B10), Night’s Dark Terror. Jim and Phil wrote The Enemy Within to set the scene and kick off the campaign, and I wrote Shadows Over Bogenhafen. We divided Death on the Reik, with Jim and Phil writing the main adventure while I wrote the River Life supplement and adventure seeds.

These first three episodes came out pretty much as planned, but then certain commercial realities set in. The first edition of Warhammer 40,000 came out at the same time as WFRP, and because it introduced a whole new range of miniatures it was far more profitable. Gaps between new Enemy Within adventures became longer, and GW started to look for ways to defray the expense of in-house development.

Power Behind the Throne was adapted from an AD&D adventure written by prolific freelancer Carl Sargent, and span off the Middenheim city sourcebook. Something Rotten in Kislev was commissioned when renowned American RPG designer Ken Rolston became available, and was loosely tied into the Enemy Within campaign to maintain some kind of continuity. A Skaven-based adventure provisionally titled The Horned Rat was cancelled before inception.

When GW spun off Flame Publications in 1989, the first directive was to wrap up The Enemy Within quickly, using a manuscript for the previously-announced Empire in Flames that Carl Sargent had written with his usual speed. Flame went on to publish several more WFRP titles: many, like the four-volume Doomstones campaign, were adapted from existing materials that had been written for AD&D or the Warhammer miniatures game.

After Flame was shut down in 1992, it seemed as though WFRP – and the Enemy Within campaign – were dead. But the game’s fans just wouldn’t let go. Through fanzines like Warpstone and on early internet mailing lists, they kept the game alive for three years until Hogshead Publishing picked up the license in 1995. Hogshead reprinted all the Enemy Within adventures except Empire in Flames, which had never been a fan favorite and which Hogshead owner James Wallis wanted to replace with a new campaign finale. Alas, that never happened and Hogshead returned the license to Games Workshop in 2002.

When Black Industries and Green Ronin Publishing collaborated to produce a second edition of WFRP in 2005, it was decided to concentrate on all-new products rather than revisiting the Enemy Within campaign. I wrote Ashes of Middenheim, the first episode in the three-part Paths of the Damned campaign, but despite much tighter game mechanics, the adventures for second edition WFRP failed to achieve the success of The Enemy Within. Black Industries pulled the plug in 2008, and the license passed to Fantasy Flight Games.

And thanks to Fantasy Flight, The Enemy Within is back – in a way. Their new campaign set shares a title with the classic first edition campaign and explores the same themes through all-new adventures. There are still grave threats lurking in the heart of the Empire, but don’t expect to encounter Johannes Teugen in Bogenhafen or discuss philosophy with the half-cockroach mutant Ludwig von Wittgenstein. There are new enemies and new plots to uncover and thwart as the adventurers save the Empire from the forces of Chaos.

As the only one of the original Enemy Within authors who is still active in the tabletop RPG arena, I was very pleased to be asked to help develop this new Enemy Within. I did my best to be true to the tone and themes of the original, mixing humor with horror and confronting the players with moral dilemmas as well as physical challenges. My co-author Dave Allen and I wrote alternating chapters in the campaign, and the whole project was very ably and sensitively coordinated by Chris Gerber at Fantasy Flight.

As WFRP grognards know, Fantasy Flight’s third edition is a very different game from the two editions that preceded it, at least in terms of game mechanics and components. While writing for this new Enemy Within campaign, I took particular care to ensure that the adventures would be easy for an experienced GM to adapt to the first or second edition rules. My intention was that it should work well as a WFRP adventure, period, whichever edition of the rules a particular gaming group prefers.

It’s been a few months since I finished work on the campaign, and I’ve been bursting to tell the world about it. Now that Fantasy Flight has formally announced the release, I can. I’m very proud of it, and I hope that WFRP fans will find it worthy to bear the distinguished name of The Enemy Within.