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My Top Five RPG Monster Books

January 18, 2020 13 comments

Ever since I saw Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts on my parents’ black-and-white TV, I have been obsessed with monsters – especially those from myth and folklore. In my first D&D game, I played two thief characters, both of them killed by a minotaur. In the Games Workshop printing of the basic rulebook, I saw other names I recognized, and I was hooked right away.

I still love monsters, mythology and folklore, and monster books are still among my favorite types of tabletop roleplaying supplement. In this post I will discuss some of my favorites, looking especially at what each one offers the reader beyond the basic description and stat block.

Some of these are old – very old, but then so am I! – and there may very well be newer, even better books out there that I have not yet seen. If that’s the case, let me know! The comments section is right there at the bottom of the page. I’ll look forward to reading your views, and discussing what makes a monster book good, or great, or amazing.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Monster Manual 3.5

 

D&D Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual tabletop roleplaying rpg monsters Wizards of the Coast TSR

The original Monster Manual from 1977 was a landmark product in many ways, and just about every monster supplement published since has been influenced by it. Still, the 3.5 edition is better in my opinion. This is for three main reasons:

First, each monster description includes a ‘Combat’ section which covers the creature’s combat-related abilities and its preferred tactics. This makes it far easier to design encounters and run combats.

Second, the chapters at the back of the book – Improving Monsters, Making Monsters, and Monster Feats – make the book far more than just another collection of creatures. Following their instructions, the DM can customize monsters and create new monsters, providing the sort of endless variety that will keep players on their toes.

Finally, the list of monsters by challenge rating saves a lot of trouble when creating adventures. Page for page, it might even be the most valuable part of the book.

Today, no self-respecting monster book would be without these three features, and that makes the 3.5 Monster Manual something of a milestone.

Buy it at DriveThruRPG.

 

Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors

 

Petersen Chaosium, Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying tabletop rpg horrors monsters Lovecraft

There are Cthulhu Mythos monster books aplenty, but Petersen’s Field Guide stands out. It starts with a jokey-looking flowchart titled “Identifying Monsters of the Mythos” which is actually very useful indeed.

Fifty-three full colour spreads describe monsters in detail, including brief notes on their habitat, distribution, life and habits, and distinguishing features. A full-page main image is supplemented by sketches and notes illustrating different life stages and other peculiarities, as well as a human image for scale reference.

The lack of game stats is both a positive and a negative feature. On the one hand, they are something that readers expect in a monster book published by a game company; on the other, their absence makes the book system-independent. There are a lot of Mythos-based games on the market, from Call of Cthulhu to Delta Green to Arkham Horror, and their various rulebooks provide game stats for  pretty much all of the creatures covered here.

The book ends with an extensive bibliography, covering game supplements, fiction, and other sources. The section headed “Bibliography for Other Monsters” winks at the reader, for its contents are entirely fictional. However, it makes a great list of documents for player characters to find in-game.

One very nice touch is the provision of initial letters on the page edge. This makes it very quick and easy to riffle through to the creature you are looking for.

Buy it from Chaosium.com.

 

Old World Bestiary

 

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Old World Bestiary 2nd edition tabletop roleplaying rpg WFRP momnsters

I’m allowed to like this one, because I didn’t work on it. Packed full of grimdark Warhammer atmosphere, it is broken into two parts. The first presents common knowledge about various creatures, consisting of equal parts useful information, rumor, and prejudice, while the second, aimed at the GM, contains the more familiar descriptions, stat blocks, and rules for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s second edition rules.

The presentation works well enough, and although it can sometimes be annoying having to flip back and forth to find everything on a particular creature, the atmospheric material is gold for a GM who needs something to tell a player who just made a successful Lore or Research roll. Another nice feature is the appendix of hit location tables for different body plans.

Buy it at DriveThruRPG.

 

GURPS Fantasy Folk

 

GURPS Fantasy Folk Steve Jackson Games Tabletop Roleplaying rpg Monsters

Fantasy Folk differs from a standard monster book (such as GURPS Fantasy Bestiary) in that it looks in depth at 24 races, providing enough detail on each one’s ecology, culture, and politics to create an almost endless variety of NPCs from each– and player characters too, if desired.

Centaurs, great eagles, and other non-humanoid races are covered in addition to the usual elves, dwarves, goblins, and so on. Best of all, each race is provided with a worked example of a character – essentially a detailed NPC, ready to go – and a selection of adventure seeds.

While most GMs will not use every single race in this book, it offers a solid starting-point for developing races for use in a campaign. Better still – and perhaps without meaning to – it provides a template for describing fantasy races of one’s own, which is far better than starting from a blank screen.

Buy it from Steve Jackson Games.

 

Trollpak

 

Trollpak Chaosium RungeQuest Glorantha tabletop roleplaying rpg troll

Chaosium’s Trollpak for RuneQuest was one of the first tabletop roleplaying supplements to describe a single race in detail, and it is still worth reading if you can find a copy. The boxed set consists of three booklets: Uz Lore (“Uz” being the trolls’ name for themselves) covers their nature and history, The Book of Uz presents rules and information on playing troll characters, and Into Uzdom is a selection of adventures. Also included are two more adventures and a 22” x 17” map of the troll heartlands.

Both atmospheric and useful, Trollpak sets a standard that is hard to beat even now, and anyone planning a single-race roleplaying supplement would be well advised to study it. There is much here worth plundering.

Buy it from Chaosium.com.

 

Honorable Mentions

In addition to these five, I have to mention two series of magazine articles that, to my mind, significantly advanced the art and craft of rpg monster descriptions.

The “Ecology of…” series in Dragon magazine established a very good format for looking at monsters in greater details than the Monster Manual allowed. Sections on history (including, where appropriate, a short box on the creature’s origins in myth and folklore), physiology, psychology and society, and lair design offer invaluable information to the DM, and notes on the creature’s presence in various D&D campaign settings are useful to those who set their campaigns there. The sweetest meat, though, is saved for last: options for developing advanced versions of the creature, with at least one worked example. Like GURPS Fantasy Folk, these articles also establish a template which can be used for developing monsters of your own, which can only enhance both the monsters and the campaign setting.

Before the first “Ecology” article appeared in Dragon, though, TSR’s British arm published a short-lived magazine called Imagine. It ran to only thirty issues but contained a lot of innovative material – including the “Brief Encounters” articles. These presented a single new monster using a showcase encounter which was specially written to demonstrate everything that was new and interesting about it. Brief Encounters continued in Imagine’s even shorter-lived successor, the indie magazine GM Publications, and when most of the staff from both magazines joined Games Workshop, there was talk of re-using the format for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. However, the only published fruit of this effort was “Terror in the Darkness” in White Dwarf 108, which introduced a creature from the Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader rulebook to the Old World. More about that here.


 

These are my particular favorites, and I’m sure you will have your favorites too. I’m sure I have missed a great many very fine monster books, particularly given the way tabletop rpgs have proliferated in recent years. So don’t be shy – let me know about your favorites in the comments section. I’m always up for discovering a new monster book.

At some time in the future, too, I will set modesty aside and look at some of the monster books that I’ve worked on over the years, explaining what I was trying to achieve with each one and discussing how well I succeeded – or didn’t. (I did. It’s here.)

I’m looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions!

The Twelve Books of Christmas: Part Eight

December 20, 2018 12 comments

My eighth book of Christmas is another mythology title: Thor: Viking God of Thunder, which was my first title for Osprey’s Myths and Legends series.

Thor

The original sources for Norse mythology are surprisingly limited, so I had the space in this book to retell all of the major stories in which Thor takes part, and to mention those in which he is a secondary character. It was interesting to see how, in the Christian era, the myths were shorn of religious content and became, effectively, early superhero stories: Thor’s battles with the giants of Jotunheim read very similarly to the ’60s slugfests of Marvel and DC comics.

This comes as no surprise, of course, considering Thor’s success as a superhero in recent decades. Marvel was not the first publisher to use him in comics, but the Marvel Thor is the most enduring version. In addition, he has given his name to a radioactive element (Thorium), several Norwegian and German warships, and two American rocket systems.

Most notoriously, of course, Thor’s hammer has been adopted as a symbol by some neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, following the swastika – a universal design which in Scandinavia represented one of Thor’s thunderbolts – which was co-opted by the Nazi Party in 1920. We would all do well to remember that these are stolen emblems, and those who use them have no right to them – and equally, that not all those who use them are racists or fascists.

Here is what some reviewers had to say about the book:

“If this book is any indication of the quality of this new series, readers are in for a treat.”
– Kirkus (starred review)

This book is a nice, concise, beginning look at the legends of Thor. All tales that include him are at least briefly mentioned here, though most are told in full with extra bits of information to add depth to the reader’s understanding.
– Goodreads

Like all Osprey titles, the book is gorgeously illustrated, and the plates by Miguel Coimbra are outstanding.

The book’s page on the Osprey 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 Five: The New Hero.

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

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

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.

index

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.

Colonial Horrors: Denver Life Interview and Appearances

October 9, 2017 2 comments

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.

 

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

 

 

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

Chupacabra: A Mystery Solved

November 11, 2016 1 comment

This story broke several months ago, but today the BBC News web site carried the most thorough and cogent account of the chupacabra mystery – and its solution – that I have seen so far. Here is the link:

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161109-the-truth-about-a-strange-blood-sucking-monster

 

Image by Alvin Padayachee, from Wikimedia Commons

Image by Alvin Padayachee, from Wikimedia Commons

 

While I have loved mythology, folklore, and monsters from an early age, there are few things I find more satisfying than when science and common sense provide an explanation for something that was previously regarded as supernatural. To my mind, a scientific explanation does not make the world a duller, less magical place, and a myth is no less interesting or beautiful for being debunked: it still provides an insight into humanity’s lifelong struggle to explain and understand the world around us.

And of course, the chupacabra will probably remain a potent image in fantasy and supernatural fiction and games. Rightly so: it has earned its place every bit as much as any ghost or ghoul.

Here are some links to game adaptations of the “fantastic” chupacabra:

Game stats for the Pathfinder fantasy RPG, from Paizo Publishing.

The Chupacabra dice game, from Steve Jackson Games.

Rogue Games’ Colonial Gothic Bestiary includes game stats for the chupacabra as well as other legendary American creatures.

If you know of any more great chupacabra resources for gamers and fantasy fans, feel free to add them in the comments below.

UPDATE: January 15, 2018

I just read a disturbing twist on this tale. In the early 20th century, sarcoptic mange was deliberately introduced into coyote populations in an attempt to wipe them out. This makes it quite possible that the chupacabra is a man-made monster.

For this story and many others about the War Against Coyotes, I highly recommend Dan Flores’ book Coyote America.

A quicker read, from the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming, is here.

To me, that is scarier than any cupacabra monster story.

 

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

June 7, 2016 7 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.

 

My Complete and Utter Myth and Monsterography

February 27, 2016 2 comments

jason-and-the-argonauts

The skeleton battle from Ray Harryhausen’s movie version of “Jason and the Argonauts.” This was the start of my interest in mythology and monsters.

I was about six or seven, I guess, when I first became aware of mythology – Greek mythology, to be specific – and the wealth of monsters it contained. In rapid succession, I discovered a children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library, and I saw a Saturday-morning screening of Jason and the Argonauts (dir. Don Chaffey, 1963) on my parents’ black-and-white TV. Ray Harryhausen’s monsters entranced me, especially the skeletal Children of the Hydra’s Teeth.

DnD Blue book

A decade or so later, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. In my first game I ran two characters, both thieves and both killed by a minotaur in an epic battle. I bought a copy of the Games Workshop “blue book” printing, with John Blanche artwork on the cover and illustrations by Fangorn and others inside. While I appreciated the Tolkienesque elves, dwarves, and so on, it was the creatures from myth that caught and held my imagination. Now it was possible to see whether a mummy could beat a gorgon (a medusa according to the book, “gorgon” being a bull-like creature; that bothered me at the time, and still does).

To me, the monsters have always been the stars of myth, folklore, and fantasy. In  search of new beasts for my D&D games I plundered my collection of mythology books and ransacked the local library for anything on myth and folklore. Along the way, I became especially interested in the undead and in Celtic faerie lore, although I still devour all kinds of monster tales from all over the globe.

Over the years, some of my favorite work has been on monsters. As well as collections for tabletop roleplaying games, I have consulted on monster concepts for historical-fantasy video games and written books and articles on some of the classic creatures from myth, legend, and folklore.

Among other things, I have created:

  • Seven mummy types based on the ancient Egyptian concept of multiple souls;
  • Five classes of werewolf drawn from folklore, movies, and medieval trials;
  • A dozen classes of faerie encompassing creatures from all over the world;
  • Over 60 types of walking dead from A (aptrgangr: Scandinavia) to Z (zmeu: Eastern Europe).

For a recent videogame project (sadly canceled and subject to a non-disclosure agreement) I defined over 400 monsters from Greek mythology, including physical descriptions, broad definition of abilities and attack forms, and notes on affiliations to particular gods, titans, and other powers.

I plan to keep researching monsters in the future, but here is a list of everything myth and monster related so far.

Video Games
Blades of Excalibur (Arcade, Web), Kabam 2014 – Localization Editor
Heroes of Camelot (Card Battle, iOS/Android), Kabam 2013 – Story Designer/Writer Google Play iTunes Store
Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon (Strategy, iOS/Android), Kabam 2013 – Writer Google Play iTunes Store
Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North
(Strategy, iOS), Kabam 2012 – Story Designer/Writer Google Play iTunes Store
Spartan: Total Warrior (Action, Console), SEGA 2005 – Writer
Medieval: Total War – Viking Invasion
(Strategy, PC), Activision 2003 – Writer/Researcher

Books
Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, Osprey Publishing (Dark Osprey), 2015.
Theseus and the Minotaur, Osprey Publishing (Myths and Legends), 2014.
Thor: Viking God of Thunder, Osprey Publishing (Myths and Legends), 2013.
More information on my books

Tabletop Games
Of Gods and Mortals: Celts, Ganesha Games, 2016 – co-author. Buy it here
Colonial Gothic Bestiary, Rogue Games,  2013 – co-author. Buy it here
Pathfinder Bestiary 2, Paizo Publishing, 2010 – contributing author. Buy it here
Mythic Vistas: Eternal Rome, Green Ronin Publishing, 2005 – author. Buy it here
Creatures of Freeport,
Green Ronin Publishing, 2004 – co-author. Buy it here
GURPS Faerie, Steve Jackson Games, 2003 – author. Buy it here
Atlas of the Walking Dead, Eden Studios 2003 – author. Buy it here
Slaine: Teeth of the Moon Sow, Mongoose Publishing, 2002 – author Buy it here
Mummy, Second Edition, White Wolf Publishing, 1997 – co-author. Buy it here
GURPS Vikings, Second Edition, Steve Jackson Games, 1991 and 2002 – author. Buy it here
GURPS Middle Ages 1, Second edition, Steve Jackson Games, 1992 and 2002 – author. Buy it here
AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook, TSR, Inc., 1992 – author. Buy it here

Articles
“The Viking Dead,” Pyramid #3/92, June 2016. Buy it here
“Indian Ghouls,” Pyramid #3/92, June 2016. Buy it here
“Mummies: A New Approach,” Fenix (Kickstarter special edition), January 2016. Buy it here
“The Tathlum,” (AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook outtake), personal blog, December 2015. Download free here
“La Llorona,” personal blog, 2015. GURPS versionColonial Gothic version
“Mummy Amulets.” Pyramid #3/17, March 2010. Buy it here
“Bloodlines,” Adventures Unlimited #6, Summer 1996.
“Black Dogs, Church Grims and Hell Hounds,” Roleplayer #30, Jan 1993. View here
“Norse Trolls,” Roleplayer #24, June 1991. View here
“Fimir,” White Dwarf #102, Jul 1988. More on the Fimir
“Magic & Mayhem: Viking!” Imagine #30, Sep 1985.
“Monsters from the Folklore of the Philippines,” Imagine #25, Apr 1985. Download free here
“Haunters of the Dark,” White Dwarf #67, Aug 1985.
“Magic & Mayhem: Celts,” Imagine #17, Aug 1984. Download free here
“Sobek, God of Marshes and Crocodiles,” Imagine #16, Jul 1984. Download free here
“Sethotep,” Imagine #16, Jul 1984. Download free here
“The Taking of Siandabhair,” Imagine #5, Aug 1983. Download free here

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 Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography