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My Top Five Monster Books (that I worked on)

January 25, 2020 10 comments

In an earlier post, I wrote about my love for monsters and picked out a few of my favorite rpg monster books. A lot of you got back to me with your own favorites, either in the comments section or through Facebook or other means, and now I have quite a few more books to look at – so thanks for that!

This time, I’ll be looking at some monster books that I’ve written or co-written. I’ll explain what I hoped to achieve with each one, and you can judge for yourselves how well I succeeded or failed. As always, I’d love to have your thoughts on each one, especially what you think would have made it better.

There’s more to this request than simple nostalgia, or a need for validation. You see, I’m gearing up for a new project (more than one, in fact: #secretprojects) and I’m studying previous rpg monsters books to figure out what features turn a good one into a great one. I’ll be issuing a formal announcement about the project some time in the next few weeks, but until then, tell me what would make a monster book irresistible to you. What are the must-haves, what are the cut-aboves, and what are the mind-blowing, come-look-at-this, can-you-believe-it features that turn a monster treatment into something that you have to use as soon as you can, and that you will talk about for the rest of your gaming career?

Creatures of Freeport

Creatures of Freeport

https://greenroninstore.com/products/creatures-of-freeport-pdf

A great attraction of this project was the opportunity to work with my friend Keith Baker. Before Keith created Eberron, Gloom, and the other games that have made him rightly famous, we worked together in a video game studio in Boulder, Colorado. We were both impressed by Green Ronin’s Freeport setting: I mean, D&D with pirates – what’s not to love? I had been thinking of ways to expand and improve the way monsters are covered in tabletop rpgs ever since my Games Workshop days, and Keith was a whiz at the complex process of creating monster stats for the 3.5/d20 system.

We added three sections to the standard treatment. The first set out the kind of information about the creature that might be available on a successful knowledge check, the second covered various magical, alchemical, and other uses for the dead creature’s remains, and the third presented a selection of adventure hooks.

The book got some good reviews, and we were both quite happy with it. But I’m still left with the feeling that it is possible to do better.

Atlas of the Walking Dead

Atlas of the Walking Dead

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/566/Atlas-of-the-Walking-Dead?affiliate_id=386172

Eden Studios’ zombie survival-horror game All Flesh Must Be Eaten came out just at the start of that heady (brain-y?) period in which zombie horror began to take over the zeitgeist. Since the undead have always been one of my favorite classes of monsters, I jumped at the chance to pitch them a monster book.

I took myth and folklore as my starting point here. Over the years, I had read an enormous amount on the subject, especially on the creatures of folklore around the world. I found that the walking dead – which I defined as all kinds of corporeal undead, not just zombies – broke down into a number of classes, with variants from different parts of the world. For each type, I started with a short piece of atmospheric fiction to set the scene, defined the base creature in terms of the game’s rules, and added a short section on variants. In many cases it was necessary to define new traits (Aspects in the game’s lingo), and as in Creatures of Freeport I finished up with a selection of adventure hooks.

GURPS Faerie

GURPS Faerie

http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/faerie/

Like all the GURPS worldbooks, this was as much a setting as a bestiary. Faeries are found across the world under a range of local names, and like the walking dead they break down into a number of distinct types. In addition to chapters on faerie lands, faerie magic, and faerie nature, I wrote a chapter of templates for the various types with variants on each. Following the format established by previous monster-centric sourcebooks for GURPS, a chapter on campaigns and adventures took the place of adventure seeds per template.

I like this book because faeries are another favorite class of monsters, and because it allowed me to examine their folkloric context in greater depth than a bestiary-style book would have permitted. Faerie is a tone as much as a class of monster, with its own feel and its own tropes, and to neglect this would have been to do the subject matter a grave injustice – and who knows, possibly to suffer spoiled milk and bedbugs for the rest of my life!

Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide

Werewolves cover

https://ospreypublishing.com/werewolves-a-hunter-s-guide

Is this an rpg monster book, really? There’s not a rule or a game stat in sight, but I think of all the Dark Osprey line as systemless rpg sourcebooks. I took the example set by line editor (and future designer of the excellent fantasy skirmish game Frostgrave) Joe McCullough in his book Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide, and set my werewolf book in the same alternate reality.

Although I already knew quite a bit about werewolves, the research for this book led me to the conclusion that there are at least five distinct kinds. Each one got a chapter, supported by case studies drawn (mostly) from genuine historical and mythological sources, and I took a couple of chapters to shoot a glance at other shapeshifters (such as Japanese hengeyokai and Indian weretigers) and to invent various organizations that hunt and/or study werewolves. Of course, I covered werewolves at war, from Norse ulfhednar to the ever-popular Nazi werewolves and various Cold War spin-offs from Nazi research in that area.

The viewpoint is from contemporary urban fantasy rather than medieval fantasy, but that made a nice change, and I didn’t think that it lessened the book’s usefulness for rpgs set in any time or place. It is not aimed at any particular rules set, so there is some work for the GM to do, but I still hope that it offers a good source of information and ideas.

Colonial Gothic Bestiary

Colonial Gothic Bestiary

https://www.rogue-games.net/bestiary

Colonial Gothic is a very nice historical-fantasy game published by Rogue Games. I met Rogue’s head honcho Richard Iorio years ago when we were both working on the Hogshead Publishing booth at GenCon, and when he published Colonial Gothic I got in touch. A solid monster book is an essential part of an rpg’s core, and I aimed to provide one in the Colonial Gothic Bestiary.

As monster books go, it’s fairly unambitious. The aim was to cover a large number of critters and provide the GM with options, rather than to look at a smaller number in detail. What I like most about it is the way that it reflects the setting in its blend of North American wildlife, Native American folklore monsters, fearsome critters from tall tales, and Old World monsters that might believably have come across with the colonists.


So there you have it – or them. I will look forward to hearing your views, and discussing what features make a monster treatment really shine. And as soon as I can, I’ll be lifting the curtain on my #secretprojects. Bye for now!

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.

 

Nazi Moonbase – The First Reviews

May 21, 2016 9 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.

 

 

The Bundle of Holding

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The latest Bundle of Holding features seven titles from Osprey’s Osprey Adventures line: just $16.95 gets you all seven PDF ebooks with a retail value of $104.00. A couple of them are mine, and I’m in some very good company, including Chris Pramas, Phil Masters, and series chief Joseph A. McCullough. Here’s a link: take a look and I think you’ll be impressed.

Thor

Thor: Viking God of Thunder retells the Norse myths and covers Thor’s history from 6th-century Germany through the Viking Age to Marvel’s Avengers. Here’s a link to some of the great reviews it’s received.

Templars cover

Knights Templar: A Secret History is a roundup of history, rumor, and conspiracy theory surrounding the Templars and the Holy Grail. It even includes a brand new conspiracy theory that I made up, based on actual events and relationships, that could provide a great setting for all kinds of games. You can read more about it here: scroll down to the comments for links to reviews.

The Osprey Adventures line includes a lot of well-researched titles that are ideal as systemless sourcebooks for games. Take a look: you won’t be disappointed.

Knights Templar: A Secret History

October 9, 2013 17 comments

After I finished writing Thor: Viking God of Thunder, Osprey Publishing asked me to write a Templar conspiracy title for their Dark Osprey line. Knights Templar: A Secret History is due for release later this month, and pre-orders are open on your favorite online retailer. The first review I’ve seen tells me the finished product lived up to my intentions, which is always nice to know.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. As well as poking about in the dark corners of history, I was able to spend time reviewing the history of the Templar conspiracy phenomenon and add a brand new one of my own devising. I deliberately refrained from making up any historical facts – that would be too easy – but I really let myself go when drawing conclusions from them. It was something like kitbashing, a modeling term for the process of assembling parts from different kits in a way the designers never intended and producing an entirely new plane, tank, or whatever.

This isn’t my first book on the Templars. The Colonial Gothic Templars sourcebook was a similar exercise on a smaller scale, geared to the needs of the game and focusing on Templar activity in the North American colonies during the Revolutionary War era. This new book suffers no such restrictions, and I trace the Templars – and the Holy Grail – across the Atlantic and back again as they engage in a three-way secret war with the Vatican and the Freemasons. Are the Templars using the European Union to create a global state ruled by a heretical religion? Read the facts and judge for yourself.