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Cats 1, Dolphins 0: An Interview with Keith Baker


During the course of my career in the games industry, I have had the good fortune to work with a huge number of talented people – sometimes more than once. Keith Baker is one of those people, and over the coming months I hope to feature others.

 

I first met Keith in 1995, when I went to work for a Georgetown, DC multimedia house called Magnet Interactive Studios. I was working on edutainment-infotainment products that included interactive CD-ROM adaptations of Donald Silver’s One Small Square nature guides; Keith was working on a CR-ROM game for a client who had a great idea about a water-ball orbital station where dolphins programmed computers using sound. That game never saw the light of day, and after we both ended up at Boulder, Colorado MMO shop VR-1 Entertainment in 1996, neither did several other projects, including an audio MUD (think multiplayer online interactive radio drama) and the highly-anticipated pulp-horror MMORPG Lost Continents.

 

Lesser souls might have given up and gone into insurance, but not Keith. In 2002 he won the Wizards of the Coast Fantasy Setting Search with Eberron, which made him a household name in the D&D community. Not content with that, he created the hit card game Gloom for Atlas Games, which has now turned into almost a dozen products and expansions. Now, he has founded Twogether Studios to get more of his games out into the world. The latest one, Action Cats, is a feline-centric storytelling game with crowdsourced images, which could make your moggy a star. Yes, I know: that’s just the way his mind works.

 

But enough from me: Keith is more than capable of speaking for himself.

 

 

 

Hi, Keith, and thanks for this interview. We’ve just seen how I would introduce you – now, how would you introduce yourself?

 

I’m Keith Baker, and I’m one of the luckiest nerds in the world. I got into D&D when I was in elementary school, and from that time I knew that there were people whose job was to make games and I wanted to be one of those people. Of course, I had no idea how to actually get that job. After college, I stumbled by chance into an opportunity to work at a computer game company — the long-defunct Magnet Interactive Studios – where I had a chance to work with many RPG legends, like Ken Rolston (Paranoia), Zeb Cook (Planescape), and, of course, Graeme Davis (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Colonial Gothic). This was a great opportunity to hone my skills, and over the course of years I worked my way up to the position of lead game designer.
I worked for a number of other computer game companies over the years, and along the way I finally made inroads into the tabletop industry. I did freelance work for Atlas Games, Steve Jackson, Green Ronin, and Goodman Games. Finally, in 2002, I got frustrated with the computer games industry and decided to try freelance RPG writing full-time. I should have been doomed, but that was the year Wizards of the Coast announced its Fantasy Setting Search — eventually choosing my world of Eberron as the new setting for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.
The first Eberron products were released in 2004, and the same year saw the release of my transparent card game Gloom. I’ve been tinkering on various projects ever since. In 2014, my wife Jenn Ellis and I founded our own game company, Twogether Studios. We released our first product — the tabletop RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command — in 2016. This year we’ll be releasing Illimat, a classic card game we created with the band The Decemberists, and we’re currently Kickstarting our next game, Action Cats!
 
Eberron still has a great many fans. Tell us how you came up with the idea. Are there any future plans that you can share?
I submitted seven ideas to the Fantasy Setting Search. Eberron was the last of them — one I added in just because it seemed like fun. It incorporates a few things I enjoyed. The first is the idea that since arcane magic in D&D behaves in a scientific manner (it’s reliable, repeatable, you can teach a spell to another wizard or create a new spell), why wouldn’t it be worked into society in the same way we use science? How would the world evolve with magic as a tool instead of in the hands of a few wizards? I blended this with two themes I enjoyed, film noir and pulp adventure. This was further influence by the fact that between 1999 and 2002 I’d been working on a pulp-themed MMORPG called Lost Continents – so I had pulp on the brain.
At the moment Eberron is in the WotC vault. I post Q&As on my personal website (keith-baker.com) every few weeks, but I can’t do any more with it until WotC opens it up. I think this will eventually happen, but I don’t know when.
Gloom is a unique game in  many ways: transparent cards as a mechanic rather than just a gimmick; a goal of making your characters miserable and other players’ characters happy; and a quietly twisted sensibility. How did you come up with the idea? What can you tell us about future expansions?
Gloom had two points of origin. The first was that I saw a deck of transparent plastic poker cards and thought If you can print on transparent plastic, I want to make a game that actually DOES something with that. The second was that my significant other at the time had a really hard time with games where she had to do mean things to other people — which meant that when we played such games with friends, she’d always do all the mean things to ME. So – as a longtime fan of Edward Gorey, the Addams Family, and similar things – I made a game where you do NICE things to other people. It was a purely semantic twist, but it worked.
As for what’s next for Gloom, we recently released Gloom in Space, a sci-fi twist on the concept. There are a few things in the works, but nothing I can talk about yet.
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City is another unique idea: it might be described as “Cthulhuopoly.” Its journey to the market was a hard one, but I’m sure anyone who has played the game would agree it was worthwhile. Once again, how did you come up with the idea? How long was it in development before you were ready to Kickstart it? What lessons can other hopefuls take from your experience? Do you have any plans for anything similar?
The original idea for The Doom That Came To Atlantic City came from my friend Lee Moyer. A talented artist and connoisseur of all things Lovecraftian, Lee created a strange blend of Arkham Horror and Monopoly. It was interesting, but not really a game… and as I was a budding game designer, he asked me to take a crack at it. We kicked around various ideas for years before hitting on the final formula: the idea that you were playing the Old Ones themselves, stomping around and destroying the city.
We didn’t originally plan to Kickstart it; we had a contract with Z-Man Games, and it was just about to go to print when that fell through. So we had a game that was basically ready to go to print. When Erik Chevalier came to us and wanted to kickstart it, it seemed like a fairly foolproof idea… but it turns out those fools can be surprisingly clever. Lessons learned: Never get involved in a Kickstarter where you’re not in control and you don’t know the person who is. I trusted that Erik Chevalier was being up front and was an honest person; neither of those things turned out to be true. He lied to Lee and me, and to the backers; he spent the funds on everything but making the game; and ultimately, we had to cancel the project. Cryptozoic came to the rescue, making the game and giving it to backers of the Kickstarter at their own expense. But I’ll never give my name or a game of mine to another Kickstarter campaign unless I know everything about the project and the people running it.
While Doom is a fun game, board games aren’t a primary interest of mine, and I don’t have any particular plans to follow up on it.
Phoenix: Dawn Command was Twogether Studios’ first release. What’s it all about, and what sets it apart from other titles in the increasingly-crowded tabletop RPG market? How do you see that market, and how has that insight shaped your approach to designing, producing, and marketing the game?
Phoenix: Dawn Command is a traditional fantasy RPG. A gamemaster guides a group of players through an unfolding story. You are heroes in a fantasy world besieged by a host of supernatural threats. The dead are rising to prey on the living. There are ghosts, skinchangers, plagues, mass hysteria. You are one of the only people with the power to face these threats, but you may not live through the experience.
But that’s OK, because in Phoenix, death is how your character grows stronger. When you die, you eventually return stronger than before — but you don’t return right away, you don’t return where you died, and you can only return seven times. So each death gives you more power, but it also brings you closer to the end. Phoenix uses cards instead of dice: while there’s still an element of randomness, this gives players more narrative control. You know what your character is capable of, so there’s never a wasted action. If you don’t have the cards you need to pull off a particular action, then you must figure out something you can do with the resources you have in the moment. Alternatively, you have a pool of mystical energy you can burn to push beyond your current limits, essentially buying success… but when you run out of that energy, you die. So in Phoenix, death doesn’t happen because you failed a saving throw or because an orc rolled a critical hit; it happens because you chose to make a sacrifice. Nine times out of ten, deaths in Phoenix feel like a triumph: it lets you have these amazing dramatic moments you just don’t get in stories where death is a failure.
With that said, the tabletop RPG market is a small thing. We overestimated both the demand and our own reach. Phoenix is a beautiful game, and I’m proud of both the design and production. But we have a lot of work ahead of us to get more awareness of it out into the world. We are going to be continuing to support it, but honestly we are still figuring out the best approach, especially given our limited resources as a two-person company.

Illimat is another unique idea, and has done very well on Kickstarter. What’s it all about? How did you come to work with Portland indie band The Decemberists? When will it be available?

 

Many years ago, the band The Decemberists did a promo photoshoot where they were a secret society playing a mysterious game. They made a board for this nonexistent game, took some pictures, and never did anything with it. Fast forward to the future. They’re Gloom fans, and we cross paths over Gloom. They say “We’ve got this weird board… could you make a real game out of it? And could it feel like it might be a hundred years old and people have just forgotten about it? And be a little like a card game and a little like a Ouija board?” And I, of course, said “Yes.”
Illimat has the bones of a classic card game, drawing on games like Cassino and Scopa. But it’s new and different, and has a dynamic twist that will appeal to modern gamers. It’s played on a cloth board, but the game box itself is also a component. You set the box in the middle of the board, and its orientation determines the seasons of the different fields on the board, which in turn determines what can be done in those fields. As you play, you can change the seasons and thus interfere with your opponents’ plans.
I’m very happy with Illimat. I feel it accomplishes all our goals. It feels familiar and compelling to anyone who’s played a classic card game, but it has twists that make it unlike any of those games. And it’s visually beautiful and enigmatic. We expect it to be available in early October.
Action Cats has just been announced. Could I really get my cat (if I had one) featured in the game? Where did this idea come from?
Action Cats is a simple storytelling game. Each card has a picture of a cat on one side and two story prompts on the other side – the beginning and end of a sentence. So one card might say “This cat is a famous game designer…” and “… and would like some appreciation for that.” Each round, the judge takes the top cat and tells everyone what its name is. Everyone else combines two cards from their hand to create a story about that cat, and then presents their story. While you can just let the card text stand on its own: “This cat is a famous game designer”, you’re encouraged to elaborate on the story. Which particular games did this cat design? Did he create Settlers of Cattin’? Call of Cathulhu? Why does he (or she) feel so underappreciated? Like Gloom, this is where the real fun comes in… and the pictures themselves give a lot of inspiration for colorful stories.
This began as a simple idea I just put together to play with friends. I took pictures of my friends’ cats and did a print-on-demand deck. But we had so much fun playing it that we decided to make it a real thing. It’s a simple game, but it’s fun, family-friendly, and great for people who have little experience with games, but who love a cute cat picture. We’re running the Kickstarter campaign now, and we’re keeping it very simple. Anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their cats, so your cat could be in the game! We aren’t doing any complicated add-ons, and we’re printing the game domestically — so we expect to have the game in the hands of backers by the end of the year! The Kickstarter only runs until August 1st, so if you want to get in on it, act now!
Is there anything else we should know about Twogether Studios? What does the future hold?
Jenn Ellis and I officially launched Twogether Studios in 2014. I’ve been making games for decades, but while I might love game design, I have no head for business. Jenn’s history is in product development, and she’s the people and products side of Twogether: I come up with games, and she makes them real. While our products – Phoenix, Illimat, Action Cats – are extremely diverse, they’re all games that bring people together, and they all share an element of whimsy and creativity. In the immediate future, our focus is on supporting Phoenix and getting the other games into the hands of backers and stores, but we’re always thinking about our next project!

What is your favorite monster from all of mythology and gaming? Why?

 

It’s a hard choice, especially because gaming often messes up the myths – such as the rakshasa that can be killed by an enchanted crossbow bolt, thanks to Kolchak the Night Stalker. I have a fondness for D&D‘s medusa thanks to my novel The Queen of Stone, but again, that’s a very different entity from the gorgon sisters of Greek mythology… though I do love the name “Euryale”, and I’ve used it in a few different places. I like exploring aspects of creatures that often get overlooked. In the case of the medusa, I liked thinking about what it means to have living hair. Can the medusa control her hair, or is it like a cat’s tail, an instinctive indicator of mood? Can she see through the eyes of her hair?
But if I had to pick just one, I might pick the Yule Cat of Iceland. Because it eats children if they don’t get new clothes for Christmas, which is the best excuse ever for why you should be GLAD you got socks as a present.

 

What do you read for inspiration? For fun? 
I love mythology and folklore from almost any culture, both for entertainment and inspiration. I’ve enjoyed some modern reimagining of such stories, such as Kat Valente’s Deathless. History is always useful; at the moment I’m reading The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk.
What do you watch for the same reasons? What do you never get tired of re-watching, and why? 
I’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It has its ups and downs, but it’s generally fantastic fantasy. I’ve gotten a little worn out from all the superhero shows, but I loved Legion, and I’ve already re-watched that, some episodes more than once. I love the writing, the cast, and the general approach of being a show set in a world of mutants that’s not in any way a superhero show. I loved both Fargo and Mr Robot, again because of the plotting and writing. And I’ll always go back to The Middleman for a laugh.
Re-reading, same question?

The Dictionary of the Khazars (Milorad Pavic) and the Irish epic The Tain. I enjoy the style of each, and there’s always something new in The Dictionary of the Khazars. And if I’m working on something for Eberron, I’ll often go back to The Big Sleep, which I definitely prefer in written form.

Many thanks to Keith for taking the time out for an interview in the middle of so many game projects! You can find him online here:

What are you still doing here? Go and check out Action Cats right now!

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

 

 

Night’s Dark Terror – in Kislev!

March 2, 2017 2 comments

b10_nights_dark_terror
Remember the UK AD&D module B/X1 (a.k.a. B10) Night’s Dark Terror? It was written by Jim and Phil (with Graeme Morris) shortly before they came to GW to work on WFRP. I gave it a favorable review in White Dwarf #78, and I’ve always liked it as a campaign setup and adventure.
 
Well, Gideon at the Awesome Lies blog converted it for WFRP 1st edition recently, and set it in Kislev. Check it out here: https://awesomeliesblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/nights-dark-terror/

Chupacabra: A Mystery Solved

November 11, 2016 Leave a 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.

 

Colonial Gothic en francais

June 21, 2016 1 comment

Amis francophones! Colonial Gothic en francais: aventures surnaturelles et de complot en la Nouvelle-France des XVII-XVIIIeme siecles? Ou Gevaudin, peut-etre?

(Et ouais, je le sais, j’ecris francais comme un ecolier anglais, ou peut-etre comme une vache folle. Une argument pro-Brexit, le franglais?)

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

June 7, 2016 5 comments

ADD Celts

 

Every so often, I get an email out of the blue from someone who is interested in some corner or another of my long and varied career as a writer for tabletop roleplaying games. They never fail to surprise me – people are still reading things I wrote twenty years ago or more? Inconceivable! – but last weekend I got one that surprised me more than most.

Tamara Rüther is studying for a Master’s degree in Celtic Civilization at Philipps-Universität at Marburg in Germany. As part of a study of how the Celts have been presented in popular culture, she wanted to ask me some questions about my work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook from 1992.

Tamara graciously agreed to let me post her questions and my answers here on my blog. I hope you find them interesting. As for me, I’m still staggered that anything I wrote could possibly end up as the object of academic study.

 

– My first question then would be, whether TSR asked you to write the Sourcebook or whether you approached them about it?

 

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

 

– Was it your first official attempt at writing mythology/history into a fantasy-based roleplay or were there others (and if so how was this one similar or different)?

 

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

 

 

– Also, I read on your blog that you had started working on a Celtic RPG setting early on in your ‘Gaming career’. Did any of that material make it into the Celts Sourcebook or did you take a completely new approach on it when you started working on the AD&D Sourcebook?

 

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

 

– Possibly a slightly random question – but how much time did you put into research and how easy was it? (I’m asking because some of the books you mentioned are still used in Academia today and they’re not always easy to get.) Did you still have access to University libraries or did you have to find everything elsewhere – and how did it go?

 

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

 

– Also can you think of any books that you used at the time that didn’t make it into the ‘further reading’ section, but that helped with your work? (And if there’s reasons other than space issues, why didn’t they make it into the further reading?)

 

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

 

– Did TSR have any specific requests concerning the Celts Sourcebook (i.e. its accuracy, for example whether things should be closer to the truth or easier to understand) or were you able to do whatever you wanted? And did they do much editing after you were done?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

– I’ve seen you’ve written other games afterwards, which more or less touch on Celtic materials (Gurps Faerie, or the more recent Camelot-related games) – do you think the AD&D research has played into that a lot, or did you treat each of these topics seperately? Also, was the approach to the topic the same each time or, if not, what were the differences?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 – The book itself is out of print by now, isn’t it, but I think the PDF version is still available, so do you know whether it’s still bought today and how frequently?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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