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.
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!
It’s all right. I haven’t created a new contemporary urban fantasy franchise with sparkly Greek heroes battling emo lycanthropes in high school. But hold on while I just make a note of that….
No, this post is going to be about my next two books for Osprey Adventures. If you haven’t heard of Osprey Adventures before, the legendary military history publisher has been branching out with two new lines aimed – at least partly – at gamers and fantasy fans.
Osprey Myths and Legends does exactly what it says on the tin. This series presents the world’s greatest heroes (and monsters) in the classic Osprey format, combining well-researched text with lavish illustration and high production values. My first book in this series, Thor: Viking God of Thunder, was well received (click here for some links to reviews), so I was asked to write another – on Theseus and the Minotaur this time. It’s scheduled for release on November 18th and features some stunning color plates by Jose Pena.
I guess I was seven or eight years old when I first discovered this tale. I had become obsessed with Greek mythology after discovering a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library and seeing a Saturday-morning rescreening of Ray Harryhausen’s 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts on TV. Over a decade later, my first game of Dungeons & Dragons featured a fatal encounter with a minotaur. Along the way, I also read about Theseus’ early adventures on the road to Athens. But when I got stuck into the research for this book, I discovered something intriguing. Well, two things, actually.
The first is that Greek myths used the comic-book technique of “retconning.” After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus began to pop up in the adventures of Hercules and various other heroes, usually in a minor role. He was one of the super-team that took part in the Hunt for the Calydonian Boar, along with his faithful sidekick Pirithous. He appears as a wise and compassionate King of Athens in the tragic tale of Oedipus. A few writers even tried to add him to Jason’s companions aboard the Argo, but some serious timeline problems prevented their attempts from sticking. He was too old for the Trojan War, but a couple of his sons were among the Greek troops in the legendary wooden horse.
The other intriguing thing is that the core of the Theseus myth looks like it could be an allegory. Theseus lived – if he lived – at a time when Athens was growing in power and throwing off Minoan and Mycenaean cultural and economic domination of the Greek mainland. It was developing its own distinctly Greek identity, which would become the template for Classical Greek culture. There is evidence for a war – or at least a raid – led by Athens in which the famous Minoan palace of Knossos was burned. And some ancient sources refer to a Cretan general with the name, or nickname, of Taurus, the Bull. Likewise, the six enemies Theseus defeated on his journey to Athens could be seen as symbols of the various independent city-states that Athens assimilated as its influence spread across Attica. There’s little if any definitive proof that the myth of Theseus is based on actual historical events, but the coincidences do seem to be telling a consistent story, and it made my dormant archaeological reflex twitch.
The second book, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, is for the Dark Osprey line which focuses on horror and conspiracy, and follows on from earlier volumes about Zombies and Vampires. I collected werewolf legends and trial reports from across Europe and researched shapechanger myths worldwide to paint a picture of lycanthropy that expands upon what you will find in most movies, games, and novels. It touches on the standard fare – silver, the moon, Viking berserkers, SS werewolves, and so on – but I also uncovered a few surprises. Like, for instance, the fact that there are at least four distinct types of werewolf, each with its own unique characteristics. And the Greek tradition that a dead werewolf rises from the grave as a vampire. And the ancient werewolf cult that centers on Mount Lykaion in Greece.
Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide is scheduled for release in March 2015, and there are some interesting titles scheduled for both of Osprey’s non-historical ranges.
Osprey has also expanded into wargames with an interesting and growing range of rule sets presented in slim, affordable books. There are historical rules, of course, but they also cover mythology, steampunk, and Hong Kong action movies. My personal favorite is Of Gods and Mortals, a compact and tidy little skirmish game in which the gods of various mythologies can take to the battlefield as super-units, accompanied by mortal and monstrous followers. It has a very neat mechanic which makes gods and mortals heavily interdependent.
Osprey Publishing has a long-standing reputation for quality that is very well deserved. I’m very happy to see them expanding into these new areas, and even happier to play a modest part myself. Check out the links below. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least one title that surprises and intrigues you.