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My Top Five Monster Books (that I worked on)

January 25, 2020 5 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 go 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 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.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Werewolves

March 31, 2015 2 comments

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My Osprey book Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide was released last week. To celebrate, I’ll be posting and tweeting a fact a day for ten days: just a few of the things I discovered while researching and writing it. I’ll also be updating this post each day with a new fact. You’ll find more information in the book itself, and you may never look at this stock horror monster in quite the same way once you’ve read it. I know I don’t.

Like its companion volumes on Zombies and Vampires, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide collects a lot of deeply-researched information gathered from all times and places and presents it in an accessible and well-organized form for gamers and general readers alike.

For more on this book:
The first review (scroll down to the Comments section for more links as I find them).
A post about Werewolves and my most recent Osprey Myths and Legends book, Theseus and the Minotaur.

1. There are five distinct types of werewolf
As I read various ancient myths and medieval trial reports, I discovered something completely unexpected: not all werewolves are the same. I finally counted five distinct types, all of which I’ve covered in detail with histories, detailed descriptions, and case studies.
The five types are:
1. Viral Werewolves;
2. Cursed Werewolves;
3. Shamanic Werewolves;
4. Sorcerous Werewolves;
5. Obsessive Werewolves.

2. The Roman Empire helped spread lycanthropy across Europe
Until the first century, viral lycanthropy was confined to a small area of eastern Europe which became the Roman provinces of Moesia and Dacia. As Roman officials, merchants, and tax gatherers opened up the region, some of them contracted the virus and spread it throughout the Roman world.

3. St. Patrick may have rid Ireland of snakes, but he created the first documented Irish werewolves
The snakes of Patrick’s legend are a metaphor for Druidism, according to some writers. Another legend tells of certain pagans who drowned out his preaching by howling like wolves – whereupon he cursed them in the name of God, and they became the first recorded werewolves in Ireland.

4. Suleiman the Magnificent purged Constantinople of werewolves in 1542
The city was so overrun with werewolves that the Ottoman Emperor called out his Janissaries to deal with the situation. Over 150 werewolves were killed in one hunt alone.

5. Russia used werewolves to destabilize Sweden in 1790
The Swedish province of Calmar was overrun by a plague of wolves in 1790. Russia and Sweden were at war, and it was rumored that at least some of the creatures were werewolves that the Russians had created using Swedish prisoners. Sweden eventually sued for peace.

6. Buffalo Bill encountered a werewolf in 1906
According to the dime novel The Wolf Demon: Or Buffalo Bill and the Barge Mystery, the great scout and showman battled a wolf-like creature in Wyoming’s Wolf River Canyon. Cody claimed it was a werewolf, though some scholars believe it was actually a skinwalker from the local Arapahoe people.

7. The “Hounds of God” were an order of werewolf witch-hunters
At his trial in 1691, one Thiess of Kaltenbrun claimed to be a Hound of God, dedicated to protecting his community from supernatural threats. The Hounds were said to conduct raids into Hell itself on three nights of the year.

8. Britain and Germany both developed werewolf special forces in WWII
Germany’s Werwulf guerillas are fairly well-known, but Britain’s Talbot Group was founded in 1941 near Llanwelly, Wales and served throughout the rest of the war.

9. Vampires may be undead werewolves
According to a Greek tradition, a dead werewolf can rise from the grave as a vampire. However, the Greek word vrykolaka can mean both werewolf and vampire, which confuses matters somewhat.

10. Benjamin Franklin organized a werewolf militia
During the American Revolution, Patriot werewolves used their wolf forms to bring back valuable intelligence on British movements and troop strengths.

“Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide” – The First Review

February 3, 2015 5 comments

With a little over a month until release, the first review has appeared of my Dark Osprey book Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide. It’s short but sweet, and I’m looking forward to more.

It was a lot of fun to research and write this book. Here’s what I wrote about it a few months ago when it was first announced:

index

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.

Like the other Dark Osprey books, this book mixes historical research with speculation to create a “what-if” reality which is firmly grounded in the real world. Anyone who is interested in the history and development of the werewolf myth will get something from it, and gamers will find a wealth of system-independent information and suggestions ready to use in their campaigns. Ripping the you-know-what out of effete sparkly vampires, for instance…

As I find new reviews, I’ll post links in the comments section below.

Theseus and the Werewolves

September 7, 2014 6 comments

Wait, what?

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.

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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.

index

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.

Osprey Myths and Legends
Dark Osprey
Osprey Wargames