Saturday, 24 September 2016

Primary Sources

At about 0:40 into Episode 70 of the Gauntlet there’s this quote concerning The Black Hack:

it seems to have taken a few things from other games… I saw a little bit of D&D 5e in there, I thought there was a touch of Torchbearer and Dungeon World in there as well…

It’s a throwaway remark and as such not really fair to second-guess the thought process behind it. At face value it suggests that TBH is maybe derivative of Dungeon World and Torchbearer; it makes more sense that all three are derivative of the same perceived root (namely the cartoon image of zero-to-hero dungeon exploration that continues to dog the OSR). Besides, what kind of masochist would write a game that’s derivative of Torchbearer?

These assumptions are made because

  1. Oral tradition and playing the game is and always will be the primary way the game is communicated
  2. The idea of only oral tradition isn’t really challenged, thanks to cultural inertia and confirmation bias.

Some hobbies are actively hostile to anyone who deviates from oral tradition. Western Martial Arts had this problem in the early years where to prove yourself you needed a credible line of succession — anyone who claimed to learn their art from a treatise alone was at best a poor cousin to those who’d paid their dues doing 3-weapon sport fencing (or if they were lucky, some living tradition like singlestick or classical foil). And no, it wasn’t enough that you’d spent two decades doing Wing Chun and used that to inform your style of 19th century boxing — if the living line from master to student was broken, you had to start over.

Anyway, here is a review of Elizabeth Lovegrove’s Rise and Fall:

This is a game that taps into the zeitgeist by exploring dystopias and fallen societies.  It’s clear that the author did their research, and have built on the excellent work of past designers including Ben Robbins (Microscope, Kingdom), and Caroline Hobbs (Downfall). The game uses rather elegant tools of world-building to present a clear story with minimal systems.

Of course I have my own bias here, but I was still a bit surprised by this bit… because I’d been aware of Liz’s design process not only for Rise and Fall but the traditional (i.e. GM-led) games that preceded it, and also her primary sources (e.g. Children of Men, The Handmaid’s Tale). All of which are literary, none are games.

In fact, when we were at the Nine Worlds con I picked up a copy of Ben Robbins’ Kingdom and waved it under her nose saying “I think this is a lot like that idea you had for your dystopian game! We should play it for research!” We still haven’t played it.

(also I believe the PDF release of Downfall was 30th November 2015 to Kickstarter backers, while Seven Wonders was launched at Dragonmeet in December 2015)

Does this matter?

It’s definitely useful to have someone enthusiastically say “like X? Try Y!”. The benefits of comparing The Black Hack to Dungeon World are both games acting as gateway experiences for two overlapping cultures.

But only focusing inward is a pernicious habit, meaning your genre expectations are set by secondary rather than primary sources. Say you only assume D&D is only about violent dungeon exploration and then you create derivative works that reinforce that stereotype. This further influences the third generation, and so on.

Not that you should be blindly worshipping at the altar of Appendix N, either. Appendix N has become shorthand for a similarly reductive kind of “D&D experience” (which I have opinions about here) and pigeonholes the whole gamut of OSR titles — when titles such as Beyond the Wall are open about their literary roots, roots which lie outside Appendix N (though interestingly lie within the broader reading list recommended by Moldvay D&D).

The assumptions of derivation rather than common literary root will continue to be a hazard of those games on the fringe. Take Silent Legions — a game which I feel represents the peak of Sine Nomine’s offerings, and is a masterful deconstruction of different kinds of horror. Even though it offers much more than Call of Cthulhu, it will always stand in CoC’s shadow — mainly for the assumption that it’s nothing more than “the OSR does Cthulhu”.

Monday, 22 August 2016


Let’s do this:

fictoplasm itunes 2

Fictoplasm is a podcast about fiction and roleplaying games. Each episode we talk about a book we like, then we talk about the games we’d like to run based on the ideas in the book — maybe picking up the setting wholesale, maybe just cherry-picking tropes and world-building bits.

The first episode discusses Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Coming up is Garth Nix’ Sabriel, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, followed by some Le Guin, Moorcock, Zelazny, Christopher Priest, J. G. Ballard, Mary Gentle, Octavia Butler and more.

Baby wrangling means that our recording schedule will likely be erratic, and the first episodes will likely sound a bit ropey as we get the hang of room acoustics and Audacity. But, it’s a thing.

RSS feed:


Sunday, 9 August 2015

Nine Worlds 2015

Whew! Back from 9 Worlds, and it was much fun. I learned a lot about podcasts, listened to skeptics talk about fairies (Deborah Hyde), spent a lot of time on the history and academia track, listened to panels on death, gothic literature and a cage fight between SF and Fantasy, enjoyed the panel on diversity in LARP, and many other things.


This is Dr Simon Trafford who presented Why Sing Pop In Dead Languages and explained how Dead Can Dance has transformed Christian period songs into vaguely spiritual-sounding neoclassical gothic mush (yeah, but I like that stuff).


This is Jensen’s gin. I tried both their Bermondsey (London dry) and Old Tom (pre 1830’s style) gins, and both are really great.


more gin

Now I have to get something off my chest. Dystopian fiction featured heavily this year — from the Arcadia or Armageddon and I Predict A Riot panels to Vanessa Thompsett’s excellent Dystopian London In Fiction (which was absolutely spot on, discussing how Huxley, Orwell and Moore change the psychogeography of the London we know to create their dystopias). I say this:

Dystopia is not the same as post-Apocalypse.

The panelists repeatedly conflated these two terms, and although there is overlap they are not the same thing. Apocalypse is nearly always about scarcity and community. Dystopia is about social control, unfair living conditions, arbitrary laws and non-transparent hierarchy structures, etc.

Of course dystopia can arise in a post-apocalypse world (e.g. H. M. Hoover’s Children of Morrow). But it was a bit annoying to hear The Road being referred to with some regularity in the Utopia/Dystopia conversation.

Props to the awesome Geoff Ryman for (a) calling out the lack of utopian vision in modern fiction (and pointing out that ISIS is at least someone’s utopian vision) and (b) plugging Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland which is an example of a progressive yet utopian novel (when a lot of utopian concepts are regressive and pastoral — compare that to dystopias which are post-industrial and feature travel, advances in science, etc.).

For a proper post-apocalyptic vision I did enjoy Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge — so much I bought the book:


knowledge 2

Yes, it’s popular science but all good fun and very level headed — a laundry list of different things you would need to get society running again after a collapse, from food and water to fuel, transport, communication (the printing press!) and very interestingly time and place, i.e. how to make an accurate calendar for agriculture, and how to navigate to places. If you want a shortcut for game research, this is pretty good.

All in all another fine convention, thoroughly recommended.


going well

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Why, eh?

A few years ago at Reading I saw Marcus Brigstocke ranting about “guilty pleasures”. The gist was this: when someone says “Twilight is my guilty pleasure” they’re actually saying “Twilight is shite, but I’m self-aware enough that I can appreciate its shittiness, unlike the unwashed masses who take it at face value”.

The guilty pleasure fallacy is elitism by stealth. It’s particularly obnoxious when used by middle-class liberals to describe their relationship with the X-Factor. More to the point, it only appears in the context of adults seeking approval from other adults where the groupthink condemns this particular entertainment.

The same elitism has surfaced in The Slate, where Ruth Graham opines that we should be embarassed to read YA; although in a novel twist Graham appears to be projecting the guilty pleasure fallacy on her peers in the age 30-44 demographic who defend YA as “more sophisticated than ever”.

Yes, it’s a blatant wind-up piece. Cory Doctorow’s rebuttal opens a can of C.S. Lewis on Graham’s ass, and really that’s all you need to take away from the exchange. However there are a couple very obvious strawmen I’d like to comment on.

Firstly there’s the notion that YA wants to be “sophisticated”. That’s a clever use of language to suggest that YA fiction is competing with literary fiction by seeking the approval of an audience that considers “sophistication” to be the highest accolade one can place on fiction.

By Graham’s own admission “this kind of thing is hard to quantify” anyway. Why? Because it’s bullshit. Sophistication isn’t a metric; it’s as subjective as preference itself.

YA is just the latest in a long line of genres that literary fiction has put down to make itself look big — and it’s arguably scraping the bottom of the barrel now that Scott McCloud has taught us how to understand comics, BSG made SF gritty, Game of Thrones has (allegedly) rendered fantasy fit for adult consumption and Joss Whedon is doing his bit for superheroes.

Next there’s the priviledging of present over past with the notion that YA is getting more sophisticated (as a defence of YA). I assume Graham doesn’t believe this, but then she has little time for the classics either if the image of Alice at the head of the article is anything to go by.

There’s also the suggestion that adult readers are consciously seeking escapism and instant gratification, which by inference YA provides and adult literary fiction doesn’t. Really? Is the defining feature of literary fiction that its readers must be masochists?

“Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple.”

“The very ways that YA is pleasurable are at odds with the way that adult fiction is pleasurable” is such a broad statement that it’s not credible, and there are enough counter examples. One of the reasons I like YA is the distillation of the monomyth — but the monomyth’s themes and forms go beyond adventure stories and fairytales. While Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey simplifies Campbell’s original work it still demonstrates that a wide range of fiction can be submitted to the same analysis, and works for the same reason: the “hero” has an ordinary world that is upset, crosses a threshold, embarks on a journey and achieves some kind of apotheosis before returning “home” better for the experience. Fiction which misses out these crucial steps can frequently be incoherent or unsatisfying, and the fact that YA often nails this cycle is to its credit.

Most likely I’m preaching to the converted here, since the few readers I get will be fellow geeks and Spec Fic fans, used to the disapproving glare of lit fic. But still, being guilty or embarassed about what you read makes no sense; although perhaps you should be ashamed if you spend all your energy trying to like fiction that you don’t for the sake of someone else’s approval.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Science Fiction Hobby Games: A First Survey

Before I begin, I should be upfront: I’ve known the author for many years, so I’m inclined to be favourable. Readers should be skeptical of reviews anyway, but there’s good reason to be in this instance.

That said, I’m going to tell you why this book is worth your time.


Science Fiction Hobby Games: A First Survey (hereafter SFHG) follows the style of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (and its sibling, the Encyclopedia of Fantasy). Unsurprising, as Neal Tringham contributed to the Second and Third editions of that book and indeed some of the game content in the encyclopedia has been collected into this book.

However this book isn’t a stripped down encyclopedia; it’s more a catalogue of games that fit under the broad heading of “Hobby Games” that includes RPGs, board games, wargames, and even PBM. It doesn’t include video games although there are numerous references in the text concerning the influence of/on video games and parallel development.

Citation is thorough (as is found in its sf-encyclopedia parent). Individual entries are longer than encyclopedic ones and presented as short essays. There’s a bibliography, and a nice glossary that includes not only roleplaying terms but definitions of many SF tropes, which are then used in the entries to differentiate the sub-genres each game emulates. These include entries on genre taxonomy (Cyberpunk, Transhuman), game terminology (“massively multiplayer”, “interactive narrative”), and references to fiction in fantasy, SF and even comic genre. If you have the epub version, these are all nicely hyperlinked from entries to glossary.

The book is split into several sections: initial essays on How To Read This Book (citations and naming conventions), brief discussions on games and game worlds, and then several large sections on types of games. RPGs come first, then Wargames, then Board Games, Gamebooks, and PBM. The glossary and bibliography completes the book. Here I confess I’ve only read the RPG section and dipped into the others as I have little interest in wargames (aside from WH40K).

It’s not complete. John Snead’s Eldrich Skies and VSCA’s Diaspora are not included, for example (although Shock: Social Science Fiction is). But it’s a first survey, and the main value is commentary on titles that have either disappeared into obscurity (e.g. The Morrow Project) or ones with a diverse heritage that benefit from a thorough analysis (Traveller). Each entry covers the objectives of the game, literary heritage, game system, SF themes and other related works (board games, video games, etc.). Overall I found the approach to be very consistent and mature, although some games have more to say about them than others.

There are several types of gamer this book might appeal to. If you really love SF and if in particular you want to either (a) pick a game that emulates a particular type of SF or (b) read more widely on the sub-genre of a particular game, this book is very worthwhile.

If you’re interested in the history of our hobby, and particularly in SF games which usually play second fiddle to D&D and other fantasy games in historical analysis, this is also very good. There is plenty of stuff from the early days of the hobby to satisfy both a young player’s curiosity and an older player’s need for gratification and self-congratulation (ahem).

What about the future? It would be nice to see a second survey to expand the initial group of games. Since Neal has included Call of Cthulhu perhaps the Superhero or Pulp genres are ripe for inclusion too. I would love to read Neal’s take on Synnibarr (and he does cover some obscure stuff, for example Continuum: Roleplaying in the Yet). But sourcing these games and much less playing some of them (shudder) is not a trivial undertaking.

In summary: there is nothing like this book anywhere else. If you want a wealth of information and opinion on our hobby games (especially the more obscure elements) from an author who has contributed to entries to the SF Encyclopedia, this is worth your time.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Elric of R’lyeh: History and Legend

  1. Myth
  2. Subverting History
  3. Timeline of the Common Era

In this portion of the game notes, we’ll discuss history and myth.


It was as if some enormous sun, thousands of times larger than Earth’s, had sent a ray of light pulsing through the cosmos, defying the flimsy barriers of Time and Space, to strike upon the great black battlefield.

When Elric blew the Horn of Fate, a rent in time and space allowed the Gods of Law to pass into our world and do battle with Chaos. Eventually the power of the Horn swept all gods away and ushered in a new age and new world.

At least, that’s how the common version of the myth goes. As Moorcock fans we’re familiar with the events in Stormbringer up to the point of Elric’s final toot of the horn (and subsequent betrayal by the eponymous sword) and it’s generally assumed that the world that follows is both geographically and metaphysically altered into our own world.

The alternate earth of Elric of R’lyeh exists after that cataclysm; the Elric myth is broadly aligned with the events of Stormbringer, but it is still a myth. The cataclysmic event at the beginning of the Common Era is the beginning of known history, and the time before is speculation — and the Elric myth is probably a rendering down of a complex series of events to make it palatable to modern citizens.

But, let’s consider what could have happened.

Firstly, the Horn of Fate is a macguffin. It could be a metaphor for vast cosmic change, or it could be a coincidental detail that has been blown out of proportion. What if the sound of the horn was the “thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time” (H. P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep) and Elric’s true purpose was to summon Nyarlathotep to usher in a new age?

Another idea: what if the Horn of Fate were a weapon? Its intent was to usher in a new age, reset the balance and sweep the old gods away. When Elric sounded the Horn of Fate and conjured the gods, what if they came there not to do battle with Chaos, but — facing their own extinction — with the sorcerer himself?

“So it is over,” Moonglum murmured. “All gone — Elwher, my birthplace, Karlaak by the Weeping Waste, Bakshaan, even the Dreaming City and the Isle of Melnibone. They no longer exist, they cannot be retrieved.”

And finally, when the Horn was sounded for a third and final time, did the Earth change, or did Elric’s perception of the Earth change? Did he truly witness the Earth whirling “faster and faster… day giving way to night with incredible rapidity” (Stormbringer) or did Dead Elric dream those changes after his final battle ground sank beneath the waves? Elric is popularly portrayed as mortal, yet he is also Melnibonean; he is both fantastically long-lived and powerful, and there is no-one in the Common Era who is truly Melnibonean, and thus his true power is likely beyond the estimation of modern scholars. That he lives still is a frightening possibility.

Ylrhc the sorcerer created a weapon that could challenge the gods themselves, and for his blasphemy they met him in his palace at R’lyeh to strike him down. He was defeated but not killed, for he did the gods terrible harm and weakened them such that even they could not end him. And so the gods consigned his R’lyeh to beneath the waves, along with his weapon, so men would never find him and understand that they had the power to challenge the gods.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Ylrhc R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

  • Unnamed heretical scroll, from the archives of the Vatican

Subverting History

There’s not a lot to say about mucking about with history. It falls down to two things: inserting historical figures into your game, and establishing a timeline.

Let’s talk about historical figures first. Melnibonean bloodlines present a lot of potential; in my campaign Queen Elizabeth was the last true Melnibonean, and the class structure was predelicted on Melnibonean blood and how many generations one was removed from Her Majesty. The greater the percentage of Melnibonean blood the longer lived the individual is, too. I’ll cover modern society and its obsession with bloodline and status in a later post.

With the potential for historical persons having a drop of Melnibonean blood in their veins, there are opportunities to insert any figure you care to from history into the 1920s. But, this is hardly new, since we were doing it in Vampire 20 years ago.

In fact, Melniboneans are a lot like Vampires in their scope to change history — they’re unusually long lived and usually powerful. The differences between a Melnibonean and a Vampire that matter are

  • they’re able to go out in the sunlight
  • they walk around in a society which obeys them rather than fearing them
  • they’re public figures.

History should be made by Melniboneans. Bear in mind that “Melnibonean” is a fluid concept and applies to members of rich families with strong Melnibonean bloodlines — but not exclusively alien. No-one in 1920’s earth is a “pure” Melnibonean, or has any concept of what that would look like — maybe with the exception of Queen Elizabeth.

Where it’s amusing to do so, pluck figures from history and give them Melnibonean blood. Pay attention to their relative ages. No-one is older than Elizabeth herself, but having NPCs who were born in the 1700s is plausible. In my own games I inserted Elias Ashmole and various contemporaries of Elizabeth. However I was mindful not to turn it into an alternative Vampire with the players as mere observers to the Elder’s machinations. This should still be an investigation game.

Timeline of the Common Era

This is a sample timeline. In this world the Dragon Isle and Melnibone are both synonymous with The British Isles, and Imyrr is synonymous with Oxford (city of dreaming spires and all that).

0-500 – age of Chaos.

Sinking of R’lyeh followed by a power vacuum. The Western Ocean is named the Boiling Sea and becomes impassable for the next 1500 years. Old Melnibonean feudal estates within Britain and on mainland Europe vie for power. End of the Bright Empire witnessed by Maximillian von Becque who founds the Church of Law. At the end of the Age the Church of Law is a significant power in central Europe.

500-1000 – age of the Construction.

Church of Law gradually permeates through civilisation, and challenges the Melnibonean estates. British Isles resist influence of Law and is widely held to be haunted by mainland Europe, inhabited by ancient sorcerer-kings and frightened tribes of humans. Capital of the Church of Law established at the ancient pre-collapse city of Byzantium.

1000-1500 – age of Enlightenment.

British Isles invaded by William who establishes his United Kingdom and begins the reconstruction of the largely superstitious and Chaos-aligned Britain. This is the Middle Age of Britain, during which time the Church of Law is fully established. At the same time the Court of Chaos is put in place to satisfy (the vanity of) the remaining Melnibonean estates on the island. The southern estates join the alliance of the Church of Law and the Court of Chaos under the British Monarch, though in the far north of Scalland the estates refuse to bow to the alliance and a bloody war ensues which is never fully resolved, only conceded. The Scalls continue to predominantly observe the cults of Chaos and become known as the Lands of a Thousand Cults.
At this time the old cities of Melnibone are rediscovered and William arbitrates on the rightful stewardship of the settlements. Oxford is one such city, and becomes a principle seat of learning. Towards the end of this period the collapse of the Byzantine Empire is imminent, to be replaced by the modern European structure.

1500-present – modern age; the Age of Empire; the Rediscovery of Melnibone.

The influence of Law spreads as cities prosper and the precepts of Law supplant the old allegiances to the cults of Chaos; however in rural areas local cult worship is common. Queen Elizabeth comes to the throne in Britain after a brutal war of succession following the death of her father, Henry. As it happens this profoundly influences the Balance between Law and Chaos throughout Europe. Had her sister Mary succeeded their father it is likely that Mary would have founded New Byzantium and a second Great Age of Law would have resulted; instead Elizabeth sought a balance between the Church of Law and the Courts of Chaos, and the latter was able to establish itself in the political landscape. This was the great Rennaissance of Chaos, with the rediscovery of the arcane sciences and a resurgence in magic. The British Empire — also known as the Second Bright Empire — is established during this time, and spreads throughout the modern world as far as the New World to the West, and Asiacommunista to the East.
The “Romance of Melnibone” is a phrase used for the romantic sensibilities of old Melnibone, the rediscovery of Melnibonean relics and knowledge and a reconnection with the spirit of Melnibone which Elizabeth sees as a continuation of the work of William’s Reconstruction. As part of the Rediscovery, the pioneers of the new Bright Empire travel west across the Boiling Sea and successfully land in the New World. Colonies of the Bright Empire are established there until the war of Independence, where the United States split from the Empire completely.

Recent History

Britain has recently fought a Great War with Germania and won; for the moment there is peace in Europa, though the cost has been very high. Russian revolution leads to the renaming of the Eastern continent as Asiacommunista. Church of Law establishes prohibition in the former Imperial Colonies who now refer to themselves as the United States — though the Empire calls them the Young Kingdoms.

Back: Law and Chaos | Index | Next: Politics

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Sources for Elric of R’lyeh

  1. Main Sources
  2. Books
  3. Roleplaying Games
  4. Afterword

Book sources for this project are divided into two camps: literary sources, and derivative works (which for the most part are games). In addition, there are some games which have nothing to do with the original premise but may still be useful.

This list is meant to be evergreen and may be expanded in the future.

Evergreen: Main Sources

Moorcock, M., Elric of Melnibone (omnibus) (London, Millenium/Orion, 1993)
Moorcock, M., Stormbringer (omnibus) (London, Millenium/Orion, 1993)
Moorcock, M., Earl Aubec (short stories) (London, Millenium/Orion, 1993)
Moorcock, M., Corum (omnibus) (London, Millenium/Orion, 1992)
Moorcock, M., Von Bek (omnibus) (London, Millenium/Orion, 1992)
Lovecraft, H.P., Complete works of H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhuchick epub)
St. Andre, Perrin, Monroe, Stormbringer 4th Edition (Chaosium 1990)
Willis, Watts, Elric! (Chaosium 1993)
Petersen and others, Call of Cthulhu 4th Edition (Chaosium 1989)


Of Moorcock’s prolific offerings, the most pertinent are the various Elric books. Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the most recent anthologies, which are published by Gollancz, and may have different orders of contents from the older Millennium imprints that I own (the original, big format books, lovely though not very portable). Wikipedia has a good run down of the books in roughly chronological order, and the Wikiverse project is also a source of information.

In addition to Elric, the other books recommended are the first Corum trilogy (Prince in the Scarlet Robe), the short story Earl Aubec) (from the anthology of the same name), and The Warhound and the World’s Pain (Von Bek). I chose these because they’re fairly suggestive of the relationship between humans and gods (and Law and Chaos).

The Dancers at the End of Time and anything with Jerry Cornelius are recommended, though only peripherally useful for the discussion here.

For Lovecraft there are numerous printings available, but the ebook rendering of the Complete works of H.P. Lovecraft by CthulhuChick is recommended for e-readers and has a nice index.

Roleplaying Games

Chaosium (BRP)

For reference, I originally used the 4th editions of both Call of Cthulhu (hereafter CoC) and Stormbringer (hereafter SB). I also posess most of the Elric! line of books (technically these are Stormbringer 5th ed) and the first edition of books published by Mongoose in their Eternal Champion line (EC).

That’s all well and good, except none of these books are in print now. Mongoose’s offerings are defunct, which means there’s no official game based on Moorcock’s work currently available. This leaves the secondhand market as an option for obtaining copies of the various games.

However, I’m lead to believe that Chaosium’s recently released Advanced Sorcery (for Magic World) contains the content of the Bronze Grimoire from Elric!, and should include rules for demons and elementals. I can’t confirm this myself and I don’t intend to buy the new book any time soon, so caveat emptor.

Call of Cthulhu is of course available, in the 6th (and soon to be 7th) edition. One supplement I got a lot of mileage from is the Cthulhu Dreamlands hardback; since Moorcock also has a take on the Dream Realms (q.v. The Fortress of the Pearl) and there has even been a Mongoose game supplement of the same name, it may be worth consideration.

A final note regarding the various Eternal Champion games. I haven’t mentioned Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone line, mainly because I don’t really like them as games; part of me never really warmed to the Mongoose way of doing Runequest. I’ve also complained about the presentation of the books in the past, and I confess this has put me off reading them cover-to-cover. However I have enjoyed the parts I’ve read and for the Moorcock faithful they may prove to be a better and more complete representation of the Young Kingdoms (and the Tragic Millennium, for Hawkmoon fans). If the presentation of the Elric game was fixed in Mongoose’s 2nd edition, that may be the version to try to pick up second hand (they did a good job for MRQ2).

Other Games

If you’re not wedded to the original games, there are plenty of other options that could be used to emulate the hybrid world. Games will most likely still be oriented towards investigation, which makes Trail of Cthulhu and other Gumshoe games worth considering (and if you’re quick, you can pick up the Trail in the latest Bundle of Holding). I can recommend the Rough Magicks supplement, at least for Kenneth Hite’s essay on Lovecraftian Magick.

Other titles to consider are Unknown Armies, the free Nemesis) (which includes sanity rules from UA) and Kult. However these all deviate into modern urban fantasy/horror, so will require some amount of surgery to make them fit together.

If you want to play something more epic and/or narrative oriented, consider simplifying. Everway is out of print and feels a bit too optimistic to me, but it could work. If you like to get your hands dirty, hack Apocalypse World. This really is deviating from my original specification, but whatever, if you’re inspired then make the game your own.


On the subject of “epic”, the Eternal Champion’s high fantasy (with anti-hero) presentation does clash with Cthulhu’s everyman nihilism. This is something I’ll cover later, but for now it’s worth mentioning that if you just glue Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu rpgs together, you’ll probably get a campaign where some characters can go toe-to-toe with Lovecraftian baddies, at least until they go insane. This may not even be a bad thing: if the goal is to interrogate the higher powers on their motivations and their place in the cosmic scheme of things, then having characters (and therefore players) with the ability to ask such questions may be a benefit.

Back: Introduction | Index | Next: Spoilers

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Old and New Favourites

Weaveworld cover

Nothing like a bit of food poisoning to give you new perspective. For me it was the chance to re-read Clive Barker’s Weaveworld.

This is a book from my late teens, and like most teens I liked my flavours strong and not subtle.  It’s too long, the characters are mostly one-trick ponies, the prose is unnecessary, and the plot swings from being pedestrian to incomprehensible. Still, it resonates very strongly, mainly for Barker’s description of magic.

I prefer The Great and Secret Show (and Imajica, although I read that much later) for magical imagery, but Weaveworld has coloured my perception of what magic should appear to be in both fiction and games. I say appear, because I don’t think there’s any system behind the magic, it’s all texture and the effect it has on the environment. The closest we get to philosophy is probably the concept of Cosm / Metacosm / Quiddity in the books of the Art.

Compared to Immacolata’s  Menstruum and Gentle’s Pneuma, magic in D&D looks a bit agricultural. Barker’s mages usually either know innately how to do magic (the Seerkind), or they’ve seized it through hard work and sacrifice (the Jaffe, Swann), or have been gifted it (Shadwell). Mostly Barker writes about people using magic, rather than the magic itself.

This is probably why Mage: the Ascension appealed to me so strongly (and it cites Imajica in the bibliography). Unfortunately it’s mired in an awful system and an awful political structure, the same clans-and-tribes nonsense inherited from the earlier oWoD games. When I ran Mage the best fun came from mostly ignoring the rules and using the spheres as a rough guide, and pushing all the Traditions nonsense to the background (the characters were mostly Hollow).

I have no idea how magic works in a modern FATE driven game like Dresden Files. My preference is for something completely freeform; a bit like the Everway approach, if that weren’t so light and twee and goody-goody. And looking at FATE (which I have been recently) I’m not sure an Aspect driven game would work either. Of course being my new favourite thing WaRP has a lot of promise, with magic being described in the same loose sense as other Traits. The only downside is there’s not enough to lose; no sanity, no acquiring deformities through paradox, etc. I’ll work on that.

New Favourite: The Anachroneironaut

Now for a new favourite. My new favourite blog is the Anachroneironaut. Amazing gothic illustrations, lovecraftian houseplants, and ink. Check out this amazing piece of art inspired by Perdido Street Station.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Imajica CCG

I was never much of a player of CCGs. I have a bunch of Magic cards, some Battletech cards and some Netrunner sets gathering dust (metaphorically speaking; they’re all in silly deck protectors).

I liked looking at Magic cards and imagining the worlds behind them. I particularly liked the feel of some of the early sets like Ice Age and Homelands, but eventually I grew out of my card fetish (well, almost — I still collect a few fantasy art card sets). Being actually bad at playing MtG didn’t help, of course.

I’m also a fan of Clive Barker, and for years I fancied getting my hands on his Imajica CCG. Well, thanks to a certain auction site:

Imajica Box

Imajica Cards

I’ve not had long to digest the rules (not that I really care, I’ll probably never play them, just paw them) but my first impressions are:

  • It’s like MtG on acid, which is what I would expect from a game set in the Five Dominions;
  • It’s rather restrictive — decks must be exactly 60 cards and can only contain certain kinds of cards, and must contain other kinds;
  • Love the large artwork. Much more of a Tarot feel to the game.

Who knows if it’s any good? It’s a shame that the game was cancelled so quickly, but it was probably inevitable. I think it probably could be “better than MtG”, but we’ll never know. For now I’m happy to have a cheap copy. Hopefully some of the cards will have art by Barker himself.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Iain Banks RIP

Iain Banks died yesterday.

I was never a huge fan, more of an appreciative reader. I got into his non-SF books much more than his SF, and then not so much–even so, his iconic covers were a feature on pretty much every bookshelf of every house we hung out in during my university years and beyond.

(I always wondered why they switched from the original Peter Brown illustrated covers. For a while I confused the new covers with Ian McEwan‘s books.)

Hard SF is less my cup of tea so I have fewer enduring memories of The Culture (I don’t think I’ve read any of the non-Culture SF), but I the bits I remember are fresh, never wallowing in the science of SF, keeping the stories about humans. Perhaps that’s a benefit from Banks being a cross-genre author. If I ever run a Traveller game, Banks is probably the first author I will go to for inspiration.