Forbes on the Books that Inspired the New Dungeons & Dragons

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Name of the Wind-smallGary Gygax, creator of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, famously listed the fantasy writers and books that inspired him in Appendix N. We’ve had lengthy discussions on Appendix N, and its suitability as a jumping-off point for a fantasy collection, here on Black Gate.

Now that there’s a new version of D&D on the market, it’s not too surprising that its creators have included their own version of Appendix N. And while I consider Gygax’s Appendix N to be a terrific resource for classic fantasy fans, I was pleased (and not at all surprised) to find that the new inspiration comes chiefly from a new generation of fantasy writers.

Forbes magazine writer David M. Ewalt, who’s written about Dungeons and Dragons before, interviewed Mike Mearls, head of R&D for Dungeons & Dragons and co-lead designer on the fifth edition rules, and designer Rodney Thompson. Here’s some excerpts:

Patrick Rothfuss ”showed that bards didn’t have to suck,” according to Mearls. Fifth edition designers knew that players would use the bard class to create characters inspired by Kvothe, the hero of Rothfuss’ novel The Name of the Wind. “We actually talked about using words of power as big element of the bard, but toned it down as too on the nose.”

Saladin Ahmed ”did a great job of capturing the concept of an adventuring party in Throne of the Crescent Moon,” says Mearls. “A lot of the stuff behind bonds, flaws, all the stuff that binds characters to the campaign, was inspired by reading Throne…”

Mearls, Thompson and the rest of D&D team are also inspired by the storytellers who wrote for previous versions of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Last week, Wizards of the Coast announced “Elemental Evil,” a new storyline in the Dungeons & Dragons product universe tied into several new products: The storyline is based, in part, on the 1985 game module The Temple of Elemental Evil, which was written by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer for the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules.

David M. Ewalt is also the author of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. See his complete article here.


It’s Good to be Minding the Stars with The Early Jack Vance, Volume 4, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Minding the Stars The Early Jack Vance Volume 4-smallI’ve been heartily enjoying The Early Jack Vance volumes from Subterranean Press, which collect the hard-to-find early pulp SF and fantasy from one of the greatest writers of the genre, Jack Vance.

The first two, Hard Luck Diggings (2010) and Dream Castles (2012), are now sold out and out of print — and rapidly raising in price. They collected fiction from the very start of Vance’s career, the late 40s through the late 60s.

Two more volumes are now in print, with one more due in March. Minding the Stars, the fourth volume, spans the years from 1952 to 1967, collecting four long novellas and four short stories, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, Future Science Fiction, Fantastic Universe, Amazing Stories, and other fine publications. Here’s the complete table of contents:

Introduction by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
“Nopalgarth” (Originally published as The Brains of Earth, Ace Double, 1966)
“Telek” (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1952)
“Four Hundred Blackbirds” (Future Science Fiction, July 1953)
“Alfred’s Ark” (New Worlds SF, May 1965)
“Meet Miss Universe” (Fantastic Universe, March 1955)
“The World Between” (Future Science Fiction, May 1953)
“Milton Hack from Zodiac” (Amazing Stories, August 1967)
“Parapsyche” (Amazing Science Fiction Stories, August 1958)

The opening story, “Nopalgarth,” was originally published as half of an Ace Double in 1966, under the title The Brains of Earth. Vance collectors may recognize it as one of three novellas published in a slender collection from DAW in September 1980, under the title Nopalgarth (see below).

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Swords & Sorcery edited by L. Sprague De Camp

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2763211ShPWYPH2The swords & sorcery that works best for me, the tales that get my heart pounding, come in short story form. It was Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”, Fritz Leiber’s “Ill Met in Lankhmar”, and Karl Edward Wagner’s “Reflections for the Winter of My Soul” that made me love this genre. In those stories, the authors distilled everything down to forty or fifty pages of concentrated action, mayhem, and bloodshed. There are no wasted words, no longuers. While all three authors wrote decent enough S&S novels, it’s their short stories that roar down the tracks like a train, pulling me along. S&S is a fiction of action and plot. I want speed; economy of story-telling.

Even in 2015, thirty years after the end of swords & sorcery’s glory days, there are new short stories being written all the time. Each year, several anthologies’-worth of short fiction, once the lifeblood of S&S, still appear in various print and electronic magazines (read my most recent review here).

But you rarely see actual S&S anthologies published anymore. The only recent collections of original stories that spring to mind are the excellent Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, and Jason M. Waltz’s equally cool Return of the Sword. David Hartwell and Jacob Weisman’s The Sword and Sorcery Anthology is a decent enough collection, though of mostly reprints reaching all the way back to S&S’s earliest days.

But once upon a time anthologies seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. Probably the most well known are Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! series and Andrew J. Offut’s Swords Against Darkness series. Amanda Salmonson edited two collections about women warriors, called succinctly, Amazons and Amazons II. Robot-like, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Swords and Sorceress series continued for four years after she died in 1999.

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My Love/Hate Romance With Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

GandalfLet me state for the record that I am a fan of the film adaptation of The Lord Of the Rings. Jack Nicholson can complain all he likes about “too many endings,” but that celluloid trilogy managed the impossible: it successfully imbued a made-up world not only with turmoil and action but with genuine emotional gravitas. The Lord Of the Rings (2001 – 2003), against all odds, mattered.

Having just seen the third of The Hobbit installments (2012 – 2014), I fear I cannot say the same for these sequel-prequels. I want to. At certain moments, I’m convinced. At others?

Yes, the task of adapting a book to the screen is arduous, full of perils, and the fact that Jackson’s scriptwriting team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and (for these films) Guillermo del Toro have had any success at all is remarkable. Tolkien, let’s face it, was not an efficient story-teller. Given characters like Tom Bombadil, it would not be unfair to crown him as King Of All Digressions.

So let’s take it as a given that adaptation involves violence toward the source material. Additions will be made, and subtractions, too. So be it. The goal, typically, is to preserve the spirit of the original.

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My Overly Conscious Love for Pathfinder

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Pathfinder Tales Stalking the BeastLately I’ve been reading a fair amount of Pathfinder novels. Partly this is because I want to play Pathfinder and have no one with whom to play it, because all of my adult friends who are so inclined live too far away, and my children and I just aren’t in the same frame of mind. (Roleplaying with a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old is challenging, simply because logic, for all involved, works a little differently. For this audience, a straightforward dungeon crawl, like Fantasy Flight’s Descent, is a more viable option, but, with that, you don’t get enough freedom for story creation and character generation.)

Another reason I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because my oldest son has started reading them. If I read them as well, we can inhabit a shared text (and perhaps, in time, a satisfying Pathfinder gaming session).

And yet another reason why I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because they’re good.

This was announced not too long ago, at least in reference to Howard Andrew Jones’s Stalking the Beast, when Nick Ozment realized that that novel was “better than it needed to be.” I’ve read some Pathfinder novels by other writers as well, and I will say that most of them are quite good.

Nick made clear why he found Jones’s second novel for the franchise so good, but what do I mean when I say that, in general, I like the series? I will say that they are highly satisfying Sword and Sorcery novels. They are entertaining. They are escapist. They have cool things in them. And, above all, they are quite familiar. They are based on the 3.5 (or 3.75) edition of Dungeons & Dragons, after all.

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Last Chance to Win a Copy of Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, edited by Stephen Jones

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth-small2Last week, we told you that you had a chance to win one of two copies of the new paperback edition of Stephen Jones’s major horror anthology, Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, on sale this month from Titan Books.

How do you enter? Just send an e-mail to john@blackgate.com with the subject “Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth” and a one-sentence suggestion for the writer you’d most like to write a Lovecraftian horror story today. That’s it; that’s all that stands between you and a copy of one of the most exciting anthologies of the year. Two winners will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries and we’ll announce the winners here on the Black Gate blog. What could possibly be easier? But time is running out — the contest closes February 2.

Here’s the book blurb:

Final Shadows Gather

The final volume in the trilogy that began with the World Fantasy Award-nominated Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994) and Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005), containing stories by Ramsey Campbell, Adrian Cole, John Glasby, Brian Hodge, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Brian Lumley, Kim Newman, Reggie Oliver, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Conrad Williams, along with an Innsmouth poem by H.P. Lovecraft and a “posthumous collaboration” between the author and August Derleth.

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New Treasures: For a Few Souls More by Guy Adams

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

For a Few Souls More-smallI’ve been waiting for the conclusion of Guy Adams’s Heaven’s Gate trilogy since the first installment, The Good The Bad and the Infernal, appeared in March 2013. The second volume, Once Upon a Time in Hell, was published almost exactly a year ago. It’s a gonzo Weird Western with demons, supernatural cowboys, and steampunk Indians.

In the third and final volume, For a Few Souls More, Heaven has fallen to Earth, joining the Union as the 43rd state… and the President sets out for the legendary town of Wormwood, the traveling community which appears once every hundred years for a single day.

The uprising in Heaven is at an end and Paradise has fallen, becoming the forty-third state of America. Now angels and demons must learn to get along with humans.

The rest of the world is in uproar. How can America claim the afterlife as its own? It’s certainly going to try as the President sets out for the town of Wormwood for talks with its governor, the man they call Lucifer.

Hell has problems of its own. There’s a new evangelist walking its roads, trying to bring the penitent to paradise, and a new power is rising. Can anyone stand up to the Godkiller?

For a Few Souls More was published on December 30, 2014 by Solaris. It is 316 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Jake Murray.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cohen_CohenI am an unabashed fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Along with a lot of Carl Hiassen’s work, they are the only reads that cause me to laugh out loud. Unseen Academicals was the first Discworld book that I wasn’t really happy with when I finished it; which isn’t too bad considering it was the thirty-third in the series for me.

Though I have a very fundamental difference with Pratchett’s basic worldview, I think he is an absolutely brilliant satirist. Discworld isn’t nearly as well known generally as The Hitchhiker’s Guides to the Galaxy books, but I tell folks that if you like Douglas Adams, you should like Terry Pratchett.

Genghiz Cohen, better known as Cohen the Barbarian, appears in a few novels. He is Discworld’s greatest warrior, though now he is an old man in his late eighties or nineties, and he leads a band of senior citizen barbarians known as the Silver Horde.

Cohen/Conan. The Silver Horde/The Golden Horde. See? Get it? Discworld is full of this stuff.

Cohen is a skinny old man with a long white beard, a patch over one eye and a dirty loincloth. He has a set of dentures made from Troll teeth, which are pretty much the only things he has left from a wild life.

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The Top 80 Black Gate Posts of 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Premium 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook-small2014 was a pretty good year for Black Gate. Our readership nearly doubled, and we published a record number of articles. I was going to do an exact count of all the posts we made in 2014 so I’d sound a little more together here, but I lost count after 1,200.

But trust me. It was a lot.

At the end of every month last year, I compiled a brief report itemizing our Top 50 articles for the month (here’s the list for December, for example). Mostly because the lists were fun and popular. But also because I couldn’t believe Scott Taylor’s Art of the Genre pieces kept beating my Vintage Treasures posts, month after month. Seriously, how does that happen?

Anyway, those of us who obsess over traffic stats every month (chiefly me and Scott) noticed a few surprises when we tabulated the results for all of 2014. Several of the overall most popular articles of last year rarely made the Top 20 every month. But they had steady traffic month after month, and those numbers added up. I guess it’s true what they say about slow and steady winning the race. That Aesop guy knew what he was talking about.

Below we’ve tabulated the 80 most popular articles on the Black Gate website for all of 2014 — starting with Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ report on the hit Dungeons and Dragons reprint series, “My Youth Was Delivered Yesterday: AD&D 2nd Edition Re-Released,” originally posted in 2013. It was read 26,380 times last year, making it our most read blog post in 2014, and one of the most popular pieces we’ve ever published.

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ConFusion Convention Report

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

GalaxyGameI attended my first science fiction convention in 2000 or so. EerieCon in Niagra Falls, New York. A decade-and-a-half later, I’ve become a regular at some conventions, such as GenCon, but others I don’t regularly attend. The big, more corporately-driven conventions like GenCon, Comic-Con, and DragonCon, are very popular, but it’s the smaller literary conventions where the real die hard fans like to gather. As much as I love many of the media representations of science fiction and fantasy, I fell in love with the genre through books.

Last weekend, I made the drive from my central Indiana home up to Dearborn, Michigan, for ConFusion. I lived in Detroit for 4 years and attended ConFusion several times during that period, but moved away over a decade ago and have only been there a couple of times since. Twice I was fully prepared to go, but mid-January weather caused last minutes changes in my plans.

This year, the weather cooperated. The drive took about 4 hours, and I wasn’t alone. This time it was a family trip, with my wife and two sons (9 and 5 years old) along for the adventure. We typically devote a day as a family to GenCon, but I’ve avoided bringing my kids to the more literary conventions. ConFusion has historically had a pretty solid kid’s track, KidFusion, including a Saturday night pizza/pajama party. It’s definitely one of the more kid-friendly conventions, so we decided to give it a try as a family this year.

Weather allowing, ConFusion is a great convention for those in the Midwest to attend, both for those who love to read and those who love to write. It draws a lot of fantastic authors, including a regular stream of top names in the field, authors that regularly appear on award nomination (and winner) lists.

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