Join the Struggle Against the Minions of Cthulhu in 17th Century England in Clockwork and Cthulhu

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

clockwork-cthulhu-smallTwo years ago, I wrote a brief New Treasures post about Clockwork and Cthulhu, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired supplement for the 17th century alternate history fantasy setting Clockwork & Chivalry. A role playing game where giant clockwork war machines lumber across the land, witches whisper of the old gods and terrorize entire villages, and the Great Old Ones seek entry into our world while their corrupted servants covertly follow their eldritch agendas, was simply too much to resist.

I was enormously impressed with Cakebread and Walton’s creative backdrop for their game, an alternate 17th Century England where Royalists, led by Prince Rupert, attempt to restore an absolute monarch to the throne, and Parliamentarians, led by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, defy the kingship and support the rights of parliament. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there actually was an English Civil War from 1642–1651. Apparently, history is not my strong suit.

A few weeks after the first article appeared, co-author Peter Cakebread graciously accepted my invitation and wrote a fascinating follow-up piece for us, “The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry,” in which he filled in the details on his fascinating setting:

Clockwork & Chivalry is a RPG set in the time of the English Civil War. The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists (the Cavaliers) and Parliament (the Roundheads). We haven’t veered away from most of the real history, it’s simply too interesting, but we have added a couple of rather big twists – in our setting the Royalists use magick, and the Parliamentarians have giant clockwork war machines.

Who says role playing can’t be educational? Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment (and rewarding history lessons) out of Clockwork and Cthulhu, and in that time Cakebread and Walton have continued to produce top-notch supplements and games. Here’s a quick look at some of their related products.

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The Hunt is On: Werewolf Game Review and Kickstarter Alert

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

You’re just a villager, going about your daily villager-related business. What could possibly go wrong?

How about there being a werewolf secretly hiding in your village?

Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition (Amazon)

That’s the premise of the popular game Ultimate Werewolf, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games. There are two teams: villagers and werewolves. You get on a team by being randomly dealt cards at the beginning of the game. Everyone sleeps through the “night” and a moderator tells the werewolves to open their eyes. So the werewolves all know who each other are. Then the moderator has everyone open their eyes and wake up for the “day” … and the town debates who to kill. There’s a vote, and whoever gets the most votes dies. Then the village sleeps again, and the next day they vote on another person to kill.

Will the village kill a werewolf, or will the werewolves fool the villagers into killing an innocent? This continues until either all werewolves are dead, or enough villagers have been killed that they no longer outnumber the werewolves.

But the village can contain more than merely run-of-the-mill villagers. The Seer, for example, is able to point at one player during the night and be told by the moderator if that player is a werewolf. The Tanner hates his life and wants to die, so he wins if he can get you to kill him. (Screaming “I’m a werewolf!” is not usually a winning strategy for this role. You’ve got to be a little more subtle.)

The current edition of the game produced by Bezier games is actually Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition, which contains dozens of extra roles beyond villagers. In total, the Deluxe Edition can support play with a group of up to 75 players … which is a bit extreme, even for an avid gamer like me, but makes for a great party game, and you can create a set of cards tailored toward the comfort level of the group, to avoid overloading those who might be intimidated by the idea of so many different roles.

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One Shot, One Story: Clark Ashton Smith

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Larry Bird Michael Jordan-smallThe other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, and I took the opportunity to ask him a deep theological question: “If you had to choose one player to take one shot, with eight tenths of a second on the clock and the game on the line — to save your life – who would you choose?” (My friend, in addition to being an ordained minister, is also, like me, a devoted acolyte in the Church of the NBA.)

This is of course the sort of dangerous question that led to the Reformation and the Thirty Year’s War. Happily in this case no violence ensued, though his pick was Larry Bird and mine was Michael Jordan. Hey, if he wants to die while I live, that’s his business. (It helps a little that the first choice of each was the second choice of the other.)

What does this have to do with “Adventures in Fantasy Literature,” the avowed purview of Black Gate, you ask? Just this — it got me thinking about one of my favorite fantasists, one whom not enough lovers of the fantastic are acquainted with: Clark Ashton Smith. There are one hundred and fourteen stories in the five volumes of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith. If I had a reader, willing but uninitiated, and had to pick one of those stories to introduce Smith with, (to save my life!) which one would it be?

Smith is a writer who can benefit from such an introduction; though he was one of the “Three Musketeers” of Weird Tales in its 1930′s heyday, he remains much less known than the other two-thirds of the trio. You could fill a phone book with the names of imitators of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, but, as Ray Bradbury said, Smith is “a special writer for special tastes; his fame was lonely.”

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The Monsters of Golarion: Monster Codex for Pathfinder

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

MonsterCodex

If you’ve played fantasy roleplaying games for any length of time, you’ve no doubt fought your fair share of goblins, orcs, and trolls. They can certainly begin to blend together. If you’ve fought one, you’ve fought them all, right? One of the jobs of the Dungeon Master is to find ways to keep things interesting. As I said in a post last week, ”A fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes.”

One way to mix things up is to introduce more monsters, and certainly fantasy roleplaying games have no shortage of supplements that outline new and varied types of monsters.

But another way to keep things interesting is by varying up the existing pool of common monsters, giving them rich backstories and cultures, motivations and plots. In short, finding ways to really make what should be a common monster into something completely new. If you take a basic goblin template and add on 12 levels of barbarian, you have something decidedly more challenging to face!

Of course, creating all of this variability takes time and planning, which seems to be in ever-shorter supply these days. And this brings us to the Pathfinder RPG‘s newest solution: Monster Codex (Paizo, Amazon)

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New Animated Series About a Teen Aboriginal Superhero from Creator Jay Odjick

Saturday, October 4th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Kagagi-smallIn Ottawa, I get to talk to local game designers, local writers, local comic book publishers, local artists and novel publishers. I’m not trying to be a booster of Canada’s capital or anything, but we have some wickedly cool stuff going on around town.

This weekend, at Can-Con, Ottawa’s Literary Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Convention, I set up an interview in front of a live audience to talk to Jay Odjick, an Algonquin graphic novelist, to talk to him about being a writer and artist and about Kagagi (pronounced with two hard Gs).

Jay is a loud, hilarious, talented, self-deprecating, straight-talking comic creator who earlier in the week had been interviewed by CBC radio and afterwards tweeted “…managed to talk for twelve minutes on the radio without swearing.”

His immediate lead story about where and when he started to be a comic creator started when he was five years old and he was part of a two-man con aiming to unmask a celebrity Spider-Man to prove that it wasn’t the real Spider-Man.

Some years ago, like many comic creators, Jay made up his own superhero. But instead of being just another caped creation added to the immense pantheon of comicdom, he created the startlingly original Kagagi, based on the legend systems of the Algonquin tribe.

Central to this is the Wendigo curse (the supervillain) that is inflicting itself upon not only humanity, but those other parts of the Algonquin legend structures.

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The Color Out of Time: Michael Shea Takes a Dip Into Lovecraftian Horror

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

The Color out of TimeI’ll mention this first about Michael Shea’s 1984 novel The Color Out of Time: the protagonists consume copious amounts of Wild Turkey. They fortify their coffee with it; they carry hip flasks full of it. This is a fact the narrator always notes casually in passing. Never are the potentially debilitating effects of alcohol mentioned; it simply occurs to the reader that these people might well be past the point of tipsy into “whiskey-river-take-my-mind” territory through much of the central action of the adventure. Perhaps that’s how they maintain their sanity. And make no mistake: sanity is but one of the possessions at stake for our heroes, because they have waded head-deep into Lovecraft territory. If they do manage to survive with their sanity intact, though, they might want to consider rehab.

The second thing I’ll mention is that because some of my own fictional excursions overlap with Shea’s foray into Lovecraftian horror — we tread similar unhallowed ground, digging up the bones of past masters of weird horror and coating them with fresh slime, if you will — I find myself contemplating the book not just as a critic, but as a writer: appreciating moves he makes while noting missteps and potential pitfalls. Ultimately, Shea’s sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space” is entertaining, but slightly off, a tad unsatisfying, and I’ll try to pinpoint why — to isolate the juncture at which it diverges from Lovecraft’s vision and to articulate how this impacts the effectiveness of the tale. (For a different take on the book, check out Douglas Draa’s review for Black Gate last year HERE.)

The premise is straightforward enough. Take the story that is generally regarded as Lovecraft’s first successful amalgam of science fiction and horror, a blend that became his unique trademark (“The Colour Out of Space” is one of Lovecraft’s most highly regarded and was always, according to Wikipedia, the author’s personal favorite. For the sake of full disclosure, it ranks high on my list of best horror stories and is one of my top two or three favorite works by Lovecraft). Start from the central event of that tale and then project its aftermath some sixty odd — very odd — years later.

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New D&D Monster Manual Unleashed on the World

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Monster Manual Fifth EditionA fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes. Though Dungeons & Dragons has always been driven primarily by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, the fact is that you can usually get only so far with just the Player’s Handbook (Amazon). It has the basic rules mechanics for playing the game, but lacks the array of exotic monsters necessary to populate – and threaten – the fantasy world that the characters are exploring.

With the arrival of the new 5th edition D&D Monster Manual (Amazon), that gap has now been alleviated. This book contains a beautifully-illustrated 350 pages of monsters, adversaries, and maybe even a few allies to introduce flawlessly into 5th edition games. The name really says it all; it is a manual full of monsters. There’s an appendix of “Miscellaneous Creatures” and one of “Nonplayer Characters” which are also useful, but there is one stand-out mechanic introduced that is worth mentioning in its own right, for those who might be wondering if the book is worth picking up.

Legendary Creatures

The manual contains a class of “Legendary Creatures” which “can take special actions outside their turns, and a few can exert power over their environments, causing extraordinary magical effects to occur in their vicinity.” In addition to these “legendary actions,” legendary creatures also sometimes come along with a lair, which gives the legendary creature ability to take extra “lair actions” and may have ambient powers, representing how the legendary creature’s power has physically warped the terrain of the lair.

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“Shardik, Shardik the Power Of God!”

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Shardik-smallMidway through Richard Adams’s doorstop of a book, Shardik (1974), I decided I had stumbled into the world’s longest parable.

Biblical parables are typically quite brief, but Adams pulls toward the opposite shore, reasoning that in thoroughness lies salvation. And why shouldn’t he? That tactic worked like gangbusters in his astounding debut, Watership Down (1972).

Shardik could indeed function as a serviceable doorstop, but to dismiss it out of hand would be a disservice to literature in general, and to fantasy novels in particular. Shardik is a brave, uncompromising examination of how “mere” mortals encounter and deify the exceptional, thus giving rise to portents, omens, prophecies, and ultimately continent-conquering religions.

In the case of Shardik, the talismanic inciting event takes the form of a gigantic bear, a bear of monstrous, prehistoric proportions, and this bear first flees a forest fire and then crashes, half-burned and exhausted, into a far-flung outpost of human civilization, Ortelga. Unfortunately – or not, depending on one’s point of view – the Ortelgans entertain a fervid belief that God’s manifestation on Earth will come in the form of a massive bear.

While Watership Down stayed locked within the heads of its rabbit characters, Shardik spends only a few pages at the outset inside the eponymous bear’s mind, just long enough to convince any alert reader that while Shardik may be a divine instrument, he is very much a bear, no more, no less, and will behave accordingly. After that, the story turns to Kelderek-Plays-With-Children, a hunter of simple tastes who first stumbles upon the injured, recovering bear-god.

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New Treasures: Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction, edited by Laura K. Anderson and Ryan J. McDaniel

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sojourn-smallWhere have all the excellent small press anthologies gone? Wait, here they are. Right in front of me.

Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction looks like a splendid example. It’s edited by Laura K. Anderson (The Chronicles of Baxarlian) and newcomer Ryan J. McDaniel, and is available in both print and digital editions. It includes enticing new fiction from a delightful assortment of new and established names, including Matt Forbeck (Blood Bowl), James Lowder (Prince of Lies, Knight of the Black Rose), Elizabeth Roper, Wayne Cole, Hans Cummings, Dan Repperger, and many others.

The moon’s rings illuminate the desert path before you. Up ahead a ridge rises, obscuring the horizon. You cannot go back. There is nothing to go back to. A hundred worlds lie behind you and a thousand more lie ahead. You smell smoke in the air and hear a hint of music somewhere far away. One foot after another, you head toward the horizon, beckoned by the mystery of what lies beyond.

The fifteen stories in this collection portray remarkable worlds for you to visit. These are worlds unlike our own — worlds where a pastor attends the 68th Periodic Interspecies Theologians’ Conference; worlds where a boy goes on a spiritual journey in the mists of prehistory; worlds where humans are enslaved and one freed woman will do whatever it takes to save her species; worlds where humans, zombies, and vampires rub elbows in the office. We invite you on your own journey in the pages of Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction, penned by the talented storytellers of the Fear the Boot podcast community. Some of these worlds will feel familiar, some will feel alien, and a few may entice you to sojourn just a bit longer.

Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction was published by Fear the Boot on February 15, 2014. It is 302 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. Check it out.


Is Size Important? Or, The Short Story Anthology Examined

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Ellison DangerousIt’s well known in the publishing industry that anthologies don’t sell well. It may be a fact , but it’s one I don’t really understand. I’ve been buying and reading anthologies my whole life and I’m at a loss to explain why others don’t enjoy them as much as I do.

Anthologies come in different flavours, of course. There’s your original anthologies versus your reprint anthologies. Then there’s your single-author collections versus your multi-author. Original anthologies can come in either multi-author or single-author, and . . . well, I think you can do the math for yourselves.

Probably the most famous multi-author anthology of original stories is Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions (1967). A glance through the table of contents is like reading a Who’s Who of famous and celebrated SF writers – many of whom were novices at the time of publication. There’s Robert Bloch, Philip Jose Farmer, Philip K. Dick, Larry Niven, Fritz Leiber, as well as Theodore Sturgeon, RA Lafferty, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny . . . okay, you get the idea.

Dangerous Visions, and its follow-up, Again Dangerous Visions, are examples of a themed anthology. In this case, writers had to create not only a story of the future, but the story had to show a dangerous future. Physically dangerous, like Larry Niven’s “The Jigsaw Man” or spiritually dangerous, like Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones” (my husband’s favourite story of all time).  Sometimes, the danger lay in the author’s pushing the envelope of what contemporary mores were, like Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” or Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah.”

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