Future Treasures: Dungeon Master’s Guide from Wizards of the Coast

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeon Master's Guide-smallThe Dungeon Master’s Guide ships in less than two weeks, finally completing the rules set required to fully run Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.

Truthfully, everything you really need to play is contained in the core rules, barely 25 pages of the Players Handbook (one of the reasons I think the new edition has been such a hit), but players have been waiting anxiously to complete the Fifth Edition rules set and enjoy the full scope of the game. The DMG contains magic items, optional rules, advice for Dungeon Masters, and a lot more.

The Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set was published July 15, 2014; Andrew Zimmerman Jones did a forensic analysis for us here. The Players Handbook was released on August 19; Andrew reviewed it for us a few days later. The Monster Manual arrived September 30; Andrew was all over it the day before it came out. I was going to review this one, but I’m pretty sure Andrew will beat me to it.

Why wait two months to publish the DMG? No idea, but there’s probably some kind of marketing strategy behind it. The tradition of publishing D&D rules sets in three volumes goes all the way back to Gary Gygax, and he took two years to produce all three (the first Players Handbook was published in 1977; the DMG didn’t show up until 1979.) So I guess we should consider ourselves lucky it’s showing up now, instead of 2016.

Everything a Dungeon Master needs to weave legendary stories for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides the inspiration and the guidance you need to spark your imagination and create worlds of adventure for your players to explore and enjoy. Inside you’ll find world-building tools, tips and tricks for creating memorable dungeons and adventures, optional game rules, hundreds of classic D&D magic items, and much more!

The Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide was written by the Wizards RPG Team, and will be published by Wizards of the Coast on December 9, 2014. It is 320 pages, priced at $49.95 in hardcover. There is no digital edition. Get more details at the WotC website.


Vintage Treasures: Revelations in Black by Carl Jacobi

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Revelations in Black-smallCarl Jacobi is a hard guy to collect.

Part of the problem is that he just didn’t publish many books. Five collections of horror stories in his lifetime. No novels. All of the collections were released through small presses, including Arkham House and Fedogan & Bremer, and only one was reprinted in paperback. Pretty thin pickings, especially if you like paperbacks.

However, the ISFDB listing for Carl Jocobi includes over 120 short stories, three chapbooks, and a poem, among other publications. Guy was certainly prolific enough, even if only a fraction of his output ended up reprinted in more permanent editions. He wrote for most of the major pulps all through the 30s and 40s, including Startling Stories, Wonder Stories, Ghost Stories, Thrilling Wonder, Amazing, and especially Weird Tales.

He was widely respected, too. Stephen King called him “One of the finest writers to come out of the Golden Age of Fantasy,” and his stories were reprinted in numerous SF and fantasy anthologies. They were also translated into French, Swedish, Danish, and Dutch.

On May 6th of this year, the marvelous Centipede Press released Masters of the Weird Tale: Carl Jacobi, the latest volume in their deluxe Masters of the Weird Tale series. Clocking in at 900 pages, with new and reprint art and lots of photos, it’s the definitive collection of Jacobi’s fiction. It’s also $350 retail. Considering that I recently bought a vintage collection of some 1,000 SF and fantasy paperbacks in nearly new condition for about a third that price, let’s just say that spending $350 on a single book is not a good option for me, and move on.

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New Treasures: Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms and Weapons from the Age of Steam by Philip Smith and Joseph McCullough

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Steampunk Soldiers-smallI’m a sucker for the Steampunk aesthetic — and especially the really creative fashion and fiction it’s helped create. It’s not often that a literary movement simultaneously spawns a fashion and cosplay movement, and I think that’s neat. The two have helped fuel each other, and how could they not? It’s easier to be creative when there are hundreds of artists, jewelers, seamstresses, and cosplayers out there coming up with ideas.

There’s been some terrific Steampunk-related releases in the past few months, including Sean Wallace’s Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures (containing a story by our very own C.S.E. Cooney), Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay novels, Peter Cakebread’s The Alchemist’s Revenge, and Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, just to name a few. But I think my favorite may be the just-released Steampunk Soldiers, a handsome illustrated hardcover that purports to be a serious historical study of the of steam-powered weaponry and equipment that abounded in the days before the Great War of the Worlds.

Steampunk Soldiers is a unique pictorial guide to the last great era of bright and colorful uniforms, as well as an important historical study of the variety of steam-powered weaponry and equipment that abounded in the days before the Great War of the Worlds.

Between 1887 and 1895, the British art student Miles Vandercroft traveled around the world, sketching and painting the soldiers of the countries through which he passed. In this age of dramatic technological advancement, Vandercroft was fascinated by how the rise of steam technology at the start of the American Civil War had transformed warfare and the role of the fighting man. This volume collects all of Vandercroft’s surviving paintings, along with his associated commentary on the specific military units he encountered.

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Some Things Need to Be Broken: Seeker’s Mask by P.C. Hodgell

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

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Cover by P.C. Hodgell

A friend once told me of his desire to see a movie with even more action than Die Hard. He envisioned a film with action from first frame to last. I bring this up because the third book of P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath series, Seeker’s Mask (1995) is one of the most fast moving, packed-to-the-gills-with-thrills books I have ever read. It may not be the all-action nirvana my friend hoped for, but it’s about as close as I’ve ever found.

It starts in the rules-smothered confines of the Women’s Halls, and then whips Hodgell’s heroine Jame up and down the world before ending in the middle of a barbarian tribe’s fiery ceremony. Invisible assassins, gods, malign magics, and trips into people’s minds smash up against one another for the reader’s attention. If all I did was list the events in Seeker’s Mask, this article would be twice as long as I want it to be.

Jame is a Highborn of the Kencyrath, one of three species molded into one race by their god to fight against Perimal Darkling. The Highborn are the rulers and priests and the fewest in number. The most numerous species, the Kendar, are the soldiers and craftsmen. Finally there are the leonine Arrin-Ken, who served as the race’s judges until frustration led them to leave Kencyrath society in order to decide what needed to be done next in the war against Perimal.

Thousands of years ago, the High Lord Gerridon betrayed his people to Perimal Darkling in exchange for immortality. Two-thirds of the Kencyrath were killed and the survivors fled to the world of Rathilien.

In the previous book, Dark of the Moon (1985), Jame had reunited, after a decade of separation, with her twin brother, Torisen, Lord of the House of Knorth, and High Lord of all the Kencyrath. He and the Kencyrath armies had just emerged victorious from a great battle against the Waster Horde (read the review here). As the only other known member of the House of Knorth, Jame’s sudden appearance throws political calculations out of whack.

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Review of Sinister: Is Bagul the New Bogeyman on the Block?

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Irelyn Ozment's depiction of a "bad robot," November 2014

Irelyn Ozment’s depiction of a “bad robot,” November 2014

Anyone who has used the search engine Google more than once knows that it automatically generates ads based on your search terms that are then embedded into your search list. Aside from a little yellow “Ad” button, they look deceptively like more search results, tricking the unwary 2-a.m. web surfer into accidentally clicking on them and then being nightmarishly whisked off to some random retail site. The algorithm often creates nonsensical advertisements, proving yet again that we are still a long way off from AI (or even, in some cases, from I).

When I did a search for “Bagul,” aka Mr. Boogie aka ancient Babylonian deity who consumes the souls of children, the following three ads popped up at the end of my first page of hits (actual web links redacted, because I do not want to be responsible for you unleashing Mr. Boogie onto yourself or your family):

1. Bagul Store: Bagul: super cheap Hurry while stocks last!

2. Bagul – 70% Off – Lowest Price On Bagul: Free shipping, in stock. Buy now!

3. Bagul up to 70% off – Bagul sale: Compare prices and save up to 70%

If you’ve seen the 2012 film Sinister, the thought of having Bagul shipped to you for free should be absolutely chilling. Even if he is up to 70% off. Just 30% of Bagul will probably still mean certain death for you and your loved ones. In fact, someone inadvertently clicking on one of these ads could be the premise for Sinister 2, the sequel.

On the recommendation of several people (well, two — but since one of them was Black Gate ed-in-chief John O’Neill, that should count as several), I selected Sinister as my Hallowe’en 2014 viewing. After the last peals of “trick or treat” had long since dwindled away down the dark, cold streets, and our own little homespun Mrs. Munster (yes, that is what my 5-year-old specifically chose to be this year) and zombie cop had been tucked into their beds to sleep off their Hershey/Mars/Nestle comas, my wife and I inserted the Blu-Ray we’d rented into the player. My wife promptly fell asleep, but that has no bearing on the quality of the movie in question. For the next hour and fifty minutes, I was transfixed. I’ve got to concede: for this genre of film, this one is a high water mark.

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Notes On Writing Spec Fic, Late 2014

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

A Book CoverIt’s such a predictable trap. In or near an elevator, I tell some newly met, well-intentioned stranger that I’m a writer, and they immediately ask, as if they’ve waited all their lives for this very opportunity to arise, “What sort of books do you write?”

And that’s the end, you see, or at least the end of any potential new friendship, because if I answer “I write fantasy,” which is true, they start sniggering and feel superior, or if I answer, “I write horror,” they run off, laughing hysterically at my bad taste –– and of course then they feel even more superior.

Worst answer of all: “I write literary fiction.” Then they assume I’m a genius and their eyes glaze over, because they feel they absolutely must pay attention to every single word I say, in hopes of gleaning a pearl. I become the social equivalent of bubonic CliffsNotes.

Thus Renner & Quist, and Check-Out Time, because I want to craft stories that employ elements of multiple genres and literary currents. The danger, I suppose, is that I wind up with tossed salad, but I don’t believe that’s been the result. What reviews there’ve been suggest that I’m correct to think I’ve avoided the splatter-punk of, say, Jackson Pollock.

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Give a Warm Welcome to Saga Press, Launching This Spring

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grace of Kings Persona City of Savages The Darkside War

There are a lot of books vying for your attention at the World Fantasy Convention. Publishers put free books in your convention bag, publicists place colorful flyers on the giveaway table, and hopeful authors hand out bookmarks and cards by the dozens. I always leave the con with my head brimming with promising new books, authors, and publishers.

Of course, I forget most of them within a day or two. Well, maybe it’s for the best. I couldn’t possibly read them all anyway.

It’s the ones that linger in my mind a couple weeks after the con that truly deserve my attention. Sort of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest contest, taking place in the dusty corners of my brain. Good to know those brain cells are doing something, I suppose.

It’s been over two weeks since the 2014 World Fantasy Convention now, and I’m already having trouble remembering what city it was in. (Some brains are more skilled at forgetting than others. My brain is an expert.) But a handful of books I glimpsed at the con have managed to stay with me, and a surprising number of them are from the brand new publisher, Saga Press. In fact, I’d venture to say that Saga had perhaps the most impressive slate of upcoming titles I saw at the con — and that’s saying something.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Munchkin

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Munhkin_BoxToday, we’re going off topic to talk about the funnest (Most fun? More fun than any other?) game I play, Munchkin.

Those of us old enough to remember micro games recognize the name Steve Jackson as the creator of OGRE. This tiny little “board game” with the flimsy cardboard pieces launched the micro game market. As the founder of Steve Jackson Games, Jackson has produced a great many board and role playing games, including his own RPG system, GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System).

Back in 2001, Jackson released Munchkin, a fantasy parody card game with the motto, ‘Kill the monsters, steal the treasure, stab your buddy.’ For several years, I looked down on Munchkin as a cheap attempt to cash in on the RPG field. Then a friend bought the original Munchkin game last year. Boy, was I wrong!!

Munchkin (which comes in several variations), is flat out the most fun I’ve ever had playing a board or card game. It can be played by two, but as I’ll explain below, it really only clicks with at least three. The ‘helping’ dynamic doesn’t have nearly as great an impact in a two player game and things can get a bit flat. But with a third, it’s no holds barred.

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When Stellar Empires Clash: GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark Nebula Game Designers Workshop-smallIn this new Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy board games, when all the chatter is about the latest and greatest mega-games (when it isn’t about the big Fantasy Flight Holiday Sale), I’d like to take a moment to appreciate two classic games of interstellar combat: GDW’s Imperium and Dark Nebula, originally published in 1977 and 1980.

Both may appear simplistic compared to modern games of empire-building in space, like Eclipse, EVE Conquests, or Empires of the Void. At first glance, they may seem more comparable to fast-action games like Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic LeagueAstra Titanus, or the Warhammer 40K game Relic.

But just because both are packaged in relatively small boxes with a slender set of rules doesn’t mean they aren’t ambitious and nuanced games. Both are set in the Traveller universe designed by Marc Miller and, if you’re familiar with that game, they’re a great way to play out some of the far-ranging conflicts that shaped The Third Imperium.

Although it’s probably more accurate to say that Dark Nebula shared a setting with Imperium, which gradually became part of the Traveller universe. Imperium, an ambitious two-player game of space empire conflict set in 22nd Century, was released by GDW in 1977 — the same year the company also published Traveller.  Imperium had a very intriguing backstory, with two great empires in conflict, hints of failed diplomacy, and a vast stellar empire in slow decline.

Conversely, the original boxed edition of Traveller didn’t really have a setting — it was sort of a generic system for role playing in space, and it drew on the popular vision of a galaxy-spanning human civilization found in the science fiction of the time by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, and others. It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

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Vintage Treasures: Gateway to Elsewhere by Murray Leinster / The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Gateway to Elsewhere-small The Weapon Shops of Isher-small

And now we come to one of my favorite Ace Doubles: Murray Leinster’s Arabian Nights fantasy Gateway to Elsewhere, paired with the classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt.

Of the two, Gateway to Elsewhere is significantly lesser known. It was Leinster’s first fantasy novel, although he’d previously published two SF novels, The Murder of the U.S.A. (as Will F. Jenkins, in 1946) and The Black Galaxy (in Startling, March 1949). Gateway to Elsewhere originally appeared in a two-part serial in the seventh issue of the small circulation digest Fantasy Book in 1950/51 under the title Journey to Barkut. The entire novel was reprinted in the January 1952 issue of Startling Stories, still under the title Journey to Barkut, with a handsome cover by Earle Bergey (see below).

Two years later, it appeared as half of Ace Double D-53, with the new title Gateway to Elsewhere, and a splendid cover by Harry Barton.

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