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.


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.

Read More »


Dark Comedy, Retro-futurism and a Bucket Load of Charm: Why Fallout 3 is a Bloody Good Game

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Fallout_3I’m willing to bet that, at some point in your childhood, you wanted to be Mad Max, and why not? Mad Max kicks ass: he’s got a shotgun, an Australian accent, a really cool dog, and the most grizzled beard in history: the five o clock shadow. Right then, so take the aesthetics and feel of Mad Max, mix it in with some retro-futurism, a brilliantly realized post-apocalyptic DC, and a bucket load of dark comedy, and you know what you get?

Fallout 3. That’s what you get. And yes, it’s every bit as badass as it sounds.

Now, if I weren’t a rambling, borderline incoherent muppet, I would end this post here and tell you to buy it, but I am a rambling, borderline incoherent muppet, so now I’m going to waste the next 10 minutes of your life telling you why it’s so good.

In fact, no, scratch that, let me go over what’s going on first, give you some context. After slapping the disc in your Xbox or whatever and booting this bad boy up, you’re asked to create your character and call him something stupid (I called mine Moist Pete). From there you live out your childhood in the safe but subjugating arms of Vault 101, one of the underground vaults built before the apocalypse to shelter the world’s best and brightest from the nuclear bombs dropped all over the US by the Chinese. You’ll go through your childhood, getting bullied, going to school and passing your exams and generally having a pretty decent time of things.

Then you wake up one morning to find out that Liam Neeson, your dad, has legged it off out into the wasteland because, according to him, running around an irradiated wasteland and having his legs blown off by an unexploded mine sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. You then find out that everyone in the vault is looking for you too, so, after beating all of your childhood friends to death with a baseball bat and a police baton you go off in search of him, because, let’s face it, a man as smooth as Liam Neeson doesn’t make it through the apocalypse unmolested. He’s gonna need help.

Read More »


Elemental Evil Attacks Dungeons & Dragons

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Elemental EvilDungeons & Dragons has transformed itself lately, and that trend continues with the upcoming Elemental Evil storyline set to hit the Forgotten Realms in pen-and-paper, board, and digital formats starting in March and continuing through the summer. In the words of the press release:

Heroes are needed in the Forgotten Realms to discover and defeat secret cults that threaten to annihilate the Sword Coast by harnessing the powers of the elements of fire, water, air, and earth.

Certainly sounds impressive, but before diving into Elemental Evil, let’s quickly review the status of the world’s most iconic fantasy gaming line.

The Road to Now

Back in 2012, Dungeons & Dragons hosted the keynote event at GenCon.  Everyone knew that Dungeons & Dragons was in the process of releasing D&D Next (they were avoiding “5th edition” at that time). Among a lot of experienced gamers, their 4th edition was viewed as a step in the wrong direction. This 2012 keynote was the event where they were going to lay out their strategy for the gaming public. And, I am proud to say, I was there. Since then, I’ve been closely watching the evolution of this process and have been incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen coming out from Wizards of the Coast.

In addition to the fact that they were releasing a new core rule set (which we all knew already), they also announced at this time that Dungeons & Dragons was focusing their entire attention on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, rather than splitting their attention among a myriad array of different worlds. As the start of this, they released a series of 6 novels from August 2013 through June 2014, each by a different author and depicting how the world-shaking event “The Sundering” (also the name of the book series) was impacting the Forgotten Realms world. The 2013 GenCon keynote coincided with Drizzt Do’Urden’s 25th birthday, and also with the release of the first The Sundering book.

Throughout fall of 2014, after the final Sundering book, Dungeons & Dragons finally began releasing their new set of 5th edition core books. These have been covered fairly extensively at Black Gate. Here are some of the highlights for those interested:

Read More »


Where the Next Generation of Geeks is Coming From

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

2015-01-03 14.56.52

…like a 14-year-old’s bedroom writ large

It’s like a 14-year-old’s bedroom writ large: tinkerers hunched over half-built scenery, glue in hand… gaming tables jumbled with battle-broken buildings and fearsomely be-weaponed belligerents, miniature figures poised to charge off their flocked bases and wreak mayhem.

And, it’s full of teenagers.

But it’s also full of adults.

Mostly men, from where teenage leaves off right through to middle age. It is, of course, our local wargaming shop (6sToHit, Edinburgh) and I’m here to deliver a pair of 11-year old gamers — my son Kurtzhau and his best mate Dee M — to a taster game of Bolt Action.

The game’s supervised not by a staff member, as per say Games Workshop, but by a volunteer. This seems an odd way to run a business so I quizz the owner…

Read More »


Goth Chick News: When Gaming, Books and Zombies Converge…Oh the Joy

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Dying Light-smallIt’s been over a year since we first got a peek at an upcoming zombie-killing, gaming extravaganza entitled Dying Light.  Back in August, 2013, Dying Light’s creators Techland hinted that the game would be released in all formats somewhere around May, 2014.

Several months (and delays) later, we finally have a firm date of January 27, 2015 and a lot has changed – not the least of which appears to be the angle of the storyline, though officially the delays were due to the extreme complexity of development.

A year ago we were told this:

Dying Light is a first-person, action survival horror game set in a vast and dangerous open world. During the day, players traverse an expansive urban environment overrun by a vicious outbreak, scavenging the world for supplies and crafting weapons to defend against the growing infected population. At night, the hunter becomes the hunted, as the infected become aggressive and more dangerous. Most frightening are the predators which only appear after sundown. Players must use everything in their power to survive until the morning’s first light.

Awesomeness.

Read More »


The Shade of Klarkash-Ton

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by James Maliszewski

None strikes the note of cosmic horror as well as Clark Ashton Smith. In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Smith is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer, living or dead.

casSo wrote another great writer of cosmic horror, H.P. Lovecraft. Even given the Old Gent’s tendency toward hyperbole when extolling the virtues of his colleagues, I find it hard to disagree, particularly on this, the 122nd anniversary of Smith’s birth in Long Valley, California.

Of the “Big Three” – Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith – who wrote for Weird Tales during the 1920s and 1930s, CAS is the only one to have lived long enough to have died of old age and yet he’s also probably the least understood and celebrated. That’s a great pity, not just because he’s probably my favorite of that glorious triumvirate, but also because his works are quite unlike any other fantasy or science fiction writer before or since. Jack Vance probably comes the closest to conjuring up the shade of Smith, but there are lots of subtle differences between the two authors that make such a comparison facile.

For one, Smith considered himself primarily a poet rather than a writer of fiction. Even his most straightforward prose pieces possess a poetic character to them that transcends his florid vocabulary and indulgence in archaisms. There’s an incantatory rhythm to his writing that demands it be read aloud; I frequently find myself doing just that when I read a Smith story. It’s a very strange and powerful thing. Rarely have I encountered a writer whose written words so cried out to be spoken (intoned?). When you do so, the experience is like few others in literature. Smith’s writing is luxurious and appeals to all his reader’s senses, including the mind’s eye – that part of the imagination that doesn’t just conceive of people and things and places that have never existed but that strains at the edges of infinity. I find myself at a loss to describe precisely what I mean, but then that’s part of my point. Smith’s work often gives voice to the ineffable in ways that are both exhilarating and terrifying. Few others writers I have encountered can do that.

I make no secret of the fact CAS is my personal favorite of the Big Three of Weird Tales and the one whose works I most wish I could emulate. Though I strive mightily against it, I fear that my own writings evince a style more in keeping with the antiquarian Lovecraft than with the otherworldly poetry of the Bard of Auburn, though not for lack of trying. Smith’s genius is elusive and not easily reproduced.

Read More »


A Most-Enjoyable Crisis

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

dc_comics_crisis_3d_600x600_0If you’ve read DC comics for any length of time since the mid-1960′s, the term “crisis” probably triggers memories of monumental, universe-shattering storylines. It began as the name for several of the major DC cross-over events, ultimately culminating in the classic 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, which was one of the most effective efforts to fix continuity errors in comics with a comprehensive universal reboot. (It has since been followed up by DC universal reboots of varying degrees in their crossovers Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, and Flashpoint.)

So the title of this game-changing expansion to the DC Deck-Building Game (Amazon) should be no surprise. The Crisis expansion (Amazon) introduces significant new elements of gameplay. I’ve played a number of games and expansions, but it’s been a while since I saw an expansion which gave an existing game such a phenomenal revamp as this one.

I first reviewed the DC Deck-Building Game a year ago, in a face-off against the Marvel: Legendary deck-building game. At the time, my 9-year-old son considered the DC game as his favorite, though I came down in favor of the Marvel game, mostly for the following reasons:

  • Marvel: Legendary felt more like narratively being inside a comic book, in comparison to the DC game. Marvel is built around a Scheme Card implemented by specific Mastermind supervillains, meaning that each game has a unique storyline and game objectives. The DC game, on the other hand, involves beating up a pile of villain cards to win.
  • Marvel: Legendary was at least partially cooperative, while the DC game was entirely competitive. Since I mostly play with my son, I prefer cooperative games. Also, from a storytelling standpoint, I felt like a game where I’m supposed to be Batgirl and my son is supposed to be Nightwing should be more cooperative.

Read More »


How It All Began

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 | Posted by Jeff Stehman

dungeon map-smallI discovered D&D when I was 12 years old. Typical, but that’s where typical ended. No friend/sibling/ cousin/teacher sat me down at a table with those early paperback rulebooks and oddly shaped dice. I didn’t get to see the rules or the dice. Come to think of it, there wasn’t a table.

I’d moved the year before, and a distant friend was visiting. Our families spent an afternoon together roaming a museum, and he and I were alone for part of that time. He spent about an hour telling me about this great new game he was playing, exploring a dark dungeon with his friends, facing all manner of evil. I remember only one fragment of his story: Their dwarven cleric had been slain. They had left the body behind, but were planning to go back for the dwarf’s warhammer, as they’d run into a bunch of skeletons and thought a smashing weapon might prove useful.

How many 12-year-old lovers of adventure fantasy could pass that up? Certainly not me, but I didn’t know where to acquire this wondrous game, and I had no one to play it with (nor would I for another 5 years). What to do?

Fortunately, I had picked up the notion of making board games from an older brother, so I plopped down on the floor and got to work. From my friend I’d heard about dungeon rooms and treasures and monsters and secret doors. I’d heard about wizards and magical weapons and healing potions. I’d heard about hit points and hit dice and armor class. And I knew they were all rolled into one game.

Read More »


A World without Tolkien

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

NPG x88898; John Ronald Reuel Tolkien by Pamela ChandlerI like to commemorate the birthdays of authors whose works I’ve enjoyed or that have exercised an influence over me in some way. Unfortunately, I only write one day a week here at Black Gate. Consequently, the odds that an anniversary of one of the handful of writers I hold in high esteem should fall on a Tuesday aren’t high enough that I can consistently write commemoration posts on the day in question. Sometimes, like last week’s post about Fritz Leiber (which proved surprisingly popular, if the comments it generated are any indication – thank you), the calendar cooperates somewhat and my post can appear a day before or a day after the intended date. It’s a bit of a cheat, but not one so egregious that my over-developed sense of propriety feels it’s “wrong.”

January is the birth month of multiple writers I esteem highly. As fate would have it, the birthdays of two of them happen to fall on Tuesdays in 2015, which makes my job a lot easier next month. In a couple of other cases, though, the birthdays fall on days of the week far enough away from my regular slot that I really do feel as if I’d be acting out of turn by devoting a post to them. Yet, in both of these cases, the author is such a colossal figure in the field of fantasy – never mind in my own personal pantheon of fantasists – that it would seem wrong to let his birthday pass without comment.

This long-winded preface is my way of saying that, while J.R.R. Tolkien’s 123rd birthday isn’t until this coming Saturday (January 3), this post is nevertheless about him and the incredibly long shadow he has cast over the field of fantasy fiction. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that, for good or for ill, the contemporary popular understanding of what fantasy is derives almost entirely from his novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I can scarcely think of another author whose idiosyncratic vision has so transformed the commonplace conception of the genre in which he wrote that it is now seen as not merely normative but exhaustive.

Which is why I’m now going to spend a few hundred words considering just a few of the things fantasy (and fantasy gaming) owe largely, if not necessarily exclusively, to Tolkien.

Read More »


  Earlier Entries »

This site © 2015 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.