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Ed Greenwood and Tattoos and Geek Inked at Ad Astra in Toronto

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

250px-Elminster_Enraged546987-LI last blogged from the Saturday morning of As Astra, one of Toronto’s premiere fan conventions. While I was there, I had the good fun of running into Ed Greenwood, Ad Astra Special Guest, and one of the early D&D legends.

Ed and I breakfasted and chatted, which seems to be turning into an annual thing because we both get up early. Ed is still super-busy turning out lots of new game tie-in novels.

Later on, he was interviewed by Geek Inked magazine and spoke on not only his experiences with early D&D, some of his current projects and hints at some of his others, but also tattoos! Geek Inked is an online magazine that obviously specializes in Geeks and Tattoos, so the conversation, as it says in the mandate of Geek Inked, goes interestingly sideways.

I wanted to share these two segments of the interview because the conversation relates back to some of the themes I touched on in my interview with module-writer Geoff Gander, especially about some of the opportunities opening up with crowd-funding.

That interview with Geoof, incidentally, also encouraged me to pull out my old Basic and Expert rules and look at the free common source Basic modules available online and start introducing my son to D&D. It turns out his interest is 100% on the dungeon crawl and 0% on the role playing. :)  Check it out here.

Major props to Rob at Geek Inked Magazine for an excellent interview.

Derek Künsken is a writer of science fiction and fantasy in Ottawa, Canada. You can find out more about him at or @derekkunsken.

The Dungeon Dozen

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

DDcoverNext copyThe first roleplaying game I owned was the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set edited by J. Eric Holmes, as you’re all probably tired of hearing by now. Among the many memorable features of that boxed set was that some of its printings (including my own) did not include dice. Instead, these sets included a sheet of laminated paper chits printed in groups that mimicked the ranges of polyhedral dice (1–4, 1–6, 1–8, 1–10, 1–12, and 1–20).  The purchaser of the game was instructed to cut them apart and “place each different type in a small container (perhaps a small paper cup), and each time a number generation is called for, draw a chit at random from the appropriate container.”

This I dutifully did, taking several small Dixie Cups from my upstairs bathroom for the purpose. Leaving aside the disbelief-suspending flower print of the cups, this method of random number generation was awkward and decidedly un-fun. Consequently, I set out to find a proper set of dice with which to play D&D, a quest that took me to a local toy store, which had them hidden away behind the counter. I bought that set – made of terrible, low impact plastic – and rushed home to use them. I wanted to be a “real” Dungeons & Dragons player. For all their faults, those dice were, in many ways, what sealed my fate as a lifelong roleplayer. There was something downright magical about those little, weirdly shaped objects that captured my imagination almost as much as the game itself.

I am fascinated not just by dice, but also by randomness. I’ve come to believe that one of the real, perhaps fundamental distinction between “old school” roleplaying games and their latter day descendants is the extent to which randomness informs game play. As a younger person, I went through a period when I intensely disliked randomness and used it as a bludgeon against games, including D&D, that I decided I disliked. Older, if not wiser, I no longer think that way. Indeed, I celebrate randomness as a vital part of what makes a RPG enjoyable for me. Randomness is frequently a godsend, providing me with a steady stream of ideas and inspiration when I find myself at a loss for either (which is often). Randomness also enables me to be surprised, even when I’m the referee, which is no small feat after more than three decades behind the screen. In short, I love randomness.

Therefore, I suppose I’m predisposed to love a book like The Dungeon Dozen by Jason Sholtis. This 222-page book is a compilation of the many “flavor-rich yet detail-free” random tables available on Sholtis’s eponymously named blog, accompanied by a great deal of black and white art provided by Chris Brandt, John Larrey, Stefan Poag, and Sholtis himself.

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Alignment Chaotic AWESOME: 1st Edition Deities and Demigods (Part 1)

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Deities_&_Demigods_(front_cover,_first_edition)One of the most fun, crazy, and controversial tomes to come out of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was, without a doubt, Deities and Demigods (1980).

More wide-ranging (and less Eurocentric) than Bullfinch’s Mythology and Hamilton’s Mythology combined, here was a smorgasbord of most of the world’s major (and not-so-major) mythologies, presented as a one-stop shop for your player-character to choose a god or otherworldly entity to pledge fealty to and/r worship.

The vitriol of the religious right aside, Deities and Demigods did have its more thoughtful critics. In game terms, the early editions were kinda silly. Even though they assigned crazy-huge hit points and breathtakingly strong armor classes to the gods, said deities still had stats that could be overcome by powerful enough characters. As one critic observed, the book essentially turned the world’s deities into higher-level “monsters” to defeat — “bosses” for your 20th-level party to challenge. No room here for some metaphysical idea of a being that exists above corporeal, material reality and therefore cannot be “hurt” by a sword with a high-enough bonus modifier.

Later editions of Deities and Demigods (or Legends and Lore, as it was known for a time) ameliorated this “big boss” mentality by introducing the concept that some gods that characters physically encountered were but avatars, “aspects” or physical incarnations of gods who, being immortal and transcendent, could not really be killed.

That’s cool. Still, it is kind of fun — in a juvenile way — to leaf through Deities and Demigods asking such questions as “Who would win in a fight: Zeus or Odin?”

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Delve Into a 3-Part Supermodule With Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Cormyr The Tearing of the Weave-smallI’m still digging into the fabulous Forgotten Realms products I won at the Spring Games Plus Auction, all of which were brand new and criminally cheap – probably because they were written for D&D version 3.5 and are now a little out of date. Not that that bothers me; I mostly play version 1.0 anyway.

I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve sampled so far, including Lost Empires of Faerûn and Underdark, both of which were top-notch. They proved easily adaptable to my current campaign, and Underdark in particular is a truly superb resource. I wish I’d had it years ago. My subterranean adventures would have been vastly richer and more imaginative.

Cormyr has quite a history and was well explored in earlier releases long before this book hit the shelves. It is perhaps the most majestic kingdom of the realms. It first appeared in a handful of short stories in the 1970s by Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood and was described in detail for the first time in TSR’s groundbreaking Forgotten Realms Campaign boxed set in 1987. It has featured in numerous supplements and novels ever since — including Forgotten Realms Adventures (1990), The Forgotten Realms Atlas (1990), The Player’s Guide to the Forgotten Realms Campaign (1993), and especially the 1994 accessory Cormyr by Eric W. Haddock and Paul Jaquays, which detailed the land’s history, royalty, people, and geography in 64 packed pages.

Cormyr has also been the setting for over a dozen Forgotten Reams novels, including The Empires trilogy by David Cook, Troy Denning, and James Lowder (1990 – 1991); The Cormyr Saga by Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, and Troy Denning (1996 – 2000); and two trilogies by Ed Greenwood: The Knights of Myth Drannor (2006 – 2008) and The Sage of Shadowdale (2010 – 2012). If Cormyr were a tourist destination, it would be The Hamptons.

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A Classic Moral Panic: The BBC on The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Panic

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

D&D boxed sets-smallIf you’re as old (and as good-looking) as I am, you probably remember the occasional media hysterics surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and early 80s. Reports of teens committing suicide after playing D&D, getting lost in steam tunnels, turning to devil worship… it got to be almost routine by the mid-80s. You didn’t even pay attention after a while.

It certainly caused problems for some gamers, though. I knew of a few who were forbidden to play D&D by their parents. My own parents certainly heard the reports, but my Dad had a practical solution… he asked to sit in on a game. He rolled up a character named Drawde (Edward spelled backwards) and trooped down in the dungeon with us.

It was a decent enough session, actually, although my brother Mike and I exchanged a few wide-eyed glances as Dad started busting in dungeon doors. My older sister Maureen tagged along, and even my Mom joined in for a while. I remember Maureen found a +1 ring and when I explained it protected her from attack, she sauntered to the front of the party and started talking smack to the next group of orcs they ran in to.

She got peppered with arrows, and my father had to come to her rescue. She hung out in the rear after that. “Anyone want to buy a magic ring?” she asked.

We never had another family session of D&D. But my father was apparently satisfied that the game wasn’t leading Mike and I towards eternal damnation and we were never questioned after that, even as the press reports about the game got crazier. I think I still have Dad’s character sheet somewhere.

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Catching Up on the Gaming World with Fate Diaspora

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Diaspora EHP Softcover Cover 6x9 220

…a rainy holiday afternoon (in space)

The firing squad lines up across the ruined courtyard.Perspiration drips into Tahm’s eyes. The not-flies settle on his face. He strains against his cuffs, the rough wood of the post scraping his arms.

The sergeant barks an order, startling a swarm of lizard-birds into the sky. Twelve rifles come to bear.

Tahm watches the lizard-birds, mentally follows them to where they will roost. He’s a scout and the jungle is his life. Was his life. Soon the jungle will gain life by feeding on his body.

There’s a cracking sound like lightning striking distant treetops, screams, more cracking. Then silence.

Tahm looks down into the courtyard. The execution party now lie sprawled in the mud, smoke billowing from ruined heads and torsos.

A man in scarred battle armour emerges from the ruins. He carries no unit insignia, belongs to neither side in the civil war. Nor does his gun belong; a sleek energy weapon that can only have come from orbital factories of the Grim system.

Their eyes meet.

“Don’t shoot me,” says Tahm.

The gun man’s eyes narrow. “You didn’t see anything.” He turns away and vanishes back into the rubble.

Moments later, the dead men’s assault shuttle roars into the sky, leaving Tahm still tied to the post, now surrounded by corpses.

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Art of the Genre: I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Roleplaying Part Four: The Maps

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

MIddle-EarthHave you ever designed a campaign and thought to yourself, ‘Damn, this is so good, I should build a company on it?’ Well, certainly you aren’t the only one, and dozens of game companies have been born from folk’s home brew campaigns, but it wasn’t until very recently that I realized that I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Role-Playing was born of the same ilk.

Now before you all go running off to Twitter about Tolkien being a RPG nerd, you have to have the full understanding of what I’m talking about. First and foremost, Tolkien WAS NOT a gamer, but that didn’t mean that his world wasn’t ripe for table-top role-players to want to explore in the mid to late 1970s.

One case in particular came out of the University of Virginia in 1977, when then student Pete Fenlon decided he wanted to create a role-playing game around Tolkien’s world for some friends on campus.

My first question upon finding this out was, ‘Why didn’t you just play D&D?’ and Pete’s answer was simple: D&D simply wasn’t Tolkien. As an avid camper and backpacker, as well as a member of the SCA, Fenlon understood way too much about Tolkien to throw a campaign into a world of negative integer armor classes and D20 to-hit charts.

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Black Hat

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

bblumeAs I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, I entered the tabletop roleplaying world in late 1979 at the ripe old age of 10. By that point, Dungeons & Dragons – and, by extension, the hobby it spawned – were already five years old. Consequently, I can’t be numbered amongst the earliest adopters of this new form of entertainment. Even by that date, there was a lot of water under the bridge of which I was very much unaware. Moreover, unlike many of my elders in the hobby, I wasn’t a wargamer (either miniatures or hex-and-chit) and I wasn’t all that well read in the fantasy literature that inspired D&D. I was most definitely a Johnny-come-lately, loath though I would have been to admit it. In fact, it rankled me a bit. I didn’t want to be one of “the kids,” as my friends and I were often called by the teenagers and college students who frequented the hobby shopsBesides, I reasoned, how could I be a kid when my beloved Holmes boxed set proclaimed that D&D was “the original adult fantasy role-playing game?”

I eventually got my own turn to look down my nose at D&D players younger than myself when the multi-colored boxed editions written and edited by Frank Mentzer started to appear in 1983. I loudly proclaimed those “kiddie Dungeons & Dragons” and didn’t want anything to do with them – except for the Companion Rules released in 1984. I had expected the Companion Rules since 1981, when they were mentioned in David Cook’s original Expert Rulebook. Despite my disdain for these new editions, with their Larry Elmore covers and Bowdlerized presentation of D&D, I nevertheless furtively bought a copy of the Companion Rules, hoping it would live up to my expectations. It didn’t–I’m not sure there’s any way it could have – but I liked it anyway. I liked it enough that I still have my copy of it to this day and frequently pull it off the shelf to read. 

I did this the other day and read its preface for the first time in many years. In it, Mentzer says the following:

This game is like a huge tree, grown from the seeds planted in 1972 and even earlier. But as a plant needs water and sun, so does a game need proper “backing” – a company to make it. As the saying goes, “for want of a nail, the war was lost”; and for want of a company, the D&D game might have been lost amidst the lean and turbulent years of the last decade. This set is therefore dedicated to an oft-neglected leader of TSR, Inc; who, with Gary Gygax, founded this company and made it grow. The D&D Companion Set is dedicated to


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Descend Into the Depths of the Earth in Forgotten Realms: Underdark

Monday, April 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Forgotten Realms Underdark-smallI’ve been fascinated with underground gaming ever since I took my first steps in Gary Gygax’s imaginative underworld in the classic 1978 AD&D module D1: Descent into the Depths of the Earth. That adventure — which first introduced the complex and sinister machinations of the drow — was one of the most popular ever released for AD&D and it has been much copied and imitated over the decades since.

A message not lost on TSR and WotC over the years, who have explored and expanded on Gygax’s concept of ancient and hostile subterranean civilizations in several releases — especially the popular Underdark products. With the publication of D&D Third Edition, the masterminds at WotC commissioned an updated version of Underdark for their Forgotten Realms setting, and it appeared in hardcover in 2003.

All of which is background to explain why I was sitting in the front row at the Spring Games Plus Auction and nimbling up my bidding arm when I saw a brand new copy of Underdark make its way to the auction block.

Bidding opened at a buck and was never very enthusiastic. D&D supplements one or two editions out of date don’t seem to command much interest these days and I walked away with it for the criminal price of seven bucks.

Their loss. Underdark is a terrific buy for any D&D gamers looking to add a fully fleshed-out subterranean setting to their existing campaign.

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BattleLore: You Got Your Goblins in My Hundred Years War!

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 | Posted by Jeff Stehman

Battlelore-smallWhen I set up our first game of BattleLore (no easy task), my wife wasn’t in the room. The game ready, I said, “Do you want to play the French or the English?”


I know my wife so well. Still, I’m not a complete bastard.

“It’s the battle of Agincourt.”

Pause. “Maybe I can change the outcome.”

She did and decided this was a strategy game for her. Stepping back even further in time, she proceeded to stomp me at Chevauchee and Burgos. A funny thing happened at Burgos, though. I brought goblins to the party. They were eager to charge into battle, eager to flee. The latter was my undoing. Failing to provide a clear path of retreat for units that retreat with haste can be… messy.

Dwarves then weighed in on the side of the French, and eventually a giant spider showed up, first for the French, then the English. (Fickle creatures, arachnids.)

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