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Month: July 2013

Tabletop Gaming On The Rise

Tabletop Gaming On The Rise

Tabletop RPGs-smallThere’s an interesting article in the Times Free Press this week that examines the growing evidence that tabletop role playing is experiencing a significant resurgence.

Written by Casey Phillips, the article, “After 40 years, popularity of tabletop gaming rises despite high-tech competition,” mixes industry stats with anecdotal evidence gathered from the Chattanooga area.

D&D and other role-playing games increasingly are becoming a mainstream activity. In a 2000 survey, Wizards of the Coast — the current owners of the D&D universe of products — estimated that 5.5 million people in the U.S. regularly play tabletop roleplaying games…

With the recent growth of nerd culture through blockbuster comic book films and the growth of the video game industry, role-playing has been embraced more positively by pop culture, serving as a plot device in TV shows such as Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, Community and The Big Bang Theory

In a 2004 essay about his introduction to D&D as a seventh grader, talk show host Stephen Colbert writes, “I… was instantly hooked. It allowed me to enter the world of the books I was reading. I put more effort into that game than I ever did into my school work.” In 2011, he also issued an on-air shout-out to “any half-elf thieves who are joining us tonight.”

I’m not sure I believe that 5.5 million people stat from Wizards of the Coast — unless maybe they define “regularly plays tabletop roleplaying games” as “daydreamed about being Legolas one time.” But I definitely concur that D&D has become tightly identified with the rise of nerd culture, and that has played a very real part in popularizing it and other role playing games. I witnessed that first hand, when my daughter asked to play after her friends watched the “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” episode of Community.

Read the complete article here.

Experience the Epic Madness of Eternal Lies From Pelgrane Press

Experience the Epic Madness of Eternal Lies From Pelgrane Press

Eternal LiesPelgrane Press has been producing some of the most ambitious and exciting RPGs in recent memory.

They began in 2001 with one of my favorite RPGs, The Dying Earth, based on the rich world created by Jack Vance. More recently, we covered their ENnie Award-winning SF game Ashen Stars; the mammoth adventure compilation for Trail of Cthulhu, Out of Space; and their epic fantasy release 13th Age — which topped the list of 9 Most Anticipated RPGs of 2013 recently compiled by EN World.

But it’s quite possible they’ve topped all of those with Eternal Lies, a massive new campaign for Trail of Cthulhu by Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, and Jeremy Keller. The early buzz on Eternal Lies compares it very favorably to Masks of Nyarlathotep, the seminal 1984 mega-adventure for Call of Cthulhu that is frequently (and justifiably) cited as the finest role playing adventure ever written.

A decade ago, a band of occult investigators battled against the summoning of an ancient and monstrous evil.

They failed.

Now, you must piece together what went wrong. Investigate ancient crypts, abandoned estates, and festering slums. Explore choked jungles and the crushed psyches of your predecessors. Follow in their footprints and make new ones of your own. This time, there won’t be another chance. The world is yours to save… or lose.

Pelgrane Press is selling the adventure in a special pre-release bundle with the soundtrack album, print edition, and PDF. They’ve created an audio trailer voiced by Wil Wheaton, which you can listen to here.

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New Treasures: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

New Treasures: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Magic Rises Ilona Andrews-smallI’ve been hearing more and more about Ilona Andrews recently — and all of it good. “Ilona Andrews” is the pen name for husband-and-wife writing team, Ilona Gordon and Andrew Gordon, and their latest novel, Magic Rises, just got a rare 5-star review over at our buddy site, SF Signal. Here’s Kristin Centorcelli:

The fight scenes are superb, as usual, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for the scene in which Kate spars with their host. Magic Rises goes to some pretty dark places, but the stakes are very high, and expect some major game changers here… The story is made much richer by having read the previous books in the series, but I can honestly say that new readers could start with this one as well (though I would recommend starting with book 1, Magic Bites, because it’s, well, awesome).

I have to admit, I’ve been stagnating a bit where urban fantasy is concerned, but Magic Rises has reawakened my love for the genre. Urban fantasy absolutely does not get much better than this.

For those of you who need more than just a great review, here are the details:

Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.

Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute — and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer — but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap…

Magic Rises is the sixth volume in the Kate Daniels series, which opened with Magic Bites. It was published today by Ace Books. It is 355 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital editions.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in June

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in June

beneath-ceaseless-skies-logoAccording to our badly-overheated traffic meter, you folks visited the Black Gate blog in record numbers last month (and you left a mess in the visitors lounge, too. Seriously, what’s with all the Taco Bell wrappers?)

Still, we’re glad to see you. I was pleased to note that our most popular article in June was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s look at our distinguished competition, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and his assessment of the best new Sword and Sorcery of the last twelve months. Close behind was Scott Taylor’s newest Top 10 list, “The Top 10 Role Playing Games of All Time,” and Patty Templeton’s interview with uber-editor and 21st Century Renaissance Man, John Joseph Adams.

Rounding out the top five were Douglas Draa’s review of Michael Shea’s horror classic The Color Out Of Time, and our coverage of Jean Rabe’s resignation as editor of the SFWA Bulletin.

The Top 50 Black Gate posts in June were:

  1. The Best New Sword and Sorcery of the Last Twelve Months
  2. Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Role Playing Games of All Time
  3. An Interview with John Joseph Adams
  4. Vintage Treasures: The Color Out of Time by Michael Shea
  5. Jean Rabe Resigns as SFWA Bulletin Editor Amidst Controversy
  6. Art of the Genre: Kickstarter – It Really Shouldn’t Be About the Stuff
  7. Robert E Howard and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D
  8. Maureen F McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang
  9. Pathfinder RPG: Fey Revisited
  10. Did I Do that? or We’ve Had the Sword, Where’s the Sorcery?


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Steampunk vs. Aliens – 5 Questions with Joshua Palmatier

Steampunk vs. Aliens – 5 Questions with Joshua Palmatier

Zombies Need Brains, the new small press started by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray, has officially launched its first title via Kickstarter, a new anthology called Steampunk vs. Aliens. I sat down for a virtual chat with Joshua about the new project and the new press.

The project is running now on Kickstarter, and it’s been going great. As of this writing, it sits only a bit over $600 from its funding goal, with over two weeks left. Full disclosure, I’m involved with the project, but I’m also very excited about seeing this reach the market and finding fans of Steampunk and old-school science fiction. There are a ton of great rewards for the Kickstarter and lots of great stretch goals ahead.

Find out more by visiting the Kickstarter page for Steampunk vs. Aliens.

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Arak Issue 5: Tournament of Champions!

Arak Issue 5: Tournament of Champions!

arak issue 5Wow! By issue 5 of Arak: Son of Thunder, Roy Thomas and Ernie Colón have really hit their stride. With this issue, I figure I’ve ingested a large enough sample size to recommend this title unequivocally to fans of sword-n-sorcery and high fantasy. I mean, it’s not genre-defining or trend-setting or anything, but it’s well done. Good stuff.

They’ve established main and supporting characters, set up the parameters of the plot, and now the cogs and wheels of the long-term story are starting to turn. But before we get to all that, I must make a follow-up observation about the art:

It is surprising how much of a difference an inker can make. On first glance, one might assume the title had a new artist, but no. Colón’s pencils are now inked by Rodin Rodriguez (who is credited as “Inker/Embellisher”). Inkers bring different styles to the table, and the end product really can take on strikingly different characteristics depending on who is laying down those embellishments.

In my description of the art in my post for issue 4, I noted that the inking sometimes feels a bit rough and muddy, occasionally obscuring or flattening out the action. Here is a study in contrast: the characters and scenes in issue 5 really pop; they’re well defined and striking. Rodriguez’s inking is not as dark or splotchy as his predecessor; rather, he brings a more artistic cross-hatching style, with bold, solid lines that better define bodies and objects.

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Vintage Treasures: The Best of Henry Kuttner

Vintage Treasures: The Best of Henry Kuttner

The Best of Henry Kuttner-smallI’ve gotten used to introducing these vintage Best Of collections — as I did recently with The Best of Robert Bloch and The Best of Murray Leinster — assuming that most readers have no idea who the authors are.

There’s been a surge of interest in Henry Kuttner lately, however, and he’s been in the news half a dozen times this year at Black Gate alone. The most recent was just last week, when we listed him as one of the luminaries covered by Bud Webster’s Past Masters.

But before that, Connor Gormley wrote a Fantasy Face-Off featuring Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis vs. Robert E Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian, I discussed The Startling Worlds of Henry Kuttner and looked at his Weird Tales classic “The Graveyard Rats.” And we announced the lucky winners of the giveaway copies of Thunder in the Void, the deluxe collection of Kuttner’s Space Opera tales from Haffner Press.

It’s not just us with a recent Kuttner obsession. In just the last few years, there’s been a re-discovery of this brilliant pulp author. Haffner also published the detailed retrospective Detour to Otherness, a collection of tales co-written with his wife, C.L. Moore, and a generous volume of his weird menace tales, Terror in the House: The Early Kuttner, Volume One. He’s been a favorite over at Paizo’s Planet Stories imprint as well, and they’ve brought his classics The Dark World, Elak of Atlantis, and Robots Have No Tails back into print in handsome new editions.

Centipede Press and the Science Fiction Book Club produced a massive 915-page retrospective of Moore and Kuttner’s collaborative work in 2006, Two Handed Engine: The Selected Stories of Henry Kuttner and C.L.Moore.

And his 1943 short story “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” (co-written with Moore) was made into the feature-length film The Last Mimzy by New Line Cinema in 2007.

Seriously, that’s not bad for someone who died over 50 years ago.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Highwater Harbor” Part Three, by Aaron Bradford Starr

Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Highwater Harbor” Part Three, by Aaron Bradford Starr

The Highwater Harbor-smallGallery Hunters Gloren Avericci and Yr Neh discover that there is more than one plot afoot in their search for the enigmatic Highwater Harbor — and that danger comes in many forms.

False panels fell away on every side, revealing the entire hold to be lined floor to ceiling with tiny, latched compartments. Before Yr Neh or I could properly react, each of the hundreds of brass latches clicked from their secure position, freeing the doors to swing open.

From each, the tiny dark forms of rats tumbled, gathering into a squeaking carpet.

Yr Neh, staring with horrible fascination, let out a deep growl. As one, the living mass faced us. With high barks and squeaks of rodent rage, the rats charged forward toward this living symbol of feline oppression, and, by extension, toward me.

I retreated atop the nearest crate, while Yr Neh climbed up my exterior, to stand, defiant, upon my shoulders, teeth bared, claws flexing for purchase, which he found at the level of unyielding bone. The wave of rats washed forward, up the sides of the boxes, relentlessly advancing.

“Kill him!” Pamani screeched from below.

Louis West at Tangent Online called “The Sealord’s Successor” a “gripping tale of fantasy, mystery, murder and intrigue. A must read” and “The Tea-Maker’s Task” “an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek fantasy… I wanted more.” We’re more than happy to oblige with this fourth exciting installment of the adventures of Gallery Hunter Gloren and his cat companion, Yr Neh.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Jamie McEwan, Martha Wells, Mary Catelli, Michael Penkas, Vera Nazarian, Ryan Harvey, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, E.E. Knight, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, Harry Connolly, and many others, is here.

“The Highwater Harbor”  is a 35,000-word novella of fantasy mystery presented in three parts, with original art by Aaron Bradford Starr. Part I is here; all three parts are offered at no cost.

Read Part III here.

“What If Luck Wasn’t a Matter of Chance?”: OXV: The Manual

“What If Luck Wasn’t a Matter of Chance?”: OXV: The Manual

OXV: The ManualThe 2013 edition of Montreal’s Fantasia film festival is well underway and I’ve been able to see three films so far, with more planned. A few days ago, I watched The Garden of Words, a visually spectacular 45-minute slice-of-life anime, and at noon yesterday took in After School Midnighters, a kid-oriented 3D animated movie that nicely balances plot and wackiness. Then, later that afternoon, I attended a showing of OXV: The Manual, a science-fiction film premiering at the festival. I was impressed enough to want to write about it here.

OXV is an exceptionally strong film, not flawless, but dedicated to its ideas and the science-fictional notions driving its plot. At its core are questions of determinism and free will, questions the movie builds to and explores rigorously. Around these themes it subtly but surely builds a kind of alternate reality, then over the course of its story develops that reality in ways that we don’t expect. The structure of the film is complex without being hard to follow, and opens up into a larger tale than we might at first suspect. Overall, it’s hard not to think of Primer while watching it; it’s not that the two films are similar, but they’re both good films that tell truly science-fictional stories on relatively limited budgets.

In a world, and specifically an England, where people’s relative levels of luck have been measured scientifically, an absurdly unlucky boy falls in love with the luckiest girl in the world. The boy has a low ‘frequency,’ the girl a high one; they cancel each other out and create wildly improbable events if they spend more than a minute together. Young Isaac Newton — in this world, people are named for great scientists and thinkers; Isaac’s known as Zak — persists in loving Marie anyway, despite the fact that a side-effect of her high frequency is a lack of emotion. With his friend, Theodore Adorno Strauss, he struggles to come up with a way to change his frequency. They succeed, developing a ‘manual’ that suggests words that alter the speaker’s luck. The movie develops from there, exploring ramifications and unintended consequences of their discovery.

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New Treasures: The Fall of the First World, Book Two: Sorrowing Vengeance by David C. Smith

New Treasures: The Fall of the First World, Book Two: Sorrowing Vengeance by David C. Smith

Sorrowing Vengeance The Fall of the First World-smallI’ve seen a lot of exciting news from David C. Smith recently.

If you’ve been following the Black Gate Online Fiction series (see the latest here), you know that his recent collaboration with Joe Bonadonna, Waters of Darkness, has been near the top of our monthly traffic charts since we published an excerpt back in March. And just a few months ago, our website editor, Michael Penkas, reviewed his much-loved Red Sonja novels, co-written with Richard L. Tierney in the early 80s.

That wasn’t even the big news, however. No, that was the re-release of Dave’s seminal fantasy trilogy The Fall of the First World, originally published in paperback by Pinnacle Books in 1983. Unavailable for nearly thirty years, these exciting novels are finally being returned to print by Borgo Press. The first, The West is Dying, appeared in November, and now we’re very pleased to see that volume two, Sorrowing Vengeance, arrived last month.

“I see more in darkness than you can see in the light.” A priest turned sorcerer is reborn as the ultimate creature of Evil. He will topple a throne and begin the destruction of the world, even as the crowns of two empires move inexorably toward launching an impossible war that neither can win. The King of Athadia, fearing a personal curse, tries to maintain peace. But when his Queen is abducted by the barbarian ruler of the East — and she welcomes the affront — armies gather on every border, and ships set sail on oceans of blood. The world is at war, and a great sorrowing vengeance, foretold long ago, comes to life in the darkest of times… The second great fantasy novel in the epic saga of The Fall of the First World!

Sorrowing Vengeance was published by Borgo Press on June 19. It is 452 pages, priced at $18.99 in trade paperback. There is no digital edition. The third and final volume, The Passing of the Gods, is also due this month.