The Secret Supplement: Greyhawk, Gygax, and Outdoor Survival

Sunday, July 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Outdoor Survival-smallA while ago, my 13-year-old daughter Taylor told me her friend Will had seen the famous “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” episode of Community and wanted to learn how to play.

“Sure,” I said. “Tell him to come over on Saturday and I’ll put together a quick adventure for both of you.” My 15-year-old son Drew joined in, creating a fighter, and even Tim, my 17-year old, got in on the action, rolling up a 1st level magic user.

That was over six months ago. What began as a simple session, involving a bunch of farm kids rescuing a dwarven thief named Jasper from marauding gobins, has evolved into an epic campaign, a desperate adventure to stop an army of hobgobins and orcs from completing a railroad that will bring war to their frontier home.

It’s the most fun I’ve had role playing in decades.

I introduced my kids to D&D years ago, but we played only intermittently, and the campaign — such as it was — never really built up steam. The addition of a fourth player, from outside the family, has brought with it a regular Saturday morning schedule, and the result is a much heightened level of interest from everyone involved.

Things are happening faster, they’re leveling up quicker, and they spend the days between sessions talking excitedly, planning, and trying to puzzle out how all the clues they’ve uncovered fit together to reveal the sinister plan behind events.

It’s brought a change in how I dungeon master, too. When I was DM for a group my own age, from roughly 1980 to 2000, there was a certain level of performance anxiety. Every session had to be bigger and better, each adventure more ambitious and epic than the last. I couldn’t just create a fun, two-hour subterranean module… I had to bring an entire underworld civilization to life, with a believable backstory and vast cast of heroes and villains.

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Jack Vance and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Saturday, July 27th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Eyes of the Overworld-smallAh, Appendix N, the gift that keeps on giving. In the years before the Internet, it’s how young readers discovered great fantasy.

Over at Tor.com, Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode continue with their ambitious and well-researched journey through Gary Gygax’s famous Appendix N, the library of fantasy and SF titles in the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They’ve already covered Fritz LeiberEdgar Rice BurroughsSterling E. Lanier and Robert E. Howard. Here they are on Jack Vance:

Mordicai Knode: Also worth noting that everybody’s favorite evil wizard turned lich turned demigod turned major deity, Vecna, is named after a “Vance” anagram. & while we are pointing out bits and pieces — like the prismatic spray, which is such an amazing piece of writing, such a great turn of phrase, that it inspired a whole range of spells — I want to mention the ioun stones. In Dungeons & Dragons they are these little gemstones that float around your head—I always imagined the Bit from Tron — but in The Dying Earth story that inspired them, the IOUN stones are much more sinister and are gleaned from the center of a dwarf star that has been cut in half by the shrinking edges of the universe. Just let that sink in; that is really an incredible idea… And those sorts of ideas are scattered all over the book, like some pirate with holes in his pocket idly scattered gold doubloons all over it.

Tim Callahan: It’s kind of like, for me anyway, when I was a kid, and I’d read the AD&D Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide and just read through some of the spell names or magic item titles (without reading the descriptions below) and imagine what weird and wonderful things these powers and items could do. Vance reminded me of that world of possibilities, almost on every page.

Read the complete article here.

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Summer 2013 Subterranean Magazine now Available

Saturday, July 27th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Subterranean Magazine Summer 2013-smallThe Summer installment of online dark fantasy magazine Subterranean is a special K. J. Parker issue, with two short stories by the pseudonymous author of The Folding Knife and The Engineer trilogy, “The Sun And I” and “Illuminated,” and an article, “Rich Men’s Skins; A Social History of Armour.”

I wonder if the editors have any inside info on who the mysterious K.J. Parker really is? Those Subterranean guys are pretty connected; it’s their job to be in the know on industry secrets and stuff. They’ve published Parker plenty times before — most recently with “Let Maps to Others” (Summer 2012), “The Life and Sad Times of the Western Sword” (Fall 2011), and the World Fantasy Award-winning novella, “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” (Winter 2011).

After a lengthy association like that, you’d think they’d have shelled out a couple bucks for a private eye, and maybe have some fuzzy photos and a database of incriminating leads by now. Like the fact that K.J. Parker and John R. Fultz have never been seen in the same room together. Hmmmm.

If Lee Moyer’s cover looks familiar, it should — it was first used as the cover for Weird Tales 357 (see it here). No crime in re-using great art I guess, but you’d think they’d have chosen something less recent. That issue of WT came out just two years ago! Maybe they’re on a budget. Private eyes aren’t cheap.

They didn’t skimp on the contents though — as usual, this issue is packed with great fiction from some of the top names in the industry, including Joe R. Lansdale, Catherynne M. Valente, and Kat Howard.

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New Treasures: The Crown of the Blood by Gav Thorpe

Friday, July 26th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Crown of the Blood-smallIt’s Friday. Already. Which means I’m a little tardy getting my latest New Treasures selection up.

I usually decide what book to highlight by glancing over the new arrivals for the week and selecting which one I’m going to read on the weekend. Except this weekend, I’ll have my nose in the 358-page rulebook for Black Crusade, the Warhammer 40k role playing game from Fantasy Flight, learning how to play so I can host an adventure for my kids, who’ve been begging me for weeks. (Why don’t kids play softball any more? Or frisbee? What does that take — 45 seconds prep time?)

So instead, I’m staring longingly at the review books that arrived this week, wishing I could read them. Still, all this Warhammer immersion reminds me of the great adventure fiction set in that universe, and as a result I find the book calling loudest for my attention is Gav Thorpe’s The Crown of the Blood, the first novel in his trilogy of the same name.

Ullsaard has conquered the known world. All have fallen before his armies.

Now it’s time to take the long journey home, back to the revered heart of the great Empire he had helped create for his distant masters. But when he returns to the capital, life there is so very different from what he had believed. Could it be that everything he has fought for, has conquered and killed for, has been a lie?

A sweeping fantasy of immense battles, demonic magic and dark politics.

No waiting around for the sequels, either — they’re already here: The Crown of the Conqueror and The Crown of the Usurper. (Great — more books I can’t read this weekend.) Gav Thorpe has written over a dozen novels in the Warhammer universe for Black Library, including Angels of Darkness and the Sundering trilogy.

The Crown of the Blood was published by Angry Robot in September, 2010. It is 528 pages in paperback, priced at $7.99 ($6.99 for the digital edition). More details at the Angry Robot website.


Blogging Marvel’s Dracula in the 1980s

Friday, July 26th, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

uncanny159img112Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire had left an indelible mark on the comic book industry of the 1970s with Marvel Comics’ award-winning Tomb of Dracula series and its spin-offs. By the following decade, Marvel was ready to put the final stake in the now tired property. The storyline to rid the Marvel Universe of vampires was spread across multiple titles in 1982 and 1983, beginning with Marvel’s biggest title of the decade, The Uncanny X-Men.

Writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz kicked the storyline off in Issue #159 of The Uncanny X-Men in a clever update of the Stoker novel that sees Storm falling victim to Dracula. Claremont cleverly starts off with the team frantically rushing to the hospital where their friend has been taken because of dramatic blood loss stemming from a mysterious throat wound. Storm remembers nothing of the attack, has mystified the attending physician by her seemingly miraculous recovery, and yet is decidedly not herself as she exhibits a peculiarly morbid fascination. The one flaw is the story is too rushed. Claremont and Sienkiewicz’s handling of Dracula is the best since Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, if lacking in their unique style and flair. What should have been a multi-part storyline is truncated to fit in a single issue.

Happily, the story served as a prelude to that year’s Uncanny X-Men Annual #6, which developed the storyline further with Storm struggling against Dracula’s hold over her soul; Kitty Pryde falling to possession by Lilith, Dracula’s daughter; Rachel Van Helsing turned into Dracula’s vampire bride; and the Lord of Vampires seeking once more the mystical tome, the Darkhold, which contains the Montesi Formula, the fabled key to wiping out all vampires from the face of the Earth. Once again, the fault is that the story needs far more space than it is allotted. It is a joy to see so many plot strands from Tomb of Dracula being taken up and it is clear that the story is building to a greater story arc, but these issues could have been so much more and with a talented writer and artist team such as Claremont and Sienkiewicz, it is unfortunate they were not.

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FUNGI #21: The Urbille Appears, Thongor Returns, and more…

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by John R. Fultz

Fungi21-front

Front cover of FUNGI #21.

There’s a place called The Urbille that exists in some distant corner of the space/time continuum. It’s a time/place/city where fractured realities collide, where lost souls amble in prisons of rust or dance in clockwork bodies, and where human flesh is a weakness to be discarded and devoured.

I wrote two stories set in The Urbille. They are positively the WEIRDEST stories I’ve ever written, and now they’re being published together in the jumbo-sized 30th Anniversary Edition of FUNGI. The first Urbille story is called “The Key To Your Heart Is Made of Brass.” The second is “Flesh of the City, Bones of the World.” Both are epic journeys into strangeness, mystery, and horror.

FUNGI #21 is available now and it’s 420 pages of glorious weird fantasy. In addition to my two Urbille tales, which bookend the issue, it includes tons of other stories and articles.

“The Sword of Thongor” is a new tale of Lin Carter’s barbarian hero by Robert M. Price. Weird fiction master Wilum H. Pugmire contributes a new novelette entitled “A Presence of Things Past.”

Fungi21-backcover

Back cover of FUNGI #21.

Additional contributors include:

David Daniel
H.P. Lovecraft
Thomas Ligotti
William F. Nolan
Richard F. Searight
William Hope Hodgson
Ann K. Schwader
Glynn Barrass
James Person, Jr.

Publisher/Editor Pierre Comtois says of the fully illustrated issue: “FUNGI #21 features a stellar lineup of the most incredible talent in the weird fiction field from contemporary hit makers to talented newcomers to yesteryear’s classic authors… including special spotlights on Richard F. Searight and West Coast authors Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, Charles Beaumont and many others. It also features a new interview and fiction from Twilight Zone writer Earl Hamner, Jr.”

The cover painting is a classic piece from Murray Tinkelman, first seen on the cover of Ballantine Books’ edition of H.P. Lovecraft’s THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM in 1976. Another stellar Tinkelman piece graces the back cover, one Ballantine used as the cover of it’s ’76 edition of Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD.

To order a copy of FUNGI #21 click here.


Goth Chick News: Elijah Wood Gets Too Freaky for New Zealand

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Maniac poster-smallAnyone who saw Sin City knows that Elijah Wood can be one creepy dude.

Forget the lovable, hairy-footed Fodo Baggins. As easily as Woods can tear up and give good old Sam Gamgee a hug, he can drop into the role of a glassy-eyed, sociopathic killer with disturbing believability.

Believe me. Because apparently, Wood has his craft so finely tuned that he has managed to skeeve out an entire country.

In a decision revealed Wednesday, New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) banned Franck Khalfoun’s film Maniac starring Elijah Wood from general screening in New Zealand, saying it can’t be shown outside of film festivals.

The ruling also means the movie can’t be distributed on DVD at a later date.

A remake of William Lustig’s grindhouse cult classic from 1980, Maniac opened in the U.S. last month courtesy of IFC Midnight and had its world premiere at Cannes in 2012.

It was due to screen next at the New Zealand International Film Festival, running July 26th through August 11th.

Explaining the ruling, a representative for the New Zealand fest said that the OFLC informed them that:

The POV (“point of view”) nature of the film mixed with the psychopathic behavior of actor Elijah Wood is more than disturbing, that it’s potentially dangerous in the hands of the wrong person — that is, a non-festival-goer.

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The Doom That Came to Kickstarter

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Doom That Came to Atlantic City-smallReports are coming in that Erik Chevalier, the man behind one of the most high-profile Kickstarter game successes of 2012, The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, has admitted that he will never produce the game.

The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, created by Eberron designer Keith Baker and artist Lee Moyer, was a Monopoly-style game with a distinct Cthulhu flair. Described as “A light hearted Lovecraftian game of urban destruction,” the game invited players to take the roles of Great Old Ones in a race to be the first to destroy the world. The Kickstarter campaign launched May 7, 2012 with a $35,000 goal; by the time it closed on June 6, 2012 it had raised an astounding $122,874.

However, over the past 13 months, Chevalier has been releasing increasingly bleak progress reports, culminating in this post Tuesday:

This is not an easy update to write. The short version: The project is over, the game is canceled…

From the beginning the intention was to launch a new board game company with the Kickstarted funds, with The Doom that Came to Atlantic City as only our first of hopefully many projects… Since then rifts have formed and every error compounded the growing frustration, causing only more issues. After paying to form the company, for the miniature statues, moving back to Portland, getting software licenses and hiring artists to do things like rule book design and art conforming the money was approaching a point of no return. We had to print at that point or never. Unfortunately that wasn’t in the cards…

Predictably, the feedback from backers has been scathing.

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“We Thought We Were Immortal”: Robert Bloch on J. Francis McComas, Eric Frank Russell, and Leigh Brackett

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Starlog Science Fiction Yearbook-smallLast week, as part of my ongoing look at Lester Del Rey’s Best of… paperbacks from the 1970s, I wrote a brief piece on The Best of Robert Bloch. In the Comments section, Tangent editor and uber-fan Dave Truesdale offered up this fascinating tidbit:

Back in 1978 David Gerrold and I edited the Starlog SF Yearbook… For the section titled In Memoriam I wrote Robert Bloch and asked if he would do the honors (Kerry O’Quinn, Starlog publisher had given me a budget and so I was of course paying authors). Bob agreed and turned in well over a thousand words on three people who had passed away in 1978: J. Francis “Mick” McComas, co-founder of F&SF; Eric Frank Russell, and Leigh Brackett. It was a marvelous piece, bookended with how the field had begun so small when everybody knew everybody else and it was a big deal when someone died — and today (1978) when hardly anyone noted the passing of folks like Hugo Gernsback or Raymond Palmer…

After Bob got the check for his piece, he wrote back to express his thanks and that Mrs. Bloch would no doubt enjoy spending it on several bags of groceries.

After thinking on it a bit more, Dave got in touch with Robert Bloch’s daughter, Sally (Bloch) Francy, to ask for permission to reprint the piece. Here’s part of her reply:

I’m sure Dad would be very pleased, and I hope he and Rich Matheson are chatting about it as I ‘speak.’ I babysat for Matheson’s kids and rode horseback with their oldest daughter, Tina… Rich’s passing, though not a surprise, given his age and health issues, was still a shock. He and Harlan Ellison are the two people I knew from when I was a teenager, and to whom I still feel strong emotional ties to my father. They are the last of his generation of the people I knew. I miss my dad every day, still!

Thanks to Dave’s efforts, the complete text of her letter and her father’s 1978 piece are reprinted on the Tangent Online website.


Vintage Treasures: The Comic Times

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Comic Times 4-smallJust check out that 1980 Charles Vess cover at right. Isn’t it neat? I sure thought so, when I accidentally stumbled across it on eBay.

It is now mine. Mine mine mine. Because, Charles Vess. Also, poor impulse control.

Strange thing happened when it arrived, though. I thought I was buying an early issue of The Comics Journal. As soon as I unpacked it — and stopped cooing over the Charles Vess cover — I noticed that it was not an issue of The Comics Journal. It was something called The Comic Times.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I never heard of The Comic Times. Had to look it up and everything.

I’m embarrassed because the early 80s was when I was pretty much completely immersed in the comics scene. I was buying and reading comics by the truckload, from Arthur’s Place in downtown Ottawa. Frank Miller’s Ronin, Cerberus, Love and Rockets, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super Heroes, Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, Pacific Comics… I didn’t need something called The Comic Times. I was living The Comic Times.

I’m sure enjoying reading it now, though. It’s a fun and informative little zine, and I bet I would have gotten a lot out of it back in 1980. Near as I can figure out, it only lasted six issues. It was edited by Dennis Cieri and Mark Gasper, and published out of New York. Like The Comics Journal, it was printed on newsprint and looks like it was typeset with a Smith Corona.

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