Vintage Treasures: Pirates and Plunder

Sunday, November 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Pirates and Plunder box-smallBack in the early 80s, publishers were still exploring the boundless possibilities of role playing.

It occurred to more than one designer that sword & sorcery — the tiny genre Gygax and Arneson had chosen to build their fabulously successful Dungeons & Dragons upon — was a niche market at best, with very limited widespread appeal.

Yet if D&D had managed to come so far with source material of such limited public familiarity, what might a game with much broader appeal accomplish?

And so the early 80s was a time when we had an astounding array of new role playing games promoted by a host of hopeful publishers, in a wide range of genres — science fiction, action, spy thrillers, mystery, superhero, and many others. There were gangster games (Gangbusters), Arthurian games (Pendragon), games based on popular action films (Indiana Jones, James Bond), and westerns (Boot Hill). There were horror games (Chill, Beyond the Supernatural), post-apocalyptic survival games (Twilight 2000, Gamma World), games based on prime time soap operas (SPI’s infamous Dallas), and bestsellers like Richard Adams’ Watership Down (Bunnies & Burrows).

Virtually all of them failed. Turns out that D&D didn’t succeed in spite of the fact that it drew inspiration from the classic heroic fantasy listed in the famous Appendix N, but in fact because of it. Sword & sorcery offered the kind of larger-than-life heroes players wanted to play — and more importantly, no other genre came so readily pre-packaged with a catalog of terrific opponents, from orcs to vampires to dragons.

But while most of those games are long forgotten today, a handful are still fondly remembered. Pirates and Plunder, a role playing game set in the golden age of piracy, is one of the latter. At least, it’s fondly remembered by me.

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Last Chance to Win a Copy of Howard Andrew Jones’ Stalking the Beast

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Stalking the Beast-smallTwo weeks ago, we announced a contest to win one of five copies of Stalking the Beast, compliments of Paizo Publishing.

In the weeks since the book’s release, Howard has been interviewed by Suvudu, released a sample chapter from the book, and posted the first two parts of his new story “Bells For the Dead,” featuring the gunslinging bounty hunter Lisette from Stalking the Beast, at

Man. I need a full-time staff just to keep up with the guy.

How do you win one of those sweet giveaway copies? Easy — just tell us about your favorite sword & sorcery tale — novel or short story. Send us a one-paragraph review telling us what makes it so special, and be sure to include the author and (if it’s a short story) where you read it.

We’ll publish the best responses here on the blog and randomly draw five names from all qualifying entries. Those five winners will each receive a copy of Stalking the Beast, compliments of Paizo Publishing.

To enter our contest, just send an e-mail to with the title “Stalking the Beast,” and your one-paragraph entry, before December 1, 2013.

All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Terms and conditions subject to change as our lawyers sober up and get back to us. Not valid where prohibited by law, or outside the US and Canada.

Good luck!

New Treasures: Watcher of the Dark

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Watcher of the Dark-smallYou’d think that, after nearly 40 years of collecting science fiction and fantasy, I’d be accustomed to looking past the cover while on the hunt of promising new books.

Naaah. Good covers are underrated, and great covers can tell you a more than a simple plot summary. And Watcher of the Dark has a very intriguing cover indeed, featuring a fabulously detailed Lovecraftian horror dominating a bone-strewn alien landscape, while a sinister blind man looms over the whole affair, plotting his evil… wait a minute.

Is that blind guy the hero, exorcist Jeremiah Hunt? My. He’s definitely got a certain style (click the image at right for a bigger version.) This is even more intriguing than I thought.

New Orleans was nearly the death of Jeremiah Hunt, between a too-close brush with the FBI and a chilling, soul-searing journey through the realm of the dead that culminated with a do-or-die confrontation with Death himself.

Hunt survived, but found no peace. When he performs an arcane ritual to reclaim the soul of the magically gifted, beautiful women who once saved him, he must flee the law once again, to the temporary sanctuary of Los Angeles, city of angels.

In L.A., Hunt must contend with Carlos Fuentes, who sees in the blind exorcist a means to obtain the mystical key that opens the gates of Hell. Fuentes knows Hunt’s weakness is his loyalty – to the woman he loves and to another supernaturally gifted friend – and threatens to torture them in order to get Hunt help complete his dreadful quest.

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Spotlight on Interactive Fiction: Fallen London

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 | Posted by alanajoli

The Wolfstack Docks icon for Fallen London

The Wolfstack Docks icon for Fallen London

There are several styles of interactive fiction games that can be found on the Internet, and while I’ve spent quite a bit more time with the Choice of Games catalog of adventures (my bias as one of their writers), I’ve also dabbled in a number of other games. Some of them are a bit more like CRPGs (computer/console role playing games) than storytelling, and combine words, pictures, and strategy games with the plot — they’re story heavy, but you as a player don’t really drive what happens next. Others, however, are quite a bit more open-ended, and Fallen London is one of those. In fact, Fallen London‘s greatest strength — the sheer quantity of it’s material and its open-ended paths — is also its greatest challenge.

In Fallen London, you begin as an escapee from new Newgate prison in a Victorian-feeling England that is populated by devils, rubbery men (reminiscent of Lovecraftian horrors or illithids from Dungeons and Dragons), people who have died but haven’t quite given up on moving about, and other strange things. You are, of course, a criminal, but it’s up to you to decide just how much you’ll continue to be one. You choose tasks, in text accompanied by small illustrations, that challenge and improve your basic statistics: watchful, shadowy, dangerous, and persuasive. The punishments for failure can be madness, death (though that’s not as permanent as you’d think), being the center of scandal to such a degree that you have to flee to a “tomb colony,” and suspicion to the point where the police arrest you. Thankfully, it takes quite awhile to build up enough failures to face any of these consequences, and sometimes being in prison or in a tomb colony — or even going mad or dying — can be just as interesting as the rest of the game. The “storylets” (as the folks at Failbetter Games, the company that makes Fallen London and other interactive worlds) help you both explore the world and build your skills, until you become a Person of Consequence (having raised one of your stats to over 100).

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Manly Wade Wellman, Fletcher Pratt, and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Who Fears the Devil-smallI’ve been waiting for Mordicai Knode and Tim Callahan at to get to both Manly Wade Wellman and Fletcher Pratt as part of their ongoing exploration of Gary Gygax’s famous Appendix N — and not very patiently, either.

Manly Wade Wellman is consistently one of the most beloved authors we feature here at Black Gate. Just three days ago Fletcher Vredenburgh reviewed his Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the Mighty, and a while back new Black Gate blogger Alex Bledsoe offered a fine reminiscence of Wellman’s Appalachian fantasy tales in “How I Discovered Silver John.” The most popular contest in our history was our call for The Best One-Sentence Reviews of Manly Wade Wellman, and the winners received a copy of Haffner Press’ gorgeous The Complete John Thunstone.

And Fletcher Pratt? He wrote The Well of the Unicorn, one of the 20th Century’s most acclaimed heroic fantasy novels (none other than Lester del Rey called it “The best piece of epic fantasy ever written.”) With his frequent collaborator L. Sprague de Camp, he was also the author of the very popular Incomplete Enchanter and Gavagan’s Bar series.

So I’ve been looking forward to both authors receiving the Appendix N treatment. And now at last the wait is over.

Sadly, Tim doesn’t seem to fully briefed on the greatness that is Manly Wade Wellman:

I didn’t know anything about Manly Wade Wellman before Mordicai and I embarked on this project. I had never heard of the author, outside of the mention of his name in Appendix N.

Ouch. Well, I’d read almost nothing by Clark Ashton Smith prior to last week (when I read his brilliant pulp horror story “The Vault of Yoh-Vombis“), so I guess we all have our blind spots.

The real question is: What does Tim think of Wellman now?

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Forgotten Pulp Villains: Hanoi Shan and Professor Colonna

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

The Crimes of Hanoi Shan-smallFor twenty years now, George Vanderburgh’s Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has been publishing quality hardcover and trade paperback reprints of titles one might never otherwise discover. Their books rarely appear on Amazon or eBay, so the devoted bibliophile who ventures to is among the few to find such treasures.

Initially focusing on Sherlockian pastiches and scholarly efforts as well as reprinting long unavailable titles from Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran, BSDB has broadened their catalog to include other more obscure treasures.

Their two most recent titles are The Crimes of Hanoi Shan by H. Ashton-Wolfe and The Last of the Borgias by Fred M. White. Both books were edited by acclaimed pulp historian Rick Lai whose own works were spotlighted in last week’s column.

Hanoi Shan first came to my attention roughly 15 years ago when I stumbled across Win Scott Eckert’s Chronology of Fu Manchu online. There I found references to two early Fu Manchu appearances prior to Rohmer’s first novel that were written by someone called H. Ashton-Wolfe. The library proved of no assistance in tracking these stories down and the only antique booksellers who listed Ashton-Wolfe’s works wanted a small fortune for them. I was at a loss as to why Fu Manchu was known as Hanoi Shan, but the key seemed to be held in a fabled publication called The Rohmer Review which I had first found cited in a survey of Rohmer’s work by Will Murray.

There was also reference to some esoteric works by Philip Jose Farmer that I had actually seen alongside used Edgar Rice Burroughs titles at a local bookstore which had subsequently burned down. This Wold Newton business seemed to be the key to much of the fiction I was enamored of, but the trouble was I couldn’t get very far without Farmer’s works to unravel the mystery.

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“You Keep Using This Word… “

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

utopia thomas more-smallDid you know that in the 18th century, “conscious” meant “guilty”? People have always played fast and loose with terminology and definitions, and we’re all bothered by the ones that bother us, and not by the ones that don’t.

For example, there’s been a bit of an outcry lately over the changing definition of the word “literally.” While I understand – and sympathise – the fact is that new definitions don’t replace old ones, and that English is a language that’s been evolving forever. What’s more important, it seems to me, is that we decide which definitions we’re using at any given time, and we make sure that all other parties to the discussion are using the same ones.

So much for the definitions of words. What about when the word itself is the definition?

I always thought I knew what “Urban Fantasy” meant. You know, a novel set in a city, with an element of fantasy added in. Usually, but not always, a modern, our-world city*. A novel where the story couldn’t be set in any place other than a city, using the tropes, paradigms and conventions of fantasy. That’s what makes it a fantasy novel, just as the necessary setting makes it an urban fantasy.

Then I was invited to be on a panel where we were to discuss whether it was possible for urban fantasies to have male protagonists. I was confused. I wasn’t aware that to a great many people “urban fantasy” is coming to mean “paranormal romance.” Which is, you know, a romance novel with an element of the paranormal added in. Using the tropes, paradigms and conventions of the romance novel. Which is what makes it a romance novel.

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Goth Chick News: Ending “The Season” at Days of the Dead

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Days of the Dead Chicago-smallIt is with a heavy sigh that the Goth Chick News team bids farewell to another “season” of Halloween fun but not before attending one last hurrah.

Days of the Dead is a four-city, tour de force of all things horror that rolled through Chicago last weekend.  In addition to a copious list of movie celebrities, this year’s event boasted the largest number of industry vendors ever to attend the Midwest show; including special effects artists, set dressers, authors and indy film makers.

Bigger events come through Chicago, but Days of the Dead has the monopoly on panache.

Let’s wade in shall we?

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Thank Politically Correct Parents for Sword and Sorcery!

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 | Posted by M Harold Page

Battle in the Dawn

Sword and Sorcery… will not die despite the various attempts to kill it.

The odd thing about Sword and Sorcery is that it will not die despite the various attempts to kill it.

Sloppy overproduction ruined its reputation, its focus on violence and pre-modern-style patriarchal societies made it politically unfashionable, role players made it nerdy, then Terry Pratchett slashed and burned through its tropes, and still it survived!

Like a thief, Sword and Sorcery springs nimbly between media: “Literature has become hostile? Fine, now I’m a comic! Intellectuals look down on me? No problem, I’m a movie.” 

Like a mercenary captain, it furnishes characters to other genres: “Fashion favors Fantasy fiction? OK, but take a look at some of the supporting characters…”

Like a rogue, it’s a master of disguise: “Sword and Sorcery? Never heard of it mate! I’m Heroic Fantasy!”

It’s true that Sword and Sorcery is a most flexible genre. With no need to nod at extrapolation, and the capacity to invent bespoke cosmologies, it can reflect changing times and social mores, while still delivering a dose of physical adventure and sense of wonder. It’s also true that the genre has inherent literary advantages: magic and religion can support interesting themes, and close-quarters combat gives us the secondhand experience of people putting their bodies where their personal politics are.

However, there’s another factor that I think is easily overlooked. To understand it, you have to come Christmas toy shopping with me.

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Lin Carter and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 | Posted by westkeith

Beyond the Fields We KnowMany fantasy fans don’t realize how good they have it these days. Fantasy stories dominate the best seller lists, set box office records, and are some of the highest rated programs on television.

This hasn’t always been the case. In the years following the Second World War, fantasy in popular culture went into a decline. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, primarily because I don’t want to write a doctoral thesis. Once was enough.

What I’d like to address in this and following posts is the resurgence of fantasy in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically fantasy published by Ballantine Books in what became known as the Adult Fantasy Series.

The catalyst that led to the current fantasy boom was J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of course. Although initially published by Ace in editions not authorized by Tolkien, Ballantine Books ended up as the publisher of the authorized editions. The books were a tremendous success. Readers began clamoring for more fantasy.

Ian and Betty Ballantine followed up The Lord of the Rings with, in addition to some other work by Tolkien, the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, four novels by E. R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros, Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Mezentian Gate), A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, and The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place, the latter two by Peter S. Beagle. Considered precursors to the actual Adult Fantasy series itself, many of these books were later reprinted as part of the series with the unicorn head colophon.

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