YouTube is the place for serious gaming discussion these days. It’s not all fake Marvel trailers and dance clips. With the right connections and a little investigative spirit, you can find a thriving community where old-school gaming is very much alive.
Well, it worked for me, anyway. Mostly because one of those quality connections was Dave Munger, Black Gate‘s original site engineer and the man who wrote the first two posts on this very blog, way back in November 2008. Dave tipped me off to the RPG Rundown, a YouTube channel that covers tabletop role playing games. The lively and entertaining discussions there include new game reviews, industry news, player tips and info, and broader conversations on the very nature of role playing.
Call of the Sea is the first title for Out of the Blue, a new game company working out of Madrid, Spain. It had a limited release at the end of 2020, and went worldwide across all consoles in 2021. For a debut game, Call of the Sea is an impressive achievement, and Out of the Blue have set themselves a pretty high bar to follow.
Billed as a puzzle game with adventure elements, Call of the Sea evokes the head-scratching joys of Myst, Quern or The Talos Principle, and flavors the brew with Lovecraftian elements that take the form of Easter eggs rather than eldritch horrors that have to be engaged. In fact, there is no confrontation at all in the game, you will be utterly alone for the entire experience save for some flashbacks and the occasional glimpsed beastie in the waves. Despite the origins of the story, the game is relatively horror-free, relying instead on an atmosphere thick with dread and some excellent sound design, so this is a recommended outing for the more timid game players among us (myself included).
Good aftevenmorn (whensoever you read this article),
When last speaking of video game to series adaptations, I left off one extremely brilliant adaptation. This was for two reasons. The first was that it was an adaptation into an animated series, which means a great deal more improbable things would work due to the medium that made adapting a little easier. The second was, shamefully, I completely forgot it existed.
Castle Amber (aka Château d’ Amberville) by Tom Moldvay (RIP) is a classic D&D adventure that I first enjoyed as a player at age 10 and later as DM. Published in 1981 by TSR, Castle Amber has a wonderful cover by Erol Otus, and excellent interiors by Otus, Jim Holloway (RIP), Harry Quinn, Jim Rosolf (RIP), and Stephen Sullivan (he did the maps, I’m assuming).
I didn’t appreciate it as a youth, but this module was largely inspired by the weird fiction of Clark Ashton Smith — specifically his Averoigne Cycle of stories, which were set in a fictional counterpart of a province of France. Smith called this part of Southern France “the most witch-ridden in the entire country.” Smith has been a huge inspiration to me in my own RPG work, and I never tire of rereading his poetry and fiction.
Lankhmar, City of Adventure (TSR, 1985). Cover by the legend Keith Parkinson
I would like to round out my posts on tabletop RPG city supplements with my personal favorite: Lankhmar, City of Adventure, which is the home of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Published in 1985 by TSR for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, this book was written by Bruce Nesmith, Doug Niles, and Ken Rolston. The cover art is by the legend, Keith Parkinson, and the interior art is by the great Jeff Easley. Cartography by Geoff Valley, Curtis Smith, and Tracy Hickman.
Wow, I don’t know where to begin with this one! I absolutely adored the fiction of Fritz Lieber, devouring his Lankhmar works and even some of his sci-fi at a young age. Lieber was a friend of Gary Gygax, and he was among a handful of Gygax’s favorite authors. Thus, I think it’s important to note that the content of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser tales was incredibly inspirational to Gygax, and this comes across in the tone and themes of D&D — which essentially is a melting pot of fictional inspirations. My point is, you can’t simply look at this supplement as a fictional property that was adapted to the D&D game, because the DNA of Lankhmar was already embedded in D&Dto begin with.
Cities (Chaosium, 1986). Third Edition. Cover by Dan & David Day
As a follow-up to last week’s post on the Forgotten Realms City System, today I have Cities, from the Universal Supplement Series, published by Chaosium in 1986 (previous editions were published by Midkemia). It was written by Stephen Abrams and Jon Everson, with cover painting by Dan and David Ray, and it was illustrated by Kevin Ramos.
In stark contrast to last week’s City System boxed set published by TSR — which was nearly all maps and practically no content — this supplement takes the opposite tack: no maps, all content!
Forgotten Realms City System (TSR, July 1988). Cover by Larry Elmore
City System is an interesting Forgotten Realms boxed set that was released in 1988 by TSR, written by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb, and with cover art by Larry Elmore. Except for one very slim booklet, this essentially is a box full of maps (by Dennis Kauth), detailing the most famous city of the Realms, Waterdeep.
Now, I must admit, I have always favored Greyhawkover FR, because it’s what I cut my teeth on, but this set is pretty nice for the development of an enormous city in any campaign. Poster maps include the typical grid of the city, a beautiful, three-dimensional artistic rendition of the city, and then 10(!) poster maps that zoom in on different wards.
One of the more interesting developments during the AD&D Second Edition years (1989-2000) was the Historical Reference series of campaign sourcebooks.
These green “splatbooks” were well-researched, taking a broad view of history, myth, and legend, and looking at all of it through a D&D lens. Charlemagne’s Paladins is one such shining example. Written by Ken Rolston, illustrated by Roger Raupp, and with cartography by Gaye O’Keefe, this sourcebook adapts the historical setting of the Carolingian period into a quasi-game world, featuring the historical and legendary personalities and events of Charlemagne’s time.
Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure by Rob Kuntz and Gary Gygax (TSR, 1984)
and Dungeon Magazine 112 (Paizo, July 2004). Covers by Clyde Caldwell, Wayne Reynolds
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, I recalled and located Dungeon Magazine #112, published by Paizo, which was released for the 30th anniversary of D&D.
This issue featured a retread of the classic AD&DWorld of Greyhawk adventure module, Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure, by Rob Kuntz and Gary Gygax. It was updated by Erik Mona and company for the (then current) third edition of D&D and retitled Maure Castle.
I had quite a lot of email regarding my article on a reboot of the insanely popular PC game from 1994, The 7th Guest. And since you lot are generally pretty subdued, I decided to jump on the enthusiasm and keep the goodness going by revisiting another more controversial game from around that same time period, which I referenced in the write up on The 7th Guest. And if you’re keeping track, this isn’t the first time I have publicly declared Phantasmagoria, the 1995 horror-themed video game by Sierra On-Line as one of my all-time-favorites to this day. I first wrote about it back in 2016 when there was chatter that a movie was in the works, based on the game. But more on that in a minute.
Why you ask, would Phantasmagoria rank so high in my esteem, when the quality of today’s gaming experiences are movie-like. Compared to, for instance, games like Uncharted and Dying Light, Phantasmagoria’s live-actor-against-computer generated-background appears fairly cheesy. And you would be absolutely right. But gather round the soft glow of the monitor and heed this historic tale.