Wickedness of Old: Tales of Cthulhu Invictus, edited by Brian M. Sammons

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus-smallCthulhu Invictus, the popular 2009 Call of Cthulhu sourcebook from Chaosium, allows players to partake in mythos adventures in the hills and streets of ancient Rome. It was at least partially inspired by one of Lovecraft’s most famous dreams, described in a letter to Donald Wandrei dated Thursday, November 3, 1927. The letter survives (and the relevant fragment, now titled “The Very Old Folk,” is posted online here), and it relates an exceptionally vivid nightmare in which Lovecraft dreamt  he was an ancient Roman named Lucius Caelius Rufus, investigating a terrible Iberian hill tribe.

He had killed himself when the horses screamed… He, who had been born and lived all his life in that region, and knew what men whispered about the hills. All the torches now began to dim, and the cries of frightened legionaries mingled with the unceasing screams of the tethered horses. The air grew perceptibly colder, more suddenly so than is usual at November’s brink, and seemed stirred by terrible undulations which I could not help connecting with the beating of huge wings…

Above the nighted screaming of men and horses that dæmonic drumming rose to louder pitch, whilst an ice-cold wind of shocking sentience and deliberateness swept down from those forbidden heights and coiled about each man separately, till all the cohort was struggling and screaming in the dark… Only old Scribonius Libo seemed resigned. He uttered words amidst the screaming, and they echo still in my ears… “Wickedness of old… it is wickedness of old…”

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus is an original anthology of Cthulhu Mythos fiction set in Ancient Rome, the setting of Cthulhu Invictus. It was funded as a stretch goal as part of a successful Kickstarter for De Horrore Cosmico. It is due to be published any day now by Golden Goblin Press.

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The Worst AD&D Spell Of All Time

Monday, July 27th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Arcana UnearthedSo there we stood, surrounded. Demons in all directions, converging fast – and we’re not talking garden variety patsies. Even for our major league party, the future looked bleak, bloody, and painful. On the plus side, we had our pizza in place, our dice at the ready. Beers and sodas hovered with popped caps and bated breath, anticipating action.

“Initiative!” cried the DM.

We each rolled. One of the demons, which just happened to moonlight as a spell-caster, moved first — and what did that pipsqueak no-good blackguard cheat of a demon cast our way?

Chain Lightning.

At fifteenth level.

Two hours later, with the pizza cold and stiff, the beers stale and the sodas flat, we finally finished adjudicating the effects of that single spell. We were in shock, and grumbling to beat the band. The DM, equally weary and perplexed, said, “Okay. Still first round. Who gets to take the next action?”

That I no longer recall, but this I know: we won the battle, and the demons lost. So did Chain Lightning. We made a solemn pledge that very day to never again allow that spell to eclipse the glory of our triumphant campaigning. Banned it was, all but ripped from the pages of the rulebook. And good riddance, too.

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Shin Megami Tensei and a Different Take on JRPGs (Part 1)

Saturday, July 25th, 2015 | Posted by Josh Bycer

This may surprise some of you after my love letter to Etrian Odyssey, but for the longest time I didn’t like the RPG genre. During the mid 90s to early 00s, I was stuck between the grind-heavy traditional Japanese RPG (JRPG) design, and the number-crunching computer RPGs of the day. There were exceptions of course, such as Earthbound and Knights of the Old Republic. But it wasn’t until I found the Shin Megami Tensei series that I fell back in love with the genre.

ShinMegamiTenseiChange is Coming

Shin Megami Tensei has been a Atlus staple since the early 90s; the brand has gotten so big that I have to split this examination into two parts, with this one covering the main branch titles.

The Shin Megami Tensei series has several staples that exist between all the games, with “change” being the principle theme. In every title, the protagonist is either a part of a cataclysmic event, or will be the one that changes the world forever by causing one. Aiding him are a changing stock of demons that the player can recruit through different means; usually by talking to them.

Demons belong to different families and have varying stats and powers. What’s important about the series’ design is that your party is never the same for long due to two things. First is that exploiting enemy weaknesses is vital to having any chance of beating a SMT game. (Later titles, such as Nocturne and Shin Megami Tensei 4, actively punished or rewarded the player for keeping track of element resists, but more on that in a minute.)

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Adventures In Cards: Munchkin!

Monday, July 6th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Munchkin coverHow was my day, you asked? Well, I’ll tell you. My Halfling wizard and I spent the last hour fleeing from a Gazebo, leveling up by way of a Drooling Slime, and staying alive by means of the Kneepads Of Allure and a (basic but useful) Huge Rock.

What on earth could cause such havoc and silliness? Surely not Dungeons & Dragons?

Nope. It’s D&D’s hell-spawn little brat of a brother, the card game Munchkin. Now possibly I’m late to the table on this (I often am), but Munchkin has to be the geekiest, most asinine, not to mention juvenile, card game going. It’s also a diverting homage to AD&D, and better yet, it makes both kids and grown-ups laugh.

Consider Munchkin’s very own press: “…the mega-hit card game about dungeon adventure… with none of that stupid role-playing stuff.”

Of course D&D remains a clear progenitor, and possibly Munchkin owes something to Magic: the Gathering, but it strikes me that Munchkin’s most direct sire is a horse of a very different color, the irreverent and insouciant Killer Bunnies, which, if you’ve never played it, is a must for any gaming fan’s bucket list.

That said, you’ll need a lot of patience (or a sensai) to figure out how to play Killer Bunnies. But. Once you’ve “mastered” this obscenely complicated, impossible-to-predict killing spree of a game, enjoyment and strategy abound. I’d even be willing to state in a court of law, no less, that killing rabbits has never been so pleasurable, or so downright wicked neat. After all, who wouldn’t want to do in a (purple) Congenial Bunny while wielding a piece of flying burnt toast?

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Art of the Genre: Bill Willingham Loved the Ladies, Even if TSR Wouldn’t Always Let Him Show Them…

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Check out the lady below Elric in this Willingham done for White Plume Mountain.  Bet you didn't realize it was cropped, did you?

Check out the lady below Elric in this Willingham done for White Plume Mountain. Bet you didn’t realize it was cropped, did you?

Former TSR Artist and now comic writer sensation [Fables] Bill Willingham wanted to be Frank Frazetta, or so I surmise. I’ve always been a fan of his work, dating back to those early days in the RPG field when he was a member of ‘The First Four’ at TSR.

Along with Jim Roslof, Jeff Dee, and Erol Otus, Bill managed to produce some absolutely lovely interior illustrations and acrylic covers for the first sets of D&D modules, once the business took off and TSR could afford color. His tenure there, which ended with a blow up concerning the termination of artists that removed both he and Dee from the company, ended up being the best thing for him as he went on to relative fame and fortune in comics, a place that his talent certainly spawned from.

I sat with Bill at a seaside café back on 2009 when ComicCon was still a monster, but not the headache it is today and we discussed his work in the field. Nothing too in-depth, and sadly he was unable to add his art to my Art Evolution project because it had been too many years since he’d done that kind of work. Still, he looked over all the other artists who had donated work and was most pleasantly surprised to see his old friend Jeff Dee in there. Obviously Dee was ‘the kid’ during his time in the burgeoning TSR ‘pit’, and at 19 there was no doubt that was the case, but Bill seemed to have a twinkle in his eye for Dee’s version of Lyssa in the project, and I was at least happy to somehow connect the two again, if even for a just a nostalgic moment.

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Darker and Deeper: Darkest Dungeon Update — Fiends and Frenzy

Monday, June 29th, 2015 | Posted by Josh Bycer

Darkest DungeonDarkest Dungeon by Red Hook Games has been on a roll since its successful kickstarter last year and releasing on early access a few months ago. The developers are taking a slow and steady approach in terms of adding new content. With the first major content patch, Fiends and Frenzy, Darkest Dungeon grows ever more menacing, and has become a treat to play.

A Grim Inheritance

For people who haven’t heard of Darkest Dungeon, here’s a brief recap. The game is a fantasy RPG with strong Rogue-like and Lovecraftian elements. Taking a team of four adventurers, your mission is to explore the corrupted remains of your former estate for resources, and to slowly drive back the bandits, undead, and other things that now inhabit your home.

Party member belongs to one of the game’s many classes, which dictate their equipment, skills in combat, and what tactics they bring to your party. The twist of Darkest Dungeon is that every person comes with personality quirks, both good and bad, that affect their stats.

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The Bard’s Tale IV Kickstarter Fully Funded After 12 Days

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Bards Tale IV

The Bard’s Tale was one of the first computer role playing games I ever played. It was developed in 1985 by Interplay, and published by Electronic Arts. I was in grad school at the time, and I’d play on the computers in the lab. Wandering around the 30×30 map of the ancient town of Skara Brae at night, getting killed by monsters, over and over (and over…) again. Good times, good times.

The Bard’s Tale sold, like, a billion copies, and became one of the big RPG franchises of the 80s (alongside Wizardry, Ultima, and SPI’s Gold Box games). There were two sequels and a construction set, before Interplay split off from Electronic Arts and began developing Dragon Wars (which was called Bard’s Tale IV until a month before its release in 1990). The Bard’s Tale franchise became dormant then, until Interplay founder Brian Fargo revived it for the first release from InXile Entertainment, The Bard’s Tale, in 2004. That game was a light-hearted console-style action game (with some absolutely killer tavern tunes).

Fast forward to 2015, where InXile Entertainment is now a triple-A studio with one of the finest RPGs in recent memory under its belt, Wasteland 2, and a reputation for record-breaking Kickstarter successes (Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera.) On June 2 Brian Fargo and team launched a new Kickstarter campaign, to fund a sequel to the original Bard’s Tale trilogy. The Bard’s Tale IV promises to be a modern single-player, party-based dungeon-crawler, an experience rich in exploration and combat, and “dungeons filled with challenging puzzles and devious riddles.” InXile set a goal of $1.25 million, and crossed that threshold in just 12 days. With 22 days to go, the campaign has over 28,600 backers, and plenty of exciting stretch goals, like free copies of the original games, a code wheel, and more. Check out the Kickstarter page here.

Future Treasures: Frostgrave: Tales of the Frozen City edited by Joseph McCullough

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Frostgrave Tales of the Frozen City-smallJoseph McCullough is the author of one of the most popular articles in Black Gate history, “The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery,” which today is considered one of the defining texts on the genre. He’s published fiction in BG and elsewhere, and is currently Project Manager for Osprey Adventures.

His latest project is the wargame Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, coming in July from Osprey. In support of the new game, Osprey is also publishing Frostgrave: Tales of the Frozen City, a new anthology edited by Joe which contains ten original stories telling the tale of wizards and other adventurers, as they venture into the ruins of the Frozen City.

Long ago, the great city of Felstad sat at the centre of a magical empire. Its towering spires, labyrinthine catacombs and immense libraries were the wonder of the age, and potions, scrolls and mystical items of all descriptions poured from its workshops. Then, one cataclysmic night, a mistake was made. In some lofty tower or dark chamber, a foolish wizard unleashed a magic too powerful to control. A storm rose up, an epic blizzard that swallowed the city whole, burying it deep and leaving the empire as nothing more than a vast, frozen wasteland. The empire shattered, and the magic of the world faded. As the centuries came and went, Felstad passed from history to legend and on into myth. Only a few wizards, clinging to the last remnants of magical knowledge, still believed that the lost city had ever actually existed. But their faith was rewarded.

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Dungeon Crawling is Fun Again: Etrian Odyssey

Sunday, June 14th, 2015 | Posted by Josh Bycer

Etrian Odyssey-smallDungeon crawling has always been a popular subset of the RPG genre. Sometimes motivating players requires a massive story, plot twists on top of plot twists, and evil villains out to rule the world. Other times, a party of heroes and a dungeon full of treasure is enough. But despite the popularity of the latter design among CRPG fans, the genre shrunk in favor of RPGS built around massive stories, like Mass Effect.

Today I want to look at the Etrian Odyssey series from Atlus; a company known for Japanese role playing game (JRPG) design, and how it managed to relight the fire for the classic dungeon crawl with old and new mechanics.

A Beginner’s Guide to Dungeon Crawlers

Before we talk about Etrian Odyssey, let’s quickly recap the dungeon crawler genre.

Dungeons crawlers have been popular since the 80s, with series like Might and Magic and Wizardry. In these titles, you assembled a party of heroes from predefined classes like warrior, cleric, mage etc, and explored dungeons for treasure and monsters. Combat was typically turn based, as you attempted to sojourn as far as possible before being forced to return to a town or safe area.

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Erik Chevalier Reaches Settlement With FTC For Kickstarter Failure

Thursday, June 11th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Doom That Came to Atlantic City logoTwo years ago we reported on the spectacular failure of one of the biggest Kickstarter success stories of 2012.

Reports 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… Over the past 13 months, Chevalier has been releasing increasingly bleak progress reports, culminating in this post Tuesday…

The Washington Post is reporting today that Chevalier has agreed to a settlement order with the FTC that includes a $111,793.71 judgment against him — although it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to pay it.

In its first ever enforcement action against a crowdfunded project, the Federal Trade Commission went after a board game project gone wrong… Few, if any, supporters of the project ever received refunds, the FTC alleged in a complaint against Chevalier disclosed Thursday that accuses him of deceiving backers of the project. And instead of spending most of the funds raised through Kickstarter on making the game, he spent it on himself, the agency claimed. “In reality, Defendant never hired artists for the board game and instead used the consumers’ funds for miscellaneous personal equipment, rent for a personal residence, and licenses for a separate project,” the complaint said.

Chevalier has agreed to a settlement order with agency. Under the agreement, he’s prohibited from making misrepresentations about crowdfunding campaigns and failing to honor refund policies in the future. The order also contains a $111,793.71 judgment against Chevaliar, but it is suspended because of his inability to pay. “The full amount will become due immediately if he is found to have misrepresented his financial condition,” an FTC press release said.

Read the complete article here.

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