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.

Where Extra-planar Daemons and Dark Gods Play: Gaunt’s Ghosts: First & Only

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 | Posted by Sean Stiennon

Gaunts Ghosts First and Only-smallWarhammer 40,000 is, at its core, a miniatures game artfully designed to separate wargamers from their money with peak efficiency. But it may be more broadly known as a shared-universe fiction franchise which occupies several shelves in the tie-in fiction wasteland west of “Z” at your local book retailer. Our very own John O’Neill has covered several books in the ongoing Horus Heresy saga, and odds are that even if you’ve never picked up a book, you’ve noticed the Black Library imprint occupying ever more space on the New Releases rack.

WH40k occupies a gray area between science fiction and fantasy. I’d categorize it most accurately as a very grim shade of space opera, but extra-planar daemons and dark gods play a central role in its varied mythology, and there are sci-fi races which correspond to elves, orcs, and even undead (with heavy shades of Terminator). It’s primarily a canvas on which to tell stories about war, and so none of the various factions are particularly given to the arts of peacetime.

The majority of WH40K fiction is stories about the Space Marines (Adeptus Astartes for purists): genetically enhanced super soldiers who go into battle against alien and daemonic hordes clad in heavy power armor and carrying an assortment of massive guns and chainsaw swords. They tend to be hyper-manly, grim, serious, and generally without concerns besides waging war.

Honestly, I’ve found most of the WH40K fiction I’ve sampled to be fairly shallow. Every story is perpetual war and violence, with characters who exist only as warriors, moving from battle to blood-drenched battle. Most of the time, I’ve felt that any sense of deeper meaning to the carnage gets obscured, leaving little more than loving descriptions of weaponry and slaughter.

But there are diamonds in the ashes, and Dan Abnett’s work shines brightest of them all.

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Review: Three Fictional Non-Fiction Books from Osprey

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Coming June 23!

Coming June 23!

Kurtzhau – aged 11 – squees. “It’s got all the tropes. They’ve obviously read Scott Westerfield…!”

I’ve just unpacked Osprey’s Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms and Weapons from the Age of Steamone of three review copies acquired as a result of me ruthlessly parlaying a short story gig – Frostgrave tabletop game, coming soon, it rocks – into a pipeline of free books to review.

OK – Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! – moral hazard! Integrity in heroic book reviewing! Disclaimer! I wrote a short story for Osprey. I’d love to write a book for them. However, the reason I want to do all this is because Osprey rock. So bearing that in mind, read on.

Steampunk Cover

“…got all the tropes!”

I received three books from Osprey.

Steampunk, The Wars of Atlantis (coming July 21) and Orc Warfare (coming June 23).

They are odd.

Not as odd as the stand of Osprey books I once spotted in a local store…. It turned out that the manager of the History Department hated the books and would only reorder to fill gaps created by sales.

When the stand first went up, the military history gannets swooped and grabbed all the Templars/Waffen SS at War type books, and everything else with tanks and siege machines on the cover, leaving only the 10% of weird nerdy titles like German Civilian Police 1935-45, and Swiss Catering Corps 1866 (I made that one up).

So the manager filled the resulting gap with a random selection of books. 10% of these were yet more nerdy titles that did not sell. Fast forward a couple of years, and you have stand of possibly the most odd but boring military history titles in history.

Great, though, if you want to know about 19th century West Swabian Militia Civilian Servant Uniforms…

These books, in contrast, are odd, but not boring odd. They are odd because they are entirely made up and aimed squarely at tabletop gamers, without committing to a particular system.

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Future Treasures: Pathfinder Tales: Lord of Runes by Dave Gross

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Lord of Runes-smallI’ll admit, I was surprised to read the announcement from Tor and Paizo back in February, that Tor would become the publisher for the popular Pathfinder Tales line of novels. But it certainly makes business sense — Tor is the biggest publisher in the genre, and has unprecedented distribution and marketing muscle, and this allows Paizo to focus on the creative side of things.

The books have shifted to a new format (trade paperback), and will be available for the Kindle for the first time, but nothing else appears to have changed. The line remains in the capable hands of its longtime editor, James L. Sutter.

The first title under the new arrangement, Lord of Runes by Dave Gross, arrives next week. Here’s a snippet from the press release:

Since its launch in 2008, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has topped RPG sales charts for several years running, and has grown to become one of the most important and best-loved tabletop RPGs in the world. In 2010, the Pathfinder Tales novel line was launched by the game’s publisher, Paizo, and has included more than 20 exciting fantasy novels by Tim Pratt, Michael A. Stackpole, Ed Greenwood, James L. Sutter, Howard Andrew Jones, Liane Merciel, and others. Since then, Pathfinder has been translated into five languages, has released a widely popular card game, and has inspired computer games, comic books, audio drama, gaming figurines, and toys.

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Adventures In Gaming: The Temple Of the Sea Gods

Monday, May 25th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

DSC05298I first created this adventure back in 1986, as a discrete part of a longer cycle in which the characters involved were questing for several potent artifacts intended to aid them in defeating their world’s largest dragon. One of those items was hidden here, in this temple.

For purposes of exhuming this module, I’ve made a number of things generic (both for the sake of easy translation to your gaming world, and to avoid any possible AD&D copyright issues). Even the particular “sea gods” to whom this temple system is consecrated can be adapted to fit your specific mythos. In fact, you can adapt pretty much any part of this; it’s for you, after all. For you to enjoy and hopefully put to use.

Character Motivation

If the player characters aren’t in pursuit of some massive relic (see above), then one fine reason to explore these halls is the usual mix of adventure seeking and treasure hunting. The bear went over the mountain, after all, and that OCD chicken keeps right on crossing the road. As a backup incentive structure, there’s always altruism. As you’ll see from the setting, the locals are beset by dangerous winged beasties, and it could be up to your particular band of heroes to free them from this (truly lethal) scourge.


A windy, treacherous tidal river. Dark, choppy water. Deep. Cold. Steep bordering cliffs, with multiple ravines and gorges forking off the main channel. What steadings there are bar their doors at night and keep a watch around the clock. Out of one of those ravines, often at dusk but not always, predatory bat-like creatures fly, and while you can fend off one or two, if they catch you in your boat or on the road, alone, and they come in a flock…

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