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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Check Out the Hyperborea Adventure Kickstarter

Sunday, May 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hyperborea Adventure Three-Pack Kickstarter-small

A little over two years ago, I reviewed Jeffrey Talanian’s delightfully inventive RPG Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, a massive boxed set created in homage to the original boxed edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Time has not diminished my admiration; it remains one of my favorite games released in the last ten years. In fact, my only criticism — as I mentioned in my review — was the small number of supporting products.

That’s why I was so pleased to see a new Kickstarter, for the Hyperborea Adventure Three-Pack, a campaign created to fund the publication of a trio of deluxe adventures for the game: Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes by Jeff Talanian, Forgotten Fane of the Coiled Goddess, by Joseph D. Salvador, and Beneath the Comet, by Ben Ball. These sword-and-sorcery adventure modules will each flesh out a different chuck of Hyperborean geography, and each is suitable for use with other games, such as Labyrinth Lord, Castles and Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, and of course, the game start started it all, D&D.

The campaign has a goal of $14,000 and, after less than 48 hours, has already raised over $12,000. Stretch goals include inside cover maps, additional art, and bookmarks, and I think the odds are good that more will be added. Check out all the details here.

Catching Up With Numenera

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Numenera-smallI got to know Monte Cook back when Black Gate was still publishing fiction. He’s a talented writer, and he sent me a short story I would have loved to have published. Alas, the magazine was already dying at that point, and we weren’t able to do business.

But I’ve kept an eye on his publishing ventures and, like everyone else, was astounded when his Numenera Kickstarter raised an almost unprecedented $517,255 in September 2012. He used the money to launch Monte Cook Games, which in August 2013 delivered the Numenera Corebook, a gorgeous 416-page full color rule book and campaign guide. I finally bought a copy at the Games Plus auction in March, and I’ve spent the last few weeks pouring over it.

What’s so special about Numenera? Monte had an enviable reputation in the gaming industry — he was an editor at Iron Crown Enterprises and, with Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams, co-authored the famous third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Some of his more notable creations are the D&D modules Labyrinth of Madness and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, as well as many Planescape adventures and the mammoth Ptolus campaign setting, based on the home game used to playtest third edition.

But it’s far more than just Monte’s reputation that’s fueled the success of his latest endeavor. Numenera has a great premise. The setting is Earth, a billion years in the future. The inhabitants of our planet live amidst the ruins of eight unimaginably powerful civilizations, each of which mastered arts and technologies they cannot even begin to understand. Artifacts from those civilizations lie in the earth — or walk the land. Some of them are incredibly powerful; some are unspeakably dangerous. And some of them are alive.

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Adventures in RPGs: Long Arc or Short Arc?

Monday, May 11th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Scan 11AD&D carried me from middle school right through college, and about seventy-five percent of the time, I wound up as the referee. The core group with whom I played continued right on getting together for another fifteen years or so after graduation, engaging in annual reunions all over the country.

And I kept right on refereeing. After all, I had unfinished stories to “tell.” These story arcs played out over weeks, months, semesters, and then years. Many remain unfinished to this day. In the main, the rest of the group enjoyed my epic, often convoluted approach. For better or for worse, we weren’t much for hack-and-slash, in-and-out heroism.

Or were we? I’ll never forget Eric S. musing, as one reunion year wound down, that it sure would be nice if for once we could storm the castle, rescue the maiden, and be done.

His wistful comment stemmed in part from my having that very year posed a variant on that longed-for maiden-in-the-tower paternalistic standby: Orcus hired the party to rescue a damsel in distress, but this particular blushing violet turned out to be a truly enormous, deformed frog that had to be kissed in order to… well. Let’s just say there aren’t enough kisses in creation to make the wife of Orcus any more desirable.

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New Treasures: Freeport: The City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG

Saturday, April 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Freeport The City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG-smallFreeport is one of my favorite RPG settings. It debuted in a slender 32-page module called Death in Freeport, from a young company called Green Ronin Publishing, at GenCon 2000 — simultaneous with the Third Edition D&D Player’s Handbook. As the first adventure to take advantage of the OGL (Open Game License), it was one of two products that launched the d20 era.

Freeport has been expanded and supported with a host of products over the years, and now Green Ronin has upgraded the setting for Pathfinder with a massive new full color hardback edition, with new locations, new NPCs, and a brand new adventure for low-level characters. It was funded by a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign that completed on April 1, 2013 — and now you can share in the fruits of that success.

Freeport is one of the classic city settings of fantasy roleplaying and it’s back — bigger and better — in this monstrous new sourcebook for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Clocking in at a massive 544 pages, Freeport: The City of Adventure lovingly details a metropolis that mixes fantasy tropes, piracy, and Lovecraftian horror into an action packed setting for your RPG campaign. The city is now more detailed than ever, with added locations, characters, hooks, and a brand new, full-length adventure. The book, featuring a cover by fan favorite artist Wayne Reynolds and a fold-out map of the city, also includes full rules support for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: new classes, archetypes, feats, and magic items. As always you can use Freeport on its own or drop it into your campaign setting of choice. So set sail for Freeport, mateys! Come for the pirates, stay for the cosmic horror!

Freeport: The City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG will be published by Green Ronin on April 29, 2015. It is 544 pages in hardcover, priced at $74.95 or $29.99 for the PDF. Learn more at the Kickstarter page here.

Play Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Game Online

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

I was at the Windycon 42 website yesterday, checking to see if the Guest-of-Honor interview I did with author Christopher Moore has been posted yet (it wasn’t). The theme of the convention is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the website has the friendly words Don’t Panic posted right at the top. As long as I was there I poked around a bit, and I was surprised to find a link for “Infocom Game” in the navigation bar.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Infocom’s text-based computer games. Infocom was one of the most acclaimed computer gaming companies of all time, with classic titles like Zork (1980), Enchanter (1983), Planetfall (1983), and the groundbreaking BattleTech game The Crescent Hawk’s Inception. In 1984, legendary Infocom designer Steve Meretzky teamed with Douglas Adams to create The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the most popular games the company ever produced.

Well, that’s all the enticement I needed. I clicked on the link, and lo and behold, I was transported to the BBC Radio website, where the BBC has posted a complete Java-based port of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Infocom’s classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You can play right in your browser! And so I did:

Infocom The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

This is well worth checking out yourself. Take a step into the past (and then, uh, into the future) and play the computer gaming classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy here.

Forbes on What’s Next For The New Dungeons & Dragons

Saturday, April 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Sword Coast Legends-smallForbes columnist David M. Ewalt is a not-so-secret Dungeons & Dragons fan. He’s the author of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, and he’s promoted the game in the pages of Forbes over the past two years with an early article on D&D Next, and a fascinating piece on the Books that Inspired the New Dungeons & Dragons. This week he interviewed Nathan Stewart, brand director for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, to find out what’s next for the Fifth Edition of D&D.

Any plans to tell stories that take place outside of the Forgotten Realms?

If you’re talking about us diving deep and taking a focus like what we’ve done with Tyranny of Dragons, we’re going to stay in the Forgotten Realms for the foreseeable future… But we’re gonna have long cycles, and so when we go all in on Greyhawk or Dragonlance or Spelljammers, that’s going to be awhile… the main focus will be on the Forgotten Realms for a long time.

Is the brand where you wanted it to be at this point?

In my strategy I had wanted a high-caliber video game that really brings back the core of D&D… and I don’t think that in my wildest dreams I imagined that that we’d have a game that really captured the essence of D&D as well as Sword Coast Legends coming out. I think by the end of the year we’ll have this conversation and everyone will agree that we’ve actually delivered that plus some, because we’ve done something that no one’s ever done before, which is really deliver that dungeon master/player tabletop experience in the form of a computer RPG.

See the complete article online at Forbes magazine.

Choice of the Petal Throne

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 | Posted by James Maliszewski

petalthrone_fullIn my opinion, the hobby of roleplaying has only ever produced two fantasy settings to rival Middle-earth in terms of depth and creativity: Greg Stafford’s Glorantha and M.A.R. Barker‘s Tékumel. Of the two, I suspect Glorantha is the better known, at least in the roleplaying world, if only because the RPG with which it was long associated, RuneQuest, was very successful, particularly in Europe (where it was, at various times, more popular than even Dungeons & Dragons if you can believe it).

Tékumel, on the other hand, has languished in semi-obscurity, despite the fact that the RPG in which it first appeared, Empire of the Petal Throne, was published only a year after D&D, making it one of the most venerable of its kind. Part of the reason why that is the case is that, unlike most fantasy settings, Tékumel owes little to the histories or legends of the West’s Classical and Middle Ages. Instead, its primary inspirations are ancient Egypt, pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and Mughal India – all seen through the lens of sword-and-planet writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack Vance. Consequently, the setting’s peoples, flora, fauna, mythologies, and elaborate social systems are quite unlike those to which most roleplayers (especially in North America) are accustomed. Add to that the unfamiliarity of Tékumel’s constructed languages – Barker was a professor of linguistics – and you have a recipe for supposed inaccessibility.

I think that’s a shame – and not just because I’m personally very fond of Tékumel.

The truth is that Tékumel’s “inaccessibility” is (mostly) on the surface. The names (like Mu’ugalávya and Tsatsayágga, to cite two examples) and scripts are intimidating at first, I’ll admit, but, with time and effort, they become much less so. The same is true of Tékumel’s lengthy imaginary history and its complex religions and societies. Once those initial barriers are overcome, what you’ll find is a fantastic setting filled with amazing opportunities for adventure, from treasure-hunting expeditions into subterranean labyrinths to cutthroat imperial politics to visitations to other planes of existence.

Even so, overcoming Tékumel’s initial alienness isn’t easy, as there is no straightforward way to learn about the setting, which is why I am so very pleased to see the release of Choice of the Petal Throne.

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