Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Required Reading: Planet Stories

Click here to choose a size of Kieran Yanner's wallpaper to download.

I have mentioned Planet Stories in the past on this blog.  Let me not beat around the launch pad.  If you are a reader of this blog, then I say to you that Paizo's PLANET STORIES  line is a must for you.  Just to be sure I am right, consult the check list below.
  • I love mythopoesis in good, fast-paced story-telling.
  • I know what Appendix N is.
  • I love classic Science Fiction or Fantasy.
  • I need to learn more about classic Science Fiction or Fantasy.
  • I wish I'd lived back in the good old days of pulp.
  • I want more inspirational reading to fuel my fantasy or sci-fi gaming.
  • I partake of the written word.
  • I like pretty pictures.
If you answered yes to any one of these, PS is for you.  If you answered yes to more than one, then what are you waiting for!?  Whether you support the line with a subscription (my fond wish is for a flood of subscribers to keep this literature in print) or merely pick and choose some from the line, you won't be sorry.  I will be happy to add my advice to any of the discussions or reviews of the books, it if will help your selection.  Just published is the third Robert Silverberg collection in a row.  I loved the first two, and so far am loving the newest one.  (Even if you aren't particularly a fan of his later big novels, you may prefer these earlier tales.  I know I fall in this category.)  Honestly, there is hardly a stinker in this line of page-turners, and many are imaginative rip-roarers of the highest level.  For example, if you haven't read the female pioneers C. L. Moore and Leigh Brackett, then you might think they are merely historical must-reads, when these are gems of the genre, not to be missed.  Abraham Merritt and Manly Wade Wellman are some of my other favorites among the PS authors.  I hope you will give the series a look, or treat yourself if you have been holding back.  Let's make today a truly Tomeful Tuesday!

By the way, if you are heading over the Paizo website to check out Planet Stories and you are a gamer, you might stop by and read the organization entries for RPG SuperStar 2012 and vote for your favorite.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Running on Low

Well, I have some things in the works, but didn't get any of them together for today.  I hate to miss a Mythopoeic Monday, but there we are.  (As I've mentioned, there's been lots of family stuff going on lately, leaving me pretty drained.)

Prayers for the family and friends of Jean Wells, may she +RIP.  Yet another contributor to my happy childhood imaginings passes on.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast

Says William Congreve, Wigged Whig, Misquoted Beast, & Turner of Phrases
I'm not sure how many people from DFW, aka the Metroplex, read this blog, but every once in a while I include something of local relevance.  (Last time, it was a link to the DFW Roleplayers group's webpage.)  This time, it is to spread the word about a new baroque music group, La Novella Baroque.  I love baroque, and if you have never heard it live, you owe it to yourself to address this deprivation.  It is much warmer and sweeter in person than it is recorded.  I can neither affirm nor deny the rumor that beautiful music is more enjoyable when played by beautiful people -- I'll let you decide that for yourself, gentle readers.  But the excellence of virtuosity and of pieces, presented on period instruments, means the entertainment of the old nobility is practically being given away to today's public by this excellent young group.  Even if you don't qualify for discounted tickets, the full price ones are a bargain.  If you live in the area or visit during one of their performances, I hope you will treat yourself.

Bravo, La Novella Baroque!

What does all this have to do with mythopoesis, you ask?  Well, how often do you consider what kind of music would populate your world?  It is another detail of world-building that can add to the sense of secondary creation.  For example, the musical explosion of early baroque represented an achievement of musical technology, the maturing of a long history of earlier musical traditions, and cultural interactions in a context of political unification and conflict.  It would take a similar setting, not necessarily with the same level of technology in other areas, to support this advanced, courtly art form.  Thinking about music in the various areas of the setting is of a piece with the structure as well as the character of that part of the setting.  Music can also be tied to characters: closer to the inspiration of this post, consider the musical component of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin.

Finally, if you have never listened to music while brainstorming, writing, or preparing (especially instrumental music), give it a try.  Different choices of music can make for great inspiration. 

FREE Issue of Kobold Quarterly

oflgang Bauer is giving away the pdf of issue 14 for a limited time.  Head on over to website for more details so you can download your copy and check out what KQ has to offer.  As a subscriber since the second year, I can recommend the issue and the magazine in general.  Mechanically, it supports Pathfinder, AGE, and 4e, but there's plenty int its contents to inspire and adapt for the creative GM.

 My favorite articles of this issue are on the Tengu, Dragon Hoard, and Prince of Wolves.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vote in Old School Poll

Austrodavicus clued me into this poll, so I'm spreading the word.  El Dado Inquieto is polling to see which old school clone folks want him to support with English translations of his work.  Click here; poll is in the top of his right sidebar.

Image: schoolsign.jpg By: clarita

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Zelazny on NPR

Howard Andrew Jones, of Black Gate and Pathfinder Tales fame, takes Amber to National Public Radio.  I'm happy to see it, but I was sorry to see that the subsection of books it was listed under was "My Guilty Pleasure."  Don't you get all hoity-toity with me, NPR.  I've been listening to you for decades, and I've heard plenty of things that folks should feel guilty about for enjoying.  The Amber tales are not among them.  If you missed last month's celebration of me catching up to the 70s, see it here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Locating Pathfinder Resources

I've got a lot of family stuff going on right now, so Mythopoeic Monday will have to rely on the kindness of...well, not complete strangers, at least!  While the Paizo website is the best place to search for resources (both free items in the store and fan support on the forums), I've run across a few items I'd like to highlight and link around the web.

If you are a fan of PFRPG and looking for a go-to-guy to give you reviews and advice, you'd be hard put to find someone better than Ontario gamer Steel Wind.  (Seriously, he's obviously a wuxia hero with that monkier, am I right?) He's one of the hosts of Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast and has been hired to be the Pathfinder correspondent on EN World.  I find him charmingly irascible and ludaciously wise.  Check EN World for his regular reviews of Pathfinder products.

On the other hand, if you, like me, are kind of strung out for Pathfinder-related podcasting (seriously, Chronicles, this is too long between episodes.  I hope all is well.), then you need to give Know Direction another listen.  Clearly, they have been working hard to improve the show, and it has paid off.  I don't know how much of the credit goes to Ryan Costello, Jr, and how much goes to Perram, who has joined him as regular co-host, but well done, guys.

Friend of the blog, Obscure pal, and up-and-coming freelancer Paris Crenshaw has just released a cool write-up of Demonblood on his website.  He takes the idea from Robin Laws' PF novel The Worldwound Gambit, and I plan to give it a try in a game one of these days.  It's an example of how mechanics, world-building, and plot hooks should ideally go together.  Thanks, Paris!

Paris and I have in common playing Pathfinder with kids (he with twin daughters, me with nephews a few years older), and we always pick up on others playing with their kids.  If you are interested in hearing more about role-playing with your spawn, Justin Achilli has us both beat by many years: check out his post (with video) of him playing with his preschooler.  Precious!

If you are not finding the gaming materials for Pathfinder that you want, maybe you only have yourself to blame.  Clockwork Gnome has started its Kickstarter for Sailing the Starlit Sea.  Don't miss this chance to influence the crafting of a quality product supporting fantasy gaming in space.

Finally, here's a shout-out for a site that is new to me and that would help one find a PF game or a game of any number of editions of D&D in the metroplex: DFW Roleplayers.  May all looking find the right gaming connection for them!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

PF Beginner Box Play Report II

The Dragon Black Fang Defeated!
Rogar of Gorum
 I finally had the second session with my two younger nephews.  (Session I.)  We play for 6 hours (8 pm to 2 am).  Two long game sessions will get you through the dungeon that comes with the Pathfinder Beginner Box.  In the adventure, the GM is advised that Black Fang is so challenging that care needs to be taken to prevent a discouraging experience for beginners.  My nephews (11 and 12) are not really beginners, but they only get to play a few times a year.  For this session they were joined for the first time by their dad, a 2e player who had not played since high school.  Yet, he easily picked up play with Merisiel the elf rogue, and Ezren the NPC wizard rounded out the party.

The biggest What? moment our returning gamer had was when he asked why everyone's armor class was so bad.  All it took was a single, short explanation of how attacks worked now, and he was golden.  After one session, I'd say he's definitely a tactical player.  Together, they came up with a good plan of attack, using the magic items found in the rest of the dungeon, and fortuitously came upon the dragon's lair last, knowing its presence and relative location thanks to a clue in the dungeon.  Their plan took Black Fang down to 9 HP in three rounds, forcing him to flee.  I was very pleased that they got to defeat him without me pulling any punches, and I had made so clear to them the deadliness of the encounter, that they were thrilled to drive him off so grievesouly wounded, and to take his treasure hoard.

The next day, we divvied up the treasure and leveled the characters up to 2nd.  My brother-in-law is making Merisiel a bit more his own character, rechristening her Minerva and buying her a longbow. I'm looking at the other Sandpoint materials from Paizo (Rise of the Runelords and Jade Regent) to think about what might be in store for the characters, but since Black Fang and King Fatmouth (the boys really resonate with this goblin villain) escaped in the cleansing of the dungeon, they probably should be watching over their shoulders...

For character creation, play, and advancement, the Beginner Box delivers.  It is much easier for less advanced or returning players to navigate and understand the materials, so I imagine the same certainly would be true for complete beginners.  Having had a more complete experience with the set, I am confident rating it 5/5 now, and not being overly influenced by appearance.  The only thing that did strike me as odd among their decisions was that they offered the Barbarian class instead of the halfling race in the free supplemental material (scroll down for free downloads), but maybe this is just their way of saying they prefer Howard to Tolkien.  I blame Erik Mona.  Giving you 5 full levels of play, balancing a nice variety of choice with simplification?  There's plenty of room to spread the praise around for that, but I'm thinking Jason Bulmahn and Sean K Reynolds deserve lions' shares.  Very well done, Paizo.

Also, my new dice tray proved a hit in play!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review of Pathfinder Battles Miniatures

I have been an avid minis collector for about 10 years now. Mostly I have focused on the DDM line of minis for RPG use. I was always frustrated with the distribution of those minis, the things I would use the most of such as goblins, orcs, skeletons, etc.. were always hard to get. Plus there was always an excess of odd miniatures that I would never use in game. Needless to say when the DDM line was at an end I was heartbroken. Sure, by that point I literally had thousands of miniatures, but it also meant I couldn't look forward to those missing monsters from the Monster Manuals being given the miniature treatment. Then came Pathfinder minis.

Now when they first announced the pathfinder minis line I was hesitantly excited. It was a new line of minis, but I also had to know if it would be the same scale as all my previous minis and I needed reassurance about the quality. But when my cases finally arrived all those trepidations were dispelled. First thing I noticed was the quality paint job, these minis were exceptionally well painted, I especially noticed the time taken on faces and fine details. Further, the accidental blotches of paint were also absent. For a mass-produced minis line, the quality was a cut above anything I had seen previously. Secondly, the distribution of most used minis had been fixed: I got many many goblins skeletons and zombies, where before I would need to buy singles later on. The third thing I noticed was the superior plastic used in these minis. Often times with the DDM line, plastic bases would fold up or weapons were so flimsy they would fold over, but with the Pathfinder minis being made of a more rigid plastic, that problem doesn't exist. After my first foray into the Pathfinder minis line, I look forward to their future offerings with keen interest. For me the future of minis collecting has brightened considerably, and for those who may have just started collecting, this line helps you get what you need quickly. This minis maniac is completely won over and hopes all of you will give the new Pathfinder minis a look.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

OSR Conservation Process

If you are not familiar with the OSR Conservation Process, it is an effort to preserve files of old school RPG materials online for free distribution and use.  They've been getting some nice additions lately from names OSR-related gamers will recognize.  (I've been enjoying files from Roger the GS and Jeff Rients that I completely missed, and checking out the first issue of Fight On!)  This is a great undertaking that I hope will garner more support.  To start with, I'll be adding them to my Free Gaming page.  If you haven't taken a look, why not visit today?


Image DSC04827a.jpg by: click

Monday, January 16, 2012

Execution by Element

wirenoose.JPG  By: taliesin

I had another one of those thoughts, recently.  (Hopefully, I'm not among the last folk to have it, and just don't know it.)  A steady diet of period pieces and fantasy sometimes prompts these things at odd moments.  My thought is this: it seems to me that before the modern period, it may be that all forms of execution may be grouped by substance of the cause or means of execution.  How?  Elementally, my dear readers.

Recall the four classical elements, then think about how premodern convicts were executed and the element involved.  Those who are stoned or buried alive: Earth.  Those who are drowned: Water.  Those who are burned: Fire.  The only element that may not obviously be associated with a historically popular means of execution is Air.  Perhaps hanging or being tossed from high places corresponds with Air.  Perhaps strangulation also belongs with Air.  What other means of execution are left?  Beheading?  Arguably, execution by metal would also be an Earth execution.

In a fantasy setting, I would like this elemental um, element, to come to the fore.  Going by the old adage, let the punishment fit the crime, certain executions, if not all corporal punishments, would be by the element according the category of the crime.  Crimes against people gaining their livelihood by the Earth would be met by an Earth execution.  Criminals who violated lèse-majesté would be hung.  Criminals sentenced to death for acts of pollution would be burnt with Fire or immersed in Water.  Perhaps offenders of the most heinous sort would be sentenced to multiple executions.  "Guilty of high crimes against the gods, his liege, the people, and all creatures, the Doomed one is sentenced to be stoned, removed before death and hung, removed before death and burned, and finally his ashes scattered in the Sea of Woe."  Or strangled while being held underwater, roasted, and then drawn and quartered (to the four quarters of the earth).  Given what he know about judges and human nature, creativity would come into play.  I've had another spurt of inspiration for the World of Ygg (the setting for my in-stasis S&W game) the last couple of days, and as I develop it, I will bear in mind the place of the elements in certain areas and how that would play into their system of justice as much as, say, their religions (these come up in the Greek and Persian analogues -- Kalokanikai and Aryanistan -- particularly.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Even if it is a tad morbid, this is how I wish you happy mythopoeicizing this MP Monday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Zenopus on Holmes' Lack of Influence-Anxiety

By: cohdra

In which Zenopus saved Tomeful Tuesday ahead of Time

The fact is, I am snowed in with work, trying to get ready for the upcoming semester and do the things it takes to get a real job at the same time.  The result was that I did not get Tomeful Tuesday back on the track that I had planned.  However, yesterday, Zenpous picked up on my question about de Camp's influence on Holmes, as promised.  Head over there to see his first installment.  I predict that, like me, you will learn about a work by de Camp which you had never heard of.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Whoopin' Surprise: 5e

That Wizards of the Coast was working on 5e was no news.  That they have announced it, is.  Most of the revealed direction is pretty predictable if you have been reading Mearls' and Cook's web postings.  Clearly, they want to broaden their customer base by recapturing players of Pathfinder and older editions.  It looks to me like they are trying to move in the direction of an Open Playtest, but are not willing to commit themselves to the behemoth task that a truly open one would entail.

In all of the media coverage of this so far, the lack of mentioning Paizo's connections to the developments seems pretty ignorant or disingenuous in the reporting, making the coverage look more like ads for Hasbro than true reporting.  (Chalk up another victory for business and another defeat for knowledge in the game of journalism.)  Articles linked below.

WOTC's annoucement.
NYTimes article.
Forbes article.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Clockwork Gnome Kickstarter for Sailing the Starlit Sea

Allen Taliesin, chief of the Clockwork Gnomes, has decided to turn Sailing the Starlit Sea, his fantasy space sourcebook, into a bigger project -- in fact, his first Kickstarter project.  He sent me the announcement, and I am posting it below.  All his projects are interesting, but here is a chance to be involved in the development and influence its final form.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fans of Jeff Easley

For those of you who like social media and the artwork of Jeff Easley, his fans are gathering here, on Facebook.  (Jeff's website is here, but it seems like all the recent activity is happening on Facebook.)  His covers were not on my original gaming books, but when I reacquired my lost AD&D books so I could play off at college, his covers had replaced the original ones and also graced a few new books, among which his Unearthed Arcana, pictured above, made a particular impression on me.  Looking at Jeff Easley's works recently, it struck me that you can draw a direct line from Frazetta to Brom and label it with his name.

When he gets to 250 fans, he's going to do a new version of his classic illustration of Drelnza from the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.  I'm hoping that all this indicates that we will be seeing more from him to come.

 EDIT: I don't know what the deal is with the site I linked above as Jeff's, but THIS is the official Jeff Easley site.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pathfinder Comic Book

I heard it from Tim Knight, and I'm spreading it:  A Pathfinder Comic Book has been apparently announced by Dynamite.  My only question is, what is Lisa Stevens going to do with all our money, once she has discovered the last piece of the puzzle for taking it all?  If the answer is a Star Wars theme park where we can all go live and have full medical and play Pathfinder, then I formally surrender now.

EDIT: This page seems to have a little more information and may have even broken the news first.

EDIT 2: The official announcement at Paizo, but it adds nothing to the Edit above.

Dice Tray Project

We had a nice set of three teak nesting tables.  One day, my petite wife, who believes she can stand on any random household item when the occasion arises, laid hands on the smallest of these nesting tables.  One leg broke in the ensuing mishap.  It's a very solid piece, so I looked at it, and upon flipping it over, saw potential.  Removing the legs, I covered the inside of the frame in green felt and created the dice tray you see above on New Year's Day.  It works very well.  Pictured with it is the Nightmare Before Christmas Oogie Boogie Yahtzee set, which you can probably find at your local B&N on a Clearance table for 50% off.  The skull dice are 5/8 of an inch or a little bigger per side, to give you an idea of scale.  The inside of the octagon is about seven inches across, measured from opposing angles.  I had been wanting one of those Dwarven dice trays for years, but I am pretty happy with how this turned out.  It looks pretty good and does a nice job of corralling dice at the table.  Wow, I feel handy all the sudden, Garrison Keillor.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What is this ADD of which you speak?

Sometimes, my reading gets... let's say, diversified.  I was reading the anthology, The Dark Side, and I hit a couple of stories I'd already read, and I skipped forward, and I found myself wanting to read something different.  I was hauling through A Canticle for Leibowitz, and I just wasn't loving the third (and I assume final) section of the book like I had the first two.  The next thing you know, I'm faced with several books that I am reading in tandem, or several partially finished books that are in the second stack, waiting for me to finish whatever has infatuated my appetite at the moment.

This -- did we say, broad scope? -- also affects my blogging, and in particular, my Tomeful Tuesday feature.  Now I warned you, dear readers, that you could depend on Mythopoeic Monday (hey, I only missed twice in eleven months!), but Tomeful Tuesday would be occasional.  Then it got pretty regular, but went on holiday somewhere late in the Fall semester.  I'm going to try to get it more regular (but again, I'm not committing to every Tuesday) in upcoming weeks.  I imagine the next two weeks or so will see me finishing my read-through of Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery.  Then, I will comment on fiction or non-fiction according to no particular plan, unless something arrests me as strongly as good ol' Gary's book did.  Holmes for the Holidays, you ask?  My recent observations seemed, well, very small, not really worth a post by themselves, and pretty scattered to bring them together in one.  So, we'll see if there is a final installment in that series before January 7 or not (Sorry, Fr. Jack, I'm having a hard enough time trying to keep people in the holiday spirit through 12th Night and Epiphany.  No way am I going to try to take 'em to Candlemas.)

So, a word of explanation for regular readers, a heads up for new readers, and in parting some more holiday wishes: if you are still on holiday, I hope you spend some of your remaining time with a good book (or stack!), but to all of you I wish a Happy New Year of reading and to Prof. Tolkien a very happy birthday!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Kumohime Revisted

Spider woman by IanLIR
The kumohime may not be particularly well known outside of Japan, but it is a classic Japanese monster (for earlier treatments on this blog, see here, where I treat this yokai -- more specifically, obake or bakemono -- in relation to the Lolth, D&D's demon queen of spiders and goddess of the drow).  As I mentioned before, it is also known under the name jorogumo.  It is under this latter name that it is getting lots of love in recent releases of the Pathfinder RPG: it appears in both the Bestiary 3 and the Dragon Empires Gazetteer.  If you are playing PF or a 3.5OGL compatible game, and do not yet have the B3, then you may get the same basic concept by using another OGL monster -- this is in fact what happens in a volume of the Pathfinder Adventure Path (I will say no more, to keep spoilers to a minimum) where the volume employs an aranea.  Here is the d20 version and here is the PF update.  I love the idea that there is a small country ruled by a jorogumo.  The Pathfinder designer whose idea that was needs to comment over here so I can lavish my fanboy praise upon them.  Dare I guess that it came from the mind of Dave Gross?

Any monster that puts to use the two classic fears of arachnophobia and Oh-my-God-that-beautiful-woman-is-not-what-she-appears-to-be has to be bi-winning in a way that puts Charlie Sheen to even more shame than he normally puts himself.  (Hey, 2011 references die hard.)  For more info on the appearances of the spider-woman (and sometimes, man) of many names in popular culture, take a look at the TVTropes entry on Youkai, then scroll down and click on "Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo Examples." (I had completely forgotten about Akira Kurosawa's hinting in Throne of Blood.)  And if you really want to blow an afternoon, do searches for "spider" and for "beautiful tropes" while you are over there.

A special thanks to the two artists featured in today's Mythopoeic Monday.  They got back to me with their permissions too late to be included in the earlier posting, but they gave me an excuse to revisit the creature and update the resources I found online.  Please repay their generosity by giving their DeviantArt pages a visit and maybe even a comment.

In parting, I offer you a thematically appropriate magical relic: Bat's Banner of the Spider God.  The banner could be used by a warrior in service of the Spider God -- perhaps the champion of a powerful kumohime.

KumoHime by WittA

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Olde Year Now Away is Fled

A Carol for New Year's Day
Traditional English. Sung to the tune of  "Greensleeves" since at least 1642.

1. The old yeare now away is fled,
The new year it is entered;
Then let us all our sins downe tread,
    And joyfully all appeare.
Let's merry be this holy day,
And let us run with sport and play,
Hang sorrow, let's cast care away
    God send us a merry new yeare!

2. For Christ's circumcision this day we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep;
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
    And his blessed side, with a spear.
His head they crowned then with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for to save our souls was born;
    God send us a happy New Year!

3. And now with New-Year's gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may our lives amend,
    And that truth may now appear.
Now like the snake cast off your skin
Of evil thoughts and wicked sin,
And to amend this new year begin:
    God send us a merry new year!

4. And now let all the company
In friendly manner all agree,
For we are here welcome all may see
    Unto this jolly good cheere.
I thanke my master and my dame,
The which are founders of the same,
To eat and drinke now is no shame:
    God send us a happy new year!

5. Come lads and lasses every one,
Jack, Tom, Dick, Bess, Mary and Joan,
Let's cut the meat unto the bone,
    For welcome you need not fear.
And here for good liquor you shall not lack,
It will whet my brains and strengthen my back;
This jolly good cheer it must go to wrack:
    God send us a happy new year!

6. Come, give's more liquor when I do call,
I'll drink to each one in this hall,
I hope that so loud I must not bawl,
    So unto me lend an ear.
Good fortune to my master send,
And to our dame which is our friend,
Lord bless us all, and so I end:
    God send us a happy new year!