Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories

The most recent Mind Meld over at SF Signal is on the topic of The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories. Needless to say there's a bunch of great reading suggestions to inspire fantasy gaming. All the genre stalwarts are there, like REH, CAS, CL Moore, Leiber, Moorcock and Vance.

There's also mention of some more recent titles, like Glen Cook's (who I've met) Black Company series, and Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books. I'm a bit surprised to find Zelazny's Amber books mentioned, but I guess they fit. And I'm glad to see Tanith Lee's books getting recognition. I'd add her Tales of the Flat Earth books to the list even though they cover more genre ground that just S&S.

The only omission I noticed is Andre Norton, who was a member of SAGA and had stories included in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords anthologies. While they might not be S&S in the strictest sense, she also wrote the Witch World series. And as the author of Quag Keep (1979) she has to be included on any list of  fantasy books related to gaming.

Monday, April 12, 2010


All the talk today about ducks over at Grognardia has me thinking about RuneQuest.


This is a race cursed by the gods during the Great Darkness for not joining them versus the forces of Chaos. It is unknown whether they were originally human and became feathered and web-footed, or originally ducks cursed with flightlessness and intelligence. They reside mostly in Duckpoint (in Sartar) and must, due to their small strength, use weapons such as short swords, slings, etc.

For arcane reasons they are allowed to join certain Death Rune cults...

They come in a variety of different colored feathers and are excellent swimmers, though they cannot fly, having arms instead of wings. Most armor is too heavy for them.

STR     2D6+1
CON    2D6+6
SIZ      1D6+1
INT     3D6
POW   3D6
DEX     2D6+6
CHA    2D6

Move  5
Treasure Factor 6

Sling; Short sword; Small shield

ARMOR-Cuirboilli body; Composite helm
OTHER SKILLS-Swimming 90%; Hide in Cover 40%

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Talislanta promo video

If this promo video for Talislanta doesn't make you want to go adventuring there, nothing will.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Talislanta's roots

In order to know what an RPG is all about, sometimes it helps to know where it came from and what inspired it. Stephan Michael Sechi gives us a good idea of where Talislanta is coming from in the introduction to A Player’s Guide to Talislanta.

The Talislanta milieu evolved over the course of several years, starting with a home-grown D&D campaign that somehow veered deep into uncharted territory, evolved into the Atlantis legends, then somehow took on a life of its own.

The first adventure that ever took place in Talislanta occurred when a Druas NPC (from an Atlantis campaign) led a bunch of (converted D&D) PCs into a strange new world in order to help a wizard hunter track down the reincarnation of an old enemy. That strange new world turned out to be Talislanta, which prior to that adventure had been mentioned once in the three Atlantis books, but never explained-mainly because I had no idea of what Talislanta was at that time.

The real work on Talislanta started after I quit my day job (don’t try this at home, kids), stopped working as a musician, and started putting in 14-hour days writing, taking notes,and drawing hundreds of character and creature sketches. My main objective was to create a fantasy world that was not based on Euorpean mythology, as most other RPGs had done; hence the “No Elves” slogan, which we used in Talislanta ads that we later ran in Dragon Magazine.

I read all of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books, Lovecraft’s The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath, Marco Polo’s The Travels, and back issues of Heavy Metal magazine (especially Druilette’s Salambo, in which if you look closely enough you might find the inspiration for the Jhangarans). And I confess to partaking of one of Turkey’s fi nest products nightly, which helped inspire most of the visual elements of Talislanta, and some remarkably lucid dreams I had of actually visiting Talislanta.

I wish my dreams were that interesting. Instead I'll have to settle for playing the game.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Talislanta lives!

James Mal notes on his blog today that SMS is making Talislanta available as a free download.

The PDFS on this site are the Intellectual Property of Stephan Michael Sechi (SMS). These may be downloaded for free by anyone who visits the site, but may not be sold or distributed in any other way. You may modify the content of these PDFs if you choose to do so, but only for personal use. Permission is granted by the IP holder to print out one hard copy of any or all of the PDFs on the website, for personal use only.

There are a few items still to be scanned, but all the main books are available, including a copy of the most recent 5th edition rules. This is great because Talislanta is one of the most unique and exotic fantasy worlds to come out of the gaming community. It ranks alongside Tékumel and Jorune in terms of originality and worlbuilding and has a psychedelic hipness that really makes it stand out. Hopefully this will get the game a bigger audience and we'll see more people playing it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What old-school looks like... my head.

 Image via RPGnet

 Sorta like a cross between Ralph Bakshi and Roger Dean.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mazes & Minotaurs

With the remake of Clash of the Titans opening today, I thought it would be a good time to look at Mazes & Minotaurs.

It's interesting to note that "the whole Mazes & Minotaurs concept was invented by Paul "Mithras" Elliott in 2002, in an article called The Gygax-Arneson Tapes published on RPGnet". That's the same Mithras who authored both Zenobia and Warlords of Alexandria. Which means that Mithras has almost single-handedly made classical-themed gaming a dynamic force. Maybe he should change his handle to Pygmalion.

As an old-school pastiche M&M is enjoyable, and as an actual RPG it's adequate (truth be told I'm more inclined to use it as a sourcebook). But what it excels at it presenting an enticing classical-inspired fantasy world that invites the kind of wild-and-woolly adventuring that makes FRPGs so much fun. One look at the map of Mythika and you want to put on your helmet, take up your spear and set sail to fight legendary monsters for the treasures they guard.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Real Hyborian Age

James Mal had a good post yesterday about how much fun historical fantasy RPGs can be. He was doing a retrospective on an obscure game called Man, Myth & Magic which sounds interesting. The first exposure I had to this kind of thing was Avalon Hill's RuneQuest (3rd Ed.), which wasn't set in the original setting of Glorantha, but in a "Fantasy Earth" of c. 10th century A. D. They even put out a very good Vikings supplement. And of course there are more recent games like Sengoku, High Medieval and Qin.

As much as I enjoy the world building that goes into most fantasy games and novels I think there's something to be said for a fantasized historical setting.  The truth is the average RPG game world is usually rather undistinguished. There's very few that achieve the originality and depth of a Tékumel or Talislanta. And it becomes especially appealing when you realize that there is an historical period that can match even a setting as famous as R.E.H.'s Hyborian Age. I'm thinking of the Hellenistic period.

I won't go into detail, but this is a perfect setting for a barbarian Celts, tattooed Illyrian pirate, or Chaldean wizard to go adventuring in. There were exotic cities, like Alexandria and Babylon.  Exotic lands like Hyrcania, the Maurya Empire or the Kingdom of Kush. There was even a lingua franca in the form of koine Greek.

I'm not the only Martian on the block when it comes to this. There are games like Paul Elliot's Warlords of Alexandria for BRP and Volker Bach's Basilikos for GURPS. So if you haven't guessed already, when it comes to historical fantasy, I'm game.

Linen armor

You probably think this is an April Fools' Day joke, but it's not. It turns out that one of the most common forms of armor in ancient times was the linothorax, or linen armor.

No examples of it survive, but the it's believed to have been armor made from layer upon layer of linen. A group from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has even had some luck reconstructing it. (How come my history classes were never this fun?)

This is something else I've never seen in an RPG. Sure, there's usually some kind of padded cloth armor, but that's not the same thing at all. Now it's just a question of where to fit it on the arbitrary scale by which RPGs rank armor...