FARSIGHT GAMES

Monday, 15 October 2018

[Book review] Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History


By Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer

Published by Ten Speed Press

When I hit the D&D hobby in 1984 there was one image that burned into my brain, an image that called out to my imagination and set the tone for my fantasy tabletop gaming for years to come. It was the Larry Elmore cover of the Red Box D&D Basic Set. The warrior lunging forward as the dragon protected its hoard; it was colourful, dynamic and inspirational.

The interior art of the game was just as good, with Elmore and Jeff Easley adding flavour to the content. I read the books over and over again and the artwork as well as the game itself became a huge part of my first few steps into the larger gaming hobby.

As I progressed through the game, moving on to 2nd edition rules, the artwork was always fluid and dynamic. I played in the worlds of Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft and Spelljammer and the art style changed with the settings. Even during my incredibly long hiatus from D&D I still purchased Dragon magazine to keep myself updated and inspired as even in these pages the artwork shone. The rules and the worlds were the driving force behind the game but it was the art that bought it to life.

From the early small books to the colourful volumes on gaming store shelves today, the artwork of Dungeons & Dragons has always been dominant and the images that graced the covers of many of the products have become iconic in the hobby. It changed and morphed over the years with many different artists bringing their own style and imagination to the mix, changing as the game did over the decades.

Obviously, there was a story to tell.


Enter writer Michael Witwer (Empire of Imagination), director Kyle Newman (Fanboys), writer Jon Peterson (Playing at the World) and actor Sam Witwer (Battlestar Galactica). They all have a history with and a love for the game, so what happens when you get four D&D fans with a passion for the father of all RPGs together?

You get Art & Arcana: A Visual History. A glorious coffee-table tome detailing the history of the artwork of the game, the game itself, and the people, products and points if interest that pepper it’s long illustrious reign.

After a heartfelt and eager forward from actor Joe Manganiello, the book begins with a brief description of the hobby, a quick guide to what the book covers and how it will cover it, and then it dives straight into the action with the original edition books, how they came about and the artwork that went into them. Did you read the books and wonder why certain drawings seemed familiar? This book answers those questions and more, you find out about the artists and their art, and you discover more details about the history and the creation of the game as you drink in the visuals.

And this is where the book shines; it’s not just a pages of random artwork with notes about where they appeared, who created them and maybe an anecdote or two. Within every section of the book, from the original editions to 5th edition and everything in between (including computer games, novels and the even the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon), Art & Arcana illuminates the reader with facts and details about the development of the game, the routes it took during it’s life, the decisions that were made and the effect it had on the companies that produced the work. While it’s not a biographical story with touches of drama as per Michael Witwer’s book ‘Empire of Imagination’, it tells a story about the drive, passion, high moments and pitfalls the game and the company endured over the decades. So, while you’re marvelling at the artwork and getting all misty-eyed and nostaligic over images from your childhood – or even experiencing the art for the first time if you’re new to the hobby – there’s an amazing story being told that puts everything into context. The artwork changes with the fortunes of the company as well as the times, and it’s all here to see.


There are some incredible images in the book, some I have never seen before myself, and no matter which edition you used to enter the hobby there’s something here for everyone. Are you an old grognard who remembers the glory years of the 1970s? There’s something in here for you. 2nd edition player? This book has got you covered. Perhaps you just like the peripheral products like the novels and other games? There’s material in here for you, as well as an insight as to how it all came about. Paintings, sketches, photographs, old advertisements, posters, covers… it’s all here and it’s quite, quite glorious to behold. With the accompanying story detailing a history with just as much adventure as the game itself, this is an excellent read with plenty to offer time and time again.

Whether you’re an old-school gamer or you’ve just hit the hobby with 5th edition, Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a book that any player of D&D can’t do without. If you want to relive your passion for the game’s art or experience it for the first time it doesn’t matter; this is a must-have book for any fan of D&D or even the roleplaying hobby in general.

Very highly recommended.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Cover of Boxed SetI keep thinking about the games of 2000AD's Strontium Dog I used to run using the original GW Judge Dredd RPG rules (I had the hardback book reprint and not the boxset). I split the Combat Skill into Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill and from there it was plain sailing.

The games were fast and exciting and I really played on the sci-fi western theme, using drama and motifs from Sergio Leone, even going as far as using the soundtracks. It's a regret of mine that I parted with my Dredd game; I'd love to write up what I did as a conversion.

There were plenty of tables on the back of the book so that we could  roll for random mutations; the tables had been designed for characters who had come from the Cursed Earth, or for those who lived close to the walls that seperated Mega-City One from the blasted wasteland. While we played games that were primarily set in the fabled city in our own sector, 'Sector 101', a place where gangs ruled and strange powers manifested themselves, we soon created our own sector in Brit-Cit and eventually started to run games set in deep space as the gaming group pursued the magic-using crimelord 'Doctor Normal' off-world.

However, after the epic Dredd story 'Judgement Day' hit the pages of 2000AD in 1992 and Johnny Alpha made an appearance (and resulting in one of the best ever full-page images to grace the pages of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic - see below) I turned my attention to Strontium Dog and, with very few changes to the rules other that what has already been mentioned above, I set about running a game for a group of Stronts - who called themselves the 'Brecon Crew' - who set about the galaxy hunting down some very nasty people including a high-ranking Kreeler officer named Captain Captain, a mutant serial killer called Eddie Scalpelfingers and an alien drug runner called Powder Kegg. Gunfights, standoffs, even a starship battle filled the adventures and we ended up having more fun in the world of the Stronts than we ever did in the Mega-cities because there was so much to do, so many more options due to the vastness of the galaxy and much more action-packed adventures as the players didn't feel as constrained by 'The Law' as they did in the Judge Dredd games.

Apart from adding stats for the Westinghouse Variable Cartridge Blaster and a few other items such as the time weapons and the odd weapon function I came across in the comics (I bought 2000AD every week from 1984 to 2002) there was very little else for me to do. The conversion notes were probably less than 500 words and as some of my players were well versed in Strontium Dog lore there was next to no worldbuilding to be done. It's an easy world to explain. 'It's a Star Wars-ey western-themed action game where you play mutated bounty hunters'. Boom.

I tried the Traveller-based Strontium Dog game a few years ago but I much preferred the simplicity of the GW Dredd rules, and now that EN Publishing is working on a Stront setting for their 'Judge Dredd & the Worlds of 2000AD' game I'm looking forward to a new version. I'll give it a try for sure, but I'm not sure anything will replace the thrill-power of those early games.

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Friday, 5 October 2018

[Press release] Free League and Järnringen Become One

I'm a big Fria Ligan fan and I have had amazing games with 'Coriolis' and 'Tales from the Loop'. This news is going to create a gaming powerhouse filled with great talent who already have a proven track record. There's amazing things ahead.

The full press release:

Free League Publishing - Oct 05, 2018 10:38 BST


Free League Publishing and Team Järnringen, two of Sweden's leading publishers of tabletop roleplaying games on the international market, will become one. The merger of these publishers of acclaimed RPGs such as Tales from the Loop, Symbaroum and Mutant: Year Zero, is underway. The combined company, to be named Free League Publishing, is planning several major game launches in the year to come.

"We're very happy that the merger is finally happening," says Free League co-founder Tomas Härenstam. "We have a long history with Järnringen, great respect for their work, and we share similar philosophies on game design. Together we will be stronger, better, and have a greater international reach. And we'll have even more fun at work."

The two teams are already working together, with former Järnringen members involved in current Free League projects, and vice versa. To the combined company, Järnringen brings the acclaimed fantasy RPG Symbaroum, which will now become part of Free League's line-up of award-winning games such as Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis - The Third Horizon, and Tales from the Loop, as well as the upcoming RPG Forbidden Lands and Crusader Kings - The Board Game.

Free League was initially created ten years ago, as a group of freelancers writing supplements for earlier (Swedish) versions of Mutant and Coriolis, published by a previous incarnation of Järnringen. The fact that these two game franchises are still part of the Free League RPG lineup today is appreciated by the members of Team Järnringen.

"There are many benefits of this merger," say's Järnringen co-founder Mattias Johnsson Haake. "But of course, the idea of working on Mutant and Coriolis again is especially appealing. Coriolis was created by us, and is in a way like a child we never got to see grow up. Mutant also has a special place in our hearts."

The joint company will be named Free League Publishing, a decision made in full agreement between both companies. Free League Publishing has had a longer presence on the international market and a bigger reach among both gamers and sales partners. In addition, the name Free League is taken from a faction in the Coriolis RPG.
Fans and gamers of Free League and Järnringen games should not experience any immediate impact from this merger. All existing game lines will continue as planned. In addition, a number of new game projects are being planned for 2019. More information on these will be revealed at a later date.


Free League Publishing is a Swedish publisher dedicated to speculative fiction. We have published several award-winning tabletop role-playing games and critically acclaimed art books set in strange and wondrous worlds.

Our first game, the post-apocalyptic Mutant: Year Zero was awarded a Silver ENnie for Best Rules 2015. The sci-fi adventure Coriolis - The Third Horizon, was awarded a Judge's Spotlight Award at Gencon. And we are proud to say that our latest roleplaying game Tales from the Loop RPG based on Simon Stålenhags iconic artbooks made a grand slam at the ENnie Awards 2017, winning five Gold ENnies - among them Best Game.

Our upcoming fantasy RPG is Forbidden Lands, with art by critically acclaimed artist Simon Stålenhag and iconic Swedish fantasy artist Nils Gulliksson, lore by fantasy author Erik Granström and game design by the team that created Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis: The Third Horizon and Tales from the Loop RPG. Forbidden Lands was the third most successful RPG Kickstarter in the world 2017 and was recently named one of the most anticipated RPGs of 2018 by EN World.

We have also released the critically acclaimed art books Things from the Flood and Tales from the Loop by artist Simon Stålenhag. His third book The Electric State has been released by Free League Publishing exclusively to the backers of the kickstarter campaign.

Website: www.freeleaguepublishing.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/FriaLigan
Instagram:http://instagram.com/frialigan/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/FriaLigan

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Normal service will resume... at some point

Farsight Blogger will be on hiatus for a short time. It seems that designing, writing and illustrating RPG products takes up more time than I thought!

See you soon.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

[Video] Sandy Petersen talks about writing horror scenarios

I don't usually post videos but this one was incredibly interesting and gave me a few things to think about as I work on 'A Dream of Dead Gods', a campaign I'm designing for the new Eldritch Tales game using the Swords & Wizardry White Box rules.

It's Sandy Petersen's fault that I got into Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu and this kind of horror gaming in the first place, so it kind of makes sense that I'm taking some cues from the man himself.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Computer game strategy guides as sourcebooks

I've picked up some very cheap strategy guides for computer games recently, namely 'Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning' and 'Dragon Age II', and even though I've played both games I never bought them for the help they'd give me.

What I got in the books were detailed maps, characters, weapon ideas, adventure and quest ideas, illustrations and a whole slew of new ideas. The books are like system-generic sourcebooks and, even though I won't be using them in the settings they were intended for, there are plenty of bits and bobs in there I can use for my current games.

Once games have been out for a long time and the strategy guides become pretty useless you can find them in all kinds of places - charity shops, second-hand bookshops, discount bookstores and the like. They might not be an accurate fit for your game but there's bound to be something in there that you can cannibalise. I think I'll be seeking out more cheap books like this in the future to help flesh out my home-made roleplaying campaign settings.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

My kind of Fantasy Adventure

Adventurer by jpneokI enjoy the stories of high adventure, huge magic and exotic locations. They're fun, fast and exciting, and I get plenty of entertainment from a plethora of creatures threatening the heroes in alien landscapes as wizards blast a multitude of fireworks from their fingertips while chanting and gesticulating, and warriors wear impossible suits of armour and wield their two-handed swords one-handed.

But this isn't the kind of fantasy world I would like to live in.

In the 1980s I had two fantasy loves; the television show 'Robin of Sherwood' and the books and radio play of JRR Tolkien.

Robin of Sherwood was a low-fantasy take on the classic legend, with Herne the Hunter, and ancient pagan God of the forests, proclaiming that Robin was his son and that he was here to protect the innocent. There was very low-key magic, mysticism and adventure, a heady mix of pseudo history and fantasy, like the 'one God had come to drive out the many' (as Merlin in the movie 'Excalibur' quite correctly put it). It was quite excellent and the adventures that Robin and his companions had were complemented by the excellent characters in the ensemble and the great writing of Richard Carpenter. This was my kind of fantasy, and my kind of gaming setup; a small band of connected friends fighting against the odds.

Then there was my favourite thing in the world; Middle-earth. The stories of Tolkien, in particular The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and the tale of the Children of Hurin, was exactly the kind of stuff I liked best about the fantasy genre. The history of Middle-earth is an explosion of high fantasy, with Gods at war in heaven and tragic high adventure on the surface of the world, but I was more interested in the events of the second and third ages, where the action was centered around a smaller selections of heroes and the grand exploits of history were stories and myths. This gave the setting depth and a realism I have never come across in any other fantasy work. I wanted my own creations to adventure in the low-magic world of the Third and Fourth ages as this felt like a place I could explore and learn about, and old ruins existed for much more involved reasons than simply a place for characters to have a bit of an adventure in.

As with Robin of Sherwood, Middle-earth had a reality to it that was tangible and this was primarily thanks to the movies of Peter Jackson, which gave it a look and atmosphere so real that everything had a place. Robin of Sherwood had the reality of history to frame it.

This is my kind of fantasy. Low-magic, character-driven adventure in which the story and the decisions the characters make drives the fun and frolics. High fantasy magical fireworks and improbable armour is window dressing. When you can tell a superb story with a sword, a run-down castle and a few curious friends then you've got real substance.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

'Triskelion Space' - an interview with Jacob Ross

Project image for Triskelion Space Tabletop RPG'Triskelion Space' is a new RPG on it's way using the Exodus System. As of this interview the game is running on Kickstarter so get over there and have a look at what it has to offer.

I had a brief chat with creator Jacob Ross about his gaming and his games.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got yourself embroiled in the wonderful world of roleplaying games.

My name is Jacob Ross, I write as Jacob DC Ross to differentiate myself from the award-winning writer from Grenada. The first RPG that I ever owned was WEG's The D6 System: The Customizable Roleplaying Game, by George Strayton. I got it in 1997 from a regular big-box bookstore. From there I found LUG's Star Trek RPG and Legend of the Five Rings.

I fell in love with L5R so hard that 2009 I ended up begging Shawn Carman for a shot at writing for the game line, and bless his heart, he gave me a spot on Enemies of the Empire. I got to write about badgers, sharks, apes and such while the veterans were telling tales about ninja and naga. I didn't care. I was a WRITER now! I got a bigger assignment for the next book, The Great Clans, before branching out. I've written for the first edition of Mongoose Traveller, Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures and other game lines.

Your best known for the best-selling Exodus System RPG rules. What was the genesis of the game?

I see what you did there. Side note, the game was originally called "The Genesis System", before someone informed me that FFG had announced their own "Genesys System" a few weeks earlier. The game system came about because I was having issues at the game table. My absolute favorite RPG campaign of all time is Pirates of Drinax for Traveler. My wife and our friend wanted to play, but because of how long character generation took them, they decided not to go forward.

I decided that I needed to come up with my own system, something that checked off all of my boxes:

- Fast character generation that retains mechanical depth and diversity of abilities
- Spotlight balance, or no situations where wizards are always better at everything than warriors
- Easy GM prep, having generators that allow the GM to prep a scenario after getting home from work and before the rest of the party comes home
- Simple NPC stat blocks since I hate nothing more than finding a system that looks fun, going to write up a scenario for publishing and then seeing that I have to list how many ranks that the starfighter pilot has in "Handle Animals".

I got to work, blended some of my favorite elements from different games and tried it out, then refined things. I am a fan of how Numenera lets you make your own character class, so I adapted the principles behind that design into something that would allow you to have these Pathfinder-like ability tracks but without having to plan out your character build from rank 1. All you have to do is pick which stat to upgrade during character creation, choose a Combat Role, a Party Role and two Flavors for your powers.

Long story short, I wanted something that was easier to customize, both for gameplay and publishing.

You have a Kickstarter running as of this interview, 'Triskelion Space'. What can you tell us about this game that helps recreate 'old-school space opera stories'?

The atmosphere of the setting is oriented towards sci-fantasy space opera in many ways. The Southern Arm of the Triskelion Galaxy is embroiled in war, with the main factions diametrically opposed to one another's philosophy. Grand stories of freedom versus order and all that.

I want to avoid a single faction being seen as a monolith of evil, though. In Star Wars I'd say that the Empire fans are probably equal to the Rebellion fans. In Triskelion Space the Supremacy dominates the northern half of the Southern Arm of space,but it's composed of multiple feuding houses. While they're obligated to support the overall military, each Supreme House fields their own navy and army, too, and is at odds with one or more of their peers. This allows PCs to support a faction that they like without having to join an army that might be liberating a world from alien incursion one day and then slaughtering a village of innocents the next.

Planets in Triskelion Space are not concerned about things like which trade goods are available for purchase, or the percentage of helium in the atmosphere, but by what types of adventures that they facilitate. The spotlight planets have their own encounter tables and problem tables that are geared towards getting into trouble or overcoming heroic opposition.

Alien races are iconic, and include broad stereotypes like the Foi "Elder Aliens" or the various beastmen-inspired uplift-type species. A humanoid rabbit piloting a starfighter through a ridiculously packed asteroid field is my idea of old-school space opera, and that's there. Enormous capital ships disgorging waves of wasp-like strike craft against hapless freedom fighters is my idea of old-school space opera, and that's there, too.

The galaxy is under threat from more than one source, so i's perfectly plausible that members of the Insurgency and Supremacy might even team up for the greater good. Or they might allow their nemeses to face the "Assimilation Bugs from Beyond the Stars" or the tyrannical Flux Mages' secret infiltrators on their own. The one constant, wherever you go, is that every world is in peril, and it is up to idealistic, action-oriented folks to save the day.

The book is also going to be filled with gorgeous artwork, including several interior pictures from Matt Bulahao, who painted the starships fighting on the KS page's banner. Dean Spencer is doing the cover, and his work is unbelievable. Both of these artists and others help to create a visual sense of epic scale.
A Flux-wielding Star Mystic- Daniel Comerci
A Flux-wielding Star Mystic- Daniel Comerci
'Triskelion Space' is using your Exodus System. What changes have you had to make for the science fiction genre?

The first Exodus System book is designed for hacking by GMs or publishers. That's why I present both target number-based skill rolls and opposed skill rolls. The first book is also very abstract on vehicle and equipment systems to be easier to adapt to any genre.

Since I wanted more of a two-fisted, pulpy feel, virtually all rolls in Triskelion Space are opposed. Climbing that cliff face isn't a TN of 12, it's your d10 Agility versus the cliff's d8 AD (Action Die). This increases tension because you never know exactly what you have to beat for each roll.

Writing up the sci-fi book, I had requests from readers for, in their words "guns, guns, lots of GUNS". The new equipment system allows you to customize your equipment in thousands of different ways. I also further detailed the starship and vehicle system, plus space combat, commerce, item crafting and more. You can even create ships and mecha to use as PCs instead of human characters. This process is fast and takes only a minute or two per ship.

Space combat now is more cinematic. There are crew positions for virtually any party member so everybody has something to do during a fight. I refined the concept of Scale for this game, making the captical ships an enormous threat, but leaving fighter craft with options to save the day.

What kind of support will 'Triskelion Space' receive in the future?

We're working on a ships and space encounters book with dozens of premade ships and space monsters (beyond those in the core book) and options for ship creation. Think High Guard for Traveller, but it doesn't take an hour to make a vessel. There's also a series of gazeteers in the works, which expand on the non-spotlight planets from the core books and introduce new ones. I also want to introduce competitive, PVP starship battle rules for players who just want to sling missiles and disruptor beams at one another all day long. James Spahn, who wrote White Star, is contributing material, too. I'm really excited to have him aboard!

Forest Villager Settlement- Windfall
Forest Villager Settlement- Windfall

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Roleplaying Game Magazines

There are many RPG books I regret parting with during the Great Nerd Purge of 2006, but as much as I miss certain games I also miss the magazines I had.

I had all the Valkyrie and Arcane magazines, which were favourites of mine but I also had a lot of Imagine, early White Dwarf when they supported other games, years and years of Dragon magazine (I kept one issue because I loved the cover) even though I'd stopped playing D&D in 1989.

These were my main ones. I had some GM International and two issues of the Fighting Fantasy magazine Warlock which I STUPIDLY gave away. I also had two issues of Proteus, which was a fun mag but couldn't take the place of my beloved FF.

I miss all those magazines. I've picked up Tabletop Gaming magazine a few times and it's a great publication but I'm not into board and war games as much as I am into RPGs, so I miss the focused magazines of old. The material that's in them you can find quite easily on the internet now so a dedicated printed RPG magazine just wouldn't work now, I don't think, unless DeAgoistini created a collectible version with monthly figures and models.

Yeah. I really regret parting with my gaming mags.

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Monday, 3 September 2018

'Phaunt's Tower' available now

Available now from DrivethruRPG and RPGNow.


'Welcome to Wherwest!

This is a town full of opportunities at every corner, adventure through every door and danger at every turn. Glory and gold awaits! That is, if you can get past your first night here.

Phaunt’s Tower is an OSR adventure for Swords & Wizardry White Box, although it can be easily adapted for most classic OSR systems. The adventure is designed for a party of four adventurers of any race and class, and can be inserted into your existing campaign quite easily, no matter what world you’re gaming in.

Wherwest is a small town of around a thousand souls, and from here most adventurers can strike out into the surrounding countryside on their travels. It is famous for its hardy defences against the outside world and the great tower that dominates the top of the hill the town is built around. This is the Tower of Phaunt the Eager, a well-respected wizard who is also the Lord of Wherwest. From here he conducts business, holds council and researches his magic. In fact, the blue light that constantly glows at the very top of the tower that juts from the roof is a beacon of solace to travellers far and wide...'