Friday, 27 July 2018

The Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition adventure 'The Crooked King's Cup' is now available

My new Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition adventure 'The Crooked King's Cup' is available now from DrivethruRPG!

'Welcome, brave adventurers!  You are no doubt walking your way across Titan in search of fame, fortune and more than a little glory, so lend me your ears and I will tell you of a place so foul with the corruption of evil and chaos, and yet so full of the gold and renown you seek, you'll wonder if the risk is worth the rewards.

Do you dare seek out the Cup of the Crooked King, and risk eternal damnation for the chance of more riches than the King of Salamonis himself has ever seen?

Of course, I know what your answer will be.

This is The Crooked King's Cup, an Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition adventure for an experienced adventuring party, although it will be easy enough to adjust the statistics of the foes and dangers to suit any level of skill.

Requires the Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Ed RPG'

Happy Birthday Gary Gygax

Image result for gary gygax futuramaToday is Gary Gygax's birthday, and I usually think about how far I've come in my tabletop roleplaying since I first got involved in the hobby in 1983 when I cracked open a copy of the Fighting Fantasy book 'The Citadel of Chaos' before moving on to the red box Basic D&D.

I like to think I've come quite far, from muddling through the game with little instruction to where I am today. These days my hobby is an amalgamation of all the gaming I've done over the decades, from my initial wonder and confusion to the constant battling to my first ever proper emotional involvement in a character.

So Happy Birthday, Gary.

This year I've been thinking about how much I rely on the dice during a game and it reminded me of some amazing virtually diceless sessions over the years. For example, A while ago my gaming group settled back into a Basic D&D Greyhawk game, the first session of a new year, with a mind to play it for the next few months. The sessions we'd been playing since the previous year have been primarily dice-based, and we've had some fun with a couple of dungeons and a whack of wilderness encounters.

All that changed with the last session. Throughout the entire two hour game there were only two rolls made, one to see what the weather was like and one Charisma check. The rest of the game was rest and recuperation from the adventuring, meeting new NPCs and catching up with NPCs we already new to see what other missions could be done, and impressing the Lord of the estate. It was an evening of roleplaying.

I stepped up and did my part. I love roleplaying, actually playing a character and acting out a role, carefully weighing what to say and do and then acting how I see fit or how best suits the plot of the adventure. That's what roleplaying games are all about to me; if I just spent the evening rolling combat then as far as I'm concerned it's just a boardgame.

Most of my best gaming evenings have been about the roleplaying. Yes, I've had plenty of exciting combats and I remember the cool times but the dramatic, character driven moments are what stick in my mind. I don't ever remember doing much of that with basic D&D - although, to be fair, I was in my early teens when I started playing so smacking stuff in the face with a sword was as cool as it got - and it was a great feeling to know that I could get that level of character involvement out of the game. It's like my 1980s teenage 'kill 'em all!' self has joined with my 1990s 'what is my motivation?' personality. I like it.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The AD&D 2nd Edition Birthright Campaign Setting

It's easy to see why it was I missed out on this; I'd already fallen out of love with AD&D 2nd Edition long before this campaign setting was published so I let it pass me by, but I know if I had sat and read this when it first came out I would have dusted off my multiple polyhedrons from my Basic D&D boxset and set about running a campaign. I'd have even gritted my teeth and put up with THAC0.

Birthright has everything I'd love to run in a fantasy setting, especially these days with Game of Thrones dominating the widespread fantasy genre, and my own love of gritty fantasy settings. The intrigue, the political wrangling, the looming wars. There were lots of different kingdoms to choose from and plenty of scope with characters, backgrounds and adventures. I have the option of running a straight forward D&D dungeon bash, or a political intrigue game, or a murder mystery, or all three together.

There's plenty to do in the Birthright campaign setting, and I was overjoyed to find the website www.birthright.net that had plenty of versions for download (all fan created). I downloaded them and absorbed the setting, but I'd still love to have the original boxset.

This is probably the only reason I regret abandoning AD&D 2nd Edition. It's a great setting with a fantastic sense of depth and wonder and would make for an amazing 5th Edition setting.

Hey, WotC! Birthright, baby! Birthright!

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Fantasy campaign setting histories - how much detail do you need?

Here's something I thought I'd share with you. A very long time ago I designed a grim fantasy campaign setting called 'The Last Island' and I'd designed the entire place including it's history. The only thing I have left of all that design work is this back story below, which I wrote so that potential players could read it and get a sense of depth and history.

As it happened, all of this was completely superfluous. The campaign started with the PCs being hired by the King to find the Book of Making, which is why the back story stops so abruptly as that was where the story continued with the PCs, but it turned out they had no interest in the history, they just wanted to get on with the adventure.

So how much detail would you go into? The story below is quite long and detailed but, ultimately, it never really got any use. I think, perhaps, I wrote it for my own edification as I wanted to fill out the history and give the setting a sense of depth, for me if for nothing else. I do know that I've never written anything as detailed as this since. I now concentrate on where the players are going, and not what's come before. After all, all they're interested in is the adventure to come.

Do you think what I wrote below was worth it? This is a long post so I apologise in advance.


First, there was Evil Deceit, with eyes of bright silver, who came across the Veil that is the cloak of stars and decided upon a game.
This game was the First Land, the Land We Do Not Remember, and Evil Deceit dragged the First Land from the Waters of Eternity, pulling it from the depths of the ocean with such force that the waves crashed and the sea boiled with fire. The First Land was borne from evil thoughts and harsh dreams, so the mountains gushed forth fire and smoke and fed the red rivers of stone that ran as water. The black and grey earth of the First Land was covered with fields of ash and plains of barren rock. And Evil Deceit gazed upon the sculpture that was created and smiled with glee as the shape of the First Land was torn and remade with every belching mountain and every shake of the foundations.
But soon Evil Deceit became bored of the First Land and decided to create creatures that would roam the surface. And so Evil Deceit created the creatures of no purpose, formless and shapeless denizens of the First Land. And the creatures of no purpose stumbled blindly across the ash-covered surface and wailed in their torment.
Evil Deceit soon became bored with this game and, after much cajoling, managed to cause war between the creatures of no purpose. Evil Deceit discovered that by whispering in the minds of the creatures of no purpose and turning them against one another there was sport to be had. The creatures fought savagely for the amusement of Evil Deceit who found their machinations an entertainment, bored as he was with life in the firmament above the Land We Do Not Remember.
For time immeasurable the creatures of no purpose fought with one another over the First Land, the Forever War, a desire to conquer and spread injected into them by Evil Deceit who watched with his eyes of bright silver. And for time immeasurable they knew no different.
But the war was not to last. With war came growth and change and the creatures began to question their existence and their meaning, and Evil Deceit was concerned at their thoughts. So Evil Deceit created Forms of Shadow and Smoke, the Betheresti, and these deamonic creatures smote those creatures of no purpose who had such thoughts. This way, Evil Deceit could continue the Forever War.
But the voices of the creatures of no purpose grew louder until they reached a deafening crescendo in the mind of Evil Deceit, and no matter how many Forms of Shadow and Smoke that swept through the First Land in their endless slaughter, the pain was too great. And Evil Deceit cried out in agony and sent a wave of fire across the First Land that destroyed all. The Forms of Shadow and Smoke, terrified of their master’s great power, hid themselves in the deep cracks of the earth. Evil Deceit, drained by the act of cleansing the First Land, fell to the fields of ash, utterly spent.
Only two creatures of no purpose escaped the wrath of the Cruel God and these formless, nameless beings held each other in the dark and disregarded the Forever War in their terror.

The cries of Evil Deceit echoed beyond the Veil that is the cloak of stars and were heard by Blessed Truth, who recognised the voice of an enemy. So Blessed Truth came from beyond the Veil and gazed upon the First Land with sorrow. The creation of Evil Deceit groaned and heaved as a dying creature, scorched by flame, scarred by fire, wounded by deep cracks, and in all this could be heard the whimpers of the two creatures of no purpose. Blessed Truth, whose heart was full of the joy of existence, felt pity, and pity turned to sorrow, and sorrow turned to weeping.
The tears that fell from the eyes of burning gold of Blessed Truth fell upon the First Land and cleansed it of the dark designs of Evil Deceit. The mountains stopped spewing their fire, the rivers of stone that ran as water hardened, the flames were quenched. The ash was washed into the great seas that were formed around the First Land by the great sorrowful weeping of Blessed Truth. And the First Land was cleansed.
Evil Deceit, made nearly powerless by the great flaming ruin that he had cast against the First Land felt the sting of those tears and retreated hurriedly, disappearing with the Betheresti into the darker places of the earth to regain strength.
After a long time the tears, the Rains of Change, were over. Blessed Truth gazed down upon the First Land with eyes of burning gold, and saw that under the black rock and ash was a place that could have been beautiful. Sadly, Blessed Truth prepared to return beyond the Veil.
But the whimpers of the last two creatures of no purpose could still be heard. After a little searching Blessed Truth found the two formless beings clinging to each other at the foot of the greatest mountain now called Car Toil.
“Why do you cry so, small children of the Land?” asked Blessed Truth.
But the creatures had no ears to hear Blessed Truth with, so Blessed Truth gave them ears. But they had no language to speak with, so Blessed Truth gave them language.
And the first creature of no purpose said, “We cry for our lives are as sport for that which would have us war with each other.”
And Blessed Truth was perplexed, and said, “Beyond the Veil I heard the cries of one who has the breath of Evil, and that cry bought me here to this place.”
The second creature of purpose said, “The cry you heard was that of Evil Deceit, who would have us war for his pleasure.”
And Blessed Truth, whose ways are of peace and love but who can be pushed to anger, spoke menacingly. “Then the cry of the one who has the breath of Evil was the one who has created this Land and caused so much suffering? Tell me, where is this Evil Deceit, for I smell the vileness on you now.”
And the two creatures of no purpose dropped to their knees and begged for their lives, and so pitiful were their pleas that Blessed Truth held up a hand and calmed them. “Your place on this Land is for the amusement of one who would see you fight and kill for sport, so the taint that is upon you is no fault of yours. You are in no danger. Tell me where this Evil Deceit may be found and I will leave this place to you, more beautiful than it is now.”
Eager to please the fearful creatures of no purpose pointed beyond the mountain that is now called Car Toil. “He fell from the sky, spent by his slaughter, on the fields of ash yonder. There you will find the Cruel God that has caused us so much pain.”
And Blessed Truth stepped across the hills and mountains of barren rock and came upon the field of ash, but there was no sign of Evil Deceit, but the place where he had fallen to the earth in exhaustion was covered with the stench of darkness. And so Blessed Truth surrounded the place with water and separated it from the First Land, and proclaimed it forbidden to all that knew of it. For the stricken land crawled with the sickening wailing and the mournful cries of the many dead spirits of creatures of no purpose, who knew only slaughter and destruction, and Blessed Truth called it Adenn Marred, or the Isle of Wraiths.
Upon returning to the creatures of no purpose Blessed Truth found them weeping.
“And what ails you know, small children of the Land?” asked Blessed Truth.
And the creatures held up their hands to the new God and said, “Forgive us, Lord of Honesty, but we are simple creatures of no purpose and we know nought but death and misery. What future do we have in this blighted place?”
The thought of the last two creatures of no purpose falling upon each other in war, the survivor wandering the blighted plains for eternity looking for enemies to conquer, both saddened and angered Blessed Truth. And so, after long thought and deep consideration, Blessed Truth stretched forth a hand and blessed the creatures of no purpose. “From here to the end of all you will be the custodians of this Land, and here you will make a place so beautiful that war and death will be but a memory.” And Blessed Truth created the Book of Making, the book from whence all of the Land we know was birthed and which no Evil may read from, and handed it to the creatures of no purpose. “I cannot stay here, as the Veil calls to me, and so my power will not sustain your lives or create others to share your Land. I will leave one of mine own eyes of burning gold to watch over you and illuminate this land, so that the light it spreads will nourish all things of life you create. To create others of your kind I will name you Man and you Woman, and your union will bring forth others to share this place.”
But the creatures of no purpose were terrified, and cried out, “But with you gone and your power diminished, what will sustain us in this blighted world?”
“The Land will provide whatever you decide to create, but you must not squander the riches the Land will offer as it is not infinite. And you are the first of the small children and I forbid you to create others of your kind, or other creatures of equal ability. For it seems that those that create such beings do so for their own pleasure and the stain of Evil Deceit is still upon you. Blessed are you, small children of the Land, and blessed will this Land be with my eye of burning gold to watch over you, and you and your kind will join me beyond the Veil when you pass and tell me the tales of your life.”
And Blessed Truth retreated beyond the Veil.

So, with the Book of Making, the creatures of no purpose cast their spells and formed the Land into a shape most suited to their needs. Trees they created for shelter from the eye of burning gold, rivers of water for sustenance and refreshment in the heat of the eye of burning gold, rains for cleansing and winds to remember the soft breath of Blessed Truth by. With these trees and rivers and rains and winds came the grasses, the ferns, and all the greenery we know of, and the creatures found a new purpose, to create and make good their Land.
And all the time they created with the Book of Making, they were aware of Blessed Truth’s one requirement not to create other creatures such as themselves. And the Land grew in beauty.
As Man and Woman aged, as they were to without the power of Blessed Truth to sustain them, they had many children. And these children had many children, and the numbers of the creatures of purpose grew and grew until the first great city, Mondadruil, the Wooden City, was built to house the numbers. And Man and Woman, whose true names are lost to the echoing depths of time, watched their land transform as they wished it. And they created animals that walk, fly and swim to share the Land, for Blessed Truth had forbade them to create creatures such as their own kind, but these creatures were not the same. And the descendants of Man and Woman marvelled at these creatures.
Many years passed since the Land had been transformed, and Man and Woman were both of such an age that their skin hung loosely from their bones and their hair was white. And in these winter years of their lives, a black-cowled old man who spoke of things that could be visited them.
“You have created a Land rich in love and splendour,” said the old man to Man and Woman, “but so much more could you do to make this place a wonder even beyond the Veil. You work wood and earth, but what of the stone and rocks that exist in the high mountains? Transform Mondadruil, cast up a great tower in the name of Blessed Truth, and though you die and pass into the Realm of Paradise beyond the Veil, your mark will be made as stone will last until the end of all.”
And, weakened by the years, Man and Woman heard the words of the black-cowled man and rejoiced; for their lives would soon be over and they would not be remembered once they had passed beyond the Veil. “But we have no knowledge of working with stone, and not the strength,” Man and Woman said. “The trees are all we know.”
And the black-cowled man, hearing the words and choosing his own carefully, said, “Why, you have the Book of Making, so can you not simply will those with hardy natures and the skill to work the stone into being?”
Man and Woman were aghast at this thought. “And break the rules that Blessed Truth placed upon us with the Book of Making? Such a thing is not at all possible, and shame on you, a being with purpose, who would suggest such a thing.”
And the black-cowled man threw back his hood, and Man and Woman gazed into the eyes of shining silver, and terror took them, and they passed beyond the Veil.
Evil Deceit cast aside the form of the old man and greedily grabbed the Book of Making, hoping the power stored within its blessed pages would restore his strength, but upon reading the words a great pain took him and his body withered. One of his eyes of burning silver was burnt from its socket, and he fled the Wooden City of Mondadruil, trapped forever in the form of a withered old man, cursing mankind and retreating to the dark places where his agents of Shadow and Smoke awaited him.

Great was the mourning of the many children of Man and Woman, whose true names are lost to the echoing depths of time, and for many days did they sit in the light of the eye of burning gold begging for the return of their forebears. Their bodies were buried in a vast place, and they called it Toildruil, the City of the First, and the location was kept secret so that Man and Woman could rest in peace, and the whereabouts of the city is lost to us today.
And in the darkness of the world Evil Deceit made his plans, for the Book of Making was not for him to read and yet he coveted it, wishing for the power he once had before spending himself in the formation of the First Land and the slaughter he inflicted. And he saw a new way in which he could control the descendents of the First. For Evil Deceit is the master of lies and conspiracy, so he used his skills well. The stench of Evil Deceit was still on mankind, and all of the children of the First had the capability of cruelty and lies inherited from their forebears, and Evil Deceit knew how to manipulate this to his own ends.
The first son of the First took up the Book of Making and continued the work of his forebears, creating new things that pleased his people. But all the while he created, the voice of Evil Deceit whispered in his mind. Although he thought them only dreams, the will of Evil Deceit was being done.
Until, one day, the first son of the First, whose true name is lost to the echoing depths of time, woke to the feeling that he could do more than continue the work of his forebears, and he gathered his people about him.
“Beloved children of the Land,” he cried. “Let us make our mark upon the face of that which we call home and be sure our legacy lasts until the end of all. Let us rebuild Mondadruil with stone and rock so that our descendants will remember the true greatness of their beginnings.”
The people were confused as to why the first son of the First would wish such a thing. They could not know that Evil Deceit had used his guile and insidious whispers to plant the seed of disobedience in the mind of the first son of the First. The first son believed the idea to be his own, whereas in reality it was the machinations of Evil Deceit.
And the people questioned the first son, saying, “We have no knowledge of the stone and rock of the mountains, only the trees and leaves of the forest. How can we build such a feat?”
And the first son of the First held aloft the Book of Making and said, “With this book we can create those strong enough to mould the stone and rock into that which we desire.”
The people were aghast. How could the first son consider such a thing, against the will of Blessed Truth? They recoiled in shock and anger and some even called for the first son to be cast down from his lofty position and the first daughter to take his place.
But the first son of the First would not be dissuaded from his aim. In secret, he spun the power of the Book of Making into a form that would serve him well, and the Ogres were born unto the world.
The great green-skinned Ogres, standing taller than most men and more powerful than an ox, set about their work. Little by little, they bought down the stone and rock from the mountains and moulded it into shapes, and with these shapes they constructed the great Dronandruil, the Stone City, upon the foundations of Mondadruil, the Wooden City. At first, the people fled the great Ogres as they constructed the city, fearing their might and their power, but as the great city of Dronandruil took shape they saw the beauty that such great hands could craft. The streets were paved, the buildings of many colours glittered in the light of the eye of burning gold, and towers rose high into the air. The Ogres taught the children of the Land the skills that they knew, and together the small children and the great Ogres finished the city.
Dronandruil stood glittering at the base of Car Toil, the mountain where Man and Woman had hidden from the revenge of Evil Deceit, and the people were glad. A great tower was built to honour Blessed Truth, the Lord of Honesty who had enlightened the people so, and it reached the cloudy sky, almost, some say, to the Veil itself, and they named it Ceress Dansuin, or Blessed Building.
And they danced and drank and loved, and the Ogres, their purpose clear, built more places for the people to live with no thought for their own comfort, and the Land rang with song and joy.
And then Blessed Truth returned.

Blessed Truth, through the spirits of Man and Woman who had crossed the Veil into the Realm of Paradise after they had passed from the Land, had learned of Evil Deceits advice to them regarding the Book of Making. Concerned for the welfare of the Land, Blessed Truth passed through the Veil and alighted upon the world.
Great Dronandruil glittered in the light of the eye of burning gold, and the tower of Ceress Dansuin stretched high into the air, and ribbons and pennants swung lazily in the breath of Blessed Truth. And at first Blessed Truth marvelled at the sight, and wondered how the people could have learned the skills of moulding stone and rock, but then spied the Ogres working on new glorious places. And Blessed Truth understood. And Blessed Truth sucked in the air of the Land and bellowed in fury.
The skies boiled and the clouds became as thick as mud. The rain lashed the Land and the sky lit up with flashes of lightning and roared with angry thunder. The children of the Land and the Ogres cast themselves down and wailed in fear as Blessed Truth vented anger upon all of creation. And the great city of Dronandruil trembled, and the foundations cracked and the buildings shook apart, and the tall tower of Ceress Dansuin was cast down into ruin. And when spent, Blessed Truth fell to the ground exhausted.
The children of the Land and the Ogres gathered about the form of Blessed Truth in reverent silence, terrified at the results of their folly. The first son of the First approached, the Book of Making in his hands, and laid down beside Blessed Truth.
“Forgive us, Lord of Honesty, for we have failed you,” he wept.
“You have failed me,” Blessed Truth said. “You have done that which I had forbid, for it is not the right of mortal man to create life which they intend to control. This land is beautiful, but it has been marred by deceit and ignorance. Life with purpose is a wonderful thing, but you create it with the Book of Making as if it is nought but a fancy, a whim of creation. You do not understand how delicate life is, and you cannot know of its fragility. Tell me, what purpose do the Ogres have?”
“To mould stone and rock,” the first son said.
“And that is all the purpose they have. You have turned life into a tool to be used to attain your own desires, much like the designs of Evil Deceit when this Land was first created. Beyond the Veil we have knowledge of such things and we have seen what happens when life is treated as a plaything. We will not allow mortal man to have such power.”
And Blessed Truth stretched out a hand to take the Book of Making from mortal man.

Evil Deceit was aghast. What fortune had come to be? Blessed Truth lay broken and near powerless on the Land, and the eye of burning gold was smothered by the thick boiling clouds. He would never have a better chance to strike!
As Blessed Truth stretched out a hand to take the Book of Making, the skies came alive with the great winged daemons of Shadow and Smoke. Evil Deceit sent them forth and the children of the Land fled in terror. Evil Deceit stepped from the darkness and the smoke, and as Blessed Truth stood to confront the Lord of Lies, the first son recoiled with the Book of Making still in his hands.
“For time immeasurable have I longed for this,” Evil Deceit chuckled, the ground about his feet growing black with his presence, the greenery of the Land wilting and dying wherever he trod. “Long ago you came to this Land, Blessed Truth, and you took from me that which I had created.”
“You created life for your own amusement, Evil Deceit,” Blessed Truth said. “You corrupted that which is sacred to all those whose hearts beat with purpose. I followed the only course that would save the children of the Land.”
“And see how they repay you, oh great Lord of Honesty,” Evil Deceit sneered. “That which you saved has turned against you.”
“Only because the stain of Evil Deceit still marks their spirit,” Blessed Truth countered. “I would see them free of it.”
“And I would see them bow to me,” the Lord of Lies hissed. “See how the sky grows black! The eye of burning gold diminishes. If you will watch them laugh in the light, then I will watch them scream in the dark!”
And Evil Deceit tore his one good eye from his face and cast it into the sky, and the eye of shining silver hung there gazing down on all creation as the sky was dark. And Blessed Truth, aghast, tore out his other eye and cast it into the sky, where they hung in the sky to gaze upon all creation as the sky was light. Then they locked their hands around each others throats and blindly struggled upon the Land. They ascended into the sky where they joined their eyes, and the neverending struggle between light and darkness was begun.
Blessed Truth and Evil Deceit struggle still, with the eye of burning gold travelling the sky through the day and the eye of shining silver marching by night. And as the struggle continues the eye of shining silver, the moon, comes and goes, and the eye of burning gold, the sun, rises and falls. And when the moon waxes and wanes then this means the power of Evil Deceit is victorious and beaten, and when the sun warms the Last Island in summer but grows cold in winter then Blessed Truth is victorious and then beaten.
And they still speak to us, when you listen hard enough, for their cries can be heard in the thunder and the wind and the crashing of the seas.

Mankind retreated into the walls of Dronandruil, terrified of what they had done and witnessed, and the first son, whose true name is lost to the echoing depths of time, hid himself away. In the highest tower of Dronandruil the first son withered and died, and it is said his spirit was drained by the Book of Making, which punished his sins for its creator Blessed Truth.
And the first son of the first son, whose hair was black and whose face was bright, and who was called Gethren, took the book from the withered hands of his father and proclaimed, “These pages would be the doom of mankind.” And he hid the Book of Making away in the deepest vaults of the city of stone.
And mankind rebuilt the city, and rose the tower high once more so that they could be closer to their Lord of Honesty whose two eyes of burning gold glittered in the day, and they wept for many a year for their transgressions. But soon the fault disappeared into history, and mankind looked once again to the future.
Whilst the city was being rebuilt the agents of Evil Deceit, the Betheresti, hid in their dark places and brewed their anger against Blessed Truth who had stolen their master. And they plotted and schemed, knowing they would one day have revenge on that most hated of enemies. At first they planned the downfall of mankind but they had no army. Only twelve of the Betheresti remained and although they were blessed with long life they knew they could not defeat their enemies. They decided on a course of action that would take many an age but would bring about a revenge darker than the blackness of their hearts.
As man and Ogre toiled in Dronandruil in the day under the two eyes of burning gold, the agents of Evil Deceit stalked the night under the eye of shining silver, for the suns caused them great pain. And from the city they stole two of the children of the Land, a man and a woman. They were called Brunen and Hethel, and they would become the father and mother of a race hated by all things.
Using dark magics left to them by Evil Deceit the twelve Betheresti twisted and reformed Brunen and Hethel until there was nothing left of the heart that Blessed Truth had given them. Their bodies became twisted and gnarled, their skin turned grey, their teeth cracked and rotted and their eyes turned black and yellow with no hint of love or compassion. Hairless and without spirit, they began the first race of evil, the orcs, some of which walk the Last Island still. The numbers grew with the aim of a grand army the Betheresti could send against mankind to exact their revenge. But all the while they had their eyes set on something greater.
The Betheresti still sent offerings to their Lord of Lies and, although locked in eternal battle with Blessed Truth, Evil Deceit heard their pleas and helped as he could. Only when the eye of shining silver was full and his power at its greatest could Evil Deceit talk to the Betheresti in their dreams, and he told them what they must do.
“The power of the Lord of Honesty is in his eyes of burning gold,” he whispered. “Take them from the sky and his power will diminish and I will be the victor of this eternal battle. Then together we will rule mankind on this, my creation.”
And the agents of Evil Deceit heard their master’s wishes and they planned and plotted and schemed. There was only one place where they could reach the eyes of burning gold and that was at the top of the highest place in the Land, that of Ceress Dansuin, called Ceress Dansuin Etol now it was raised once again for the honour of Blessed Truth. So the aims of the Betheresti were twofold; war against the children of the Land, and climb to the top of Ceress Dansuin Etol and steal the eyes of burning gold.
The leader of the Betheresti was the favourite of Evil Deceit and he named himself Ynoc, and it would be he who would have the honour of taking the eyes.

Mankind rebuilt their city of stone and raised the tower of Ceress Dansuin, now Ceress Dansuin Etol, into the sky, higher than any mountain peak, even higher than Car Toil, the First Mountain and its sister Car Etol, the Second Mountain. To appease their Lord of Honesty the children of the Land carved upon its face shapes denoting the many creatures of the world they had created, so great birds and hounds and wolves and other beasts decorated its shining white stone. Once it was finished the people waited for a sign from Blessed Truth, but none was coming.
Gethren, saddened by the silence of the Lord of Honesty, retreated to the top of the tower and spent ten days and ten nights and took neither food nor water waiting for a word from his Lord. On the night of the eleventh day he fell into a stupor and, as his eyes closed, a voice whispered in his head.
“Have you not learned from the mistakes of your forebears, little Gethren?” the voice whispered. “Great tributes will not please Blessed Truth, and no amount of piety will forgive you for your wrongdoing. The Book of Making is yours, now, and one who is locked in eternal battle cannot decide the future of the Land. Look to your own heart and create that which will please you and your kind.”
And Gethren came awake suddenly, filled with a new resolve and an image in his heart. He would use the Book of Making to create a new race, one that would be suited to the Land beyond anything imagined by Blessed Truth.
But Gethren could not know that it was Evil Deceit who had whispered to him in his dreams, for that which sounds sweet to one is bitter to another.
Gethren opened the pages of the Book of Making and as he felt the power rising in his body he stretched forth his hand and wrote within the pages his heart’s desire, willing it into being. The creation was a great winged beast with a breath of fire and eyes of diamond. The first dragon walked the Land.
The children of the Land were at once terrified and awestruck. Such a beautiful creature and yet, with its towering form and horn-studded head, as horrifying as anything they had ever seen in their nightmares. The dragon looked upon the people and smiled a smile that caused women to swoon and men to hold their hands to their eyes for fear of being bewitched.
“Gethren, Lord of the Book,” the beast rumbled, the voice shaking the very earth. “Blessed art thou who hast made my form. What is thy wish, and I shall grant it for thee.”
Gethren, swelling with pride at his creation, stroked the nose of the dragon affectionately. “Beast, whose kind shall be called dragon, you are to be my steed so that I can gaze upon this Land from the clouds and make judgements upon its future.”
“I shall do this, Lord, and I shall do it willingly,” the dragon said. And the dragon came to be known as Ceress Wyrmyrtoil, the Blessed First Dragon.
Gethren climbed up between the great shoulders of Wyrmyrtoil and, with one great sweep of his wings, the dragon launched himself into the air and Gethren was able to see the domain he ruled. And with passion he held the Book of Making aloft and proclaimed himself and his descendents following to be the Kings of the Land.
Evil Deceit had placed in the heart of the first of the Great Kings the desire for power, and it would be a disease that would never leave the hearts of many of the children of the Land.

Now Gethren had a wife, Gwyniol, and she despaired at her husband’s actions as he rode away on the back of his creation. Already she could hear the whispers in the halls of her house and the streets of the city of Dronandruil as the people wondered what they could do with the Book of Making. Wild ideas, some wonderful and some disturbing, were cast about with abandon, and in the eyes of some Gwyniol saw jealousy of the first of the Great Kings. All she could see was toil and hardship as these stares were filled with pride and wonder, and she felt fear at the prospect.
One hot day she lay resting on her bed wondering at the future of the Land, and in her head she heard a soft pleasant whisper.
“Gwyniol, wife of Gethren, your heart is heavy and your spirit troubled. Your husband has done a terrible thing and ignored the lessons taught to him by his forebears. The Book of Making is not for the vanity of one but for the good of the Land, and Gethren has lost sight of this. The stain of Evil Deceit is strong in his heart. He does not hear me in his dreams for his fervour ignores all warning. You must destroy the Book of Making.”
As Gwyniol awoke she knew her course. The Land must be rid of the Book of Making.
But how could she accomplish such an impossible task? The Book of Making was the cherished possession of her husband and he carried it with him wherever he went. Even in sleep he held the Book to him as he would his own child. She knew that when he was forced to abandon it for even a little while he left it in the care of Ceress Wyrmyrtoil, and the dragon guarded it with a ferocity that thwarted even passing thoughts of theft.
But determination steeled her and she thought long and hard how to be rid of the Book of Making. She could not act against her husband directly whilst he held the Book for she loved him dearly and would not see him harmed or betrayed, for she did not think she could live knowing that he saw her as a traitor. She came to the unhappy conclusion that she would have to move against the dragon whilst the Book was with him. The mere thought of facing the beast almost caused her to abandon the plans immediately.
As more creatures appeared across the Land at the behest of King Gethren, and more whispers spread through the city of Dronandruil like fire through dry hay, Gwyniol decided on her cause of action. Battling the great beast was impossible so she gathered her most trusted servants and aids and, unknown the them, formulated a plan to create a draught powerful enough to send the beast to sleep, enabling her to take the Book of Making without the need for bloodshed.
Through her servants and aids she learned of many potions and tonics that she secretly collected. The dragon dwelled within a deep cavern under the King’s palace, the Druil-Tunree, the City Heart, and she knew he drank from a small stream that ran through it. She would have to hide in the cavern and wait until the dragon drank from the stream, and as he did so she would pour the potion into the water. Once asleep, she could take the Book of Making and destroy it.
One night, whilst her husband met with the Lords of the lands in deep discussion over what next could be created by the Book of Making, Gwyniol crept into the deep cavern where the dragon rested. She hid herself away in the darkness near the opening of the stream and awaited the return of Ceress Wyrmyrtoil, with a huge wineskin filled with the draught she had created. After a long while the dragon crawled into the dark place, lit only by a single shaft of light from the roof of the cavern, and wrapped himself around the Book of Making. As he stretched his neck to drink from the running stream Gwyniol poured the contents of the wineskin into the torrent and watched the dark liquid mix with the clear water. The dragon drank much and, after many great swallows, he returned to his vigil, the Book nestled between his huge claws and his gargantuan mouth. His eyes were alert and blazed at every sound but before long he was soundly asleep. Gwyniol crept from her hiding place and approached the beast, hurrying as fast as she could for she had no idea how long the potion would keep such a gigantic beast in slumber.
She was horrified to see that the dragon had drank so much of the potion that he was as a thing dead, the huge form slumped over the Book. The Book itself had slipped partially inside the huge mouth and she was hard pressed to pull it free. After much struggling she finally managed to take it away from the dragon, but, in her fervour to do so, a page was torn away on one of the dragon’s teeth. Before she could take the lost page out she heard footsteps echoing from the mouth of the cavern. Her husband had returned for the Book.
Quickly, she hid herself away once again in the darkness and watched as King Gethren approached the dragon.
Upon seeing that Ceress Wyrmyrtoil slept and with no sign of the Book Gethren went into a rage. He pounded the nose of the beast fiercely, calling for his attention, and it was a while before one of the glittering eyes finally opened. Slowly, and with a seemingly great effort, the dragon lifted his head.
“What wouldst thou have of me, my King?” Ceress Wyrmyrtoil rumbled.
“Where is the Book, sleeping beast?” King Gethren cried.
The dragon looked about him. “I know not, my King,” he said with much concern.
King Gethren pointed at the dragon’s mouth. “A page is caught in your teeth! And your lips are wet from drinking of the stream? Could you have… could you have swallowed the Book?”
Ceress Wyrmyrtoil’s eyes raged. “I could not!”
“You have!” King Gethren pulled the page from the tooth and and stared at it with fury, his face contorting with rage. “You mean to take the power of the Book from me by making it of you!”

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

"Tales From the Loop" TV series coming to Amazon

I just had to share this press release from Free League Publishing. Tales from the Loop is one of my top RPGs and to find out that it's going to come to life is simply amazing.

"Tales From the Loop" TV series based on the art of Simon Stålenhag coming to Amazon

Free League Publishing - Jul 18, 2018 12:05 BST

The retrofutristic art book and tabletop RPG ”Tales from the loop” will become a TV series. Amazon Studios is developing the show, which is based on the internationally acclaimed artist and author Simon Stålenhag's art. Stålenhag's paintings blend elements of futuristic science fiction with images of rural life in Sweden. Free League Publishing is the publisher of the art book and of the award-winning “Tales from the Loop” tabletop RPG, based on Simon Stålenhag's universe.

“Simon Stålenhag's paintings are renowned for their vision of a not-too-distant, futuristic landscape. We are looking forward to bringing that to life and sharing it with our Prime Video audience,” said Albert Cheng, co-head of television at Amazon Studios.

The retrofutristic “Tales From the Loop” explores the town of people who live above "The Loop," a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe, making things possible that were previously relegated to science fiction. In the fantastical, mysterious town, poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences while drawing on the intrigue of storytelling.

Amazon's eight-episode drama is based on Simon Stålenhag's art is a co-production between Fox 21 TV Studios and Amazon Studios. The series will debut globally on Amazon in more than 200 countries and territories. Legion's Nathaniel Halpern will serve as showrunner and executive producer. Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go) will direct the pilot and exec produce alongside Halpern. Matt Reeves (Netflix's space drama Away, Felicity) will exec produce via his Sixth & Idaho banner alongside Adam Kassan and Rafi Crohn, who is working with Reeves on Fox drama The Passage, also will exec produce.

Swedish production and management company Indio, founded by Mattias Montero and Johan Lindström, also will exec produce the project, which is its first U.S. foray. The company's Samantha Taylor Pickett also exec produces.

Quotes about Tales from the Loop

“Incredible paintings of sci-fi suburbia will make you wish you were Swedish” ~ THE VERGE (art book)

“RPG Tales from the Loop lets you channel Stranger Things and ET” ~THE VERGE (tabletop RPG)

“Tales From The Loop could very well be the RPG phenomenon of 2017.” ~Geek & Sundry (tabletop RPG)


[The Tabletop RPG was Awarded five Gold ENnies - among them Best Game and Product of the Year 2017 ]

In 1954, the Swedish government ordered the construction of the world’s largest particle accelerator. The facility was complete in 1969, located deep below the pastoral countryside of Mälaröarna. The local population called this marvel of technology The Loop.

Step into the amazing world of the Loop, encounter the mysteries that evolve around strange machines and weird creatures that have come to haunt the countryside after the Loop was built. Escape your everyday problems and be part of something meaningful and magical – but also dangerous.

Acclaimed scifi artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of Swedish 1980s suburbia, populated by fantastic machines and strange beasts, have spread like wildfire worldwide. Stålenhag’s portrayal of a childhood against a backdrop of old Volvo cars and coveralls, combined with strange and mystical machines, creates a unique atmosphere that is both instantly recognizable and utterly alien.


The acclaimed artist, concept designer and author of Tales from the Loop (2014) and Things from the Flood (2016) published by Free League. Simon Stålenhag (b. 1984) is best known for his highly imaginative images and stories portraying illusive sci-fi phenomena in mundane, hyper-realistic Scandinavian landscapes. Tales from the Loop was ranked by The Guardian as one of the ‘10 Best Dystopias’, in company with works such as Franz Kafka’s The Trial and Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca. Not only have Stålenhag’s unique and cinematic images earned him a worldwide fan base, but have also made him a go-to storyteller, concept artist and illustrator for both the film and computer gaming industry. Simon Stålenhag’s work can be seen in films such as Searching for Sugarman (2012), directed by Malik Bendjeloull, and in games such as Ripple Dot Zero (2013).

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Inspiring art #10 - 'Mos Eisley cantina standoff' by Ralph McQuarrie

To me, Ralph McQuarrie will always be the artist of Star Wars. His unique style and the amazing atmosphere he manages to invoke in his paintings captured the world of Star Wars before Star Wars was even released. In fact, much of his concept art is being used in Star Wars today.

This particular piece is a concept of the cantina in Episode IV: A New Hope. Luke apparently goes for his pistol as an armed figure looms from the shadows. C-3PO and R2-D2 stand in the corner while a stormtrooper, who honestly doesn't seem to give a hoot about what the locals get up to, stands and watches. Aliens of varying types with varying levels of interest sit around, probably used to this kind of thing, and a seeker hovers overhead.

Luke stands in the light while the alien stands in the shadow - whether done on purpose or not it's great symbolism - and two worlds are reflected in the painting. When we were running Star Wars RPG games in the 1980s and 90s we predominantly played in the underworld of the galaxy and I always used this painting as a jumping-off point to get me in the mood. I based more than one adventure off of the image.

I find it a wonderful, evocative image that really captures what I loved about running RPGs in one of my favourite settings.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspiring art #9 - 'Game of Thrones Map' by Francesca Baerald

Francesca Baerald has done some amazing work for some big publishers but it's her maps that really caught my attention, specifically her 'Game of Thrones' map.

Game of Thrones Map

I love old maps and the design and layout of this one really struck a chord with me. I've only ever read the first three books, up until the Red Wedding, and I'd recently watched the TV show as well as read the Guardians of Order RPG, so I was pretty high on all things Westeros. As I was trying to visualise the whole world, this map appeared.

I find this the most amazing map of one of my favourite settings ever; the detail of not only the landmasses but also the surroundings give it such depth and atmosphere I feel like taking a boat and a compass and sailing to the Seven Kingdoms right now. This is exactly the sort of illustration that not only honours the source material but also has my creative synapses firing off all at the same time.

I interviewed Francesca back in November of last year.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Inspiring art #8 - '2001: A Space Odyssey' Album Cover by Robert McCall

I do like the movie - I'm not in love with it but it is an incredibly visually stimulating movie - and the soundtrack is excellent. However, one of the reasons I got hold of the album was the cover art by Robert McCall.

McCall is an amazing artist that has done work for all kinds of things. His NASA work is amazing and he also worked on images for another favourite sci-fi film of mine, 'The Black Hole'.

I love this work because there's a lot of energy in it, with the shuttle blasting from the space station, and the station itself seems under construction with plenty of work that needs to be done. What do they still have to finish? What machines do they use in it's construction? I used to ask myself all kinds of questions like these whilst staring at this image. And in the background is the movie's next destination, the moon.

It's a great painting and it's the perfect cover for the album.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Inspiring art #7 - 'Castle on a Rock' by Karl Friedrich Lessing

When I was running lots of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games in the 1990s I needed visuals beyond what the books were giving me. As good as the game's illustrations were, I wanted to give a new visual style to the game, and I found that in the work of Karl Friedrich Lessing.

Lessing did a lot of landscapes but my favourites were the ones in which he included castles and other buildings, and his 'Castle on a Rock' is excellent. His lighting and overall mood is somewhat mystical and the landscape is wonderful. This whole place tells a story; I interpreted it for a game where the PCs had to reach the castle via boat (as in the picture) and the castle was abandoned and had been built to keep incredibly dangerous people imprisoned.

If you put Karl Friedrich Lessing into Google Images you'll get lots of amazing pictures. There are some really inspirational paintings that will get your imagination going and you'll be able to give each location a story you can use in your game.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Inspiring art #6 - 'Middle-earth Roleplaying' by Angus McBride

One of my favourite historical illustrators is Angus McBride, and his work spanning all areas and eras of history and the realms of fantasy dominated my shelves. When MERP hit stores I was still trying to get a visual cue and it was McBride's work that really gave the realms of Middle-earth life for me.

Image result for angus mcbride

His painting for the cover of Middle-earth Roleplaying was a feast for the eyes and really encapsulated the story of The Lord of the Rings for me. I think my favourite part of the piece is the look on Sam's face; while everyone else is looking to the journey, Legolas and Gimli look back at something that may be a threat; after all, Gimli has his axe at the ready. Sam's face is concerned and bewildered, which is fitting.

The feel of the painting, with it's epic overtones coupled with a sense of reality (Aragorn there on the right is ready for travel instead of just standing proud with little to show for his ranger ways), is excellent and managed to get my imagination burning. It will always be one of my favourite Middle-earth illustrations, even though the rest of his Tolkien-inspired work was stunning.