Taking up where the last session report left off.

Session characters:

Sir Percival Jones, 54577B, Age 30, Scout (3 terms, mustered out), Pilot 1, JOT 1, ATV 1, Vacc Suit 1 Elect 3. He’s cash poor, but, a lucky chap who’s survived 12 years as a scout and the service appreciates it by loaning him a ship. He’s playing Galahad on for a mother (Astrid Anderson) and child (Frelser Anderson) on the run from the Psionic Institute authorities.

Mirin Beg, 354848, Age 50, Other (8 terms, retired), Brawling 2, Gambling 2, Cutlass 3, Mechanical 2, Bribery 1. He’s got a shady background but, he gets things done. Last job he had was with Mainstar Mining Company. Now, though, he’d like to take his retirement and find a nice quite planet to relax on.

Hugo Abe, 647897, Age 26, Other (2 terms mustered out), Auto Rifle 1, Cudgel 1, Forgery 1. Something of a thug, he’s looking to make himself scarce from local organized crime groups; perhaps start a new life on the off-world colonies. Turns out he’s been bonding with Frelser and helping him during his seizures during jumps.

While Hugo and Mirin plot their assault on the villa, Percival begins work on building a psionic ability detector with the ultimate goal of building a psionic shielding device. As he’s doing this, Astrid stops by to pay him their agreed upon fee as she’s elected to join a wagon train as a cook and plans to lose herself and Frelser in the wilds of Sytorgus far away from Imperial agents.

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I was wondering if perhaps I had overstated my case in claiming that most people wrongly assume that D&D sprang from Tolkien’s approach to fantasy… but no, it really is par for the course:

Let’s review, shall we…?

  1. The OD&D three-point alignment system, the AD&D Paladin class, and regenerating trolls were all lifted wholesale from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions. Additionally, the book explains the broader context behind why a Keep on the Borderlands would be a particularly significant location for fantasy role-playing adventure.
  2. The idea that players would naturally advance to the point where they could stand up against gods and demons in battle derives from Michael Moorcock’s The Stealer of Souls.
  3. The thief class is an amalgam of Fritz Leiber’s Grey Mouser, Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever, and Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows. The latter is why thieves have a “hide in shadows” ability rather than a generic (and mundane) stealth skill; it’s also why thieves are unaccountably good at climbing. All of these characters are why thieves and rogues in early fantasy role-playing games have far more magical ability than what most people would tend to given them these days.
  4. Most everyone knows that the D&D magic system is pulled from Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth. Fewer know that the concept for reversing spells is taken directly from The Eyes of the Overlord.
  5. The inspiration for the AD&D planar cosmology is from de Camp and Pratt’s The Fallible Fiend, though Moorcock also contributed to this aspect of the game.
  6. The AD&D system of spell components is taken from de Camp and Pratt’s Harold Shea stories. Also, the setting for module G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is pulled verbatim from de Camp and Pratt’s The Roaring Trumpet, as are dragons that breath clouds of chlorine gas.
  7. The nucleus of the AD&D psionics system comes from Sterling Lanier’s Heiro’s Journey. (The green slime monster is also plundered from this novel in addition to large swaths of Gamma World.)
  8. The template for the Gygaxian mega-dungeon is pulled from Margaret St. Clair’s The Sign of the Labrys.
  9. The idea that it would make sense to simply plunder every mythos from every culture in the world is a touchstone of early D&D. You will also find this approach to fantasy in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword.
  10. The “fighting man” class of OD&D is based on John Carter of Mars and Barsoom puts in an appearance in the OD&D wilderness encounter tables. The “White Ape” from the Moldvay Basic Set is another clue regarding the primacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs in classic fantasy games.

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Samuel E. Green and Michael-Scott Earle summon Space Knight, a genre-blending adventure mixing space opera, high fantasy, and litRPG elements.

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A world where science and magic co-exist

Mankind has mastered space travel and set out to colonize other planets. The Kingdoms formed, and war came as each side sought to command the universe.

Then the portals opened and the monsters came.

No one knows why the Grendels attacked, but mankind’s scientific weapons were not prepared for the creatures’ powers. Billions of lives were lost before humans tamed the Grendels’ magic.

Weapons, armor, and relics were created using distilled Arcane Dust, and a select few warriors were given powerful runes so that they could wield the magical equipment.

These men and women are called Space Knights, and they alone stand between the Grendels and the extinction of humanity.

One man’s quest to become a Knight

Many years have passed since the first Grendel portal opened. Now, warriors of all stripes fight for their kingdoms and clear portals for loot, prestige, and Arcane Dust.

Squire Nicholas Lyons is one such warrior. Joined by a ragtag crew of knights, soldiers, and enchanters, he seeks to serve his queen by slaying Grendels. But when his final mission as an Academy cadet goes horribly wrong, Nicholas discovers he possesses illegal magical abilities that grant him power far beyond that of a normal man, knight, or mage.

When a clandestine assignment lands Nicholas on the worst starship in the kingdom’s fleet, he finds a motley crew of warriors hiding their own terrible secret. Death and betrayal lurk around every corner, and Nicholas finds himself torn between his loyalties to his new crew, or the oath he swore to his queen.

And death no matter which choice he makes.

The burglar fumbled in his pocket, and Dunne leaned forward sharply, the gun jutting out. It was only the jewelry. It glowed on the man’s big palm and Dunne whistled softly. 

“You damned fool,” he whispered. “You utter damned fool. That’s moonglow jewel jade! Worth a fortune. Good lord, it’s priceless! That bit there shaped like a bat….” 

He caught it up, and the burglar scrambled abjectly to his feet, round eyes bulging while Dunne examined the intricate carving of the precious stuff. The bat was really superb workmanship. 

“Geez, chief,” the burglar gasped. “You gotta take it now. No fence would touch stuff like that.”

*****

Norvell W. Page is best known for writing the adventures of the pulp hero The Spider, one of the more successful hero pulps to follow in The Shadow’s wake. But when he wasn’t writing for the hero pulps and comics, to include The Shadow and The Phantom, he indulged in the growing field of weird menace, a sensationalized form of the detective story that mixed a generous heaping of over-the-top violence, a dash of dread, a sprinkle of the spicy, and a bit of that black magic into the conventional detective recipe.

His “When the Death-Bat Flies” is a six chapter novelette that mines one of the most common veins of 1930s occult menace, the mysteries of chinoiserie. Reflecting the West’s growing fascination with all things Asia–East, West, and South, the lands of China, Japan, India, and Persia were ready sources of exotic mysteries for writers to spin into their stories. But where in the 1910s, this would have led to unadulterated Yellow Peril racism in the mold of Fu Machu (who still acted more honorable than his Western nemesis), exposure to such tales as Charlie Chan had changed the hero pulps. While men from the East would still be villains, they would also be sidekicks, teachers, and heroes in their own right. And in “When the Death-Bat Flies”, Norvell Page brought this sensibility into his weird menace.

On to the story… Read More

Monsters! Monsters! is a fascinating game. Keep in mind that the publication of role-playing games had only begun two years before. This was followed up with the 1975 release of “the poor man’s alternative to D&D”, Tunnels & Trolls. Monsters! Monsters! was released during America’s bicentennial and notice TSR’s response the next year. They produced the a “Basic Set” version of the D&D game and a game supplement dedicated entirely to monsters: The AD&D Monster Manual.

The fact is, TSR was hustling to catch up to the Phoenix gaming scene, because Tunnels & Trolls was arguably first on both counts. The “Number Two” fantasy role-playing game simply didn’t need a basic version. Heck, it was designed from the ground up as an answer to the “excessive complexity” of its chief competitor.

Of course, the simplicity of the game can be a little unnerving. The first edition of the game did not even include any example monsters, just a system for rating them and then running them based off of a single stat: their monster rating. The fourth edition of Tunnels & Trolls addressed that by included a chart of sample monsters with their ratings broken out by level. And though the famed Peters & Mcallister chart opened the way for players to create the now-traditional demi-human player characters of dwarf, elf, leprechaun, faerie, and hobbit extraction, monster fans were left with a few sketchy suggestions on how to scale up man-sized weapons for monster use and also allow your monsters to level up just like the player characters.

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Chris Fox begins a new series, The Magitech Chronicles.

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Enslaved and Forced to Fight Dragons

Aran awakens in chains with no memory. He’s conscripted into the Confederate Marines as a Tech Mage, given a spellrifle, then hurled into the war with the draconic Krox and their Void Wyrm masters.

Desperate to escape, Aran struggles to master his abilities, while surviving the Krox onslaught. Fighting alongside him are a Major who will do anything to win, a Captain who will stop at nothing to see him dead, and a woman who’s past is as blank as his own.

Caught between survival and loyalty Aran must choose. If he flees he will live, but the Krox will burn the galaxy. Stopping them requires a price Aran may be unable to pay:

Learning to trust the very people who enslaved him.

Independent authors would do well to take a page from Darkest of Dreams, a collection of short stories written by four different authors.  The prospect of writing a 100,000 word novel, which provides around 300 pages of entertainment, requires a serious time commitment.  To say nothing of the costs associated with investing in editing, proofreading, and cover design.  Pooling resources with three other authors allows burgeoning writers to take the craft for a test spin.  It allows experienced authors to take even greater risks with their craft.  Instead of experimenting with unusual story structure or points-of-view or prose styles for weeks on end with nothing to show for the effort, an author can spin out a few short yarns and package them with other authors to see how the market reacts.

Collections like this also provide a service for the reader.  If the avante-garde nouveau-bohemian lit-crit experiment fails, the reader has only invested a few minutes in the attempt, and not all of his costs are sunk.  Three more authors remain in the package, at least one of which is likely to provide some entertainment value.   So it is with this collection, which appears on its face to be a horror collection, but which includes a few stories that owe more to fantasy or science-fiction than the blood-soaked monster horror suggested by the cover.

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Russell Newquist begins his Prodigal Son urban fantasy series with War Demons.

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When he came home, so did they…

Driven by vengeance, Michael Alexander enlisted in the Army the day after 9/11. Five years later, disillusioned and broken by the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan, Michael returns home to Georgia seeking to begin a new life. But he didn’t come alone. Something evil followed him, and it’s leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

The police are powerless. The Army has written Michael off. Left to face down a malevolent creature first encountered in the mountains of Afghanistan, he’ll rely on his training, a homeless prophet, and estranged family members from a love lost…

But none of them expected the dragon.

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden collides with Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International in this supernatural thriller that goes straight to Hell!

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Reader Praise for War Demons:

“I genuinely enjoyed this story. Action went fast and was almost continuous, very little downtime. The main character struggles with PTSD and this comes through in a very genuine way. He’s never presented as reckless or monstrous for it, and it’s handled with compassion and a solid grasp of the condition. This is a story of good versus evil, which I enjoyed; I’m not about shades of gray and moral relativism. There is clear right and wrong here.”

“The novel begins as a tale of supernatural horror, and a sense of deepening dread and menace build up. Yet, it is also a heroic tale: a story about valor, faith and redemption in the face of overwhelming evil. This book combines horror, heroism and action in fashion not to be seen in other modern paranormal tales.”

“This was an incredibly fast read. The author slams the action pedal to the floor and duct tapes it there. Despite the frenetic pacing, the major characters all have a lot of color and life in them.”

Most people lack the capacity to comprehend anything Gary Gygax said about his influences in the development of the Dungeons & Dragons game. The reason for this is that most people’s concept of fantasy goes something like this:

In the beginning, there was The Lord of the Rings. From this great work sprang all that is great and wonderful and awe inspiring about fantasy: trilogies, to be sure. Books with maps in the front of the book. And most importantly, ponderous and sprawling world building that eclipses nearly everything else about a work. And out of Tolkien there came The Sword of Shannara and Lord Foul’s Bane. Then came D&D and Dragonlance and The Forgotten Realms. And all of these things together begat Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

For a good chunk of today’s fantasy fans, this is the only world they’ve ever known. And the world that Gary Gygax came up in…? It’s largely unimaginable to them. And so when Gygax writes about the stuff that defined fantasy for him and inspired his work in the early days of fantasy role-playing games, they can’t process it. He talks about an approach to fantasy that is not founded on Tolkien’s works. And this simply does not compute! If Tolkien defines the fantasy genre… if he is the only conceivable starting point, then everything Gygax says sounds completely bizarre. Whatever facts you provide and whatever context or date they emerged from, the only sensible explanation these sorts of people can come up with is that the architect of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game could only be lying in order to protect himself from lawsuits from the Tolkien estate.

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Beauty.

When did “fun” become a four-letter word? When did “excitement” become something to sneer at? When did pleasing the audience become despised as the font of all evil?

(Don’t answer. I don’t care. That’s not the point.)

Entertainment—now follow me here, because the argument gets a little labyrinthine—entertainment is meant to ENTERTAIN. It’s meant to whisk the audience away to another world in their minds, to take their attention off the very real problems that plague their lives, to give them respite from the burdens of this fallen world. That is a HOLY mission. It is an act of mercy, an act of charity. Like buying a poor kid an ice cream cone, it is an act of kindness that makes someone’s life a little bit better. Only with a book or comic, you can lift the spirits of THOUSANDS.

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Castalia House is pleased to announce that TITHE TO TARTARUS, the sixth volume of John C. Wright’s wonderful Moth & Cobweb dodecology, is now available for purchase.

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Inflicted with amnesia, Yumiko Ume Moth has managed to discover the identity of the lost love whom she cannot remember. And she has learned the truth of her mother’s murder. The party responsible for the absence of the one and the death of the other appears to be the same: the Supreme Council of Anarchists.

Now she hopes to rescue the brilliant young man who may or may not be her fiance while seeking vengeance for her mother, the Grail Queen. But her only allies are a scatter-brained fairy and the Last Crusade, which consists of a young knight and his dog. Nevertheless, the Foxmaiden will not turn from her path, though all the dark forces of Tartarus stand in her way.

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John C. Wright is one of the living grandmasters of science fiction and the author of THE GOLDEN AGE, AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND, and IRON CHAMBER OF MEMORY, to name just three of his exceptional books. He has been nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, and his novel SOMEWHITHER won the 2016 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction Novel at Dragon*Con. The first book in the Moth & Cobweb series, SWAN KNIGHT’S SON, was a finalist for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Young Adult Novel.

 

Science Fiction (Not a Blog) A Sadness — “The Hugo voters knew what they were doing when they gave Pournelle that first Campbell; he went on to have an amazing career, both on his own and in collaboration with other writers, particularly Larry Niven. With INFERNO, LUCIFER’S HAMMER, FOOTFALL, and (especially) MOTE IN GOD’S EYE, the two of them helped transform the field in the 70s. They were among the very first SF writers ever to hit the big bestseller lists, and among the first to get six-figure advances at the time when most writers were still getting four figure advances… something that Jerry was never shy about mentioning. Though he was nominated for a number of Hugo Awards in the years that followed, he never won one… but if that bothered him, he did not show it. ‘Money will get you through times of no Hugos better than Hugos will get you through times of no money,’ he said famously.”

Books (Alexandru Constantin) Barbarian Book Club: August 2017 — “It’s amazing how a fantastic writer like Clavell can pack so much action, excitement, and romance into a single novel compared to 21st-century fantasy writers who write epic multi volume works where nothing worth reading happens for entire books.”

Pulp Revolution (Jon Mollison) Modern Sci-Fi, A House Build on Sand — “Worth noting is how the modern refusal to ground Star Trek in the fertile soil of actual, no-fooling morality characterized by stark contrasts between good and evil has drained the weight and import from the genre. If you refuse to accept the existence of objective good and evil, if the only thing that ever motivates your villains are ‘daddy issues’, if you bridle at the thought of judging people for their vices, then you cannot create compelling storylines that draw people in and inspire them to read more and be better people.”

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