Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zothique

Z is for Zothique, the setting for many of Clark Ashton Smith's stories. And it is pretty fitting, in that while Amber (and the "A" position) deals with the supposed center of reality, Zothique represents very much for the end of the world.

Zothique is the last continent on Earth, set in the far, far future when our world of today is long forgotten. Our skyscrapers have fallen and turned to dust, our cities have burned and the ashes scattered, the names of our nations and leaders stricken from the monuments and those monuments eroded away. It is set in the Last Days, when today, with all of our achievements, has been forgotten.

Zothique did not start the Last Days genre, though. That honor tends to go to William Hope Hodgson and his The Night Land, which posits a dying universe and last redoubt of humanity, protected from the dark monstrous forces without. But Zothique took that concept and added a good does of fin de siecle detachment and decadence.. The world is coming to an end, and we are on earth's last continent, but the inhabitants meet their doom with a general ennui to the entire proceedings. Our world of today is completely forgotten, its lands dunked into the oceans and returned a number of times. It has that existential bleakness that nothing remains of our proud towers, and the hubris of modern man is laid low. But to the inhabitants, it is neither the past nor the future that concern them, but rather the task of surviving the present.
A map of Zothique, from Wikipedia, which then
points out where it differs from Smith's descriptions.

It is also a sword-and-sorcery sort of world in the Hyborea tradition, with a number of tropes that continue on to other works, as if the middle ages technology was sort of the bottom of where a civilization could fall and still be interesting. There is no gunpowder but still swords. There is magic and gods, but these may be the relics of advancements in our future, or forgotten knowledge which has returned now that the stars have finally come right.

These properties seem to have stuck with this particular subgenre - the bleakness, the ennui, and the D&D period thinking. We have Vance's Dying Earth, Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time, and  Gene Wolfe's New Sun series all sharing this bittersweet dying of the light, of the universe winding down, of the Earth's own end.

I haven't seen a lot of Zothique-style games. Gamma World and its post-apocalyptic kin benefit from recognizing the map to some degree (a GW proposal I had involved "The Settle" (Seattle), with its capitol at the Kingdom (Kingdome) which was allied with the Frees of Freemon (Fremont) against the Reds of Redmon (Redmond) and the robots of Bot Hell (Bothell). Dying Earth from Pelgane Press captures the humorous tone of the Cudgel novels well. But probably the best system that captures the feels and flavor of a world where our world is forgotten is Monte Cook's Numenera. Set in a period where, by rights, the earth itself should have been destroyed, its very beaches are made of crushed cities and swarms of nanotech blow on the wind.

Zothique has a circularity to it, that the far future will merge with the far past, providing a desperate unity to the universe. It is from darkness we came, and it is ultimately darkness that we must reach at the End of the Universe.

More later (well, maybe after a break - all this daily blogging stuff has been a challenge).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yarth

Yarth is the planet in which is located Europa, which is the setting for Phil and Kaja Folgio's most excellent thrice-weekly comic, Girl Genius. It is also the name of the setting of several Gardner Fox stories, and one of the five worlds that Gary Gygax proposed as being similar (those being Oerth, Aerth, Uerth, Yarth, and Earth). Other than noting that "Gygaxian Pentad" is both a great name for these Alternate Material Planes and a great name for a rock band, we will concentrate on the Foglion version.

Girl Genius has been on the blogroll to the right for about as long as I've had a blogroll on the right. Originally a print comic book, it has found the perfect niche in the on-line world, and should be a tutorial to all who seek to make their way in those murky Internettian waters. Three times a week, like... um, clockwork, they deliver a page, despite sickness, life challenges, and the very, very rare vacation. And then they gather everything together into collections.

A picture of Yarth. Yeah, there's a map, but
Phil and Kaja have it for sale, so you can
follow the link for a good look at it.
And they have been rewarded, not only in a level of success that precludes the need for a day job, but also for an entire slew of recommendations, nominations and awards (they have had to build a new slew barn out back near the hot tub, just to house them).

Yarth is a world similar to ours in the early 1800's, except with the addition of sparks - individuals with extreme inventive abilities. You might call them mad scientists, but only if your village was immolated by a giant steam aardvark. Europe, I'm sorry, Europa, is dominated by one of the greater sparks, Wulfenbach, who keeps the peace with a huge airship armada that blows up anyone who gets out of line.

Enter Agatha, who, it turns out, is the heir to another of the great spark families - the Heterodynes. And the story over the years has been her discovery of her inheritance and what it means for her and the world at large. She may be the greatest spark in the world, and/or its greatest danger. It is that kind of comic, delivered in one-page bits that make up a greater whole. Go cruise through the site and I am pretty sure you'll find some cool stuff.

Oh, and did I mention they are doing a kickstarter for their most recent collection, turning their pixilated wonders into print? Well, there. I have now mentioned it.

More later,

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for the Unknown

Every map begins with a blank space, to be filled by fact and/or  fallacy. In whatever world you game in, whatever world you write in, whatever world you dream in, you ultimately have a map, and that map begins blank.The map fills in over time, whether from discrete items dropped into it, or general doodles that form into a greater unity. It could be the map of your plot as characters move from scene to scene, or the map of your world, showing the darker forces that move and rumble across its landscape.

You may overlay an existing map wholesale, but even that has its strong and weak spots, its areas that swell in size as a result of its importance, and those that diminish through disuse. Knowing every shop along a particular row is nice, but it is the ones that people actually visit that get more attention, whether the visitors are characters in a book or players in a game. Not all places on your map are created equally.

The map can be a private thing, belonging to you alone, never seeing the light of day directly but influencing how characters move from room to room or town to town. It can be a public thing, created with players and friends, where the borders of the map roll out ahead, being constructed as far as they can see, and no further. Sometimes you have the map planned, and sometimes you only know as far as you can see. Beyond that resides the unknown. You can hazard a guess, based on your present locality, but you don't know until you get there.

Yet when you get down to it, every map presented here starts with a blank space, a void, a place to be filled. X marks the spot. Here there be monsters.

More later,

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Howling Woolf

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep, THrough 18 May, 2014

This one created a mild household disruption. The Lovely Bride declared she would rather spend the partly-raining Sunday afternoon working in the garden, or grinding for more cooking components in GW2, or doing practically anything else than show up for this play. And indeed, it was an impossible ticket to fob off on any of our various friends. It is a fifty year old play. That runs three hours and change. Dealing with a deeply dysfunctional couple and their squabbles. Who yell at each other a lot. Everyone is a horrible person doing horrible things to each other. For three hours. Who could resist?

However, I had just read WAVW for a play-writing class (ever notice that it is such a 21C thing to acronym such things? And to verb out former nouns? BID), I girded my loins for the battle, and with the mom-in-law set out for the Rep. I actually wanted to see the difference between the page and the stage, and figure out why Moby Woolf, the great white whale of Albee's canon, deserves the attention it gets (spoiler: It does).

Here's the short bit for those who never saw the Taylor/Burton version from back in the 60s (which was almost exact to the play). George and Martha invite newcomers Nick and Honey over for drinks after a faculty mixer at a New England college. George is an associate professor who's career stalled out, and Martha his wife who is also the daughter of the School Dean. Hmmm. That's doesn't do it quite right. Martha is a blowsy, drunken harridan who belittles George at every turn. George is a sadistic worm who is gets his own shots in. Nick and Honey are the "nice couple" who just arrived there, but each has their own dark side.

And it is an Albee play, in that they throw these frogs into the pond and then slowly turn up the heat. But the thing is, unlike a lot of Albee plays I have tried to digest over the years, it is all done smoothly and effortlessly, and the characters are always alert, always engaged, always evolving. George and Martha are playing a game of wits at a level that Nick and Honey cannot imagine, and the younger couple, the ambitious Nick in particular, walk into a relationship buzzsaw in the process.

So reading the work, I saw the play as the counterpoint of thrust and parry, feint and attack. On the stage, with the brilliant cast, it becomes much more alive and spontaneous. The actors manage that most difficult of bits of stage magic - making you believe that you are watching in real time, and that everything flows smoothly from one bit to the next. Bits of stage business, mannerisms, even the readings of the line are spur-of-the-moment, taking the play in directions I had not first encountered. Voices drop, accents attempted, lines played for humor. There are smart, deadly people sounding smart and deadly.

Indeed, one thing that was weird about the play was the laughter from the audience. Not nervous laughter, but people actually recognizing and responding to bits they recognized. It was a trifle disconcerting, honestly, because it was such an odd smattering. Everyone would laugh at a line, but some guy in the SE corner or some woman on the north side of the audience would suddenly peal loose with a deep guffaw, which freaked me just a little. People were really engaging here.

I think part of this is the natural reading of the play itself. Lines are walked on, thrown off, and generally treated as real conversations. The end result is the often ponderous text of an Albee play (and yeah, there are long monologues fully intact) as directed by Neil Simon. And part of it is the length - there is time to root around in the histories of these characters, setting up for later action. But it is an interesting effect nonetheless.

The actors, by the way, throw all-in for the three hour haul (with another performance in the evening). Such heavy lifting is the only way this works. Pamela Reid is a marvelous lush as Martha, and I hope she chooses to do more with the company. Long-standing veteran R. Hamilton Wright makes George both sympathetic and an absolute bastard (indeed, it was his presence that tipped the scales to me going). Aaron Blakely has been at the REP before, and you can just see him calculating that he can get the upper hand of George (and he is so very, very wrong). Nick's ultimate humiliation is clear and concise as as deadly as anything Martha does to George. And Honey, played by Amy Hill, is just brilliant. In the text, she seems to serve as an anchor - keeping the players trapped in one location, but she sparkles as the ultimately vapid young swimmer who suddenly and unknowingly finds herself among the sharks.

This is a fine culmination of the Rep season (yes, there is one more, Once, which is over that the Paramount and with a touring company, so I really think of that one as the annual trip to the zoo with you school class - not really having much to do with the Rep save for organization). I should do a summary after that, but for the moment, yeah, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is classic, straight-up, we're going to give you some real solid theatre type of theatre. Go enjoy it.

More later,

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Westeros (just a bit)

True confession time: There are better people than I to talk about Westeros, the setting for George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. There are people talking about the geology and the food and the weather There are wikis and google maps of the place.There are games of all types.  All of these speak of the continental setting of the Game of Thrones better than I ever could. Chiefly because I never finished the first volume.

Heck, I've not even seen the TV show, even though it was streaming on Netflix for a while. My full exposure to this incredibly popular setting consists of seeing other people scream and rend their garments every time something happens or does not happen regarding the series. Whether it is complaints of the timeliness of the most recent volume, season, or episode, or cries of pain regarding the any recent episode (I mean, does ANYONE invite Mr. Martin to weddings anymore?) or merely the wait between volumes, or seasons, or even episodes.

So what's the deal? How did A Game of Thrones gain entrance into my ever-growing collection of unfinished books? I have a lot of them, more than I would let on - books that for various reasons, I would lay aside, never to return. It is in good company - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Europe by Norman Davies, the Posionwood Bible. Against the Day. The Buccaneers. I have Lamentations by Ken Scholes on my Kindle, a perfectly fine book, along the complete works of Mark Twain, but am bogged down in his The Innocents Abroad. These works were not abandoned in the heat of the moment, nor tossed across the room in disgust (there are ones I have done this with, which is a recommendation AGAINST having a Kindle). How did Game fail to engage?

Westeros. This is Westeros, right?
I mean, I LIKE Mr. Martin's work. His Sandkings was brilliant and creepy, and the Wild Cards series, which he edited with Melinda Snodgrass, started strong before descending into a darkness that makes A Game of Thrones look like a Disney production. So it is not the darkness.That's been part of his brand for years, and is backed up by strong writing.

I suppose I could claim that, in my line of work, I read a LOT of this particular type of fantasy, mostly with an eye to towards continuity and content. Worse, I read books by friends in the genre, usually when I am keeping up on a particular Intellectual Property. So traditional fantasy, even dark trad fantasy, is a bit of a push to start with. I will read it and enjoy it, but its really got a couple marks against it.

So with A Game of Thrones, part of it is just the base plot of court politics and feuding families. While I write of kings, I tend to prefer the company of commoners, so this was not my particular pipe of tea. And I am sufficiently well-versed in the traditional tropes of the field that all but the most severe gets a "Ah, I see what you did there" before I press on. But when I got to the "Young girl sold into marriage with a desert barbarian, but tames his savage heart with her feminine wiles" scene, I just closed the book and put it back onto the shelf for another day. It wasn't that it was bad, it was just that I had other things to do.

And I think that's why I don't ask for book reports from friends about my work. If they read it, fine. If they liked it, even better. But so many of my compatriots are engaged in the biz that I don't require it, and in turn they're pretty good with the fact that I am not up on their latest work. Indeed, if one volunteers that they had not finished it, I feel the need to ask where they bailed. At what point did I fail to deliver, or lost them, or worst of all bored them? Which is one reason I don't ask.

So, what about Westeros? I don't know if I will be back. I do not envy its popularity and success and the rows that it causes because it shows that this sort of thing can be done and done well. It makes me smile to see other fantasy and science fiction authors suddenly become rock-star popular, if only because it means there is hope for us all. And if everyone is over looking there, that means there is time for me to sneak off and do a bit more writing.

Well, that's the hope. More later,

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Very Familiar Surroundings

Not everything takes place in a world with a newly-forged map of previously unseen lands. A lot of fantasy worlds have a very familiar feeling to them. Such that, instead of reaching for a boxed campaign set, you can use a map from AAA to figure out where you are.

One great genre that uses this is burgeoning field of Urban Fantasy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. World of Darkness. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Most of the SciFi series knocking around. The world is just like it is outside, but with succubi and werewolves. And actually, it is a little more comforting if you know your garbage cans are being raided by werewolves than by those pesky raccoons.

Similarly, Spy games use the real world, often with unintended results and comparisons. TSR's Top Secret had an adventure, Operation: Lady in Distress, which featured the hijacking of a luxury cruise ship. It used the plans for the same ship type as the Achille Lauro, which was hijacked two years later.

The place seems familiar, put I can't put a name on it.
Superhero games? Well, while the DC universe is filled with its Gothams and Metropolises, Marvel has a lock on New York City, and its various gaming descendants use the semi-real world as well (including my original Project: Marvel Comics campaign, which was based in West Lafayette, Indiana, and later Pittsburgh).

Then there is the Near Future, with the example of Shadowrun, where the power of magic returning to the world would create a Seattle filled with shamans, trolls, cyber-enhanced netrunners, and elves with slugthrowers. In the original, the magic returned to the world in 2011, which was three years ago, which is the danger of putting your future to near to your pub date. The game also described a group of terrorists blowing up the Sears Tower, which sounded a lot more science-fictiony before 9/11.

The Past, of course, is another country, and it is here that Call of Cthulhu thrives. The "core" campaign is set in the 20s, with offshoots in the modern age, the 1890s, and various other times (there has been a lot of products in the more depressing 30s than the ironic, world-is-about-to-crash 20s. I am particularly fond of the 20s, as the adventures are as much history lesson as they are Mythos hunting. As a result, I usually peruse the internet, trying to determine such minutia as how to place a telephone call and when automatic starters started showing up in cars, replacing the old hand crank.

The advantage of all of these campaigns is that there is a wealth of information. The disadvantage is that, well, there is a wealth of information. People actually KNOW how things works in a real world, such that while in a traditional fantasy campaign you might not call the local guard, in an Urban Fantasy campaign you would probably call the cops if there were sudden explosions in the areas (unless, of course, the cops were really WEREWOLVES).

So consider this a broad catagory of possible campaigns, where there are subtle and not-so-subtle changes, and secret layers operating beneath the surface of the world. And that world would be the one outside your window.

More later,

U is for Underdark

I'll be frank, once you get towards the end of the alphabet, things start to thin out dramatically. The tale end provides a few challenges. So officially, while Underdark is really part of a number of greater campaigns, it has enough similarities from world to world to count.
Underdark, not Underdog

The Underdark is pretty much the underground civilizations and connections of your D&D campaign. It first appeared in Doug Niles' Dungeoneers Survival Guide as a general term for this region, and has been adopted by the Realms, but really it goes all the way back to Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, Module D1, which consisted of a string of underground encounters that sketches out the idea of a larger economy and interrelationship of various species. Just because it is not human-dominated doesn't make it any less important.

D1 - Classic Underdark
I helped name the Underdark. Well, kinda. Doug was working on the project and looking for a name for the underground regions. I mentioned in my original campaign, I had the Heaven/Hell dualism of Overheaven and Darkunder (we had shipped the gods over to Krynn but not these names). Doug liked the idea and flipped the words to create Underdark. (which is just as well because there were a series of Darkover novels from Marion Zimmer Bradley).

The Underdark as a setting is pretty uniform, whether it is in
Oerth, the Realms, or the Rock of Bral. Natural features. Rough caverns. Stalactites. This is where the drow and the mind flayer are comfortable, where herds of rothe (miniature musk ox) roam, and fungoid creatures like myconids and various noxious molds hang out. In many ways it is as typical fantasy as any dragon-haunted mountain or orc-populated plain. Its greatest challenge for players is safe locations where one can recover and heal up, as most of the inhabitants are hostile to humanity with only a few that skew towards the neutral-greedy end of the spectrum.

As a result, the Underdark, a dungeon world without all that finished stonework and doors, remains a tool in the GM's kit, capable of being adapted to any campaign at need. And it rates as a campaign of its own.

More later,

Thursday, April 24, 2014

T is for Tyria

Of course I am going to talk about Tyria. It's where my day job is. It could be Tekumel, but I've raved about that world before it was cool. And of course there is Thieves' World. But seriously, Tyria.

I arrived at Tyria the same way many of your did: by playing the first Guild Wars game. I wasn't part of the company when it came out, so I was there in Ascalon when the Searing hit. There were earlier drafts of the world bouncing around, but what you see in the original Guild Wars game is the heart and soul of the Tyrian map. The collector's edition had a little blue map that laid out the area, which always makes me smile.

Tyria, by the way, is name for both the world and a particular region in the world. Back with the original game (now called Guild Wars Prophesies), that really didn't matter, but when we started adding on with Cantha and Elona, it became noticeable. Particularly when we have a timeline that said that humans arrived in Tyria (the continent) a few hundred years AFTER they had established a kingdom in Cantha (which is in Tyria, the world). So yeah, it is both the world and this chunk of the world, and can pick it up by context. It might confuse a bit, but only slightly less than, say, oh, Azeroth, which has been a kingdom, a continent, and world. (Protip: when you say "Azeroth, Azeroth, Azeroth" in-game, Michael Keaton appears and pwns your characters :) ).
I love this map, not only because of what it shows
but of its potential.

Tyria as a place has been driven by the opportunity of the game - the chance to provide exciting and epic locations for the heroes. As a result, it has a very plastic nature, even moreso that Krynn. We just dropped a mountain on Krynn. Tyria has seen gods battling, Orr sinking, the Searing, the Foefire, Elder Dragons, the Brand, Orr Rising, the Great Collapse, and most recently the destruction of Lion's Arch by a gigantic airborne drill. Putting it quite simply - real estate is not as secure an investment in Tyria as you'd might think.

And it is really cool as far as far as look and feel. One of the things about GW2 is its ability to command the sense of space and monumental architecture that we could not do with the original (where we had the challenge that we couldn't point the camera up). The addition of vistas has allowed the camera to free itself of the character for a sweeping panoramic shot of the world. Plus, vistas make for a nifty little reward for all those jumping puzzles you do to get there.

For me, even though I've been working there for quite a few years, I still find things which delight me when I am wandering around in it (and the Living World adds more all the time). It has a dynamic which continues to grow over time along with its players.

So, yeah, I'm kinda happy with it.

More later,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

S is for Stormfront

I talked with sadness about Jakandor, a setting which didn't live up to its potential. Now I want to talk about one that never even saw the light of day: Stormfront.

I had almost forgotten about Stormfront, but Steve Winter brought it up in a discussion about campaign settings in a podcast, talking about proposed campaigns at TSR that never happened. And it sort of floats beneath the surface, the one that got away.

Here's the not-so-short form: in early 1994, TSR was looking for a new campaign setting. This is not out of the ordinary. Indeed, one of the reasons for the Realms is that the company was afraid Dragonlance would fizzle out (I know that sounds weird, but they didn't know at the time). We talked about Eberron and how it was the result of a massive open call for campaigns. In this case the competition was confined to the in-house creatives, and the competition was smaller but no less than fierce.

Winsor McCay, a cartoonist from early in the last
century, is known for his detailed drawings. Oh, and
also Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur.
I have a number of the proposals from that session, including my own. The great majority of them were "world dungeons", following off a management recommendation where the world is mostly dangerous, and the places of safety few and imperiled (yes, you're hearing "points of light"). Stormfront (also called Storm Front in some documents) was one that gathered speed, joining up with other proposals to quickly become the front runner.

And then it wasn't, and that was a sadness.

Stormfront found its origin some pieces by Winsor McCay. The titles are "Man Shall Live On Mountaintops" and "The Last Day of Manhattan". The former posits a megacity of nothing but skyscrapers and airships, while the shows a flooded, overcrowded world. The idea of humanity (including the other "good" races) being chased to the upper reaches of the terrain impressed me, as it turned the rest of the world into a dungeon, with only a few points of light remaining.

I didn't want to flood the world with water, however. The problem with sea-based campaigns is, that if you ship gets sunk, it is a long walk home. So to cover that to some degree, instead of water, I filled the world with clouds. Above the cloud layer the land was bright and shining. Beneath the clouds it was a land of hellstorms, lightning, and the ruins of the previous civilizations. And you could sail on these clouds, in great ships made of floating wood.

It was a cool idea, and one that quickly got attention. We had ships, We had a post-apocalyptic world with ancient civilizations. We had a dungeon of the world. We had exploring a lost world. It merged with other ideas, with input from Wolfgang Baur and Roger Moore, among others. We produced a pretty cool pitch document (which I may post after all this is done). We had momentum. We had managerial approval. We had clear skies.

And then suddenly we didn't have it. I was not present for the decision, but this is how it came down to me. Someone in Sales/Marketing said "This is a lot like Heaven and Hell", and with that comparison, the support melted away. It felt too much like Planescape. The management suddenly DIDN'T want Stormfront, and were looking at what the second choice was. This was a proposal put forward by Jon Pickens that we turn Divine Right into the new world. Great! Except we had just given DR back to its creators. So we ended up creating a new world to capture the feeling of DR, of kings and armies, which became ... Birthright.

Stormfront was pretty much my swan song at TSR. I was sad about the decision, though this was not what eventually convinced me it was time to leave the company (that would be Mystara, but I already covered the "M" entry). The idea did not go away, however. I pulled the basics together for a short story in the "Oceans of Magic" collection that I was pretty proud of. I doubt there would ever be a Stormfront campaign setting by that name - a lot of time has passed, other people have done flying ships over the years, and in the years between then and now, a rightwing hate group has picked up the name. So I'm going to go with a big "no", there.

But it was interesting approach, and is a part of lost history that returned.

More later,

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

R is for Rock of Bral

I was playing with the idea of Rokugan (of which I know little) or Ravenloft (the campaign setting that made players afraid of fog), but since I am getting a lot of feedback from the Spelljammer community, I will go back to that and briefly, briefly, speak about the Rock of Bral.

Running a space-based campaign is difficult, because there is no central point, no home town. You can have a Shadowdale or Waterdeep as a home in the Realms, a place where you know everyone (if not trust everyone). Where you can stock up and recover and repair and maybe get a house to put all your stuff in. In space, the role of your house is taken up by your ship, but then where do you interact with others? Pick up stories? Go out for a few drinks?

Hence, a (semi) portable city, suitable for placement in your campaign setting. A place where other spelljammers can dock, where adventures can begin, and where adventurers to retire to. The shape of the map gives it a general Waterdeep vibe (longer than it is wide), but the nature of space and what has been termed "Grubbian Physics" created a different world indeed.

Get a Piece of the Rock
First off, the name comes from Rock of Gibraltar. It was supposed to give the air of surety. And in the original campaign box, it amounted to little more than three pages of general description, a bit of history, and mention of some buildings. The setting was greatly expanded out a few years later by Rich Baker in the Rock of Bral sourcebook, which went into great detail on a lot of items, fleshing some out and creating much anew for the spacefaring hero. (Fun fact - Rich originally proposed battleship guns on the underside but settled for a ring of great bombards)

The idea was to create a city which could be plugged into any campaign that takes up spelljamming. In the Realms it is the Tears of Selune at the moon's trailing Lagrange point. In Greyspace (aren't you glad we didn't call it Oerthspace?) these are in the asteroid field called the Grinder. It had a utility that went beyond most city settings, because it benefitted from not having to have ties to the surrounding area. Space has that advantage.

The city is also a bit darker than a lot of terrestrial fantasy campaign cities. The current Prince is in power after his elder brother mysteriously died (and was found floating out in space), and those who were punished for the crime may not have been the true perpetrators. Major crimes are often winked at by the authorities unless they see their own advantage is prosecuting them. And, unlike a lot of cities, there are racial districting, where the halflings and gif may be found (the gnomes, oddly, seem to be everywhere). It is a grayer world, hopefully evoking Tortuga and Port Royal more than a fantasy London.

The end result is a novel little chunk of land floating in space, with a portability that can make it a guest star in other campaigns. Its a pretty cool concept, worth checking out.

More later,

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quendor

OK, I'll admit that coming up with a "Q" involved actually checking the Wiki for potential candidates. And there is probably some Q that qualifies that I could use. But its a Saturday, you know, and they can't all be Oerths. So let me re-acquaint you with Quendor.

And actually Quendor does have a part in our gaming heritage. Here's the line you may remember:
 “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.”
Yep, Quendor is the setting for Zork, originally called Dungeon before TSR put in a call in. One of the original text-parsing adventure games, it existed to that early generation of computer gameplayers as a puzzle to be solved, putting various things together until attains success, or one is eaten by a grue, which is the most likely outcome.

Zork, written between 1977 and 1979, presented in the ancient Fortran code, influenced by early D&D, built upon the bones of the earlier Advent (or Adventure or the Colossal Cave Adventure). Its parser was a little more advanced (to the point of complete sentences), but still it was a "guess the correct phrase" game of those early, pre-graphics days. For you pups spoiled on MMOs, this is but a novelty, but the computer gaming experience in those days was very much a protracted discussion with the HAL 9000 ("I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that.")

However, it had the advantage of being one of the few games in town, and once it made the jump from the college ARPAnet to personal machines, it entrenched itself well and established its publisher, Infocom, as a leader in that particular space. And if anything, it improved the typing and spelling skills of most of its users.

I don't remember the name Quendor from the original, and it may be a later addition to the lore as the game continued in popularity. Further, I don't know if there was any intentional connection between Quendor, and the Amulet of Yendor (Rodney spelled backwards) that appeared in the later Rogue game, which took the stride forward of actually showing the area your character was in through ASCII characters. And I fear that this lack of knowledge on my part will soon get me lost, my torch will go out, and I will be eaten by a grue.

More later,

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Paragon City

I thought about Pern and Pelucidar before settling on one of my favorites MMO setting outside of Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 - Paragon City, home to City of Heroes.

I admit - I was a latecomer to the Massively Multiplayer Online experience. In my defense, I would say I was a little busy, what with working on novels and comics and tabletop fantasy worlds, many of which had tropes and even mechanics that reach their sinuous tentacles into the modern MMO. So I missed Ultima Online and Everquest, but by gum, I got into City of Heroes.

I think part of my love affair with the game was the character generation, or rather, the costume design. NCSoft's Cryptic (later Paragon) Studios went all out on creating a system to recreate the four-color world of comics. Sometimes a little too much, with the abundance of Incredible Sulks and Wolv3rin3s in the group early on.

You know what Paragon City really needed?
A map like the London Tube, showing all the ways of
getting from one place to another. Just saying.
But what brought a smile to my face was the mechanism by which they justified the limited world of the MMO play space. Most fantasy MMOs throw up mountains and other impenetrable barriers around the borders of each region, forcing the player through smaller, more easily handled gates to get from place to place. The conceit in City of Heroes was that the city was the ground zero of an alien invasion (The Rikti), and large reaches of the city were still walled off by huge energy walls that surrounded the various districts. You quickly accepted this,in that you couldn't travel between zones except through underpasses that went beneath the energy walls, or by monorail (and yes, a group of costumed super-heroes waiting for the monorail was amusing, but also a chance to check out other peoples' costumes).

And the "Alien Invasion" trope was apparently deeply embedded into the superhero DNA, such that later games like Champions and DC Heroes went with it. But CoH did it first and best.

I really enjoyed the feel of the game, and there was a joy of movement in Doctor Samaritan leaping from building to building or the Crimson Moonbat sailed over the heads of a grateful citizenry. And I picked up a lot of things I liked and did not like in MMOs, which then influenced my thoughts on GW2.

Problems? Yeah. All the warehouses looked the same on the inside and I was never sure that I got crafting system right. And large battles with myriad effects going off caused me to declare that I was "Fighting the Rainbow" in any multiplayer battle. But in general, I really appreciated the feel it gave me as a nonfantasy world, with enough of the real world mixed in to give it a firm grounding.It was a great world, and I am saddened that it is no more, though a group is putting together its City of Titans, as a kickstarted, crowdsourced, groundswell movement. But it is a tough act to follow, as every other superhero MMO has discovered.

More later,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Oerth

O is definitely for Oerth, the home world for the continent of Oerik, the region of the Flaeness,  the Free City of Greyhawk and the Greyhawk campaign. It is a favorite place of mine, though apparently I am on record for hating it (more about that later).

First off, let's put this to rest - the "Oe" is pronounced like the Oy in "Oy Vey". So it is "Oith", not "rhyming with Fourth". The first time Gary used the term in front of me I thought he was just winding me up (and I was too timid a soul to question him on it), but he has used it often enough in other statement to determine that this is its full and true name.

All the Greyhawk I had at the time.
The big thing about Oerth, the World of Greyhawk, is its evolution. When I first arrived at TSR as an employee, I was interested in seeing the world itself. I had gotten a copy of the World of Greyhawk Folio (with its wondrous Darlene maps) a couple years earlier and I wanted to see the original maps. And I never could find them. I imagined a great vault beneath the Dungeon Hobby Shop that contained its secrets in some master file, protected by traps and probably a green dragon. There was a great vault (it was a bowling alley at one time), but no master file of secrets. Over time, I discovered that much of what I thought of as Greyhawk was created for that product.

Here's the story - there was a question early on in D&D whether players needed a published world at all. After all, the game encouraged people to make their own worlds. And while games like Empire of the Petal Throne had its own maps and locations, the idea of a more traditional world needed added stuff was an open question. Further, Gary was reportedly reluctant to open his personal campaign to the greater universe (it being a going concern with his own players), and was still experimenting to some degree (example - using the boards from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival game for overland maps). So when the decision was made to move forward on the what would be called the Greyhawk Folio, they started afresh - the immediate area around the City of Greyhawk looked similar to that of the Great Kingdom miniatures campaign, and Blackmoor was placed to the north (as presented in Playing at the World), but much was new, right down to naming regions after friends and fellow gamers.

In addition, there was concern about lettinh others put adventures in "official" Greyhawk, so that a lot of new modules (like the I-series) sort of floated out there on their own, worldless. Such concerns are understandable, but this in part laid the groundwork for both Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms, the latter being a hoover vacuum of a campaign, later sucking up previously orphaned bits of the canon.

Insert of Darlene's map.
Still love the hexes.
The idea of the Greyhawk Folio being different from its antecedent campaign, by the way is not all that unusual. For Dragonlance, Tracy laid out a map of Anasalon and then dropped a mountain on Istar to see how the final world would be broken up. The "grey-box" Realms has a number of additions that makes it different from Ed's own campaign, ranging from adopting such locations as the Desert of Desolation series to completely redrawing the Moonshae Isles (for Doug's books) to draining part of the Great Glacier (for the H-series of modules, creating the Bloodstone lands). But for Greyhawk, that Folio remains the best, first, document we had describing the world.

Which gets to why I hate Greyhawk (well, I don't, so this is the story of why it SEEMS I hate Greyhawk). I think Zeb was the one who put me under the gun, describing how, when he started work on "Greyhawk Wars", he asked me for what I would do with the world. I replied, "You mean, besides burning it to the ground?" Hence, Jeff Grubb, who was one of the crafty mechanics who helped launch the competing successful Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, had it "in" for Greyhawk. And this argument still shows up from time to time on Internet Forums.

Now, I don't remember this conversation, but it sure sounds like something I would say. Mind you, by that point I was fairly disappointed by some of the support material for the line (Castle Greyhawk is a project that would spawn several stories, and would require many, many beers to fully describe in its painfulness (and you're buying)).

And I have used the phrase "Greyhawk Death Spiral" to refer to the sort of frustrations engaged with working with the line. The Death Spiral functioned as followed - a) There was a fandom for Greyhawk so the line should be supported, but b) there were not enough resources to go around to do everything, so c) resources went to other projects, and d) the stuff for Greyhawk was notably suboptimal, with the result that e) the very fans who we were hoping to make happy in turn are upset with the line and the company that obviously hates it. Rinse, lather, repeat.

All the Greyhawk you may ever need.
Now, there have been numerous attempts to bring Greyhawk the attention it has deserved. Up From the Ashes was a radical attempt to recharge the line. The City of Greyhawk boxed set was an excellent and accessible city set. Sean Reynolds' work in the line, in particular The Scarlet Brotherhood, was pitch-perfect. And the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, despite the fact the typeface almost obscures the fact that it is a Greyhawk project (which sort of buries the lede).

Yet Greyhawk is home to some of the best-remembered adventures in D&D History, including the Tomb of Horrors and the foundational GDQ series (which, yes, I did a collected work and only added some connective tissue). It found an excellent home with the RPGA that resulted in Living Greyhawk, yet still, after all these years, toiled in the shadow of later lines. And while I am pleased to see that the Realms is (again) the center of the new edition, Greyhawk can be shown a little love as well.

What would I do with Greyhawk? Well, I wouldn't be caught dead saying that I would burn it to the ground or anything that daft. I would extoll its virtues as a low-magic world that still had strong roots to its miniature campaigns. Armies move in the background between rival nations whose claims on the map are greater than the reality on the ground ("points of light, anyone?"). Ancient ruins lay unexplored in shunned forests and jungles. It is a place where independent adventurers could plunder underground citadels with little influence from the powers that be. It would be an epic world without a single, overriding epic.

And I would stand on that early volume of the Greyhawk Folio as my source material, adding all the great stuff done by others in the years that followed, ignoring some of the worse excesses, and re-represent a world that the Castle & Crusade Society of Lake Geneva, circa 1975, would be pleased with.

More later,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nehwon

Funny thing: I've been talking with friends about this A to Z challenge, and am surprised that I keep forgetting what I did for "A". I can remember Blackmoor, Calidar, Dominaria. Eberron, but the "A" just kept slipping my mind. It was Amber, which I forget because it is not so much as a gaming world as a fantasy world which had some gaming attached. But it a world with games, so it qualifies.

And similarly, Nehwon, home to Fritz Lieber's city of Lankhmar and its two most famous denizens,  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.I think of this world from its text, not its games, but it has had a lot a gaming in it.
[Important Update: And in the original of this draft, I typoed the name. Yeah, that shows my level of attention, here. Thanks to Allen Varney for pointing this out and making this Important Update necessary,]

I encountered Leiber in those post-Lord of the Rings years, when I came off the original trilogy, read the Hobbit, and then say, what, that's it? Where is the fantasy? (yes, I'm going to tell you kids how easy you have it, these days).  We had Tolkien, we had Lewis (I preferred Silent Planet to Narnia), we had Moorcock boldly shouldering his way onto the scene with Elric and Hawkmoon, and we had ... who from the American side? Howard, though I never embraced Conan's textural incarnation as much as his comics version. Maybe Randall Garrett or Gardner Fox or Jack Vance or Clark Ashton Smith, but they were woefully under-represented on the spinner rack and at the book department at Kaufmann's. Frank Baum's Oz. And then there was Leiber with F and the GM.

Leiber comes out of that American Fantasy Tradition, which is darker and more horror-based than its European cousin. Lovecraft is its patron saint, and unifying point for the others, and HP's correspondence the American equivalent of The Eagle and The Child where Tolkien met. He communicated with Howard and Clark Ashton Smith and to Robert Bloch, and, yes, Leiber. And Leiber has done his Cthulhoid stories and studies as well, and was deeply influenced by the Providential master.

And Leiber brought Nehwon forward, with a pair of heroes motivated not so much from high gallantry as by more earthly matters of alcohol, women, and petty cash. Originally a set of short stories that were collected and reorganized into the paperbacks I discovered, it was another world, different from the epic nature of Tolkien or the moralities of Lewis and the Byronic antiheroes of Moorcock.

In addition, Nehwon was not a traditional world as we think of it. It had a "Death Pole" in the Shadowlands, home of death and a "Life Pole" where the other gods clustered. It seemed to be a hollow world, in that the stars themselves were on a far ocean, spinning within great waterspouts. It was fantasy adventures in a nonstandard world, capable of turning itself inside out for the purposes of a story.

And it had games. Early connections brought Nehwon into TSR's orbit, and it did not only a Lankhmar game, but added its pantheon without conflict to the D&D system. And it added adventures and source material over the years, the best probably being Lankhmar, City of Adventure, by Messrs. Nesmith, Niles, and Rolston, with a cover by Keith Parkinson, was a superior setting for urban adventures. And more recently, there was a Mongoose version using RuneQuest rules.

But the world is interesting for two completely opposite reasons - its urban setting in Lankhmar itself, City of Seventy Score Thousand Smokes (yeah, that would have been rough to put on the cover), but also its outlands, which were as wild and woolly and nonstandard as possible. And that made for both an excellent place for stories and a gaming setting.

More later,

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Minaria

Middle Earth? Nope. Maztica? Nope? Mystara? Nope (though there are tales of woe and intrigue on that one). Minaria.



I've already talked about Glorantha, and how my entry into that world was through one of the best fantasy board games I had encountered - White Bear & Red Moon. Now, let me move onto ANOTHER of the better fantasy board games - Divine Right.

I don't know how Divine Right fell into the constellation of TSR products - it was there before I arrived. But it was a collection of boxed games that TSR hit-and-missed with for years. Little Big Horn, William the Conqueror, War of the Wizards (another favorite, Tekumel themed), 4th Dimension, Lankhmar, all these shared the same compact inch-deep box. But Divine Right was one of the better ones. It had that White Bear & Red Moon vibe with a group of fantasy kingdoms forming alliances and marching out to beat each other up. Until WBRM, Divine Right was multiplayer, and you could control an alliance of disparate countries until randomly determined rulers.
Minaria! The Map of Divine Right.

But that's not why it was cool (though we should note it was a great game design from Glenn Rahman, the cover was by his brother Kenneth, and the map itself was by the late Dave Trampier). No, a series of articles that Rahman penned for DRAGON magazine for about 20 issues, going into incredible detail of these kingdoms. Called Minarian Legends, they were for a two-year period about the best part of Dragon, and, with Trampier's Wormy, part of the magazine's golden age for me.

Rahman went into (admittedly, nigh-opaque at times) detail on a particular kingdom or region, leaving no stone unturned, in a fashion that absolutely convinced me there was a strong, vibrant world. This was 1979 or so. In comparison, the World of Greyhawk folio, the first in-depth look at Oerth, was published in the late summer of 1980, so that meant for a short while, Minaria was a more detailed, fully-realized published world than Greyhawk itself.

So why didn't it make the leap from board game to RPG? It almost did, at least once. This is part of a larger tale, but TSR briefly considered Divine Right as a basis for a new campaign world. Oddly enough, this was shortly after it had returned all rights to Mr. Rahman, which sort of put the kibosh on that idea. Without that world, it instead went with another campaign to bring out a campaign of kings - that would be Birthright.

More later,

My Norwescon Schedule

We interrupt this alphabetical tour to engage in blatant pluggery. I will attending Norwescon as a guest, and have the following scheduled events:

Fantasy in Comics
Fri 1:00pm-2:00pm Cascade 5
Comics have great potential for fantasy as a visual medium. Fantasy comics range from traditional fantasy like Prince Valiant to the more unique Bone, and reinterpretations like Fables and Conan. Here's a look at some of the great work that has been done and what's being published currently, from comics to graphic novels, and how fantasy comics have evolved over time. 
Jeff Grubb (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Spencer Ellsworth, Duane Wilkins

The Gods in Our Fantasy Fiction
Fri 8:00pm-9:00pm Cascade 5    
From Kwll or Arioch in Michael Moorcock’s work to Anoia, Blind Io, and Offler in Terry Pratchett’s (not to mention everything in between), gods roam the worlds of our fantasy fiction. When building a religion for your world, how do you make it balanced and plausible without riffing off of existing religions? How will myth and religion impact your plot and motivate your characters? Why should there be several types of belief systems on a world?  How present should the gods really be?
Christopher Bodan (M), Bradley P. Beaulieu, Jeff Grubb, Brent Kellmer, Kim Ritchie

Autograph Session 1
Sat 2:00pm-3:00pm Grand 2
Our Attending Professionals are available to sign autographs. PLEASE NOTE: So that as many fans as possible can participate, we will be enforcing a three-items-at-a-time (or single-sketch) autograph limit.
Jason Andrew, Steven Barnes, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Carol Berg, 9k1, Kurt Cagle, Echo Chernik, Cassandra Clarke, Erik Scott de Bie, Cymbric Early-Smith, Elton Elliott, Erin Evans, Steve Gillett, James C. Glass, Jude-Marie Green, Jeff Grubb, Rhiannon Held, Frog Jones, Karen Kincy, Nancy Kress, Pat MacEwen, Edward Martin III, Lish McBride, Angel Leigh McCoy, Darragh Metzger, G. David Nordley, Margaret Organ-Kean, John (J.A.) Pitts, Kevin Radthorne, Jon Rogers, Mike Selinker, Sara Stamey, G. Willow Wilson, Gregory A. Wilson

An Exaltation of Drones: The Humor of P.G. Wodehouse
Sat 4:00pm-5:00pm Evergreen 3&4
P.G. Wodehouse may be considered the finest humorist of the 20th century. Author of 96 books, Wodehouse is best known for creating the characters Jeeves and Wooster (played by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the BBC series). Many of Wodehouse's stories and novels involve the English upper class. He poked gentle fun at them. The young men of the upper class in England were often waiting upon an inheritance with not much to do otherwise. In the Wodehousian world they belonged to the Drones Club (so like bees, males with no tasks), where they whiled away the hours chatting, drinking, playing toss the card in the hat and gambling. Modern fans of Wodehouse have formed their own Drones Club. This panel of Drones will discuss the works of Pelham Graham Wodehouse.
Pierce Watters (M), Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Michael Moorcock, Brooks Peck, Mike Selinker

Come by and see me (particularly the Autograph Session - its been over a year since the last book, and I suspect things may be kinda quiet).

More later, as we move onto "M".

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for the Land of Fate

Shannon Appelcline, who writes a great deal on the history of RPG Projects, got in touch with me a few weeks back asking about Al-Qadim - any behind the scene stories and the like. Well, I had a few, and warned him that it would eventually show up in the blog. So therefore L is for the Land of Fate, and here is what I sent him.

1) Al-Qadim Arabian Adventures (1992) was conceived as being a companion piece to Oriental Adventures. While OA was put together and then glued onto the Realms (there was some shrinking of the map scale in the process - Zeb put in not one but two full-sized Chinas onto Kara-Tur's map), Arabian Adventures was planned from the get-go to be part of the Realms, and situated to the south of the existing Realms map. The name of the area, Zakhara, evoked the word "sahara", and went to the Z because Abeir-Toril started with an A. [Hey, A to Z reference!]

2) The name itself was a challenge, in that there were different needs from marketing (which wanted a name that said everything and didn't need to be explained) versus legal (which wanted new words which didn't have any other meaning). At one point the name was "Burning Sands", which everyone on the creative side just hated (though I was amused when it showed up years later as part of Five Rings CCG). I was armed with an arabic dictionaries, and came up with the Al-Qadim, which meant, according to my dictionary "The ancient".  I put it in some cool fonts and we sold that name in.

3) However, management was concerned that the name may have other connotations that we didn't know about. Maztica, for example, sounds like the Mexican word for "chew" (Doug had checked the name with other Spanish-speakers, but they were from the Caribbean, and as such did not make the connection). Since my Arabic dictionary was printed in New Dehli,  I went to the Internet User Groups for help, and got that the name meant ancient, old, venerable, and wise. One contributor noted that it meant old in the sense of stale - "This cheese is old". Not horrible, but we kept the name, and thanked David Hirsch and Daniel Wolk in the credits for their help.

4) Speaking of credits, the great hero of this project was Andria Hayday, who served as the editor but is credited with "Additional Writing and Development". She is responsible, with graphic designer Stephanie Tabat, for the look of the project. She fought for the style of the Karl Waller line drawings, the gold foil borders (a 5th color), and the end papers. More importantly, she wrote the bulk of what became the first chapter. Originally we were planning on talking about the society at the end of the book, much like we did for OA. But her work was so good we moved it to the front, and I argued to give her full co-credit. She passed on getting her name mentioned on the cover (she didn't want to get gaming questions), but I got her name on the back.

Zakhara, the Land of Fate. So what
am I going to do for the letter "z"?
5) Another unsung hero was Jon Pickens, who, when we first started talking about AQ (and it took a few years to put it on the schedule), started collecting books on the subject. When I started on it he delivered three boxes full of books to my office. My favorite was a Marxist analysis of Bedouin life, and it was from that volume I pulled the name "sha'ir" for our wizard kit. In addition to Jon's books, I had also been reading the Burton Arabian Nights and followed a lot of pop culture - Harryhausen movies and the like. We wanted the game to be a combination of history, mythology, and modern knowledge on the subject. 

6) This was an era when we did a lot of "kits", and with AQ the kits blossomed pretty much fully into subclasses. Many of them paralleled western classes, but their own flavor.  I think we had the first female-only kit with the Hakima. When I first wrote up the Corsair, I used the female pronoun because the art piece we used showed a female character. Andria changed it, which was probably for the best.

7) One thing that the Arabian legends did not have was the mixture of Tolkienesque races. As a result, Zakhara was created as a more cosmopolitan world, where species and race did not matter nearly as much. It made for a different flavor in the game.

8) Another big difference was Faith. Religion was and is a touchy matter, and we wanted the faiths of Zakhara to be evocative of the Middle East, but no more descriptive of living faiths than the Gods of Faerun are to western religion. As a result, gods themselves were gathered into pantheons as opposed to having their own unique clerics, which again made the world feel more cosmopolitan. We did break the priest classes of these pantheons into three broad groups - The Faith Pragmatist, The Faith Ethoist, and the Faith Moralist. These were based more on outlook on Protestant denominations (Unitarians, Presbyterians, and Baptists, if I remember right) than any Middle-Eastern group.

9) The concept of Fate worked well for a number of reasons - it gave us an overgod like Ao who would be evoked but not worshipped. It gave us neat little evocation ("We have no fate but the fate that we are given"). And it gave us a reason for what Ed had all of these Middle-Eastern style civilizations scattered around the Realms - Anauroch, Raurin, Thay, Calimishan, et al. In Ed'd campaign, he would always put these Arabian Night civilizations on the borders, and as his borders grew in his campaign, he just added more. We created a folk legend where the various peoples could not get along, so Fate banished them to the far corners of the world for a time out. 

Sorry, guys. I couldn't find a copy of the
Easley piece I described. Here's the cover
(pulled from the Wikipedia). I think its
a pretty good horse.
9) The cover was a bit of challenge, in that we asked for a horse. Jeff Easley is a great artist, but does not like drawing horses and has gotten flack for it from the fans (I don't get this - I like his horses). As an option we suggested a young woman opening a bottle and genie coming out. He created a very cheesecake piece (which was used in the "Women of Fantasy" calender that year) which looked like the young lady was ... um ... smuggling bowling balls in her vest. So we went back to the horse. 

10) The interior art was great, but Jim Ward was concerned about nipple rings on the ogres in one piece. We had that one fixed. However, we did get a letter after publication from someone who was angry about the "blatant foreplay" we showed in one picture. That would be the one of two genies (male and female) playing chess on page149. OK, we had a good laugh on that one.

11) The map of the world was designed to be broken up into components for the boxed adventure sets. If we did them all (we didn't), we would end up with a huge mega-map.

12) Andria and I conceived of the line as having a definite life span of two, maybe three years tops. We did not want to fall into the mode where we had to do an AQ adventure every year, regardless of sales (see OA or Greyhawk). We would do cool stuff, and once the sales trailed off, we would be done. I think we did two years, then they added a third, and then we were asked for a fourth (which would have included the Land of the Yak Men, which was going to be Tibetian in nature), but management changed their minds and so the line closed out

13) The big rivalry in-house was with another desert-based adventure - Dark Sun. Dark Sun sold better per units than AQ, but AQ didn't have as high a unit cost (we didn't do the ring-bound adventure books and custom boxes), and as such is remembered more fondly. Further, we pitched AQ very much as being a sequel to Oriental Adventures. DS was going to "Replace the Realms" which was a statement that often would be the kiss of death for a line. 

14) When we launched, we were supposed to run demos at GenCon Milwaukee. I got fezzes for our demo team, we had some play areas map up to look like desert terrain, and we ran short adventures (Andria and I actually came up with what the specific adventures were while driving to GenCon - I was going to make them up on the fly, while she wanted just a tad more structure). And I am the one responsible for the gong - I borrowed it from the Lake Geneva High School orchestra, and we were to ring it only at the end of the demo. The sales booth said later that every time the gong rang, they got more AQ books out of storage for sale. Other people running demos next to us did not like the gong so much, primarily because Jim Ward loved the gong, and would strike it whenever he was nearby. After the second day we started hiding the striker from him.

15) The books sold well - Dark Sun sold better, as I noted, and we got good reviews. I was told (but never saw the figures) that it sold very well in Israel, which is cool. I am very proud of what we did, and happy to have worked on it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

K is also for Kobold

Of course, all this discourse on fantasy game campaigns gets in the way of the normal broadcasts, which consist of local politics, collectible quarters, and shame huckstering for personal projects and those of friends.

Case in point, two new projects which have shipped out from Kobold Press, headed up by Wolf and Shelly Baur.

First up is the Kobold Guide to Magic, the latest in their award-winning series of collected essays on gaming topics. Your humble author has a small sojourn in the book, along with a few friends and colleagues (No, seriously, check out the author list - a veritable Algonquin Roundtable with d20s).

Also, the truly massive, kickstarted Deep Magic hardcover is now being distributed to backers, and it is a monstrous tome, filled to the brim with roleplayerly goodness. Here's a sample.

Both are worth checking out. And now we return you to your regularly scheduled worlds.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Krynn

[A note to new readers: I don't have open comments. Primarily this is because I don't want to deal with moderation, threadjacking and blogspam. If you want to comment or correct anything I've written, I can be contacted at the address to the right (there have been a grand total of two such comments since I started this, both of them asking "Why don't you turn on your comments?")] Those seeking discussion are welcome to hit my Facebook page, where I can bust people who start throwing around the furniture, and my Google+ page, where i pay attention to things that  interest me. Note that any other practitioners of the A to Z challenge are more than welcome to drop me a line at the address to the right and I will be glad to cross promote.]

K could be for Kara-Tur, but instead I'm going to do a short one on Krynn. Much is written on Dragonlance, so I'm just going to do briefly, the origin of the name of the world.

All the Krynn most folk need.
Krynn is not Tracy's name for the campaign - he has tended to use the name Ansalon when talking about the location, which is the continent that contained the epic. And given the traverse of the original trilogy, its a perfect and applicable name and I use it myself but early on there was no name for the world itself.

The idea of having a planetary name and then a continental name probably goes back to Greyhawk (campaign) which was set in the Flaeness (continent) which is on Oerth (world). That would drive the Dragonlance (campaign)/Ansalon (continent)/Krynn (world) trichotomy, and later the Forgotten Realms (campaign)/Faerun (continent) /Abeir-Toril (world) arrangement.

But for the name itself? Well, my younger brother married a young woman named Corinne. Playing around with the word, changing the C to a K, collapsing it into one word, and swapping out a vowel, double a consonent, I get Krynn.

So that's the secret origin of Krynn. My sister-in-law. Heck of an anniversary gift.

More later,

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jakandor

Ah, Jakandor, a small world which hoped to be so much more.

Jakandor was conceived before I left TSR, well before the Wizards of the Coast buyout, and saw final publication by WotC in that period when they were gunning up for Third Edition. It was, in part, an attempt to deal with the "too many worlds that were too deep" problem that others have mentioned when talking about that era. In short, the problem was that we had succeeded too well, and created too many IPs, too many campaigns, and therefore split the market. In addition, we created worlds with long publishing histories in multiple projects, so to create a good new project, you had to have a voluminous knowledge of the past.

Jakandor was supposed to address that: Four products, consisting of a trilogy of sourcebooks and a novel, which would be a campaign that could be run over a summer break. It was not intended to be the next great Realms which could sustain campaigns forever, or an epic like Dragonlance that involved a lot of travel and adventrue. It was supposed to be a small thing, easily installable in other peoples' campaigns, lootable for cool stuff, but still capable of holding its own.

Looking back, it was definitely my White Bear & Red Moon. I conceived of two opposing cultures, each convinced they were the heroes, On one side was the Knorr - savage barbarians with giant wicker battle-robot - young, passionate and bloody. On the other was the Charonti - an ancient civilization living in the shadow of past glories, utilizing necromancy as a we would use technology - Wise, old, and magical. Each believed they were the epitome of humanity. Each believed the others were abominations.

It tells you something when this is the only Jakandor map I
could find online, and it comes from the first release.
The plan, well, my plan, was to release both original sourcebooks at the same time, and let the players choose which side they were going to favor. If we released one before the other, that would show favoritism and skew the players one way or the other. Then we would do the final adventure book as we brought these factions together from opposite ends of their large island.

In reality, we released it like we released all things - one at a time. We did the Knorr book, then the Charonti book, then finally the total Jakandor book. And while the Knorr book won an award (from Inquest, but still, award, with a plaque and everything), they were dropped into the abyss and were never really seen again.

Oh yeah, the novel. Yes, I wrote one. Yes, we edited it. But the company decided not to go forward with the book. And while I had no advance when I wrote it, there was a clause that paid me if they cancelled it. And later the book was returned to me, with the note that if I wanted to sell it elsewhere, I could, once I changed any proper names. Since then it has been my "trunk book", the book that exists, but hasn't even made the rounds for publishers. I suppose in this self-published world, I could exhume it, but even filing off the serial numbers and changing the names to protect the guilty would still leave it a relic of another era of publishing.

Alas, Jakandor. It had so much promise, but sailed into the teeth of a less-welcoming age, and as such reduced to a footnote in gaming history. But it is my footnote, at least.

More later,