Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dawn of Madness - Suggested Icon Changes

Dawn of Madness is complex, choose your own adventure/terror game by Diemension Games.

I was fortunate to check out a prototype at GenCon 2019.

The Kickstarter is going on now and draft rules posted.

This posts suggests two changes and enables image-URLs to refer to in the comments.

Since "Concepts" have gone away and many are confused by icons, I suggest the below changes:

1) Simplify Sentience Icons: Eliminate the icons-graphics sentience and just use the colors (no one in the play throughs says them by "name" and no one can read the icons when made tiny on the cards....). Best to eliminate the confusion.  Makes more sense to add a color (sentience) to a graphic to make a domain

2) Simplified Sentience Test Verbage: This can further help declutter the cards...for example the Sentience Testing. No reason to say "test x for y" …. just make the icon bigger (so you can read it) and sow the colored-domain





Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tales from the Magician's Skull #3 - Review by SE

S.E rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Rejoice, mortals! I have heard your pleas and returned to grant your greatest desire: More sword-and-sorcery!

Once again I will bring you tales of thrilling adventures in time-lost lands. There are swords, and there is sorcery. There are dark deeds and daring rescues..." -- The Magician's Skull speaks in Kickstarter

Should you trust a talking skull? Well, no sane person would, but I attest this skull does not lie (and I am making a habit of listening to it). Tales from the Magician's Skull (installments #1 and #2) spawned from a successful 2017 Kickstarter campaign in which Howard Andrew Jones (Sword & Sorcery guru, author, and RPGer) teamed up with Joseph Goodman (of Goodman Games, publisher of Dungeon Crawl Classics). The resulting magazine reflects this partnership, marrying great stories with corresponding RPG elements. This July 2019, the Skull resurfaced with issue #3 and promises of issues #4-6. As a backer and enthusiast of fantasy fiction, I couldn’t be more pleased.

If you missed the Kickstarters, have no worries, you "mortal dogs" (another Skull saying). Behold! Goodman Games and Amazon offer them. Future plans are as follows: "Issue #4 will release in March 2020, and others will follow bi-annually thereafter. Upon reaching issue #666, the Skull will travel to a higher plane and the magazine will end."


Quality: The print quality is great again (the artwork, editing, illustrations, tan-cardstock pulp-feel etc.). The magazine is just fun to hold.

Appendix: The last item in the Table of Contents (below) should be the first to discuss since it is iconic: The Appendix. What a great design idea! To drive home the RPG elements of the stories, Terry Olson once again created items and Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG rules related to each story. This is really cool. Read the stories...then go re-live/play them. I enjoy reading this section each time just to re-imagine the stories (without playing an RPG).

Illustrations: The cover is by master Sanjulián (Manuel Pérez Clemente). Many full-page, detailed illustrations decorate the interior by established artists: Samuel Dillon, Justine Jones, Doug Kovacs, Brad McDevitt, Russ Nicholson (an old-time favorite from Fighting Fantasy), Stefan Poag, Matthew Ray, and Chuck Whelan. There is a short contribution in which Samuel Dillon explains how he created one the frontispiece for "The Second Death of Hanuvar."

intrior illustration by Samuel Dillon

Tales #3: Contents. All six are quality Sword & Sorcery stories, and there is plenty of bonus content like flash fiction, author and illustrator notes, and the appendix of RPG-items. Most stories have some mystery or police-procedural flare; several are serials from the previous Tales magazines; others have characters appearing in other venues. For me, since I am a huge fan of Clark Ashton Smith and poetic/weird adventure (Dunsany), the last story by Sarah Newton was a true highlight.

(1) "Face That Fits His Mask" by William King. King's Kormac is available in a series of anthologies (starts with Stealer of Flesh). Kormac is a hunter of dark creatures with some supernatural abilities of his own. With the aid of a suspicious demon, he goes after a kidnapper to rescue children from an underworld full of rat-men. Even though this is not Warhammer, William King has written for the Black Library and the rat-kin resembles Skaven.

(2) "Tyrant’s Bane" by John C. Hocking. This time our King's Blade (i.e., the king's right-hand man) is sent to find a missing colleague named Viriban—well, sent after his missing corpse. The shady King Flavious wants to know what is going on in the mortuary. Benhus sets out to solve a weird necromantic tale, armed with his Nobleman's Comfort wand of freezing and his master's sword. Yes, this is the third tale of Benhus in as many Tale's magazines. It is really rewarding to see Benhus evolve. From Tales #1: “The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest. From the World of the Archivist" thieves were breaking into royal crypts, but not necessarily to steal. Why? The police-like duo of Thratos (mentor Hand of the King sorcerer) and Benhus (young mentee, warrior sorcerer) investigate. And from Tales #2, "Trial by Scarab" showcased the rapid rise of Benhus from being a dexterous student of the military arts … into something better.

(3) "Five Deaths" By James Enge: More S&S police procedurals/mysteries! I recall reading my first Morlock tale in Rogue Blade Entertainment's Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure ("Red Worm's Way"). "Five Deaths" reads as two cops tracking a thief/criminal. Morlock is a thain (servant) to the older Lernaion (a summoner). Both are dwarf-like, with Morlock being a better caver and Lernaion being able to sense the demon's trail. The pair chases a murdering demon in a tale that is more Sorcery than Sword. Morlock's strange optimism balances the seriousness of the adventure well. I laughed out loud when Morlock surmised:
"The sorcerer died for a flippancy?"
Morlock's exploits are in the book Blood of Ambrose, and the first two Tales from the Magician's Skull. From Tales #1 "The Guild of Silent Men : A Story of Morlock Ambrosius", a fantasy-murder mystery fleshed out Thain Morlock's background and motivations. And from Tales #2 "Stolen Witness" the sorcerer investigator overcame his father's legacy in a compelling (pun intended) mystery regarding a stone--a device of sorts that reminded me of Robert E Howard's "The Black Stone" (1931).

(4) "The Forger’s Art" by Violette Malan. A mystery adventure regarding forged art and theft! Dhulyn (finally, a lead female protagonist) and Parno are Mercenary Brothers for hire, but in this case they are also out to avenge a fellow Brother's death. They also appeared in Tales #2: "A Soul’s Second Skin" in which the duo with telepathic skills unraveled a mystery, and accidentally caged themselves in another plane with antagonist magicians.

(5) "Second Death of Hanuvar" by Howard Andrew Jones. Twice as long as any other story herein, this one stands out. Hanuvar (a fictionalized anti-Roman general...could this be an incarnation of Hannibal Barca?) tangles with the Roman-like Dervani who have invaded his homeland. Expect espionage thriller sorties, gladiator battles, and a sorcery-saturated climax that balances all the sword fights prior. Hanuvar appears in Tales #1: "Crypt of Stars, From the Chronicles of Hanuvar Cabera."

(6) "The Wizard of Remembrance" by Sarah Newton. Wow, there are few who can roll out a tale as smoothly as Dunsany or Clark Ashton Smith, but Sarah Newton delivers this literary dose with excellence. I admit this was my first experience with her writing and couldn't be happier to discover someone "new" (to me). That's the fun of anthologies and magazines...enjoy the stories and find new authors to track down. Here is an excerpt of her voice:
"So Suven would summon the memnovores, as was his duty, and close his doors and stop his ears to the screams as the demons devoured the thoughts of his women in return for terrible gifts. Later, when the sight of their placid faces, cleansed of all care, became too much to bear, he would bow his own head and submit himself, too, to the ministrations of the memory eaters.

The Empire of Ubliax waxed mighty on the strength of its forgetting, and the savage lands of the Men of Mogor grew smaller each year. No one in the Empire knew how long its glory had endured..."
"By That Much", "Dead Wood", "The Return", and "Duel's End" by Joseph A. McCullough: These flash fiction pieces are sprinkled throughout all feature the grave digger Nick Bury. Full of whimsy and irony. Nice change of pace to complement the longer contributions.

The Appendix by Terry Olson. This is the aforementioned collection of spells, creatures, and magic items for RPG play derived from the stories.

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Arrival - Review by SE

Arrival by Richard Lee Byers
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Richard Lee Byers's Author's Note in Arrival invites the reader to provide feedback regarding the future of The Paladins (the series that Arrival novella kicks off).

Note the book blurb (below) is an excellent synopsis. It combines Lost-World tropes with Sword & Sorcery, as a witch in an alternate realm summons six warriors (five Christian Crusaders and a Muslim/Saracen fighter) that team up to fight an evil force called the Stain.

It reads really fast. This is true to Richard Lee Byer's style who has a long bibliography of fantasy books, many associated with RPG games.

Would I buy Book Two: yes.

What would I want/expect:
- More explanation about the Stain: is it a curse on the land, or some mutagen? I hope for something to show the commonality in all its manifestations: Parchment-men, one-eyed-dogs, sentient mud, mutating children...
- Kolinda's plan (she could have used her six warriors behind enemy lines to her advantage, but she lead them to her homeland, but it is not clear how they are going to help still)
- The continuing reveal of the Muslim (Saracen) Jibril's collusion with the Christian Hospitalers (Ox, Ottoman), and escalating tension between the Hospitaler and the Crusaders (hot-blooded Pierangelo and his more empathetic companions: Gaspard, William)

The author is accessible at conventions (such as GenCon). After meeting Richard Lee Byers, I interviewed him in 2018. Check it out to learn more about his views on Art and Horror.

Official Arrival Book Blurb:
Prophecy said holy warriors would travel from another world to save the Western Kingdoms. The men who showed up were rather different.

The priestess Kolinda risked her life to travel deep into the Stained Lands and cast the summoning in the only place where the ritual could be performed. She believed the magic would bring a fellowship of paladins.

Instead it snatched six warriors from the so-called Holy Land of the Earthly Crusades: Pierangelo the fanatic, Gaspard the pragmatist, William the callow novice, Ottomar the politician, Ox the dullard, and the enigmatic Jibril.
Flawed men with no interest in helping a strange land of pagans solve its problems. Enemies who sought to kill one another only moments before.

Now, however, they must band together to escape a country blighted by the foulest sorcery and stalked by unnatural terrors like the parchment men, the One-Eyed Hounds, and the ice witch Lady Coldbreath. It’s a brittle alliance born of necessity, in danger of shattering at any moment and surely not fated to last should the company be lucky enough to reach the Western Kingdoms alive.

The Paladins: Arrival is the start of a new fantasy epic about swordplay, war, demonic magic and horrors, and, just maybe, second chances and redemption.


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