Sunday, December 29, 2019

Offutt's BS: The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle - Review by SE

The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle by Andrew J. Offutt
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle is Andrew J. Offutt's parody of Sword & Sorcery. The one I read has illustrations from Jim Pitts, introduction by Wayne Warfield (editor), and an afterword by andrew j. offutt (who seldom capitalized his name).

It is intentionally overwritten with excess adjectives, and offutt referred to this as "BS" (short for many things, Black Sorcerer included.) The story has the common tropes of a lone hero fighting ~3 representations of something evil capped with a final confrontation with a malicious wizard. Plenty of silly call-outs to the S&S crowd are within (i.e., the wizard is named Reh after Robert E Howard).

I heard about this via the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads. My goal was further to understand how the use of color was applied in pulp fiction (S&S especially).

The afterword reveals the story's evolution. More importantly, it showed how multiple readers/editors preferred a particular balance of humor and action. In fact, offutt confessed he learned via working with BS of his Great Discovery:
"pornography and heroic fantasy have something much in common: both quite for different reasons, need to create a mood and a spell, and to make it last --and neither, can be overwritten.

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Anthology Groupread 2020 - Jan Feb on S&S - Goodreads

Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads

Happy Yuletide, Xmas, etc... and especially Happy New Year.

The next two months are slotted for Anthology reading, the foundation of the S&S genre is formed from short stories... and plenty of new collections are out there. Classic or new, grab one from your TBR pile and join in.

The Jan-Feb 2020 Anthology discussion folder (link)

"What anthologies are people reading?", a list (disguised as a Poll): Link to list/poll, feel welcome to add your vote (or write one in)

The inspirational Image Banner credits (L-R)

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Deep Madness Scenario Guide - Chronology

I just submitted an updated Word file (version 3) in the BGG Files for Deep Madness (Dec 22, 2019) to accommodate the Faces of the Sphere expansion.

I assume it will be approved soon by the admins.I think Version #3 will appear in place of #2 will appear here:

And the Deep Madness Facebook crew (thanks Phil) actually has a Files section (I just learned) and it has a similar guide:

 updated Oct-23-2020, Version 5

Deep Madness Scenario Guide and Chronology





Character Focus


Shattered Seas (complements book, requires a game tile from Uncounted Horrors)

1: Shattered Worlds

Lucas Kane (marine biologist)

Pre-Core Story


Rise of Dagon

1: Rite of Bile

Ward Phillips (novelist)

Regan Waite (cultist)

Meredith Waite(executive)

2: Virulent Whispers

3: Dagon Rising

Profundum PDF/The Faces of the Sphere

1: Drowning in the Depths (tutorial)

Same as core story

Core Story

Core Box of Deep Madness

1: Crawling Asphyxia

Arthur Weyland (engineer),

Felicia Armitage (doctor0,

Jared Drake (soldier),

Randi Carter (researcher),

Roman Asimov (biochemist),

Samuel Smith (captain)

2: Last Shuttle to Hell

3: Bathphobia

4: Through the Looking Glass

5: Madness Within

6: Lost in the Mist

7: The Horror Beneath

8: The Substance of Terror

Middle of Core Story

Oracle’s Betrayal

1: Trimming Virtues

Hannah Cobb (little girl)

John Murdock (detective)

Dr. Clarence Branom (psychiatrist)

Dr. William West

2: Collecting Tissue

3: Lobotomy

“True Ending”

to Core Story

Uncounted Horrors

1: Another Dawn

David (pilot),

Pris (secretary),

Dakota Johnson (officer),

Stephen Cooper (physicist),

 Charles Ryan (heavy miner),

Jacob Clarke (relief expert),

Amanda Weaver (quartermaster),

 Sophie Brigman (diver)

Jon (cat)

Post Core Story

Profundum PDF/The Faces of the Sphere

1: Faces of the Sphere

Same as core story + Hannah + Ward Phillips + Jacob Clarke (but evolved!)



Endless Nightmares

1: Fathoms Dark

Christopher Dalton (mystic),

 Emma Kruger (special agent),

 Franklyn Christie (navigator),

Amanda Weaver (quartermaster)

 Isaiah Wiesenthal (prophet),

 Lisbeth Gibson (hacker),

Sophie Brigman (diver),

Scarelt Romanov (special agent)

2: Fevered Dreams

3: Expectant Terror


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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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Upon the Flight of the Once Queen - Review by SE

A Grim Take on the Holy Grail: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones - Nov 12th 2019 Black Gate

flight-of-the-queen-larger-BGThe Ring-Sworn Trilogy

Howard Andrew Jones’s For the Killing of Kings jumpstarted the epic fantasy Ring Sworn trilogy this February 2019, and the sequel Upon the Flight of the Queen hits shelves next week (November 19th). MacMillan’s St. Martin's Press pitches the series as “The Three Musketeers presented via the style of Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber.” The pacing is reminiscent of Zelazny since Howard Andrew Jones (HAJ) doles out action and backstory with precision. Yet there are many more than three heroes, and the milieu has more medieval flare than musketry, so it is more “King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table” than Musketeers. For the Killing of Kings is actually a grim take on the consequences of seeking, and finding, a figurative Holy Grail (hearthstones). The Altenerai guard had been spread out over the Five Realms searching for many hearthstones that fuel magic — the enigmatic Queen Leonara deems them holy. Twice I was completely floored by plot twists, and the last third kept me from going to sleep. I haven’t had that much fun reading a book in a long time. Black Gate’s Fletcher Vredenburgh's review should likewise entice new readers.

91fi4aU2QFL#2 Upon the Flight of the Queen

Summarizing a sequel can be tough without spoiling its predecessor, but the following overview will try as it showcases why you should commit to Ring-Sworn. Upon the Flight of the Queen starts off exactly where For the Killing of Kings ends. The adventure begins in high-gear with Alten Rylin assuming his action-thriller role (~James Bond) penetrating the Naor camp disguised in magic, dragging the reader into mayhem.

The primary story arc still focuses on the coming of age of the female squire Elenai, a soldier with burgeoning magic prowess. Her rise in the Altenerai ranks is compelling. On her journey she campaigns with seasoned members who are still reeling from the previous war; their commander was killed, and their Queen Leonara decided to make temporary peace rather than annihilate the barbaric Naor enemies. War rages across the Five Realms of the Dendressi again, but now the Altenerai forces are less prepared, less numerous, and less united. By the end of this sequel, the new war with the Naor reaches a major milestone, and the Queen is confronted by the Altenerai. Upon the Flight of the Queen delivers on all the tension brewed in For the Killing of Kings, and you’ll still be left hungry for a third installment.

Cut-to-the-Chase Style

HAJ applies the same intense momentum from his Sword & Sorcery short fiction into these novels. Even though the Ring-Sworn epic spans a continent with dozens of characters, it propels without any filler. Likewise, despite there being ample political intrigue with the loyal Altenerai have been replaced with secretive Exalts of Queen, the conflict pulls no punches. HAJ simultaneously covers:
  • Remnants of the past war (readers will learn about many of the Altenerai who went MIA previously)
  • The current escalating war across three major fronts (the besieged Alantris, the corrupted Darassus; the lands about Vedessus)
  • An impending cataclysm (meddling with hearthstones unsettles the foundation of the Five Realms).

How Can so Much Ground be Covered so Fast and Smoothly?

The carefully designed milieu enables the efficient storytelling and informs everything: the magic systems, the health of the land, and every character’s motivations. The Naor, the kobalin, the Dendressi… all have cultures, and biology, intimately tied to the Five Realms and the conflicts between them. The Naor and ko’aye fight over nesting lands, the hearthstones obsessed by the Queen literally tap into the land’s substance, and as nature is reshaped, so too are the kobalin’s bodies:
[The Shifting Land] looked as though some mad deity had dropped geometric monoliths upon a distant line of irregular hills. Immense, perfectly square onyx and celadon blocks had embedded in three of the nearer ones, and the slopes were littered with smaller cubes of gray and green.
Storms pass and interact with the land and the creatures who live there—nature and beast share the same chaotic lifeforce:
…the light harshened and the dark, rocky soil under their feet transformed into white sand blazing under a tropic haze. The kobalin crooned, then they themselves began to shift…Qirock’s hands lengthened to claws and the hunched one grew hooves... the orange one thrust new elbow spikes into the soil.

Expect a Diverse Cast, with Contemporary Issues and Comic Relief

Don’t expect dwarves, elves, and such, since HAJ is always motivated to create fresh experiences. The Ring-Sworn has a unique cast of humanoid creatures, like the kobalin Ortok who provides humor as a fierce frenemy: if Ortok respects you, then he’ll challenge you to a duel to the death. Ortok’s banter and social analyses are hilarious. A few of the cast are sexually nonbinary (orientations are not a focus of the story, just low-key matters of fact). The macho Rylin certainly tries to charm more women than he deserves, but he is driven to be chivalrous and his approach to relations matures during the adventure. Gender roles even add tension amongst the masculine Naor ranks. Despite a requisite dose of masculinity (via testosterone-fueled violence), women play a dominant role in the book. In addition to Elenai’s role as lead protagonist, all the governors of the realms are female: Queen Leonara of Darassus, Verena of Vedessuus, and Feolia of Alantris.

Evil Naor

The antagonistic Naor disdain modern sensibilities and civilization. They love to coerce/enthrall dragons to fight on their behalf, they ransack nesting grounds of the ko'aye and harvest blood from hundreds of people to fuel their blood-sorcery (sacrificial “olech” ceremonies). All that just makes them really entertaining, bad guys. While the standard humans are fascinated with hearthstone magic (at the expense of the land’s health), the Naor are thrilled to practice blood magic (at the expense of life):
The rising strands of blood twisted into ropes that quickly shaped a complex framework. Over the course of a few minutes a scaffolding took shape, over which recognizable forms grew distinct: a torso, a head, a mass below that which was flowing and vaguely fishtail-like until it was revealed as the bottom of a robe… long strands of blood hung down either side of the head… Vannek looked upon a sculpture of his oldest brother.

Cover & Map & Trailer

A map was not necessary for the first book, but Upon the Flight of the Queen expands the scope of action across the Five Realms and a map appropriately complements the story. As the Lauren Saint Onge cover indicates, readers will experience aerial battles between dragons and Archaeopteryx-like ko’aye. Darian Jones, son of the author, is a skilled animator and produced the trailer. Fletcher Vredenburgh interviewed Darian Jones and revealed how the trailer was designed and made (including the music), and sheds light on a father-son relationship.

#3 The Goddess Wakes in 2020?

The trilogy is well underway. During the Feb 2019 Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), I inquired on the release schedule. HAJ returned: “The third book is fully outlined, and I had begun drafting…”. From subsequent correspondence, I learned the working title for Ring Sworn #3 is When the Goddess Wakes (obviously subject to change), with a targeted release in 2020.

Howard Andrew Jones

When not helping run his small family farm or spending time with his amazing wife and children, Howard Andrew Jones can be found hunched over his laptop or notebook, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted towers. His novels include The Chronicles of Sword and Sand (The Desert of Souls, The Waters of Eternity, The Bones of the Old Ones) and several Pathfinders Tales. Jones has worked variously as a TV cameraman, a book editor, a recycling consultant, and a college writing instructor. He assembled and edited 8 collections of Harold Lamb's historicals for the University of Nebraska Press, and served as Managing Editor of Black Gate. He edits the Sword-and-Sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, and edits for the Perilous Worlds book imprint.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Barczak 2019

Van's Pig Stand... or Starbucks?

Since 2014, Tom and I have met each November in Norman OK for coffee, and it has always been a blast. Blogging has captured our chats, drawing, and join ups.

Far be it for two writers with similar minds to miscommunicate, but we almost missed our annual connect due to ambiguous messaging.  My agenda included a 6PM connection with OU professors at Van's Pig Stand and (next day) 6AM meeting with Tom... but fate would take him to the BBQ joint in the morning looking for me. 

We overcame the madness, but are now motivated to spice up our routine next year.
2019, S.E. Lindberg and Tom Barczak

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Larvae Cake Day - 2019

In remembrance of all the Larvalwyrmen cursed to never to mature after their eldritch Queen passed, we eat cake! Especially, we eat cupcakes of red velvet, filled with Maraschino cherries, topped with chocolate frosting, white sprinkles and extruded marzipan!

We celebrate just before Halloween, sustaining the tradition sparked last year (follow the link to learn the history and connection to Dyscrasia Fiction).

Cupcakes will be served in the West Chester area tomorrow. Cheers!

Next year, we may try some Dr. Grave Skin Pie's!
Inspired by "The Macabre Art of Baking ‘People Pot Pies’"
 Ashley Newman Photo from  The Macabre Art of Baking ‘People Pot Pies’"