Showing posts with label Tales from the Magician's Skull. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tales from the Magician's Skull. Show all posts

Monday, November 22, 2021

More Tales from the Magician's Skull has funded!



More Tales From The Magician's Skull

The Kickstarter campaign ritual ended successfully, with 640 backers that unlocked an 8th story in the 2022 Special Issue! Expected years more of S&S printed on high-quality paper, fully illustrated, with statistics for RPG for each story, and engaging covers.... expect greatness!


The Skull Expresses His Gratitude (which doesn't happen often)

More Tales From The Magician's Skull -- Kicktraq Mini

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

More Tales from the Magician's Skull - Kickstarter is live!



It's live! Pledge to the Skull! The Kickstarter is live! Extend your subscription or get just a few issues...up to 9 more! The Special issue depends on our involvement. Every 200 backers yields another story in that. 

Link to Kickstarter: "More Tales From The Magician's Skull"

Link to 40min Overview on Twitch


A magazine of all-new swords & sorcery fiction in the classic pulp style! Now pursuing issue #7 and beyond!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Tales from the Magician's Skull #6 - Review by SE

Tales from the Magician's Skull #6 by Howard Andrew Jones

S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tales from the Magician's Skull #6 (Cover Illustration: Doug Kovacs) ramps up an already impressive line-up. Editor and author Howard Andrew Jones and publisher Joseph Goodman must be possessed by this Skull character, which is fine by me. 

BTW, there is a Kickstarter ready to launch this week to fund issues #7 and beyond. Sign up here to be notified.

Listen here to what the Skull has them creating:

Like the first five issues, the print copy of #6 is an ~8.5x11 inch masterpiece printed on high-quality, textured paper. Fully illustrated again, of course. PDFs have always been available too, but this issue is also available in ePub from the publisher (Amazon and DriveThruRPG also offer versions). Also, this issue continues the great tradition of enabling readers to play RPG versions of the stories with statistics for items/characters provided by Terry Olsen.

And rise from your chair, mortal dogs (that's Skull speak), #6 has an officially licensed pastiche of Fritz Leiber's Fafhred and the Gray Mouser tales, brought to you by veteran writer Nathan Long. His story has the famous duo attempting to steal books from a secretive clan of sorcerers; honestly, it felt just like "Leiber," with an entertaining, weird adventure that works in humor to break the tension.

Hocking, Enge, and Malan continue to extend their series that have been anchors to the magazine to date. All the contributions are episodic (i.e. stand-alone). However, Hocking has a knack to impart more character progression with his Benhus than traditional, episodic action heroes of the pulps. His style is to ramp up slowly over a few pages, and then roll it into epic madness. Hocking delivers again as he had before. And Enge Morlock's character is a wonderful, troubled man; I feel empathetic and attached to him as he struggles with inner and real demons--great stuff. And Malan's Parno and Dhulyn make an entertaining pair of mercenaries.

Mele offers up his "Azatlan" milieu, which is akin to Robert E. Howard's Hyborian World (a harmonized blending of anachronistic European/North-African/West-Asian cultures), but with a focus on South/Meso-American flare. Necromantic rituals feel fresh here. This complements Howard's champion Hanuvar who goes undercover in the Dervan Empire (which radiates a Romanesque feel). Varied stories, characters, and lands make this a splendid issue.

TABLE OF CONTENTS with official snippets.
1) CALICASK'S WOMAN by John Hocking (A TALE OF THE KING’S BLADE): “I can’t hold them back for long,” gasped the apprentice. His face had gone pallid and sweat dripped from his chin. “Stand by the opening and try to take them one at a time. Perhaps we can… where are you going?!”

2) THE FEATHERED SHROUD by Howard Andrew Jones (A TALE OF HANUVAR)
The water behind the soldier erupted, and Hanuvar lunged past him to jam the pitchfork at a shovel-shaped reptilian head. The tines bit deep, and the dark water reddened.

3) GUILTY CREATURES by Nathan Long. A TALE OF FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER
"In the circle, Mouser stared cross-eyed at the tip of Kalphin’s blade, knowing death was coming to him at last."

4) SHADOWS OF A FORGOTTEN QUEEN by Greg Mele. A TALE OF AZATLAN
"I’ve seen a maiden’s veins opened as she is led through the fields, watering the new crops with her life’s blood in honor of Majawl, Our Lady of Maize, and lit my own father’s funeral pyre. But what manner of man owned books made of human flesh?"

5) COLD IN BLOOD by James Enge. A STORY OF MORLOCK AMBROSIUS
"She moved with a lithe, muscular dancer’s grace as she walked around him to enter the room. Her hair was a waterfall of starless night. Her eyes were the stars, shining with tears. Morlock had seen a more beautiful woman, but not recently."

6) ISLE OF FOG by Violette Malan. A DHULYN AND PARNO ADVENTURE.
"Dhulyn judged from the way his mouth moved now that he was screaming. That was easy to fix, she thought, as she brought her sword up and sent the head bouncing and rolling across the tiled floor."

ARTICLES
A PROFILE OF FRITZ LEIBER by Michael Curtis
Leiber replied, “I feel more certain than ever [that this field] should be called the sword-and-sorcery story.” And thus a sub-genre, while not quite newly born, received a name for the first time…

THE MONSTER PIT by Terry Olson
Enter the monster pit! Down here in the pit, we provide tabletop RPG fans with playable DCC RPG game statistics for the creatures in this issue of Tales From The Magician’s Skull.

THE SKULL SPEAKS by the Skull Himself
He asks us to prepare to celebrate Sword & Sorcery on October 23rd, 2021, a day slated to begin an annual Day of Might celebration. 


View all my reviews

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Day of Might - Oct 23rd marks a S&S Holiday

Grab a candle, gong, and S&S magazine/book now, and prepare to celebrate!

As notified via the Tales from the Magician's Skull blog, the Skull commands you to celebrate Sword & Sorcery today. Listen to his video transmission.



Check out Liam Lyceum's Video, as he explains how to celebrate:

But Liam is one of the few. What are you doing to celebrate S&S?

The Skull suggests you click here to be notified of a future publication!


But wait, there is more. Listen to Joseph Goodman and Howard Andrew Jones celebrate the Day of Might:


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Special Tales from the Magician's Skull issue AND Sat. Oct 23rd is The Day of Might

 

Special Issue, Available only through the October 2021 Kickstarter

With intern#331, I scried the future by reading the bones in the Skull’s scat (recall, we clean out his chamber pot). Noting the arrangement of osseous matter, extended ligaments, and larvae-ridden marrow, it seems likely that 

(1) the remains are from intern#127 and ....

(2) The KS will offer a special issue not available in print through any other channel. (It will be available in PDF elsewhere, but the print version will only be available through this KS.)

People who have already subscribed can extend their subscriptions via the KS. Click here to be notified of the ~Oct 24th Kickstarter:

Click here to be notified!

Also, the day prior to the launch, Sat. Oct 23rd, expect some video extravaganza.  See here an excerpt clipping from Tales from the Magician's Skull #6:





Saturday, October 9, 2021

Tales From the Magician's Skull Welcomes Grave Lindberg, Jr. as Publicity Thrall

Tales From the Magician's Skull Welcomes Grave Lindberg, Jr. as Publicity Thrall

Goodman Games announces Publicity Intern



Content reposted from the Goodman Games site:


It pleases the Skull to announce the hiring of Intern #331 to the position of Publicity Thrall, tasked with the propagation of news and announcements concerning Tales From the Magician’s Skull in the realmspace of the interwebs. Furthermore, the Skull anticipates a job opening along very similar lines to materialize in around 4-6 months, and will be accepting applications for Intern #322 at that time.

A surviving participant of the Skull’s recent Open Call, Intern #331’s initial task at Skull HQ was the preparation and serving of coffee, a task he performed poorly. Therefore he was enrolled in the Skull’s continuing education program and imbarred in a kennel, forcibly separated from his Teddy Bear “Rufus,” the suspected source of a degree of retrograde emotionalism on his part, and commanded to ‘seriously contemplate’ his career aspirations. In a move that greatly impressed management, he was utterly forgotten about for several weeks, and #331’s ability to both not overburden his superiors with ephemera and not lose his mind in the oubliette of horrors wherein he was confined recommended him for promotion. When it was realized he was one of the few survivors of the Open Call by dint of his misplacement, this ‘interred intern’s’ upward trajectory was all but assured.

As one of the select survivors, #331 earned the much-coveted Intern-of-the-Year Award, which he is permitted to gawp at in the vault on the first Tuesday of every odd-numbered month. But far grander than this, Intern #331 has been allowed to remain at the Skull’s side for even more TFTMS publishing-world experience, and he will even hereafter be known by his mortal name outside official documentation (though he is forbidden the removal of his numerical tattoo). And, while the Skull cannot currently recall his actual name . . . he is certain it rhymes with Hindenburg.

(Upon further review of both the thaumaturgical archives and the kennel sign in sheet, it has been determined that Intern #331’s name is in fact Grave Lindberg, Jr.)

This Fall, #331’s role primarily involves the ritual cleansing of the Skull’s chamber pot, but he will also be expected to broadcast public announcements while manning the pillory. We have little hope he will last, but please join us in welcoming another pair of hands in service of the Skull!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Tales from the Magician's Skull #5 - Review By SE



Tales from the Magician's Skull #5
by Howard Andrew Jones
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heed me mortal dogs, Sword & Sorcery fans will devour these tales!:
Tales from the Magician's Skull #5 provides six new tales printed in superb format, with a bonus essay on Harold Lamb. And take in that beautiful cover by Manuel Pérez Clemente (better known as Sanjulián)!

As per the Tales from the Magician's Skull series, all are graced with RPG item/character statistics so readers can play out the stories, or play with key parts of them; the stats are in Dungeon Crawl Classics form which can readily be applied to other formats. The illustrations are wonderful too. Several more issues are in the queue.


Availability & Subscriptions
- General retailers like Amazon have some current issues, but some of the earlier ones are getting out of stock.
- Goodman Games (publisher of the magazine) has many for direct sale (PDF and print), as well as subscriptions.
- DriveThruRPG has PDFs of most.

#5 Table of Contents with official blurbs (and some of my own commentary)

(1) "Pool of Memory" by James Enge: A wondrously trippy Morlock Ambrosius tale, extending the serialization across issues.
The sword sang, with an almost human voice, and bright shards of crystal flew everywhere. The luminous, image-laden fog of memories billowed forth, around him and through him. He staggered like a drunk, intoxicated by the swift shocking burst of other lives, other hates, other loves. When the mists were gone, he was himself again—whoever that was.

(2) "The Guardian of Nalsir-Fel" by Adrian Simmons: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly editor contributes an adventurous-duo (characters Ahzlamin and Penkatel) tale reminiscent of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series:
“Do not look for help,” the messenger said. “Do not call out for the guards, they will not hear you! They will not see you! Such is the power of Cowlanati Palisani, the great and serene!”

(3) "In the Corridors of the Crow" by John C. Hocking. Classic Hocking here. A calculated buildup to explosive mayhem. This one really builds the strained relationship between Benhus (the King's Blade) and his master King.
It was a nest, a great nest made of bones. He saw the bones of men and animals wound and bound together, forming such a dense fabric that he could not tell where one ended and the other began. He could make out the weathered skulls of men and the antlers of a great stag, all crusted with layers of dust and cobweb, filthy with age and abandonment.

(4) "Road of Bones" by Violette Malan: Malan has had several Dhulyn & Parno adventures in TftMS, and this one was my favorite so far. They escort a deranged wizard on a perilous adventure into ruins.
We, we removed his power—it’s a complicated and painful procedure, for all parties. Then we cut him to pieces, and burned the pieces. But the bones you know, the bones don’t burn.

(5) "Dreams of a Sunken Realm" by Adrian Cole: Yes, another Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis pastiche! The climatic battle between ghosts and demons-of-sea was splendid.
Elak and his companions watched in horror as the first wave exploded and cascaded over the great buildings of the city. Palaces and temples erupted, smitten by the almighty power of the wave.

(6) "Demons of the Depths" by C. L. Werner: Shintaro Oba always offer demon killing with a refreshing non-European-centric milieu.
The waves turned red as the feeding frenzy drove the creatures to turn against one another, ripping away at their fellows in the crazed hunger. When this frenzy was at its height, the man on the tower calmly rose and stepped to the edge. Deliberately he dropped the jewel straight down into the midst of the ravenous sharks.

(7) "A Profile of Harold Lamb" by Howard Andrew Jones.
Any writer who encountered Adventure magazine between 1917 and the early 1930s would have had Harold Lamb’s work readily at hand, because he was one of the magazine’s most popular writers and appeared there with great frequency. Probably the most important of those who saw him, though, was a Texan named Robert E. Howard…

(8) "The Monster Pit" by Terry Olson.
Enter the monster pit! Down here in the pit, we provide tabletop RPG fans with playable DCC RPG game.


View all my reviews

Friday, January 1, 2021

Tales from the Magician's Skull - review by SE


Tales from the Magician's Skull #4
by Howard Andrew Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eight new engaging tales printed in superb format. As per the Tales from the Magician's Skull series, all are graced with RPG item/character statistics so readers can play out the stories, or play with key parts of them; the stats are in Dungeon Crawl Classics form which can readily be applied to other formats. Most have a King-sent-me-on-a-mission premise, but all are varied in tone and style. The illustrations are wonderful too. You can get TftMS from sellers like Amazon, or better... direct from Goodman Games (PDF's via DrivethruRPG).


All are stellar reads. I star my personal favorites (I'm a sucker for ghosts, dark blood magic, and tortured souls and the two with ties to Atlantis struck a cord).

-Expect returning authors to continue their serials: (a) John C Hocking's has his King's blade Benhus tracking down a magical ring in a den of thieves; deliciously dark magic explodes there; (b) also, Enge's Morlock Ambrosius appears again; this episode is a somewhat comedic and psychedelic experience as he seeks out a pair of hands he lost previously.
-Sword & Soul champion, Milton Davis, delivers a tale with the livestock loving warrior Garang being toyed with elder gods in Africa's Kush (reminiscent of Saunder's Imaro).
-Warhammer/Black Library author C.L. Werner offers a blood-soaked samurai tale that will encourage you to take care of your pets better.
*-Veteran writer Adrian Cole offers up an 'Elak of Atlantis' pastiche that echoes Henry Kuttner's voice really well (splendid conflict on a cursed island rife with elder god-things).
*-Speaking of Atlantis, Tom Doyle sends us into subterranean ruins with an Atlantean. This was the first time I read his work.
-Ryan Harvey offers us a touch of Steampunk gods plaguing Sorrow-ridden freedom fighters struggling to rebuild a city.
-James Stoddard offers the most varied tale, arguable not classic S&S. It's post-apocalyptic, curse-breaking adventure with cameo's from fairy tales.

Table of Contents (with the official teaser blurbs):
(1) Guardian of the Broken Gem by John C. Hocking
Benhus wondered what he could expect if they took him alive. Torture and interrogation, probably. They’d pry the fact that he worked for the King from him and that would seal his death warrant. He squeezed the hilt of the white dagger and wondered how many of them he could kill before they took him down.

(2) On Death Seed Island>/i>- by Adrian Cole
The cloud writhed gently, as if shifting in a breeze, though the air in the grove was very still. In a moment it had formed itself into a distinctive shape and the men drew back in alarm. It was a human figure, hunched, its face a blur, save for the eyes and mouth.

(3) Masks of Silence - by James Enge
The glass cages were full of… things. Not people, but parts of people. They were moving—they were alive: meaty throbbing hearts, shiny pulsating strips of liver, fingers crawling like inchworms, feet flopping like fish.
“There is a part of hell that’s supposed to be like this,” Deor remarked.

(4)Cage of Honor - by James Stoddard
Without hesitation, he sent his knife whistling through the air, striking the witch full in the throat. Ignoring her, he caught the woman in his arms, and she was everything to him all at once, everything he ever wanted.

(5) The Witch’s Hound - by C. L. Werner
In a burst of supernatural speed, the dog-ape lunged at Oba. It drove its hairy body beneath the sweep of his sword and drove its shoulder into his midriff in a maneuver that was more tackle than pounce. The samurai was knocked back, sent sprawling on the ground

(6) The Dead Queen’s Triumph - by Ryan Harvey
“You—don’t yet believe—that I am your queen.” The tongue moved freer as the abomination became used to speaking. “For long, I forgot that I was as well. But I am royal blood still. See?” One of the manipulated arms placed its hand over a flap on the chest cylinder. Fingers gripped the sides and pulled it open.

(7) Thieves of the Fallen World - by Tom Doyle
We’d taken these unearthly glowing gems and blades of cold flame from beings who (at best) weren’t quite human. These trophies were still puissant for ill, and a captured battle lance twitched at me like a living bug impaled on a pin. You shouldn’t be keeping such things, sire.

(8) Apedamak’s Army - by Milton Davis
Garang had made a mistake. He crouched as he walked backwards to the hut, hoping the beasts did not see him. He was halfway to the hut when the last beast spotted him and changed directions, shrieking at him as it attacked.

(X) Appendix: Game Statistics by Terry Olson
We present this appendix of game statistics for the various creatures, spells, and items described herein.



View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tales from the Magician's Skull - Review by SE


Tales from the Magician's Skull #1
by Howard Andrew Jones
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Behold! I have fashioned a magazine like those from fabled days of yore. It overflows with thrilling adventures. There are swords, and there is sorcery. There are dark deeds and daring rescues. There are lands where heroes fear to tread." - 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. Tales from the Magician's Skull #1 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 suggested RPG game items. As a backer and enthusiast of fantasy fiction, I couldn’t be more pleased.

QUALITY: The quality is great (the artwork, editing, illustrations, paper-feel etc.); this magazine is just fun to hold.

APPENDIX: The Appendix! What a great design idea! To drive home the RPG elements of the stories, these guys created items and rules related to each story for the Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG. This is really cool. read the stories...then go play them.

ILLUSTRATIONS: Ooh, the illustrations are nice and varied. For Enge’s story, Russ Nicholson drew a full page, very reminiscent of his drawings for the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Many full page, detailed illustrations decorate the interior (by artists: Jennell Jaquays, Doug Kovacs, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Ian Miller, Russ Nicholson, Stefan Poag, and Chuck Whelon).

STORIES
1) "What Lies in Ice" A Gaunt and Bone story by Chris Willrich - For me this was 3-stars, but I think YA-adult and lit-RPG (literary RPG) readers will enjoy it more. For a short story, this has a huge party of protagonists (>6), heavy doses of comic relief, and an overabundance of fast-paced story telling that shoots for ADHD action scenes rather than elements-that-build-on-each other. It reminds me of a Marvel Avengers movie. It has too much in it to allow an old fogie like myself enough to grasp on to, but it does have a lot of neat things going on (as disjointed as they are). My favorite concept/creature: Hands of the Sea (which is the first item in the Appendix!).

Sharing my thoughts on Goodreads prompted the Sword & Sorcery crowd assured me that followers of Gaunt and Bone will enjoy this since it ties together other G&B yarns.

2) James Enge's "The Guild of Silent Men : A Story of Morlock Ambrosius". 5-star! Although less action than the previous story, this fantasy-murder mystery delivers more than enough swords-n-sorcery while fleshing out Thain Morlock's background and motivations. A fun read that also serves to make me want to learn more. Perhaps I should go get Blood of Ambrose right now.

3) Bill Ward's "Beneath the Bay of Black Waters” A Tale of Shan Spirit Slayer and the Banner General Bao" - 4-stars. I'm a big Bill Ward fan (i.e., his anthologies like
Mightier than the Sword and Last of His Kind). This Asian/Orient adventure is led by an entertaining duo tracking a drug trade (of Black Pearls, being mysterious narcotics) from the Fish-Gutter gang. Death escapes the protagonists more than it should, but the story is great.

4) Aeryn Rudel's “Beyond the Block” - 5 stars. A first-person perspective was perfect for this undead horror. Another duo stars, this time its Lucinda and her brother Matthais (the narrator). Matthais is a blacksmith who seeks to defend Lucinda from Lord Magister Vyard (a sorcerer who wants something of Lucinda’s magical potential).

5) Howard Andrew Jones’s “Crypt of Stars, From the Chronicles of Hanuvar Cabera" has one primary hero: Hanuvar of the Volani. It's him against the invading Dervani who are out to raid his ancestral cemeteries. I am a big HAJ fan, having followed his blogs and Black Gate articles and enjoyed his fiction (i.e., The Bones of the Old Ones). He never disappoints. 5-stars.

6) C.L. Werner's "There Was an Old Fat Spider” offers a biased protagonist, Karl, who may be an anti-hero. A knight and civil protector Rudolf Goettinger tracks Karl down in this Germanic/Gothic tale that reminded me of Werner's Warhammer tales. Lots of gray areas here. Good grimness. 4-stars.

7) John C. Hocking’s “The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest. From the World of the Archivist." Another police-like duo lead this mystery: Thratos (mentor Hand of the King sorcerer) and Benhus (young mentee, warrior sorcerer). Thieves are breaking into royal crypts, but not necessarily to steal. Why? Some neat Magical Weapons are presented, i.e., the Nobleman's Comfort (magical wand, and its in the Appendix). Best of all, this story has a talking skull! But is it THE skull? 5-stars.

VOLUME #2 promises more of the great quality, and it is nearing publication (June 15th 2018). I suggest you join the Legion of the Skull, whether you like to read, play RPGs, or both.


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