Thursday, December 5, 2019

Philosophically Speaking

So, I have Janice to thank for the following philosophical, not philological, take on Tolkien:

A little poking about reveals that they also do D&D. In fact, it's something of a running theme of theirs, with eight iterations so far:   [Episode I]  [Episode II]  [Episode III]   [Episode IV]   [Episode V]   [Episode VI]   [Episode VII]   [Episode VIII]

Silly, but fun.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Walk Like an Egyptian

So, this is amazing. I've been curious about how close visitors can get to the Sphinx and Great Pyramids, and came across some video online that suggests the answer is pretty darn close.

Here's the video of the Sphinx walking tour:

The same people have done a similar close-up walking tour of the Great Pyramids, which I include here with the caveat that I haven't watched this one all the way to the end yet.

It promises to be a pretty amazing trip.

current reading:
THE PAPYRUS OF ANI: THE BOOK OF THE DEAD (as a read-aloud for speech therapy)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

an interview from 1999

So, while doing some more sorting, I came across an interview I did back in 1999 which I had completely forgotten about. It was printed in a little digest-sized newsletter, SENSE OF WONDER, published by B. Dalton's (back when there were still B. Daltons') in their June/July 1999 issue.  It's focused on my contribution to the TSR Silver Anniversary series, RETURN TO THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLAND.

The issue also has a feature marking the fifteenth anniversary of DRAGONLANCE and, better yet, a full-page Tolkien piece, interviewing my friends Wayne Hammond & Cristina Scull, whose newest work at that time was ROVERANDOM (their edition of FARMER GILES OF HAM still being forthcoming at the time).

This Silver Anniversary interview is the sort of thing I'd have mention in my blog, except that this piece predates by blog by a good seven or eight years. So I've decided on the principle of better late than never to give it here.

Return to the Keep on the Borderlands--An Interview with John D. Rateliff

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS with a return to the setting of the adventure that was named one of the "Best Classic Adventures of All Time" in a recent gamer poll. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS co-creator E. Gary Gygax's original Keep on the Borderlands adventure, first published in 1981, introduced hundreds of thousands of gamers to the hobby. Now, in honor of the Silver Anniversary of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, talented game dsigner John D. Rateliff has crafted Return to the Keep on the Borderlands ($12.95, on sale June), a sequel to this classic adventure, updated for use with the AD&D game. This is your chance to challenge the evil powers that still lurk in the fabled Caves of Chaos . . . and soon will rise to threaten the unsuspecting residents of the isolated outpost of the Keep on the Borderlands. Here's what John D. Rateliff has to say about the Silver Anniversary of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, and the adventure that awaits in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands:

John D. Rateliff: It's been twenty-five years since Dave Arneson and E. Gary Gygax invented DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, the first fantasy roleplaying game. We're celebrating that milestone with the Silver Anniversary series featuring re-releases, remakes, and reprints of classic adventures, updated and augmented with additional new material. There's also a big boxed set coming out this summer with facsimiles of some long out-of-print adventures. It's exciting to get these player favorites back in print again, some for the first time in over a decade.

I was drawn to D&D by my love of fantasy literature, especially the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. I actually have a Ph.D. in fantasy! I was in graduate school (at Bill Clinton's alma mater) when I first discovered D&D at a local hobby store in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I've been playing ever since.

Professionally, I've been working in the roleplaying industry since 1991. I've edited or designed (written) about three dozen adventures, rulebooks, supplements, and boxed sets. I've been pretty heavily involved in the whole Silver Anniversary line -- writing one product, editing another, and play-testing a third, and I've also played a role in the general trend over the past few years for TSR to get back to its roots.

When I got lucky enough to get the assignment to design Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. I was eager for the chance. Years ago I played the original Gygax adventure three times --once as a player and twice as a DM, with different groups.  That's not unusual: Keep on the Borderlands was originally designed to introduce gamers to the system. It certainly did a great job of that --more people have played Keep on the Borderlands than any other roleplaying adventure ever.

My favorite thing about the original adventure was the interaction of the different races in the Caves of Chaos. In those twelve interconnected caves, Gygax presented an interesting pecking order between the goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and so forth --explaining who kowtowed to whom and why. That sense of how things fit together went a long way to create a fantasy "ecology" and suggested a larger world beyond that original current adventure.

My creation is a sequel to Gygax's original adventure, and his work is my primary source. I focused, first and foremost, on updating his setting and thinking of what might have happened to these places and people in the course of the time that has passed in the world of the game. And, of course, I drew a lot on characters and situations from my own campaigns -- things that were fun for me and the people I played with.

In Return to the Keep on the Borderland, it's been twenty years since heroes cleaned out the Caves of Chaos and made the area safe to live again. However, nature abhors a vacuum, and the caves now have new inhabitants  just as nasty as the old ones.  Currently, the Keep is down to a skeleton garrison, unable to prevent bandits from ambushing travelers or to stop folks from disappearing. Luckily, new adventurers are being drawn to the area by rumors that the cave are once again filled with monsters and treasures. It's becoming a kind of tradition that this is the place where would-be heroes first come to try their luck, just like the famous adventurers of a generation ago. Enter the player characters . . . 

In addition to a rousing adventure, John D. Rateliff's Return to the Keep on the Borderlands includes a special section of advice for beginning Dungeon Masters, detailed descriptions of the Keep and its inhabitants, wilderness encounters with a wide range of classic AD&D monsters, plus room-by-room descriptions of every chamber within the Caves of Chaos. It's time to Return to the Keep on the Borderlands

P. S. : I have to give points to the writer of this little piece, whoever it was, for getting my name right, complete with middle initial.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Names in the OGL SRD

So, re. the editing credit for Under an Angry Star, on a closer look it turns out my name is included after all -- not on the credits page but in the last line of the last page, as part of the System Reference Document,  a one-page version of the Open Gaming License included in all d20 products that lays out in small type the terms of the license. My name is one of thirteen given as writers who contributed to the 3e d20 system. The list is interesting in that the selection and inclusion criteria seem oblique. Here's the whole list:

Jonathan Tweet
Monte Cook
Skip Williams
Rich Baker
Andy Collins
David Noonan
Rich Redman
Bruce R. Cordell
John D. Rateliff
Thomas Reid
James Wyatt
based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

Of these, the first three names --Jonathan, Monte, and Skip-- were the three core members of the 3e design team, with Jonathan primarily in charge of the PLAYER'S HANDBOOK (and overall of the project), Monte of the DMG, and Skip of the MM.

Rich Baker was originally part of the team till he was promoted to product group leader in charge of THE FORGOTTEN REALMS.
Peter Adkison was also briefly member of the team early on, until persuaded that the development and design process for 3e was intensive enough that he cd run the company or help redesign the game but not both.

The next seven names come not quite in alphabetical order, mine among them. My guess is I'm in there for being editor of the PH and DMG, though in that case Julia Martin my co-editor shd be there too. It's hard to work out the rationale for decisions I wasn't privy to that took place almost twenty years ago, but in any case it's nice to be included. We put in a tremendous amount of work trying to make that the best game we cd, and while my heart will always belong to AD&D (esp. 1st edition) I'm glad to see that for many people 3e and the d20 system in all its multitudinous forms provided them with a lot of good gaming.

--John R.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

My Newest Publication (UNDER AN ANGRY STAR)

So my friend, gaming legend Jeff Grubb, was recently a guest of honor at the Lucca  comics and gaming convention near Florence, Italy. And as part of his guestly duties, they asked him to write and run a new adventure specially for the convention. He wrote it, I edited it, and they translated it into Italian and printed it as SOTTO  UNA  STELLA  FURENTE  ("UNDER AN ANGRY STAR"):

It's quite a fun adventure, and a challenging one combining al-QADIM (a game world Jeff created) with SPELLJAMMER (which Jeff also created) and featuring foes such as the neogi, yak-men, and giff, all of them inventions by Jeff, circa 1989-1994, along with various types of djinn and a few familiar but cleverly disguised monsters. It's been a long time since I edited a D&D project, and I enjoyed this one greatly. In fact, the only down side for me is that the print Italian edition has taken my name off the credits, replacing them with the person who edited the Italian-language edition. Pity, that.

Still, if you love old style D&D and wd like to see a modern exemplar of the craft, I highly recommend this adventure. Oh, and it helps if you read Italian.

--John R.

One feature that shows a nice 'old school' touch on the part of the folks who thought this up and carried it off is that this module has a designator, just like in the glory days of G1, X2, S4, and I6.

These designators were much loved by gamers, who used them as a kind of in-the-know shorthand, but baffled TSR's marketing department, which eventually put the kabosh on them.*

In this case the code is OSA08, which I take to mean Old School Adventure 8. This is confirmed by a slash in the upper left corner with the mixed English/Italian words "Per GDR Fantasy / Old School". And on the back cover are shown the full front covers of the first six in this series (of which, I noted, Jeff's is the 8th), including modules by Zeb Cook ("L'Ultima Battaglia di Re Aemon"), Bill Slavicsek ("La Taverna Ubiqua"), and Douglas Niles ("If Flagello di Giltshire").

*I went ahead and assigned them ones for use in Games Library, right up to the end of Second Edition.

PPS: Here's the back cover of Jeff's module, for those who are interested in seeing more of the context:

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Comment on a Post (re. Arneson)

So, I just got a comment on my post back in September on the new film documenting Arnesom's role in the creation of D&D. Since the comment seems to come from the filmmaker himself, thought I'd feature it here so as to give the filmmakers a better chance to have their say. Here's their comment:

Secrets of Blackmoor: A D&D documentary said...
Good to see a review.

Not being fully familiar with how Kotaku spins everything, that article was somewhat of a surprise even to myself. I felt some of my comments were a bit out of context as I am sure Rob Kuntz likely feels about his, yet any PR is good PR as the old adage goes.

Arneson is still being vilified by people who have no idea of the extent of his own works in leveraging Role Playing. All they go off of are some really spurious editorials in the Dragon. All those have been disproven, such as Arneson not making anything, How come I have seen piles of his unpublished works? How come Gygax has to see Blackmoor before he offers to collaborate with Arneson on D&D? If D&D is based on Chainmail why is there no role playing it Chainmail?

And if Gygax is such a complete genius why is his company leaking money like a pasta colander and then why does he lose his share in it? I am more partial to saying that Gygax was a genius in his own right, but he had some blinders just as Arneson did in some areas

Anyone who says it's either Arneson or Gygax is really missing the point of studying history. I have my little brown books and they say Gygax and Arneson on them. With our Movie we don't say bad things about Gygax because our focus is how RPG's are invented. The only path of invention goes from Totten to Wesely to Jenkins to Arneson to Gygax.

Because of how Gygax and TSR made Arneson the Target of thes attacks completely erases everyone else. I bet none of you know how Duane Jenkins is. Or Pete Gaylord who played the first wizard.

One can argue rules, but rules are not Role Playing. I could just as easily run an RPG with a chart from Panzer Blitz as any other mechanic and the experience is the same. hmmm... the Panzer Blits dungeon might be a fun spin off.

I hear a lot of people say that the film is skewed. Yet there is no evidence that Gygax invented RPG's. What can we say about Gygax before he works with Arneson? There's no mystery there and nothing to explore. In fact a lot of the stories are just plain hyperbole. The film is about how the play method for RPG's is invented which happens in the Twin Cities between 1963 when Wesely begins to referee weird wargames, and 1971 when Arneson creates Blackmoor, until 1974 when D&D is published.

If you have a problem with our choice of era, go make your own film. Expect to spend about 5 to 10 years and around 200k on it. In fact, consider that others have tried to make an all encompassing D&D movie and they failed because the subject is just too huge to cover it all. The only films to get finished that are D&D related are those that chose to focus on one small portion of a massive event. i.e. Eye of the Beholder only covers the artwork - Smart business people and film makers.

If you want to argue with me, I'm on Facebook at Blackmoor Secrets and Twitter @blackmoor_film. I will say there is little to argue about because Arneson invented the play method we now call the RPG.

The trailer is here:


Having already had my say, I don't have anything to add to this other than to observe that I don't think
I "vilified" Arneson in my post, nor do I put much stock in Gygax's later editorials. In fact most of the filmmaker's comments seem to be directed more towards things I didn't say than what I did. Still, an interesting piece and well worth sharing.

--John R

New Tolkien Inspired Art

So, here's a new piece of Tolkien-inspired art by our friend Stan, the original of which we bought from the artist and post here with his permission:

--John R.