Friday, July 26, 2019

Buried Treasure (THE JADE HARE)

So, probably the rarest thing I have in my rpg collection, which has always been more of a working library than a collector's set, is a copy of THE JADE HARE, an eight-page module by John Nephew.  Unfortunately, my copy got mislaid a while back and I've been looking for it, unsuccessfully, for the past year or two. Last night I turned it up again, in a somewhat unexpected context.

I had picked a box to sort down in the Box Room because it was blocking me from getting to the bottom shelves of a bookcase. The box turned out mostly to be full of old TSR catalogues from the period 1989-1997,* but halfway down was a copy of HAIL THE HEROES, one of the Mystaran 'audio cd adventures' I worked on as editor. Since I hadn't looked at it in years, I pulled it out and quickly dipped into it. To my disappointment it turned out not to be the adventure I'd worked on but a sourcebox filled with miscellaneous junk: three apparently random BLOOD WAR cards, an AOL sign-up disk, flyers for rental cars, a credit card application, a Waldenbooks preferred members club, as well as an RPGA membership card and sow-on patch. It looked like somebody at some point re-purposed the box to stash a strange array of miscellaneous slush. But since I was near the bottom anyway I decided to press on rather than stuff all this stuff back in the box and put it on my MYSTARA shelf as a place holder till I found a better copy.

It's lucky that I did. The last three items turned out to be a folded-up PLANESCAPE poster, a pristine copy of  THE JADE HARE, and an issue of POLYHEDRON (#110, August 1995). Mission accomplished, after more than a year of looking.

There are actually two versions of this module, which are identical except that one has a cardstock cover (front and back) and the other lacks this.** It's the version with the cover that's the collectable one: the adventure within is identical in both. It's not known how many copies were ever released, but only about half a dozen are known to survive, of which this is one.

Two associated pieces of evidence also in this box might cast some light on this minimodule and the context in which I found it. The first is the draft of a memo that seems to be setting out what a person buying a membership in some group wd get in return: membership card, an introductory POLYHEDRON, some sort of exclusive LIVING CITY product, a sample issue of DRAGON or DUNGEON, a promotional SPELLFIRE or BLOOD WARS card, a poster, a catalogue for the Mail Order Hobby Shop (and discount therefrom), a membership car and patch, and finally a subscription to POLYHEDRON.

Now, this sounds rather like the miscellaneous array of things stuffed into that sourcebox, which were probably picked not as specific items for inclusion but as generic pieces that happened to be laying ready to hand to see how much room a similar 'wants list' wd take up.

A revised version of the memo, in the bottom of the box, helps solves one little mystery. I've never been able to remember who it was, which TSR executive, who gave Slade and myself the Games Library copy of this module (and one each for ourselves, to boot). I thought it was probably Tom Lavley but possibly Tom McLaughlin. The memo casts some light on this: it's from Scott Douglas, the head of the RPGA at the time, and addressed to Tom McLaughlin, Rick Behling, and Jim Ward. Since Tom McLaughlin is one of the recipients of the memo, this shows he was involved with issues such as special-release giveaways and makes it more likely that it was MaLaughlin who we have to thank for a handful of copies surviving.

And now to enjoy one more thing that had gotten out of place being back in place.

--John R.
current reading: various manga

*I was there myself from 1991 -1997, but was able to pick up a lot of the older catalogues when people who were leaving wd put out things they didn't want to take with them on the freebie shelf.

**this makes the two states of JADE HARE unlike the two versions of B3. PALACE OF THE SILVER PRINCESS, where not only was the background color of the covers changed from orange (B3 original) to green (B3 revised), but also the contents re-written (and much improved).

It's long been known that THE JADE HARE owes its existence from TSR's attempts at the time to monopolize titles and trademarks with the word 'Dragon' in them -- hence the module is a DUNGEONS & DRAGON(R) adventure and so labelled, while the cover (front and back) instead identifies this as a DRAGON MASTER(TM) adventure.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Old TSR Catalogues

So,  one of the things that used to fascinate me during my TSR days were the bibliographic ghosts: products that existed only on schedules or in announcements of forthcoming releases but never saw the light of day. Some of these got so far as to be including in the catalogue, often with a brief description, cover art (often prototype), and author listed.  Some were in fact written, edited, and ready to go when The Powers That Be changed their mind one day and cancelled the product (and often the entire line); many more were more ephemeral and existed only as projections. Here's one of the most notorious of TSR's many never-released games: THE CREATURE THAT ATE SHEBOYGAN.

Here's the original (SPI) version of the game.

And here's the entry in the 1992 TSR catalogue describing the new version of the game, never to be released:

Another benefit of sorting: now that I have a place to put these TSR catalogues, I'm assembling my file of them from where they've been scattered throughout many boxes with the goal of getting them in sequence. Maybe at some point I'll have time to go through and make a listing of at least some of the more interesting entries in them for things that, for whatever reason, disappeared. It's almost like a glimpse into an alternate history.

More later.

--John R.
--current reading: four different books, all of which I want to get read but don't seem able to actually make myself sit down and finish reading.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Cat Report (W.7/24-19)


Two pictures of Little Mary, who I expected is all settled into her new home by now.

And a final picture of Tim Tiger, trying to think of some way to get a treat.

July 17th
A lot of activity in the cat-room lately. First LITTLE MARY got herself adopted. Then seven kittens — a set of three (the ‘Friends’ Kittens) and a younger set of four (theTMNT’ Kittens) — arrived for a Kitten Event. The three bigger kittens got adopted right away without my ever having seen them, all I think going to the same home. Then bonded pair BLANCHIN and WAFFLES, who’d been here a few weeks ago, returned. So by this time last week (W.7/17) we had sweet puddle-cat DUBLIN, young-mom WAFFLES, overgrown kitten BLANCHIN, and the Four Kittens: LEONARDO, RAPHAEL, DONATELLA, and MICHAELANGLO. Thinking the kittens wd need games I brought in a cardboard box with holes cut in it for kittens to play with. It went down well.

 DUBLIN got a walk that was more like a carry, but think it did her some good to get away from the kittens and bonded pair. While very shy and apt to look for cover she seems to have a good start on a mental map of the store. Waffles mostly kept to herself, but Blanchin loved all the games and didn’t mind if the kittens joined in. For her part, Dublin slept on the bins, away from the kitten-activity. A time or two when someone jumped up there she froze, waiting for them to move on — no hiss or slap from her, I’m glad to say. She did like the laser pointer, but not the string game.

July 24th
Since last week Blanchin and Waffles went back to the shelter (does our cleaner make his eyes water?). Two of the four kittens got adopted, and the two remaining siblings are behaving more and more like a bonded pair. Little RAPHAEL (the fluffy all-black one) likes to seize a toy and drag it off. Little LEONARDO (maybe ‘Leonardi’ or just ’Nardi’ wd be better?), the kink-tailed dark torbie likes to chase her toys around. Both especially enjoyed the string game, the bee, and the feather duster. Raphael has the odd habit of nursing on his sister. Odd, but doesn’t seem to be doing any harm (they both purred the whole time).They’ve definitely become a bonded pair.

Dublin had a good long walk (over twenty minutes) that got her away from the kittens and got her moving around some. She’s doing much better on the leash and may turn into one of our good walkers. Afterwards she loved getting attention while stretched out atop the bins: there was a good deal of soft purring (the kind you can feel more than hear). Petting and one-on-one attention turns out to be what Dublin likes best. A bit worrying that she has places where the fur is thin or even missing. Also discovered that she has very long, strong, and sharp back claws. 

Since it was a quiet day I let several people in the cat-room, one or two at a time, to see the cats. Made sure that everyone who came in to see the kittens petted Dublin as well.

Tom picked up lots of stuff both last Wednesday and today to go back to the main shelter. The work people put in re-arranging and straightening up the cat-room makes a big difference and is much appreciated.

Hope Tiger’s doing well and that Blanchin and Waffles get better soon.

—John R.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The New Arrival: APPENDIX N (The Book)

So, here's one of those cases where I first hear about a book on Monday and have a copy arrive in the mail on Wednesday. Thanks Amazon.

The book in question is APPENDIX N by Jeffro Johnson, the compilation of pieces from an online column. Each essay in the series is devoted to one of the authors included in Gary Gygax's famous Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading in the back of the 1979 1st edition AD&D DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE, which completed the three-volume set of the AD&D core rules, still the best roleplaying game ever crafted.

I was wary in that while I haven't come across Johnson's work before, the introduction to his book is written by John C. Wright,* who was one of the Puppies (Sad or Angry, I forget which) who tried to hijack the Hugos a few years.

So far read the essays on Tolkien (of course), Dunsany, Bellairs, and Vance --authors I know well. Next I need to read some about books on the list I've never read. My initial impression is that he's equally enthusiastic about everyone in what is a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from the best of the best (Tolkien) to the bottom of the barrel (e.g. Lin Carter). Looking forward to seeing what he has to say, and if he can make a case for the least promising among them.

--John R.

*to his credit, Wright seems to be a Hodgson fan, judging by his list of published works over on Wikipedia

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Return of Cat Walking Wednesday

So, I'm now back from the trip, settled back in, and back at work --both putting finishing touches on my recent project and resuming work on the project I put aside half a year ago to concentrate on the Kalamazoo piece. Which means that last week (7/3) and this (7/10) I got to go in the place I volunteer and walk cats.

Here are two pictures of The Fine Art of Cat Walking. The first is a picture of Tim Tiger, a senior cat with health issues but worlds of personality; the second shows me walking him.

And here's the actual Cat Report:

Thanks to Kimiko and Gregory, who had all three cats out and in a good mood. TIM TIGER was atop the cat-stand, sweet DUBLIN on a bed on the bench, and LITTLE MARY scampering about on the floor level.

Knowing that they were coming to get Tiger for a ride up to Arlington to check his blood chemistry, I went ahead and walked him first thing, thinking the out and about wd do him  good. He was his usual intreped self, going all over the store looking for spilled treats high and low and winning praise from by-passers and staff. After we came back in, a half-hour or so later, he enjoyed some powdered catnip and then shared a game with Little Mary. They mostly played the string game but also bee-on-a-wire and a little with the feather duster.

Thinking we might get Mary used to walking in stages, I managed to put the collar on her (with leash attached) and leave it there several minutes. She didn’t like it, and rolled around trying to get it off, but she didn’t panic like she did last week, so that’s progress. Anyone who feels up to it might get the collar or harness on her for a few minutes at a time while she’s with us: we may make a leash-walker of her yet.

Sweet Dublin passed on the games but was very happy when someone petted her, and purred loudly to show it. A very gentle cat, perfect for sharing a couch. She was worried towards the end of my shift by noises outside the cat-room (they were moving some pallets around over near the new cat-trees location) and so asked to go back in her cage, where she curled up to sleep.

By that time the driver had come for Tiger Tim. Tiger told us, as clearly as he could, that he didn’t want to go in the carrier. To no avail: in he went. I was admiring how much better he looks than when he arrived, now that his shaved fur is growing back again. Think he’s also less boney, thanks to all the work folks put in finding out what kind of food he likes. Hope he’ll be back with us again after his check-up and status report.

Last to call it a day was little Mary, who climbed up and dozed off atop the cat-stand. By the time I was ready to head out, a little later, she was sleeping the sound sleep of kittens, and it was easy to transfer her into her cage.

No new cats, but I had time to clean out and sterilize Tim Tiger’s cage, so we now have two cats (Dublin & little Mary) and three empty cages (one of them the double-high supersize).

—John R.

P.S.: It’s a little late now, but I have to pay tribute to the now-adopted BEAUTY and CORKIE and GALAXY, all three of whom went on walks last week. Galaxy was v. shy and mostly got carried about. Beauty did better but was clearly nervous, so we didn’t stay out too long. Corky was completely different: she sallied forth and walked all over the store. In fact, she walked on her own all the way from the cat-room to the training room on the far corner of the store, the first cat to do so in my memory. So if there’s a follow-up how-are-they-doing message to B&C’s new owners, we might want to pass along word of Corkie’s unsuspected talent.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Another bit of old TSR art

So, another odd item that turned up in my sort-out is what I think must be the prototype cover for some DRAGONLANCE product (the figure on the left has a Goodmoon-ish look about her). Friend Jeff (a member of the original DL team) suggests it might have been intended for one of the books in the later short-lived 'Murder' line (MURDER IN CORMYR, MURDER IN TARSIS, &c), in which case it cd probably be found in one of the TSR catalogues of the era (circa 1996).

It's just a print-out on glossy paper, unsigned, but it's definitely an Elmore, so I thought fans of his work wd like to see what I presume is a lesser-known example.

--John R.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Lost Dave Sutherland Art

So, here's an example of something turning up unexpectedly. I knew I had a drawing by Dave Sutherland someplace, and I thought it was his picture of Orcus, but it's been misplaced for years.

And now it's turned up. It was among some other misc. TSR art in a box full of calendars --mostly old Tolkien calendars (lots and lots of these) but with some TSR/D&D calendars as well from Lake Geneva days, which must be how they wound up where I found them. Now that they've resurfaced I've put them together with the slender pile of other TSR art so I'll know where it is henceforward.

The Art itself is a long narrow strip, 8 3/4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches tall.

The piece itself is not signed but the matting it came in is. I think Dave, at my request, signed it when I bought it (i.e. the signature dates from 1996, not 1976).

At that night's CTHUHU game I consulted some of my friends from TSR days and one of them, Jeff G., identified it within a matter of minutes as coming from ELDRITCH WIZARDRY, Supplement III to the original three-booklet first edition of D&D. Sure enough, there it is on the bottom of page 45, illustrating the Artifact Queen Ehliss's Marvelous Nightingale.  Since the published version is shrunk down to just 4 1/2 inches by 1 1/4 inch, the reproduction loses a lot of the detail in the cross hatching et al. I can even make out some light blue underdrawing on the original.

As for how I came to have such a thing, that's due to that reprehensible charity auction in December of 1996, when upper management at TSR organized an auction to raise money from their employees for some good cause (I forget what), knowing that they were going to be laying off a significant portion of those employees the end of that week.

From what I can tell, this is one of the two oldest pictures of D&D's Orcus, the other (which I assume predates it) being on page 35 of the same book.

So there it is: unexpected, but welcome. Now to look for a suitable frame and a place to hang it out of the reach of bouncy cats.  It's good to have this as a memento of someone I knew, and liked, and respected.

--John R.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Reliques of WisCons Past

So, more time spent straightening in the Box Room means more things turn up. Some I'm deliberately searching for (I have a shortlist of four or five so far elusive items), others I'd forgotten about until they show up mixed in with other unrelated stuff in one of a multitude of miscellaneous boxes. An example of the latter is a cassette tape recording a panel at the 1986 WisCon over in Madison. The topic was Tolkien's Posthumously Published Work, which we seem to have divided into scholarly works (translations and editions of medieval texts), children's works (Mr. Bliss, Fr. Xmas), and items belonging to the legendarium (The Silmarillion and all that).

While the topic is of perennial interest, more interesting to me in this particular case are the participants: Jared Lobdell, Verlyn Flieger, Richard West, and me.

Haven't had a chance yet to do more than make sure the tape's not mislabeled and that it's still playable (happy to say the answer is good on both counts).  Once I've had a chance to listen to it all the way through a time or two I shd be making another post commenting on this relique of a nearly vanished past: the years from about 1982 through 1989 when Tolkien scholars gathered from all over the area to spend a weekend in camaraderie in conjunction with that year's WisCon. Good times and, on the whole, fondly remembered.

--John R.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Good Omens petition

So, I came late to the GOOD OMENS Petition story, but wanted to contribute my bit.

When twenty thousand people signed a petition demanding that Netflix take down the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman six-part series GOOD OMENS, they overlooked the fact that it's not on Netflix: it's on Amazon.

It's like demanding Coke cancel a flavor of Pepsi.

Here's a quick overview

and a more detailed piece

Checking out their website, we find the group involved, Return to Order, is miffed that after months of posting various petitions trying to get attention for their extremist agenda* they've finally succeeded, only to make a humiliating blunder in a very public way.

Here's the group's website

and their spokesman's comment on the current fiasco

That so many of their followers signed the thing suggests the people who sign their petitions do so blindly, without either reading or thinking about what they're supporting. That a revised petition (redirected against Amazon) got just about the same number of signatures makes me think that number is v. close to their website's total audience.

What's more disturbing is that the website's purpose seems to be to drum up sales for a book (also called RETURN TO ORDER). It's hard to avoid the suspicion that the folks who generate and circulate this stuff are among those in the reprehensible business of making money off of God. Particularly repellent among the earlier posts on their website is a post that crows over the failure of a plan to feed the poor because it was "socialistic".

I admit I have my own reservations about GOOD OMENS. The book is one of my least favorite works by either author, both of whom are among my favorite writers for others of their works.**
And the many, many years it spent in development (nearly thirty) did not bode well. The (mini)series itself had some shortcomings: the scenes with the kids were the low point of the show, closely followed by those with the modern-day witch and also the crusty old witchfinder. I could sum up my reservations by saying that for me this was a six-part series that wd have been improved by being trimmed to five parts.

That said, the two leads were superb. This is the best I've ever seen David Tennant (as Hell's agent Crowley, the serpent from The Garden), and Michael Sheen is even better as his angelic counterpart,  Aziraphale. And the storytelling was great, especially when it focused on the two main characters. They even managed to get in the music by Queen --a toss off running joke in the original book, here elevated into a recurring theme.  The use of humor to critique some of Xianity's more problematic teachings --the very thing the 'Return to Order' lot denounced-- is the work's greatest strength; it reminds me, and in a good way, of Twain's Papers of the Adam Family, CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN, and his (posthumously published) LETTERS FROM THE EARTH, all three of which can be found in the collection THE BIBLE ACCORDING TO MARK TWAIN (ed. Baetzhold & McCullough, 1995).

The series: Recommended.
The petition: not so much.

--John R.
--now back in Kent.

*they seem to view the greatest threat to Xianity and the world today to be not hunger or hatred or violence but novelty-item Jesus toilet seats.

**I'd go so far as to say I think Gaiman the best living author of fantasy, while I've read all but a handful of Pratchett's many books.