Thursday, December 31, 2020

Is This Barima Opong-Owusu?

So, here's another puzzle from the old TSR in-house newsletter RANDOM EVENTS, this time from the March 1982 issue. The lead article for this one is a first-hand account of what it's like to live through a coup. While the credit is in an odd place, the author seems to be Barima Opong-Owusu of Ghana. I assume Opong-Owusus was a TSR employee at the time,* or else he probably wdn't have been contributing to the employee newsletter. But what role he played in the company I have no idea. Not, I suspect, in the R&D/rpg department, or else I'd have expected to have come across the name at some point, even though it was long before my time.

What surprises me most, given how lily-white a company TSR as I knew it was, that a decade earlier there had been not one but two people of color on staff.

--John R.

*this is suggested by his statement that he wrote up the piece at the request of Jeff Perren

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Who Was Kwesi Nduom?

So, here's a query for those who remember TSR's Lake Geneva days:

Who was Kwesi Nduom? 

All I know is that (1) he was from Ghana and (2) he worked for TSR in 1982.

Is this the same Paa Kwesi Nduom who ran for president of Ghana in 2008?

--John R.

Random Events (old TSR newsletter)

 So, in a discussion Monday night we were talking about the timing of release of various early (mid-seventies) rpgs --that is, the sequence of events of which specific game or game product came out. The RPG Timeline on Wikipedia was surprisingly helpful but of course incomplete.  

In the course of the discussion I was reminded of something from the early eighties--after the period we were discussing but still before my time: the TSR staff newsletter, RANDOM EVENTS

 I had recently unearthed my file of an incomplete but substantial run that I have courtesy of Brian Thaldorp, who presided over the Mail Order Hobby Shop (located between the main part of the TSR building and the warehouse). I don't think Brian gets mentioned much in histories of TSR, but he went way back and was happy to reminisce sometimes about personalities from the past. And at one point, since I was (and am) interested in things like that, he loaned me the Hobby Shop's run of this interesting bit of ephemera, which I photocopied before returning the originals to him; it's this set of photocopies I've relocated.

This particular issue is fairly typical. Only four pages long, it features an account of the recent TSR picnic, as well as some gossip about names expectant TSR parents had picked out for their news sons and daughters. 

Inside is a two-page spread giving the current Org chart (unfortunately without giving the names of the people who filled all those little boxes).

The last page lists local and area businesses who offer a discount to TSR staff.

Like any newsletter, RANDOM EVENTS was hungry for copy, and so far as contributors went the barrier for entry is disarmingly low:

"If you can put a subject and a verb between a capital and a period, 

Random Events wants to hear from you"

--John R.

--current reading: ADVENTURES OF M. DE MAILLY by David Lindsay, TAM LIN by Pamela Dean, and THE WORLD OF CRITICAL ROLE: THE HISTORY BEHIND THE EPIC FANTASY by Liz Marsham

--today's music: THE ARCHIES GREATEST HITS, the most Mr. Bubbly of all bubblegum rock.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Peter Max's Paper Airplane Book

So, years ago my cousin Sam and I discovered the work of Peter Max. He's best known for his work on the Beatles' YELLOW SUBMARINE, but what we liked best was his iconic PETER MAX's PAPER AIRPLANE BOOK. I have vague memories of buying this little book at the Quick-Sack, our local 7/11, probably not too long after it came out in 1971. 

The fun thing about this book was that each page is a paper airplane. You're supposed to pull out the page, fold it as shown, and voila! Paper airplane. There probably aren't too many intact copies, since it was made to be perishable, but I came across one this Christmas and sent it along to my cousin in memory of days gone by.

--John R. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

39% (D&D's Best Year Ever)

 So, one of the most unexpected but welcome bits of news I came across at the end of this year came in a piece about how well D&D is doing. The game is not just surviving but thriving --in fact so much so that Hasbro announced that 2019, the most recent year for which they have a complete record, was D&D's best year ever:

What started as an odd hobby that scared televangelists and censor-ready scapegoaters grew into something as accepted as having a poker night or weekly bowling: all it took is for the kids who loved the game to grow into adults.*

The best news within this good news comes in one of the pie-charts embedded in the article. The first breaks down D&D gamers by age group:

ages 8 to 12: 12%

ages 13 to 17: 13%

ages 18 to 24: 15%

ages 25 to 29: 15%

ages 30 to 34: 19%

ages 35 to 39: 15%

ages 40 to 45: 11%

--although I must note dismay at finding I'm too old to even rank an age category like "and up".

It wd be interesting to compare these percentages with the results of that old DRAGON magazine survey back in the early/mid nineties.

The second comes in the second chart, which breaks down gamers by gender:

male: 61%

female: 39%

 other: 1%

--there have always been women who played the game, but their numbers were few in the early days. Even in the nineties I'd estimate it at about 15%. It's been a long time coming, but for that number to now be hovering around 40% shows that, while slow, real progress can come over time.

--John R.

reading: 'The Search for the Gnome Cache' by Garrison Ernst (Gary Gygax)

music: listening to George Harrison's 'What Is Life'; saw the video for the first time tonight.

*Barnes & Noble weekly newsletter of December 20th 2020 features as its lead item an e-book about the livestreaming group CRITICAL ROLE:

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The D&D Movie

 So, there was a time when fans spoke of good, bad, and Sci-Fi channel bad. 

And within our own niche of fantasy and science fiction there was good, bad, and D&D movie bad.*

But now the powers that be are thinking of giving the whole D&D thing another try:

I admit I shuddered a bit at the reference that the story would  

"take a subversive approach to the game".

This cd mean a witty, ironic take on a typical party of PCs on a typical adventure. Making a mock, as it were. Laughing with us, not at us.

Or it cd mean throwing together a stream of random jokes and pratfalls, with no clue what makes this strange game so appealing to so many.  Laughing at us, rather than with us.

We shd soon know: filming is supposed to take place in the first quarter of 2021. Which wd start a little over a week from now.

I admit I'm curious over one detail: the choice of Belfast as the place to film this. Too modern a city, I wd have thought: not medieval enough.

--John R.

*The writer of the Guardian article puts it well when he sums up the earlier efforts with  "some of you may recall in regret the awful Jeremy Irons movie from 2000, with its two lamentable sequels".

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Note on d'Ambervilles

So, in X2. CASTLE AMBER Tom Moldvay includes a brief note on the relationship between this adventure and Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories that, while true, has proved slightly misleading:

Note: The Amber family is not one of Clark Ashton Smith's

creations and does not appear in any Averoigne stories. Their

origin has been traced to Averoigne to aid the continuity of the

module and to ease transition in and out of Averoigne in the course

of the adventure

[p.3, last full paragraph in column one]

It's true that the Amberville line is Moldvay's addition, but the name is one of C.A.S.'s devising, bestowed by him on Francis Amberville, a painter who is the hapless protagonist of "Genius Loci", a modern day story published in 1933 in WEIRD TALES.*

So the name is authentically Smith's, while the family is Moldvay's.


*and later title story for Smith's 1948 Arkham House collection GENIUS LOCI and other tales.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

X2. CASTLE AMBER Revisited

 So, for my birthday this year I got myself a copy of the new Goodman Games edition of X2. CASTLE AMBER (Chateau d'Ambreville). This 270 page hardcover reprints in facsimile the famed Moldvay adventure from 1981 (all thirty-two pages of it), then adapts it to 5th edition rules. I'm glad to see a classic return in a form likely to appeal to the current generation of gamers. And it was nice to get a little call-out for my work on the 1995 remake, MARK OF AMBER. Michael Curtis, the adaptor, ends his Author's Introduction with a paragraph praising the late great Tom Moldvay, then follows with another that reads 

"I'd also like to express my thanks to Aaron Allston, Jeff Grubb, and John D. Rateliff, whose Mark of Amber adventure proved inspirational when expanding upon the original Castle Amber. You three had already ventured where I intended to tread and blazing the trail made it easier for me to follow in your wake."

I see that they've also released an update of B1/B2 and am curious whether it draws any upon my work in RETURN TO THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. I suspect not. It'd be nice if someone finally went in after all these years and keyed B1.  

In any case, it's nice to sit down and immerse myself in the enjoyable combination of Smith (source material) and Moldvay (creating an adventure from said material).


--current reading; THE BOOK OF ANDRE NORTON (collection of short stories)

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Cat Report (W.12/11-20) --Yellow Kittens

 I missed the message about little Gibbs’ adoption, which gave me an anxious moment at one point when I was trying to add up all the cats scattered around the room and coming up one kitten short. Luckily all was well.

The Yellow Kittens definitely dominate the room. Their mother (ZOLA) seemed overwhelmed by their energy so I gave her the big cage to herself. The three kittens share a four-cage stretch all along the bottom row. 

The two quiet cats, Mr. William and Manicotti, didn’t come out but loved having attention inside their cages. WILLIAM just melts when you pet him, rubbing this face against yours and purring up a storm. MANICOTTI is a little more reserved but shd warm up as he gets used to the room. ZOLA, who's a tiny thing herself (only a year or so old) also loves attention but can’t compete with the kittens when it comes to games, withdrawing from their boisterousness.

The kittens are adorable. They don’t like being petted and are alarmed at the idea of being picked up, but they’re well-socialized and don’t swat or nip. They love games and play them with whole-hearted enthusiasm as only kittens can. One of the kitten took his favorite toy (the bug on a string on a stick) and dragged it off to his lair (wherever that lair was at the time. They all loved the laser pointer and the string game, but bug-on-a-string-on-a-stick was by far their favorite. And it was good to see them get more accepting of some petting just within a single shift; shdn’t be long before they’re fine with it.

Mr. William, by the way, was very happy with the string game, but you have to keep an eye on him and see that he doesn’t try to eat the string, which wd do him a world of no good inside.  He’s really too big for the cage set-up we have him in now (when he stands up the little karenda (sp?) in his cage gets lifted off the cage floor). I offered him a cat-boat bed instead but he seemed to prefer the original set-up, so I defaulted back to that in the end.

I wdn’t be surprised if this whole lot of cats don’t find new homes within a week. Glad that I had a chance to meet them.

—John R.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

David Lindsay (Edinburgh Event)

So, I spent my birthday attending an online conference hosted by the University of Edinburgh, celebrating the work of David Lindsay on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the publication of his best-known book, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. 

There were papers and presentations on ARCTURUS, on his lesser known works, and on film and instrumental adaptations (I liked the piano/cello piece). The talk I got the most out of was Doug Anderson's, full of information cogently presented. And it was nice to see the tribute to J. B. Pick, who more or less invented Lindsay criticism. There was also a thoughtful inquiry into why Lindsay is increasingly being categorized as a Scottish writer rather than English. All in all, the standard of presentations was good. One or two pieces seemed to me to fall short of the mark, but to be fair this might have been fuzziness on my part due to time-zone issues.*

Those issues were the inevitable result of my attending (via zoom) an event that was taking place eight time zones away. Thus I had to get up at four a.m. to be ready for the event's start at 1 pm their time (five a.m. my time). Then it ran all the way to six p.m. their time (ten a.m. my time). Luckily I had a thermos full of tea (Yunnan) to see me through.

There were I think about twenty-five people in attendance -- not bad, considering that Lindsay has never been a popular author, being somewhat of an acquired taste. Here's a list of the papers, presenters, and sequence: 


A Voyage to Arcturus and Beyond: David Lindsay’s Visionary Imagination: Wed December 9, 2020




1pm: Introduction: Seán Martin, Louise Milne, Steven Sutcliffe

Session One, 1.10-2.20pm: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) One Hundred Years Later

Chair: Seán Martin


Talk 1/1.10-1.30: Dr J D McClure – ‘Arcturus and After’


Talk 2/1.30-1.50: Dr Louise Milne – ‘Early Twentieth Century Dream Cultures as context for Arcturus


Talk 3/1.50-2.10: Murray Ewing – The Cultural Influence of A Voyage to Arcturus’


2.10-2.20: Questions

Session Two, 2.20-3.30pm: After Arcturus: From The Haunted Woman to The Witch

Chair: Louise Milne


Talk 4/2.20-2.40:  Dr Steven Sutcliffe – ‘The Struggle to Remember in The Haunted Woman and The Violet Apple


Talk 5/2.40-3.00: Dr Andrew Radford – Devil's Tor: Going After Strange Gods’


Talk 6/3.00-3.20: Dr John Herdman - The Witch: David Lindsay's Quest of the Absolute.’


3.20-3.30: Questions


3.30-3.45: Tea/coffee break


Session Three, 3.45-5.15pm: Genre and Media

Chair: Steven Sutcliffe


Talk 7/3.45-4.05: Jan Pick – John Barclay Pick: Keeper of the Flame’


Talk 8/4.05-4.25: Douglas A. Anderson - ‘David Lindsay and the Fantasy Genre’


Talk 9/4.25-4.45: David Power – David Lindsay and Music'


Talk 10/4.45-5.05: Seán Martin – ‘Representing the Unrepresentable: Reflections on Filming David Lindsay’s Sublime’.


5.05-5.15: Questions


Respondant to the Talks 5.15-5.30

Chair: Steven Sutcliffe


Prof Christine Ferguson – ‘David Lindsay and 20th Visionary Fiction’ 

5.30 – 6.00: Questions and Discussion: Chair: Seán Martin

Unlike the Lindsay event a few weeks ago in Glasgow, this one was a paid event and will not be going up on You-Tube, or so I understand. There was mention of a published volume, which wd be a good thing.

--John R.

*I do have to confess my surprise when one comment in the general discussion that followed the event proper suggested that Lindsay's VIOLET APPLE inspired the apple scene in C. S. Lewis's THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW. Not likely, I shd have thought, seeing that Lewis never saw Lindsay's book nor knew of its existence (it was published in 1976, some thirty years after Lindsay's death and a dozen years after Lewis died). I was also dubious of a thread raised in the closing discussion asserting that Lindsay must have taken psychotropic drugs in order to imagine the things that he wrote about, for which there seems to be no evidence whatever.



Monday, December 7, 2020

In Praise of Walter Hooper

So, today came the sad news that Walter Hooper, for many years the literary editor of the C. S. Lewis estate, has died. 

He led a good long life  --he was just a little shy of ninety-- and was one of those people whose work is also their advocation. 

No other single person had a greater effect on Lewis's posthumous publications, many of which Hooper edited. 

His passing marks a milestone, another loss in a year of losses. 

Here's a little poem I wrote in his honor several years back (2008) when he was given an lifetime achievement award by the Wade Center:

How pleasant to meet Walter Hooper

Whose editing work has been super

-lative. Eight thousand pages

Of the Magdalen sage's

Thoughts on paper, now preserved for the ages.


But oh how pleasant to sit over tea

And talk of good books and of good company

He, with his "soft-spoken Southern courtesy"†

And I, with ears wide open.



†the phrase is Tolkien's


Saturday, December 5, 2020

BBC Lovecraft

So, thanks to Andrew Higgins for sharing the news that BBC Radio Four has been broadcasting adaptations of stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

They've adapted three stories so far under the general rubic 'The Lovecraft Investigation', each composed of eight to ten episodes:

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (November 2018, ten episodes)

The Whisperer in Darkness (November 2019, nine episodes)

The Shadow Over Innsmouth (November 2020, eight episodes, plus three bonus episodes)

 The set-up, from what I've listened to so far, is that our two main characters (editor Matthew Heawood and reporter Kennedy Fisher) investigate mysteries with sinister occult overtones. Their podcast, dubbed 'Mystery Machine', is made up of phone messages, audiotaped interviews, and bits of found footage. Purists shd note that the radio program freely adapts Lovecraft's stories, as well as recasting them into the modern era. Thus when Kennedy, one of our two heroes, goes looking for the site where the sinister Dr. Allen had carried out his experiments she finds not the ancestral Curwen Home but a derelict trailer park.

So far I've been enjoying these and I'm looking forward to hearing the rest. I'm curious what the next story adapted will be -- The Dunwich Horror, perhaps?

--John R.

--current reading: RIDERS ON PEGASUS (long poem, by Owen Barfield).

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Northmoor Road Project

 So, just as C. S. Lewis's home, The Kilns, has in recent years been turned into a residential hall and study center devoted to preserving the Lewis brothers' legacy, now it's Tolkien's turn:

The idea of Tolkien's house being preserved is encouraging. And who wdn't want to have the opportunity to attend "a programme of retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events", either onsite or online?

The fear of course is that they'll go too cutesy, of which there are some hints in the initial announcement  (e.g. build yr own hobbit-hole in the garden). Though Tolkien himself might approve of the garden (yard) being restored (though it looks quite nice as is from the glimpses offered in the various views accompanying the online stories).

programme of retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events,

I was a little surprised that of the dozen people who show up in the promo film embedded in the link above I recognized only five: McKellan, Rhys-Davies, Freeman, Jacobi, and Lennox. The other seven I don't know, though the last of them seems to be children's author Julia Golding, who seems to be the driving force behind the project.

Also, I don't do much crowdsourcing (just the occasional Kickstarter), but isn't it unusual for a crowdsourcing project that doesn't make its goal to just keep what money they do raise?

Thanks to Janice for the link.

--John R.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Barfield Event

So, today Signum University hosted a 75 minute event celebrating the publication of a new collection of plays and long poems by Owen Barfield. The presenters include Barfield's grandson (whom I'd corresponded with but not met), who gave a fairly detailed outline of his grandfather's thought; Leslie A. Taylor and Jefferey H. Taylor, co-editors of the new book; David Blakeley, the book's publisher; and moderator Gabriel Schenk. 

The whole presentation is now up on You-Tube:

While the presentation seemed to me a bit unfocused I enjoyed it --there aren't many Barfield scholars out there and it's always interesting to find out what they've been working on.  Unfortunately, no doubt due to time constraints they discussed only the title piece.

The full contents of the book are three long poems (THE TOWER, THE UNICORN, and RIDERS ON PEGASUS) and four plays, three of them forming a trilogy called ANGELS AT BAY and the fourth a standalone piece called MEDEA. 

THE TOWER is a metaphoric one, neither the Dark Tower of Lewis's unfinished novel nor Tolkien's allegorical tower built of old stone. An ambitious undertaking on Barfield's part (originally written circa 1922, rewritten circa 1926-27), part autobiography I suspect and part his personal analogue to Wordsworth's THE PRELUDE. Unfortunately I don't think it fully came off. Of the two other long poems collected here,  I've read one: RIDERS ON PEGASUS, although the version I read was called THE MOTHER OF PEGASUS.* The other, THE UNICORN, is altogether unknown to me. On the whole I think Barfield's plays are better than his poems; he's better at dialogue than verse. ANGELS AT BAY I got to read years ago, thanks to the Wade Collection's Chris Mitchell, and quite liked. MEDEA Is the one I've been waiting for -- we've known for years that it was read to the Inklings back in 1944 (see LETTERS OF JRRT, p. 103) -- so I'm really looking forward to reading this one.**

So, it's rare that we get new never-before-published Barfield. To get such a substantial (over three hundred pages) collection is a boon to Barfield fans and shd interest those interested in the Inklings beyond just Lewis and Tolkien as well.

And now to read . . . 

--John R.

current reading: THE TOWER by Owen Barfield, ADRIFT ON THE HAUNTED SEAS by Wm Hope Hodgson, ed. Douglas A. Anderson.

*A bound photocopy of this book used to be on the available-for-checkout shelves of the Wheaton College Library; I suspect it had been created to be used in a class by Clyde Kilby. At any rate, when I discovered this I checked it out and photocopied the whole thing page by page, then spiral bound the results into a booklet that has been on my Barfield shelf ever since.

**For some reason the editors date this work to the 1970s