Sunday, May 9, 2021

Hooper elegy

So, I was interested to find the following passage in the Requiem elegy for Walter Hooper, printed in the new volume of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol. XI #1, page 77) 

Walter found himself libelled and abused for his editorial work,

first by those who were jealous of the opportunity he had been 

given, and then by those he considered friends.

The theme of betrayal unfortunately followed him as he got older

and found himself defrauded and abandoned

by those he had come to think of as family.  

Strong words. Unusually so, I thought, for a requiem mass. Maybe a case of 'now or never'?

--John R.

P.S.: There are several other interestnig pieces in this issue --esp..the ones on Warnie Lewis's boating and on the MIRACLES debate from Anscombe's point of view. I'll see if I can find the time during breaks between the Tolkien events at Kalamazoo to make a post thereon.

My own Kalamazoo presentation comes on Friday. Here's hoping it goes over okay.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

When the Books Came a-tumbling Down

So, sometime during the night the bookshelves holding my more or less complete set of all TSR/WotC 3e +3.5 D&D books and modules* came crashing down. Luckily the bookcase itself stayed upright when the shelves came down and a lot of the books stayed more or less in place in relation to each other, as you can see in the picture below:

To which I shd add that the top shelf shown here (including Forgotten Realms/Eberron) came down as well while I was clearing away the fallen books.

 I'd just reaching the stage where I'm sorting out these books, along with my modest holdings of 4th edition,* in the ongoing cull. I guess they just anticipated me.

--John R.


All those years of marking up those books; this was the books' revenge, to have a go at marking up me. 

*most of what I have of the current, fifth edition I expect to keep

Friday, April 30, 2021

What is This, and Why do I have it?

So, I was doing some more sorting yesterday when I came across the following:

I have no memory of ever having seen this before. It was in a box with a lot of miscellaneous papers, mostly (but not all) associated with the initial d20 boom. Anyone want to claim it, before it goes into that great big sorting box in the sky? 

--John R.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Finished but not Done

 So, unfortunately I was right that just because I'd reached the end of a piece, it didn't mean I was done working on it. In this case, the problem came when I did a practice reading of my essay and found that it took me twenty-four minutes to read aloud. That's a problem, given that each of us on the panel at Kalamazoo has about fifteen minutes.

So I've been trimming, trying to excise sections yet keep the argument as a whole coherent (and, hopefully, persuasive).  Fortunately  a practice reading of the Short Version today came out at sixteen minutes. That's much better. Some more polishing of the new transitions and another practice reading between now and then and we shd be good to go.

Oh, and I've changed the title of my piece, from "Valinor in America" to "The Lost Road as Faerian Drama".

Tarkus's contribution to all this is to prove the old adage that nothing makes a cat want to be in a room than a closed door keeping him out. Or then closing it to keep him in. Or not leaving it open after letting him out again. 

--John R.

current reading: the latest Murderbot book by Martha Wells (good so far but not  as engaging or gripping as most in the series). After I'm done with it (shdn't take long) I plan to go back to Carpenter's book on The Lost Generation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Flieger on Earendel

So, thanks to A. and D. for sending me to the link where I cd watch Verlyn's talk to the Tolkien Society on the 10th. 

It's basically a look at Tolkien's use of negative space in his mythology. Taking Becket's WAITING FOR GODOT as her touchstone, with its characters on stage constantly awaiting the arrival of of someone who never shows up, Verlyn suggests the lack of The Tale of Earendel may be intended. A real mythology needs gaps, lost material, and Tolkien's failure to provide any full text of Earendel's story looks to her as deliberate, particularly (she notes) because Tolkien put in a number of references that shd lead up to the tale but stop short just where the Tale (or Lay) shd start.

I don't think I agree, at least not without going away and mulling over the argument for a good while.* As so often with Verlyn, who asks the difficult questions, it's thought-provoking and very well written. I conclude that we're going to need a third volume of her collected Tolkienian essays, to go with GREEN SUNS and ALWAYS BE A FAIRY TALE, somewhere down the line.

Here's the link:

--John R.

--current reading: Bebergal's APPENDIX N

*I think it's more a matter of ambition on Tolkien's part: he had the habit where he'd no sooner start a Tale than he'd stop and re-plot it as part of some vastly expanded schema (cf. The Lay of Earendel, THE LOST ROAD, &c), after which the original tale in-progress tended to languish.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Happiness Is a full draft (and a Found Reference)

 So, I've now finished the draft of my Kalamazoo piece. It's due to be delivered on the 14th, so I have the better part of four weeks to polish and practice it. 

Plus I wanted to read one of Verlyn's essays that pertains to the same topic. Her piece came out before I'd come up the idea for mine, but was published after. So I held off reading it until I'd finished my own, since I didn't want my piece to be in reaction to hers. Now that I'm reading it I'm glad to find (a) that it's v. good, as expected, and (b) it takes a significantly different tack than I do. So it shd be fine if I just insert a note in the proper place noting (and recommending) her essay.

Speaking of notes, I have one substantial and substantive one I need to add to address a point Janice came up with during one of the many times she let me run parts of the essay by her.

As for 'found reference', I realized as I was wrapping up the piece that I was going to have to search through some twenty pages of Tolkien's late tangled metaphysical writing to try to find a specific point he made, probably somewhere in 'Laws and Customs among the Eldar'. And opening my copy of HME.X I found the passage I was looking for in some ten minutes. And I'd not only remembered the passage correctly, so that it actually made the point I wanted to make, but I'd made a mark next to it in the book way back on 7/16-05 to draw my attention to the passage when I needed it. I'd like to say this is good timing -- it's really serendipity --but whatever it is, it's welcome.

And tomorrow it's back to revision.

--John R.

current reading: APPENDIX N resumed, midway through the Moorcock (which I disliked) and then on through the Lovecraft (in his Dunsanyist mode, but not v. successfully).

Tomorrow will probably be, of all things, Hemingway's poetry.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Who Is 'the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth'?

So, re-reading the Foreword to THE LORD OF THE RINGS last night I was struck by a familiar passage I realized I haven't fully thought through before. After pointing out that his book is not a roman-a-clef allegory of wartime politics of the World War II era, Tolkien gives an alternative summary of how things wd have gone in his book had that been the case:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war

 in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or 

directed the development of the legend, then certainly

 the Ring would have been seized and used against 

Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but 

enslaved,* and Barad-dur would not have been 

destroyed but occupied.  Saruman, failing to get 

possession of the Ring, would in the confusion

 and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor 

the missing links in his own researches into 

Ring-lore, and before long would have made 

a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge 

the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.  In that conflict 

both sides would have held hobbits in hatred 

and contempt: they would not long have survived 

even as slaves.


Although Tolkien does not name this 'self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth', he offers some clues as to who he, or she, might be.

First, we know that it's not Sauron, who has been defeated and imprisoned.

Second, we know it's not Saruman, since he's acting in opposition to the Ruler as his or her rival.

To this I wd add that the Ruler wd have to have (1) an opportunity to seize the Ring and (2) the stature to be able to wield it**

I therefore come up with a list of seven candidates:***








Of these, I think Boromir and Denethor are the likeliest: the ones most in favor of using the Enemy's weapons against him. Plus of course Boromir actually attempts to steal the Ring, and Denethor makes it quite clear that he wd have used the Ring had it been in his possession. 

On the other hand, that not even Isildur cd master it cd be used to build an argument that sufficient stature requires the new owner of the Ring to have been Maiar, not Mortal. If so, the list of candidates shrinks to just three: Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel -- all of whom are already Ringbearers of the Three Elven Rings.

Set against this is the fact that Sauron seems to most fear Aragorn, once he learns of his existence, and you'd think the Dark Lord wd know better than anyone else who posed the greatest threat to him in terms of pure power politics.

So, though I cd make a case for any of these seven, Denethor gets my vote of likeliest to turn into the next Sauron, with Boromir close behind.

--John R

*This of course wd have been repeating Ar-Pharazon's mistake

 **or it wd just wind up (briefly) in the possession of another Gollum. 

***I exclude Bombadil from this list, for reasons I assume will be obvious

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Her Pet Bee

So, occasionally I like to check out The Dodo, a website largely devoted to stories of people finding and rescuing animals (esp abandoned kittens). Occasionally they do stories about someone helping a wild animal. But I hadn't seen a segment on rescuing a bumble bee before. Here's the piece:

And just because it's good from time to time to revisit the classics, here's the saga of Potato Cat

--John R.

current viewing: HEMINGWAY by Ken Burns (up to 1929). One-third of the way through, and I'm baffled why they didn't do this on The Lost Generation (Pound, Joyce, Fitzgerald) rather than just Hemingway. Might dig out and skim Carpenter's GENIUSES TOGETHER, his book on postwar Americans in Paris. 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Tolkien Society Awards announced

 So, this year's Tolkien Society awards  for excellence in Tolkien Scholarship have just been announced:

  • Ted Nasmith for best Tolkien-related artwork
    • Verlyn Flieger for best essay: “Defying and Defining Darkness"
    • Best book: JRRT's Unfinished Tales (illustrated edition)

    Congratulations to all the winners, and the nominees as well. Here's the link.

    --John R.

    --current reading: "Plato's Atlantis and the Post-Platonic Tradition in Tolkien's Downfall of Numenor" by Michael Kleu

    Saturday, April 10, 2021

    Two Roads Diverged

     So, today I finally managed to get the Covid vaccination. We were lucky and both got the one-shot Johnson & Johnson, and didn't even have to go more than about two miles away to reach the site.

    Here's hoping others who have been waiting will soon share in our luck.

    Ironically, today turns out to be exactly one year from when we wd have left for our big one-in-a-lifetime trip to see the pyramids and the sphinx, had the world not turned upside down.  I may go back in and rewatch some of the walking tours I dug out at the time we were planning our itinerary.

    --John R.

    --current reading: Kipling biography (just finished)

    --currently watching: The Russian FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

    Friday, April 9, 2021

    The New Arrivals

    So, two new books -- both of them on Tolkien -- have arrived within the last two weeks.

    The first is TOLKIEN & THE CLASSICAL WORLD, edited by Hamish Williams, a substantial volume of four hundred pages. This addresses a topic you'd have thought wd have received a lot of attention before, but oddly has been the subject of just the occasional essay, like Reckford's piece from 1987 on Bilbo and Odysseus. The only previous book I know of on the topic is Morse's slim little volume (circa 1986), which is more a pamphlet than a full size book.  I'm particularly looking forward to the pieces on Atlantis, the Ring of Gyges, and Rohan.

    The second is THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, edited by Roland Lehoucq, Loic Mangin, & Jean-Sebastien Steyer. Oddly enough, the title page doesn't list the authors of the individual essays; you have to turn to the first page of each essay for that. There's been a book on this topic before (Henry Gee's eminently readable 2004 book, also called THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH) but even a quick glance shows there's much more to say. Another slightly unusual feature of this book is that its contributors seem to mostly have a French background, as opposed the the US/UK background of most writers of books on Tolkien.

    Two other non-Tolkienian titles I'm reading as ebooks are a biography of Kipling (who turns out to be a deeply unsympathetic figure) and a light novel series. 

    Soon there will be the latest in the Murderbot series. In the meantime, Clarke's PIRANESI is waiting in the wings.

    So many good, or potentially good, books waiting . . . 

    --John R.


    Thursday, April 8, 2021

    Soos Creek

    Today I saw not a wicker-man but a wicker-unicorn.

    Talk about mixed signals.

    --John R.  

    Friday, March 26, 2021

    A million dollars won't buy Tolkien's house

    So, the attempt to crowd-fund the purchase of Tolkien's house on Northmoor Road* has fallen through through lack of funding. Their goal was four and a half million pounds but in US money they only got one million dollars pledged out of six million dollar goal. 

    They're currently going with their backup plan of establishing a Tolkien center elsewhere in Oxford which wd offer tours, tea, and talks. The first of these, an online course in writing fantasy, is scheduled for April 20th.

    --John R

    *or to be more accurate, one of Tolkien's houses on Northmoor Road (he'd previously lived next door)

    Thursday, March 25, 2021

     So,  how many copies of THE LORD OF THE RINGS does one man need?

    The answer: apparently, one more:

    --John R. 

    So, I've been reading some Kipling and was reminded of W. H. Auden's belief  that history will forgive an author his or her personal failings so long as the work is good.  That seems to run counter to the current milieu. 


     Time  . . .

    Worships language and forgives

    Everyone by whom it lives . . .


    Time with this strange excuse

    Pardoned Kipling and his views

    And will pardon Paul Claudel

    Pardons him for writing well.

                —W. H. Auden, 1939

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (DUNGEON)

    So, perhaps the most successful TSR boardgames of them all was DUNGEON, the creation of Dave Megarry,*  which went through at least six editions, the earliest as far back as 1975 (the year after D&D itself debuted) and the most recent almost forty years later in 2014. Part of its longevity was no doubt due to its conveying the feel of a dungeon crawl. This must have made DUNGEON a godsend to those who wanted to play D&D but cdn't find a DM or reliably put together enough people to form a PC party. 

    Once again my cache of this particular TSR boardgame turn out to be a misc collection of incomplete copies which fortunately can be combined to make a playable game.

    FIRST EDITION.  1975  

    --Patch Press, Beloit  (no sku#).

    Like a few of the other early bookshelf boardgames from TSR, this one has a horizontal orientation, changed to the standard vertical orientation in the next edition (cf the same shift between the 5th and 6th editions of Fight In The Sky). Most of those box bottoms are blank but this one is an exception, with a paragraph of text pumping the game.

    My copy has the game board, which someone has carefully  marked up, apparently to show production what color goes with each space. Also in the box are the cards,  pawns, and dice. There's no rulebook, but there is the following intriguing note in with the other components:

    Steve Winter's note to Frank Mentzer.

    When I showed this to some of the TSR alumni I game with, they not only confirmed that 'Frank' wd have been Frank Mentzer, Gygax's right-hand man, but to all our surprise Steve Winter recognized the handwriting of this note to be his own. 

     SECOND EDITION.  date unknown; poss. also 1975.  (sku#1002)

    This box may just be a reprint or variant of the above rather than an 'edition', but in any case combining this with the first edition fortunately enables me to fill out a complete playable set. The box lacks the board and playing pieces (pawns) but contains what seems to be a full set of cards (unpunched), the rulebook, and two copies of the double-sided 'Introductory Game' rules. This version of the rules gives the following credits:

    Game Design: David R. Meggary.  [sic]  

    Consultation and Game Development: E. Gary Gygax. 

    Cover Artwork: Larry Kessling

    Board Artwork: Keith Hill and Richard Hill

    Monster and Treasure Card Artwork: Tracy Lesch

    Printing: Patch Press, Inc.

    NOTE: also in this box is a copy of the rules for the next (third) edition of the game. I'll defer discussion of that till I get to the next section, other than to note that these artists' names are unfamiliar to me; I suspect they were part of the Minnesota gaming contingent rather than belonging to the TSR stable. 

    THIRD EDITION.   1980 or 81? (sku#1010).  ROSLOF COVER. (bottom damaged)

    Here we have an almost playable game: the board (an actual board this time, replacing the earlier postermap), two copies of the rules (each including the 'Introductory Game' rules sheet), cards, two unpunched sheet of chits, pawns, dice, and a 'Gateway to Adventure' 1981 TSR catalogue.

    This box looks much more like a mainstream boardgame, like Monopoly, and less like a hobby game.

    The credits here are a good deal different, and more closely resemble The Usual Suspects:

    Design:  David R. Megarry

    Development: Gary Gygax

    Revised by: Harold Johnson

    Revision Assistance: Gary Gygax, Allen Hammack, Evan Robinson, Lawrence Schich

    Box Cover: Jim Roslof

    Gameboard Revision: Jim Roslof

    Card Art: David S. LaForce, Jim Roslof

    FOURTH EDITION. 'THE CLASSIC DUNGEON'.  1992 (Cover damaged). (sku#1045)

    The thing that most stands out for this edition is the great Keith Parkinson's  cover. That, and the fact that my copy is water-damaged so that artwork is almost entirely obscured.** In fact my copy of the Third Edition's bottom is stuck to the top of my copy of the Fourth Edition's top. 

    A pity, really, since here I've got the whole game: playing board, cards, dice, plastic miniatures (replacing the pawns of old), and digest-sized rulebook. Once again the credits have changed quite a bit:

    Original Design: David R. Megarry

    Development and Additional Design: Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, Michael Gray, Gary Gygax

    Editing and Rulebook: Scott Haring

    Typesetting: Angelika Lokotz

    FIFTH EDITION. 2012.  WotC.

    I bought this one at the Barnes & Noble at SouthCenter on Monday April 29th 2013 --i.e., a good while after I'd left TSR/WotC/Hasbro for the last time. I played it with Steve Winter and Luis that same night. I liked it, but since it's since sat on my shelf undisturbed for eight years maybe it's time to let someone else enjoy it. Of them all this one is obviously in the best shape and includes all the components: board, rules, cards, tokens, paper stand-up figures, dice.

    The credits once again reflect a generational turn-over of creative staff. 

    Original Design: David R. Magarry

    Development: Chris Dupuis, Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, Michael Gray, Gary Gygax

    Editing: Jennifer Clarke Wilkes

    D&D R&D Senior Group Manager: Mike Mearls

    --plus another two dozen or so who affected the product in some way (management, art, playtesting)

    [SIXTH EDITION. 2014]

    -- I don't have this edition, but I'm told it's pretty much the same as 5th edition except with different art, more cartoony in style, no doubt in hopes of attracting a younger audience.

    And there it is. If I've left out any editions, let me know.

    --John R.

    --current reading: Ordway, Kipling (REWARDS & FAIRIES), light novel

    *TSR seems to have been unsure how to spell Megarry's name. It's given as Megary on the sides of the first edition box, Meggary on the title page of the second edition rules and in this edition's credits, while the third edition title page and credits give Megarry, which seems to be the actual name.  Meggary was part of one of the two great pools of talent TSR drew on in its inception: he belonged to the Minnesota games who came to be associated with Arneson (the other being the Lake Geneva area games who came to be associated with Gygax).

    **To cut a long story short: when we moved to the house in Delavan I thought the storage shed's roof didn't leak and stored a lot of games in there.  It did. 

    Friday, March 19, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames

    So, just one more post to complete this series about early TSR bookshelf format boardgames. 

    The one I've saved for last is the most successful of the lot; David Magary's DUNGEON! (1975)

    I'll try to get up this weekend. 

    --John R.

    --current reading: TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING by Ordway; APPENDIX N, ed. Bebergal; PUCK OF POOK'S HILL. 

    --current music: old cassettes from the long ago.

    Friday, March 12, 2021

    I Make Coke Salad

    So, a few days back Janice asked if there were any desert we hadn't had in a long time that I'd been hankering for. I suggested either oatmeal cookies or coke salad -- at which she opted out, saying that if I wanted coke salad (a dish of which she is not fond) I'd have to make it myself. 

    For those of you who've never had it, coke salad is not a salad in the lettuce and dressing sense but a jello desert with fruit mixed in. And, of course, coca-cola. I suspect it's a Southern thing.

    I haven't made it in a long time, partly because it's inimical to a low-carb diet. I do still have the recipe but in the fashion of old recipes it has a list of ingredients but little more. So I called up my mother, who remembered some of the details, and my sister, who remembered the most between the three of us. Janice got me the ingredients and night before last I gave it a go, and by yesterday I had coke salad.

    For those of you who might want to give it a try, here's how it goes:

    Dissolve two packets of Black Cherry Jello in hot water, as per directions on the box. But instead of cold water, you next add Coke. This recipe dates back before the time of 'New Coke', which might explain why it tasted off the last few times I made it, back when New Coke was a new thing. 

    So we used two bottles of Mexican Coke, the kind with cane sugar rather than corn syrup.*

    Then add in all the rest of the ingredients: a small can of crushed pineapple (sans juice), a cup of pecans, a jar of maraschino cherries (also sans juice). Pour into a large flat Pyrex dish. Sprinkle mini marshmellows on top. Chill overnight (or a few hours, if you're impatient). Enjoy. 

    Be warned: Makes a lot. Especially if you're the only member of the household who eats it.

      --John R

    *The people in my family who drank Coke (that is, everyone but me) favored the small glass bottles, so we got smaller rather than larger bottles.

    Friday Midday in Cats

    So, only two cats in the adoption room today, down from six this time last week.  

    I knew Sonona and Panoma had found new homes, but hadn’t heard that Ruby and Timmy had been adopted as well.

    That just left JILL and JACK, who enjoyed being out the whole two hours. They spent most of their time in the front room, playing games (with me, with each other, and sometimes by themselves), enjoying being petted and the occasional roll on the floor combined with a good belly rub. Each had a half-hour walk and showed themselves v. sociable, walking up to people to make themselves available for being petted.  Jack has an Opinion about dogs, which is that they’re okay so long as he doesn’t see or hear them. So I think we can add ’no dogs’ to his profile.

    When I got home I gave one of our own cats a double walk so they don’t feel left out. He is after all a Purrfect Pals alumni in his own right.

    Here’s a picture of Jill (or Jack).

    —John R.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2021

    Oxfordshire's Lost Dragon

    So, I just finished rereading a favorite of mine, HOBBERDY DICK by K. M. Briggs (1955).* This novel by the great folklorist incorporates a great deal of authentic local folklore in a story set in Oxfordshire just after the end of England's Civil War. The iconoclast Puritans, newly come to power, destroyed a great many relics of the past and put an end to many traditional practices in the belief they were either heathenish or Catholic. My eye was caught by a paragraph in which a country girl tells her new city girl friend about some of the recent changes in the area:

    " 'Tis not long to May Day now," said Marion,

     "and so flowery a May Day as us could wish,

      though 'twon't be like the old days. My grannie

    says how when her was a girl, aye and when my

    mammie was a girl too, they had a great old dragon

    carried through Burford streets, all painted gold

    and red, and there was guisers and morris men

    dancing behind it, all in green and yellow and

    white, and they set up the maypole on Church

    Green, and danced round it like David in front

    of the Ark.:"

    (page 126; emphasis mine)

    We are later told the fate of this processional figure:

    Whitsuntide came and went almost unnoticed.

    In the old days it had been a great time of rejoicing

    round Burford, too conspicuous to escape suppression. 

    It was years now since the procession had formed

    to fetch the Whitsun buck from the forest lodge,

    and the great dragon had been burned in '41**

    (page 141, ibid)

    At first I wondered if Tolkien had known about this great red and gold dragon figure once carried through village streets in Oxfordshire, and whether it helped inspire that little masterwork FARMER GILES. On the whole I'm inclined to doubt it --Burford is on the west side of Oxfordshire whereas Giles' Thame and Worminghall are in east Oxfordshire. There too a quick dip into Wikipedia shows that the Burford dragon was quite real (as I'd expect from Briggs), but it celebrated a battle between Wessex and Mercia in which Mercia (whom Tolkien tended to identify with) suffered a major defeat.

    Still, with Tolkien you never know what little bit of story might get stowed away in his mind, ready to pop forth when needed. For example, there's this bit of lore about barrows:

    It was now nearly certain that Martha had been caught 

    near the barrow, and in all probability she was still beneath it. 

    The barrow was one of the hollow places that had long lost

    its proper occupant, and when a gentle spirit deserts a place

    an evil one is almost certain to possess it.

    (page 157; emphasis mine)

    --it wd be tempting to suggest that Tolkien influenced Briggs, but the chronology doesn't really work out: Tolkien's barrow scene appears in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, published in 1954, whereas Brigg's book was published in 1955 --making it unlikely she wd have time to borrow from Tolkien's newly published book.

    So, the Briggs-Tolkien connection is valuable mainly in that it shows us how two contemporary authors drawing on the same source can produce two such different books.

    --John R.

    *CSL said of this book

    “And have you read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers 
    and The Borrowers Afield? And K. M. Brigg’s 
    Hobberdy Dick? — the latter good, but either 
    Kipling or De la Mare, if they had had the idea, 
    wd. have made a heavenly book of it, and 
    hers is not quite good enough. "

    --Just an example of how wrong he cd be sometimes. See CSL COLLECTED LETTERS Vol III page 700

    **That is, 1641

    Tuesday, March 9, 2021



    So, now having had a chance to sort through what I have of the various editions of DAWN PATROL (a.k.a. FIGHT IN THE SKY), the results are more chaotic than I expected and far more interesting. 

    First, here's a listing of all the editions of the game, as redacted from game designer Mike Carr's account on  the F.I.T.S. fan club's website:

    1st edition (1968). 25 copies

    2nd edition. 50 copies

    3rd edition. 100 copies

    These first three editions (which may have been less 'editions' and more revised printings) consisted as "photocopied rules, a handful of playing charts, and some crudely printed maneuver cards. Players were required to make their own playing pieces and to create their own square grid, but no one seemed to mind too much in those days" *

    4th edition (1972). Guidon Games. 1,000 copies. professionally printed. came in a box and included "cardboard-mounted aircraft playing pieces". Later reprinted, "without the box, packaged in a large envelope".

    5th edition (1975). TSR. blue box, blank bottom. boxtop printed by Patch Press in Beloit. "new and expanded". print run: unknown, but mention is made of "the first 1000 copies".  no sku# on boxtop.

    6th edition (1979). TSR. red box. no mention of print run. sku#7003

    7th edition (1982). RENAMED 'DAWN PATROL'. TSR. an 'upgrade . . . with more of a role-playing emphasis' 'expanded rules'. "sales peaked at over 20,000 copies sold in 1983"**. 'Several years later . . . went out of print', though still available through the Mail Order Hobby Shop 'for several years' thereafter. sku#7008. This is the version of the game most people know.

    8th edition: announced as forthcoming in 2018 (reverting to original title) but so far as I can tell this "new, expanded and deluxe 8th Edition" it has yet to appear.

    *       *        *        *        *        *          *         *

    Now, with that for background, my bits and pieces make a lot more sense.

    First off I have the 40-page 7th edition (DAWN PATROL) rulebook with its accompanying uncut card sheets. I got this from my friend Slade on Wend. November 1993.

    Second I have the complete boxed set of this edition, again from Slade, this time on June 7th 1994. This includes the boxtop and bottom, rulebook and cardsheets, two copies of the attractive poster-sized mapsheet, two sets of colorful airplane counters (one German, one Allied) [four sheets in all, unpunched], and my character sheet from the one and only time I played the game. 

    My memory says that this was at a GenCon about mid-way through my '91-'96 stint at TSR, but the evidence of the character sheet says otherwise: it was on Friday January 7th 1994. I was playing Gustav Von Dine, a rank novice flying his Albatros D III that April 1917 morning. The game lasted just five rounds before my character went into a dive and escaped whatever his team encountered that day, exiting the game with an experience total of Missions: 1; Kills: 0. I guess this was a case of 'quit while you're ahead'

    Third I have a copy of the red box 6th edition still in the original shrinkwrap. I admit I'm curious but since I'm looking at these old games preparatory to getting rid of them it seems a bad idea to open it up after all these years. Both this and the next item I got in the big giveaway at WotC (hence sometime between late 1997 and mid-2001) when the company decided to dump multiple copies of long out of print games, said to have been stored at Moses Lake, kept all those years by the legal team in case they might need to place a copy in evidence for one of TSR's endemic lawsuits. 

    Fourth I have the blue box 5th edition -- except that its contents don't seem to fit what little I know about F.I.T.S. 5th edition. 

    --two copies of the 15 page photocopy rules (both the same, so far as I can tell on a quick skim).

    --a handful of photocopy 'FIGHT IN THE SKY AIRCRAFT REFERENCE SHEETS'.

    --a mailer containing a deck of maneuver cards (blank on one side) held together with old rubber bands.

    --a photocopy sheet of advice  about playing the game from Mike Carr,  the designer.

    *       *        *        *        *        *          *         *

    The most interesting thing about this fifth edition/blue box's contents is that they don't seem to correspond to what we would expect from the information above. The fifth edition came with a printed box and I wd assume a printed rulebook inside. Certainly the fourth edition had been professionally printed and it wd be odd to have backslided and reverted to the poor quality photocopy ruleset. Instead the photocopy ruleset seems to belong to the early (first, second, third) printings, which all three together totaled only 175 copies. 

    But it's the mailer that's really interesting. Addressed to 


    330 CENTER ST.



    with a return address of 


    945 W. HOYT



          'FIRST CLASS'


    The oversized envelope also has a meticulous drawing of a SPAD XIII and the back a sort of copyright statement: "ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY / M. CARR AND WGIG "

    The postmark is hard to read but seems to be April 1968. Certainly the stamps (six 6-cent Roosevelts) date from 1968, not 1975, the date of the blue box it was stuffed in.

    Thus this blue box's contents seem not to be the printed rules of 5th edition nor the mailer used in reprintings of the 4th (see above) but rather date back to an earlier era of the game.  

    We do know that Gygax was impressed by the game in its earliest form and that Carr made the trip from Minnesota to run it at the first GenCon -- which took place in 1968, the date of the postmarks. 

     I think this mailer once held Gygax's copy of the original F.I.T.S. But it wd take a lot more work, by someone more expert with this game than myself, to prove whether the cards and rulebooks and reference sheets found with it belong to the same earliest era.

    ---John R.

    *       *        *        *        *        *          *         *

    *shades of DOCTOR LUCKY, except that Carr seems to have beaten James Earnest by a few decades.

    **I assume this means in 1983 alone. Clearly DAWN PATROL benefited from the TSR boom of the early '80s

    Sunday, March 7, 2021

    well this is interesting

    So, when looking through my rather miscellaneous grouping of copies and partial copies of the old TSR roleplaying game DAWN PATROL / FIGHT IN THE SKY, I found this mailer.

    More to follow tomorrow when I've had a chance to look into this a bit more.

    --John R.


    Old TSR Boardgames (DAWN PATROL)

    So, by the early eighties TSR had its flagship game (D&D) in addition to their well-known stable of secondary rpgs, all of which went through several editions: BOOT HILL, GAMMA WORLD, GANGBUSTERS, STAR FRONTIERS, and TOP SECRET, soon to be joined by the MARVEL SUPERHERO game.* TSR also published one game that straddled the line between an rpg and a combat game: DAWN PATROL (sku#7008). Like BOOT HILL, this was a shoot-'em-up with an overlay of roleplaying, as is suggested by the description on the box top: DAWN PATROL: Aerial Combat Role Playing Game. This is confirmed by the layout of the rules, which limits the "Role Playing Aspects" section to four pages and moves that out of the 32 page rulebook into the supplementary charts.

    What's really interesting about DAWN PATROL is that it had an independent existence before and after TSR. In fact, the game sold by TSR as DAWN PATROL was the 7th edition of a game previously known as FIGHT IN THE SKY.  Inspired by the 1966 movie THE BLUE MAX, game designer Mike Carr** created a World War I flying combat game which has the distinction of being the only game played at every GenCon --or so I was told when I got to play the game in the early '90s, guided through the rules by Skip Williams. I thought this was at GenCon, but having just turned up my character sheet ('rank novice') from a game on Friday January 7th 1994 I think it must have been at Winter Fantasy instead. 

    For much more about a game from the era of dinosaurs that managed to evolve into a bird, see the FIGHT IN THE SKIES society's website:

    For more about my copies of some of the earlier versions, see the next post.


    *CONAN, INDIANA JONES, AMAZING ENGINE, BUCK ROGERS, all came later, as did WotC era rpgs like ALTERNITY, DUNE, and WHEEL OF TIME, only one of which (ALTERNITY) managed to establish itself for more than a brief run.

    **Otherwise best known as the editor of the AD&D PLAYER'S HANDBOOK, perhaps the seminal book in our industry, and for designing one of the best-known early D&D adventures: B1. In Search of the Unknown.

    Friday, March 5, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (DIVINE RIGHT)

    "DIVINE RIGHT is more than just a game. 

    It is a work of fantasy literature . . ."

    --designers' introduction 

    So, with DIVINE RIGHT (1979, sku#1008) and the remaining two games in this series we leave the obscure, games that for the most part made little splash and sank without a trace, for games that were, in their day, successful and fairly well known.

    One such was DIVINE RIGHT, written by the Rhaman brothers, Glenn and Kenneth. I lack a complete set, the only original component in my folder being the (20-page) rulebook. The rest is high-quality color photocopy: Box top, bottom, and sides; map sheet (in 8 1/2 x 11 pieces), cards sheet, counter sheets.

    For this I have Brian Thaldorp in the Mail Order Hobby Shop to thank. One of the oddities of this relic of the TSR's Hobby Shop  was that apparently it had been part of their mission statement to be able to replace lost counters or rulebooks or cards or the like from games TSR had done that involved counters and similar small, fiddly, easily lost pieces. For the sake of customer service they kept pieces belonging to games TSR had once published, some of which had long since gone out of print, so that they cd help out anyone who wrote in requesting a replacement chit or card. At some point I borrowed the missing pieces for this game and made good-quality copies of it before returning the originals. I wish I cd say I then took the next step of cutting out all the pieces to make the set playable, but as is the way with collections I never got around to it and it just went on a shelf. 

    For an enthused tour through the game's virtues, see the following link to a detailed write-up of the game showing a lot of its art and some ancillary material:  clearly a labor of love.

    Minarian Legends 

    One reason I never attempted to play this old game lies back in my early days in the hobby, when I had just started first reading DRAGON Magazine.  I was greatly put off by a recurring section related to this game called Minarian Legends that ran for something like twenty issues, an apparently endless stream of background material about a game world I didn't play in set in a world I wasn't interested in. But then I've always been put off by reams of backstory: It's as if Tolkien had written all the Appendices and skipped the stories that made them interesting. To put it another way, I'd much rather take part in a conversation that begins 'tell me about yr character' than 'tell me about yr campaign world.'

    It's only now, as I'm getting rid of it, that I'm taking a closer look and gaining an appreciation of what looks to have been an interesting game.  In fact it looks very much like what I'd hoped the Lankhmar game wd be that it fell short of: a game full of quirky elements that seem to have stories behind them.* A boardgame that encourages a roleplaying style of play. 

    DIVINE RIGHT (1979) and BIRTHRIGHT (1995)

    My own awareness of DIVINE RIGHT comes mainly from having been at TSR at the time of the game's near revival, circa 1994-95. Once a year, TSR r&d staff wd be asked to each produce an idea for a new game world.** This particular year editor Jon Pickens, who had one of the longest tenures at TSR (1980-2000),  proposed revising the DIVINE RIGHT game as TSR's next D&D game world, it having the advantage of a lot of the worldbuilding already having been established. 

    After some initial enthusiasm, the idea faltered when it seems like the people who created the game might still have some rights to it. Rather that strike some mutually beneficial agreement, the Powers That Be decreed that TSR wd not use the Rhamans' game, instead instructing R&D (the designers and editors and artists) to come up with a similar but different world. This turned into BIRTHRIGHT --which, ironically, was based on a pre-existing game world, one which designer Rich Baker had created as a background to the fantasy novels he wanted to write.

    So in the end DIVINE RIGHT did not take a reappearance (not from TSR anyway; other publishers have revived it more recently).

    --John R,

    *I'm told Stafford's WHITE BEAR AND RED MOON shares this feature but have bnever played (or indeed seen) this game.

    **The last expression of this tradition wd have been when it was turned inside out in the fan contest that led to the EBERRON campaign setting (2004).

    Tuesday, March 2, 2021

    Edinburgh Tolkien Event (John Borman movie)

    So, Tuesday morning I got to watch a Tolkien event hosted by the University of Edinburgh Tolkien Society. Titled "The LOTR film that never was, it was a presentation about the unfilmed John Boorman LotR script.

    Here's the description:

    A version of Lord of the Rings where the story of the One Ring is told via dance performance? Lord of the Rings but Aragorn marries Eowyn? Lord of the Rings but Frodo and Galadriel have an inexplicable romance? Lord of the Rings but Saruman is the Mouth of Sauron?

    If you want to know what this is all about then join us as we explore some scenes of John Boorman's 1970s screenplay for the Lord of the Rings that was (luckily for us) never made into a real movie.

    There was a smallish turnout, possibly because the web invitation gave the wrong time for the event, being an hour off (drat those pesky time zones). But it did include, at least for part of the discussion, Janet Brennea Croft (who's written a v. gd article on media adaptations of Tolkien) and David Emerson.

    I'd seen the Boorman script before, but that had been several years ago and I was glad to renew my acquaintance. I clearly remembered some of the scenes that made my mind boggle but others had passed into merciful oblivion. And it was fun to see a group of folks, deeply steeped  in their Tolkien, encountering and trying to come to terms with this bizarre stuff.

    My Final Verdict:  

    We dodged a bullet. Bad as the Bakshi film is, and as much as purists lamented the Peter Jackson films' infidelities, it cd have been far, far worse. And Boorman proves it.


    --current reading: Ordway's TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING[%7B%22mechanism%22%3A%22search_results%22%2C%22surface%22%3A%22bookmark%22%7D]%7D

    Monday, March 1, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (LITTLE BIG HORN)

     So, here's another early TSR game I haven't played, don't own, and haven't even seen. Once again BoardGameGeek offers at least a glimpse of what the box and some of the components look like:

    and Wikipedia quotes some comments Gygax later made about the game, including that it was one of several competing games commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the battle.

    Still, it's interesting to add another title to Gygax's list of credits.

    sku#: unknown.

    --John R.

    Sunday, February 28, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (WAR OF WIZARDS)

    So, one of the nice things about starting this string of posts about TSR boardgames from the dawn of time is that it casts an interesting light on the company's early days. It also gives me a chance to take a good look at old items in my collection that just sit on the shelf, space I badly need for the Tolkien books. And yet another is the discovery of games I not only didn't have but had never heard of.

    A case  in point is WAR OF THE WIZARDS, a Tekumel/EPT spin-off from 1975 (sku # unknown). I've never so much as seen this one, but fortunately Jeff Grubb has put up a post on his GRUBBSTEET blog that gives a good idea of what this game is like:

    For a little more information, some of the basics are given at BoardGameGeek )

    The main lesson I take away from this one, and from Jeff's observations-- is that it shows TSR didn't really know how to do follow-up product early on. So they experimented with different approaches, took note of what worked and what didn't, and used those lessons to guide their efforts --until the next time, when gaps in institutional memory led to repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

    In short: TSR games have never been perfect little bonsai trees but untidy forests that get trimmed back from time to time.

    --John R.

    Saturday, February 27, 2021

    A Good Writer's Worst Book

     So, I've just been reading Le Guin's TEHANU, and it's got me thinking about what bad books by a good author tell us.* 

    For example there's Austen's MANSFIELD PARK, where she has all the elements she usually uses in a novel but in the wrong combination. Or CSL's THE ABOLITION OF MAN, where he argues in favor of indoctrinating the young. Or one of Shakespeare's bottom of the barrel plays like TITUS ANDRONICUS or TIMON OF ATHENS. Logically the only way to avoid having a 'worst book' is to only write one book. And a given writer's worst might still be v. gd.

    But when I tried to apply this line of thought to Tolkien I got into difficulties. MR. BLISS or ROVERANDOM might be serious candidates, but is it fair to include posthumous works? If we do exclude posthumous works, then I don't think there's a genuinely bad book in the fairly short list of books published in Tolkien's lifetime: H, LotR, FGH, ATB, T&L, SWM, RGEO. If I were forced to it I might opt for RGEO just because it has so little Tolkien content, but I suspect those interested in Tolkien's invented languages and invented scripts wd object.


    --current reading: Ordway, Briggs, light novel

    *The inverse phenomenon, of a good book by a bad author, also occurs and is even more interesting, but that's an argument for another day. 

    Ordway at the Wade

    So, Thursday evening I watched the virtual book launch for Holly Ordway's new book TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING at the Wade Center. They had a three-way set up with Dr. Downing, the Wade's co-director, as host; Archivist Laura Schmidt as moderator; and Ordway as guest. For those who missed it (e.g., anyone in the UK who didn't want to get up in the dead of night) the whole thing is now up on YouTube at any individual's convenience. 

    Having been on deadline all week I still haven't read more than a fraction of the book in question, so all I can give here are scattered observations and comments. 

    First, I'm impressed by her meticulous research. She spends a lot of time at the start of her book explaining her criteria for establishing that Tolkien knew and read a particular book, and it was a major theme of her presentation. A lot of the value of her book is her decision to err on the side of exclusion --if the evidence seems iffy to her, she leaves that item out.

    Second, she's better in print than in oral presentation. The book has the advantage of carefully chosen words  in the most advantageous structure, which is hard to beat in an extemporaneous format. 

    Third, she's hard on Carpenter. She blames him with having badly distorted the truth by his statement that Tolkien felt English literature pretty much ended with Chaucer.

    She is also highly critical of LETTERS for not giving the complete text of each letter. 

    She considers Scull & Hammond three-volume set "the gold standard" for its reliability as a resource.

    A few misc. points:

    --She is certain that JRRT read Newman but cannot prove that he read any specific work of his.

    She made some odd remarks on Morris which made me think she was confusing the Romans of THE HOUSE OF THE WOLFINGS with the Huns of THE ROOTS OF THE MOUNTAINS.

    Finally, it's dun-SANE-ee (rhymes with rainy) not dUN-sin-ay

    --More when I've had time to delve into the chapters that explore specific writers and works.

    --John R.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2021


     So, today a new book arrived that I heard about from Andrew H.: TOLKIEN & THE CLASSICAL WORLD, edited by Hamish Wms and published by Walking Tree Press (2021) as volume 45 in the Cormare series. This being a seriously under-explored aspect of Tolkien's work despite the occasional attempt to make some headway (e.g. Reckford's 1987/88 essay or Morse's 1986 book) I v. much wanted to see what these folks had to say. So far haven't had time to do much more than skim the table of contents, but I can already tell the first piece I'm going to read: Michael Kleu's "Plato's Atlantis and the Post-Platonic Tradition in Tolkien's Downfall of Numenor", quickly followed by Lukast Neubauer's "Less Consciously at First but More Consciously in the Revision: Plato's Ring of Gyges as a Putative Source of Inspiration for Tolkien's Ring of Power", then the two pieces comparing Gondor/Rohan with Rome/Germanica: Richard Z. Gallant's "The Noldorization of the Edain: The Roman-Germani Paradigm for the Holdor and Edain in Tolkien's Migration Era" and Juliette Harrisson's "Escape and Consolation: Gondor as the Ancient Mediterranean and Rohan as the Germanic World in The Lord of the Rings".

    So, it'll take me a while to get to this, but I expect it to be worth the wait.

    I wonder if anyone will explore the Trolls/Cyclopes analogy.

    --John R.

    Monday, February 22, 2021

    Tolkien Loved Libraries

    So, between my current deadline and time spent sorting out yet more stuff, I haven't made much progress with the Ordway book yet -- though I'm looking forward to her presentation on it at the Wade later this week.

    Her essential thesis is that Tolkien read and was strongly influenced by authors who were modern (1850-1970s) rather than medieval. It's a little odd to be told no one thought of this before if like me you're part of a number of scholars who have been working on just that for years. To be fair Ordway is much more nuanced in the book itself than she had been in descriptions of it while it was in the works.

    What has caught my eye is the amount of careful research that's gone into this book. For example I learned that Tolkien spoke at the opening of a local library in Deddington, a village between Oxford and Banbury,  as reported by the local paper on December 19th 1956. 

    The wealth of books to be found here is food for the mind,

    and everyone knows that for the stomach to go without food

    for a long time is bad, but for the mind to go without food

    is even worse.

    ("Professor Tolkien's Whimsical Talk", Ordway p.22) 

    So that's a new quote, and a nice one, to add to our collections.

    More when I've had a chance to read more.

    --John R.

    UPDATE (T.2/23)

    Thanks to Doug A. for the news that this event was reported on Morgan Thomsen's Mythoi blog back in 2012. Here's the link.

    Among the admirable amount of detail M.T. includes is that Tolkien closed his remarks by reciting a poem in Elvish ('the musical fairylike language that he invented').

    I'm intrigued and a bit puzzled by one quote:

    'I have seen visions through the wormholes 

    of books printed before Caxton died, and 

    from the paintings of skins of animals which

     roamed that Country we don't speak of 

    at Wantage before Alfred was born'

    (emphasis mine)

    --So I wonder: Is 'that Country we don't speak of' the Land of the Dead (home of the Great Majority)? Or does he mean Faerie, a realm which folk are traditionally reluctant to name?

    In any case, thanks to Morgan T. for the good work and to Douglas A. for pointing me in its direction.

    --Now back to reading the Ordway.

    --John R.

    Saturday, February 20, 2021


    So, the only reason I thought I'd have to leave THE AWFUL GREEN THINGS FROM OUTER SPACE  (1980) out of this series of posts about TSR dawn-of-time boardgames is that I don't have a copy.* But it seems a pity to leave it out when I do have a copy of the re-release from Steve Jackson Games (circa 1988), so my remarks will be based on the SJG version, not the original.

    AWFUL GREEN THINGS bears a strong resemblance to SNIT'S REVENGE (and, for that matter, SNIT SMASHING) --not surprisingly since these are sibling games, all being creations of the inimitable Tom Wham.** In the case of AWFUL GREEN its inspiration was THE GREEN SLIME,***  its spiritual descendent THE CAPTAIN IS DEAD (2017).

    My copy of this game is in good shape and obviously has never been played; my notes say I got it from Dale Donavan in 1999 for $3. Obviously, there's no TSR stock number on this version.

    The other Wham games I know of include MERTWIG'S MAZE, published in folio format (and much later, being released in 1988); two of the six games in THE BEST OF DRAGON GAMES collection, FILE 13 (originally 1983) and SEARCH FOR THE EMPEROR'S TREASURE (originally 1981); and, best of all, there was THE GREAT KHAN GAME (1989). Published much later than most of the TSR Wham games and in sourcebox format (one of those slim boxes later used for al-Qadim adventures), this is a melding card game played on a map that serves as a board. This is the only one of the games I've been discussing that I actually picked up when it was still a new game. It's also one among those relatively few of these I've actually played --and greatly enjoyed, by the way.

    The sku number is #1044, reflecting how KHAN GAME comes v. much later than the early Wham games that made his reputation. For some reason somebody decided this whimsical and wacky little game shd be set in the FORGOTTEN REALMS, necessitating the addition of 'The Whamite Isles' to the official FR map. This has given this one game a collectability factor for FORGOTTEN REALMS players lacking in SNITS or AWFUL GREEN.

    --John R.

    *the same problem applies with LITTLE BIG HORN, which I've never even seen, and WAR OF THE WIZARDS --but luckily Jeff Grubb has just posted a good write-up of the latter at  (

    **SNIT'S REVENGE and AWFUL GREEN THINGS even share similar wording in their advice to player's section for the Snits and Green Things players.

    ***One of the worst science fiction movies ever made, the obvious source of AD&D's dread Green Slime.

    Old TSR Boardgames (SNIT'S REVENGE)

    So, of all the boardgames TSR put out over the decades without a doubt, hands down, by far the weirdest is Tom Wham's SNIT'S REVENGE (1977).

    Like most of Wham's work,* this had originally appeared in DRAGON and was self-illustrated in Wham's distinctive cartoony style. 

    Most of the game takes place inside the internal organs of one monster (the Bolotomus), which is being invaded by a number of small, fast creatures (the Snits). The Bolotomus player marshals his or her defenses, sending out Runnungitms (essentially antibodies) to stave off the Snits. The Snits player runs riots inside their foe, kicking things to death.

    Notably for such a silly game,** SNIT'S REVENGE has a stellar cast of credits. In addition to Wham's own contributions to 'Design & Art' and Gygax's nod for "Inspirations", "Development, playtesting, and other venerable aid" are ascribed to a who's who of TSR greats:

    Rob Kuntz

    Tim Kask

    Brian Blume

    Skip Williams

    Ernie Gygax

    Dave Sutherland

    Joe Orlowski

    Mike Carr

    Dave Trampier 

    and Jeff Dee

    Most of these had moved on by the time I came to TSR, the two notable exceptions being Skip Williams (long a stalwart of the RPGA and later driving force behind the 3e Monster Manual) and Dave Sutherland (mapper extraordinaire). But Wham cd still be seen around town sometimes, puttering around in overalls around the Lake Geneva library (I  was told he worked there as a custodian). I was also told that he'd been married to Rose Estes, who wrote a number of the early Greyhawk novels.

    Wham was also exceptional in that most of TSR's early boardgames were one offs, the only boardgame TSR produced for that author. By contrast Wham created a number of such games. There was not only SNIT'S REVENGE's predecessor (SNIT SMASHING) but also its successor (RUNNGUS'S GAME). 

    One of these games, THE AWFUL GREEN THINGS FROM OUTER SPACE, merits a post of its own, which shd follow in a day or two.

    Finally, a few features of my copy of SNIT'S REVENGE are worth calling out. For one thing, it's autographed (on the gameboard) by Wham himself. For another, I got this game in a silent auction at RockCon in Rockford in 1993 but was not its first owner. Not only had all the little chits been carefully punched out but some sheets recording the names and stats of Snits, SuperSnits, and locations set down for some long-ago gaming session by one Mike Burba were inside the box. So I'm glad this game is one that didn't sit pristine on a shelf but got played and, I hope, enjoyed.

    --John R.

    *By the way, the name is pronounced so that 'Wham' rhymes with 'Tom'

    **It says a lot about the game that two and a half of its six-page rules come in the form of a comic strip explaining the cosmology behind the game.


    I forgot to add the sku designator: it's product #5003


    Thursday, February 18, 2021

    C. S. Lewis Biopic in the works

    So, it seems a film biography of C. S. Lewis is now in the works, scheduled for a release late this year (or so they hope).

    Called THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT, a phrase taken from CSL's autobiography, it's directed by the same director who did the Joss Ackland SHADOWLAND years ago. The story is said to be based on Max McLean's one-man show, which we've seen. The structure however sounds quite different, with three different actors portraying CSL at different times in his life, the older Lewis sometimes commenting on the younger. If done well this might recapture the feeling of its being Lewis's autobiography, where he repeatedly contrasts the himself of the present day with his earlier, starkly different younger selves.

    The one article I've seen says almost nothing about the supporting cast (e.g., is Janie Moore given due prominence? what about his brother Warnie?) but it does specify that JRRT will be a character (played by one Tom Glenister), described as "one of his [Lewis's] intellectual sparring partners".

    They apparently did some on-location filming in Oxford. It'll be nice to see the Kilns and Magdalen.

    Thanks to David B. for the link, which I found in his post on the MythSoc list.

    --John R. 

    Sunday, February 14, 2021

    A Report on my Glasgow talk


    one more follow-up on my Glasgow talk, in the form of a report on the Centre's blog from one attendee about how it went, plus a reading list of works, some referred to in my talk but for the most part generated in the Q&A and Chat that followed. 

    I'm glad to say  that the verdict is that the presentation went well --though looking over all that was going on at the same time in parallel in the audience response as I was speaking makes me wish my responses were more focused.

    Here's the link:

    Many thanks to Grace and Emma and Hannah and of course Dimitra for all their hard work putting this event, et al, together.


    Old TSR Boardgames (KNIGHTS OF CAMELOT)

     the next game (product #1009) on the shelf is somewhat later (1980) and more appealing in its art and components, with an attractive cover and pleasant color pallet for both box and map. Written by the Rahmans, this is a much more substantial work than, say COHORTS of WARLOCKS & WARRIORS, with a thirty-six page rulebook, poster-sized map, encounters sheet, dice, chits, and cards.

    This was another purchase from Crazy Igor, apparently a Christmas present to myself since I got it December 21st 1993 (a Tuesday). In all the time since I've only played this game once, some years back, when Steve Winter ran it for several of us who'd never played and were curious. I remember I was underwhelmed, but I don't remember why.

    Similarly I know there were two editions of this game, not sure why. Maybe I'll see if I can run through a solo game before it goes out the door. It might be fun to see how well it might match with PENDRAGON. I do see from BoardGameGeek that there's a DRAGON magazine article offering rules on how to play a varlet rather than a chivalrous knight,* which again sounds worth checking out. 

    One final feature of note is that the map is credited to Darlene Pekul and the cover art to "Eymoth and Erol Otus". Eymoth I haven't come across before. Otus by contrast is one of the most distinctive artists TSR ever employed. I have to say though that the cover art for this game is unusually subdued by his standards and I wdn't have recognized it as his work.

    Next up: something completely different (SNIT'S REVENGE).

    --John R.

    --current reading: TEHANU, TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING, light novels.

    *"Being a Bad Knight" by Glenn Rahman, DRAGON #58 (Feb 1982)

    Friday, February 12, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (WARLOCKS & WARRIORS)

    So, to resume.

    As my Marie Kondo deathmarch through my shelf-full of early TSR boardgames I've had for years and for the most part never played  continues, we come to WARLOCKS & WARRIORS (1977), product #1003.

    This turns out to be yet another of TSR's confusing array of intro-level games (this one retooling the target audience down to age 8 & up), with this particular entry complicating that tangled history just a little more.

    It also turns out to be another of the games designed by fantasy authors Gygax liked (the 'Famous Authors' or 'Famous Writers' Series),  like de Camp's COHORTS and, presumably, Leiber & Fischer's LANKHMAR .

     In this case the sword and sorcery writer in question was Gardner Fox--who though remembered today primarily as a third-rate Conan imitator* was clearly a favorite of E. Gary G.**

    The basic idea underlying this game is paring down the character classes to just two: Warlock (magic-users) and Warrior (fighter). The best thing about it, looking back from the present day, is the Dave Sutherland art, which is reminiscent of the art towards the end of the DMG depicting an adventuring group's up and downs in their explorations.

    As for the game itself, the puzzle is why did they need this when they had Megarry's DUNGEON  (which is in fact advertised on the last page of WARLOCKS & WARRIORS' rulesheet)?

    Just as an aside, I shd record that my copy was a gift from Slade Henson (June 7th 1994). Slade was at that time downsizing his own collection. It's perhaps amusing to note that Slade credited his having such a nice collection to his having arrived in Lake Geneva to start work at TSR (circa 1989?) on the same weekend that Frank Mentzer had a big garage sale . . . 

    --John R.

    --current reading: light novel, Ordway's book, TEHANU

    *Fox's main claim to fame are not his fiction but his work in comic books: he played a major role in the creation and scripting of ADAM STRANGE.

    **The full credits read

    Game Design: Gardner Fox

    Development: Brian Blume & James Ward

    Graphics: David Sutherland, Brian Blume & Gardner Fox


    I shd have included in the post above information from Zenopus's comment on my earlier post re. COHORTS: Roman Checkers. It is clear from Z's additional researches that the three works so listed as belonging to this series are

    (1) LANKHMAR  [Fischer & Leiber]

    (2) WARLOCKS & WARRIORS  [Fox]

    (3) COHORTS  [de Camp]

    Thanks to Zenopus A. for clarifying this.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2021

    The Text of My Glasgow Talk

    So, just wanted to share the link to this, the script of my Glasgow talk, 'Giants in the Oerth'. This version shd be handy for anyone who may want to cite it, or if there are those who prefer text over audio/video. 

    Plus, this time with endnotes.

    And in the interests of fixing a small misstep, I now realize that when I said Moldvay did the 'Giants in the Oerth' column the assistance of Schick, it wd have been more accurate to say the two did it as partners.

    Here's the link. Thanks again all for the questions and comments.

    --John R.

    Saturday, February 6, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (4th DIMENSION)

     So, this one is a bit of an odd man out, being the American adaptation / edition of a previously published English (UK) game. It'd be nice to be able to say that this game about Time Lords was connected in some way with DOCTOR WHO, but no such luck. Instead this is a positional game all about positioning your markers most advantageously; it has echoes of Stratego and Chess

    And that's really about it. Perhaps the design has appeal that's not apparent from just skimming the rules and setting up the pieces. Unfortunately none comes across in the two online play-throughs I found on YouTube / Boardgame Geeks. It also has the problem that the gamepieces look too much alike and the board is too small.

    One mildly shocking feature of the game is its naming one standard type of move a "suicide".  There's an unfortunate bit of word choice that wd never see the light of day today.

    The games' product number/stock number is #5004; it's also a bit later (1979)  than the other games I've been looking at in this string of posts. 

    In the end, I get the sense that this game functions better as a piece of set design in, say, an old episode of STAR TREK than being something someone wd actually want to play. Pity. 

    --John R.

    Friday, February 5, 2021


     So, this might be known as The One That Got TSR in Trouble, were there not competition for that title (cf. WARRIORS OF MARS). Gygax tells the story in anecdotal fashion:

    TSR was served with papers threatening damages to the tune of half a mil

     by the Saul Zantes (sp?) division of Elan Merchandising on behalf of 

    the tolkien Estate. The main objection was to the boardgame we were 

    publishing, The Battle of Five Armies. The author of that game had given 

    us a letter from his attorney claiming the work was grandfathered

    because it was published after the copyrights for JRRT's works

    had lapsed and before any renewals were made. The action also

    demanded we remove balrog, dragon, elf, ent, goblin, hobbit,

    orc, and warg from the D&D game. Although only balrog and

    warg were unique names we agreed to hobbit as well, kept the rest,

    of course. The boardgame was dumped, and thus the suit was 

    settled out of court at that.

    —CHEERS, GARY (circa 2002) p. 108

    Since it'd take a whole separate post if not more to unpack and fact-check Gygax's account  (e.g., Zaentz's 'Tolkien Enterprises' did not represent the Tolkien Estate, though they often found it useful to give the impression that they did), and because I've written about this boardgame elsewhere, all I'll say about it here is that my favorite rule can be found at the bottom of page 5 of the rulebook:


    . . . For this scenario Smaug may only be killed by Bowfire. Note: In this scenario the Dwarves have no Bows.

    --Think over that one for a bit. Kobayashi Maru, anyone? 

    Maintaining their confusing tradition in assigning stock/product numbers, this game is #F110

    --that is, the tenth in their line of boardgames, this time tagged as a Fantasy title.

    On a personal note, while I'm vague on exactly when I got most of the games I'm covering in their sequence of blog posts, this one I can be specific on: I got it at Origins in 1995 (Sunday July 16th), that being the only time I ever went to Origins. It cost me $18.95, probably because all the pieces have been punched and ziplock bagged. Finally, I bought it from Crazy Egor -- not just his booth but Crazy Egor himself. *

    --John R.

    --current reading: three Japanese light novel (the equivalent of young adult fiction).

    *I also bought the original boxed set of Chaosium's MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP at the same time and place, but it cost me $29.95.  It was worth it. And now, all these years later, I'm coming to the end of playing the adventure.

    Thursday, February 4, 2021

    Old TSR Boardgames (COHORTS : Roman Checkers)

    So, another of TSR's early boardgames is more significant for its associations than its gameplay. Published by TSR under the name COHORTS: THE GAME OF ROMAN CHECKERS,* it's a reconstruction of an ancient game, the rules for which are lost. The game has different names in different cultures. From a quick survey I suspect some of these are different games now associated together more than is perhaps justified. 

    More interesting than the game itself is the fact that it was the work of L. Sprague de Camp. At first de Camp seemed an odd choice to create (or re-create) a boardgame. Then it hit me: one of de Camp's most famous works is his LEST DARKNESS FALL (1939), a Connecticut Yankee novel about a modern-day engineer who finds himself back in Late Antiquity Rome.  If we consider de Camp, who was something of a polymath, an expert in all things Roman, his authoring a Roman or pseudoRoman game makes more sense.**  

    de Camp's name appears at the end of the rulesheet and on one of the box sides, which says


     has been specially prepared by world famous author L. Sprague de Camp.

    The box bottom  reads

    COHORTS is the third title in TSR's "Famous Writers Series", 
    and this edition of the game was prepared by noted writer L. Sprague de Camp.

    The phrase "Famous Author Series" appears in a starburst in the upper right corner of the boxtop.

    So, what is the Famous Writers/Authors Series, and what are the other entries in it (presumably at least two, if this is the third one)? I assume the Leiber/Fischer LANKHMAR Game was one, and that the Larry Smith version of Tolkien's BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES the other.

    Finally, for those trying to sort out the seqyence, this game's stock number is #5002.

    --John R.

    --New Arrival: Holly Ordway's long awaited TOLKIEN'S MODERN READING.

    *Thanks to Steve Brown for my copy of this. 

    **This was not de Camp's only contact with TSR: DRAGON MAGAZINE reprinted one of the  Harold Shea 'Incomplete Enchanter' stories.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2021

    Lankhmar Lore --found

    So, thanks to Jeff G's comment on my previous Lankhmar post, I now know where a lot of the questions I had can be answered. Jeff pointed me towards a string of articles about the LANKHMAR Game that had appeared in DRAGON Magazine in late 1979/early 1980.

    In all there were seven pieces in this series, all of them written by Dr. Frederick MacKnight:*

    DRAGON #30.  p.16-17 (Oct 1979)

    DRAGON #31. p.32-34 (Nov 1979)

    DRAGON #33. p.12-15 (Jan 1980)

    DRAGON #34. p.32-33 (Feb 1980)

    DRAGON #36. p.46-47 (Apr 19800

    DRAGON #37. p.31-32 (May 1980)

    DRAGON #38. p.44-45 (June 1980)


    MacKnight's claim to fame is that he was the person who introduced Fischer to Leiber. He also played the original version with Fischer and Leiber and can (and does) describe it in exhaustive detail. Unfortunately he rather confusingly describes and discusses the original game ('LANKMAR'), the new game ('LANKHMAR'), and his own proposed re-design of many features of both. Here's what MacKnight has to say (emphasis mine):

    I am one of the few people ever to have played the original game of Lankhmar

    other than its original authors, Harry Fischer, Fritz Leiber, and Martha Fischer

    There was also Prof. Lawrence (Larry) Howe of the University of Louisville,

    and that is all. Harry owned the board and hadn't had many games-minded

    friends since college days.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing here is learning that Martha Fischer played a crucial role. Indeed, she created the map board, which had a 3D element to its terrain. MacKnight says he was Ningauble and suggests that Martha F. was Sheelba (Leiber and Fischer were Fafhrd and The Mouser, of course). And apparently there was a good deal of roleplaying when the characters came into conflict.

    Playing the game took a major time investment of several days --at least a weekend. But in MacKnight's opinion it was more than worth it:

    I played the game only three or four times but it was enough to convince me

    that it was the greatest, most fascinating game ever invented by man.

    In addition, we learn some worthwhile misc. facts:

    That the board was six feet tall and three feet wide.

    That the map was oriented North / South, unlike TSR's East / West, which had created blank areas that Gygax et al had filled with inserted place-names of their own devising. 

    Each square was 1&1/2 inches across. 

    The landbridge was twice as wide in the original. 

    As for the War Cat, MacKnight sheds light on this when he groups it with mounts:

    The beasts are horses and camels. In [the original game] these were represented

     by checkers: black for horses, red for camels. There was also the War Cat, 

    represented by a furry button. In [the new game] the War Cat plays no 

    active role. He must be too old now too leave his lair!

    I admit to being curious whether the original survives and if so where it is now. We know the board was in Fischer's keeping, and that it must have survived intact down to the mid-1970s, when Gygax et al must have borrowed it to work from when creating their stripped down version. The chief reason given by Gygax for not publishing the original game as is was simply cost: the game wd have to be priced at fifty to a hundred dollars, in a day when the EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE box was considered extravagantly expensive at twenty-five dollars.

    Nowdays, of course, things are different. A deluxe Kickstarter might well have a good chance of getting funded, assuming the original survives to serve as the template.

    --John R.

    *MacKnight's first name is given variously as Franklin and Frederick; I'm not sure which is right.

    Coda: Fafhrd's Dilemma

    Before moving on, I wanted to mention the seventh and last of the pieces MacKnight inflicted on DUNGEON editor Tim Kask, which was unlike the rest in that it was a logic puzzle. Here's a quick summary:

    Fafhrd is in a death trap. 

    The Gray Mouser has five minutes to disable the trap and free him. 

    The person to whom the puzzle is posed asks questions 

    to create the scene and reveal what to do to save his partner.