The Most D&D Book Ever?

I’ve been rereading the Hobbit, for the first time in maybe thirty years, and I can’t help but be struck by it being possibly the most D&D thing I’ve ever read… including some books that were directly set in D&D worlds. It’s not just the moments where something in the early D&D rules was clearly taken from bits in the book, like “Oh, werebears can summon normal bears because Beorn the skin-changer could” or that the whole bit about intelligence and ego in magic swords probably spun out of the one line about Glamdring being “bright as blue flame for delight in the killing [of the Great Goblin]”, it’s much more fundamental: this is D&D at its core.

This is what a party looks like, even if early accounts are to be believed in the numbers of adventurers: 13 dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard; this is what motivates them: gold and to a lesser extent adventure, maybe a little bit of back-story; these are the places they go: across dangerous countryside where there is no king or law, through giant spider-infested forests, into subterranean lairs that stretch beneath entire mountain ranges where live goblins and worse, into lost mines inhabited by dragons. But most of all, these are the shenanigans that PC’s get up to: uncovering secret routes on a treasure map; discovering magic swords in a monster’s pile of loot; hiding while giants fight; killing goblins with sword and magic; nearly getting burned alive by clever, ruthless goblins; using rope, grappling hook, and convenient boat to try to solve the puzzle of crossing the creepy magical river; escaping via a hare-brained plan to hide in barrels to float downriver; discovering a secret door that is revealed once a year; running away from a dragon; aid in defeating a dragon through something they discovered while adventuring. Honestly, I could probably pull something from nearly every chapter. And throughout it all, what’s at stake is primarily their survival and whether they’ll actually emerge wealthy at the other end. Despite the presence of a prophecy, they aren’t the destined ones, the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance, and while arguably the party’s greed and foolishness after their success semi-accidentally led to a better outcome than if they’d stayed home they are not really the heroes of the Southlands.

Much more than The Lord of The Rings, but also more than the stories of Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, The Hobbit is what it’s all about.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

– The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

SF Campaign Quiz

I stumbled across this when going through my old emails, and I thought it might interest some of you.  This was a survey I sent out for a group I was going to run a SF campaign for once a month online; they had agreed they wanted to play some kind of SF campaign, but they weren’t sure what.  Usually I’d start with an idea for the kind of campaign I felt like running, but since I was play-testing Zap! at the time, I was open to almost anything they wanted to try.


How serious do you want the tone of the campaign to be
  • Played for Laughs (Galaxy Quest)
  • Campy but played straight (Flash Gordon)
  • Straight, with leavening of humor (Star Trek Original Series)
  • Straight, with little or no humor (later season DS9)
  • Grim (Battlestar: Galactica remake)
  • Other:

Hardness of SF

How hard do you want the SF to be?
  • Sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic
  • Anything goes as long as you wave your hands sufficiently vigorously and invoke nano, quantum, or tachyons.
  • Stick to standard SF tropes like FTL travel and cloning, please.
  • At least make a stab at plausibility, don’t include anything known to be impossible without flagging it
  • Stick to actual speculative science
  • Everything has to be vetted by Scott (one of our two resident physicists)
  • Other:
Which of the following elements would you like to see? *
if there’s a conflict, these choices will override the previous answer in specific areas
  • Space ships
  • FTL Travel
  • Psionic powers
  • Alien life forms
  • PC alien races
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Teleportation/Matter transmission
  • Near Future
  • Alternate Present
  • Farther future, but Earth still known/relevant (3-400 years)
  • Far future, Earth history known but Earth lost
  • Earth? What’s that?
  • Terra-forming
  • Interstellar civilizations
  • Time travel
  • Extra-dimensional travel
  • Virtual worlds
  • Resurrection/Restore from Backup
  • Increased Longevity
  • Robot PCs
  • Interstellar War
  • “Uplifted” animals
  • Genetically engineered humans
  • Allegory and social commentary
  • Universal translators
  • Matter replicators
  • I’m good with any or none of the above
  • Other:

Campaign Structure

Episodic or Epic
  • Episodic: I want the stories to have discrete beginning, middle and end
  • Seasonal Arcs: I want the individual episodes to eventually add up to a larger arc, but that arc might be only one of several with these characters
  • Epic: I want one overarching story, with the bulk of what happens being driving that story forward
  • Non-dramatic: I want to explore and do stuff, and if I see any dramatic structure happening, I’ll zap it with my blast pistol.
  • Other:


Should PCs die?
  • Never.
  • Only by player choice.
  • If they do something everybody agrees is lethally stupid
  • If they do something that the GM thinks is lethally stupid
  • If the dice say so
  • If the dice say so, but with player veto
  • Inevitably
  • Multiple times per session, thank goodness for backups
  • Multiple times per session, thank goodness characters are easy to create
  • Other:

Are the PCs special?

ordinary schmoes or heroes?
  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. And then there’s the PCs
  • Ordinary folks thrown into extraordinary circumstances, trying to get by
  • Competent professionals, doing their jobs
  • Elite, the special squad within the ranks of the pros
  • We’re the A-Team, we get called in when the elite have failed
  • Legends, the ones that taught the A-Team everything they know
  • Mary Sue Squad
  • Other:


How far and wide do the PCs roam?
  • Based in a particular city-sized locale
  • Globe trotters
  • Interplanetary is an adventure
  • Interplanetary is a commute, Interstellar is an adventure
  • Interstellar commuters, Intergalactic adventurers
  • Time travelers
  • Dimension hoppers
  • Other:


Why did nobody tell me how great Thorgal is?  (Ok, Trey Causey tried back in 2013, but I wasn’t reading his blog back then, and made the mistake of not crawling through all the archives when I added it to my list of must-reads.  Mea culpa.)

Despite the name, Thorgal is not about Marvel’s new female version of Thor, but a Belgian fantasy comic that’s been produced since 1977, by the team of Jean Van Hamme (writer) and Grzegorz Rosiński (artist).  It’s definitely in the science-fantasy mold, as Thorgal is an orphan from outer-space plopped down among the Vikings.  Not too much is made of that, actually, except him having a great destiny.  The first volume of the English translation goes into it, but apparently it was originally volume 7.  I think for the English editions they moved it up to its chronological position, because they wanted to start with an “origin”?. This gives it a slightly odd feeling, since it originally served as a flashback and doesn’t have any of the foreshadowing devices you might expect if it was really the beginning of the story, but if you just let it flow I promise you’ll be richly rewarded.

I’m particularly taken with Aaricia, the cleverest princess of them all (not her actual billing, just my reaction to her). Whether it’s rescuing Thorgal, rescuing a god, or solving an ancient riddle Aaricia can always figure it out. Unfortunately I’m only three volumes in and she’s currently sidelined, but I’m hoping to see a lot more of her in the future.

Thorgal is more than just a viking slab of beef, particularly in terms of conscience, but it’s Aaricia, pictured above, that I really like.

update just finished volume three, and Aaricia saves the day as usual. Go Aaricia!


You can get the first book here (Amazon associates link, so conceivably I could get some money if you choose to order it via the link)


Basically DungeonPunk applies the gritty, cynical aesthetic of CyberPunk to heroic fantasy, usually with magic as tech. Sometimes this is just a surface gloss: long coats & mirror shades on your dual-pistol wielding dwarf warrior.  What I’m looking to do is emphasize some of the things that I see as making the “Punk” part:
  • The street finds its own uses for magic (tech)
  • Criticism of conformity: you can have a comfortable life, or freedom, but not both. Opting for freedom drops you into the seamy underbelly of society, scrabbling for a living.  You’re not really a punk, imo, if the Establishment is universally hated and despised.  Fighting against alien invaders who want to eat you isn’t punk; fighting against alien invaders who want to give you boring 9-5 jobs with health and dental in alien call centers is.
  • The protagonists are society’s outcasts and losers, not the movers and shakers.  Being a high-level adventurer doesn’t get you an audience with the king and the hand of the prince/princess, it gets you an unpleasant interview with the head of the secret police where he offers to drop the charges if you do a little job for him…

Here’s the TV Tropes link:

Some images:

Train Golem

Lightning Rail




Torchlight 2 Wardrobe


Out-RAGE-e-ous Accents

Here’s a comment I left on an RPG Blog II post about Dwarves with Scottish Accents:

eh, it’s amusing and it passes the test for character accents: it’s easy enough for amateurs to produce recognizably. It matters not at all whether it’s authentic, only that the audience can recognize it. The fact that people know it’s inauthentic may actually be a feature: people who are much too self-conscious to attempt an accent where they might be judged against the real world seem to be comfortable with doing the over-the-top parody accents: och aye Scottish, oh I say English, ve haff vays German, I shall taunt you a second time French, bork-bork-bork Swedish, keel moose and squirrel Russian, arrr me hearties Pirate, fur shur rilly Valley Girl…

I know our group does a lot of silly voices, for which we mostly have Rachel and her Sister Theresa to blame.  I know that in addition to the ones I mentioned above Doug sometimes does Monty Burns: eeeexcellent, complete with finger steepling gestures, and a kind of well, shoot iffen that don’t beat all Hick. What ones am I missing?  There are a bunch of bad celebrity voices that I do, but I’m not sure whether they count….


Which Fantasy Writer Am I?

Interesting.  Not the writer I like best or identify with most, but not bad. I like all of Tolkien, Lovecraft and even Lewis better than I do Moorcock, and I loathe Miéville…but my fictional universes are probably a lot more like Moorcock than any of those three.

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?…

Michael Moorcock (b. 1939)

11 High-Brow, 3 Violent, -5 Experimental and 31 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Violent, Traditional and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Michael Moorcock is one of the most influential fantasy writers of all times, his impact rivalling that of Tolkien’s. Perhaps China Miéville described it best when he said: “I think we are all post-Moorcock.” Apart from being the editor of New Worlds twice in the 60s and 70s, thereby being instrumental in bringing on the so-called “new wave” of science fiction which changed all fantastic literature forever, Moorcock’s own work has been an inspiration to more recent writers. He is also known for not hiding or blunting his views on fiction which he regards as inferior, a trait which has lead him to apply harsh criticism on authors such as J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis an H P Lovecraft.

His most popular work are the Elric books. Elric was originally conceived as a sort of critical comment to or even parody of R E Howard’s Conan, but the character and his world soon grew to form a tragic and somewhat fatalistic drama. Elric’s world is, in turn, only a small part of the huge Multiverse, a set of stories from all sorts of worlds (including our own) which is forever locked in a struggle between the two powers of Law and Chaos. Whenever one of these powers is threatening to become too powerful, an incarnation of the Eternal Champion, a group of warriors possessing the same spirit, is forced to fight to maintain the delicate balance between the two. Moorcock has worked several of his heroes into this cycle of books, including Hawkmoon, Corum and, of course, Elric.

Moorcock’s stories are often stories about warriors, however reluctant they may be, and are usually explicitly violent, even if the purpose of all the hacking and slashing is to free humans and other beings from oppression and, ultimately, fear. There is little happiness, though, for those who are forced to do the fighting and all they can hope for is a short time of respite, sometimes in the town of Tanelorn, the only place in the multiverse that the eternal struggle between Law and Chaos can’t reach.

It should also be mentioned that, even though Moorcock has done quite some experimenting in his days, it can’t be ignored that a major part of his books are traditional adventure stories that become more than that by their inclusion into a grand vision. A little ironically , perhaps, for an author who has criticized the “world-building school” of fantasy, Moorcock achieves much of his popularity through building, if not a world, a world vision.

You are also a lot like China Miéville

If you want something more gentle, try Ursula K le Guin

If you’d like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Katharine Kerr

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetic, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you’re at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn’t mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received 11 points, making you more High-Brow than Low-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, rather than the best-selling kind. At their best, high-brows are cultured, able to appreciate the finer nuances of literature and not content with simplifications. At their worst they are, well, snobs.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received 3 points, making you more Violent than Peaceful. Please note that violent in this context does not mean that you, personally, are prone to violence. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you are, and you do, then you are violent as defined here. At their best, violent people are the heroes who don’t hesitate to stop the villain threatening innocents by means of a good kick. At their worst, they are the villains themselves.
Experimental vs. Traditional

You received -5 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you’re more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don’t change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received 31 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you’ll find the sentence “you are also a lot like x” above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.

Author image by Catriona Sparks from Click for license info.

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at HelloQuizzy

Humanoid Monsters of Nonesuch

Here’s a sketch of the various humanoid monsters common to the Land of Nonesuch.  The goal is to make them, not unique, but distinctive and recognizable…if they’re mooks, they’re not generic interchangeable mooks.  On the other hand, I want to avoid the “in this world, Orcs are descended from flightless birds, and are the proud descendants of an ancient and cosmopolitan culture, more like feathery elves” that I’m sometimes prone to.  I want them to be reminiscent of common fantasy and folklore, if slightly skew. Some of these have already made an appearance in the kids’ game.

  • Orcs – magically evolved pigs (totally swiped from Grognardia’s Dwimmermount).  Evil, comically greedy, quarrelsome, and easy to trick.  The Three Stooges of humanoid monsters.
  • Kobolds – magically evolved dogs.  Neutral, generally traders and merchants in the dungeon economy (Rat on a Stick, anyone?), some actually live peacefully in some surface cities.  Something along the lines of Nessie from Too Many Curses or the kobolds from Suikoden.
  • Hobgoblins – mischievous house-sprites.  I know that I just got done saying I didn’t want this to be another “well, in my world” setting, but folklore trumps Tolkien and D&D here.  Good, although tricksy.  Puck is a hobgoblin.
  • Redcaps – these replace the D&D militaristic, organized, larger-sized goblin troopers.  Evil, sadistic buggers who dye their caps in human blood.  Iron boots, iron pikes, and faster than anybody can run away.
  • Goblins –  I’m really torn here.  On the one hand, I have this vision of them as these nasty, deformed little mushroom men out of Goya that use human corpses for compost.  On the other hand, I’m also attracted to the Labyrinth version of goblins (also one of the sources for the feel of this setting), with each one a unique Henson-esque critter.  I could combine the two, I suppose, or have them both be true in different parts of the setting.  Or I could split them into two different kinds of monsters and call one of them goblins and the other… I could call them wirry-cows, I suppose, which would be good folklore but be unintentionally silly to my players.  Ooh.  Bogeys would be a great name for the mushroom-type.
  • Bugbears – more the creepy bear in the woods sort than a generic bogeyman. Definitely not an oversized Hobgoblin war-leader out of Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance.
  • Trolls and TrollwivesThese guys.  The males are big and hairy, with huge noses and ears; the females are slight and beautiful.  Trolls are one of the PC races in the setting, though you have to roll really well to qualify.
  • Ogres and Giants – Haven’t really given a lot of thought to them yet.  Probably straight out of the Book of Wierd.