Saturday 31 August 2013

What Lies Beneath

Airborne radar surveys of the ice sheets in Greenland have revealed a hidden canyon beneath the ice that is over 460 miles long, 6 miles wide and 2600 feet deep. That's way longer than the Grand Canyon and now officially the longest canyon on Earth. It could be even longer since they haven't been able to survey further south yet.

My first thoughts were of the Rift Canyon in Greyhawk but that's a tiddler compared to the newly-discovered Greenland Canyon.

I love discoveries like this; finding the Gamburtsevs under the Antarctic Ice Sheet was another cool moment. I mean, what's not to like about a range known as the Ghost Mountains?

It's just occurred to me that an ice-free Greenland would work really well as a campaign world. Anyone else find inspiration for their worlds from sources like this?

Friday 30 August 2013

RIP Seamus Heaney

Whether you're interested in poetry or not, there's no doubt that Heaney was a giant of the arts. On my Creative Writing degree course, the poetry sections invariably had something by him. A sad day for everybody who loves words and what they can do.

Riddles in the Dark - the alternative version

Friday 23 August 2013

An Adventure for Every Monster - Devil, Barbed

Barbed Devil

 Frequency   Uncommon
No. appearing  1-2 or 3-12
Armour class  0
Move  12” 
Hit Dice   8
Percentage in lair  50%   
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 3
Damage per attack  2-8/2-8/3-12   
Special attack  See below  
Special defences  See below
Magic Resistance 35%
Intelligence Very
Alignment Lawful Evil
Size  M (7’ tall)
THAC0  12
XP value 1425 + 10/hp

Abilities include

Charm Person
Teleportation (no error)
Know Alignment
Cause Fear
Animate Dead
Produce Flame
Hold Person
Summon another barbed devil (30% chance of success)

Life isn’t always peachy for a devil. Powerful embodiment of evil though it is, there is often someone more powerful about and that’s what happened to this barbed devil, who had the misfortune to encounter, cross and get punished by that powerful someone. The magic used to punish the devil must have had a twisted side because it transformed him into an Iron Maiden, with all his barbs on the inside and only decorative ones outside.

Thus trapped, the devil vanished from history and from the thoughts of his vanquisher, who may well eventually have come up against somebody more powerful still (but that’s another story). But there’s always a catch with these imprisoning spells, isn’t there and this particular one is no exception. Over the years, every person tortured and killed in the Iron Maiden has weakened the magic as the slain soul is consumed by the bound devil. Now, he’s getting very close to his target; perhaps a handful of souls is all that is required to release him so that he can take his true form once again and wreak havoc on the Prime Material Plane.

None of this, of course, is known to the party. The Iron Maiden has had many owners down the years and now somebody who would like to own it has hired the party to obtain it from its current owner. They do not, of course, have the faintest idea what it really is or what might happen to it very soon.

It is in the hands of (1d6)

1. Mad collector – he’ll have plenty of other objets d’art, knick-knacks and artefacts about which even he knows little. He will be paranoid about other collectors stealing his property and will no doubt have security and traps aplenty. Much of what’s in his collection is going to have curses on or eldritch guardians because that’s the sort of stuff he goes for.

2. Cultist, non-diabolical. He’ll have sinister connections but apart from that, his collection, such as it is, will not be heavily guarded. He’ll have it hidden in a secret room with perhaps a few traps here and there but nothing like no.1. More interesting will be the members of the cult itself. It’s probably a secret but not particularly nasty group, a bit like the Freemasons.

3. Devil worshipping cultists – these chaps will know that the Iron Maiden has something very powerful inside it and will be trying to work out how to set it free. They may view the arrival of the party as a gift from the infernal powers. They will probably contrive some way of using the party as a sacrifice or trapping them inside the Iron Maiden.

4. Torturer, private – he happily tortures people on a pay-by-results basis and his lair has many torture instruments, all of which get used regularly. He take a professional’s pride in his work, being very serious about it, ensuring all his equipment is maintained and familiarising himself with the latest torture methods. If he gets wind of the party’s arrival, he will be looking forward to experimenting on them.

5. Official State Torturer – a civil servant whose job it happens to be. He is no sadist and tries to torture people within the rules, such as they are, but will get upset if he thinks that enemies of the state are trying to sabotage the security system. He will be perturbed if the true nature of the Iron Maiden is revealed to him and will probably insist it be impounded for investigation. The resources of the state will be available for his use if he is threatened or coerced in any way.

6. Harmless antiques nut who happens to have a liking for ancient torture instruments. Probably the easiest of the six options;  his collection will resemble no.4 but all the torture instruments will be old, worn or rusty – but labelled and catalogued nevertheless. He may be the target for thieves who think that he has something valuable on the premises. The devil inside the Iron Maiden may well find this fellow, with his somewhat weak mind, easy prey to corrupt and seduce. It may be that this fellow also has connections amongst the antiques fraternity who may take a dim view of anyone trying to rob their friend.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Seven Princes by John R Fultz

(Spoilers ahead)

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did, which is not to say that I disliked it.

The opening scene, where a sinister sorcerer visits the royal court, survives two executions (and to be fair to the King, one of those executions is pretty thorough) and then animates the dead of the city’s catacombs to rip apart the King and sundry other courtiers is a pretty good start. However, Fultz then breaks stride to start bringing in his cast of characters, the eponymous Seven Princes. A caveat – the cover suggests that somehow this regal heptad assembles, much like the recent Avengers, to take revenge against the sorcerer of the first chapter. This is rather misleading, since at no point in the book are all seven either together or on the same side.

Nevertheless, the book bounds along like an over-large puppy who is so excited to see you that it doesn’t notice the smashed ornaments and muddy pawprints.  In this instance, allow me to extend my analogy – at certain points, plot logic takes a back seat to the needs of the plot; one particular instance is when two of the princes are hurrying from location A to location B and suddenly realise that they won’t get there in time, whereupon a colossal (and literally true) deus ex machina eliminates all that fussy travelling.  There are also a couple of instances of “With one bound he was free” which get characters out of seemingly fatal scrapes.

And those muddy pawprints – the prose is pretty good for the most part but there are areas where we veer into the Colour Purple. Fultz might have benefitted from a stricter editor at these points as my eyes started to glaze over and I found myself flicking ahead to the next action sequence (fortunately, there are quite a lot of these).

But damn me if that over-large puppy didn’t grab me by the teeth and pull me from one end of the book to the other. I found that I did want to find out what happened to the characters; they are sufficiently well-developed that they stand out and Fultz does seem to throw everything he possibly can at them to keep the reader entertained (alas, poor characters, however; they don’t all survive!).

I think it’s best to approach this book with few expectations; it’s not the next Tolkien, Joe Abercrombie or George R R Martin but it’s not Terry Goodkind, Robert Newcomb or Jim Theis either. If you don’t expect perfection, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Monday 19 August 2013

Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon

To what can I compare this book?  In terms of the geographical distances travelled by its characters, it’s on a par with Lord of the Rings.  Regarding its depth of historical immersion, it reminded me of the early House of Niccolo novels by Dorothy Dunnett. It’s gritty without being bleak, heroic without being cliché, heartbreaking without being over-emotional and it’s clear that Lyndon loves his subject and, more importantly, respects both his characters and his readers.

The book weigh in at 658 pages, which is about two thirds of the length of LotR. However, such is Lyndon’s skill at bringing his settings to life that I don’t think a single one of those pages was wasted. He knows when to home in on a section of the journey and tease out every last detail of the landscape, the weather and the hazards that his characters face, whilst capable and willing to pull back if the pace of the novel requires it.

The setting is Europe in the year 1072, a scant six years after the Norman Conquest. A knight has been captured by Seljuk Turks at the battle of Manzikert and a message is dispatched to his family in northern England, requesting a ransom for his release. That message starts the Quest itself – to find four rare white gyrfalcons and bring them to Anatolia in a matter of months. We follow Frankish mercenary Vallon and his Sicilian companion Hero as they begin to gather their own fellowship and set off on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and more dangers than you can shake a stick at. In fact, it seems at times as if everything that can happen to them does so; however, Lyndon’s ability to draw sympathetic (if not likeable) characters means that you empathise with their plight, cheer their victories and mourn their losses.

Although my recommendation is (virtually) unreserved, I would add that there are sections that are not for the faint-hearted; Lyndon doesn’t stint on the gore and detail of combat. There was one scene, however, that will reward fans of Monty Python; a character comes within an inch of being disembowelled and then remarks to the character stitching him back together that “it was only a flesh wound”.

The back cover proclaims that this book was ten years in the making; it’s weird to think that I was reading a book that was started when my son was born. I would hazard a guess that a lot of that time was spent on the research, for it absolutely drips period realism without ever overloading the reader. The landscapes were extremely well-described, so much so that I could imagine myself slogging alongside the fellowship on their epic journey.

You may not think that historical novels are for you; perhaps they’re over-detailed or uninteresting, concentrating on the history rather than the characters or plot. Let me assure you that this is not a criticism that can be levelled at Hawk Quest.

Best of all, I hear that Lyndon is now at work on a sequel to this epic tale. When I got that news, I experienced the thrill that a fan of Lord of the Rings might have felt had they learned that Tolkien had started work on a follow-up in the 1960s. I just hope it's not another ten years before I encounter Lyndon's fellowship again.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Whatever happened to Daddy Grognard?

It's been quite a while since I last posted but I am still alive and kicking, just very busy at present. Other needs are taking up computer time and with the long school holidays meaning it's very difficult to assemble all the Team Adventure players at the same time, that's on a hiatus until early September.

I am still reading (and have some reviews to get out to you all), playing a PBEM Call of Cthulhu game and jotting down ideas for Adventure For Every Monster posts as they occur to me; however, finding time to put up stuff of any length right now is a no-no.

I will try to get some stuff up this month when things calm down a bit.

Apologies for the lack of content.