Sunday, 17 May 2015

Terrible Steeds

 A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán's splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Oh come on

Friday, 3 April 2015


For the last week - last month, really - I've been unwell. I figured it was just another winter-to-spring virus, or possibly the onset of hayfever. But it didn't account for the great frustration, the great sadness, that I felt. I was angry at the world, and I didn't know why.

A timely reminder from a friend told me: it's been a year.

It's been a year since Miguel Martins died. I still miss him greatly, even having only met him for a few days in Texas. But we knew each other about as well as Lovecraft and Howard knew one another: we exchanged emails, debated on matters Howardian, historical and (sometimes) hysterical. The conversation's reached a lull.

I never got around to posting the fifth Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains, and I figure now is as good a time as any to explain why: it's going to be the last time I'm going for the foreseeable future. It has become financially impossible for me to continue jetting off half a world away for a month each year, often with a month or two's preparation and most of the previous year's money going on the plane tickets alone. Every day in Arizona and Texas, I felt tremendous pangs of sadness, as I knew that this might be the last year I go.

I disclosed my feelings to a select few of my friends there. I had thought - as I always did - that this would be the last year. The first year, it was a "once in a lifetime" event. The second, it was just the one encore. The third would be the last time, definitely. Then... well, that's how things went, isn't it?

I could no longer put off the inevitable. Until my financial and professional situation improves, Cross Plains will have to do without me this year. I'm tearing my guts out, of course: Mark Schultz was going to be there, and I would've loved to talk Xenozoic Tales with him. I would've relished talking with Jeff Shanks about the new Conan RPG coming out. I would've been overjoyed seeing all the friends I'd made over the past five years again. I'd made even more friends in Arizona, at the Phoenix Comic-Con, and beyond.

I'll relate one story from the Fifth Invasion. Patrice Louinet was the guest of honour. I was excited: here was someone from closer to home making a similar journey to me and Miguel. The English Channel, so long seeming such a barrier between island and continent, now seemed a mere babbling brook compared to the immensity of the Atlantic; the great expanse of England a patch compared to the grand expanse of North America. So of course I felt a tremendous kinship with him, being fellow Europeans, rekindling the fires of the Auld Alliance. But more importantly, we knew Miguel.

So we talked about our mutual friend. Miguel was naturally a fixture of the French Robert E. Howard community, and Patrice knew him well. He told me a lot about him, his family, and his circumstances. And we shared a moment that I think Miguel would have appreciated. Then, talk wandered to the French Howard community, and of the annual gathering which took place: I was assured I would love it (I don't know, a Robert E. Howard gathering, is that really "me"?) and I seriously considered going. Unfortunately, it was in October, and I was in no mood to be doing anything that month, that year.

This year is very different. I found a spring in my step. The world didn't seem quite so dark. I think on some level, conscious or otherwise, everyone leaves a trace of themselves somewhere, like thread catching on a fence: that thread is always tethered to you through the aether, always connecting you to the places and people you love. There's a thread caught on a cactus in a little garden in Surprize, Arizona; there's another snagged on the door of the Phoenix Convention Centre; one wrapped on the fence of 36 and Avenue J, Cross Plains. Every so often, I feel those threads tugging. Reminding me that there's always a piece of me in Texas.

But it isn't just places, it's people: I have threads stretching to wonderful people in Texas, Arizona, Kansas, California, Florida, New Mexico, Canada... and Japan. England. Germany. France.

I may not be returning to Texas this year. But there's a whole world out there, and many strangers waiting to become friends. I've been to Paris before, as a young boy: a thin, gossamer thread at Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, Disneyland Paris. That thread could do with a reinforcement.

I owe it to a friend.

“But he was a Frenchman. You can’t expect a Frenchman to live hundreds of years. Not in these times. The French are smart people. You can’t fool a Frenchman.”
 - Robert E. Howard, "A Glass of Vodka," letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. September 1932

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Howardian Valentines

This being Valentine Day, I suppose I should make the conventional request for you to go and join the army. That may sound a bit wobbly, but look: Valentine comes from the same word from which “gallant” is derived; a gallant may be a suitor, but is also a cavalier; a cavalier is a knight; a knight is a cavalryman; a cavalryman is a soldier. To ask one to be one’s Valentine is equivalent to asking him, or her, to be a soldier. And one can’t be a soldier without joining the army. So, a request to become a Valentine is approximately a demand to go and join the army.
 - Robert E. Howard, Letter to Novalyne Price, 14th February, 1936

I haven't shied away from being very personal on my blog, but there are some places I wouldn't go. I wouldn't discuss politics or religion, and I'd now decided to add racism, sexism and other "isms" to that lot - not because I don't deem them worthy of discussion, far from it, but because they are so potent and emotive that I simply cannot maintain any degree of impartiality or fairness when I feel my guts twisting in anger, pain or frustration.  There was a time I could discuss those subjects with passion but without too much emotion, but not any more.  Enraged histrionics are funny in parodies or satire, but when someone is truly compromised by their own emotional reaction to something, then it's no use for anyone involved for the affected to continue participating. Perhaps sometime in the future I'll revisit them.

That doesn't mean I've gone soft, of course, or that I subjects I do talk about don't affect me emotionally. War, poverty, love, adventure, injustice, charity - things that tug or tear my heartstrings affect me just as strongly, but for whatever reason, my sense of reasoning and logic are enough to balance that passion into an articulate manner. In addition, if ever someone talks about something they know nothing about, it's very easy to see - and dismiss. So since I'm no expert on world religions, gender mores and whatnot, I decided "you know what? Why should I talk about these things I barely understand?"

But if you'll indulge me, I'd like to get very personal with one story this Valentine's Day, and how I think it may have helped heal a broken heart.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Robert E. Howard's Conan - Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of

I feel a bit like an apostate. I've not been keeping up with REH news and events for a while, though I still pop in at the Robert E. Howard Readers Facebook page and very occassionally at the REH Forums. Things seemed a bit quiet.

Then Jeff Shanks had to go and ruin it all with this announcement.

Modiphius Entertainment announces the definitive sword & sorcery roleplaying game, planned for launch August 2015

KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of....

Modiphius is proud to announce a licensing deal with Conan Properties to publish Robert E. Howard’s CONAN Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of. This is CONAN roleplaying as Robert E. Howard wrote it – savage pulp adventure battling ancient horrors in the Hyborian Age! We plan to bring the game right back to its roots, focusing on the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Modiphius has scored a leading team of Hyborian Age scribes to chronicle these adventures including Timothy Brown (designer of the Dark Sun setting for Dungeons & Dragons), award-winning Robert E. Howard scholar and essayist Jeffrey Shanks (Conan Meets the Academy, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction, The Dark Man: The Journal of REH Studies, Zombies from the Pulps!), Jason Durall (Basic Roleplaying, Serenity, The Laundry), Chris Lites (Paizo, Savage Worlds, Omni, Slate), and many more to be announced.

Players and GM’s alike will feel the might of the 2d20 game system, the cinematic roleplaying rules devised by Jay Little (Star Wars: Edge of the Empire) for Mutant Chronicles, and sharpened up for intense sword and sorcery action. The 2d20 system lets players experience the true pulp adventure of the CONAN stories.

Howard expert Jeffrey Shanks will approve all content, ensuring it remains true to the spirit of the source material and brings the Hyborian Age to life. World-famous CONAN artist Sanjulian (Conan Ace Paperbacks, Vampirella, Eerie, Creepy) has been commissioned, as well as Carl Critchlow (Batman/Judge Dredd, Anderson: Psi Division). Joining them are other CONAN greats such as Mark Schultz (The Coming of Conan, Xenozoic Tales, Prince Valiant), Tim Truman (Dark Horse Conan, Grimjack, Jonah Hex), Phroilan Gardner (Age of Conan, World of Warcraft), Alex Horley (Blizzard, Heavy Metal, Magic: The Gathering) and many more.

Modiphius is working with other Conan Properties licensing partners including Monolith Board Games, creator of the hit CONAN boardgame which has surpassed $2 million on Kickstarter, and Funcom, creator of the long-running, free-to-play, MMO Age of Conan. Modiphius plans some select supplements including missions designed for the Monolith boardgame, as well as floorplan tile sets allowing you to use Conan miniatures in your roleplaying adventures!

Modiphius is already working on the roleplaying corebook for Robert E. Howard’s CONAN Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of to be released this Fall. A Kickstarter is planned for the summer to fund a larger range of roleplaying supplements, campaigns, and accessories to follow the core book.

Ho, Dog Brothers! (and Sisters) Don your mail, hone your blade, and pray to whatever fickle gods might listen. Harken to the sound of clanging steel, cries of battle, and death curses spat from bloody, frothing lips! Tread the jeweled thrones of the earth at or die in towers of spider-haunted mystery. Crom cares not!

So having talked with Jeff about this just after the announcement, it seems that this is going to be something I've been wanting since I got back into Robert E. Howard - a Conan adaptation that just sticks to Howard, with no pastiches whatsoever. No Arenjun, no Serpent Crown, no Spider-Thing of Poitain, no Colossus of Shem, none of that. No ties with the comics, films, or books by other authors. And this isn't just us Howard crumbs - some real stars in that team there from the world of RPGs. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is extremely cool.

This follows up on the tremendous Monolith Conan RPG, which still has some time left on the clock (just over two days as of this posting) to go nuts with stretch goals. I've backed it: it's the first time I can recall when you could have miniatures based on characters other than Conan, Belit or Thoth-Amon - Valeria, Shevatas, Taurus, and my girl Zelata!

Sure, the Aquiromians and Uberboreans are still lingering, but with this new RPG announcement, I feel like we're getting there. The Mongoose Conan RPG was excellent, but I'm of the opinion Conan and the Hyborian Age is easily rich enough to support multiple interpretations, and this extends to RPGs. Perhaps, then, this could be the start of an entirely new generation for Howard and Conan? The Conan license seemed stuck in a sort of limbo: the 2011 film, Mongoose losing the license, Brian Wood and then Fred Van Lente all but rebooting the Dark Horse Conan, Age of Conan going free to play. It seemed Conan was in danger of slumber. Perhaps now, after Conan Meets the Academy broke down the gates of Academia and Howard's status as A Writer Of Real Literary Merit has become normalised, we're going to see a change.

Well, we'll have to see, won't we?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

8-Year-Old Previews: Lego Jurassic World

Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I was aware of the upcoming sets, but I wasn't expecting a game to be part of the deal. (Perhaps I should have, given the mid-credits cameo at the end of Lego Batman 3.) This is relevant to my interests.

My niece is only a bit older than I was when I saw Jurassic Park in cinemas, and my youngest cousin is still a babby. As such, I feel I have Uncle's/Older Cousin's Rights to be excited about a dinosaur game I could play with my younger family members. However, when it comes to suggestions for the game, I must defer to 8-Year-Old Aly. He knows a lot more about dinosaurs than I do, after all.

Enough talking, 30-Year-Old Aly, let's get down to business.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams

... Interesting choice of cover illustration.

Since it's C.L. Moore's birthday, I thought I'd talk a wee bit about Jirel.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Literary Afterlives

See, Howard just got pirates. None of this "arrrr matey" theatricality: just a surly, burly man slouching with a sword.

22nd of January, another in a month with a disproportionate amount of memorials to death authors who've shaped my imagination. Tolkien, Smith, Lovecraft... Howard.

Even before I knew Howard's work, he was always there. He was in my genes, as my parents and grandparents read his work - and the work of those which informed his writings, like Conan Doyle, Burroughs, Haggard - so if nothing else, it's keeping in the family. During the long spell between when I read Almuric and my rediscovery of Howard through Conan, he still managed to be there, that liminal figure on the boundaries of my imagination. Howard's ideas and thoughts echoed throughout the stories I enjoyed even without my realising it: many of the things I liked were mirrored in Howard's work.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Hobbit: The Official Movie Of The Game

What do you mean, you don't remember the bit in the book where Bard steers a rickety wagon down a street, over his children, and crashes into a troll?
It might surprise you to learn that I actually enjoyed The Hobbit: The Official Movie of the Game, and quite a great deal, too. After so many years, I've finally found my zone when it comes to them: I treat them much as I'd treat any ridiculous over-the-top blockbuster, which is to say, poke fun mercilessly and complain about how it wasn't like the books. I don't see why that should be such a controversial option, it's the internet, after all.

Because I need closure, a series of vignettes from that game's final session. And boy, does this film feel less like an adaptation and more like an RPG gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The King's Mitramas Message

 Art by Gigi.

After his Accession on the Day of the Lion in the Year of the Elk, The King issued his first Mitramas Message from his balcony at Tamar. In his message, he paid tribute to his supporters, and asked people to remember him at the time of his official Coronation the following year.

Each Yuluk, at this time, the King of Aquilonia spoke to his people from this grand balcony. Today, by your will and consent, I am doing this to you, who are now my people.

I was born in Cimmeria, the son of a blacksmith with no royal blood. In many ways, I was no different to the rude savages who founded the ruling dynasties of this kingdom so many thousands of years ago, they who founded this land on iron and sinew. My predecessor and his kin could trace their lineage for a thousand years, but they showed precious little kingly aptitude in government. By Crom, I may have no royal blood, but it is as red as anyone's from the painted nobles of Pellia to the lowliest beggar of Shamar, and none have spilt their blood as freely for this nation as I!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Palaeontology Weeps in a Jurassic World

It's been... jings, over four months!?! As many of you will know, I've been very preoccupied over the last few months, but with that over, I'm getting back to normal - if you can call it "normal."

Since I was talking about dinosaurs, I feel like I should make a few comments about the Jurassic World trailer, especially after my typically far-too-detailed analysis.

Of course, you cannot trust a trailer to always give an accurate representation of a film, yet at the same time, I'm not sure what I think.