13 November 2017

Will Middle-earth be getting the ‘Game of Thrones’ treatment?


It looks like Amazon will be producing at least one series set in Middle-earth. And—interestingly—it appears that this series will not cover either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit stories:
The new series will explore Middle-earth in a time period before the events of The Lord of the Rings — but given that Galsor says that it will concern “previously unexplored stories,” we might not be looking at another adaptation of The Hobbit either. That leaves two options: Amazon could plumb the depths of the appendices of The Return of the King, potentially detailing the early romance of Aragorn and Arwen, the creation of the Rings of Power and the history of the line of kings from which Aragorn is descended. 
Or, in what would be more of a revelation for Tolkien fans — and provided that Amazon had also purchased the television rights to the author’s The Silmarillion — the series might have the entire history of Middle-earth from its creation to play with. Amazon’s press release does note that the deal with the Tolkien estate “includes a potential additional spin-off series.”
Regarding The Silmarillion: I was under the impression that Christopher Tolkien was 100% opposed to allowing anything like this to be done with it. (He loathed the LotR + Hobbit movies.) But I would be delighted if he has changed his mind!

Even if The Silmarillion isn’t covered, though, there is a goldmine of storylines in the LotR appendices. And since those storylines are quite sketchy, there would be more room for writers to be creative with them within the overall framework of Middle-earth.

As for Amazon hoping that this might be ‘their Game of Thrones’, I think that they should remain true to the distinctive character of Middle-earth. While the Akallabêth (the tale of the fall of Númenor) is kind of ‘GoT-ish’ (with it many nefarious actors and the Stark-sh House of Elendil), Middle-earth is much more black-and-white than the GoT world. That should be retained—if not emphasized—not downplayed. Viewers might be in the mood for such a change (especially given how GoT-ish the real world seems these days).

31 October 2017

Massachusetts 1920s – Call of Cthulhu 7e – Campaign Index

[A lovely cheesecake created by two of my players]

Since it’s Halloween I thought it appropriate to post (finally!) the index for my 7th edition Call of Cthulhu campaign.

The campaign actually has been on hiatus for several months now. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll return to it, as I’m focused more on my Middle-earth campaign right now, and a friend is planning on running the Laundry RPG soon. But since the Cthulhu campaign did go quite well (only one character death!) and was a lot of fun, it would be a pity if I didn’t finish the scenario summaries and post links to everything related to it on this blog.

So here is the index (to be updated when I post the final summaries)…

7th Edition (‘non-campaign’) posts:

·       Some initial impressions of the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu.

·       I ran the ‘one-shot’ adventure ‘Missed Dues’ at the 2016 Loz Con.

The Investigators:

  • Bertrand Smyth. Lecturer in Archaeology. Originally from London.
o       Visiting lecturer at Harvard University (1922-23); permanent lecturer at Miskatonic University (1923+).
o       Specializes in Ancient Greece.
o       A veteran of the Great War.
o       Cousin of Stephen Knott (property-owner and collector of rare artefacts).
o       A bit of a ‘fuddy-duddy’ (dresses in an unstylish Edwardian manner).

  • Max Brewster. Private Investigator. Bostonian (originally from Lowell MA).
o       A forty-ish, slightly greasy, gumshoe.
o       A specialist in dodgy divorce cases.
o       Plenty of street smarts, but little formal education.

  • Helen Tilton. Freelance photographer and journalist.
o       Originally from Toronto.
o       Sometimes works for the Boston Globe.
o       Has Marxist sympathies.

  • Kellen Tilton. Football coach at Miskatonic University.
o       Originally from Toronto.
o       Brother of Helen.
o       A veteran of the Great War.

The Massachusetts scenarios:

Except for the first one (which is a classic that has been around since the beginning of CoC), all of the adventures that I ran for this campaign are new for the 7th edition. After the each summary I provide some general reflections on the adventure.

·       The Haunting (September 1922).

·       Dead Light (late November 1922).

·       Blackwater Creek (September 1923). [Summary coming soon.]

·       Crimson Letters (October 1924). [Summary coming soon-ish.]


Happy Halloween!


06 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is very good


So I just saw Blade Runner 2049Here are some immediate reactions (no spoilers!):

·       It’s very good. I give it a 9.7 out of 10.

·       But…it’s not as good as the original (well, maybe as good as the initial theatrical release, the one with cheesy voice-over and the tacked-on happy ending, but not as good as either the ‘Director’s Cut’ or the ‘Final Cut’).

·       While not as good as the original, Blade Runner 2049 nonetheless builds interestingly on the original; it does not detract from the power of the original by ‘ruining’ elements of the world (so think ‘Aliens’ not ‘Highlander 2’).

·       It’s visually stunning. In this respect, it is equal to the original (though of course that’s not a fair comparison, given the greater budget and technical power available for the sequel). 

·       The world-creation is amazing—just as it was in the original, but the new film expands the world in interesting ways by going places (geographically, intellectually, and visually) that the original did not.

·       The acting is uniformly excellent.

·       The story is compelling. Perhaps there are some holes, but nothing leapt out at me while watching the film.

·       The music is good, but not quite the equal of the original Vangelis score. Towards the end of the film it became slightly distracting.

So overall it’s a great film. See it! As a sequel, though, it doesn’t quite capture the ‘lightning in a bottle’ of the original. But it is a very worthy follow-up. I certainly plan to watch it again soon…

30 September 2017

OK, I'm now excited for Blade Runner 2049


When I first learned that a sequel to Blade Runner (my all-time favourite film) was in the works, I was not thrilled. Why mess with a singular work of art?

But after the first trailer was released I began to think that the sequel might not be so bad after all. And now it is receiving almost uniformly positive reviews (like this one). It currently enjoys a 98% 'fresh' rating at Rotten Tomatoes

So now I'm excited to see it! It's a nice feeling...

UPDATE:
While you're waiting for the film to be released properly, there are three short 'prequels' available at Youtube to re-familiarize yourself with the world: (a) "Blackout 2022" (an anime short); (b) "2036: Nexus Dawn"; and (c) "2048: Nowhere to Run". As the dates imply, these short films fill in some of the history between 2019 (when the original film, now quite amusingly, takes place) and 2049.

07 September 2017

Music-Movie-Fantasy Crossover Images

Over the years I’ve acquired a few cool ‘nerd’ shirts and hoodies (or at least I think they’re cool; my wife seems to disagree). For the most part, the image on one of these shirts is drawn from a single source. Examples in my collection include the two-headed snake image of ‘Thulsa Doom’ from the original Conan film, and the ‘White Tree of Gondor’ symbol from The Lord of the Rings. Some mock the ubiquitous ‘university’ promotion shirts. For instance, I have a few ‘Miskatonic University’ ones (e.g., ‘Go Pods!’, ‘Miskatonic Metaphysics Faculty Member’, ‘Miskatonic University 1930 Antarctic Expedition’, etc.) and one ‘Mordor University’ shirt (I like to tell my students that the graduate program there has a terrible attrition rate).

But probably the most unusual shirt that I own is this mash-up of the movies Reservoir Dogs and The Lord of the Rings:


(From left-to right: Sauron [notice the ring!], the Balrog of Moria, the Witch-king of Angmar, the Mouth of Sauron, a Nazgûl [Khamûl?], and Saruman.) 

I also have a shirt with an image that tweaks the cover of Joy Division’s classic Unknown Pleasures album to include Barad-dûr:


But probably the most unusual mash-up I’ve ever encountered is this one:


Wow. So there is a market for Leonard Cohen - Game of Thrones crossover fan merchandise. (“First we take King’s Landing, then we take Berlin…”) That … is unexpected. 
Pity the shirt is so damn ugly (I couldn’t bring myself to get one).

06 September 2017

Middle-earth Adventurers: Backgrounds

I mentioned recently that I had started a campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-earth system (which modifies 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons in some interesting 'Tolkien-esque' ways). In case anyone out there is interested, I thought that I would post the characters' backgrounds here. Since culture and history are so important in running a good Middle-earth campaign, I put some careful thought (in collaboration with my players) into these backgrounds. Hopefully they are somewhat flavourful and interesting. (The pictures are taken from various C7 AiME books.)

Enjoy!

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HENGIL (S. ‘Eye-star’) FOROS

Dúnedain (martial) – Warden (class) – Foresight of their kindred (virtue)
Seeker of the Lost (background) – Determined (quality) – Dark Secrets (specialty) – Lure of Power (shadow weakness)


Background:

Hengil was born in the wilds of Eriador, far to the north of Lake Nenuil, in the ancient lands of his family, the Great House of Foros. Lords of land no longer, Hengil’s family nonetheless still dwells in their ancient territory.

In his teens Hengil displayed unusual foresight and a capacity to inspire with poetry and history. Sensing an aptitude for scholarship, Hengil’s father sent him to dwell with the Dúnedain and Elves of Imladris. There the young man learned the lore of his people, as well as knowledge of how to fight and survive. Hengil planned eventually to join the Rangers of the North, as his forefathers had for generations, to help their endless guardianship over the few peaceful settlements that lingered in Eriador. A prophetic dream, however, changed everything.

A gift of his ancient lineage, Hengil sometimes observes events with great vividness while dreaming. Some of these dreams are of things that happened long ago to the Dúnedain of the North, and especially his family, but most of the time they seem to reveal things in Hengil’s future. A year ago, he had a most unusual vision whilst in a deep slumber. In it he saw his ancestor—Cúthalion (‘Strongbow’), last Lord of the Foros—blow the great mithril horn of his family, “Fuinavar” (‘gloom-refuser’). Hengil knew immediately that what he was witnessing occurred during Arthedain’s final battle with the hordes of the Witch-King of Angmar, almost a thousand years ago. The horn had been forged in lost Númenor, and had the ability to inspire and remove fear in all those who fought on the side of the Light.

Despite rallying the forces of Arthedain with Fuinavar, Hengil saw his ancestor ultimately struck down by the Witch-King himself. The terrible eldritch tyrant seized seized the horn and Hengil’s vision faded. But the dream did not end! Though he did not see anything for a few moments, Hengil sensed that many centuries had passed. When his vision returned, Hengil saw the glorious horn, still brilliant silver despite its great age, locked away in a tower of shining black stone. The tower stood upon a mountain ridge amidst a waterfall deep within a vast forest. Hengil then awoke.

In his subsequent research, Hengil discerned that the tower likely was located somewhere deep within Mirkwood. How the horn could have travelled there he had no idea. But he now sought to recover it! And so Hengil departed from Rivendell on a quest to recover the ancient artefact of his family, one perhaps that could help the Dúnedain in their enduring struggle against the Shadow.

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ULVMUND GALMUND 

Barding (prosperous) – Warrior (class) – Swordmaster (virtue)
Fallen Scion (background) – Proud (quality) – Story-telling (specialty) – Lure of Power (shadow weakness)


Background:

During the golden age of the kingdoms of Dale and Erebor, the Galmunds were one of the leading Dalish aristocratic families. They served the line of Dalish kings in defending the northern realm for centuries. During the reign of King Bladorthin, the family—with the assistance of skilled dwarven masons from Erebor—built a magnificent tower some leagues outside of the city. Men of Dale worked their lands, and the family became quite wealthy. They dwelt in their glorious tower, along with their manor within the city, throughout the reign of King Bladorthin and his son King Girion.

Tragedy struck the family in the year 2770 of the Third Age. Smaug descended upon Dale and Erebor—destroying the former and occupying the latter. The surrounding settlements also were laid waste by the terrible dragon. Most of the Galmunds were slain that terrible day. The few who survived fled to Esgarath. There they dwelt for almost two centuries, in a comfortable but diminished state, until the death of Smaug five years ago.

Ulvmund is the last of his family line. The rest of his family—his mother, father, brother and sister—were slain when Smaug wreaked destruction upon Lake-town. Distraught at his loss, the young man devoted himself to training in arms, helping to rebuild Dale, and serving King Bard. While he has found favourable service under his new king, Ulvmund aspires to re-establish the Galmund family as one of the preeminent forces within Dale. Part of this ambition is to find, clear, and rebuild the ancient Galmund tower. Another part is to achieve such glory that King Bard eventually will appoint him a royal advisor and a leader of the Dalish soldiers.

To this end, Ulvmund hopes to perform deeds of heroism and nobility, thereby gaining honourable renown. He also hopes to raise funds so that he eventually can reclaim and rebuild the ancient Galmund tower. His dream is to resurrect the ancient glory of his family—and he shall not be deterred, no matter the foes he faces.

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HARTMUT HARE-EYE

Beorning (martial) – Wanderer (class) – Brother to Bears (virtue)
Hunted by the Shadow (background) – Elusive (quality) – Swimming (specialty) – Wandering Madness (shadow weakness)


Background:

Hartmut was born near the great Anduin River, in a modest but ancient family holding located north of the Old Ford and south of the sacred Carrock. Like his father, Hartmut became a hunter. He ranged widely across the Anduin vale and into the northern reaches of Mirkwood (though he prudently avoided the lands still claimed by the reclusive Wood Elves). Because of an ancient bear-bond made by his ancestors, Hartmut felt more comfortable and skilled while hunting at night. 

Last autumn, in the western eaves of Mirkwood under a dark moon, Hartmut witnessed something that scarred his mind and soul—and changed the course of his life forever. Pursuing a magnificent stag deep into the woods, a light caught his eye. Because of this distraction, the stag escaped. Having lost his prey, Hartmut decided to investigate the light. 

Scouting deeper in the forest the hunter stealthily approached a small clearing. Warily hiding at the edge, Hartmut spied a band of strange looking Woodmen arranged in a semicircle around an altar of black glassy stone. Behind the altar stood a man dressed in a grey cloak; upon the cloak were sewn a myriad of black web-like patterns. The man’s face was hidden in shadows, but his hands were sickly pale. Bound upon the altar was a small child. Confused at this strange sight, Hartmut witnessed the terrible ritual progress: the cloaked figure spoke harsh, strange words that burned the hunter’s ears, and then plunged a dagger into the child’s chest. In shock, Hartmut let out a shout of outrage. Alerted to his presence, the malevolent congregation turned upon the Beorning and tried to capture or slay him. Fortunately, Hartmut’s skills served him well that day, and the pursuit failed. Hartmut roused his brothers the next day, yet no sign of the black altar or the vile men could be found. The cultists and their shadowy leader had disappeared without a mark…

Since that terrible day, though, Hartmut frequently has had the sense of being watched, especially at night by inhuman eyes—yet when he looks about to see what is observing him, he sees nothing. In the corner of his eye, though, shadows linger…

Troubled by the vile sacrifice he witnessed and his worry that he frequently is the object of an ill-willed gaze, Hartmut decided to journey away from his homeland for a few seasons. Learning of King Bard’s call for brave souls to help Dale, Esgaroth, and Erebor establish peace and prosperity in the lands around the Long Lake, the beorning travelled east. Perhaps his concerns might fade through heroic actions elsewhere? Still, if Hartmut could find and destroy the terrible cult, he surely would… 


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.