REVIEW: Slaying the Dragon by Ben Riggs

To paraphrase Homer Simpson: We’ve all thought about writing a history of Dungeons & Dragons at one time or another, but what about the victims? Hardworking historians like Jon Peterson, Michael Witwer or David M. Ewalt. These are people who saw an overcrowded market and said ‘Me too!’

Now… obviously there is some degree of truth to this gag. Dungeons and Dragons has been around for nearly fifty years and for most of that time the closest you could get to a book about gaming was Shannon Appelcline’s industrial histories, some stuff written from the point of view of theatre studies, and a sociological study that says a lot more about male-dominated social clubs at mid-western universities in the 1970s than it does about RPGs themselves. Then, after literally decades, the dam broke and it feels like we’re getting a new history of D&D published every six months or so.

While this is all technically true, it kind of fails to acknowledge that not all of those histories are particularly good and those that are good are quite often attempting to do subtly different things with subtly different results. Thankfully, Ben Riggs’ Slaying the Dragon is attempting something that is not only quite precise and well-executed but also a welcome addition to the field.

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WTD: Once & Future

Watching the Detectives is a series of posts about drawing inspiration from fictitious paranormal investigators, occult detectives, police psychics, and monster hunters. The rest of the series can be found here.

I must admit to having something of a strained relationship with the work of Kieron Gillen.

The source of the tension is that while I adore Phonogram as well as The Wicked + The Divine, I would struggle to either name their characters, or describe their plots. This tension is a product of how Gillen approaches the writing of these kinds of series.

The creative methodology behind Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine is to take a sociological phenomenon which, though strange, is mundane to the point of absolute ubiquity. Gillen then steps back from this phenomenon and asks us to consider what it would look like if said phenomenon was rooted in magic rather than human psychology. For example, Phonogram looks at people’s relationships with popular music and the way that pop music scenes can be so powerful as to give you a sense of rootedness and identity but also fragile enough to dry up and blow away with the passage of time.  The Wicked + The Divine deals with a similar set of themes in that its focus is on celebrity, fandom, and the way that human culture lavishes attention on certain people at certain times only to cast them aside the second they have ceased to be of use.

Both Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine are hugely clever and well-realised pieces of comics writing but they both struggle with character and narrative. Indeed, were it not for the brilliant artwork and visual story-telling of Jamie McKelvie, you would be well justified in claiming that both works read more like elevator pitches than actual comics.

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On “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family” by H.P. Lovecraft

Canon Fodder is an occasional series in which I write about classic works of horror fiction. This particular part of the series is devoted to the complete published works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I will slowly be working my way through.

When Ancestry.com several impacts your mental health.

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REVIEW: Some of Your Blood (1961) by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon is an author whose work is starting to fade from view. Once a big wheel down at the SFF factory, his name may continue to ring out but that name has become unmoored from any particular works of fiction.

This is partly a product of the way in which media franchises dominate the cultural landscape and partly a product of the fact that Sturgeon was a writer operating at a time when normal people still paid attention to short fiction. If you want to get into Sturgeon here in the 21st Century, you can choose between PDFs of a small selection of not-particularly famous short novels and a seven volume anthology set aimed at collectors and academics. To be honest, I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a teenager and the only reason I hit upon this novel is that it was being made available for free on Audible. So Yay Jeff Bezos and Boo SFF publishing as this is one of the most enjoyably psychological horror novels I have read in a long time.

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ZC: Bayt al Azif – Issue 1

Zine Corner is an occasional series in which I talk about individual issues of zines I have come across on my travels. Some of these will be about RPGs, some of them will be about horror, some of them will be about folklore, and some of them will just be weird and cool.The rest of the series can be found here.

I grew up in the interregnum between two eras of fanzine creation: On the one hand, I am a bit too young to remember when mimeographed amateur zines were the only way that fans had to communicate aside from face-to-face meetings. On the other hand, I had drifted away from the hobby when online payment infrastructures and improved access to on-demand and off-set printing began to make zines a popular means of getting your stuff out there while also by-passing professional publishing.

Having returned to the hobby to find a flourishing (some might even say over-heating) market for zines, I am now playing catch-up and this series will give me an excuse to actually do some thinking about both the format and the kind of stuff that is being put out there.

My memories of RPG zines are dominated by two very different sets of titles. The first was a Nephilim fanzine I got based on an advert in the back of a magazine and that included a load of weird stuff about the author’s local cathedral and an absolute head-fuck of a campaign in which the PCs wound up inhabiting the bodies of the players. Despite not being able to remember the name of said fanzine, I remember being blown away by the complexity of the ideas and the fact that the whole thing felt intimately personal to one person’s vision of the game. My second set of memories is of The Unspeakable Oath. While that particular Call of Cthulhu fanzine was resurrected in the early 2010s, I can remember buying a few copies of the original Pagan Publishing run in which John Tynes laid out a vision that I now realise has since become not only the default understanding of Call of Cthulhu but of all Lovecraft-inspired games of investigative horror.

Billed as “a magazine for Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games”, Jared Smith’s Bayt al Azif first appeared in 2018 and has since seen four separate issues.  I got my copies in the form of a PDF from DriveThruRPG but you can also use DTRPG’s print-on demand service to get it in the form of a hard-copy.

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REVIEW: Pet Sematary (1983)

King has often been asked about the seed of the idea that would eventually become his fourteenth novel Pet Sematary.

Over the years, the seed has migrated: According to some accounts, the book is based upon King’s decision to accept a residency at a university resulting in his uprooting his family and moving to a house that turned out to be next to a busy road. According to other accounts, this road was so lethal to the local pet population that the local kids had all taken to burying their pets in the same bit of untended scrubland. While the exact degree of overlap between reality and fiction is known only to King and his family, you can tell that Pet Sematary is a novel rooted in lived experience and this explains why it hits harder than almost any other work of horror fiction.

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Into the OSR – Post Zero

Into the OSR is an occasional series in which I write up some of the creative decisions I have made in the preparation of my old school sandbox D&D style fantasy RPG campaign. The rest of the series can be found here.

What is the OSR?

OSR stands alternatively for Old School Revolution, Old School Revival, or Old School Renaissance depending upon whom you ask and when it is you ask them. The term OSR dates back to the mid-00s when people on a number of online forums began trying to re-connect with a style of gaming associated with the origins of the hobby and the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

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On “The Temple” by H.P. Lovecraft

Canon Fodder is an occasional series in which I write about classic works of horror fiction. This particular part of the series is devoted to the complete published works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I will slowly be working my way through.

Self-parody, or self-hatred?

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