Sunday, 29 March 2020

Crooked Dice Fantasy Colouring In

Crooked Dice have released a seven page print and colour pdf featuring some of the concept artwork I've been doing for their forthcoming 7TV Fantasy game, including some heroic adventurers and villainous Orcs.

You can use these to print out and entertain yourself or any captive Halflings in your Lockdown Dungeon that might need to be kept busy for a little bit.  Alternatively you could use them for trying out some different colour schemes for the forthcoming miniatures, or just enjoy them in their natural black and white line art state.


Orc Footsoldier
I've also had sight of some work in progress from Mark Evans and John Pickford on the miniatures which are looking awesome.

Meanwhile, download PDF Fantasy Colouring in Book  just type "0" on the name a fair price to get it free, hoorah! and don't forget to share your colourings on the crooked dice insta and fb if that's your thing. Hope you enjoy them.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

A History of Lankhmar, or, Arranging Fritz Leibers Swords

Recently become a proud owner of a near complete set of 1980s Grafton editions of Fritz Leibers Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories.

1980 Grafton editions of Fritz Leiber Swords Series
Covers by Geoff Taylor
The collected editions are organised in story-chronological order, rather than the original publication order. One of the many features that make the Marvel movies so execrable is their insistence on doing the (yawn) origin stories first. Nobody with any sense watches the Star Wars prequels before the original trilogy (if ever), you don't wade through the Silmarillion before reading The Hobbit and as far as Moococks Eternal Champion Tales goes, the old Fortean axiom "one measures a circle by starting anywhere" applies.

So ignoring the fact I'd already read Swords of Lankhmar I decided to put the series in chronological order and read them that way around.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser Publication Order:

2. Swords against Death2The Jewels in the Forest1939
2. Swords against Death4The Bleak Shore1940
2. Swords against Death5The Howling Tower1941
2. Swords against Death6The Sunken Land1942
2. Swords against Death3Thieves' House1943
3. Swords in the Mist6Adept's Gambit1947
2. Swords against Death8Claws from the Night1951
2. Swords against Death7The Seven Black Priests1953
3. Swords in the Mist2Lean Times in Lankhmar1959
3. Swords in the Mist4When the Sea-King's Away1960
1. Swords and Devilry2The Unholy Grail1962
3. Swords in the Mist1The Cloud of Hate 1963
2. Swords against Death0Bazaar of the Bizarre1963
4. Swords Against Wizardry3The Lords of Quarmall1964
4. Swords Against Wizardry2Stardock1965
3. Swords in the Mist3Their Mistress, the Sea1968
3. Swords in the Mist5The Wrong Branch1968
4. Swords Against Wizardry1In the Witch's Tent1968
4. Swords Against Wizardry4The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar 1968
5. Swords of Lankhmar1Swords of Lankhmar1968
1. Swords and Devilry1The Snow Women1970
1. Swords and Devilry3Ill Met in Lankhmar1970
2. Swords against Death1The Circle Curse1970
2. Swords against Death9The Price of Pain-Ease1970
6. Swords and Ice Magic1The Sadness of the Executioner1973
6. Swords and Ice Magic3Trapped in the Shadowland1973
6. Swords and Ice Magic4The Bait1973
6. Swords and Ice Magic2Beauty and the Beasts1974
6. Swords and Ice Magic5Under the Thumbs of the Gods1975
6. Swords and Ice Magic6Trapped in the Sea of Stars1975
6. Swords and Ice Magic7The Frost Monstreme1976
6. Swords and Ice Magic8Rime Isle1977
7. Knight and Knave of SwordsSea Magic1977
7. Knight and Knave of SwordsThe Mer She1978
7. Knight and Knave of SwordsThe Curse of the Smalls and the Stars1983
7. Knight and Knave of SwordsThe Mouser Goes Below1988

Compiled using the data from ISFDB.

Fortunately there is quite a lot of reading to get done before I need to track down a 1990 Grafton edition of The Knight and Knave of Swords.

The end.

While ostensibly the tales have been put into story-order, much of the rearrangement appears completely arbitrary. Swords and Ice Magic in particular seems to have reordered the stories from 1973-1977 completely at random, unless Lieber for some reason decided to put important character and plot developments that would dramatically effect earlier published stories into stories written just months later, it makes little, to no sense.

The first story in the anthology - The Snow Women - was written in 1970, which is over half-way through the publication history of the series. It's about the barbarian Fafhrd in his youth escaping the clutches of his manipulative witch mother - all fur-clad snow-drenched Jungian archetypes, Howardian barbaric suspicion of civilisation, and centred on Fafhrds personal relationship to his family and home.

The first story written - The Jewels in the Forest - from 1939 is a slightly different beast, a tale of Fafhrd and Mouser uncovering an ancient fabled treasure rumoured in forgotten fragments of sorcerous scrolls, but not all is what it seems, elements of cosmic horror and Lovecraftian strangeness creep in, and the different characters perspectives on the same events provides the final hook of the story.

Both of these firsts are great, entertaining short stories, tightly focused on their themes, lightly written and full of action, adventure and a little humour. The description of the Mousers nausea in The Jewels in the Forest is an effective, visceral piece of writing, and captures the sensation very well.

So much to answer for.

Coming to Lieber mostly due to Gary Gygaxs recommendation in the infamous Appendix N. of the Dungeon Masters Guide for the 1st Edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,  it is interesting that The Jewels in the Forest, on it's surface at least, is a much more D&Desque tale - and eminently playable as a short scenario - it's finale being a twist on a D&D staple. I'm not saying which, because it would give the game away. But D&Ds strict codification of monsterisms doesn't allow the literary effect of the difference of perspective that Lieber is using Fafhrd and the Mouser to achieve here. The Snow Women, focused as it is, on a single character and his personal relationships, doesn't directly lend itself to D&D all that much, although of course much of the trappings and motifs could be easily lifted.

Compare and contrast aside, the publication order allows us to just dive straight into the adventure stories - and this is the real heart of Swords and Sorcery, and fantasy short-fiction lays. it's not a character-centric soap-opera where one sits and relates to the feelings and 'development arcs' of made up people, nor yet is it an experiment in world-building with carefully mapped out pseudo-politics, pseudo-geography and pseudo-history, it's more like Haiku or Hard Sci-Fi - where all is constructed in service of a single idea, atmosphere and theme.

Of course each story, published in an initially ad-hoc manner across a number of magazines, books and journals, should stand entirely on it's own, but reading the stories in order over the 4-decade long publication should let us us see the changing themes and motifs as they emerge from the texts. Could also pace reading to match the publication schedule, but I'm not planning to take that long!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Bugbears

"I am hyred with you to do my symple servise & not to fight with bugbeares;
O what a noyse was this, those shrikes, those cries, that cruell roringe fitte
though the nyght be quyte past, ring in myne eares?"
The Buggbears (Anon) 1564

Bugbear Champion
Meridian Miniatures Bugbear champion is something of a homage to the 1980 Grenadier Miniatures Bugbear, which was based on concept art by Jeff Dee and was kickstarted into production back in august last year.

And now Meridian are back Kickstarting a Bugbear Tribal Pack of five more Bugbear miniatures. I am lucky enough to have had a sneek preview of the models, so here are a few quick shots. Of course there are much better photos of the original sculpts on the Kickstarter page, but sometimes it's nice to get a sense of what some bare metal looks like on an overcast winters day, photographed with a cheapo digital camera.

Bugbear Mamma

Bugbear Shaman

Bugbear Kids

As you'd expect from Meridian, they are really superb, full of action and character, and like most of Andrews sculpts very clearly defined, with deep cuts and clean stylisation.

The creatures in the Tribe are something of a homage to Jez Goodwins 1985/6 sculpts for the Citadel ADD range, the character designs are similar, but there is a clear update in terms of style and posing, The heads, while still large, are not quite as massive, making them a little more human-proportioned.

Bugbears as huge hairy goblins don't really exist before they emerged from the caves of Dungeons & Dragons. The word Bugbear is used modern sense of "a false, unwarranted fear" as early as 1649 - Milton in his Eikonoklastes summons the Bugbear to characterise Royalist objections to reformation. Even the 17th century theatrical fake poltergeists of The Buggbears are even more amusing if we take  the word Bugbear is understood by the audience not as a 'real' spirit, demon, sprite or goblin, but as rhetorical device indicating 'an object of imagined fear'. As Gillian Mary Edwards notes in her 1974 Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck: Fairy Names and Natures "The actual bugbear remains nebulous, for no quotation I can find identifies it as a bear or any other creature."

When the Bugbear finally arrived in D&D they were originally portrayed as a hideous pumpkin headed, slasher movie, folk horror weirdo at a halloween rave. This freaky urban legend re-appeared in Runequest (1978) as a Jack O'Bear, which in turn prompted a miniature from Citadel (1982) that looks almost exactly like the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons artwork. Fortunately for us hairy gobliniophiles, Dave Sutherland went in a new direction for the Monster Manual, which became the defacto Bugbear design, clearly followed by Jeff Dee when producing the concept art for Grenadier / TSR, which in turn are the seed of the Meridian Bugbear Champion.

Unlike the phantom furry goblins, what do seem to have existed in the medieval imagination, however, are the Woodwose, or Wild Men, which haunt the margins of medieval manuscripts and appear in heraldry as both chargers and supporters, and sort of appear in Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings as the Woses or Drúedain. Perhaps the medieval Woodwose influenced Dave Sutherlands drawing for the 1977 Monster Manual, the armoured right arm on 1511 Breviary manuscript  might suggest so, but who knows.

Time to pull out my old Warhammer Bugbear Army List, and maybe update Sub-chief to Champion...

Bugbears. Warhammer. You know it makes sense.

Meanwhile, have a look at Meridian Miniatures Bugbear Tribe Kickstarter