Thursday, June 1, 2023

Erol Otus Webstore

Several of you have sent me a link to the official Erol Otus webstore, where the celebrated old school RPG illustrator is now selling a small selection of products featuring his artwork, including the T-shirt above. With luck, more products will become available in the future, though a lot depends, I suppose, on what rights Otus might have retained of his TSR era pieces. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Retrospective: The Fungi from Yuggoth

I find it a great irony that, while Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu has undoubtedly played an outsized role in the increased visibility and recognition of the works of H.P. Lovecraft in popular culture, the game itself owes more to August Derleth's idiosyncratic interpretation of HPL's Mythos than it does to the views of the Old Gent himself. This is no criticism, just a statement of facts as I look back on more than four decades' worth of Call of Cthulhu adventures and campaigns, starting with Shadows of Yog-Sothoth in 1982. Except for a handful of exceptions, Chaosium's vision differs only in details from that of Derleth's lurid, melodramatic The Trail of Cthulhuhe Trail of Cthulhu, in which scholar-adventurer Laban Shrewsbury battles the forces of the Mythos (and its human toadies) across time and space.

I was reminded of this recently when I re-read Keith Herber's eight-chapter campaign, The Fungi from Yuggoth. First published in 1984, the book carries the subtitle "Desperate Adventures Against the Brotherhood." This is both a reference to its primary antagonists, the Brotherhood of the Beast, and a signal that, like Shadows of Yog-Sothoth before it, The Fungi from Yuggoth is more of a Mythos-tinged Republic serial than a subtle evocation of Lovecraft's cosmicism. I reiterate: this is no criticism. However, I feel it's important to deflate the all-too-common pretension that Call of Cthulhu has ever been a particularly faithful adaptation of the worldview of Lovecraft's tales to the roleplaying medium, as products like this one make clear.

The premise of the campaign is that, in the 18th century B.C., an Egyptian priest called Nophru-Ka – not to be confused with the dark pharaoh Nephren-Ka, who is apparently a different person altogether – uttered a cryptic prophecy that was eventually preserved in the Necronomicon. As interpreted by the madmen who founded the secret society known as the Brotherhood of the Beast, the prophecy spoke of a time when a descendant of Nophru-Ka, who would usher in a new world ruled by the beings of the Mythos. At the start of the campaign (mid-1928), the Brotherhood long ago found Nophru-Ka's descendant, Edward Chandler, whom they have been grooming for his prophesied role since he was a child. Naturally, it's up to the Investigators to prevent this.

In typical Call of Cthulhu – and cliffhanger serial – fashion, preventing the ascendancy of Edward Chandler requires the Investigators to travel across the globe, searching for clues, artifacts, and allies to aid them in their efforts. Over the course of the campaign's eight chapters, the Investigators travel from New York to places as different as Boston, Transylvania(!), Egypt, Peru, and San Francisco, with an optional stopover at the Great Library of Celaeno in the Hyades Cluster, some 150 light years away from Earth (a site invented by August Derleth in the aforementioned The Trail of Cthulhu). Along the way, they tangle with an equally diverse group of foes: gangsters, cultists, mummies, Deep One hybrids, the titular Fungi, and more. There's plenty going on in this campaign and I have no doubt whatsoever that it would be a lot of fun to play.

At the same time, The Fungi from Yuggoth, with its global conspiracy to shepherd the rise of a Mythos Antichrist, doesn't feel much like Lovecraft. There are plenty of plot elements derived from Lovecraft in its eight chapters, but they're strung together in a way that feels like more an Indiana Jones movie than something coming from the pen of HPL. As I re-read the book, I could practically hear the John Williams soundtrack and see an animated red line traveling across a globe, marking each city or location the Investigators visited in their "desperate adventures against the Brotherhood." All that's missing are the Nazis, though, since the campaign takes place in the late 1920s, that's understandable (though one of the main cultists is German).

The Fungi from Yuggoth is weapons grade Derlethium – and that's fine. As I stated at the beginning of this post, nearly every Call of Cthulhu adventure ever published, including the deservedly praised Masks of Nyarlathotep, is, at base, a pastiche of Derleth's pastiches of Lovecraft. Many of these products, including The Fungi from Yuggoth, are very well done. As roleplaying game scenarios, they're some of the best things the hobby has ever produced and I do not hesitate to recommend them. I have enjoyed Call of Cthulhu since its original release in 1981 and hope to one day get the chance to enjoy it again. 

In all those years, however, I don't believe I've ever played an adventure or a campaign that offered more than the occasional genuinely Lovecraftian moment. The rest of my experiences were of pulp adventure with a Mythos twist. That's probably for the best. I'm not sure that an "authentic" experience of Lovecraft's nihilistic cosmicism would be a lot of fun to play out at the table. Ultimately, that's probably why nearly everything Chaosium has ever published for Call of Cthulhu unintentionally looks to Derleth for its inspiration: it's just more fun. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hubble, Bubble, Toil & Death

Here's an advertisement for the Warhammer scenario pack, McDeath, described as follows:

The evil, sadistic and thoroughly unpleasant McDeath has murdered the rightful King Dunco and usurped his throne. But, in the spirit of great tragedy, the forces of justice are gathered to do battle against McDeath and his depraved minions. Orcs, Men, Dwarfs and Treemen fight it out in a titanic struggle for power, money and alcohol.

The more I learn about stuff like this, the more I realize that I missed out by paying more attention to the early days of Warhammer. Sounds like it was a lot of fun!

White Dwarf: Issue #76

Issue #76 of White Dwarf (April 1986) features a cover by Peter Andrew Jones, whose art has appeared on the cover of the magazine several times in the past, the most recent being a year before, with issue #64. Like his previous work, this cover is quite striking, depicting a hippogriff – a mythological creature not often shown in fantasy gaming illustrations, so it definitely wins points in my book for its uniqueness (though its inclusion here is in reference to the issue's AD&D adventure).

Ian Marsh's editorial notes that the "unannounced demise" of many long-running columns in WD, such as "Starbase" for Traveller, "Heroes & Villains" for superhero gaming, "Crawling Chaos" for Call of Cthulhu, "Rune Rites" for RuneQuest, and, most significantly, "Fiend Factory," a staple of the magazine practically since its inception. Marsh claims that, "with the greater variety of popular games on the market, having a department for each is impractical, and indeed restricts the content of the magazine." Future issues would include articles according to different metrics, such as themes. Issue #76 is the first example of this, focusing as it does on thieves. 

The issue begins with a longer than usual "Open Box" that devotes three pages to its many reviews. The first is ICE's Riddle of the Ring boardgame, which received only 6 out of 10. Better reviewed is another ICE product, Ereech and The Paths of the Dead for MERP (9 out of 10). Chaosium's solo Call of Cthulhu adventure, Alone Against the Wendigo, receives 8 out of 10, while the Paranoia scenario, Send in the Clones, is judged slightly more harshly (7 out of 10). TSR's Lankhmar – City of Advenure, meanwhile, gets a rare perfect score (10 out of 10), which is slightly generous in my opinion, but I can't deny that the product is a good one nonetheless. Two adventures for FASA's Dr. Who RPG, The Iytean Menace and Lords of Destiny, are reviewed positively and, oddly, receive a joint rating of 8 out of 10. Finally, there's Hero Games's Fantasy Hero (8 out of 10). That's quite a large number of products for a single issue – and not a single GW product among them!

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" does its usual thing and I do my usual thing of mostly not caring. More interesting to me is the first of this issue's thief-themed articles, "How to Make Crime Pay," by John Smithers. It's written as if it were a lecture given by a guildmaster to apprentice thieves and it's all the better for it. Smithers presents lots of practical advice on how to handle a wide variety of larcenous activities within a fantasy RPG. What makes the article stand out is that its framing device makes it such that the article is useful to both players and referees without having to shift perspectives or divided itself into different sections. Articles of this sort are hard to pull off, so I'm all the more impressed that Smithers succeeded.

"You're Booked" by Marcus L. Rowland is an expansion of Games Workshop's Judge Dredd RPG, introducing the "misunderstood" Accounts Division of Mega-City One's Justice Department. The article lays out the purpose of Acc-Div, as it is known, and how it could be used within a campaign, with several scenario outlines presented as examples. The division is not suitable for Player Judges, but its inclusion in an adventure or campaign could help to flesh out the Justice Department and add a note of levity, as Judges deal with paperwork and expense accounts. 

"Glen Woe" is a Warhammer miniatures scenario by Richard Halliwell. It's intended to expand upon the material provided in McDeath – a Shakespeare-inspired scenario pack released around this time. Not being a Warhammer player, I can't to much about the quality of the material presented here, only my amusement at knowing there was ever a miniatures scenario based around MacBeth. "Banditry Inc" by Olivier Legrand looks at thieves guilds within the context of AD&D from the referee's point of view. While hardly revolutionary, it nevertheless raises some useful questions about the organization and operation of the guild that any referee should consider if thieves and thieves guilds become important in his campaign.

"Caped Crusaders" by Peter Tamlyn is a three-page article on "running Golden Heroes campaigns," though most of its advice is equally applicable to superhero campaigns using another RPG system. Tamlyn covers a variety of topics and the quality of his advice will depend, I imagine, on how familiar one is with both refereeing and the superhero genre. I judge it pretty positively myself, though I imagine others might find it old hat. "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers" are all here, among a handful of only a few remaining connections to the eatly days of White Dwarf. Since I was not a reader of the magazine at this time, I can't help but wonder how much longer they will continue to grace its pages.

"Castle in the Wind" by Venetia Lee, with Paul Stamforth, is a lengthy AD&D scenario aimed at characters of 5th–8th levels. As its title suggests, the adventure concerns the sudden appearance of a "sky castle" above a desert in the campaign area. There are several things that make "Castle in the Wind" stand out aside from its length. First, there's its vaguely Persian setting, a culture that doesn't get much play in fantasy games in my experience. Second, there's the clever design of the sky castle itself (including its hippogriff nests). Finally, there's the open-ended nature of the adventure itself, which spends most of its text presenting a locale rather fleshing out a traditional "plot" for the player characters to follow. 

"How Do You Spell That?" presents a collection of six new AD&D spells culled from reader submissions. The article is listed as being part of the "Treasure Chest" column, which surprised me, since so many other standbys of White Dwarf were axed this issue. Part two of Joe Dever's look at oil painting closes out the issue. In addition to the usual color photographs that always accompany it, the article also includes a mixing guide for how best to achieve certain results when using oil paints.

I must admit, I found this issue a bit of a slog. I don't know that it was objectively any worse than most issues. Indeed, I suspect it was probably better than many I'd read in the past. Nevertheless, I can't shake the feeling that the magazine has changed and that change has started to sap my enthusiasm for reading it. Of course, I might simply be tired of this series. Slightly more than three-quarters of the way to 100 issues, I hope I can be forgiven a little White Dwarf fatigue. Still, I will attempt to soldier on for a little while longer.

Monday, May 29, 2023

By the Guts of the Green God

I've talked about the Sword of Sorcery comic before. It's a remarkable example of DC's multiple forays into the fantasy genre throughout the 1970s. Like most of the other fantasy comics DC published during that time – Arak, Son of ThunderBeowulf, Dragon Slayer; Claw the UnconqueredStalkerThe Warlord, and more – Sword of Sorcery didn't last long. However, it has the distinction of having adapted several Fritz Leiber stories to the comics medium, including "Cloud of Hate," which appeared in its fourth issue from October 1973. 

As is often the case, the adaptation isn't a straight one, though most of its alterations concern the tale's order of events than their actual content. Likewise, the dialog is not directly taken from Leiber's text, though it's clearly inspired by it. For me, though, the main joy of the comic is its artwork by Howard Chaykin, which is excellent. (In a twist of fate, Chaykin would later return to comics based on Leiber's Lankhmar stories in 2007, only this time as a writer rather than artist.)

DDG Hate

TSR's 1980 AD&D book, Deities & Demigods, includes a chapter devoted to what it calls the "Nehwon Mythos" – characters, monsters, and deities derived from the works of Fritz Leiber's stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. In light of today's installment of Pulp Fantasy Library, I thought it might be fun to post that chapter's write-up of the malevolent entity, Hate.

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Cloud of Hate

One of the reasons I find pulp fantasies so congenial is that their preferred format, the short story, actively works against tales that are unnecessarily complex and overwrought. Indeed, many of my favorite fantasy stories are little more than situations, in which characters I like encounter a problem and then use their wits in order to overcome it. The stakes are straightforward and largely personal – nothing epic or world-changing, just a simple yarn in which cleverness and swordplay win the day for the protagonist (I don't say "hero," because the best pulp fantasy characters would probably blanch at being called such).

Of course, the truly great writers of pulp fantasy were capable of threading the needle, so to speak, by doing everything I just described above and nevertheless finding a way to invest it with greater significance. Fritz Leiber was such a writer and his stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser demonstrate this again and again. Take, for example, "The Cloud of Hate," which first appeared in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic Stories of Imagination. On the one hand, it's just another story of the Twain on the make, but, on another, there are intimations of their adventures having a larger significance, even if they do not realize it.

"The Cloud of Hate" opens, not with the protagonists, but beneath the streets of Lankhmar, in the subterranean Temple of Hates, "where five thousand worshipers knelt and abased themselves and ecstatically pressed foreheads against the cold and gritty cobbles as the trance took hold and the human venom rose in them." 

The drumbeat was low. And save for snarls and mewlings, the inner pulsing was inaudible. Yet together they made a hellish vibration which threatened to shake the city and land of Lankhmar and the whole world of Nehwon.

Lankhmar had been at peace for many moons, and so the hates were greater. Tonight, furthermore, at a spot halfway across the city, Lankhmar's black-togaed nobility celebrated in merriment and feasting and twinkling dance the betrothal of their Overlord's daughter to the Prince of Ilthmar, and so the hates were redoubled.

This ritual within the Temple of Hates – what a wonderfully evocative name! – has a purpose beyond mere worship. Led by the Archpriest of the Hates, the worshipers have called forth "tendrils, which in another world might have been described as ectoplasmic" which "quickly multiplied, thickened, lengthened, and then coalesced into questing white serpentine shapes" and then billowed out of the temple to the streets above. Once there, this "billowing white" fog "in which a redness lurked" began to seek out victims among Lankhmar's populace.

It's at this point that the reader is introduced to Fafhrd and the Mouser, who are employed as watchmen during the aforementioned festivities in honor of the Overlord's daughter. The northerner states that "There'll be fog tonight. I smell it coming from the Hlal." His smaller companion is dubious of his prognostication, but Fafhrd insists "There's a taint in the fog tonight." Meanwhile, the fog summoned at the Temple of Hates makes its way into the Rats' Nest tavern, where it finds "the famed bravo Gnarlag." Touching him with a "fog-finger,"

Gnarlag's sneering look turned to one of pure hate, and the muscles of his forearm seemed to double in thickness as he rotated it more than a half turn.

Elsewhere, Mouser asks his friend about their lot in life, specifically why they are not dukes or emperors or demigods. Fafhrd explains that it's because they're "no man's man ... We go our own way, choosing our own adventures – and our own follies! Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude." Mouser is skeptical of these explanations, pointing out how often they've chosen to serve others, but their philosophizing is interrupted by Fafhrd once again stating that something ill is afoot. His sword, he says, "hums a warning! ... The steel twangs softly in its sheath!" And once again, Mouser expresses disbelief.

The fog continues to make its way through Lankhmar, seeking out first "Gis the cutthroat" and then "the twin brothers Kreshmar and Skel, assassins and alleybashers by trade." In each case, the fog 

intoxicated them as surely as if it were a clouded white wine of murder and destruction, zestfully sluicing away all natural cautions and fears, promising an infinitude of thrilling and most profitable victims.

The "hate-enslaved" marched together in the fog "toward the quarter of the nobles and Glipkerio's rainbow-lanterned palace above the breakwater of the Inner Sea." Unfortunately for them, the Twain stand guard this night.

"The Cloud of Hate" is one of Leiber's shorter stories of Nehwon, but that works to its advantage in my opinion. Its brevity enables it to focus on what most matters, namely the inexorable movement of the otherworldly fog across the city of Lankhmar and the point when Fafhrd and the Mouser come into contact with it. This meeting is compelling first because the Mouser is initially so dismissive of the idea that there is anything odd happening and second because the reader has no idea what effect the fog might have on these comrades-in-arms. Would they, like all the others before them, become "hate-enslaved" or might they somehow escape this horrible fate? Leiber's answer to this and other questions is clever and offers insights into two of the most fascinating characters in fantasy – highly recommended.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Secrets (Again)

Earlier this month, I posted about my fumbling attempts to come up with an alternative to D&D-style abstract experience points for use in Secrets of sha-Arthan. I received a lot of helpful comments and they, along with private discussions and internal playtesting of the game's draft rules, have begun to bring me closer to a satisfactory solution. That said, there's still a lot of work to be done to get it just right, but then that's the sort of thing with which wider playtesting should help.

It is by now a truism, I think, to state that a roleplaying game's experience/advancement system, whatever form it takes, encourages certain activities and approaches to play by rewarding them. For example, Dungeons & Dragons awards experience points primarily on the basis of treasure, with a smaller but still more significant amount of XP given for defeating opponents. Consequently, D&D, at least in its classical form, is a game where treasure hunting and monster slaying take center stage, since those are the activities by which experience points are earned and characters can advance in levels. Advancement comes through different activities in other games, such as skill use in those derived from Basic Role-Playing

If you're involved with any RPG long enough, you may notice that players sometimes begin to modify the way they play in accordance with what nets their characters the most in-game rewards. When I was a kid, I distinctly remember occasions when my friends would actively seek out "a few more experience points" by having their characters wander through the wilderness hoping that a random encounter would bring enough XP to achieve the next level. Players of BRP games are, of course, familiar with the phenomenon of "check mongering," in which players seek excuses to make skill checks for their characters, in the hopes of improving them. 

I don't necessarily see anything wrong with this kind of emergent behavior. At base, RPGs are games and it's only natural – rational even – that players will try to find ways to use a game's rules to their advantage. Rather than attempting to find ways to disincentivize this behavior in Secrets of sha-Arthan, my instinct is to find ways to harness it to encourage the kind of adventures and campaigns that I enjoy, hence the shift to the accumulation of secrets rather than XP as the method of advancement.

But what qualifies as a secret? There are two kinds of secrets. The first is mundane, namely, a fact about the setting that the character does not yet know. For example, encountering Unmaker cultists for the first time would certainly qualify as a secret in this first sense. For that matter, encountering almost any "monster" for the first time is also a secret. There are many other secrets in this sense – traveling to a far-off city, locating the entrance to a Vault, becoming aligned with a faction or cult, even coming into possession of a magic item.

However, there's a second type of secret, one that's closer to the usual sense in which the word is used. A secret of this type is something genuinely hidden or unknown, knowledge of which is rare within the setting. It's one thing simply to encounter the aforementioned Unmaker cultists, but it's another thing entirely to understand their origins and the nature of their beliefs. Likewise, many creatures, magic items, and spells tie into obscure aspects of sha-Arthan. These are the "true" secrets of the game.

I opted for this approach to character advancement because I hope it will encourage the kind of gameplay I most enjoy. Both my earlier Dwimmermount OD&D campaign and my ongoing House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaigns are rooted in the uncovering of secrets of their respective settings. Refereeing House of Worms in particular has taught me that piecing together disparate pieces of knowledge about a setting can be very compelling to players. Indeed, it can become a powerful driver of both player and character engagement. 

As the players could tell you, House of Worms is comparatively light on combat and treasure seeking; its main focus is and always has been on exploration of its setting and wrestling with the secrets thereof. The campaign's recent shift is toward an even greater focus on these matters and there is (as yet) no sign that this has in any way made the campaign less compelling – quite the opposite, in fact. It's my hope that I can "bottle" this approach in Secrets of sha-Arthan by not only being very explicit about its emphasis on exploration of its setting but also by rewarding such exploration in its advancement system. I can't pretend that it will be easy to do this well, but, armed with more than eight years of experience in this arena, I feel I have as good a chance as anyone to succeed.


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Into the Vaults

I've devoted much of May to writing the latest playtest draft of Secrets of sha-Arthan. The project is coming along quite well, though – as usual – still slower than I would like. Nevertheless, serious progress has been made and I expect to start putting the latest version of the game through its paces sometime this summer.

As if to buoy my spirits, I was delighted to receive the illustration above from the ever-impressive Zhu Bajiee, who's already produced so much wonderful artwork for SosA. Depicted are a quintet of Vault explorers preparing to face off against some eldritch threat. They are:
  • Vandar Axtargo (center front), a warrior and veteran of the army of the king of Eshkom, now turned mercenary.
  • Wentak (right), a sorcerer whose origins are mysterious but who turned up in the First City about six months ago and soon attached himself to the Supernal Academy of Alatash.
  • Maltisis (center back), a scion of the Arta Char dynasty that has prospered in recent years due to its alliance with the ruling Chomachto.
  • Sharaya (left), an adept of the Jorazi people of the Ridala district of Inba Iro and another recent arrival to da-Imer.
  • Limber-but-Unbending (center left), a Chenot master of the bow who, like so many of his kind, seeks the blessings of the Makers in the Vaults beneath the First City.
I'm having a lot of fun fleshing out the setting of the game, which takes a lot of its inspiration from Antiquity, particularly the Hellenistic Age, a period of real world history I find quite fascinating and one that tends to get overlooked, sandwiched as it is between Classical Greece and the rise of Rome. I'll have lots more to say about Secrets of sha-Arthan in the coming months, but, for now, I simply wanted to share this great illustration that I hope provides a little insight into the look and feel of its setting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Retrospective: Space: 1889

Seeing Frank Chadwick's letter in issue #75 of White Dwarf reminded me that he was one of GDW's top designers during that storied game company's nearly quarter-century of existence. While he's probably best known for his work on board and miniatures wargames like Command Decision and Europa, he was also responsible for, either solely or in part, many of GDW's roleplaying games, starting with En Garde!

I first encountered Chadwick's name in connection with Traveller and, later, with Twilight: 2000, both of which I played a great deal in my younger days (and nowadays too, as it turns out). In addition, Chadwick designed another of GDW's RPGs, Space: 1889, which first appeared, ironically, in 1988. This is only a year after SF author K.W. Jeter first coined the term "steampunk," though I don't recall its being widely used at the time. Certainly, Space: 1889 never makes use of it, instead referring players to the works of Verne, Wells, and other late 19th century science fiction pioneers as its sources of inspiration.

The premise of the game is that, in 1870, Thomas Edison succeeded – somewhat accidentally – in demonstrating the possibility of navigating the "luminiferous ether" between the planets of our solar system. In doing so, Edison not only opened up new frontiers for exploration (and exploitation), he also made possible contact between human beings and the intelligent inhabitants of Venus, Mars, and even the Moon. By 1889, the Great Powers of Earth were vying with one another for control of these new worlds with a zeal that made the scramble for Africa seem halfhearted by comparison. 

One of the things that makes Space: 1889 so interesting is that its setting isn't merely an alternate history where space travel is possible in the Victorian Age. Rather, it's a full-fledge alternate reality where the 1887 Michaelson-Morley experiment did not suggest, as it actually did, that there was no such thing as ether. Chadwick makes use of earlier, now-rejected scientific theories to construct an alternate model of physics for the game's setting, one conducive to the great tales of scientific romance whose echoes can be heard even today in the pulpier corners of science fiction and fantasy. This approach gives Space: 1889 an oddly "grounded" feel to it, because it's clear that thought went into its idiosyncratic "scientific" principles, which are used to good effect throughout.

Indeed, it's the setting that made Space: 1889 so compelling to me at the time of its release – and it's the setting that continues to fascinate me, even today. Like all good wargamers, Chadwick knows his history and the game does a good job, I think, of presenting the late 19th century, warts and all, as an interesting place for science fiction adventure. The rivalries of the Great Powers, for example, serve as the backdrop to much of what happens in the setting, albeit from a decidedly Anglocentric perspective. For instance, Germany is portrayed in a negative light, as is, to a lesser extent, Belgium. That said, the British Empire is not presented in an unambiguously positive light. Like any honest portrayal, its vices are as significant as its virtues.

Even more interesting than the game's use of real aspects of the 19th century is its use of purely imaginative one, such as the various non-human beings that dwell on other worlds. Mars gets a lot of attention in the game, no doubt due to its importance in early science fiction. As often the case in those tales, the Martians of 1889 are an ancient, dying people, heirs to 35,000 years of civilization, at once contemptuous of Earthmen for their comparative barbarism and envious of their expansionist vigor. During the few short years that GDW published Space: 1889 – 1988 to 1991 – Mars received a fair bit of development through adventures and supplements. One of the best, Canal Priests of Mars was written, amusingly enough, by Marcus L. Rowland, the man responsible for the scathingly negative review of Chadwick's Twilight: 2000 in issue #68 of White Dwarf. Rowland would later go on to produce the Forgotten Futures series that looked at Victorian SF as potential settings for roleplaying.

Unfortunately, the cleverness and promise of Space: 1889's setting was hampered by a less than stellar system that, by turns, is either too simplistic or too complex for its purpose. This was something I recognized immediately upon reading the book; it was confirmed in multiple attempts to play the game with friends who were just as enthusiastic about the setting as I. It's a great shame, because the game's setting is well done and ripe with potential, but the game's mechanics were actively off-putting – so much so that I never succeeded in playing Space: 1889 for very long. I understand that, in the years since, there have been a couple of attempts to revive the setting with new rules, though I know nothing of how successful these attempts proved.

In the end, Space: 1889 is one of those roleplaying games that comes along every so often that grabs my attention because of what I see as its promise, but which I eventually discover is somehow inadequate to it in some way. Calling it a "disappointment" is not completely fair, since I nevertheless find many aspects of it genuinely praiseworthy. At the same time, I can think of no other way to sum up my feelings toward it without damning it with faint praise. A pity!