East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The RPG shelf: Atlantis, the Second Age

I took out of storage a few roleplaying books last night, for a project I’m about to start, and while I was at it I took the opportunity to retrieve a game I like a lot and have not played enough, that I wanted to move to the shelf of my favorites, the games I play more often.

The game in question is called Atlantis, the Second Age, that is a game with a complicated history – there’s at least three different editions that I am aware of: the first by Bard Games (when it was just called Atlantis), the second by Morrigan Press which is the one I own, and recently a new edition was released published by Kephera Publishing (I do not own it, but all reviews are glowing).

What we are talking about: a fantasy, decidedly sword & sorcery-oriented game that runs on a modified version of the old Talislanta engine (we are really talking gaming archaeology here) and that comes with a huge world for players to explore and romp through.

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The Riddle of Steel

I had an interesting and instructive discussion last night, on the Facebook group devoted to my friend Umberto Pignatelli’s Beasts & Barbarians roleplaying game, about John Milius’ 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, and about the riddle of steel in particular.

The Conan movie has been an object of much debate ever since its first screenings, and Howard fans in particular tend to be often quite critical about it. For my part, I’m one of those guys that will tell you “the book is better”, but I do like John Milius’ film. I like its looks and its composition, I like Basil Poleduris’ score, I like Sandhal Bergman a lot (and the poor, late Valerie Quennessen!), I like the characters of Subotai and Mako’s wizard, and most of everything else I like the movie’s structure. The way you can split it scene by scene and see perfectly the story arcs, and the mirror-like pivot points that make the whole narration symmetrical.

And then there’s the quotes, and among these, Conan’s father’s lengthy monologue about the Riddle of Steel.
And be warned, because from this point on there are SPOILERS (but really you never saw Conan the Barbarian? What are you doing on my blog?)

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Overthinking it

There’s an old Taoist saying that goes “Do not judge other people’s mistakes, but learn from them” (or maybe there isn’t, but I’m sure as hell there should be). Or maybe I am overthinking this whole business, but… OK, it goes like this.

It happens sometimes that I catch myself, when choosing, say, a book to read, or a movie to watch, or a comic book… it happens that I find myself weighing alternatives like this

  • book/movie/comic A looks like fun
  • but book/movie/comic B looks just as fun, and might provide matter for a post on Karavansara

And there’s nothing wrong with that, really – because often it is not a matter of chosing one and losing the other. I can read/watch B tonight and A over the weekend, or something. So, why not look for blog-fodder?

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Today is father’s day, and I am no father, but I got myself a gift. One of the periodic Amazon gift cards landed in my mailbox yesterday, and I invested the contents in something for my edification and entertainment.

And in a record 24 hours, the mailman delivered a big box containing a hardbound copy of Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding, a book whose tagline is “John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.”

A book about the history of the pulps – and a very specific pulp in particular, and the literary consequences thereof.
You can see why this interests me.
It’s like my birthday before time.

Now the real problem will be finding the time to read it.
But who needs to sleep anyway?



I am about to put the finishing touches on a fantasy novel that I will deliver to the editor before midnight. It is work for hire, so it will go out with another guy’s name on the cover, and I will never be at liberty of revealing that I am the author. Of the book, and of the whole trilogy. With a modicum of luck, the royalties will pay for my dinners throughout the autumn.

It’s something rather different from what I usually write, but I am convinced I put in it some of the best characters I ever wrote (there’s a lot of them, it’s a trilogy), and some of the best dialogues. I am, in other words, reasonably proud of what I am doing.

I was discussing this with my patrons, earlier today – the idea of publishing books that have somebody else’s name on the cover. It’s a topic worth discussing, and analyzing.
How does it feel?

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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: The Sword and the Sorcerer

Back in the early ’80s, a number of “barbarian movies” came out hot on the heels of John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, and were considered shameless rip-offs. Of the lot, three remain today with a sort of cult status, to share the dubious title of “best of the crop”. And in fact one of the three was not a Conan rip-off at all, as it came out one year before the John Milius movie.
We’ll save that for last, and tonight (hey, it’s night here as I write this) we start with the one that is arguably the best of the three – the one that was so rushed, it hit the theaters before Conan.

And yes, I mean Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer, from 1982.
Dig that poster…

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Larry DiTillio

I have just learned that Lawrence DiTillio, better known to many of us as Larry DiTillio, passed away yesterday at the age of 79, after a long illness.

DiTillio was a writer for television, the man who wrote the Saturday morning cartoons He-Man & the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra, among other dozens of titles. He also worked on Babylon 5 and a number of other series. In this role, he touched the lives of millions of kids the whole world over.

But to me, and to many others, DiTillio was the game designer of The Masks of Nyarlathotep, the colossal campaign for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Considered by many the War and Peace of roleplaying, Masks of Nyarlathotep changed the way in which roleplaying campaign were designed. It coupled a complex, non-linear plot with such an incredible amount of historical detail and invention that made the experience of playing it an absolute delight and, in many ways, a life-changing experience.

Larry DiTillio was the man whose story about a dark plot for the downfall of humanity had me and my friends sitting around a table every Saturday afternoon or Thursday night for two years. He did contribute to make us what we are. He will be missed.