Ars Magica: The Lost Sourcebook

I turned up an old notebook from the 90s when I was working on organizing my office yesterday. I found the pictured outline inside. This was for an Ars Magica book that Atlas Games contracted Nicole and I to write in 1997. As you can see, the outline proposed to make most of the book an epic adventure. Atlas asked us to lean into the sourcebook aspect, focusing on a treatment of the city of Damietta and providing expanded info on elemental magic. I wrote a few thousand words, but the project fizzled because life got complicated. Nicole and I got together as a couple and I moved out to Seattle, then got a job as a game designer at Wizards of the Coast. We discussed our changed circumstances with Atlas and we agreed to shelve the project.

After finding this outline, I dug into some old files I pulled off 3.5 disks last year. To my surprise, I found the material that I’d written for the book and I’ve decided to post it here so interested folks can get a glimpse of what might have been. There are three sections. The first is a bio of Beatrix, a contemporary of the founders of the Order of Hermes who developed a Unified Elemental Theory of magic but was murdered. The adventure involves discovering her history and unearthing her lost theory. The second section involves the theory itself. You can definitely tell I was reading books about alchemy at the time! The last section is some history of the Fifth Crusade, which is the backdrop for the adventure. Enjoy!


Beatrix was born in the city of Marseilles in 692 CE. Scion of a patrician family that traced its lineage back to the heady days of Roman power, Beatrix received an excellent education. Her deep philosophical probing eventually led her to a noted scholar named Alexius, who in fact was a wizard of some power. Alexius took young Beatrix under his tutelage and taught her magic, as well as broadening her understanding of philosophy. Marseilles, an ancient metropolis steeped in Greek and Roman history, proved an excellent campus for the budding maga and scholar. From the beginning, she had a keen interest in the elemental structures that she perceived to be the basis of magic. Alexius focused her research and encouraged her to go beyond what he could teach her. After ten years at Alexius’ feet, Beatrix left Marseilles to study other magical traditions. She spent the next twenty years traveling across Europe and the Near East, finding mages where she could and exchanging ideas. Her travels in many ways presaged those of Trianoma and cemented her reputation as a master of elemental magic.

After two decades of travel and investigation, Beatrix returned to Marseilles in 727 and began her real life’s work. At the same time Bonisagus was working on a Unified Theory of Magic, Beatrix was working on a Unified Elemental Theory that incorporated all she had learned. Trianoma visited Beatrix in 735 and tried to recruit her into the Order of Hermes. Beatrix was interested but wanted to meet Bonisagus first. Trianoma set up a meeting between the two theorists and the weeklong visit of Beatrix quickly turned into a month. Bonisagus taught Beatrix the Parma Magica and she in turn worked with Bonisagus on translating the most basic of her elemental spells into Bonisagus’s system. These spells stand today as the basic Hermetic spells for dealing with Elementals.

Beatrix returned to Marseilles to finish her own theory and try to integrate as much as possible of it into Bonisagus’s theory. Her visit, and news of her breakthroughs in elemental magic, had caused quite a stir in magical circles and she found herself visited by a number of prominent mages of the day. The most important of these visitors was Tremere himself. Tremere, young and lacking in prestige, was even then looking for a way to enlarge his own power and reputation. Before working with Bonisagus to develop Certamen, Tremere tried to coax Beatrix’s Unified Elemental Theory out of the scholarly maga. Beatrix was unimpressed with the power-hungry young magus and refused to teach him what he wanted to know. Tremere left in anger but Beatrix quickly put him out of her mind.

Tremere was stung by her refusal to teach him, but he knew that he could not match her power. He turned therefore to Tytalus for aid. Tremere and Tytalus had shared the same master, Guorna the Fetid, and shared a certain bond despite their rivalry. Tytalus was always interested in testing himself against powerful mages, so he quickly agreed to Tremere’s scheme and the two set off for Marseilles. There the two ambushed Beatrix in the streets. The citizens of Marseilles fled as the three mighty wizards unleashed magics of unbelievable power, leveling entire blocks of the city in their great struggle. In the end, however, Beatrix could not stand against both Tremere and Tytalus and she fell, mortally wounded. Her attackers then fled the scene in the confusion and tried to despoil Beatrix’s sanctum. When they arrived, however, all of Beatrix’s books were gone. Nor was her body ever recovered. So passed from history both Beatrix and her Unified Elemental Theory. Trianoma tried to piece together what had happened to Beatrix but she never found out who it was that attacked the maga in the streets of Marseilles. In the end, the incident became a footnote in Hermetic History. Until now, that is…

The Unified Elemental Theory

Beatrix began her studies the Greek and Roman classics. Her master Alexius had a fine library, with many tomes thought lost to the West after the sack of Rome. Her first approach to the elements came from Aristotle. According to Aristotle, there was something called the prima materia (first substance), from which everything in nature was derived. Itself immaterial, prima materia represent pure potential and only when it united with a form would it produce a physical object. Furthermore, the form of all objects was determined by the four elements — earth, air, water, and fire — and the four qualities — hot, wet, cold, and dry. To change one element to another, it was only necessary to change its quality. Thus, heating water turned it into steam, a form of air.

Simple magical experiments based on Aristotle’s ideas were easy enough, but Beatrix was unsuccessful in applying these techniques to living creatures. She had heard of magicians who could summon spirits of the elements, so she determined to find some of these masters and learn from them. This led to one of her famous journeys to the north, where she stayed amongst the warlike Prussian tribes and consulted with their shamans. Here she learned to summon elementals, and also journeyed to the magic realm with her shaman guides. Unfortunately, the elementals themselves did not have the answers she sought. Although they were living embodiments of the elements, they had no deeper understanding of their place in the universe, or if they did, they could not communicate it to Beatrix.

This led her back to Marseilles, where she delved into Graeco-Egyptian Alchemy. These alchemists had tried to apply Aristotle’s theories, as well as those of the Stoics. They believed that if they could distill the prima materia, they could then turn it into any form. The Stoics posited that the universe was made up of two inseparable principles, the active principle (called pneuma, or “fiery cosmic breath”) and the passive principle (matter). All things in the world contained pneuma and the differences between them depended on the form of pneuma within. The alchemists of ancient Greece believed that if pneuma could be extracted from an object, it could be changed into a new substance. Beatrix followed the formulas of the Graeco-Egyptian alchemists and tried to apply the theories of Aristotle and the Stoics but neither was entirely satisfactory. It was one thing to posit the existence of prima materia or pneuma, but it was another thing to actually extract it.

Her research stymied, Beatrix decided another journey of discovery was in order and she determined to travel to the Middle East. It was a long and dangerous trip, but she relied on her magic to protect herself. Her first stop was the city of Harran, which had an ancient tradition of magic and may have been the birthplace of alchemy. She was somewhat disappointed with what she found there, but she did hear of a man in Kufa who was said to be a magician of some power. His name was Jabir ibn Hayyan, later known to the West as Gerber.

Jabir was a Shi’ite and a disciple of Ja’far al-Sadiq, the sixth Shi’ite Imam and a known scholar of occult sciences. Beatrix found him in Kufa and the two struck up a strange friendship. She found his ideas fascinating, and he was thrilled to have found a mind that could keep up with his own, even if it did belong to a woman and a foreigner. Jabir theorizes that all metals were made up of sulphur and mercury. He was not, however, referring to the substances known later as sulphur and mercury, but of two principles. Sulphur is the masculine principle, fiery and active, while Mercury is the feminine, liquid and passive. When they are pure and perfectly combined, they make the most perfect of metals: gold. Jabir also talked of an Elixir of Life, which could heal the sick.

What interested Beatrix about Jabir’s work was not the combinations of sulphur and mercury, but its specificity. She began to consider that perhaps she had been looking too broadly for an answer, that maybe she should try to restrict her inquiry.  Rather than trying to unlock the secret of all matter, she decided to concentrate on the four elements themselves. Her decision made, she took her leave of Jabir and returned to Europe.

Rather than going back to the laboratory, Beatrix left nearly immediately on another long journey. She had read Caesar’s commentaries on Druids and had also heard of the great maga Diedne. Thinking that perhaps Diedne had some insight on the elements and their relation, Beatrix made the trip to Britain and met with Diedne.

Beatrix found Diedne a little too spiritual for her taste, but they struck up a fruitful professional relationship. It took Beatrix some time to cut through the ritual and find the underlying principles of Druidic magic. Their approach was wrapped up in paganism and treated each element as power to beseech rather than manipulate. While this did not fit in to Beatrix’s rational form of magic, she found the nuances of Druidic magic quite informative.

This was to prove the last of Beatrix’s great journeys. She returned to Marseilles and began to work on a theory to unify all she had learned. At first, she pursued each element separately, trying to see what was unique about it. She worked out basic spells of elemental summoning and control based on these principles and found them effective, though limited in power. This, however, was not what she was after.

So, she returned once again to Aristotle, looking for answers which eluded her. She came back to a part of Aristotle’s work that she had previously dismissed: quintessence. This substance, sometimes called the fifth element, was the ethereal essence from which the celestial spheres were made. A part of the prima materia, quintessence was said to be part of each of the four elements. Perhaps this was the key to the elements that Beatrix had been looking for.

She began work again, looking at what the elements had in common rather than what made each unique. After years of research, she found it. She was able to identify the quintessence of the elements and crafted spells to manipulate it. When she met Bonisagus, she realized that he had identified quintessence as well, though he called it Vim. This was the key to her ability to meld her theory with that of Bonisagus.

The Fifth Crusade

In 1213 Pope Innocent III sent out letters to the leaders of Christendom announcing the Fourth Lateran Council, to be held in November of 1215. The stated cause of the council was the reformation of the universal church and the conquest of the Holy Land. The crusading spirit, which had swept Europe in the late 11th century and culminated in the success of the First Crusade, seemed a thing of the past. The army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been dealt a crushing defeat by Saladin in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, and the Fourth Crusade had ended with the crusaders sacking Byzantium rather than liberating Jerusalem. The Pope hoped to revive the crusading zeal and win back the Holy Land before the Kingdom of Jerusalem was swept away by Muslim armies.

Innocent set to his task with a vengeance. Preachers such as Robert of Courcon and Oliver of Paderborn were sent out across Christendom to recruit a new generation of crusaders. Innocent ordered monthly processionals, in which men and women (marching separately of course) offered public prayers beseeching God to restore Jerusalem to the Christians. All were to prostate themselves during daily mass while the clergy chanted psalms, and then a special prayer provided by the Pope. Crusaders were promised freedom from tax obligations and rent and the special protection of the Pope. Innocent also suspended the privileges of other crusaders, such as those who had fought the Albigensians, to encourage them to join the new crusade. Maritime trade with Muslims was suspended for four years, and tournaments for three. The Pope also ordered a general peace for four years to keep the nobility from fighting amongst themselves. Despite his great efforts, Innocent III did not live to see his crusade become a reality. On a diplomatic mission in north Italy, the Pope died in Perugia on July 16, 1216. His successor, Honorius III, continued the plan with energy and enthusiasm of his own.

What is known as the Fifth Crusade began in July 1217, when an army led by King Andrew of Hungary, Duke Leopold of Austria, and Duke Otto of Meran set out for Spalato, and thence to Acre in the Holy Land. They were met at Acre by John of Brienne, the King of Jerusalem, and King Hugh I of Cyprus. Unfortunately, they had arrived in the midst of a terrible famine, and many of the crusaders returned as quickly as they came. However, the army that was left set about operations that November that lasted two months and achieved nothing at all. They came close to overwhelming the fortress of Mt. Tabor but were beaten off by the Muslim garrison. By January 1218, King Andrew was ready to return home and, despite threats of excommunication from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, he took his army and began a long overland journey to Hungary.

With Andrew gone, operations were suspended. At the end of April, however, the ships of the Frisian-German crusaders, who had left nearly a year before, began to arrive. With fresh troops and ships at their command, the leadership decided that conditions were now favorable to launch an attack on Damietta, an important city in Egypt. The logic was that storming Damietta would open up Egypt for conquest. Egypt was a country rich in resources and denying it to the Muslims would make the conquest of the Holy Land that much easier. With these goals in mind, the fleet departed for the Nile delta in May of 1218. When the vanguard landed on the 27th, the Fifth Crusade at last began in earnest.

Princes Valiant: Stewart and Greg

Last week I got the new edition of the Prince Valiant RPG in the mail. I wrote a short adventure for its Episode Book on the invitation of Stewart Wieck. It was a small project but it had been cool to do something with Stewart because we’d never worked together. When I was in college, I was a regular reader of White Wolf Magazine (which he edited) and it was one of the first places I tried to get work as an aspiring freelancer. White Wolf had line reviewers at the time and I was very keen to take over the reviews for the Pendragon RPG. Someone else got the gig and I never did end up writing for White Wolf Magazine. In the ensuing decades my path and Stewart’s never crossed again professionally until the Prince Valiant project. I was pleased to get the chance to work with him after all those years. Like everyone else, I was shocked when he died suddenly last year. Getting the Prince Valiant books then was very much bitter sweet. It was good to see the game back and be a very small part of it, but it brought back to mind Stewart’s passing so the moment was tinged with sadness.

Then just scant days later the news of Greg Stafford’s death broke. Greg, of course, was the designer of Prince Valiant and so much more. His Pendragon has been my favorite RPG for decades. There’s a reason I wanted that line reviewer gig! It’s fair to say no other designer in my field has had a greater influence on my work than Greg Stafford. He and I first met at GenCon 1990. I swung by the Chaosium booth to get the new edition of Pendragon and there he was. I was a nobody at this point, just a random fan as far as he was concerned. When I ventured some opinions on the Matter of Britain though, he seemed genuinely happy to engage. We had a long talk about Mallory, the the Vulgate Cycle, and other Arthurian topics and I was thrilled. In later years I got to meet him again, this time as a colleague. We were friendly but not close. Part of me held back, I think, because getting to know your heroes doesn’t always work out so well and I wanted to maintain my admiration. This was probably a stupid thing to do. At the end of that first conversation, Greg said, “Let me sign that book for you!” I’m not an autograph seeker. They are not generally things I value, but I wasn’t about to say, “No, don’t!” to Greg Stafford. Now I’m glad I have it.

Stewart and Greg were both people who burned brightly in our industry and left behind important legacies. Through their work and their games, they will be remembered for many years to come. Princes Valiant both.

The 24 Hour Rule

When I became a freelance RPG writer in the early 90s, the internet was young. When you had something published, it might be weeks or even months until reviews started to appear. Of course, as a creative person, I was always interested to see how the work was being received. I wished the reviews happened faster, so I could get that feedback.

You know what they say: be careful what you wish for.

Now, feedback happens with frightening speed. And most of it is not thoughtful reviews based on careful consideration. It’s off the cuff impressions, honestly emotional but often not factual. I have, on more than one occasion, released a new gaming PDF and started to see bitching about it 10 minutes later. I can’t tell you what a drag this is.

When you are working on a creative project of any sort for months, there is a feeling of triumph and satisfaction when it goes live. At last the thing you’ve been toiling on will get in front of an audience. Hooray! And you’d like to, at least briefly, feel good about the accomplishment of finishing a creative work and getting it out there. So when (often well-meaning) fans immediately pounce and start cataloging your perceived failures, it totally deflates you. It can make you feel like shit. Make you feel like you should be doing something else. That there is little appreciation for the work you put into that brand new thing.

I would thus like to propose the 24 Hour Rule. It is simply this: save your criticisms of a new creative work for at least 24 hours. More, ideally, but I know that’s asking a lot of the current internet. Give the people behind the things you like a brief period to bask in that feeling of accomplishment. Criticism will surely come (it’s the internet) but at least there will be one day they can savor the completion and release of their work. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

RPG a Day, Part 2

19th – Favourite Published Adventure: I’m still quite fond of Shadows Over Bogenhafen from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s Enemy Within campaign. This is a great adventure I’ve had fun both playing and running. And writing a sequel to!

20th – Will still play in 20 years time…: D&D and Call of Cthulhu I’m sure. 

21st – Favourite Licensed RPG: James Bond 007: Role Playing in Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Victory Games. Great game. We dusted this off a few years ago with my Monday night group and had a fun time with it. 

22nd – Best Secondhand RPG Purchase: Last year I ran across a Craig’s List ad for a huge pile of BECMI D&D modules for a super reasonable price (including a mint copy of X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield). The seller was local to Seattle, so we agreed to meet up. It happened in the parking lot of the Renton Transit Center and I’m sure it looked like a drug deal. Me pawing through things in a bag and then producing cash in exchange. Thankfully, no cops were watching. 🙂

23rd – Coolest looking RPG product / book: The Underground RPG from Mayfair Games blew me away with its great art and innovative layout when it was first released. I just got the two volume Guide to Glorantha and it is a seriously impressive piece of work too.

24th – Most Complicated RPG Owned: Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited. We actually tried to play this in college and it was a disaster. I believe this hit location graphic says it all. So granular it turns your brain to dust!

25th – Favourite RPG no one else wants to play: Sadly the same as my all time favorite game: Pendragon. You need to have the right group for a Pendragon campaign. None of my regular groups have had the right temperament for it. 

26th – Coolest character sheet: AD&D had these awesome golden character sheets. I only had one pack of them, so I ended up erasing a lot of characters so I could re-use them. 

27th – Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…: Towards the end of Green Ronin’s time on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Rob Schwalb and I talked over the way we’d want to do a Third Edition of the game. We thought we could take what we had built in Second Edition and improve upon it. That was never to be and Third Edition, when it appeared, was done by another company in a very different way. Sometimes I still think about what I’d do if I had another crack it it. 

28th – Scariest Game you’ve played: I played a Call of Cthulhu game one GenCon in the early 90s. The set-up was that we played 10-12 year old kids who have been dared to go into the creepy house at the end of the block. The GM was terrific and it felt like we were playing through a horror movie. 

29th – Most memorable encounter: I was running a playtest of a Freeport adventure for my Monday night group. In the scenario the PCs get a treasure map on which X marks the spot. It’s a lie, of course, and what’s really going on is that a necromancer is luring adventuring parties to his island to kill them. So the PCs get near the location and pause. Jess Lebow, playing a shaman, decides to make the whole party invisible. Then, rather than go to the spot with the X, they decide to go past it an investigate a cave they can see. Turns out this is where the necromancer is lurking, so at the start of the adventure they walk in invisibly and cap the guy. So much for that cunning plan! This is exhibit A in any discussion of players doing things you don’t expect. 

30th – Rarest RPG Owned: The one that springs to mind is 23rd Letter, a game about psychics fighting a secret war in the modern world. It was published by a company from Northern Ireland called Crucible Design, which I know nothing about. I found it in a Bay Area game store in the late 90s, and I’ve never talked to anyone else who owns it. 

31st – Favourite RPG of all time: Still Pendragon after all these years!

RPG a Day, Part 1

David Chapman started a thing on his blog called RPG a Day. It’s basically an excuse to talk about RPGs so, hey, let’s do that. August is my busiest month of the year, with GenCon and PAX happening. I’m thus going to do this in two parts instead of daily. Part 1 will take me through GenCon.

1st – First RPG Played: Dungeons & Dragons. This was 1979 and I was 10 years old.

2nd – First RPG Gamemastered: D&D again. I cannot not tell you what I ran. Probably a dungeon of my own devising. 

3rd – First RPG Purchased: The original D&D white boxed set. I can’t say I played it though. My brother and I brought it home and tried to make sense of it. There was obviously something cool there but as a 10 year old with no background in wargaming (yet!), how you actually played was unclear to me. We got the Holmes Basic Set and then the AD&D Player’s Handbook in short order and that’s when I really started to play.

4th – Most recent RPG purchase: I backed a Kickstarter from my pals at Pagan Publishing. It’s for Horrors of War, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in World War 1. Backing that was a no brainer for a history nerd like me.

5th – Most Old School RPG owned: OD&D white box. I might also add the original Chainmail game. It’s a minis game, not a RPG, but its “fantasy supplement” was the genesis of D&D.

6th – Favourite RPG Never get to play: That’s an easy one: Pendragon. Love that game, but I never have the right group to play it with. 

7th – Most “intellectual” RPG owned: Aria, Canticle of the Monomyth. I think the title says it all.

8th – Favourite character: Finn, my halfling rogue from my friend Bill’s long running AD&D campaign from college. Freeport fans may know him as the Crime Lord of the Eastern District. I decided that he had retired to Freeport after his adventuring days ended. 🙂

9th – Favourite Die / Dice Set: The recently released Dragon Age dice that Q Workshop did for Green Ronin. These are the first custom dice ever done for one of my RPGs, so they’ve got to be my choice!

10th – Favourite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction: The Horus Heresy line of 40K novels is better than it has any right to be. I do worry about it finishing in my lifetime though (30 novels and still going…). 

11th – Weirdest RPG owned: Many options, but I’ll go with Khaotic, a 1994 game from Marquee Press. This was a scifi game with a wacky premise. Player Characters were members of a “jump-team” that projected their minds to an alien planet. The twist is that the entire group inhabits the body of a sort of living war machine. Only one character can control the body at a time though! Much of the game takes place within its mind, as the characters debate about what to do and who gets to control the body. 

12th – Old RPG you still play / read: Well, I recently wrapped up a two year AD&D campaign set in Greyhawk. I started it because I wanted my step-daughter to get a sense of what D&D was like back in the day. One day she was looking through the 2nd edition Monster Manual and she asked me, “Is there a more recent version of this book with better art?” I had to laugh. 

13th – Most Memorable Character Death: I was in college and we were playing the module X2: Castle Amber. I had played it once before, when I was 12 or so, but I didn’t remember much about it. The GM describe the room we had just entered and it seemed familiar. I said, “Hmmm, I think I died in this room.” And then I proceeded to do so again!

14th – Best Convention Purchase: I got copies of the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor books (supplements 1 and 2 for original D&D) for $10 each in the bring and buy area of a con once.

15th – Favourite Convention Game: Before I got into the game industry, I spent four years running an Ars Magica tournament at GenCon. I put a ridiculous amount of work into it each year, but it was worth it.

16th – Game you wish you owned: TSR’s Empire of the Petal Throne RPG from 1975. I never even saw a copy until 1997. I was at a small con in British Columbia and a copy came up for auction. I thought, “This is a small con and maybe no one knows what it is.” I had recently moved to the West Coast and was trying to make a living by freelance writing, so I had little money. I thought I could I could go as high as $50. The bidding started at $20. Before I could even raise my hand, it was up to $200 and ended up going for close to $500. Turns out plenty of other people knew what Tekumel was!

17th – Funniest Game you’ve played: When Nicole and I used to attend DundraCon more regularly, we would play in Steve Long’s Special Violence Task Force game. The PCs were a group of especially violent law enforcement officers from various organizations who teamed up for ridiculous adventures. It was a hoot. This was technically a Hero System game but we barely even rolled dice.


Art of RPGs Gallery Show Looking for Artists!

Krab Jab

Last year I co-curated a show at Krab Jab Studio (my “office”) here in Seattle called The Art of RPGs. It featured a lot of great art and was our most popular show of 2012. This year we are doing it again. The basic info is below. We do an opening reception as part of the Georgetown Art Attack and artists are encouraged to attend if they are in the area. If you are an artist and you’d like to participate, drop me a line at pramas [at] gmail [diggity dot] com.

November 2013: The Art of Roleplaying Games

Description: Salon style exhibition of art from RPGs. Art must have been published in a game or a game periodical (such as Dragon magazine). Interiors and black/white work is acceptable. Digital work (in the form of giclee) is acceptable.

Confirmation Deadline: September 30th

Art Dropoff/Ship Deadline: November 4th

Curators: Julie Baroh and Chris Pramas

Dates: Opens November 9th, thru December 5th

Commission rate: 20%

Let me know if you have any questions. And feel free to share this info with any artists you know who might be interested. 

RPG Rarities and Author’s Copies Up for Auction

“One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”


The past few months have not been kind to our bank account. I have a bunch of medical bills (don’t worry, nothing serious) and our shitty insurance is covering nothing (what am I paying for again?). Then the water line to our refrigerator burst in the middle of the night and the subsequent flood destroyed the rug in our living room and we’re in the process of doing the floor over. I’m trying to offset these setbacks by selling a bunch of stuff of eBay. This first wave is RPG focused, but there will be more.

There are some genuine rarities here. I’ve copied over the auction descriptions here, along with direct links. If you want to see my seller’s page, you can find it here.

In the US I ship USPS Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation. For international buyers, I ship USPS Express Mail. I will combine shipping if you win more than one auction.

Blood of the Valiant (Ronin Publishing Edition)

Blood of the Valiant is the Guiding Hand sourcebook for the Feng Shui RPG, and it’s also a great background book for players of the Shadowfist TCG. This is the first RPG book I wrote all of and I released it through my first company, Ronin Publishing, under license from Daedalus Entertainment.

The book was later reprinted by Atlas Games but this is the original release and it comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

Blood of the Valiant (Atlas Games Edition)

Blood of the Valiant is the Guiding Hand sourcebook for the Feng Shui RPG, and it’s also a great background book for players of the Shadowfist TCG. This is the first RPG book I wrote all of and I released it through my first company, Ronin Publishing, under license from Daedalus Entertainment.

This is the later Atlas Games edition and it includes some extra material by Keith Baker. The book comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

Children of the Horned Rat (WFRP2)

Children of the Horned Rat is the Skaven sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition. To the best of my knowledge, it was only printed once and is thus increasingly hard to find.

I designed WFRP2E and wrote the adventure in this book. It comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

Dragonlance Fifth Age Pre-Press Copy

This auction is for a rare pre-press copy of the Dragonlance Fifth Age RPG. It’s a bound printout of the laid out book (without art) that was sent out to reviewers before the game was published. You can see on the pictures that it was printed out on May 2, 1996 at 3:54 pm. Only a handful were made, which makes this a great collector’s item for Dragonlance fans.

Dragonlance Heroes & Fools

This is a very rare misprint of the Dragonlance Heroes & Fools fiction anthology. Here’s the story.

When this book came out in 1999, I was working at Wizards of the Coast and my group was right next to the book department. When a new book came out, they’d usually swing by and drop one on everyone’s desk. I put mine in a drawer and then missed work the next day. While I was out, they came by to pick up all the copies. Turns out the whole first print run had a misprint on the final page. Worse, it was in Margaret Weis’ story!

As you can see in the pictures, somehow the last section of a previous story by Janet Pack was appended to the end of Margaret and Don Perrin’s story. The paragraph that begins, “Monster and Solamnic sprinted for the ruined weapon,” and everything after it is from the anthology’s first story and has no business being there.

Most of this print run was destroyed. Only a few fluke copies like mine still exist. This is a great item for Dragonlance collectors!

Dune RPG Limited Edition

Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium is the only RPG ever published based on Frank Herbert’s legendary scifi series of novels. Wizards of the Coast published it in the year 2000 in a limited run of only 3,000 copies. It has never been reprinted.

I was working at Wizards of the Coast at the time of publication and this is my personal copy.

Freeport Trilogy Original Modules

This is a complete set of the classic third edition D&D modules The Freeport Trilogy. They were some of the earliest releases for Green Ronin Publishing and the d20 System as a whole. The adventures are Death in Freeport, Terror in Freeport, and Madness in Freeport.

I wrote Death in Freeport and developed Terror and Madness. These modules come from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign them for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer them without my scrawl).

4E Freeport Companion

Freeport is a city that can be dropped into any fantasy campaign setting and it’s detailed in full in Green Ronin’s Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. Expeditious Retreat published this companion for use with 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons under license from Green Ronin. If you love 4E and Freeport, this book is for you!

I created Freeport and wrote some of the material that was adapted in this book. This copy comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

HARP Bundle

High Adventure Role Playing is a set of fantasy rules published by ICE in 2003 and descended from their Rolemaster RPG. This bundle includes the core rulebook, College of Magics, Martial Law, and Monsters: A Field Guide. Get everything you need to start a campaign in one go!

Hong Kong Action Theater, 2nd Edition

You are bidding on a copy of the Hong Kong Action Theater RPG. The publisher, Guardians of Order, went out of business several years so it’s becoming harder to find.

I wrote the lengthy history of Hong Kong cinema and the movie reviews. This book comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

The Jade Hare (D&D)

The Jade Hare is an extremely rare D&D module published in 1992. This short adventure was given away with orders from the TSR Mail Order Hobby Shop in 1992. Most, like this one, came without a cover (I have one with a cover but I’m not desperate enough to sell it yet!).

I got this when the remnants of TSR’s old legal archive were put into the company store at Wizards of the Coast 12 years ago. I was lucky enough to be working there at the time.

Liber Chaotica (Warhammer)

Liber Chaotic is the epic background book about Chaos in the Warhammer world. There were originally four separate books, one each for Khorne, Nugle, Slaanesh, Tzeentch. These were combined with a fifth book about Chaos Undivided and the Liber Chaotica is the result. This is the softcover edition, of which I believe there was only one printing.

Over the Edge RPG Bundle

Over the Edge is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so journey back to the 90s and see the original. This bundle includes 7 Over the Edge books: the core rulebook, Friend or Foe?, Weather the Cuckoo Likes, Player’s Survival Guide, Cloaks, Wildest Dreams, and the Myth of Self. Lose yourself or your mind on the island of Al Amarja!

Realms of Sorcery (WFRP2)

Realms of Sorcery is the magic sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition. To the best of my knowledge, it was only printed once and is thus increasingly hard to find.

I designed WFRP2E and co-wrote this book. It comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

Slavers (AD&D)

Slavers is the second edition AD&D sequel to the classic A1-A4 Slavelords modules of first edition. I wrote this with Sean K. Reynolds back in 1999 and it was one of the last releases for second edition.

This is one of my personal copies. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

 Wings of the Valkyrie (Champions)

Wings of the Valkyrie is the only Champions RPG release to ever be recalled by the publisher and is this quite rare. In the adventure, the PCs must go back in time to save Hitler and so preserve the timeline. This plot did not sit too well with many folks at the time, and this led to the recall.

This copy has never been opened and is in its original shrinkwrap. It comes from my personal collection.

Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards RPG Bundle

Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards is an acid trippy fantasy movie from 1977, but did you know it also had a roleplaying game from 1992? It’s true and you can get everything published for it in one go! You get the core rulebook, Scorch sourcebook, Montagar sourcebook, GM Screen, and Character Sheets.


The Art of RPGs: Curator’s Statement

This month and next at Krab Jab Studio we are featuring the Art of Roleplaying Games show that I curated with Julie Baroh. We had a great opening the weekend before GenCon and now on Thursday night we are doing another event. This one is a meet the artists mixer and it’s happening on the eve of the Penny Arcade Expo here in Seattle. Many of the artists whose work is in the show will be there, and there will be beer, wine, and snacks. For more details, see the Facebook event page.

Julie and I wrote curator’s statements for the show. For those of you who can’t make it down to Krab Jab, I thought I’d share mine here.

Curator’s Statement

From the beginning of published RPGs in the early 70s, art has played an important role. The words described the rules and evoked the worlds, but the art helped bring it all to life. I got into RPGs in 1979, when I was 10 years old. Certain pieces of art, like the cover of The Village of Hommlet and A Paladin in Hell in the AD&D Player’s Handbook, were burned into my brain forever. Later, I encountered artists whose work defined entire game lines, like P.D. Breeding-Black on Talislanta and Tony DiTerlizzi on Planescape.

In the early 90s I started my career in the game industry as a freelance writer. At first I had no say in the art that accompanied my writing. Then in 1995, when I was working on a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay book called Dying the Light for Hogshead Publishing, I got to write my first art order. It was exciting to conceive something in my mind and then see a talented artist interpret it in the final book. In my first company and then in the early days of Green Ronin Publishing, I had the chance to art direct many books and that was a new challenge. Not just writing the art orders, but recruiting artists and working with them to produce the final work gave me a true appreciation for the work that goes into a RPG book beyond the text. It also made me realize that while I could art direct a book, there were folks far better at it than I. That’s why I brought in Hal Mangold as a partner, and he has art directed and graphic designed almost every Green Ronin project for the last ten years.

When I joined Krab Jab in 2011, I was just looking for a co-working space to do my writing. I loved the idea of working in a creative space instead of a soulless cubicle. I wasn’t thinking in terms on curating a show, but one day I suggested to Julie Baroh that a show focused on RPG art would be awesome and we decided to curate it together. As far as I know, no one has attempted a gallery show like this before. The response from the artists and the public has been tremendous and I’m thrilled with how the show came together. We’ve got work from 30 years ago to today and from a wide variety of artists. Here’s the thing though: this show only scratches the surface of what’s been done in RPGs in the past four decades. RPG art has rarely appeared in galleries but I think the skill and imagination on display here make it clear that it should.

I hope you enjoy The Art of RPGs and get some of that inspiration I experienced as a 10 year old. Even more, I hope we get to do this again!

We Are 138!

It is common practice for writers and game designers to put Easter eggs into their work. They are often targeted at super fans, whose deep knowledge of the topic at hand lets them get the joke. I did this somewhat frequently in my early days as a freelance writer, except I put in things simply to amuse myself. In particular, I put punk references into my game writing with the full knowledge that few, if any, readers would get it.

“We Are 138” is a case in point. In 1996 I wrote an scenario for the Feng Shui RPG (and no, non-gaming friends, this was not a game about furniture arrangement, but Hong Kong action movies) that appeared in the book Marked for Death*. In the adventure the PCs go to the dystopian future controlled by the Architects of the Flesh and visit a town called Pride 138. They witness a legion of school children in matching uniforms marching down the street chanting, “We are 138! We are 138!” The adventure explains the town’s curious name:

“If anyone asks about the origin of Pride 138’s name, Footen tells them it’s a product of one of the Buro’s less successful campaigns. They sought to increase civic pride by naming new towns in rural areas Pride; needless to say, by the time they hit the 138th town named Pride, the campaign lost its novelty.”

“We Are 138” is, of course, a song by The Misfits, possibly inspired by the movie THX 1138. The old Misfits tunes are pretty well-known these days, but even so I never had anyone tell me they got the reference in that adventure. Same for most of my Easter Eggs, with the notable exception of the cloud giant pimp named Dolemite I put in the AD&D supplement Vortex of Madness. No one ever figured out that Krokus Behemoth, the ormyrr watch captain in the City of Glass from that same book, was a reference to the early stage name (Crocus Behemoth) of Dave Thomas of Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu.

The funny thing about Marked for Death now is that I can’t actually remember which came first, the idea of using the song in an adventure or the idea of the Buro naming hundreds of towns Pride. Since the ill-conceived propaganda campaign works whether you get the reference or not, I suppose it doesn’t even matter. 16 years later I am still amused.

* I pulled down Marked for Death when writing this to get the proper quote. I hadn’t looked at for ages and thought, “Damn, that’s a sweet cover. I checked the credits, only to discover that the art was done by my Krab Jab studio mate, Mark Tedin. Funny!

Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 2

Once again, this post contains spoilers for Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh. Stop reading now if you intend to play it one day.

When last we left our trio of adventurers, they had braved the dilapidated mansion of the “Mad Alchemist”, discovered it was not actually haunted, and smashed the smuggling ring they found operating in the caves beneath it. I picked things up a few days later, assuming they had spent that time selling their loot in Saltmarsh and turning that into coin. I had prepared a few rumors for them to pick up around town and passed those on.

Then two men came to see them at their inn. One was an older cleric of Pelor and the other a young man with a freshly shaved head and the robes of an acolyte. The latter turned out to be Jebbric, the smuggler they had shown mercy to back in the caves. He took the whole going straight thing seriously and went off to join the Church of Pelor. The older cleric had brought him to the inn so he could pass on some information about the smuggling ring and so fully repudiate his former life. He told them the smugglers were expecting a ship to come in just a couple of days. If they wanted to finish the job of destroying the smuggling ring, they’d want to take care of the ship. Kate thought to ask about the handout from the caves, so Jebbric explained the signaling system the smugglers used. This proved useful later.

I had given them two days so they could make any preparations they might need. The girls seemed pretty unconcerned about attacking a smuggling ship, so rather than prepare, they started chasing down the rumors they had learned. They visited a park and discovered that indeed frogs were croaking in unison in the middle of the night. They talked to some folks about a rash of burglaries that some blamed on Seaton refugees and others on the famous Keoland thief known as the Scarlet Thorn. Finally they went to see the city council and apprise them of the situation. It was agreed that two excisemen from Saltmarsh would answer the signals from the ship and begin to row out. Meanwhile, the adventurers would approach from the opposite side in another boat and board while the smugglers were distracted.

The plan worked out well. Kate slipped onboard first, backstabbing and killing the guard on the forecastle. Then Nicole’s plate armored paladin made too much noise jumping down to the main deck and the alarm was sounded. The NPC cleric took care of the smuggler in the crow’s nest with a well-chosen command spell (“Jump!”). Nicole assaulted the bosun, killing him and sending his body over the rail into the briny deep. Kate had a long duel with the ship’s captain but poor rolls kept her from prevailing. The paladin finally came to her aid and dealt the finishing blow. Kate was not only annoyed at the kill stealing, but also that the bosun had gone over the side before she could loot the body. She asserted that the treasure so lost was coming out of Nicole’s share, which cracked me up.

Descending into deeper into the ship they discovered three smugglers and a wizard playing cards. They should have come up on deck when they heard the fighting, but I totally forgot to do that so I decided that they were a little drunk and too into their card game to investigate the noises above. When I mentioned that one of the card players was a wizard, Kate went nuts. “I dive across the table and stab him!” she exclaimed. They won initiative, so this she did, hitting the wizard with both her weapons. The poor bastard only had 8 hp to start with so she nailed him to his chair before he had a chance to get up, never mind cast a spell. Two smugglers went down the same round and the last surrendered.

Down in the hold they encountered three lizardmen and dispatched them in a few rounds. Then they discovered three things: a pseudodragon in a cage, an aquatic elf chained up in a tiny room, and a cache of weapons that were being smuggled to a lizardman settlement. The pseudodragon is in the module and as it was total Kate bait, I let her bond with it. Their party can certainly use the help. The aquatic elf, Oceanus, explained that he was captured while investigating the connection between the smugglers and the lizardmen. He then agreed to come with them to Saltmarsh and talk to the town council.

We ended the session there. Next time they have to dicker with the council about the fate of the ship they captured, and then decide on a course of action. Are the lizardmen a threat to Saltmash? If so, what’s to be done about it? And what’s up with those frogs in the park? And is the notorious Scarlet Thorn really in Saltmarsh?