Saturday, 18 February 2017

Victory's Knife by Joseph A. McCullough

The tales of the Endless Isles are filled with piracy, war, horror and heroism. Containing the swashbuckling adventures of Stevan the Targeteer, the wanderings of the grim gunfighter, Bowis de Lleiva, and the darkly humorous accounts of the mysterious gravedigger, Nick Bury, Victory's Knife collects the folklore of a lost world.

Written over a period of twenty years by Joseph A. McCullough, the designer of the award-winning tabletop wargame, Frostgrave, and the soon-to-be released Ghost Archipelago, this anthology brings together his most popular fantasy short stories.

* * * 

And with those words, I am launching my first, self-published ebook! Victory's Knife will be appearing on Amazon, Itunes, and all of the regular ebook places over the next week, selling for $5. However, I wanted to give my loyal blog readers a chance to get the book first and to get a little discount.

So, if you are interested in getting a copy, just send $4.00 to paypal: and specify if you want the PDF, ePUB, or Kindlie (mobi) file. I will then email the file to you. I am doing all of this manually, so there will be a delay between when you order and when I get a chance to send you the book, but hopefully it shouldn't be long.

Victory's Knife contains 17 short stories, most of which first saw publication in various magazines and 'zines over the years, although a couple appear here for the first time. In fact, you can read the shortest piece in the book on my blog here.

I would also like to take a moment to thank my friend, Steven Meyer-Rassow who designed the cover. He took my vague explanation of what I wanted and made it beautiful!

I will, of course, be talking more about the book over the coming days, but for anyone who wants to get it now, and save a buck, here's the chance. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Ring Them Bells

In parts of Spain and France, people used to leap out of cathedral bell towers with the bell cords tied around their wrists and trust to the momentum of the ringing bells to pull them back in.

How's that for an attention-grabbing first line?

I recently finished reading The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland. Back in the early 1930's the book was a best-seller in Britain; now it is almost completely forgotten. Essentially it is the autobiography of the first half of Sutherland's life, and although he isn't particularly famous, he did lead an interesting and adventurous life. He grew up in the Highlands amidst a culture that freely mixed superstition with Calvinism. He went to medical school at a time when he had to capture stray cats to practice anatomy. He voyaged with a whaling ship, first practised medicine in Spain where he 'attempted' bull-fighting, he dabbled in the stock market, served on an armed merchantman in World War I, and then returned to Britain to run a mental hospital. 

The book is written in a refreshingly honest and open style, and it is loaded with interesting details (Who knew that whale bones were used to make fake feathers as far back as the fourteenth century? You didn't think those were actual feathers on knight's helmets did you?).

One note, particularly, caught my eye. While travelling in Spain, Halliday went to Seville, where he witnessed a group of bell ringers leaping out of the top of the cathedral bell tower and swinging around on the bell ropes. This bell tower was nearly 300 feet above the ground!

I must admit, I'd never heard of anything like this, and it seemed to stretch credibility a bit. I did a quick internet search, but couldn't find anything on it. Still curious, I dropped an email to an acquaintance of mine who happens to live in Seville, the talented artist who goes by the name aRu-Mor. She explained that she wasn't native to Seville and was unaware of the tradition, but that she had heard of a group of acrobatic bell-rings in a nearby city. She did a bit of asking around and discovered a couple of amazing things. The first is the video below. Okay, they don't actually leap out of the tower, but they do leap up onto the bell and lean out of the tower! (Skip to about 4:50 to see the move).

Pretty amazing, but not quite proof. However, Ru-Mor also pointed me to this Spanish blog which looks into the question. It includes these rather amazing little pieces of art that come from near the beginning of the twentieth century.

That's got me pretty well convinced. As it turns out, I once wrote a fantasy short story in which the ringing of 'Spanish Bells' played a very big roll. More on that soon...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Adepticon Bound

Just a quick note to say that near the end of March, I will be heading for Chicago for Adepticon. Not only is Adepticon one of most enjoyable miniature shows I have ever attended, but this year, I will be helping to host a special Frostgrave Campaign Day. I'm especially excited because Ash Barker, of Guerrilla Minaiture Games, is going to be running the event.

I have written three special scenarios for the campaign day, and everyone who participates in the campaign will be given a special 'Event Scenario Pack' containing these exclusive scenarios.

There are still some places left in the event, but they will almost certainly fill up, so register now if you want to be sure to take part. Just click on this link, and type in Frostgrave to find the event.

So, if you are headed to Adepticon, and you really should if you can, please come by and say 'hi'. I will either be hanging out at the Osprey Games stand or at one of the several Frostgrave events that are running over the weekend.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Barbarian Hack

The problem with being a Renaissance Troll is that I am very easily distracted. A few months ago, while I was really supposed to be working on something else, I instead designed a quick-play, solo, dice-based, board game which I called 'Barbarian Hack'. The premise is the player is a barbarian who has a few turns to kill off all the monsters and rescue the prisoner. A game takes about 2 to 3 minutes to play.

I liked it, but it was such a small affair in terms of scope and rules I wasn't sure what to do with it. However, I spoke to the new editor over at Tabletop Gaming Magazine, and he was keen to have a look. Well, some months later, and I am a published board game designer!

So if you fancy giving Barbarian Hack a try, pick up an copy of Tabletop Gaming Magazine Issue 8, grab a couple of six-sided dice and some coins or figures, and you are ready to go!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

The Marian Conspiracy is a beautiful example of the 'heart' that has kept Doctor Who relevant and popular for over fifty years.

Despite being the sixth instalment in Big Finish Productions Doctor Who Audio series, and the second to feature Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor, it is really a new beginning. For one thing, it goes back to the series' roots with a solid, historical adventure, designed to both entertain and educate. For another, it introduces a brand-new companion, the history professor, Dr. Evelyn Smythe (played by Maggie Stables), who will go on to be one of the best companions in the histor of the series. One of the mistakes of Colin Baker's short television run was the companions he was paired with, both of which tended to accentuate his worst traits. Dr. Evelyn Smythe, an older, more experienced, and wiser companion than almost any seen in the series before helps bring the Sixth Doctor down to a more human level. 

And that is the real key here. With this story, there is significant shift in how Colin Baker plays his Doctor. Yes, he's often still arrogant, bombastic, and egotistical, but these come only as little flashes now and then. Instead, it feels as though he has 'grown up'. He's a little wearier, a lot more introspective, but most of all, he has a lot more heart. 

In truth, The Marian Conspiracy is a bit short on plot. When you boil it all down, not a lot actually happens over the space of four episodes, and yet the listener is pulled along anyway. It is the setting that shines here. Tudor England, in the midst of its horrific religious upheavals is a wonderful, if challenging, place to set a Doctor Who. The writer, Jacqueline Rayner, doesn't pull in punches in presenting the setting, but nor does she (or, more importantly, The Doctor) take sides. The Doctor never supports cruelty, but nor is he quick to judge either. He knows how history must play out, and he is sympathetic to its actors...however, being the Doctor, he will occasionally go a bit off the script of time, just a bit around the edges, if it means saving a life or two...

So, if you've ever thought diving in to the Doctor Who Audio Adventure Range, this is a good place to start. Also, it is such an old one now that you can download it from Big Finish for a mere £2.99. It's good value entertainment.

As another reviewer said, 'Practically faultless, the one reason this isn't getting full marks is that Evelyn's adventures get even better later'

Friday, 27 January 2017

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago Cover

Today I am allowed to show off the cover for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago! Once again, the artwork comes from the talented Dmitry Burmak, who did all of the artwork in the original Frostgrave book. For this project, he is being joined by his wife, Kate.

So, in the centre, you've got the Heritor. Heritor's are the protagonists in the game. To his right, is his warden, in this case a 'Wind Warden', who not only helps him in battle, but is crucial to his hopes of navigating the Lost Isles. Unfortunately for the pair, they've managed to venture into the territory of some snake-men who are pretty famous for their dislike of visitors...

One other piece of news that I'm allowed to reveal, Osprey Games and North Star Military Figures are once again working together to produce miniatures for the game. This will include a plastic box set of 'crew' figures that will make up the bulk of the Heritor's crew. This will hopefully be released at the same time as the book, in September.

More info coming soon...

Or see my previous post on Ghost Archipelago if you have no idea what I'm talking about! 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why to Read?

According to my parents, I was not a child that took to reading. They tried a lot of tactics to get me interested in books, before finally finding some success with comic books. Even then, I have remained a slow reader, who occasionally struggles with word order and spellings. However, what I have lacked in natural speed, I have made up for with determination, and now I list reading as my favoured pastime.

Lately though, I have been dissatisfied with my reading. Too often, I think, I have picked up books because they just happened to be in front of me, or because, in my laziness, I fell back upon some comfortable genre, instead of choosing my books with careful intelligence.  Lately, I have found no challenge in the books I’ve read.

I had been having these thoughts a lot as last year came to an end. Then, by happenstance, I found myself in a small charity bookshop in my wife’s hometown. Upon the shelf, I saw a small red volume entitled Sesame and Lillies by John Ruskin. I knew of Ruskin more by reputation than acquaintance, having read only a single lecture by him, but I find him an intriguing figure. He spoke a lot about art and its relationship to society.

One of the interesting things about buying really old books is that they do not have blurbs. This book was old enough that it contained no information at all on when it was printed. So, knowing nothing but the author, I turned over £1 to the man at the counter and took my new book home. 

It is by sheer coincidence that the first two lectures (of the three in the book) are about ‘what to read’. In truth, that topic is just a launching point to wander over a variety of ideas, but it still struck me as a very strange coincidence.

At the same time I had been considering my reading, I had also been considering starting a ‘Commonplace Book’, that is my own collection of wisdom that I have gleaned from books. So, I began my commonplace book with some quotes I found in Ruskin. I will share a couple here, on the subject of reading:

No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he needs in an armoury, or a housewife bring the spice she needs from her store.

That to use books rightly, was to go to them for help: to appeal to them, when our knowledge and power of thought failed; to be led by them into the wider sight, purer conception than our own and receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinion.

So, my goal for this year is to challenge myself with my reading, to actively seek out books that contain wisdom or that will challenge my thinking. I will still read science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction, but only if I have strong reason to believe those works to be above average (why bother reading the average?). We shall see how I get on.