Whispers from the Wizard’s Tower – March 2024

I just skimmed the February newsletter and I’m genuinely surprised by how little of interest has happened since February 27. On the other hand, I feel that I say this on the regular and still wind up cranking out a thousand words of nonsense. Let’s see how we fare this time, eh?


A smattering of new MAHG reviews. Tabletop Spirit Magazine has one. Chaosium also posted about it on their socials (less a review and more a repurposing for marketing, but I always enjoy it when they do that). I think perhaps because of that, Paul Maclean over at Yog-Sothoth.com will be showcasing the book in the near future, which is neat. I’ll let you know when that happens, of course. Meanwhile, Arthur Boff just the other day posted a very deep dive on the book, “Horvath’s Hoard,” which was extremely interesting and entertaining. I kept reading and it kept going and going and on a certain level I can’t comprehend someone wanting to write about my book for so long.

The arebyte symposium seemed quite cool and interesting. I wish I had been able to make it in person, though I don’t know if that would have made the part where I had to talk more or less nerve-wracking. Jamie Sutcliffe of Strange Attractor, my interlocutor, insists my bit was great, and I suppose I have to trust him. All the talks were recorded, but as of yet, they have not surfaced online. I’ll let you know when they do. In the meantime, Dirk the Dice posted a lovely account of his experience at the show, which features an awful lot of me for some reason. Also, David Blandy, who co-organized the event with Jamie, later saw MAHG prominently displayed in a shop window in Copenhagen. I wonder if I’ll ever get tired of seeing that sort of thing. Not likely, I think.

An RPG Ancestor?

When the family and I went to St. Thomas, I started reading Treasure Island to the kid, because, well, islands. I don’t think I’ve ever read it (despite having N. C. Wyeth’s painting of Blind Pew hanging in the house since forever), but through a quirk of the novel’s long cultural shadow, I feel like I have. And yet, we’re three chapters from the end and I have no idea what is going to happen to Long John Silver and I am kind of dying to find out. Is he going to get cut down by the pirates he has both lead and betrayed seemingly over and over again? Brought back to England to hang? Escape with the gold? He’s a delightful, slippery character on the page and I will be a little surprised if Stevenson would let him suffer a sordid end, despite probably deserving one.

Anyway, Treasure Island is not a book that I would pick as a key influence for D&D and other RPGs, but then I never claimed to be a smart man. This book is probably the cornerstone of all adventure fiction? It meanders a bit, and the dialogue is tricky to follow sometimes, but for the most part, the basic beats are laid out right there—night fights on the streets, island exploration, a treasure map, I expect some traps are imminent as they close in on the treasure itself. There aren’t any monsters, but you can sure see where there could have been. And are, sort of; there is one section where Jim “beheld huge slimy monsters—soft snails, as it were, of incredible bigness—two or three score of them together, making the rocks to echo with their barkings.” They turn out to be sea lions, but it felt for a moment as if I was segueing into one of William Hope Hodgson’s nautical horrors.

Worth checking out, especially if you can get a copy with Wyeth’s paintings. This Stevenson fellow’s got a future in writing yarns, I think.

Weird Entanglements

One of the best things about my wife Daisy is that she doesn’t care about any of this nerd stuff I am into. She’s got her own stuff, I’ve got mine. It makes for good conversation. But sometimes, the twain meet and when it does, it’s always bizarre. It happened twice this month.

First, I was looking around for a publication date on a book by August Derleth. He’s the guy who ran Arkham House publishing and is, in the great scheme of things, probably the reason you know who H. P. Lovecraft is (though his glomming of Lovecraft’s literary estate was a dubious maneuver). Most folks know him in that context, or more broadly as a writer of pulp or horror, or even as a historian of Wisconsin. He wrote tons of books (a volume produced through Arkham House, delightfully arrogantly, is an index of his books, called 100 Books by August Derleth, though I believe Donald Wandrei edited it). So, as I said, I was looking for the date of publication for one of those many books on the internet and came across Saint Ignatius (1956), a young readers biography of the founder of the Jesuits, written by none other than Augie. Far, far outside what I expect for his wheelhouse. I immediately purchased a copy for Daisy, because she works at a Jesuit university and is rather keen on the Jesuits generally and Ignatius specifically. How odd though!

Second, I bought The Fantastic Art of Timothy Truman (2021) the other day because, well, the guy designed Evil Fighter, AKA Warduke. And illustrated the Landsdale Jonah Hex series. And Conan, and a bunch of other stuff. What I did not know is that he did a ton of art for the Grateful Dead—gig posters, album art and, most importantly, comic book adaptations of their songs. I can’t stand the Dead, but Daisy loves ‘em. What’s more, her older sister had some of the comics, including Truman’s—it was through those comics that Daisy found her deeper appreciation for the Dead that continues to this day. Her turn to trawl eBay for nostalgia hits from her youth. Fucking WILD.

Stu Horvath, Miniature Detective

DKF Rohirrim

Almost forgot to include this curious turn of events. Last week, Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys, Kavalier & Clay) DMed me (that right there is surreal enough, probably).

A Heritage Rohirrim

It seems he had spent the previous few days searching Google and eBay, looking for miniatures he remembered seeing at the Potowmack Toy Shop in Columbia, Maryland, when he was a kid. They were Riders of Rohan, on stocky Clydesdale-sort of horses, and this was the mid-to-late ’70s (he got his first set of D&D books at the shop, and remembers a time when Chainmail was all there was). I tracked down some likelies—I thought for sure the Heritage line for the Bakshi film license were the ones, they have big chunky hooves, but the best bet seems to be the Rohirrim from a bootleg Lord of the Rings line made by Der Kriegspielers Fantastiques (and subsequently produced by Heritage Models after the two companies merged). Even those didn’t line up exactly with Chabon’s recollection—he said seeing the photos was like waking up from a dream. I feel like that is the way of these deep memory journeys a lot of the time. At that point, Chabon got distracted—he found Heritage’s line of John Carter Martian miniatures, which he had never seen before and pretty much instantly fell in love with, as one does. I mentioned that the Mars line had a crappy RPG, which had followed Heritage’s crappy Star Trek RPG, which also had a line of miniatures (Chabon said, “I would have loved to be horribly disappointed by a Star Trek RPG” in reaction to this breaking news). A couple minutes later, he found Heritage’s Kzin miniatures for the Star Trek line.

I identify with the Kzin on the left’s energy.

Now it was my turn to learn something! The Kzin are a species of bipedal cat people from Larry Niven’s Known Universe—I know the Kzin primarily through Speaker-to-Animals, who features in Ringworld, the only Niven fiction I’ve read, but there is a whole Thieves’ World-style shared universe anthology series about the Man-Kzin Wars. They’re a big deal in Niven’s universe. Which is why I was delighted to learn that Niven lent them to the Star Trek universe when he wrote “The Slaver Weapon” for Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973. Imagine a time when cross-pollenating IPs like that was no big deal, where canon probably didn’t even rate a second thought. Delightful.

The Kzin weren’t mentioned again directly for decades, though there were hints about their presence in the Federation here and there. And here’s the really interesting bit: Chabon says it was himself who convinced Niven to let Trek mention them again—first in passing an episode of Picard, then with a Kzin crewmember in Lower Decks! “My proudest professional achievement,” says Chabon. Seems like a solid fella.

And There You Have It

One thousand five hundred and thirteen words.

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