Review: Clavis Goetica

I’m going to leap in the review queue slightly to handle a book sent to me for review: Clavis Goêtica: Keys to Chthonic Sorcery, by Frater Acher and José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal and published by Hadean. This is a review of the hardback, which is currently unavailable but will be re-released this summer. The softcover is currently available.

Frater Acher begins with a discussion of the significance and history of the concept of goetia, or “goeteia,” dealing with its roots in the Greek practice of the itinerant magicians and the goetes. He follows this with a mythic narrative of the interactions between the Idaean Dactyls, spirits and magicians responsible for teaching the civilized arts, the profundity and uncontrolled immensity of the Earth Mother. He then relates this to the appropriation of this energy by ritual magic practitioners, with the goetes serving as a bridge between the boundary-setting magicians and the primordial forces.

I respect the desire to innovate in magical practice, yet it should be said that some historians, including some whom Frater Acher quotes, would disagree with some of his points, including his characterization of “goeteia” as something of a floating term which did not necessarily point to a particular practice. Likewise, one might accept that the core of the practice described here is in personal spiritual gnosis, not in books – but we should also note Plato’s report of itinerant practitioners dealing with souls of the dead utilizing books attributed to Orpheus and Musaeus. None of this stands in the way of a basis of practice, but I’d suggest reading the works Frater Acher cites in this section if you want to get a better handle of the history.

Frater Acher touches on his modern practice of spirit contact within a cave in the Alps – although the spirits have not granted permission to share more than one early operation. He then turns to a discussion of those seeking interactions with spirits in medieval history, including one account from Cesarius of Heisterbach circa 1200, another attributed to the sixteenth-century Christian mystic Johannes Beer, and the Norse tradition of “sitting out” to contact spirits.

The centerpiece of the book, at least from my perspective, is the translation of the brief “Ars Phythonica” text from the Leipzig magical library, which provides two . Frater Acher postulates convincingly that the title is a corruption of “Ars Pythonica,” linking the text back to earlier traditions of female mediumship. He then proceeds to discuss various traditions of the use of skulls for the purposes of divination, ranging from the PGM to the Hygromanteia.

I think much of the material here is intriguing, and it might be worth pursing an expansion on both the seeking out of chthonic spirits and the use of skulls in magic. For example, Scurlock’s Magical Means of Dealing with Ghosts in Ancient Mesopotamia provides rituals for pitting the spirit of a skull against another for protective purposes. Another source not mentioned here is the Picatrix, which includes procedures similar to the folktale of the Maharil he describes.

Frater Acher concludes his analysis by highlighting one particular aspect of the Ars Phythonica:

…the first version further breaks down traditional magical patterns by actively calling upon the help of both celestial and chthonic hierarchies in a single conjuration… Such a deeply pragmatic approach – transcending the traditional polarity between theurgy and goêteia – highlights the essentially shamanic nature of this ritual… Such striking boldness and independence of spirit was just as rare during late medieval times as unfortunately remains today. (p. 125)

So, I was able to come up with three examples of mingled “celestial-chthonic” incantations from The Book of Oberon alone within ten minutes. It’s not necessarily common in rituals, but it’s not unheard of, and I don’t think Oberon is outstanding in this regard.

Overall, I’d be cautious about Frater Acher’s statements about what is “traditional” – traditional for whom? – or what is “shamanic,” or why we should necessarily put those two things in opposition. These labels say a great deal more about how contemporary authors and practitioners view medieval and early modern ritual magic, not to mention other spiritual tradtions, than its source material, which is weird and wonderful stuff filled with patterns that can be broken in exciting ways. Although I wouldn’t rule out that there are norms that some texts might transgress, I think that a broader look at the corpus would be necessary to make any sort of definitive statement along those lines. 

The book ends with an afterward from Sabogal, whose art graces much of this book. Sabogal discusses the magical significance of the head throughout history and in the context of his own art and experience, which ties the work together nicely. The book ends with a bibliiography but no index.

Overall, my reaction to the book is positive. I always welcome an edition of a hitherto-unpublished magical text, and the historical material is intriguing and worthy of further exploration. My concerns arise from the work’s engagement with mythmaking in ways that may be important for creation of magical mindsets but present debatable interpretations of the evidence. Even if that last sentence bothers you, however, I think it’s a worth seeking out and reading.

Published in: on June 5, 2021 at 10:50 am  Comments (2)  

Vaccinated, Kickstarter Non-Starter, Paper Given, Medieval Exorcism, Book Received, Dungeon Crawl Classic Thoughts, More

Above illustration from Paul Huson’s Liber Spirituum, now available here.

I’m now fully vaccinated, having spent two days after the second Moderna shot squirreled away watching a Rocky marathon. It did turn out to be more inspirational and interesting than I had thought it would be.

A little while ago, we had an interesting Kickstarter for a “Hastur Tarot Deck.” The project was fully-funded and featured full colour art for a Tarot deck based on the one that John Tynes and I wrote up for Delta Green: Countdown two decades ago. Trouble was, the publisher hadn’t checked with John or I or Arc Dream, who own the rights. Shortly after someone contacted the Kickstarter to point this out, the whole affair was shut down due to “personal issues.” I believe an official release will be Kickstarted later this year, so Mythos fans should have something to which to look forward.

I’ve been holed up at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, where I gave a talk on saints being conjured – mostly Saint Helen and Saint George, with a side note on the St. Christopher prayer. My thanks to the organizers, and I hope to present again in subsequent years.

In preparation for the paper, the introduction to Florence Chave-Mahir and Julien Véronèse’s Ritual d’exorcisme ou manuel de magie?, a publication of one of the first known exorcistic manuals, dating to the early fifteenth century, that includes sections that are very much in the model of what most readers would typically call “incantations.”

Volume 2 of Golden Hoard’s Ars Notoria seems to be in shipping limbo of some sort, with Amazon asking me to approve the order. I’ve heard that this is only temporary, so there’s no need to worry.

I’ve also received John R. King IV’s new book The Faculty of Abrac, which I believe is a review copy that I will not have time to review. If I were to tell the author something helpful, it would be that an index or more detailed table of contents would probably inspire people, including me, to find the text more accessible.

My quarantine Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign is moving toward its conclusion. It is a fun game, although I feel that around level 5 (which might map roughly to 9-10 in other editions) the whole thing starts to break down, as the truly insane combat-ending spell results become commonplace. I’d suggest that anyone running it also insert a “save on a natural 20” roll, to balance out magicians rolling save difficulties that no one can ever beat.

Our Pendragon game continues well into the Anarchy era. Apparently there are plans afoot for an expanded three-volume version of the Great Pendragon Campaign, but that might be some time away.

Published in: on May 13, 2021 at 1:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Review – Black Letter Press Petit Albert

Today I’ll be reviewing the Petit Albert as issued by Black Letter Press and translated by Paul Summers Young. For a caveat on Young, see this post. The two other editions above are the Ouroboros Press edition (purchase link, review), and the Spellbook of Marie Laveau from Hadean (now OOP, review here).

I’m not going to spend too much time on the significance of the Petit Albert – you can check out my writeup at the last link. Also, what follows is not a systematic read of each recipe in each book. Rather, I covered the magical sections of the Black Letter Press edition – I assume you didn’t want the soap recipes – and also dipped into the material from the Hadean and Ouroboros editions, the French edition dated 1752, and some entries from the Trésor de la langue française informatisé from time to time as I went. Much of what I have to say would be superseded by a fluent bilingual reviewer.

The book itself- visible at the upper left above – is quite an attractive book, with its bright blue binding, gold foil pentacle, and cloth bookmark. I’m not sure if I’m fond of the black on dark blue color scheme myself, especially with regard to the spine. Perhaps making more use of brighter cloth colors or gold or silver lettering might be considered for future releases?

Young’s translation covers essentially the same material as in the other two translations. I did notice more problems with the omission of certain passages, and I wanted to quickly address what I think is going on here. It doesn’t happen often, so I don’t see it as a deliberate effort to cut material for space. Rather, it seems that Mr. Young’s translation technique occasionally overlooks a passage and doesn’t catch it later on. I think it would be an easy fix.

I left my last review of the Ouroboros / Hadean editions without any strong feelings one way or another – and I’m in the same place right now. I think the Hadean’s footnotes on the word choices put it slightly ahead, and the Black Letter edition’s occasional omissions slightly behind, but neither are major factors. There’s still an opportunity here for an English translation that takes quality up another notch, and I look forward to it appearing someday.

Published in: on March 30, 2021 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – The Magic of Rogues

Penn State University Press has recently supplemented its excellent Magic in History series with a Magic in History Sourcebooks series, dedicated to publishing primary texts on magic in relatively cheap editions. (This is somewhat confusing, as texts published in the long-standing main series might also fall under that format.) The first work in the series that provides ritual magic texts is Frank Klaassen and Sharon Hubbs Wright’s The Magic of Rogues. It won’t be released in print until April 15, but the electronic version has been out for at least a month. I wish I’d known about it when finishing up my last article.

This relatively short work provides two early sixteenth-century case studies of magicians who ran afoul of legal troubles. The first deals with the Worcestershire nobleman William Neville, who consulted numerous cunning folk in order to gain influence over powerful people and determine whether he would gain his father’s lands. The second concerns a conspiracy of local clergy and secular individuals to treasure hunt near Mixindale. As can be expected, neither of these went well – although those new to the material might be surprised at how light the penalties were and how little interest the authorities had in pursuing their investigations beyond the immediate situation.

For both such cases, Klaassen and Wright provide both legal and magical documentation. The legal documents include the indictments and the testimony of multiple individuals for each of the cases. Following these are segments from magical texts that cover operations with similar purposes. It would be better to magical texts used by the participants, but it’s rare to find anything like this in Britain, in my experience. Both include translations from the Latin (although the Latin itself is not provided), with modernized spelling and some changes to wording for modern sensibilities. The latter can be questionable sometimes, but in this case, each instance is footnoted, and I completely agree with each one of these editorial insertions.

I’m not the best person to comment on the magical texts, as much of the material for the second part comes from Bodleian e Mus. 173, which I published as Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits. What appears here are not so much entire manuscripts as illustrative examples of particular aspects of magical practice. Your tastes may vary, but what I found of interest are instructions for the creation of talismans of Jupiter, with a list of several usages for different purposes, and a fifteenth-century procedure for calling up the four demonic kings. Another reader might find some answers here. The presentation is excellent and thorough – I can see the solution to at least one unresolved question from my own text – and the editors have even made sure to include the illustrations, which other editors might pass over.

I do have a few small quibbles with the text. For starters, Folger V.b.26 is repeatedly referred to as V.b.28. Also, at one point Oberion is referred to as a “demon.” This is not always the case; I have instances in which Oberion is referred to as a spirit, a fairy, or an angel, but not as a demon, save in the legal articles of accusations against Sir James Richardson presented here. (In fact, the term “demon” is little used in the material I’m examining at all, with the more neutral term “spirit” being preferred.) This is largely a question of interpretation rather than fact, however.

This text admirably succeeds in its task of providing a window for non-specialists into primary texts detailing the lives of early sixteenth-century necromancers and their practice. As for those who want magical texts, this does not include a large number, but the texts chosen are of interest and probably worth it for the price.

Published in: on March 13, 2021 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review – A Modern User’s Guide to the Black Pullet

Newcomb Black Pullet

You all probably thought I’d never get around to this, did you? Indeed, Papers is a blog of its word, even if that word is spoken many months away from the deed.

I’ve dealt with the Poule Noire, or the Black Pullet in previous posts, including recently posting a review of the Black Letter Press edition. (If you aren’t familiar with the original, I’d suggest reading the background there first.) Now we have A Modern User’s Guide to The Black Pullet from Jason Augustus Newcomb, who has written several books dealing with magic which I cannot say I have read. The book was originally funded through an Indiegogo page, where it did not fund completely but seems to have been delivered nonetheless. The work is not available on his website, although one can find many of the talismans and a circle intended for use with it.

This paperback volume – apparently the Indiegogo featured a limited-edition color hardcover – includes a lengthy section on the Black Pullet‘s history and methods for magicians to work with it, followed by a new translation of the work from the French. The whole is rounded out with five appendices providing various ancillary materials. It does not include an original French text, a bibliography, an index, or (oddly) pages that are numbered on both sides, but it does include a good number of footnotes.

The first section of the book is over seventy pages, which might have been better served broken up into short chapters. Most of this part is dedicated to considerations regarding performing ceremonial or ritual magic in general and the Black Pullet’s operations in particular. It’s likely most of this will be familiar to the book’s intended audience, but I’m not always the best judge of such things. To his credit, Newcomb does observe that it’s difficult for a modern magician to enter into the mental mindset of a person from centuries ago, which is an important point when approaching such books.

Within Newcomb’s system, ritual magic consists of ten fundamental steps, starting with preliminary procedures and ending with the license to depart. Newcomb is aware that the Black Pullet does not include all of these, and indeed many magical texts do not, which he says is “either because they wish to veil the information from the reader or more often, because they assume the reader is already well versed in the correct procedures” (p. 16) He passed over the other possibility: that some of these are not included because they were not followed. For example, Step 8, “Testing the Spirit,” is present in Dee and Gilbert’s diaries, but it’s largely lacking from most grimoires – and it would be the sort of process that would impel magicians to write down various tactics and tricks if it was a common concern. I’m not going to tell practitioners not to take such steps if they think they’re vital to the practice, of course.

Newcomb also deals with the history of the various versions of the Black Pullet that have appeared, including the Poule Noire, Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides, Le Génie et le Vieillard des Pyramides, and another short text entitled Poule Noire that usually accompanies the Veritable Dragon Rouge. His case, that the Poule Noire is the original text from which the others are derived, is a plausible one. I would be more cautious than Newcomb in insisting on the importance of original publication dates, in a genre for which manuscripts and ephemeral publications have been so important. Newcomb observes that many of the talismans from the Trésor are taken freely from a published 1750 Clavis, and I’d have liked to see an analysis of the possible origins of the Poule Noire talismans as well. Nonetheless, it’s a starting point for future explorations.

After this lengthy section comes the translation itself. It seems fine and unremarkable to me – save for a curious decision about translation regarding the spirits our magician commands, translating them as “jinni.” Why?

I translate the French word génie almost exclusively as “jinni” in these pages simply because I believe it is the word least likely to cause confusion, and it fits with the Middle-Eastern tone of this work… (p. 17)

…throughout this work I am generally going to use the word “jinni” instead of “genius” or “genie.” I am doing so despite of the popularity of the word “jinni” in “haunted ring” circles or its mixed associations within the Islamic world. If we are to take any part of the “young soldier’s” story seriously, then “jinni” is the most likely term that the “old man” of the Pyramids was using, and we will leave it at that. (p. 28)

I will definitely not leave it at that. The narrative surrounding the Black Pullet is, as Newcomb admits, a fabrication likely deriving from popular interest in Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in order to lend an air of exoticism to a French magical text. One cannot use the questionable Orientalism from a two-century old document to justify a contemporary choice to use questionable Orientalist terminology that, by the translator’s own admission, doesn’t reflect how the word is used as part of living cultures or how the reader or practitioner’s associations might shift due to this particular translation.

I’m not going to perform a detailed look at the various editions, but I did page through this book, the Weiser edition, Young’s Black Letter Press edition, and this French edition of the Poule Noire to get some idea. Having looked at one or two talismans and the procedure for creating the black pullet, I feel that the Weiser and Newcomb editions were comparable. Young omits some of the framing material, and there are a couple of puzzling decisions made in his text, none of which really affect the procedure much. If someone fluent in both French and English would perform a detailed read of all of these, however, that would be a much better judge of quality.

As for the five appendices, two are various rituals and methods for a practitioner to approach the material in the book. The third is a translation of the shorter Poule Noire text accompanying the Dragon Rouge, as mentioned above, followed with a short section on the occult significance of haggling and chicken eggs. The final one includes some sections from the occult novel Comte de Gabalis, which Newcomb points out as being similar to passages from the Poule Noire. The case would be more compelling if he included the original French texts; otherwise, it’s unclear how much of the similarity derives from the translator’s decisions.

Overall, I think practitioners and those interested in the book’s history will prefer this edition., The Black Letter Press edition is far ahead in presentation (I haven’t seen the Indiegogo color hardcover, so I won’t pass judgment on how that fits in). Finally, the Weiser edition is best for those who want a cheap available copy.

What do you want to see next? Go to my Twitter poll and let me know!

Published in: on February 20, 2021 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hadean Press Production Schedule, Enodia Releases, Hellfire Ads, Book Theft, Book of Four Wizards, Upcoming Reviews

Precious Apothecary, Cecil Williamson’s Book of Spells, Black Letter edition of the Petit Albert

Now, for the ongoing disappointment of everyone who showed up for Pendragon content – I start talking about books of magic again!

Hadean Press has dropped a neat publication schedule for 2021, including hardcover books on runes, Yoruba religion (EDIT: Al reminds me this one is on Vodou), the Arbatel, and narratives in charms. I’d suggest looking at their pamphlet lines as well if you order from them.

Enodia Press is accepting pre-orders for the first volume of the Key of Necromancy, for those of you who didn’t get the first printing.

Hellfire Books is running ads on Facebook for titles and a “lifetime membership” of some sort. I find the large number of likes and small number of entirely positive comments to be interesting. My present policy is to buy Hellfire products only if I encounter copies physically, which I don’t anticipate doing any time soon.

Clifford Low pointed me to a Patheos article on the theft of occult and pagan books from public libraries. Its prevalence is largely based on anecdotal data, so I think there’s an interesting project there for some enterprising librarian seeking publication. I think it’s unlikely that any of my readers are tempted to engage in such behavior, but acquiring, cataloging, and preparing books for the shelf is an intensive task with expenses well beyond a book’s retail price.

I’m back to the Book of Four Wizards. This week’s project was examining a magical inscription around the edge of a circle and realizing it was taken from a ninth-century prayer of protection in battle. Sort of. I’m getting close to the end… Aside from some points that need to be re-examined. And writing an introduction. And working with S. Aldarnay on the illustrations. So there’s still a good bit to do.

I am actually reading Newcomb’s book on the Black Pullet, and I’ve put the next three possible titles I might want to read afterward in the picture above. (The bookmarks do indicate that I’ve already made forays into that.) Any one you’d particularly like to see?

Published in: on February 13, 2021 at 4:55 pm  Comments (1)  

“Wokeness” and Pendragon

Knight from Pendragon Rulebook

I was asked about the desire of some players of Pendragon to play characters who are not necessarily white, male, Christian, heterosexual, upper class people in the comments to my last post. I think it’s an interesting question, so I’m going to write another post about it. 

Let’s begin with an issue of my own making, because of an aspect of the game I omitted: Pendragon’s setting draws on history, legend, folklore, and literature from many different periods to differing degrees, and encourages GMs to do the same. Greg Stafford did draw heavily from Mallory, but he wasn’t afraid to dip into some unpublished French manuscript or steal a scene from Excalibur if it was what worked. 

Among all of that, there are certainly opportunities to play all sorts of knights of different genders, backgrounds, faiths, and sexual orientations. These are not anomalies – most were built into the official game at one point or another. Early on, Greg allowed pagan knights out of player concerns as to playing Christian warriors, and the rulebook started discussing the possibility of women as knights way back in 1990. This is not to say this inclusion is always done thoroughly or particularly well. Still, bringing in players who might not want to play what they see as the “default” in an Arthurian literature game has been key to the system from the beginning.

And sometimes they just need to be brought in. For example, my Pendragon groups have begun with most characters being pagan, because they feel more comfortable with that. As time goes on, however, some of them create Christian characters, because they feel comfortable with trying them out. I don’t know how to analyze this, but I think that being open to accommodating other people may lead them to reach out similarly. 

One other note about wokeness. I’ve always found that whatever dangers may arise from attempts to be inclusive are a distant second to those that arise from its absence. I have a recent example from Pendragon that establishes this.

A few months ago, Chaosium released a quick start that also reflected the changes in the upcoming sixth edition rules. It sparked off considerable controversy in the fan community, with some people very angry about what they were seeing. Why? Because the quick start adventure mentioned the possibility that female knights might be characters, and a statement that the art of Pendragon books from this point forward would include more women in armor.

Yes, the rulebook suggested how to include women as knights back in 1990. That artwork at the top of this page? From the current rulebook. Will the rules be changing anything about their inclusion? Not really – it remains at the group’s discretion.

Yet we have had some people furious because an upcoming book might have slightly different art that harms no one and has no impact on their lives or leisure time activities, but that might encourage other people to buy the book and play the game. Those are the people who worry me, frankly.

It might be best to end with a dimly-remembered anecdote from a lost message board about Greg Stafford. Someone once told him, “I won’t play Pendragon until I can play a lesbian Jewish knight.” Greg said, “Come over next Tuesday!”

Published in: on February 8, 2021 at 8:34 pm  Comments (6)  

Review – The Pendragon RPG

The Great Pendragon Campaign and 5.2 edition Pendragon rulebook

I had a request on Facebook to talk a bit about Pendragon, so I’ll give it a shot. Those who showed up for something else will have to wait until next time.

The Pendragon role-playing game was first published by Chaosium in 1985, as one of the grand works by Greg Stafford, perhaps better known for creating the world of Glorantha. It has appeared in multiple editions over the years, with the “sixth” (Chaosium editions often have questionable numbering) being slated for release soon.

We cannot discuss Pendragon without also bringing up the Great Pendragon Campaign. A shorter version was published along with the first edition of the game, but 2006 saw the release of the GPC, a massive campaign taking your players over eight decades, from the midpoint of King Uther’s reign to the Battle of Camlann. The book was so huge that some supplemental material, even the index, had to be omitted. The current thought is to re-release it as multiple volumes, to which I’m looking forward. It’s the killer app to Pendragon, so it’s hard to discuss one without the other.

I can say that I’m very happy with the system behind this game. Pendragon take the BRP skill-based percentile system and chops it down into a d20 system, using only the d6 and d20 as its dice. Within this system, most people will have a 1 in 20 chance of rolling a critical, and an equal chance of rolling a fumble, on each roll, reflecting the swings of fortune from the literature.

On top of skills, Pendragon adds Traits, which can guide or compel characters in their actions while still allowing for player autonomy, and Passions, which cause characters to be swept up in their emotions and gain bonuses to their skills for a short time. Given that all the characters are knights, this means the main differences between them are based on their heritage and personalities, driving the roleplaying. Amazing successes, terrible failures, and making the character’s emotional states matter in terms of mechanics – all of this makes Pendragon a good choice for system for modern, Critical Role-inspired gaming styles.

(Also, just to be clear, your characters can play those really high-and-mighty chivalric knights, but the game acknowledges that’s a high standard that most players can’t reach. Thus, players are more likely to play ordinary schlubs with odd personality quirks and hang-ups, who get in their own adventures while Lancelot and Tristram and Gawaine are off on their quests. And the GPC still provides opportunities for those characters to be significant in the larger stories of the game.)

Pendragon also encourages a structure of “one session equals one year.” Have you ever had the experience in D&D in which your characters go on multiple adventures and ascend to the heights of their power, all within about a month and a half? Pendragon slows down everything. Magical healing is rare, and healing is slow, so a knight will often be out for weeks after a combat. This is not a disadvantage – it means that everything slows down, allowing for relationships to build, world-shaping events to occur (through the GPC), and marriage and children take on great importance. A long-running campaign will often move to playing the children and grandchildren of the original knights, who may bring in the Traits and Passions of their parents.

The strengths of Pendragon are largely due to the amazing job that Greg Stafford did on the book. Some of its downsides come from that singular vision as well. Some key rules – especially dealing with marriage and child survival – are relegated to supplements, thus leading to that sheaf of papers visible in the rulebook above. We also get some odd situations, like Greg deciding to rename most of the locations with non-Anglo-Saxon names in some supplements for a while, causing a lot of paging back and forth. I’m not bitter.

The other major downside comes from the source material. That’s not because you need to be an Arthurian scholar to play or run the game; that might give you some additional insights, but it’s hardly necessary. It’s that much of the Arthurian literature was written about characters who were European in origin, Christian, male, heteronormative, and products of a hereditary nobility. Today many players are not one or more of those categories, and might have understandable objections to having to play someone of one of them. How can a GM decide if this game would be right for their group?

It depends upon the objections. Pendragon does a good job of providing a setting that shows toleration to both Christian and pagan faiths in Britain, although the rules tend to favor Christians due to the overlap of Christian and chivalric traits. If you want to be another faith, you might check out The Book of Knights and Ladies. The rules try to deal with women as knights – not that well, I think – but some handwaving can make them work. In a game in which heredity is important, it’s good to look at options for LGBTQ characters to be able to perpetuate their households, whether by adoption or magic (especially as the latter amounts to handwavium in this edition). The game system is set up to mechanically favor Cymric/”Celtic” characters, but Knights and Ladies allows characters to come from a wider geographical range. Class – well, you can just forget about removing class without tossing out a lot of the game and most of the GPC, so I wish you the best if you want to try.

One aspect of the rules is the usage of the Hate (group of people) passion. For the most part, this is aimed at Saxons, who I think we can agree did all right overall in the world later. It can apply to the Picts as well, but I don’t know how many people identify as Pictish these days. Then we bring in the Irish and the Welsh… and it might generate problems. It’s worth thinking about your group and whether using these passions is worth the risk.

In terms of RPG logistics, while the game is probably best with about four players – in line with the default party size of most recent D&D rules – it requires probably about four hours to run a single year successfully, assuming that the year is uneventful. Gaming sessions seem to have gotten shorter over time on average, so that’s another factor to consider.

At any rate, it’s a game I love and enjoy. If you decide to play it, I recommend picking up the Book of Feasts and the cards that go with it. It’s not necessary – just a lot of fun.

If you’ve had your own experiences with Pendragon, or have more questions, please let me know.

Published in: on February 7, 2021 at 3:10 pm  Comments (1)  

This Week’s Books, the Elucidarium Elucidated, Book of Four Wizards, Gaming Update

Books I’m Working With Lately

I hope you’ve had happy and restful holidays, and that the new year will be kinder to you than the last one.

The above books are among some with which I’m working at the moment. I’d like to highlight two. The first is the Belanger’s 10th Anniversary edition of the Dictionary of Demons (issued by one of my publishers). A few years ago I wrote a series looking at different articles from different demonic dictionaries. I thought I’d posted my closing recommendations, but apparently I never did. That makes it easier for me to say, “this one,” as it’s been expanded with material from many grimoires that have gained more recent prominence.

The one that has been taking much of my energy is Alexandra Walsham’s The Reformation of the Landscape, a study of views, attitudes, and practices connected with one’s surroundings across the British isles, stretching from the earliest recorded history to about 1750. I’m reading it for a paper I’m working on, but it also checks off a lot of different boxes for me – folklore, psychogeography, matters Cornish, Arthurian legends, and so much more.

Apparently there’s been quite a bit of work ongoing regarding the Elucidarium Necromantiae attributed to Pietro d’Abano, a precursor to the Heptameron. You can catch up on it in this Glitch Bottle podcast, and maybe follow the links within to join a group of people trying to learn more.

(Edited to add Book of Four Wizards content) Right now, I’m working on a spirit compulsion that mentoins Rhadamanthus, one of the Greek judges of the underworld. I had seen something similar before in Additional MS. 36,674, so I tracked it down and I’m transcribing it for comparative purposes, working back and forth from my photos (often more clear) and the PDF (shows more of the gutter between the pages).

I’m on a holiday break from RPGs, which gives me some time to catch up on my planning. I’m encountering some of the interesting unstated tensions that these games bring to the table that I don’t see in D&D. For example, Pendragon provides incentives for characters to become chivalric and idealistic, but it also has a set of procedures in Book of the Warlord for officers that encourage them to sell out for wealth. Dungeon Crawl Classics seems like mostly a straight D&D neo-clone on the surface, but the charts for wizards and clerics require or encourage them to build in their own particular goals which the group as a whole must choose to pursue, work in, or ignore, building in extrinsic motivations that GMs would need to build into the plot in other games. It’s been interesting to see how these have played out differently than how I’d thought they would have.

Take care out there, everyone.

Published in: on December 26, 2020 at 7:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Palgrave Sale, Treadwell’s Lecture, Faustian Grimoire in Paperback, A Discussion on Magic in French, and the Obligatory Author Holiday Sales Pitch

We’re coming up on the end of 2020, and it can’t come soon enough (though let’s not forget the potential impact of Brexit in January). Still, it hasn’t been a horrible year for grimoire collectors – I was surprised when I looked at the output – and I hope that these publishers and booksellers are surviving and thriving in the uncertain time we face.

Palgrave Macmillan has put its paperbacks and e-books on sale, in a less impressive version of the sale last year, until December 1. Here’s my list of the best selections from last year – it does appear that more of their works have been published in paperback in the interim.

Treadwell’s has posted a fourth talk of mine – on Pennsylvania folk magic – in its subscriber lectures. Obtain a subscription, and you can view those and much more.

Enodia’s Faustian work A Compendium of Unnatural Black Magic (review here) is now available in paperback on Amazon.

Medieval magic scholar Jean-Patrice Boudet has a talk with Agostino Bagliani about their latest book from SISMEL here, for those lucky enough to speak French.

If you’d like to help me out or a publisher, think about buying one of my books for someone you care about. I’d particularly point to Of Angels, Demons, and Spirits as one that someone who enjoyed The Book of Oberon might also appreciate.

Published in: on November 29, 2020 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)