Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Numbers - The Chaos

About 16 years after the events in Numbers, Jem's and Spider's son Adam is a teenager and he's living in a less than perfect world. People are microchipped at birth and are pretty much under constant surveillance. Floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are seen all over the world on a scale much higher than normal.
Adam has inherited his mother's talent of seeing the date of peoples' death in their eyes and when he moves to London, he sees the date 01012027 in the majority of people he meet. Clearly something catastrophic is going to happen, but can Adam do anything about it?

The first part explored the consequences of this supernatural talent on a more personal level, but now it's the responsibility of knowing that a great number of people will die. Other than being able to see the numbers, Adam has no special talents. What can he do and should he do anything at all?

The story has an added twist: Sarah, a girl at Adam's school has been dreaming about him for month. She also sees the disaster and she dreams that Adam will steal her baby from her. It takes a while for them to find each other and they find out that just because you know what will happen, you don't know what will happen.

What I liked about this book is that is doesn't take the easy way out. Adam isn't suddenly believed by people who have the power to evacuate London, he's no superhero. That makes it easy to identify with him and t think about what we would do in his situation. Would you try to change the future (can you at all?)? Would you try to get people to believe you? And if they believed you, would the panic that resulted from that be your fault? The story plays itself out until the bitter end, or actually it's more bittersweet, but a good ending would have spoiled the point of the story.

32. book for the Library Challenge

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

7th Sea: Shotgun Wedding

We started a new adventure in our long-running 7th Sea episode. Our characters have been travelling together for a long time now (9 years in gametime and maybe three or four in real time) and much of the evening was freeform roleplaying, just a bit of fluff to get in the mood. We arrived at the point the GM had meant as the starting point only shortly before we wrapped the session up, but it was a ton of fun nonetheless.

Dramatis personae:
Alain Louis de Chevalier, a Montaigne of dubious virtue (feel free to have doubts about his noble ancestry as well)
Edelbert Ambrosius von Immenhofen, a Eisen nobleman, owning the estate where the story begins
Richard Logan, Avalon adventurer and member of the Explorer's Society (he is the GM's character and currently an NPC, but I suspect that we may meet him)
Lucia Constanza Ynez Roja da Silva de Montenegro, Castille noblewoman wanted dead or alive in Castille because she is thought to be a witch (we managed to free her family from prison with a spot of blackmail during our last adventure at least)
Don Ramon Luiz Vasquez de Montego, a Castille nobleman currently wanted in his native land (the blackmail may have something to do with that)
Marcello Lorenzo de Espartero, a Castille scholar who was forced into exile when his passion for the Crescent Empire collided with the views of the Inquisition. Actually, he came very close to being executed and was freed by Los Vagos, a secret society he is a member of.
He's my character and I will try to chronicle our adventure in letters Marcello writes to his wife Isabel, whom he hasn't seen for years and who officially has renounced him (to save at least a small part of the family estate).

Isabel, mi corazon,

I'm bound to leave for Avalon in the morning and it will be a while before you will hear from me again. We have had news about a Syrneth machine, a scholar from Avalon showed us a sphere that is moving on its own in one particular direction and he assumes that it's part of a larger construct. We will follow the directions given by the sphere to see what we can find.

It seems that the inquisition is mounting an expedition as well and there has been talk of a weapon to be used in the war against Montaigne. While I would gladly see Montaigne beaten, the thought of a Syrneth weapon in the hands of the Inquisition makes me shudder. I'm told that my name has been mentioned in connection with this, another frightening thought. It might be safer to remain here at Immenhofen, but frankly, I'm too curious. Keeping out of sight will not allow me to come home one day, so I might as well continue to fight the Inquisition when I can. I promise I will not be reckless.
I also suspect that Richard Logan may be involved in this. The scholar told us that he hasn't been seen for two months and that he has left no message where he can be found. I have to admit I'm worried.

On a lighter note: as you know, both Don Ramon and de Chevalier have been courting Edelbert's sisters. Well, it seems that de Chevalier has done more than courting. Edelbert did not react well when he found out and we were afraid that he would kill de Chevalier, who was only saved by his quick reflexes. Fortunately, Edelbert's mother is more level-headed than her son and so instead of a funeral, a wedding was arranged. De Chevalier is a scoundrel, but I don't doubt that he does love Hermione.

I've grown rather attached to Don Ramon and Lucia. They remind me of our children. Travelling with them has made my exile more bearable, but it also makes me more
aware again of what I have lost. I do hope that one day, I can introduce you to them.

I will try to write before we set out from Avalon. I miss you, my love.
Marcello

Monday, June 27, 2011

Everything's better with custard

That was the scene when I knew for sure that Matt Smith ruled as the Doctor: Fishfingers with custard.
I tried it yesterday and I'm here to tell you that it's a lot less disgusting that it sounds. It was quite good, actually, once I got my brain to stop going eewwww just from habit.

Harold and Maude (spoilers)

Harold is 20ish and spends his time going to funerals and committing suicide. Maude is 79 and likes to drive fast cars, models in the nude and generally enjoys life. They meet (at a funeral of course) and quickly become friensd and fall in love.

I've always loved both the movie and the book, but I like the book better because the movie is missing a few scenes (or rather, the book has more). Harold's suicides are hilarious and there are some caustic comments on society, for example when Harold's uncle remarks "it doesn't bear thinking about what would happen if the military attracted killers" (not an exact quote) after Harold displays rather too much enthusiasm for becoming a soldier.

Maude is a great character. She often reminicences about her life in Europe, her many travels and although she never talks about it, the reader at least suspects that something bad happened in her past, even before Harold sees the concentration camp tattoo on her arm. Mause has decided not to let possesions weigh her down and she's determined to experience something new every day. Her attitude is carefree, maybe too carefree for everyday life, but I think that we could benetif from taking a leaf out of her book.

31. book for the Library Challenge

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Freud

The Freuds - Biography of a Family by Eva Weissweiler is a book that certainly keeps the promise made in the title. Sigmund Freud is of course the main protagonist, but unlike most Freud biographies, the life of his family is also explored in depth. It's a huge family, Freud had seven siblings and six children himself. That's the strength of the book, it's a great overview over the extended family and it's a fascinating story.

The portrayal of Freud himself is the great weakness. He certainly wasn't comfortable to live with and not the impeccable character he's sometimes describes as, but I got the distinct feeling that the author was on a crusade to make him look bad. Some research later I found out that letters are quoted out of context and rumors are presented as fact. Weissweiler turned up a lot of interesting facts, but it's not that easy to separate fact from guesswork and conjecture.

I would still recommend reading the book if you are interested in learning more about the family. If you want to learn about Freud himself, there definitely are better books out there.

30th book for the Library Challenge - yay, I've reached the fist level of the challenge, the Mini. I intend to do the Mega, 51+ books, though.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Badger, badger

When I came up with Eliah, my cowboy Deadlands character, I figured him to be a loner and a drifter, someone who had always been more comfortable on his own, never staying in one place too long. But he had been feeling increasingly lost, a sort of midlife crisis. He is 43 years old and he knows that it's a bit late in life for a career change. Besides, he's been a cowboy pretty much all his life and doesn't know how to do anything else. Yeah, there's always work to be found, but he's not really happy with the thought of settling down.

During the last two sessions, some things happened that I really need to think about. The group met Crow Indians and since one character was the long lost son of the shaman, we were welcomed and invited to partake in a ceremony that would allow us to find our spirit guide. Eliah took a night to think about it and in the end decided to give it a try. He certainly felt in need of guidance. During the exhausting and at times painful ritual, he did indeed encounter his spirit animal: a badger. That was not something Eliah would have ever expected to happen in his life and he's proud and happy, but he also need to come to terms with all the consequences this experience will have.

I certainly didn't plan for this to happen either and it's not something I ever thought about, so I'm just as overwhelmed as Eliah. But I love all the possibilities this has given me for him. When we were playing out the ritual, the GM asked us to choose an animal we thought would fit the character. I thought of all the usual animals (bear, coyote, elk, buffalo, crow ect.), but nothing really fit until the badger came to my mind. They are fairly inconspicuous, solitary and quiet, but don't get too close - they can be very aggressive and they will fight when threatened. So I chose the badger.

Of course there is a price to pay, an oath Eliah has to honour in order to keep the badger spirit happy. In the future, Eliah will not be allowed to back down from a fight. If he gets threatened, he attacks. If people want to intimidate him, it may work, but only for a very short time and then he will fight. It's a choice, of course - he can just walk away, but then he will loose the goodwill of his spirit guide.

Eliah can certainly handle himself in a fight, but until now, he would only fight if he absolutely had to. I have a feeling that this will change because his spirit guide will become very important for him. He doesn't yet know about it, it's not like he and the badger signed a contract. But the spirit will find a way to make it clear to him what is required.

I love it when something turns up in a game that means such a big change for my character. I want them challenged, they shouldn't get too comfortable in the life I have made up for them. Usually, I have things in my character's background that make it possible for the GM to have the character's life come crashing down around his ears. But it's even better when something happens that I have never thought about. It keeps things interesting.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Oh crap, we're going to die!

Our last Deadlands session was a perfect example of what I wrote earlier about combat in RPGs. A bit of background: if you kill enough monsters and fight enough manitous (demons), then you will attract the attention of evil forces who really don't like it when people try to make the world a safe place again. This is what happened to one of the characters in the group (Alan, a half-Crow scout/gunslinger), but at first we had no idea. He just had this strong sense of a doom coming closer and closer with every sunset.

The characters finally found out what was about to happen when they met a group of Crow: a powerful manitou had been send to kill Alan and he had to fight him on his own. The rest of the group could give assistance and, well, moral support, but would not be able to harm the manitou. In terms of game mechanics: the other players can give Alan's player poker chips, which can be used to buy away wounds and to influence dice rolls. We had some additional help from a ritual the Crow did for us, which boosted our dodge rolls considerably.

So I went to this game evening fully expecting to see Alan die and maybe get my character killed as well. I knew that we had a chance but I didn't think it was a very big one. Things were not helped by the fact that our usual group of seven has shrunk to only three players for several reasons. So the characters that faced the manitou were Alan, Elisabeth (a nun) and Eliah (a black cowboy, my character). It appeared in the form of a gigantic Texas Longhorn bull, armoured with scales and breathing fire. Enough to make us all go "oh shit."

The manitou tried his very best to disembowel, skewer or trample Alan and without Eliza and Eliah, he would have succeeded in the first seconds of the fight. But although they could not hurt the bull in any way, they could distract him. At one point, Alan was on the ground, staring up into those firebreathing nostrils and managed to escape the bull's hooves only by the breadth of a hair.His gun jammed and he was running and dodging while trying desperately to repair the damage. He did kill the manitou or at least sent him back to the hunting grounds, but it was a very close call and the characters won't do anything much for the near future.

The worst moment for the players was when the GM rolled a initiative of 42, which gave him nine (nine!) actions during the combat round, not just three or five like the players had. That was the "the bull is trying to trample Alan into mush"-scene - but he missed every single time! We couldn't believe our luck. It was an epic fight with a powerful enemy and we're all proud to have survived this. The GM told us that he gave us a chance of about 50% (10% if the other characters had decided not to help Alan).

It was masterfully done, with suspense building up over the course of several sessions, a very well researched and vividly told meeting with the Crow and a combat scene that had us on the edge of our seats the whole time. We won't be playing Deadlands for a while and this was a perfect ending for this part of the chronicle.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mabuse



Inspired video by Anton Corbijn. It used to creep me out. Who am I kidding, it still does - that hand appearing everywhere *shudder*

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fight or Flight

I used to be an very cautious player and I tried to avoid fights in RPGs in general. It's not that my characters couldn't handle themselves in a fight, I just didn't like it. All that changed with my first 7th Sea game. 7th Sea not only allows you to act daringly and sometimes recklessly, it requires you to. Your character is a hero after all and should act like one.

I've kept that playing style in other systems, even the really deadly ones like Cthulhu. It's much more fun that way. My characters still don't go around picking fights and they are not suicidal, but they take their chances and in a desperate situation will do desperate, reckless things. If they happen to die as a result, that's okay - just let it be a cool death.

As a result, I want combat to be dangerous. I want to have a chance, but there should be an equal chance that players get seriously hurt or even killed. I want to go "ohshitohshitohshit" during a fight, I want my hands to shake afterwards because my character only survived by that much and I want to be proud of winning the fight.

Adversaries should be worth fighting. And if we lose, that's not a bad thing, it just adds to the story. There's nothing better than finally beating that guy who has kicked the group's ass in the past, who has maybe been pulling strings and playing against the group from the beginning. It's not easy for the GM to walk the line between keeping things interesting and frustrating the players, but it's so worth it.

I found that I have much more fun in games where fights are not something that happens at every session and at random, but something serious, at the climax of the story. I also enjoy myself more now that I'm not so cautious any more.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book of Choince: Fahrenheit 451

Sometime in the future, the possesion of books will be a crime. If you own any, firemen will come to your house and burn the book, your house and maybe you as well. All this is done to protect people from the many different opinions contained in the books - it's far more comfortable just to watch the wall (kind of mega flatscreen TV) or listen to the program on the radio or drive around the country.
Montag, a fireman, has begun to question all that and has even started to read books, but he is already suspected to be no longer a part of the system.

I first read Fahrenheit 451 as a teenager and even then, it spoke to my soul. Books are my passion and the thought of a future without them, without the things they stand for, is frightening. I take comfort in the ending of the book, although it's not a happy one, but there is the promise that civilisation will rebuild itself.

The language is full of vivid images, reading the book is very much like watching a movie for me. There's a strong mood of suspense and oppression as long as Montag is in the city - it's not a place I would want to live and there's always the feeling that someone is watching, taking notes and registering even the slightest sign of idependent thought.

It's sometimes said that the book is a criticism of censorship by the state, but I think it's made very clear that the people readily accepted all the mindnumbing things there were presented with and the majority were just not interested in their personal freedom all that much, as long as their favourite TV show was still on time. And soon, they didn't even remember or never knew what they had lost. There is a hint of 1984 when it is explained that houses were always fireproof and firemen always burned book.

When the TV screens were installed in the trains of the Hamburg subway, I thought immediately of Fahrenheit 451. So far, they are without sound and many people ignore them in favour of a book or in favour of talking with their friends. But many watch as if they have been hypnotised (the same news snippets and advertisements over and over again) and I'm sure if they would show Germany's Next Topmodel or any of that crap, even more people would sit and stare.

The 50th anniversary edition I bought has a very interesting interview with Bradbury and it contains the following quote that should be imprinted on the brains of all politicians who ever thought about cutting the budget of any library:
Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization.

Oh, and Fahrenheit 451 has one of the best first sentences ever. It was a pleasure to burn

6th book for the Science Fiction Challenge

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hellboy: Chained Coffin

Chained Coffin is a collection of short stories and one shot adventures, all of them inspired by folk tales. Hellboy fights Baba Yaga, encounters the daoine sĂ­dhe and learns about his origin in a pretty creepy story involving a dead witch inside the chained coffin and a demon.

Mike Mignola's style is striking, you can see some examples here and I love Hellboy's laconic way of dealing with things. In Chained Coffin, I enjoyed the blend of folk tale and mythical creatures here, most of all the Baba Yaga story. Baba Yaga has always creeped me out and true to form, she survives the fight with Hellboy and takes her revenge on the village he wanted to protect.

Old tales are always powerful because they have been retold countless times until they have a shape that finds it's way directly into our soul. The Hellboy version is only the latest incarnation and maybe one day, will become part of the tale. I've always liked the scene in Reign of Fire where Christian Bale's character tells the story of Star Wars to a group of fascinated children - apart from being the best moment of the movie, it also shows that humans will always tell stories, it's what we do. And just because something's a comic or a movie doesn't mean that it won't be told as a story. As Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen and Terry Pratchett say:
We are not Homo sapiens, Wise Man. We are the third chimpanzee. What distinguishes us from the ordinary chimpanzee Pan troglodytes and the bonobo chimpanzee Pan paniscus, is something far more subtle than our enormous brain, three times as large as theirs in proportion to body weight. It is what that brain makes possible. And the most significant contribution that our large brain made to our approach to the universe was to endow us with the power of story. We are Pan narrans, the storytelling ape
source

29th book for the Library Challenge

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book of Choice: The Hounds of the Morrigan

Pidge, a young boy from Ireland, buys an old Latin book and set free the evil serpent Olc-Glas that was imprisoned in the book. The Morrigan want Olc-Glas for herself because the serpent will increase her power. Pidge and his sister Brigit are sent on a quest to trap Olc-Glas again and to foil the plan of the Morrigan. The are hunted by the Morrigan's hounds, but helped along the way by the Dadga and the creatures of Faerie.

This is a book full of magic, not wand-waving magic, but the old magic of legends and fairy tales. I wasn't very familiar with Irish legends when I first read the book as a child, but there was a strong sense of familiarity because the magic follows the same unwritten rules I knew from fairy tales.

The quest is a dangerous one, but even when things seem hopeless, Pidge and Brigit trust the Dagda and that trust is conveyed to the reader, there is a strong sense of someone watching over the children and help always comes.

Many figures straight out of Irish mythology turn up in the book, more or less true to how they are in the legends. It doesn't matter if you don't know them, though, the book can be read without that knowledge (much like Lloyd Alexander's Taran series). It's fun to look up the characters after reading the book, though. The edition I own also has a glossary where some information is given, along with a guide to pronounciation of the Irish names that I find very useful.

The Hounds of the Morrigan is one of my favourite books and I have read it many times. The vivid images remain just as strong as they were the first time I read it and at times, it makes me wish for such a wonderful adventure of my own, despite the danger. Wouldn't it be great to find a way to cross over into Faerie? I just would ask that "the grass doesn't grow beneath my feet" until I'm back, as it is put in the book.

One thing that annoys me about my edition: it has "if you liked Harry Potter, you will love this book" printed on the cover. Yeah, because, um, both books have young children as the main characters and because ... they have nothing else in common actually. Stop comparing everything to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings already.

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea is my second book for the Ireland Challenge.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Artworks I'd Steal: Lovesick

grosz lovesick
source

Lovesick is less brutal and aggressive than many other works by Grosz, but only at first glance. There's a strong undercurrent of violence here and I get the impression of a man who is nursing his heartache until he will get up, find his (former? imagined?) lover and kill her. Maybe himself as well, but I think that the first bullet will kill all his passion and love/hate as well.

The man scares me badly and I wouldn't want to be the subject of his affection. Not just because I think he will eventually kill her but because I also think that he's someone who is more in love with himself than with anyone else. He really is lovesick, but he also likes the pose of the disappointed, deeply hurt man.

It's said to be a self-portrait. Whether that's true or not, Grosz certainly had a good sense for things that people would prefer to stay hidden and he used his art as a weapon, against war, against Hitler and against society as it presented itself after WWI, while Germany was steadily marching towards the catastrophe.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Worst Character?

I've stumbled upon this thread over at RPG.net where people talk about the worst character concepts they have ever seen. It's hilarious.
I absolutely adore the dwarf in the Call of Cthulhu game and Teenage Mutant Lemmings.

I haven't come across the "will play only one character no matter what system"-player and all the people I have played with have at least given the system a glance and knew what would fit, more or less. I do however still shudder at the thought of some Vampire characters I have seen. Like the Malkavian who believes she is a Toreador who is a Giovanni. And for some extra point the character has a phobia of daisies and an allergy to whipped cream. Or maybe it was the other way around, but daisies and whipped cream it was.

Any terrible, awkward or plain stupid character concepts you want to add?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hunted by Robots



One of my favourite music videos ever. Those robots are a little freaky in any case, but this is the stuff of nightmares.

You may need a proxy in the UK or US to see the video. Try this one or this one or this one: just enter the video's URL, it should work:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_IkUysQASQ