Saturday, December 29, 2012

Challenges 2013

So I spectacularly failed most of my reading challenges in 2013, except for the Classics Challenge, mainly because I didn't feel lke writing reviews for all the books I read. Which doesn't stop me from signing up for challenges in 2013.

The first is the Graphic Novels Challenge:
runs from Jan.1 - Dec. 31, 2013

Levels
Level 1: read and review 12 books during the year (you could spread them out and read one a month or have a blast and read all 12 in a row!)

Level 2: read and review 24 books during the year (same as above only you would read two a month for the slow rate)

Game Play

Basic: no change from last year. just read any book generally considered a graphic novel, manga, or collection of comics, write a review and link to your post.

Advanced: For advanced play we are going to play categories. Players will pick 1 book from each of the 12 categories below. If you are playing at Level 2 you could double up, choosing two from each category, or use the remainder as free picks. You only have to read one book from each of the 12 categories.

1. manga
2. superhero
3. classic adaptation (a classic work adapted into the graphic format)
4. memoir
5. fantasy
6. translated from a foreign language
7. a single-issue comic book
8. science-fiction
9. crime or mystery
10. fairytale or mythology (true to the original or fractured, such as Fables series)
11. children's book (specifically written for children)
12. anthology (a collection of short stories by different authors/artists)

12 books sounds like a good goal here.

and the second is the Library Books Reading Challenge:
Requirements:
choose a level - you may move up as needed, just not down.
check books out of the library
books may overlap with other challenges
any format allowed (print, ebook, audio)
reviews are not necessary but a list of books read is.
a blog is not necessary, just comment that you want to join in

Levels:
board book - 3
picture book - 6
early reader - 9
chapter book - 12
middle grades - 18
Young adult - 24
adult - 36
just insert IV - 50

Since it doesn't require reviews, I go for the highest level...but I will try and write as many reviews as possible.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mushrooms on Books

Despite what people think, librarians are very good at throwing books away. We have to, we need all the space for new books and if a book doesn't get checked out enough, into the trash it goes, unless it's a classic (but then a new edition may help) or the information is not available elsewhere.

But I still like to see other uses for old books than just throwing them out. Growing mushrooms on them for example. You can make your own mushroom spawn or you just buy it online.. Soak the book - a thick paperback with three hundred pages or more - in warm water for a couple of hours and then spread the mushroom spawn between the pages. I used The Mists of Avalon because it's nice and thick and because it was one of the most boring books I had ever read. I put fifty pages or so between every layer of spawn, with a thinner book you may want to use less pages.
IMG_5258_01
I left the book open like that, a thin book can be closed.

Put the book somewhere out of direct sunlight, but not in the dark, and at room temperature. I had it on top of a kitchen cabinet across the room from the window. Mist the book every day and wait.

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After five days or so the first strands started to appear and after ten the whole book was covered in it. There was some mildew, but I just removed the top pages to get rid of that. The the first actual mushrooms started to grow (I know, those are just the mushrooms fruiting bodies, but you know what I mean).

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After twenty days:
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Here's a online shop in the UK that sells mushroom book recycler kits, but you really just need an old book and mushroom spawn. I bought oyster mushroom spawn because they seem to grow well on books and one litre of spawn was more than enough for this book, I have enough left for a second one (stored in the fridge). I want to try shitake mushrooms next because they can be dried much better than oyster mushrooms.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Pity of War

It's quite hard to find books on World War I in Germany, at least compared to book on World War II. WWII completely overshadows it and often authors treat WWI just as a sort of prequel for WWII. I'm trying to remember if I learned anything about WWI in school...it cannot have been much. But WWII/Nazi Germany - huge topic. At least I was taught in depth about the Weimarer Republik, another chapter of German history that unfortunately gets the cold shoulder when it comes to books.

In The Pity of War, Niall Ferguson challenges popular theories about WWI, like the enthusiasm that is supposed to have greeted the outbreak of war or the allegedly superior armies of the British and French. He makes a good case against those theories and provides a lot of sources and in-depth research for his take on things. It was interesting to read such a different view of this war, a view that differs greatly from what is usually written about it.

I had to give myself a crash course in finances to better understand wide parts of the book. Economy plays a huge part in Ferguson's analysis. The most interesting chapters, for me at least, were those that investigated why soldiers fought in the war and why they continued to fight even in the horrible conditions of the trenches, why events like the Christmas truce didn't last.

So if you are looking for a book to learn about the Great War, this is a good place to start. You won't get the dry facts of what happened when and where, but you will get a good idea of why.

And since I'm on the subject, here are a couple of online sources I found very helpful when doing research on WWI:
First World War - multimedia history
WWI Document Archive - anything from diaries to photos. Including the Nicky-Willy telegrams
The Great War a collection of photos, postcards and other document...very graphic at times
a massive list of WWI links - I've spent hours exploring all those sites linked here

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Captive

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time

Jasper ventures out to get the body of Farnsworth off the horse and takes a closer look at the corpse, but he finds nothing he didn't expect. Thomas and Richard take stock of what is left after the attack and things look grim indeed. The only weapons are the bows of the Touareg, there is just one horse and almost no water.

After a while, another rider come out of the dark, this one very much alive. He demands that Thomas surrenders himself or the attack on the camp will continue. After some deliberations, Thomas accepts, but only if the survivors are given water and camels or horses to make their way to the nesxt oasis. He will also be accompanied by Kamal, Sir Jeffrey and Jasper. The rider agrees to these terms.

Richard decides to stay with the survivors because he thinks that it's suicide to go with Meheret's Heirs. The others can't argue with that, but will go nonetheless. Richard promises to try and get help if he can.

Kamal, Sir Jeffrey, Jasper and Thomas give themselves into the hands of Meheret's Heirs. Their are bound, blindfolded and everything that can be used as a weapon is taken from them. Japser, however, has hidden the dagger in the bandage around Thomas' arm and it is not discovered. After a ride of a few hours, they arrive at a camp and are locked into a hut build from rough stones.

There, they find Sir Thomas Kincaid, who has clearly been held prisoner for a long time and who has not been treated gently, he's chained to the wall and has had very little to eat and drink. Kincaid is glad to see them, but becomes agitated when he finds out that Thomas will be able to show Meheret's Heirs were the Book of Toth is hidden. He has held out all this time to keep the book hidden because he thinks that it should never be found. Kamal couldn't agree more. Thomas plans to destroy the book if he can and to delay the search as much as possible.

Thomas asks for water and better treatment from the leader of the cult. The man laughs at Thomas and tells him that he's hardly in a position to make demands. He then proceeds to shoot Sir Jeffrey in the leg to get his point across. Thomas refuses to back down, not even when the leader aims his weapon at Kincaid, and finally he gets what he wants. They get food, water, some bandages so that Jasper can treat Kincaid's and Sir Jeffrey's wounds and rest until tomorrow night. Then Thomas will continue the search for the Book of Toth.

Kamal tells Thomas the complete story about Meheret: when she failed to win the battle at Toth's Shadow, where the book is hidden, she was taken prisoner. But Tezud, the priest of Toth, fell in love with her and spared her life. She betrayed him, fled and was captured again. This time, Tezud could not save her life and her organs were taken out of her body while she was still alive and then she was burned. Tezud kept her organs and it is said he made them the key to the book. Thomas remembers the murders at the East End that started the whole story, where women were killed and their organs (one at a time) were taken.

----------------------------------

So...yeah. Jasper wouldn't bet on his chance to get out of this alive. But he is determined to see this through and anyway, his hold on life is not as strong as it used to be.

My last few Cthulhu characters have survived for a very long time and I will even pull one character (Dai) out of the game to keep him alive if I can. So the thought of an epic death has a certain appeal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Moxyland

After reading and loving Zoo City, I bought Lauren Beukes' first book, Moxyland.

In a world not that much different from our own, people depend on their phone a lot more than we already do. It contains their ID and with that, their access to such basic things as public transport, access to their homes, money ect. Criminal activities are punished by a temporary disconnection from the service or even a permanent one. And since people always carry their phones, someone came up with the clever idea to install a taser into them - not for self-defence, but to shock the owner of the phone in case he or she is doing something illegal. A Defuse, as it's called.

The book follows a handful of characters over a couple of days, a fiercly hip blogger, someone who agrees to become a mobile advertisement for a soft drink in exchange for cutting edge nanotech, a freedom fighter, a corporate drone with a decidedly anarchistic streak. Their lifes intersect and influence each other, even though some of the characters never meet.

It's a bleak vision of a not so distant future, but at the same time it's a wild ride through conspiracies and secrets where nothing is quite what it seems. There are a few things that I would love to see for real in Moxyland and I just might, like the coat that displays videos and photos or even a live feed. There are more things that I never want to see, but I'm afraid I might, like the taser-phones or the genetically engineered Marburg virus sprayed on protesters who have to turn themselves in to get treatment.

Beukes took much of her inspiration from actual events, definitely read the afterword for her explanation of her sources. And this is exactly what makes Moxyland such a great book, the possibility that we may end up in a world exactly like this. We're definitely aready on our way.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Schöne Zeiten

Schöne Zeiten - The Good Old Days in the English edition - is a collection of mostly uncommented documents and statements from Germans who witnessed or took an active part in the Holocaust.

Members of the Einsatzgruppen and the staff of the concentration camps are quoted as well as soldiers who only witnessed the mass murder by accident. Almost none of them feel any guilt and almost none of them question the thought that the Jews had to die. The most you can expect is that it shouldn't be done in such a cruel fashion. Others concentrate on how bad it made them feel to shoot hundreds of people. Most make it clear in their statements that they knew well they could refuse the order to shoot people without any real consequences and some did.

The most striking document is the diary of the physician and SS-member Johann Kremer written while living at Auschwitz. He writes about the wonderful food, how excited he is about the opportunities for medical research, about movies he saw and, just as casually, about witnessing Sonderaktionen (the murder of prisoners who were too sick or just to make more room) or having people killed to get his hands on specimens for his research.

The title of the book is taken from a page in the photo album of Kurt Franz that contains photos of Franz in Treblinka and of the zoo (!) at the camp, fondly remembered. The book also contains a number of photos taken by the Germans - it was illegal to photograph the shootings or the camps, but many people did it anyway and some even showed their photos at home. The photos are extremely graphic.

It's a book very much worth reading if you are interested in the Holocaust and how it was made possible. You won't get any analysis of interpretation of the historical facts, just the view of the involved parties and you're left to draw your own conclusions. It might be a good idea to have some sort of reference book on hand to better understand the background unless you're very knowledgeable about the Holocaust already. If you are, you will probably recognise some of the texts and photos because the book often is quoted in other works.

Reviews 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Scams

If there is one system that I love but never wanted to GM, it's Shadowrun. All those sourcebooks that you need to have read to keep your players from coming up with gimmicks, weapons and whatnot that will destroy your whole story. All those special things the characters can do and buy...hackers, mages, riggers, cyberware in general. No, thanks.

I found myself GMing Shadowrun all the same last Monday, with only a couple of hourse of preparation. It went pretty well, except for the fact that I had to cut the story a bit short because I didn't have enough time to come up with a complete run. It was more of an introduction or a setup for the actual run.

I had two players and they played a Glim Dropper scam on the owners of Rikki's Rathole, a talismonger/bookshop. That worked out well enough, but the scam was recognised by one of the patrons of the shop. The guy, an Ork named Jacob, confronted one of the PCs and demanded the commlink number of her partner for his silence. She gave it to him and it turned out that Jacob was planning to pull a big-time scam himself and he's looking for more people. A write-up of the evening is here

So far, so good. I had GMed myself into something of a corner, though. I want the scam to be elaborate, think The Sting. That is not easy and I have only a week to come up with the whole thing. Three days as of today, actually, we play again on Monday. Nothing like last minute panic to get creative.

If you are one of my players, do NOT click this link to read what I'm planning.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Slaughter

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time

During the sandstorm, Jasper has a terrifying vision of Fox, who turns into the same darkness as the monster that killed him.

When he comes to again, he needs a moment to realise that he no longer is buried in sand, but instead in a fairly comfortable and pleasantly dark and cool tent. Less pleasant is the fact that he is bound hand and foot. A Touareg enters the tent, take a look at Jasper and leaves again, sending in two women who free him of his bonds and offer him water to drink and wash.

When he has made himself presentable again, the Touareg comes back and escorts him out of the tent, where he meets Thomas and Richard who have had much the same experience. Jasper thinks that he has been unconscious for several days, judging from the colours of the bruise on his wrist.

guests of the Touareg


They are in a Touareg settlement, if that word can be used for such a temporary arragement. There are a lot of tents, people going about their business and the three are watched closely. Their guards lead them to the biggest tent and they enter, finding themselves alone for a moment until Kamal enters, to no-ones surprise.

Thomas is angry at him for abandoning them, while both Richard and Jasper acknowledge that Kamal did his best to persuade them to turn back. Kamal tells them that it is his duty to protect the Book of Toth, as it was the duty of his father, grandfather and their ancestors all the way back to Tezud, the priest who protected the book from the pharaoh Scheschonk and hid it in the desert.

The men in the black burnouses are the heirs of Meheret, a powerful female warrior who tried to win back the book from the priest. Legend has it that she found the place where the book was hidden, but she and her fighters were destroyed when the Fire of Ra was unleashed.

Kamal states in no uncertain terms that he will not let the expedition continue any futher and that he only saved them because he judges them all to be good men who carry no evil in their heart. Otherwise he would have left them to die. Jasper mentions the dagger and the tentacled thing they encountered, but Kamal has no knowledge of such a thing and of the exact purpose and power of the dagger. He mentions that they all have been unconscious for ten days and that they were bound to prevent them from acting out their fevered dreams.

Before they can discuss things further, a shot rings out and thy can hear screams and the sound of hooves from outside, the camp is under attack. Two of the riders break into the tent and in the following fight Richard is almost skewered by their lances. At the same time, two more men, one of them a muscle-bound giant, in black burnouses enter the tent and attack Jasper. Thomas tries to help him and gets into a fight with the giant. Jasper fights with the smaller of the two men.

In the meantime, Kamal and Richard have killed the riders and Richard fires one of their guns at Jasper's opponent, who goes down and is then kicked unconscious (at the very least) by Jasper. Thomas has suffered a serious wound in his left arm from the sword of the giant and collapses to his knees. The giant sees Kamal and attacks him, only to be shot down.

Rhiard and Jasper fashion a tripwire and manage to bring down one of the riders who are still charging through the camp, but they are themselves attacked by a second rider. Richard almost gets dragged to death, but the rider who grabbed him is killed by a stray bullet. Thomas has seen Captain Hayden and the rest of the expedition who are defending themselves from the rests of another tent and the three make their way there. The camp is burning and the Touareg are defending themselves against the attackers who have no qualms about murdering women and children.

It's a massacre, on both sides. The attackers have no regard for their own life and the Hussars in particular take a high blood toll from them. But it doesn't look good for the Touareg and the members of the expedition.The Hussars are almost out of ammunition and almost all of them are hurt, Jasper has his hands full.

Lieutenant Farnsworth volunteers to venture out to get more ammunition and before Hayden can say otherwise, he jumps over the makeshift barrier and the rest can only watch with baited breath while he gathers up weapons and ammunition belts. Weighed down by his loot, he is not fast enough to escape two riders who impale him on their lances and carry him with them. Thomas tries to help him, but cannot do anything. Sir Jeffrey demands that Hayden sends some men to rescue Farnsworth, but Hayden has realised that Farnsworth is already beyond saving, even if he had enough men to spare.

Suddenly, Hayden clutches his arm and Thomas can only just catch him when he collapses. Jasper is just in time to keep him alive, but Hayden loses consciousness, having lost a serious amount of blood. While Jasper is busy with Hayden, the remaining corporal fires his last shot and they are finally out of ammunition. For a moment, they all look at each other and try to find a way to escape what seems like certain death. But the final attack never comes - the camp is eerily quiet.

After a minute or so, Richard and Thomas venture out to look for other survivors while Jasper and the corporal stay with the wounded. All in all, they find eight women, ten children and seven men, Kamal among them. They all gather in the big tent that is still more or less intact and discuss what they are going to do. While they are still talking, they hear one horse coming towards them. Jasper, Sir Jeffrey, Kamal and Thomas join the Touareg guard just outside the tent entrance and see that the horse is carrying a rider who seems unconscious. They can see that he's wearing the red uniform of a British soldier and guess that it is Farnsworth. Sir Jeffrey calls out to him, but Jasper is already wary and is proven right when the rider comes clearly into view. It is indeed Farnsworth, but he has been decapitated.

-----------------------------------------

We did't discuss this in-game, but I assume that the other characters had similar experiences during the sandstorm. At least we all got an email from the GM.

So Kamal is back and I think none of us were very surprised by this. I fully expected to see him again and Jasper, despite Kamal's mysterious ways, has always trusted him more than almost any other member of the expedition.

I once again noticed that serious fights in-game really stress me out. Wich is not a bad thing, but I'm always a bit surprised when I notice just how immersed in the game I become. The GM handled a lot of the fight without dice except for the bit in the big tent and it was intense, at least for me.

And the cut point for the evening was very well chosen. Jasper has a very definite sense of doom and he has a nasty suspicion that the tentacle thing from last time will be back.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Maps and Immigrants

Caribmap - A cartographic history of the West Indies. This is a great resource if you are running a swashbuckling game or a steampunk game set in the Caribbean. There are dozens op maps for each territory, from 1500 to contemporary maps. The maps cannot be downloaded, but the zoom function shows them in great detail.
For some flavour of the local fauna and flora, check out Caribherp and Caribnature.

A collection of historical maps, right now there's mainly Russia and Asia. The maps can be downloaded as PDFs for free. Don't ask me why, but the English version of the site doesn't give you a download link. But if you click "PDF Download" and then click the German flag on the left, you'll get the download button.

Norway Heritage has a beautiful collection of photos and historical documents illustrating the lives of immigrants. There are photos of immigrant ships, deck plans, immigration papers, passports, tickets, photos from the voyage, from the ports where people left and arrived and much more. It's a wonderful resource whether your folks came from Norway or not and it could be great for a Cthulhu game for example - one set at Ellis Island maybe? Come on, that would be awesome.

Original films from Nazi Germany - some feature films, films from private collections, educational movies, military and otherwise. All uncommented and obviously in German.

My Armoury is a fantastic resource for historic weapons and armour. They have an extensive collection of photos and articles on everything from paper armour to famous battles to certain types of weapon.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Willie's Lyke-Wake



A version of Willie's Lyke-Wake by June Tabor and the Oysterband. The song is an old Scottish ballad and one of the many songs collected in the Child Ballad collection.
Here are the lyrics, at least to this version. There are others, of course. It's a favourite of mine, although I'd really like to know how Annie reacts to her lover faking his death.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Webcomics

For those of you who enjoy webcomics, here are some that you may find worth your while. Almost all of them have not been online all that long and you can read up on the whole story without having to devote too much time to it.

The Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske. It only updates a couple of times a year, but the updates are massive and entirely gorgeous. That is truly a comic to get lost in.

Bug - this one has been around quite a while, but I only discovered it recently. Updates every weekday. A comic with bugs...I'm in love.

Runewriters - a fantasy comic that features a lot of magic, shape-shifting and a deaf protagonist. For that alone it's worth a look. And the necromancer has a pet zombie pony. Aaaw.

Demon of the Underground - I have no idea where this is going, but I love the b/w drawings. Also: ferrets.

Shiver Bureau - set in a Victorian-ish London, the world has a problem with Spooks. These ghosts cannot, for some reason, cross into the afterlife and it's the job of the Shiver Bureau to 'help' them. So-called Inspectres can make them cross over and Pickle is one of those people. He has just arrived to take up his new job and he's already up to his neck in trouble. I love the style of this comic.

Derelict - taking place in a post-apocalyptic setting, we follow Dang Thu Mai across the flooded remains of what used to be our world. Even without much dialogue, there's a lot of story to be discovered.


Derelict Teaser from Ben Fleuter on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book of Choice: Zoo City

Zinzi December is one of the Animalled: people who are guilty of something and who, as a consequence, have been bestowed with an animal, a consequence no-one can really explain. The animals just turn up. A sloth in Zinzi's case. With the sloth came the gift of being able to find lost things and so Zinzi is hired by music producer Odi Huron to find one half of his latest project, a teen-pop duo.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes is, at heart, a detective story and a fairly hard-boiled one. Zinzi is not an immediately likeable hero, she works as a 419 scammer and she certainly has no illusions about her work. But she grows on you, as does the sloth. I didn't know anything about the book when I read it, didn't even read the blurb on the back (e-book...) and that made it that much more awesome. It took me a moment to understand that, yes, Zinzi has an actual, living sloth in her closet and why it is there.

I'm always happy to discover books that are not set in the US or the UK. Along with a thrilling story, you get to explore a whole new place. Zoo City takes place in Johannesburg, a city I knew little about, I did some research after reading the book. I would have wished for a glossary of all the Afrikaans words and those in some of the African languages spoken in South Africa. But it's fairly easy to take a good guess at what's meant.

The theme of animals as a sort of familiar has something of Pullman's Golden Compass and Beuken mentions the book in a fake movie review featured in Zoo City. But being animalled is nothing like the connection people have to their animals in Pullman's world, it's much, much darker. It's never really explained how being Animalled works, but that's part of the appeal. There's such a thing as too much detail. I laughed out loud when the first human to be Animalled was mentioned; an Afghan warlord with a penguin. Who wore custom-made body armour.

Another book from the Humble Bundle e-book bundle and I think my favourite of all of them so far.

Reviews 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Leonids

It's the weekenend, you can sleep late tomorrow, so go out and watch the Leonid meteor shower. It peaked yesterday, I forgot about it, but it will still be going strong for the next couple of days.
So get out, bring warm clothes and a blanket and enjoy the show.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bestiary, Part 1

Some mythical beasts. Feel free to use them, they are, to the best of my knowledge, in the public domain. Like the maps, the illustrations are from Menschheit und Weltall, a book published in 1900. Click on the photo to get to Flickr where you can download the original files (around 2000x1500).

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a sea monk

IMG_5077
a 'pig-whale', probably a walrus

more beasts

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Spritzwal - spurting/blowing whale

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sea snake

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sea horse

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again the spurting whale, together with the pig whale

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sea dragon

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sea monster

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sea cow, sea dog (seal) and sea horse

Many of these illustrations appeared originally in the Fisch- und Thierbuch bei Conrad Gessner

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: The Stars are Wrong

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time


After finding a map in the underground vault, the expedition has a course to follow. They travel through the desert, with an oasis as their temporary goal to top up their supplies. Fox thinks that Kamal doesn't lead the expedition in a straight way, but it's probably just necessary detours to avoid dunes that are too step and such things. The Egyptian workers are nervous because they think that the expedition is cursed.

At the oasis, everyone gets some rest. At dawn, Hayden finds that the workers and most of the camels are gone, together with Kamal. There is no trace to be found of them. After some deliberations, Thomas and the others decide to hire another guide, Murat, and some more workers and press on.

tentacles ahead


The first day passes with nothing much happening. Since Hayden has only six people (including himself) to keep the camp safe, it's decided that everyone will take part in keeping watch. Jasper begins his shift at midnight and spends a very quiet two hours, although he notices a patch of darkness where he's fairly sure stars should be. But it's small and he might just be mistaken.

The second day is equally exciting. On the morning of the third day, Richard is woken by the light of the dawn, although he should have been on watch during the night. A quick search of the camp later it becomes clear that Corporal Miller is missing, with no trace leading away from the camp. His footsteps lead to a nondescript patch of desert just outside the camp and stop there, he didn't even fire his gun.

Thomas and Richard remember the sound of huge wings they heard during the attack on Thomas' friend Emily. When they mention this, Hayden scoffs at the suggestion that a giant bird or monster took Miller, but he's angry that Thomas didn't mention what happened at Emily's before. They bicker for a while until Jasper brings them back on course, accusations are not helping anyone. Jasper also mentions the void between the stars he saw, just in case it might be important.

They travel on and in the afternoon, the scouts come back and report that the expedition is going in the wrong direction. They should be south of the mountain ridge, not north. Hayden takes a closer look at the compass and they find a piece of metal wedged in it, enough to make the compass point just a bit to the west. They make camp, angry and dispirited because more than a day is lost.

During the night, Jasper and Fox (with his omnipresent bag) are on watch when Jasper sees the void between the stars again. But this time it grows bigger, swallowing more and more stars until they are standing beneath a black emptiness. It's hard to see, but something is moving in there and when it grows bigger, they can see a writhing mass of limbs, tentacles and wings. Jasper raises his revolver and shoots at it. He seems to have hit the thing, but he gets swiped by a tentacle and is knocked to the ground, losing his weapon and the use of his right hand.

Fox also tries to shoot and he's wrapped in blackness, let go and then grabbed again, this time for good. Jasper can hear him scream in pain and fear. The others have been woken by the shot and look around to find Jasper and Fox. It takes them a few moments, but then everyone comes running towards them.

Thomas is first and fires upon the thing. He hears its scream and it's like nothing he has ever heard before. Jasper tries to get to Fox's bag where he knows the dagger is. When he is only a couple of steps away, the ground gives way beneath him and he sinks, like he has stepped into water. Unfortunately, it's still sand and he has a hard time keeping afloat, especially since he cannot reach firm ground.

Thomas has reached them, grabs the dagger from the bag and attacks the tentacle that is coming towards him. Again, the thing screams and this time the sound is so loud and so hideous that everyone who hears it drops to their knees. The thing vanishes and the stars return as if nothing has happened.

Jasper is almost buried alive, he has just managed to keep his head above the sand when it turned solid again. Thomas begins to dig him up, with the help of a corporal. Richard is in a state of shock and remains that way for some time, believing himself to be back on London. Craig, his manservant, takes care of him. Hayden and Lieutenant Farnsworth are a bit better off and recover quickly from the shock of seeing and hearing such unexplainable things. Jasper finds to his relief that his hand is not broken, just badly sprained. Fox is gone, without a trace.

No-one sleeps that night and in the morning, they discuss turning back. But again, they decide against it, although none of them have much hope that they will come back from this expedition. Thomas' hand and arm have aged twenty years where the thing touched him and the dagger's blade is covered by a black substance. When Jasper touches it, he still feels the tingling he felt for the first time, so he assumes that it's power is not broken.

He looks up to see a wall of darkness coming towards them - a sandstorm. Everyone scrambles to get to cover. The soldiers start digging, while the workers use their camels as barriers. Thomas and Jasper do both, Craig gets Richard into a hole he dug for them because Richard is still pretty much out of it. And then they wait while the storm descends upon them.

-------------------------------

Nothing says: you're fucked! like a tentacled monster from the void between the stars coming for you.

And the mood of the expedition is accordingly, although no-one is turning back. We've come too far to go back now. Things could have been worse, I think we were quite lucky to survive as comparatively unharmed and sane as we did.

Considering that we were almost ready to kill him at the first sign of trouble, Hayden has grown on me. He's becoming frustrated because it gets almost impossible for him to do his job of protecting the expedition. He has already lost three men and now he has to come to terms with the fact that something unbelievably powerful and evil is coming for them. Not that the others are less intimidated by this, but at least Richard, Thomas and Jasper had known already that they would have to deal with supernatural things.

Thomas and Hayden had an uneasy relationship right from the start and just when it began to improve, the attack on Emily came up and Hayden felt that Thomas had been keeping things to himself that were important. And so things when downhill between them again. The dynamics between those characters are among the things I like best about this adventure. I also liked the relationship between Jasper and Fox, but that got cut short brutally. I would have been willing to bet that Fox would be not survive, but I didn't expect it to be quite so dramatic. And Kamal...hm. I'm still not sure about him, but I expect to meet him again actually.

And now a sandstorm. When the GM started to describe it, I immediately thought of this photo and of Sven Hedin, whose accounts of his travels through various deserts I used to devour as a kid. I think I need to read them again, they are quite fascinating. From Pole to Pole can be downloaded from gutenberg.org.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Old Man's War

You're 65 years old. And on your birthday, you get a letter from the army or rather from the Colonial Defence Forces. It goes something like this:
The CDF needs you! Join when you're 75 and we will make you young again. You will get to go to space, protect human colonists, meet interesting alien races and kill them. Unless they kill you first (which they probably will).

But you've stopped reading after the 'make you young'-part, didn't you? Of course you did. And so you sign up and when you turn 75, you join the CDF and they really make you young again, but maybe not quite as you expected.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi follows John Perry, who joins the CDF on his 75th birthday, leaving Earth for good and going through the process of becoming young again and becoming an elite soldier at the same time.

The battles he fights in are a hell of a ride and thrilling to read. I enjoyed the banter between him and the rest of the Old Farts (as they call themselves), a group that forms itself during basic training. I laughed out loud a couple of times when I read the book duringh my morning commute.

I also liked the alien races, especially the Consu who seem to treat war as a kind of hobby (although Perry quickly finds out that there's more to it than that). The book is something of a sibling to Heinlein's Starship Troopers and touches on political and social themes in the same way, making it much more than just a exciting science ficton story. Although, again like Starship Troopers, it can be read purely as that. But then you're missing most of the fun.

Like Pirate Cinema, I got the book from the Humble Bundle e-book bundle. I'm about halfway through all the book included in the bundle and so far there was not a single disappointment and a lot of great reading.

Reviews 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Wages of Fear



The Wages of Fear is a 1953 French-Italian movie and deservedly one of the classics in the history of film. It tells the story of four men stranded in a tiny village in south America. When an American oil company offers them one thousand dollars each to drive two trucks with nitroglycerine to a burning oil fiels, they jump at the chance. It may well be a trip none on them will survive, but it's also their only way to leave.

The movie takes a good half an hour to introduce us to the characters and when things finally get going, we have a very good idea of who they are and how they relate to each other. A modern remake would probably start of with the explosion and then just hire a couple of random guys. But since we've already spent so much time with them, we really care about the men. It allows Wages of Fear to be a psychological study as well as a thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Even after almost sixty years, the movie works. I've seen it a couple of times and I still bite my nails when Yves Montand as Mario backs the truck out on the crumbling platform or when the men try to detonate a big boulder blocking their way. It's simple and very effective, one of the best examples of what a director can do with a good story and not that much else (although it was a very expensive movie at the time).

Oh, and Yves Montand rocks the dirty undershirt before Bruce Willis was even born.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

No Hiding Place



Since I'm listening to a lot of gospel lately, here's one of the most epic scenes from Babylon 5. Lord Refa is a brilliant character and whenever I re-watch B5, I find myself looking forward to this episode.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Maps

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Mercator map, 1587

Here are some historical maps for your enjoyment. Feel free to use them, they are, to the best of my knowledge, in the public domain. I took the photos from Menschheit und Weltall, a book published in 1900. Click on the photo to get to Flickr where you can download the original files (around 3300x2700).

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map of the Nile sources, 1862

more maps here


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1856 map of Central and East Africa

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Africa, 1800 and 1899

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16th century map of South America

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Russia, around 1550

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Russia, 1549, by Sigizmund Gerberstein, an Austria ambassador to Russia

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1690, Mercator-map of the Arctic

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Gobi and Lop Nor desert, by Ferdinand von Richthofen

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book of Choice: Pirate Cinema

I bought Cory Doctorow's novel Pirate Cinema as part of the Humble Bundle e-book Bundle, but as always, you can download it for free at Doctorow's website

And I highly recommend that you do or buy it or check your local library for it. Whatever floats your boat.

Like For the Win and Little Brother, it's set in a not too distant future, maybe only a few years from now if things go wrong. In the world of Pirate Cinema, people depend on having online access for pretty much anything (more than we already do) and if you are caught breaking copyright laws, then your internet access and that of all your family members gets revoked.

This is what happens to Trent, a teenager who loves to create his own little movies from snippets of movies by famous actor Scot Colford. He can't face his family after he ruined their lives and he runs away to London. There he meets another runaway who introduces him to squatting (in an old pub they fix up as their home, the Zeroday) and dumpster diving for food. And they connect with other people who create movies, eventually setting up a pirate cinema operation that shows their own movies in secret locations like graveyards and sewers. But the law is about to crack down even harder on copyright infringements and Trent (now calling himself Cecil de Ville) and his friends prepare to fight back.

At times, reading a Cory Doctorow novel is like reading a cyber guerilla handbook and I mean that in the most brilliant way possible. I always learn something new and useful from each book and I loved the clever and outrageous things Trent and his friends came up with to solve their problems. Reading Pirate Cinema was like watching The Sting.

One thing I always enjoy about his novels are the characters - they quickly grow on you and after a few pages, you feel like you've known them for years. My favourite character in Pirate Cinema is the one we never really meet: Scot Colford. Trent talks about him a good deal in the book and man, I wish there were Scot Colford movies so I could watch them. And all the other movies the people make in the book.

Reviews 2012



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Masks and Idols

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The Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg has a great collection of masks, mainly form the South Seas. From quite adorable to very crepy, they are impressive and powerful. If you find yourself in need for some inspiration for some idol for Call of Cthulhu or a mask worn by a high priest of a cult in your game, maybe these will help.

If you want to use these online, I ask that you link back here and maybe to the homepage of the museum and that you don't use the photos commercially. Otherwise, feel free to get creative.

The above is a mask from the Ivory Coast, its name is korobla, which means "Release the bone". When people were thought to be under the influence of an evil spell, that mask was used to release them.

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more masks here


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these are from New Guina

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from New Ireland

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Also from New Guinea: a skull that has been decorated with coloured clay, seashells and other things. This was done both to skulls of ancestors as well as to skulls of enemies.

And my favourite piece from the whole collection. Enormous masks called Hareicha made by the Beining from New Guinea. They can be up to twelve meters tall and probably represent benign spirits. The masks were worn during the coming of age-ceremony, carried on the head of a dancer and held upright by a number of helpers with ropes and bamboo poles. But not much is known about them because by the time Europeans wanted to know more about them, the Beining culture had already changed so much that no-one made the masks any more and only a handful of people remembered seeing them used.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Hitler's Hangman

Hitler's Hangman - the Life of Heydrich by Robert Gerwarth is the latest autobiography of Reinhard Heydrich.

It begins with the assassination of Heydrich in Prague on 27 May 1942 and then goes back to trace Heydrich's life from his childhood in Halle an der Saale to his career in the navy (cut short by a dishonourable discharge as a result of his womanizing) and then his rise in the party, closing the circle with his death a few days after the assassination and the aftermath.

Despite his reputation as a dyed in the wool-Nazi, Heydrich was not very interested in politics as a young man and he was not one of the veterans of the party. His wife, Lina, was a rabid anti-Semite and already a member of the party when they got married. She suggested looking for a job with the SS.

So it was more the thought of a secure job and the chance to earn military honours even after having been dismissed from the Navy that drew Heydrich to the Nazis. But once he had joined, he turned into one of the most feared and powerful men of Nazi Germany and he really believed in what he was doing. Which I think is a story found in the biographies of many party members, but still a fascinating one. It's easy to imagine yourself in his position - a young man with the chance to earn money and fame and power.

He was given the chance to almost single-handedly build the SD, after convincing Himmler that he knew what he was talking about with knowledge gleaned from spy novels - absurdities like that are also not uncommon in the history of Nazi Germany, especially when Himmler is involved.

The author dug up a lot of documents about Heydrich's private life and uses them to explore his character and motivations. A lot has been written about Heydrich as a ruthless, power-hungry man, a monster, but he wasn't born that way and it's interesting to see how he becamse Hitler's hangman (a moniker given by Thomas Mann when commenting on Heydrich's death). It doesn't hurt that the book is written in a very enganging style that makes it easy to read while being well-researched (the bibliography is massive. taking up almost 40 of the 478 pages).

I would have liked to read more about his wife. She outlived her husband by over fourty years and she never once expressed remorse or just second thoughts about what he had done. She always defended his actions, even though she claimed that she knew nothing about them at the time. I'm interested in the psychology of women like her or Winifred Wagner, who continued to adore Adolf Hitler until her death as well. There must be a lot of mental acrobatics involved in maintaining that position for decades. But that is worth a book of it sown.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

7th Sea: Beasts

Part 1

The Judge explained to me that a membership to the club was to be had for complete silence about anything going on behind these walls plus five hundred florin. I agreed that this was a very reasonable price. Actually, I would have expected a test of loyalty of some sorts, at least it's what I would do if I were so inclined to host such a club. Something to ensure that any new member would thoroughly incriminate himself. But I was rather relieved that they were too confident or too stupid to think of this.

In the meantime the others all had found their way into the house, as I was later told. De Chevalier had a run-in with the Madame, whom he convinced to talk to him - she is indeed something of an unwilling partner in all this. Ramon found Lucia, only to be surprised by Logan.

rooftop duell here


While Logan waited for Lucia to gather up the cat, who had followed her here, Ramon decided to investigate the other rooms and walked in on de Chevalier and the Madame. He withdrew, not waiting long enough to realise that the situation was harmless, and was caught out in the open when du Doré came up the stairs. Ramon managed to slip into a doorframe and du Doré walked by without seeing him, entering one of the rooms. Logan and Lucia joined Ramon, only to be surprised by du Doré who had seen Ramon's reflection in the window at the end of the corridor.

Du Doré accepted the challenge to a duell with Ramon. He took a shot at Logan, deliberately misaiming and told Ramon to keep his Avalonian dog from barking. The shot rang through the house and alerted the Judge, the Ussurian and me to the fact that something was wrong. We ran upstairs to see what was happening and I came just in time to see du Doré lunge at Ramon, thrusting his rapier deep into Ramon's chest. He didn't strike with his usual surgical precision, though, and Ramon was not only left alive, but in a shape to fight.

Logan aimed his musket at me and we silently agreed to keep the masquerade up a bit longer. The Judge and the Ussuran came up the stairs behind me and I heard a roar from the Ussuran - he was transforming into a bear. I had read about this, but I had never before seen it and I'm in no hurry to see it again. The bear attacked and Logan shot at it, but that didn't slow it down very much.

Lasombra, Lucia's cat, did slow the bear down. I have no idea what he exactly is, but he changed shape as well, into a fully-grown panther and threw himself at the bear. Du Doré decided not to wait for any more surprises, shot out the glass of the window behind him and climbed to the roof, with Ramon in pursuit.

I followed them, although I knew that I could not interfere with the duell. Of all the things I have done in my life, standing there on the roof and watching the duell was one of the hardest. Ramon managed to injure du Doré, but failed to parry a second lunge that drove du Doré's weapon deep into his chest. I looked on in horror as Ramon fought to keep his balance. He dropped his rapiers and collapsed to his knees when du Doré drew his blade out of the wound.

I was sure that Ramon was dead, but I had no intention of allowing du Doré to deliver a coup de grâce and I threw a knife at him. At the same time, he took a step back, gloating over his victory. Which is not a bright idea when one is standing right at the end of a roof. I'm not even sure I hit him. In any case he lost his balance and fell. I was just in time to grab Ramon who was slipping off the roof.

He was barely alive and I'm not sure he will survive. I did get him inside through a skylight and I did my best to tend to his wounds. I stopped the bleeding, but I'm no surgeon, which is what he would need.

I'm tired, it has been a very long day. I'll continue this in the next letter, for now know that I love you and that I wish you could be here.

Marcello

-------------------------------


It's really, really hard to die in 7th Sea. Nonetheless, Ramon's player almost managed it and it made for some very powerful scenes. He wanted a challenge and du Doré certainly was one. For those interested, the swordsman school he used is called Snedig, from Vendel.

It was a very close call. Ramon failed to parry that last lunge by just one point and if he has sustained one more wound, he would have been dead. The player told me that for a moment he came close to simply letting Ramon fall to his death from the roof after du Doré had pulled his rapier out and it would have been a wonderfully dramatic scene. But I'm glad he didn't do it and so is Marcello.

Friday, November 2, 2012

7th Sea: Perversions

Dear Isabel,
you may find parts of what you are about to read sickening and I apologise for that. But I'm not in the habit of lying to you and you know yourself fully well what a dark place this world can be, so I am not going to sugarcoat what has happened.

The morning after we had returned from the fight at the inn, I received an invitation to the Judge's house. The rumours had finally attracted his attention and he wished to see me. Lucia insisted of getting herself hired as a servant at the house and was accepted even at such short notice. She planned to pass information to us over the day, but we didn't hear from her, not the best start for all this. Although it may have been perfectly possible that she just didn't find the time, she had been hired as a kitchen maid after all.

I arrived at the house in a carriage the Judge had sent for me and was brought inside where the judge and a tall, severe-looking woman were already waiting for me. It quickly became clear that the Judge did indeed believe in the rumours and thought that he had come across a kindred spirit. He took me to see his cellar where he has a well-equipped torture chamber. But a lot worse than the sight of all those instruments was Lucia, blindfolded and chained to the wall, along with two other women.

The Judge removed Lucia's blindfold and then turned to me, asking me in a hard voice what I wanted here. I was badly surprised by hearing du Doré voice behind me, very belatedly recognising the woman as him. He whined that he had planned to have some more fun with me, but if the Judge wanted to end it here, then Ramon alone would do nicely. They made as to grab me and I dodged them, pulling my rapier. The Judge ordered me to put away the weapon unless I wanted Lucia to die. The two women next to her slipped out of their bonds and removed their blindfolds, they were the two slatterns du Doré had with him at the Dean's party.

I shrugged and told him to do what he had to do. I said that I was here because I had heard intriguing rumours – it is rare for people with our interest to find like-minded people. And as to the fight in the tavern, I was merely going along with my partners. After all, I do need some protection and there's nothing better than the company of honest men for that. Lucia aimed a kick at me and called me a bastard, they all had trusted me. I replied that this is exactly what made it so easy to deceive them. I could see that Lucia wasn't acting or at least not completely...it seems I still am an excellent liar.

The Judge and du Doré believed me as well and asked me to accompany them. Before we left, the Judge told the two women to kill Lucia. I asked for a favour: Lucia may be a bit older than than my (or rather Don Gabriel's) preferred prey, but after the weeks we had spent together, I had actually planned to have her. The Judge agreed and ordered Lucia to be taken away. On our way out, I asked du Doré to let me have five minutes with Don Ramon alone when he had him at his mercy. I told him that I wanted to see Ramon's face when he realises that he had been lied to and deceived. I did hope that I wouldn't need those five minutes, but if Ramon had been captured, I would have had the opportunity to help him.

A short ride in the carriage later we arrived at the Black Lily Club. The Ussurian was there, as was the Madame. It seemed that she was not all that friendly with the Judge, but he had enough of a hold on her to order her around. The Judge took me to a billard room where we waited for a while. I had been spinning my tale further and I had no reason to doubt that the Judge believed every word of it. I had no idea where Lucia was or any of the others, but I hoped that they were close.

-----------------------------

Sorry, Isabel gets called away and will finish reading the letter later.
Part 2 is here

Finally, Marcello can do what he does best: play a role, lie and deceive people. He loves that and despite the dangerous situation, he enjoyed himself...although he probably wouldn't admit that, especially not to Lucia. She really had her doubts about him, he was that convincing (rulewise, a 67...15 to 25 is a normal success).

Ramon had a great scene following the carriage over the roofs. If you have ever played Assassin's Creed, you know how it looked. The GM asked for a ton of rolls: balancing, jumping, swinging, running and Ramon's player mastered them all, ending the run by jumping into a tree next to the club and from there on the wall surrounding the inner courtyard. It was an impressive piece of dicework.

We had talked about using a cold start to get a game running: describing a situation to players and then asking them how they got there. I used that for my Endland campaign and it generated a couple of interesting stories. The GM decided to try it out. It went well enough for Marcello's start scene, arriving at the Judge's house and for a scene Ramon would have later with du Doré. But when he asked me to describe the Judge's torture chamber and Lucia's situation, I pretty much refused after some hesitation. I think this situation was ill-suited for the technique. It was a scene that had a lot of influence on what would happen later in the game and, even more important, it involved another player character. I don't think this should be left to a player, at least not without some preparation. But that was more of a minor glitch than a catastrophe. The GM went ahead and described the scene himself and we played on.

All in all, this is the most fun I've had at 7th Sea and that's saying a lot, it's one of my favourite systems ever and I always enjoy myself. But playing the side to Marcello's character that usually has to stay hidden, the liar and scheming scoundrel, that was brilliant. I do hope that the court of Charoux will offer more opportunities for that.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Denmark

So. One week in Denmark. Four gamers, one house, a ton of games, glow in the dark lollipops, lots of caffeinated drinks and sensible amounts of alcohol, not as many chocolate and sweets as there could have been: we had fun.

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We took walks on the beach.
And we gamed.

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The local wildlife was adorable.
We did some gaming.

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We got painfully blasted by sand when walking on top of the dunes in a high wind.
We removed the sand from ... everywhere and we gamed

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The beaches were littered with leftovers from the Atlantikwall. Cue some bunker exploration.
And some gaming

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More bunkers.
More gaming.

If you're planning on doing something like this, you better make sure that everyone gets along, though. We've known each other for a couple of years now and we got along extremely well right from the start, so we were pretty confident that this would work. And it did, with some minor tensions that resolved themselves after talking about them. So if you have a group that fits together well and the chance for a gaming holiday: go for it. It will be epic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Cops and Robbers

Characters:
Sven Tore Berglund - private detective
Harry 'The Pen' Standish - reporter
Stuart Dunbar - a Bobby

Stuart is walking his beat in the East End when he hears the sound of a Bobby's whistle and runs towards it. He finds his colleague Hugh kneeling next to a body of a well-groomed gentleman. The man is very much out of place here and has paid for it with his life. Someone stabbed him, but not without working him over before that. While Hugh goes to get Inspector Avery Shaw, Stuart gathers up the dead man's belongings and aims a kick at a street urching trying to steal something.

investigate further


The man has a letter, some old books and a ring on his finger Stuart can't take a look at before Shaw arrives and takes command. He orders the body to be taken away and tells Stuart to present himself at the station in two hours.

Stuart did read the letter and found out that the body is probably that of Clemens Wright, who worked for the antiquarian bookseller Anthony Morris and was on his way to deliver some seemingly rare books to a Mr Morgan.

Harry is at the Dravot's Head where he meets the street urchin Colin. Colin tells him about the murder and that the Powell Brothers may be involved, a notorious gang of thugs. When Harry is about to leave the pub, he runs into Sven.

Sven in investigating a case and has uncovered that a shipping company is smuggling weapons to Germany. He's in the company of one of the men who work at the company and Harry knows enough to ignore him for now.

At the station, Stuart meets Anythony Morris in Shaw's office. It seems that Morris has quite a lot of influence over Shaw, enough to demand that the case gets special treatment. Stuart is assigned to it and is told to make sure the book that was stolen is found again. It's called The Writings of the Black Man. He notices Morris ring and thinks it's similar to the one Wright was wearing.

He goes through Wright's belongings again and find a piece of paper in one of the books. It says: "E.L., Coborn Street" - right around the corner from where Wright was found.

He wants to take another look at the body. On his way to the morgue, he runs into Harry and Sven and they both tag along. Their cab stops across the street and they all see a little girl in a nightshirt walking away from the building. Unfortunately, this is not really unusual in the East End, she probably has nothing else to wear. When they enter, they find no-one there, but they do find bloody footprints that match the girl. A quick look outside by Sven shows that she's already gone.

They follow the footprints further into the building and discover that both the coroner and his helper have been brutally murdered. It looks as if their chest has been pushed open from within. Further searching reveals nothing that would give any hint to solve this crime. Stuart remembers that he has seen the girl before, she was in the crowd that had gathered around Wright's body.

After they have told wat has happened to Shaw and others have taken over that investigation, they proceed to Coborn Street where Edward Lovett's shop of odd and ends is located. Lovett is not happy to see them and it takes a bit of strongarming to make him talk. To be precise, someone already talked to him and used his fists generously. When Lovett refuses to say anything, Stuart wonders aloud how long it would shut the shop down if he had to come back with backup and search for stolen goods.

Lovett gives in and tells them that he wanted the stolen book and Wright agreed to get it for him. Morris is the one who beat him up because he assumes that Lovett has it, but he doesn't. He also tells them that both Wright and Morris work for the Leopold Society.

They leave and when they walk out onto the street, they hear a voice from the shadows. "He's going to die." Stuart has very little patience for this and grabs the man. He recognises Fireface, a well-known doomsayer with a burned face. Fireface speaks only in hints and rumours, but it becomes clear that the book contains a ritual that, if performed successfully, will mean a catastrophe for London.

The book is in the hands of the girl (her name is Audrey) and there will be three more victims. But Fireface doesn't elaborate any further than that.

--------------------------

This was planned as an adventure for one evening, but of course it didn't work out that way. The characters were pre-made for us and we had our pick. I chose the bobby and I like him a lot. He's not the gentlest of men, but not as rough as many of his colleagues.

I think the Dravot's Head is becoming a fixture in our Gaslight adventures. I came up with it for the Cat and Dai adventures as a place for them to start their ventures in the East End and somehow it keeps turning up. I named it after Danny Dravot from Kipling's brilliant short story The Man Who Would Be King

Monday, October 22, 2012

Endland: Radio Tower

We played through the first Endland adventure in Denmark. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 on Obsidian Portal.

I think it went quite well. My worst nightmare did not come true. I was afraid that a player would say: why don't we do this and punch a huge hole into the story.

I had a lot of fun watching them figuring things out, occasionally hindered by botched perception and prophecy rolls. But my favourite part of it all was having the players interact with the NPCs. There are a lot of story seeds there and a couple of those are already coming along nicely (Antero the butcher for example).

Arvo's player has bowed out of the campaign because he doesn't like the setting. I've recruited another player and I'm looking forward to the character he'll create. Until then, I get to mull over some story ideas I have, we're definitely planning to continue the campaign.

Memo to self: don't tell players what they cannot know. Just keep your mouth shut. Also: keep notes while playing. Might have to learn shorthand.

The spider, in case you're wondering, is modelled after a trapdoor spider.


Wikipedia has more information on them. They really are incredibly fast and it's very hard to see their burrows. They are also good diggers and can make a burrow even in hard soil.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Monsters

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time

The expedition enters the Temple of Toth. Thomas and Kamal lead the way and are accompanied by Jasper, Richard, Sir Jeffrey, Inspector Fox, Captain Hayden and Corporals Denham and Rester.

A tunnel decorated with a starry sky and reliefs of plants and animals gives way to a big chamber with pillars and statues of various gods, among them Anubi, Apophis and Suchos. Toth is conspicuously missing. Another tunnel leading further away from the chamber has collapsed. This is where Dümichen's expedition ended and where the bodies of the French solders were found.Kamal is still unwilling to help and tells Thomas that sometimes painful decisions have to be made when Thomas mentions that he's just trying to find a friend.

Searching the chamber turns up nothing much until Richards notices that Kamal is standing on a floor panel showing an ibis engraving. Kamal steps aside, without showing any reaction, and Thomas raises the stone slab with the help of the corporals and most of the others. Richard uses the time to talk to Kamal and is told that Kamal doesn't know where Sir Thomas Kincaid is. He gets the feeling that Kamal wants to say more, but cannot get him to talk.

The raised slab reveals a vertical shaft with brick walls. Jasper drops a stone, finally gettting a reaction from Kamal who shouts No! But it's too late and the stone is already falling.

click to explore

After a few seconds Jasper hears it drop into water and estimates the shaft to be about thirty yards deep. Thomas uses a rope to lower an oil-lamp into the shaft and after about fifteen yards the brickwork stops. At thirty feet the lamp is reflected in water and then it dips into the water and goes dark.

Richard volunteers to climb down into the shaft and finds out that the shaft opens into a huge vault. After some deliberations, the expeditions abseils into the vault, with Fox, Sir Jeffrey and two additional corporals staying in the chamber. The water is deep enough to come up to their stomachs and smells foul.

They strike out in one direction and after some wading come to a wall with a small ledge in front of it. Jasper steps on something hard and lifts a human skull out of the water. Further fishing uncovers more skulls and bones that Jasper judges to be from both humans and animals. Thomas hears a splashing, but cannot see anything. The group climbs onto the ledge, but when it's Corporal Rester's turn, he sees a bow wave coming towards him.

A huge jaw snaps at him and in the unsteady light of the torches, they all see enormous teeth, red eyes and a scaled, sickly white body easily the size of a grown man. Rester takes a shot at the monster and for a moment, everything's quiet. Then he's pulled underwater, frighteningly quick. The frothing waters turn red and the group runs to the right where the ledge widens.

The crocodiles try to climb onto the ledge and everyone who is armed takes a shot at them. Corporal Denham gets bitten and the crocodile twists, tearing his leg off. Jasper grabs the corporal and hauls him to the wider part of the ledge. Richard is attacked and falls into the water. Kamal pulls him out, jumping over the kneeling Jasper to get to him.

They all make it, with Corporal Denham unconscious and bleeding heavily. Jasper applies a tourniquet, but he knows perfectly well that the man will die if they don't get him out of here quickly.

The ledge forms a sort of apse with an altar and a big statue. Thomas recognises the altar from his dreams, although the rest does't fit. The statue has lost its ibis head long ago, it's lying shattered on the floor. But an inscription is still readable:

This is the likeness if Toth. Allies are the Gods of the Moon and of Fertility from ancient times, the bearer of the Ibis and the ruler of the crocodiles. The holy crocodiles are moon-coloured and thus their ruler Suchos has given them to Toth, for them to help protect the secret of Toth.

Next to the inscription are two small panels shwoing an ibis and a crocodile. Thomas destroys them and discovers a lever. He twists it and the water starts to drain, the crocodiles follow it to avoid being left on dry land. After some time, all the water is gone and all that is left is foul-smelling mud littered with bones. Jasper brings Corporal Denham up to the surface and sets to work on treating his gruesome wounds. The others take a closer look at the vault and find depressions in the floor that correspond with certain signs of the zodiac. With their help Thomas can determine the direction for the expedition to head next.

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Once again I realised that it sometimes sucks to play a doctor. You can't just run for your life when people are hurt. But Jasper did manage to save Corporal Denham's life and I'm quite pleased.

The vault was a very eerie place, especially when nothing much happened for such a long time. It was almost a relief when the crocodiles did appear, but that gave way to a slight panic quickly, especially when the secret of the statue didn't reveal itself despite our searching.

Kamal stays a quite mysterious character, but I think that all three players tend to not see him as a threat. He would have had a lot of time and opportunity to harm us. Time will tell.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Up the Nile

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time

On board the Egypt Star, the groups makes their way up the Nile. As promised, Fox hands the dagger over to Jasper for the night and stays to keep an eye on things. Jasper feels somelike like a slight electrical shock when he touches the dagger for the first time, but it may have been his imagination. He falls asleep and wakes up, hearing a quiet, monotonous singing and laughter in front of the door. He tries to wake Fox who sleeps deeply and who fixes him with a very penetrating glance when he wakes up. Then Japser wakes again, with things back to normal. Fox really has fallen asleep, but reacts normally when woken. Jasper doesn't get much more sleep that night and the little he gets is disturbed by bad dreams.

In the morning, he talks about this with Thomas and Richard and in the afternoon, everyone gets together for a briefing on the expedition. The next stop is the caravanserai Thena el-Gebel where Egyptian workers will join the crew. From there, it's about half a day to the excavation site at Uno. Again, Kamal remarks that things hidden in the Egyptian sands often stay hidden until the time is right for them to be found. Captain Hayden snarls at him and both Richard and Jasper defend Kamal.

Sunday morning sees the expedition at the caravanserai where everybody is introduced to camel riding, with varying success. An uneventful ride later they arrive at Uno and find the baboon statues marking the site of the temple without many problems. Digging starts and Thomas asks everyone to stay close and not wander off alone. Which Richard promptly does, but two of Hayden's Husars keep an eye on him. At dinner, Kamal tells an old story about an oasis, much more beautiful and greener than all others - always just a day's ride away, never to be found.

The next day nothing much happens, but on Tuesday (December 9th 1890) the diggers have found the entrance to the temple. Thomas takes a closer look and finds hierogylphs engraved into the lintel. He writes them down, gives instructions to continue digging and then tells Jasper and Richard in private what they say: "Believer, enter the realm of the God of the Moon with reverence for he is the Lord of Time."

Richard suggests that someone should take a look at Captain Hayden's orders and at Sir Jeffrey's papers and volunteers for the mission. Thomas and Jasper keep the others occupied with a meeting and he gets into the tent unseen. Neither Hayden's orders nor Sir Jeffrey's papers (including his personal diary) reveal anything suspicious, it seems that they are not hiding anything.

A short while later, the entrance to the temple is cleared and the expedition enters.

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Well. It seems that we were a bit too enthusiastic with our conspiracy theories. Pity - Captain Hayden made such a great subject for them. In other news: Richard is no longer useless. Jasper has been wondering about him for a while now, ever since Fox seemed so eager to have him come along, and he's beginning to understand why. But maybe he'll just ask Richard one of these days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Ninjas

last time...
Rat's Nest on Obsidian portal, character lists and a wiki are here

Glitzy chose the safehouse in Tacoma where the Scrappers had stayed while the Rat's Nest was occupied by the Picas to meet with the trideo pirates.
Maggie is left with the two prisoners in an old school bus, Christos and Mira have been bound with zipties. They start a discussion with Maggie about how much they can pay her if sge just lets them go. Unfortunately, that attracts the attention of two orks, Duke and his sister Terry, members of the Ragers. They threaten Maggie and attack when she called Duke a warthog. Maggie tases them both and puts some zipties on them as well.

Meanwhile, Ray and Rusty checked out the apartment where the meeting was to take place. It had been raided by the police earlier, as Rusty still vividly remembers, and they notice that the seal has been broken, although the tape is still in place. They ass the door and go up a flight of stairs. Between the noise of the passing monorail trains, they can hear someone leave the apartment.

Rusty goes downstairs to check it out and finds no-one there, but he does find three cameras. When he tells Glitzy, she says that's okay and that she'll be there in a minute. Rusty leaves and takes up his place on the fourth floor again. Ray goes downstairs to watch the street.

Glitzy arrives in disguise and goes up into the apartment. A minute later, two cars stop in front of the building. There are two trolls in the first one and a guy whose whole posture screams bodyguard in the second one. they check the street and one of the trolls tells Ray to beat it. Ray steps into the building - not what the troll meant, obviously.
When everything seems save, a female elf gets out of the car and is accompanied to the apartment by one of the trolls and the bodyguard.

Ray has climbed up all the way to the roof. From there, he spots a guy hunkered down behind one of the cars in the parking lot who is watching the apartment. Another private detective probably. He tells Glitzy about the guy and she doesn't seem worried (he's Michael Chase, a private detective she knows). Ray's next observation has her very worried indeed, though: a group of Kabuki Ronin come barrelling along the street, high as a kite and looking for trouble. They home in on the building.

Glitzy tells them all to get out of there and they run, up to the roof while she goes out of the window. The troll downstairs is the first casualty and looses his head. A part of the Ronin go upstairs, another part run around the building where they meet Glitzy, Chase and eventually Maggie, who freed Christos and Mira. Rusty, Ray and the Uwired people are on the roof. Rusty goes first down the rickety fire escape, planning to check if the coast is clear.

Which it isn't and he fires his Streetsweeper at one of the Ronins, putting him down and retreats up the fire escape to reload, wishing for a better weapon. One of the Ronin follows him, the rest get into a fight with Glitzy, Maggie and Chase and lose. Rusty and the bodyguard overpower the Ronin and hogtie him with zip ties.

The Ronin who went up the stairs are now on the roof and attack the second troll. Ray comes to the rescue and fights them with superglue and dye. After a couple of confusing seconds, dye-blinded Ronin have glues themselves to each other, to their weapons and to the roof. Doc Wagon and the police are on their way and so the Unwired people and the Kiddie gang split, but not before the Unwired pirates have agreed to stay silent for a while and the bodyguard has thanked the Kiddies for saving their lifes.

Everyone but Ray leaves as quickly as possible. He steals a katana and one of the bikes from the Ronin, hides it around a corner and then leaves as well, but not after some stunt driving to get rid of the police cruiser following him. Back at the Nest, Glitzy tells them that they did well. Ray sells her the katana - she buys it, but doesn't seem all too happy about it. The next morning, he goes and gets the bike and sells it to Monkeywrench, the Nest's main mechanic and chop shop owner.