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

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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

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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.

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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.