Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cthulhu: Masks

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.
Ferdinand Rosenthal - a dealer in antiquities, specialising in the South Seas

last time

Thursday, 1 June 1921

Gero tries to trace back the crates they took to the port last night and after some searching, he find a dealer of antiques by the name of Rosenthal whom he think is probably the owner. Not that Rosenthal is an uncommon name, as Schwarz reminds him, but still, Gero is reasonably sure. Schwarz returns to the hospital and talks with his boss Seltmann about the brainless body that Seltmann had wanted him to look at so urgently. Seltmann squirms and tries to downplay it all, but finally he comes out with the truth: Reuschner, accompanied by the police, took the body and threatened that any further investigation would have consequences.
Rosenthal gets a package from Reuschner and is asked to deliver it to Babelsberg, to the UFA film studio, which he does.

Friday, 2 June 1921

Schwarz and Gero have decided to pay Rosenthal a visit to try and draw him out about the crates. This is not very successful, although Rosenthal does say that he owns such crates. Gero find a mask he's strangely fascinated with and buys it for the proud sum of 200 Mark and he asks that the mask be delivered to him. Rosenthal first assumes that Schwarz is Gero's father and when he learns that they are not related, he does wonder about their exact relationship. But he doesn't let it stand in the way of business.

Just as they are leaving, the scar-faced guy they already know comes in with three other men and pretty much takes them hostage, to the outrage of Schwarz and the quiet indignation of Rosenthal. The man wants to know where Rosenthal delivered the package and after it becomes clear that the men are perfectly willing to use force, Rosenthal agrees to show them. So they arrive at Studio Babelsberg and when they get out of the van, Schwarz tries to attack one of the men guarding them. His attack fails, but it's a distraction Gero uses to pull his revolver and shoot. A shot and violent time later, only one of the men is still alive. They decide that it's better to get out of there as quickly as possible. Schwarz puts the survivor in the back of the van and drives to his backyard clinic.

Rosenthal returns to his shop, while Gero stays with Schwarz, but Gero's too busy throwing up once he fully realises what just happened to notice what Schwarz does. The man is badly hurt and there is no way he is going to survive. So Schwarz does nothing to help him and asks questions instead. He finds out that the package Rosenthal delivered contained Hitler's brain and was supposed to be taken to Hamburg, but now that whoever the man works for knows where it is, that is not going to happen. Apparently the man works for or rather is used by creatures intending to take over the power, but that may well have been the ramblings of a dying man. In any case, Schwarz leaves the van somewhere in Wedding once the man is dead.


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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Post-Christmas Post

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First off, as every year, the tree.

krippe

And then the nativity scene. The figurines are a motley crew, most of them have been around for decades and have acquired a place one way or the other. The house itself is new - my dad made it himself and I think it's absolutely gorgeous.

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And here's the most weird thing I got for Christmas:

pickles

Yes. It's a glass of pickles and my parents actually imported it from the US. Those things are delicious, especially on white bread with butter and maple syrup/honey, and you cannot buy them here. I haven't opened it yet because when I do, the whole glass will be gone in a couple of days. I have no self-control when it comes to Vlasic's pickles.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sunfish



Here, have a sunfish being released back into the wild. The thing stuck in his back is a tracking device and sunfish have such thick skin, he doesn't feel it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

7th Sea: Marbles

25 Septimus 1668, Donnerfall

Well. Donnerfall may be a quiet little place normally, but the games brings a lot of interesting people here. I asked the Castillian blacksmith I met yesterday if he could make me lead shot for my sling. He had not done that before, he assured me he could or rather that his apprentice could. I'll try out the first sample later.

We also met an Ussurian trader who had, among assorted knick-knacks, two truly interesting things to offer. One artifact that at first glance looks like some kind of bauble, and a handful of glass marbles that have a peculiar oily sheen. Aidan seemed interested in the artifact and I bought both things, more hindered than helped by Aidan's doubtful skills in haggling for the price.

But before we could investigate further, it was time for the log tossing. I have no idea how I did it, but I managed one toss that was not a complete embarrassment. But we lost without a doubt to both other teams, as expected. We befriended the Hainzler team and drank a few rounds with them until we were interrupted by the news that someone had been murdered.

Just outside the town, Ludwig Doppelkeuche, the minstrel we met when we first arrived had fallen victim to a gruesome crime, he had been impaled with great force. To be honest, I could not stomach looking at him for long. He's not the first man killed violently I have ever seen, but I doubt that I will ever get used to the sight. Gregor has some experience with tracking and he could tell that someone riding a warhorse or at least a horse big enough to be taken for one was responsible for the murder. He and Aidan also told me that they had seen black oil seeping from the man's wounds and that the surrounding plants were all yellowed and dead. When the priest arrived and did the sign of the Cross over the body, all that vanished. I do not know what to make of that, but I have no reason to doubt the word of my companions.

We attempted to follow the trail left by the horse, but it soon became clear that we were not going to find anything. The trail lead us into the mountains and the horse had been ridden at a full gallop, so we were much to slow to catch up. We turned back.

In the evening, Aidan and I investigated the artifact and the marbles a bit further. The artifact is capable of producing a light much brighter than anything I have ever seen, but we are still not sure what exactly it is. It might be a mistake to think of it as a lamp only. The marbles seems to be just that. Until I decided to test if they were really glass. I went outside and hit one of them with a stone. I was thrown to the ground, blinded by a flash of light and feeling like my heart had been pierced with a splinter. I could not catch my breath for a while and although the pain in my heart stopped, the arm I heald the stone in felt like a thousand ants were crawling over it. I had no use of it for hours, just as I had lost my sight. I feared that it would remain that way and that I was blind, but after a few hours, my sight returned, as did Aidan's. I do not know what kind of magic this is, but I intend to find out. If I survive the last taks of the competition: keeping my balance on logs that are rafted downriver.

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

I have encountered Syrneth technology before as a player and I knew very well that hitting it with a stone was a recipe for disaster. My GM did his best to hide his 'you are not doing this-face. I'm just happy that all my fingers are still there. And I'm still going to play around a bit more with those marbles - Marinus hasn't got a sling for nothing.

next time

Monday, December 16, 2013

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Blame It On the Clams

A couple of sessions ago, our characters - small-time crooks, thiefs and would-be runners in the loosest sense of the word - broke into an asylum run by the Catholic church to free one girl. They had already found out that the asylum was a front for some sort of operation that left a number of girls dead each week. They did not expect to find Seattle's mayor and other dignitaries using it as their own private brothel. But they decided to use this opportunity for a spot of blackmail, to force the mayor to close the asylum and get the girls into a place where they would get real help.

If you are feeling a bit doubtful about the value of that agreement: congratulations. So were most of us, but we felt at least that we had a chance to do some good and to get out of this without too many ruffled feathers because we had been careful to hide out tracks. And then Zach, our technomancer goes ahead and calls the mayor, right in front of our hiding place. He gets hit by black ice and actually tries to pass it of as a case of food poisoning (bad clams) when we asked what he did. Meanwhile, the runners doubtlessly sent by the mayor have a fix on our position. We did get away and so far, we have been evading them, although I still wouldn't want to bet much on our chances.

It was beautiful, in a way. Kind of like seeing a nicely coordinated train wreck in an action movie. This is absolutely in the top five of my personal 'You cannot be serious'-moments in Shadowrun. Zach has this really serious problem with trusting people and in-character, he's toast when he does something like that again. Everyone is entitled to one really big fuckup and we do get why he lied about it - years of fending for himself on the street and it's not like technomancers are welcome anywhere but in a corporate lab. But that's not something you can do twice, not without getting killed by your friends or not having any friends left after it (either because they're dead or because they left you).

Out of character, we did talk about it because we wanted to make sure that the player knew this. We had one very similar situation before and that one went fubar quickly, with the player fully intending to keep it up. The group didn't last for other reasons, but that character would not have a very high life-expectancy. At the very best, the player would have had to make a new character because no-one would have trusted the old one any longer. I really appreciate that we were able to talk about it this time without anyone getting pissed and with a result we all can live with.

The campaign on Obsidian Portal

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shadowrun: Multiple Characters

We started to play a sandbox-style Shadowrun campaign a while ago. Normally, Shadowrun isn't the first system you think of when someone mentions sandbox, but it works really well. None of us play the normal runner characters, we're just trying to survive in the slums of the Redmond Barrens. So I took the chance and made myself a shadow doc who had build a shadow clinic at the Rat's nest. Unlike the sourcebook's Rat's Nest, we decided to make it into a working community where people look out for each other and soon, my doc turned into one of the leaders of that community. I hadn't planned for that. And I also hadn't planned for the fact that Neil was no longer a character to do much outside the Nest - he had his hands full dealing with all the people in the nest and to make the Nest work.

So I took over Rusty, one of the gang members from the Nest, a young man who dreams of becoming a runner. I've been playing him for a while and he just got the offer to learn how to fly a small plane and to work as a pilot (with a side order of smuggling). At the same time, the group is planning to break into a chocolate factory - a plan that could make us all rich, given how rare chocolate is. But it's also risky and with a steady job on the line, Rusty doesn't want to risk it. And so I get to play a third character, a former NPC who is involved in the chocolate factory run.

I very much like this about the Rat's Nest campaign - with so many NPCs and such a lot of potential stories, I have the freedom to decide that my characters just won't do some things. I can of course do that in any game, but often it means being left out of the next few gaming sessions or playing a one shot character, something I don't like all that much.
Three characters is quite a lot and it takes up some time to not neglect one of them. We play a lot of small scenes on Skype or by email, the campaign is heavy on social interaction anyway. It also gives the GM a lot of ways to introduce stories or information, Rusty will for example hear things Neil doesn't. I only recommend this style of playing if you are prepared to invest more time than the average character needs, but it really is worth it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lady Blackbird: A Good Villain

After escaping from the Hand of Sorrow (while blowing up the hangar and kidnapping Captain Hollas' son Basil), the crew of the Owl took refuge at Atlas 4, an abandoned mining colony now occupied by goblins. Snarge got a very icy reception, but the goblins agreed to give them supplies and coal in exchange for imperial radio frequencies and a closer look at the fighter the Owl still has in tow.
Cyrus finally decided to share Hollas' offer (kill my son and get rich or don't kill him and every bounty hunter will be after you) with Lexi on the way to Haven and Lexi managed to restore the message on the data crystal. And after a very good meal cooked by Norman, everybody on the ship got to see it, to varying degrees of dismay.

I said a while ago that one of my goals as a GM was to write a villain that my players will really hate. I think I may have succeeded with Captain Hollas. It probably helped that I'm channeling Tywin Lannister when I play him. The players don't trust him any farther than they could throw the Owl and there was a lot of indignation that he even thought they would accpt his offer.

I've been waiting for months for Cyrus to tell the crew (we play by forum, so it's slow) and I enjoyed the moment. This one time, I would have liked to sit with them all around a table to actually see the reactions, but the mails and OOC comments were quite entertaining, too. It's been already pretty much decided that they won't kill Basil and I'm curious what they will come up with to solve their problem. I hope they decide to mess with Hollas - I would love to play him again and even I want to see him taken down a peg or two.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Want My Hat Back

The bear has lost his hat and he asks everyone they meet if they haven't seen it. But no-one has.
Although some animals may answer more truthfully than other.
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Until the stag asks what the hat looked like and then the bear remembers that he DID see his hat.

If you want your picture books nice and fluffy and bright, then this is not for you. If you can deal with or love a bit of black humour, then by all means get "I Want My Hat Back" by Jon Klassen. It's great for reading aloud, especially if you do the voices and of course you must do the voices.
I like the art a lot, it's simple but very expressive. I have this thing for characters who mainly communicate their emotions with their eyes and Klassen does this extremely well. He's also great at telling a story with very few or no word at all.

Reviews 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Five-ish Doctors



The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who has so many wonderful things, but the Five-ish Doctors is my favourite. You can watch the whole thing here on the BBC website.

7th Sea: Let's Dance

23 Septimus 1668, Donnerfall

We finally reached Eisen, although Matushka had her own plans concerning our route. Heavy rains and washed out pathways lead us to Hainzl instead of Fischler, but that may well have been a lucky coincidence. At least I have a good chance of selling all the Winterwasser at a nice profit - we arrived at Donnerfall just in time for a local festival and while the Eisen love their beer, there's nothing quite like Winterwasser for a morning without regrets.

I ended up sharing a room with Aidan McBlair, an Avalon explorer, and Gregor, one of the men who guarded our caravan. As silent as Gregor was during our journey, as gregarious he is now. We shared our meal with a local nobleman who told us all about the festival. It's a tradition that used to be quite an event before the war and this year is the first time for years it's celebrated. The Vendel League organised this in the hope of furthering relationships between the Eisen kingdoms. Good relationships are good for business. The main even is a three part contest, a chance for the local lumbermen to show off their strength and skill. A team from Hainzl will be competing against a team from Fischler and emotions are already running high, with every team and its supporters hoping to show the others the ropes.

When Gregor heard that anyone could sign up for the contest, he wasn't content until we all did just that. I suspect I may come to regret that later because at least one part of the contest will depend on muscles alone and I do not see myself picking up and throwing a hundred pound log. If I get out of this with all my fingers, I'll count myself lucky. We did, to my surprise, win the first part - a sort of dance with the ultimate goal of getting close enough to the other teams to knock them out. As an added difficulty, the Fischler team insisted that everyone drink four tankards of Knat, turnip beer. I will not forget that taste in a hurry. Aidan didn't look his best after drinking it and neither did the Hainzl team. The Fischlers were very unsure on their feet, but I'm not sure that had anything to do with the beer. Truth be told, I think that the Vendel League had a hand in rigging the contest, tampering with the beer and I don't know what else. It would be quite a fortunate coincidence for them if the outsider team would win, uniting Fischler and Hainzl in hate for us, so to speak. I am in no hurry to go out alone into dark back alleys, I know that much.

I introduced myself to the League representatives, one Wilhelmine Semmelbeck - I think I have heard her name before - and Antonio Christiani, a Voddace who, as I hear, has overthrown himself with his family and is now a loyal member of the League, as strange as that sounds. Whether we lose or win the contest, I do have their attention and that is something to be valued. Speaking of attention, Aidan certainly has mine. I do not fool myself nor am I about to do something stupid, but it goes over my self control to simply ignore him when he takes off his shirt right next to me. The women in the audience were completely smitten as well - I'm quite sure he'll enjoy his popularity.

The log tossing will take place once everone is sober, later this day. I think I'll take the chance to explore a bit more of Donnerfall in the meantime and see what the town has to offer.

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

We've started another 7th Sea group, for one adventure for now, but with the chance of making it a regular thing. I play Marinus van Leyden, a young Vendel merchant, who is on a journey from Ussura through Eisen to negotiate trade contracts for his father's business. This is to be his journeyman's piece and he is all set up to take his place in the firm, marry and one day take over the family business. Marinus isn't quite sure that this is what he wants. He knows that he does not want to marry and for the rest...he'll have to see about that. But for now, he is enjoying his adventure.

Neither Aidan's player nor me were keen to take part in the contest, but then we thought, what the hell and went with it. This is 7th Sea after all and caution doesn't have much room in this game. It's a game to jump right in and simply do things because it's fun. Bonus point if it looks cool. Our characters go well together and we had fun playing out our new-found celebrity status.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Renegades



I can't wait to see this and I really hope it gets picked up to be turned into a full series.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bloodchildren

Bloodchildren is a collection of short stories published by the Carl Brandon Society to help funds and to celebrate what would have been Octavia Butler's 66t birthday. It's no longer available unfortunately and that's a shame because it's a great read.

It features stories by Indrapramit Das, Shweta Narayan, Caren Gussoff, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Lisa Bolekaja, Chris Caldwell, Jeremy Sim, Erik Owomoyela, Dennis Y. Ginoza, Mary Burroughs, Kai Ashante Wilson and of course by Octavia Butler herself. To my shame, I have to admit that I had never heard of Butler before, let alone any of the other authors. That's why I love short stories, they are a good way of getting to know new authors.

My favourite piece is Steal the Sky by Erik Owomoyel, a steampunk story that explores themes of slavery and the theft of culture (in colonial schools for example). Apart from the thrilling race between two airships, I loved the ending, the main characters throwing a wrench into the well-oiled machinery of the Empire...maybe.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “Dancing in the Shadow of the Once" introduces us to a woman whose job it is to show off her cultural heritage to people, like a living museum piece. She has been heavily augmented to help her remember it all and she acts as an ambassador for a culture already dead or at least dying, killed by the very people who now gawk at her. On a few pages, a vivid world is build and I would love to see more of it.

The authors come from very diverse backgrounds and it's obvious in their stories. It's rare enough to have non-white protagonists in book or movies, let alone as the main characters. I enjoyed their different voices and the diversity presented here. I do hope that Bloodchildren will be made available once more and if that happens, I recommend you go and buy it.

Reviews 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sand Slinging

Last week, I made myself a sling and tried to bake some sand shot. I quickly learned that the sand I used was too coarse to work really well. About half of the shot crumpled while drying, but I had about ten left to shoot in the backyard. They really disintegrate on impact or even before, so there is little chance of damaging anything or hurting someone, although of course you still mustn't use them to shoot at people or animals. The projectiles were heavier than anything I had shot before and while I still have to work on my aim, they went a satisfying 40 or 50 yards.

For the next round, I bought chinchilla sand - very find sand that's sold for dust baths for chinchillas and other pets. That should solve the crumbling problem.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

7th Sea: Festival


last time

The campaign is on Obsidian Portal. You'll find characters and more background information there.

Isabel's Diary

We have arrived safely at Ramon’s home, just in time for El Fiesta de Adiestramiento. After all the worries of the last weeks, a few days of carefree celebration was just what we all needed and I enjoyed myself immensely. It has ben far too long since Javier and I danced with each other and we made good use of the opportunity. As did Alba, who thoroughly enjoyed the attention. Javier needs some time to get used to the fact that his little girl is old enough to be courted and to marry. I am not entirely used to it myself, but at least I watched her grow up. When he last saw her, she was only ten years old. It took every ounce of self control he has to just sit and watch and not say anything, but he did just that and let he have her fun.

The long distance race was a much awaited part of the festival and Alba was eager to participate. She did not have much convincing to do on either Javier’s or my part, but we could not get a word in before she had finished to make her case. Lucia let her ride her mare and no-one seems to be quite certain where Lucia got the black stallion she rode in the race. The race was decided between Lucia, Esmeralda and Alba and Alba won. Javier, who taught her to ride as soon as she could walk, was more than proud of her and he did not even mind that it got her even more attention.

I have been reading about all those people for years now and it is strange to finally meet them. I could not resist asking Don Ramon what he had been thinking, getting Javier into all this trouble? I know of course that Javier does this perfectly well just by himself and I am the last person who should say anything, I have gotten him into trouble more times than I can count. Don Ramon’s rather dismayed expression was priceless, before it dawned on him that I was winding him up. He got a small revenge by asking me if it was not rather unbeseeming to embarrass my husband’s friends like this. But women of my age – I think embarrassing young men is our privilege.

Regardless of my age, I can very well understand why women everywhere seem to fall for Don Ramon. Old I may be, but blind I am not. He does rather well in the role of head of the household, too - his father is in ill health and people quite naturally expect Don Ramon to take over. He's not entirely comfortable with it, that much is obvious, but I think that is more because he is not quite ready to give up his freedom to travel and do as he likes with his time.

I have not had much opportunity to talk to the others, but I intend to do so.

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

I plan to play Isabel now and then, when it fits into the game. She and Javier have been married for more than thirty years and have never spent much time apart until Javier had to go into exile. They know each other very well and share a love for secrets, intrigue and adventure. Despite the circumstances, Isabel enjoys having the chance to travel again.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Zone Anomalies

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1. The first warning sign is a sussuration on the cusp of hearing, impossible to tell which direction it's coming from, maybe from everywhere. If you stand still, it will come closer and closer and then you'll be engulfed by a sudden heatwave. Run now or you'll be incinerated. Better still, run when you first hear it. The anomaly is capable of some movement and may attempt to follow anything that strays into it. It doesn't affect inorganic material, so you may find gear and clothes perfectly in order next to charred remains.

2. A spot of lushly growing plants. If you look closely, you may be able to see overgrown bones. If you come closer, the plants wil rapidly move in your direction and everything they touch now freezes, including any person or animal in their reach.

3. A nook in a ruin is filled with beautiful crystals, like a geode. Any stalker foolish enough to touch it will be infected: crystals with start to grow on his clothes and skin, dig themselves into his flesh. Amputation is usually the only way to stop it.

4. The hair on your arms and the back of your neck stand on end. You don't know if it's your instinct or static electricity, but you decide to stop and test for an anomaly. A nut bolt thrown ahead of you gets hit by lightning. You stumble backwards, momentarily blinded and deaf, but at least alive.

5. It's brutally hot and the air is shimmering in the heat. By the time you notice that you are stepping right into a distortion that is clearly not just an optical phenomenon, it's too late. You collapse, brought to your knees by an overpowering feeling of guilt - you remember how you left your parents to become a stalker and get rich, how the last words between you were harsh and hurtful. It's all you can think about. You friend comes after you, tries to pull you out and he starts screaming on top of his voice. You remain where you are, caught in your own head, not even noticing how your bodies weaken and eventually fail. When the next stalkers come along, they will find only bones. And if they're wise, it will be a warning to them.

6. It's hard to see, but there seems to be a humanoid figure standing in the barren spot. It's translucent and if you circle round, you find that from some directions, it becomes more real, but never enough to be actually seen. It's like it's shifted halfway into another dimension. Did it just move? You take a step closer and suddenly the ground becomes hot. You jump back again and realise that it's not the ground - your shoes have started to dissolve and the liquid they turn into burns your flesh. Water may or may not wash it off.

7. Without warning, the plants around you start to wave wildly. Their movements grow frantic while they turn into stone from the earth upwards. You run for your life until you stumble and fall. Eyes wide with panic, you look back over your shoulder and everything is normal. Nothing happened.

8. You scare up a rat and it scampers ahead of you. Suddenly, it's thrown forward and in the blink of an eye, it's on the other side of the room, torn into pieces that slam into the wall. You throw a nut bolt and when it hits the anomaly, it accelerates and buries itself deeply in the wall. You decide to seach for treasure elsewhere.

9. There's a smell of burnt leaves? vinegar? rotting fish? Your group can't agree, but you all smell something. The guy you took along doesn't have your instincts and takes another step. Threads like spidersilk materialise out of thin air and wrap themselves tightly around him, covering him completely. He screams and stumbles backwards into your arms. The threads have hardened in seconds into a hard shell and he starts to suffocate. Your knives can cut through the shell and you get him out, gasping for breath and bleeding from cuts all over him, there was no time to be gentle. The smell is gone.

10. You come across a brand new car, it's engine still running, paint job without scratches. Someone is sitting behind the wheel, looking like the picture of health, although he doesn't move and, if you look closely with binoculars, doesn't seem to be breathing as far as you can see. The nut bolt you throw next to the car remains as it is, but the ripped bandage you tied to it for better visibility starts to repair itself, growing into a whole roll. Anyone careless enough to step into the anomaly will start to grow younger at a rapid pace.

From the Zones is a community project by Fate SF. Head over there to find more cool stuff to use in your Roadside Picnic/Stalker inspired or influenced game.
I created these anomalies with the help of random tables from the Stalker RPG.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well...

On the 30th anniversary of his death, every TV channel on Earth starts showing Buddy Holly - standing on Ganymede with no idea how he got there. He reads out a sign with the address of Oliver Vale who is watching and who has no idea why and how he is supposed to help. But everyone else thinks he knows or, worse, that he's responsible and Oliver quickly finds himself a hunted man.

Rock and roll plays an important part in this story and so do the deaths of the big stars, from Holly to Elvis to Hendrix. Oliver's mother idolised Buddy Holly and the Day the Music Died is a major shock for her. She tries and succeeds to find meaning in music, but one by one, the big stars all die and it gets harder and harder for her. I'm fascinated by the early days of rock n roll and by the whole phenomenon and the story plays with that exact theme.

I love the quirky, absurd premise of the novel and the even more absurd turns the story takes. It's told from the view of several different characters - one of them a Rottweiler-cyborg (who actually was my favourite character). I was reminded of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, another novel that takes a very unexpected turn somewhere and really messes with the reader's expectations.

You can downloadBuddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton for free here

Reviews 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Slinging

sling

My new 7th Sea character uses a sling as his weapon of choice. Unlike other systems, 7th Sea doesn't underestimate the sling - it's not a toy, but a serious weapon that can do deadly damage in the right hands. And it's easily built. I made myself one from string and a piece of leather, following these instuctions.

sling pouch
sling puch back
The sling pouch is sewn to the braided string because I have the feeling that this will be more durable than punching holes into the leather and knotting the string to it.

sand shot

Since I don't have a big field or something to practice in, I tried making shot from sand, again with instructions from slinging.org, a website I recommend to anyone with an interest in learning how to use a sling. The first row wasn't wet enough and already starts to crack and I think the second batch was too wet to dry out quickly even in the oven, but I'll give it a couple of hours more. I'll report back on how it went. I already did fire some shots, with foam balls and some small stones and it went surprisingly well. The foam balls flew some thirty yards. I just need to work on my technique because they tend to go to the right.

part two - shooting with sand projectiles

Saturday, November 9, 2013

7th Sea: A Letter from Don Gabriel


last time

The campaign is on Obsidian Portal. You'll find characters and more background information there.

Dear Andres,

You will find enclosed my report on the latest activities of Los Vagos. They have gotten even more daring lately and have attacked openly twice in the last few days. I have lost some men, as has the Inquisition. On a personal note, you would find me grateful if you would alert your people to look for any sign of Javier. After he escaped with the help of Los Vagos, we have unfortunately been unable to locate him or his friends.

He did have the nerve to attack my home – he has always been brazen and it seems that five years on the run have done nothing to change that. I am told that he had not only his friends with him but also a troop of Eisen mercenaries. The mercenaries have stolen my best horses and have escaped across the river into their homeland before we could find them. The Eisen embassy has heard about this, but seems disinclined to do anything about it. I doubt that this surprises you any more than me.

Javier and his band of miscreants overpowered my guards and slaughtered di Dionna, attacking from an ambush, as I am told. I doubt they would have stood a chance in a honest fight. My son fought bravely and was then shot in the back when he tried to sound the alarm. Both he and di Dionna are on the verge of death and I cannot yet tell you if they will live.

I had been content to leave Javier to the Inquisition. But now I will kill him myself and he will wish that the Inquisition had caught him first.
As far as I know, he still is in Castille. At least I have not heard of his arrival in Paix. Please be so kind and let me know if any of your sources have news.

Respectfully, your friend
Don Gabriel Luiz Montoya de Vasquez

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

Marcello will go by his real name Javier from now on - that will take some getting used to.

We only wanted our horses back and our weapons. That got out of control and Ramon once again almost died, as did Alain. Di Dionna is (was?) a fearsome fighter and would have been a match for any of us. For the record, we did not ambush him...but that's what Don Gabriel was told by his men, of course. Javier tried to save both him and Don Gabriel's son, but the Doctor skill is HARD and even with drama dice, I had no chance. We called for the nearest doctor, but we did not stay to see what would happen.

I could have written this from Javier's point of view of course. But I think this is not something he likes to think about, much less write to his daughter about. And since another player suggested that I write a post from the Inquisition's view anyway, Don Gabriel offered himself to write this.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar: Brains

last time

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

Tuesday, 30th May 1921

Schwarz and Gero meet at the Nasses Dreieck where they find their contact, Franz, a distinguished-looking gentleman who’s rather out of place in this dive. They introduce themselves with the calling cards they got from the Society of Leopold and Franz accepts them. Their job will be to guard a delivery, some crates that must be brought to the Westhafen and loaded there on the MS Elyria. Schwarz notices that Franz has a scar, mostly hidden by his hairline, arching across his brow.

At the hospital, Schwarz checks in quickly before he leaves for the two weeks of vacation the Society has arranged. His boss tries to get him to take a look at a body – someone who fell victim to an accident, but the really curious thing is that the man had no brain. Someone seems to have removed it and yet, the man lived. But Schwarz has other things on his mind right now and doesn't really believe that wild story anyway.
They go to the meeting point where Franz told them to show up. There are four other men guarding the crates, among them the leader of the men who attacked Hillmann’s parents, who doesn’t seem to recognize them and who has now the same scar as Franz. Halfway to the port, the cart is stopped by two policemen walking their beat. They ask to see the contents of the crate. The first policeman is shot by the man with the scarred face, Schwarz attacks the other one to knock him unconscious, but he fails and the policeman is shot as well.

With the cart on its way again, Schwarz offers a flask to the men, spiked with castor oil. Only one of them drinks and is left behind when the oil takes effect not much later. At the pier, the captain of the Elyria and the scarface talk to each other and their eyes start to glow green. It seems that the captain loses his shape for a moment and turns into something incomprehensible. Schwarz and Gero use that moment to attack the last two men guarding the crates, take one of the crates and run. From behind them come a bright green light and a shrill sound that hurts their ears. The two men from the Society of Leopold who have waited hidden to help run towards them, but stop dead in their tracks and stare at whatever is coming at them from the ship. The sound paralyses them and Schwarz who drops to his knees. Gero abandons the crate, pulls Schwarz to his feet and throws his stun grenade behind him without looking back.

It explodes and then everything goes silent and dark again. When Gero slowly turns around, he finds that the two men they knocked out and the carthorse are dead. The MS Elyria is completely gone. The only thing left is a big tin can that rolls towards Gero. He picks it up, it seems to be filled with some kind of liquid sloshing around inside. The can is labeled with ‘A. Hitler’ – a name Gero knows because he read up on the Nazis. Reuschner, their contact at the Society of Leopold, arrives and Gero gives him the tin. Neither he nor Schwarz accept the reward Reuschner offers them, they just make it clear that they want nothing further to do with the Society. But they both agree that it’s worth investigaing why exactly the Nazis are carrying around the brain of their leader in a tin can.

next time

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

I have this feeling that when these characters die, it's because they have pissed off the Society of Leopold, who are not the right people to cross. But right now, they look, to Schwarz and Gero at least, like a threat to society. And the Nazis - what's the deal with them? In 1921, they were not all that widely known yet, so why is the Society so interested in them? Not to mention brain in tin cans. That is wonderful pulp and the Cthulhu mythos very much has its roots there.

Next time, we'll be adding another player and we're back to our usual Cthulhu group, I'm looking forward to that. And I really want to see how Gero and Schwarz get along with the new character. Especially when they start to talk about all the things they have seen in the last months.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Neverending Story

The Neverending Story is a re-re-re-read for me. Insert a couple of 're's more. I think I got my edition when I was ten, I still own it and I've read it so often I've lost count. I grew up with this book and it grew up with me, offering new things to discover and to think about every time I read it.
Ende has been accused of escapism, for this book in particular. Allow me to quote Neil Gaiman:
"People talk about escapism as if it's a bad thing... Once you've escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn't have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality."
And this is the Neverending Story in a nutshell. Bastian does escape his life for a time. And he makes mistakes, he learns from them and he comes back. It's not a book about taking refuge in fantasy and losing touch with your life. It about fantasy and imagination as part of your life.

I'm not a great friend of the movie, it reduces the book to the bare bones of its story (not even the full story) and takes away pretty much everything that makes it so special. It's a nice adventure movie, but nothing more. If you have seen it and never read the book, you've missed out on such a lot.
Older editions are set in green and red print, with beautifully designed initials from A-Z at the beginning of each chapter. Do yourself a favour and look for such an edition.

Michael Ende's father was the surrealist painter Edgar Ende. You can see his work here and I highly recommend that you browse a bit, the painting and drawings have a dreamlike quality that I find fascinating. I don't know if it's intentional, but the character of Yor the Miner strongly reminds me of Edgar Ende. Yor searches for pictures from human dreams in the darkness of his mine. Edgar Ende locked himself in a dark room and came out again with ideas and sketches that got turned into drawings later. And the pictures Yor brings to the surface resemble very much the actual works of Ende's father. Michael Ende also wrote a collection of short stories based on his father's work, The Mirror in the Mirror. It's one of his 'adult' works and has a much darker, surreal quality than his children's books, but if you like Ende's works, you should give it a try.

1. book for the Classics Club
Reviews 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Endland: Glowing Lights

Here's the recap of the last session ... that we played about two months ago. Sorry about that.

The glowing lights are inspired by cave Glowworms, a gnat species that produces sticky silken strings with glowing beads as larvae to attract and catch prey. The strings are very strong and can catch quite big insects. It's probably for the best the grub exploded on impact, they would have been quite nasty to fight.

Endland will continue in November or December, I hope. We have found a third player. Having played with both two and three players, I have to admit that it's more fun with three. Not because my players are not excellent - I loved every moment of their roleplaying. But the dynamics between three or four characters are much stronger, in positive and negative ways. Much harder to get everyone to agree, for example. And it's always nice to have some more diversity in a group.

Book of choice: Nothing

Nothing has any meaning. And so nothing is worth doing. On the first day of school after summer, Pierre Anthon leaves his class with those words. His classmates are flabbergasted at first, then angry when Pierre Anthon keeps insisting that nothing they do or will do can have any meaning. After a while, his conviction gets to them and they decide to show him that things can have meaning. They start to gather up everything they think has meaning, but their first collection of old photos, keepsakes and discarded favourite things doesn't even convince themselves. The class starts gathering things that are not that easy to give up to make a mountain of meaning that surely must shut up Pierre Anthon - and their own doubts.

Some stories are like a train speeding towards a burning bridge. You just know that this is not going to end well, but you cannot stop reading. Nothing by Janne Teller is like that and it's not an easy book to read, but one that is very much worth reading. Just be prepared for it to stay with you far longer than it actually takes to read.

The book has been banned for a short time in Teller's native country Denmark, citing too much violence and the possibility that teenagers might become depressed and even suicidal after reading it. There is very little actual violence and while the story is very dark, I think teenagers should be given more credit regarding what they can and cannot deal with. Incidentally, Nothing is in the good company of Anne Frank's diary when it comes to getting banned for being too depressing to read. An argument I find rather ridiculous - unless you plan to leave your kid totally alone with what she has read. And then the problem is not the book.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Caleb Meyer



I love me a good murder ballad and this one has a nice twist to it.

I first heard Gilian Welch on 8tracks.com - people make playlists for every imaginable theme and occasion there that you can listen to. It's a brilliant way to discover new music and it's the site I go to when I want to listen to music but nothing in my (huge) collection seems to fit.

Friday, October 11, 2013

7th Sea: Reunion

last time

The campaign is on Obsidian Portal. You'll find characters and more background information there.

Dear Marisol,

I still owe you the rest of the story how we found your mother and sister - we had so much to talk about, I'm sorry.
After we had found the empty cave, we called down the others and investigated further. Logan found some kind of mechanism that he believed to be of Syrneth origin or at least constructed using Syrneth technology. He wanted to search some more before simply trying out the mechanism. I tried my best to be patient and held back Ramon who had already reached out to pull the lever. Alain did pull it, to Logan's dismay, and opened a portal that showed us a tunnel leading further into the ground. Logan punched Alain for his, as he thought, foolishness. The technology used in the mechanism usually sets free uncontrollable amounts of energy, Logan has seen it destroy entire ships, and Alain had probably been lucky that he had just been mildly stunned.


Click for a maze of tunnels


I have to admit I did not pay much attention to their quarrel, I had better things to do. Alain stayed behind, feeling that he could not be asked to stay in Logan's company any longer until an apology had been given. While he had a shouting match with Logan, Ramon and I pressed on, overpowering two guards on the way. We found a system of tunnels, many of them closed by heavy iron doors or caved in. And we found another portal, so we turned back to get the others. In the meantime, Logan had found a tool to activate the mechanism without danger and had brought Lucia to our side of the portal.

We stepped through the second portal and found us in the upper storey of a tavern, unnoticed by the people drinking at the bar. A quick investigation turned up nothing of interest - except for the fact that the tavern was in Marcina. Normally I would have been eager to explore, but we had been following the noise from the tavern and had ignored a couple of tunnels. And in one of them we finally found Isabel and Alba, alive and unharmed. I was so relieved, I felt faint and it was a while before I was ready to let go of the two.

We took prisoner one man who stepped through the door, shouting at people and slamming the door behind him. Logan punched him right after that and he didn't have any time for a warning, so we had no problems leaving as quietly as we had come.

I had been travelling alone for so long - having almost my complete family with me was overwhelming. I think I was very quiet that night, I apologise if I seemed distant. I was just enjoying seeing you all together. It made Juan's absence only more conspicuous, but I have the feeling that he may be lost to us or at least to me. I could have forgiven him anything he did to me, but risking the life of his mother and sister, I don't know if I can forgive that. It may be better if we did not meet again.

Alba...well. She is angry at me and I can understand that. Her life has not exactly been easy, with a heretic for a father. She says she knows that Isabel and I wanted the best for her, but still. She asked to give her time and I certainly do not expect her to come around immediately, but I do hope she will, eventually. As for me, I will need some time to get used to the fact that she's almost a woman now. I missed so much of her life.

You will hear from me again once we reach Paix. Please give my regards to Frederico and Constanza. I promise that it won't be five years until we see each other again.

Marcello

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

Now Marcello's travelling with his family. Isabel doesn't want to be left behind and Alba is determined to see Paix and eventually Charouse. I didn't plan on that, but it might make things interesting. I'd like to play Isabel if the occasion presents itself.
In any case, Marcello can no longer write letters to Isabel or rather doesn't need to. So he'll be writing to his daughter and maybe I'll do some posts as entries from Isabel's diaries.

The quarrel between Alan and Logan was eventually resolved by a duell between Logan and Ramon, who fought in Alain's stead. I have my doubts that Marcello is going to forget the fact that Alain stood by and watched while Marcello's family was in danger. He understands that Alain's honour had been compromised, but Alain did put his honour above Isabel and Alba, as Marcello sees it. This will influence Marcello's relationship with Alain one way or another.

Marcina is a LONG way from Altamira, across the sea in the Midnight Archipelago. We are definitely keeping that in mind if we ever need to go there in a hurry.

next time

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Wicked Company

It's the 1760s and Baron d'Holbach is hosting a very lively salon where philosophers meet. He's also busy writing for the Encyclopédie that his close friend Denis Diderot is editing and trying to get published. Which is not as easy as it sounds because the Encyclopédie is very much influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and that brings it into conflict with the law.

A Wicked Company by Philipp Blom follows d'Holbach and Diderot through their life and introduces the reader to their views, to their work and last but not least to their friends and enemies (sometimes one and the same person). The list reads like a who is who of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Rousseau, the Comte de Buffon, Spinoza, David Hume and many others. And because they may have been high-minded philosophers in writing, but had their fault and weaknesses in life like everyone else, there is a lot of material to create a vivid picture of all these people.

It's a delightful book that makes you feel like a part of the circle around d'Holbach. I always enjoy reading an author's work much more when I know something about them as a person and A Wicked Company is very good at teaching you about both author and work. It cannot be a complete introduction to all those philosophers and it doesn't try to be. But what it did was make me want to read more - now I've met all those people, I want to know what they themselves had to say.

19th book for the Library Challenge
Reviews 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar: Crime and Punishment

last time

Time: May 1921
Place: Berlin

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

Monday, 30. May 1921

After a few weeks of absence, Gero has come round to Dr. Schwarz's surgery again and has offered to help out, as much as he can without any medical training. Schwarz has accepted the offer, although he's still not completely clear on why Gero actually wants to spend his free time there.
On Gero's first day, a wounded man makes his way into the surgery and Gero recognises Max Hillman, a fellow student, who seems more than embarrassed to be here, so he keeps silent. Gero also knows that Max' parents frown upon their son's charitable activities (rumour says he's helping out in a soup kitchen) and ending up hurt in Wedding is not exactly the thing they expect from their son.

Schwarz examines Max and finds that he has been shot and will probably die if they cannot get him to a hospital as quickly as possible. They drive Max to the Krankenhaus Moabit and there, Schwarz removes a bullet from the wound that looks decidedly weird, with strange markings on it and made from silver. In the morning, when Max is conscious again, he tells them reluctantly that he has been helping an organisation that gives out food to the poor. But they have also been transporting crates that they were forbidden to open. Max has no idea what's in those crates or even what organisation he exactly works for. He only says that the attackers were after the crates and did not hesitate to kill Max' five companions. He suggests that Gero goes to the Nasses Dreieck and ask for Franz if he wants to pretend joining the organisation as well. And he sheepishly admits that he has probably dropped his ID card somewhere in the street.

click for some crime


While Schwarz is working, Gero goes back to Wedding to look at the place of the attack. He finds a piece of metal with etchings, a key and broken lock and some drag marks. He pockets the metal piece and key and follows the marks into one of Berlin's many dark backyards. Someone is watching him from their window and Gero knocks on the door. The woman, after some sweet-talking and outright bribery with food, admits to having seen it all. The bodies of those killed in the attack were driven away on a pickup. She also says that the leader of the attackers had a flamethrower and used it to burn the crates. With her help, Gero makes a drawing of the leader.

Schwarz and Gero decide to drive out to Tegel where Max' parents live because they fear that the attackers will pay them a visit. Since they can hardly ring the doorbell with such a warning, they keep an eye on the house. After a while, they notice a pickup parked around the corner. The house has gone completely dark. They go to investigate and almost run into Max' parents who are forced out of their house at gunpoint by three men. A second later, the men surely would have seen them and so Gero decides to use the chance to surprise them and attacks. He hits one of the men over the head with the butt of his revolver. Schwarz jumps the men still standing in the doorway but fails to pull the gun from his hands. Gero's first opponent is unconscious and the second man points his gun at him. More out of reflex than with the intention of killing anyone, Gero pulls the trigger and the man collapses. Schwarz has thrown himself forward to take cover at the sound of the gunshot and his opponent goes down with him. Gero holds the man at bay while Schwarz quickly binds him.

Shaking with fear, Gero suggests that they run, but Schwarz refuses and so they wait for the police who aren't long to arrive. The police arrest them, much to Schwarz' indignation. The Hillmanns are in no condition to say much and react pretty much hysterical when Schwarz oder Gero come near them.
The story they tell during their interrogation has some fairly big holes and the inspector isn't very inclined to believe them. With the help of Dr. Kühnbach, Schwarz' attorney, bail will be set in the morning, but there is a good chance that Gero at least will not come out of this so easily, even though he is technically still a minor.

In the early morning, they have a visitor in their cell. Gero had just had a serious attack of claustrophobia and neither of them has been getting much sleep. The visitor, Herr Reuschner, introduces himself as a member of the organisation responsible for the attack on Max and his companions: the Society of Leopold. He tells them that Max is, without his knowledge, working for the Nazis and that the Society of Leopold is willing to do anything to stop them. And he would like to enlist Schwarz and Gero for that fight, at least for a while. They are free to refuse this offer and face the consequences of the evening. Or they can accept, work for the Society of Leopold as undercover agents until they have managed to get their hands on one of those crates. After that, thy are free to leave, with a substantial bonus (Reuschner suggests a sudden leap up the career ladder, all neatly arranged by the Society).

Reuschner leaves them to think about it. Neither Schwarz nor Gero have great love for the Society and the way it works, ruthlessly killing anyone who stands in their way. Even if it is for what they call the greater good. So they agree to take Reuschner up on his offer but also agree that they will use any chance they get to sabotage the work of the Society. In the morning, they are set free and meet with Reuschner again. He asks them to join the Nazis and, like Max, tells them to go to the Nasses Dreieck and ask for Franz.

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


what happens next

Well. That promises to be interesting. The Society of Leopold actually is one of the good guys in the Call of Cthulhu universe. But Schwarz in particular has a very bad impression of them and so we might well end up helping the bad guys in this campaign. Which sounds brilliant. Much better than having everything neatly in black and white.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Red Baron

Der rote Baron: Die ganze Geschichte des Manfred von Richthofen by Joachim Castan opens with a thrilling re-telling of the Richthofen-myth practically everyone with a bit of interest in the topic knows. Or even without an interest - after all, you just need to read Peanuts to come across the name Red Baron.
And then the book goes on to deconstruct that myth very effectively. Castan used a lot of sources that authors previously ignored or didn't have access to and as far as I can see, he gets his facts right.

There's also a lot of speculation about Richthofen's character and psychological state, a bit too much I felt at times. I tend to distrust attempts at analysing historical figures because it's so often used to replace facts. But here, it's never wild speculation without factual basis, it's always marked as speculation and the reader is left to draw their own conclusion.

And so we're left with a Richthofen who was not the honourable knight people love to imagine - first of all his mother, whose diary used to be an important, but questionable source for earlier biographies. Which explains a lot about the myth, along with the propaganda about him that catered to the desire for a hero people could believe in without any doubts. Instead of this, we get a man with weaknesses, who wasn't fearless, who did not believe in some code of honour even when his life was at stake.

The book has garnered quite a number of scathing reviews on Amazon and the main point of all that critique is: how dare anyone question one of Germany's last heroes? Isn't it time to stop drag our heroic soldiers into the mud?
I have no words for that much wilful ignorance. And I find it a bit disturbing that so many people feel the need to cling to the fiction of a shining hero in a war almost one hundred years ago.

Reviews 2013
Library Challenge 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Classics Club

Since the Turn of the Century Challenge collapsed and merged with the Classics Club, I decided to join. The goal is to read at least 50 classics in 5 years (so I need to be finished in August 2018...). Here's my list (which may be subject to change, depending on which books I can get because I'm not going to buy them all).

1. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
2. Don Quixote - Cervantes
3. The Stranger - Albert Camus
4. Flowers of Evil - Charles Baudelaire
5. The Idiot - Fjodor Dostoevski
6. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
7. The Old Man and the See - Ernest Hemingway
8. Ashenden Short Stories - W. S. Maugham (re-read because they're brillant)
9. Oedipus Rex - Sophocles
10. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (I've been meaning to read this for so long now)
11. Medea - Euripides
12. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
13. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
14. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol
15. A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen
16. Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov (re-read)
17. Beloved - Toni Morrison
18. Orlando - Virgina Woolf (re-read, it's been too long)
19. poems - Annette Droste-Hülshof
20. Die Weber - Gerhard Hauptmann
21. Frühlings Erwachen - Franz Wedekind
22. Professor Unrat - Heinrich Mann
23. Das siebente Kreuz - Anna Seghers
24. Justiz - Friedrich Dürrenmatt
25. The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
26. Canticle for Leibovitz - Walter M. Miller
27. The Man in the High Castle - Phillip K Dick
28. Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
29. The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey
30. The Witness for the Prosecution - Agatha Christie (re-read because I can only remember the movie)
31. Ronja Robber's Daughter - Astrid Lindgren (re-read because...just because)
32. Taran - Lloyd Alexander (re-read, first time in English)
33. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
34. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian
35. 39 Steps - John Buchan
36. Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs
37. Room with a View - E.M. Forster
38. Uncle Vana - Anton Chekov
39. Kalevala
40. Leben des Galilei - Berthold Brecht
41. Reisebilder (poems) - Heinrich Heine
41. Maria Stuart - Friedrich Schiller
42. The Tempest - William Shakespeare (re-read)
43. poems - Gottfried Benn
44. If This Is A Man - Primo Levi (re-read)
45. Unendliche Geschichte - Michael Ende (re-read)
46. The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
47. Detective Fiction - E.A. Poe
48. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley (re-read)
49. Treasure Island - R. L. Stevenson
50. Julius Caesar - William shakespeare

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

7th Sea: Hunting

For cast of characters and background information, see our campaign homepage on Obsidian Portal.

continued from the last letter

We followed the trail left by your kidnappers. It was slow going, but at least that gave me time to pay some attention to the edition of the Malleus Malleficarum Logan and I had found at the tower and the notes it contained. I did not have any difficulties in recognising your handwriting, but the content of your notes was quite another matter. It was clear enough that the notes were written ín a code, but that the book needed to decipher that code was missing – as a wild guess, I would have assumed Cautio Criminalis.

It became clear that the men were making their way towards Altamira and we decided to ride fast, following the street. We gambled that Altamira was indeed their goal and did our best to overtake them. We reached Miravete at dusk and there were three very tired horses in the stable of the tavern. Sebastian is the priest of Miravete and while we never liked each other and he considers me a criminal, I decided to talk to him. His housekeeper grudgingly told Ramon and me that he was to be found at the tavern where he had to give last rites to a stranger.

We found Sebastian just preparing to leave the tavern. Upon seeing me, he probably would have ordered the peasants to seize me, but he was so surprised that I got a word in before that and asked him where you were. Demanded to know, is the better choice of words. He did not know that you had left Altamira or that the men he had just administered to had anything to do with your disappearance.

When I told him what had happened, he ran upstairs again and slammed open the door to the room the strangers had taken. And as you know, Sebastian has a body and voice supremely fitting for barging his way into rooms. The next thing the man closest to the window knew was that he was being held out of the window by the scruff of his neck while Sebastian yelled at him. I pushed the second man against the wall, a knife held to his throat. He denied that they had anything to do with kidnapping you, but he was not a very good liar. He tried to attack me, I stabbed him in the shoulder and he fainted. I did not have the patience to wait for him to wake up, so I brought him over to the window and asked Sebastian to please not push the last witness to his death. At the sight of the lifeless body of his comrade, the second man completely lost his nerve and agreed to take us to the hiding place where their leader waited for them to return, guarding you. They had not dared to risk bringing you to Miravete, although I wish they had been stupid enough for that.

We found our way to the hiding place without problems, a cave by the river used by smugglers, accessible only from one place. With some more prompting, the man told us that his leader was not alone and that the cave was trapped. I wasn't sure what to believe, but there was nothing for it but to go and see. Accompanied by Logan, who has some experience with traps, I made my way down to the cave and we found nothing but a cold campfire and an old, rotting fisher boat. Alain had used a rope to scale the cliffs and dropped down the last few metres. He investigated the boat in search of a hidden mechanism and we signalled for the others to join us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar: Doll House

last time

Time: April 1921
Place: Berlin

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

3rd May 1921, Tuesday

The white room turns out to have no doors. At all. And nothing in it except for a big grandfather clock. Schwarz stops the clock and it strikes painfully loud. When they look again, the clock is gone and a doll house has taken its place, an exact replica of the orphanage, right down to two puppets that resemble them, lying on the floor of the room they are in.

A dripping sound makes them turn round and they see a black liquid seeping into the room from the ceiling, gathering into a puddle and stretching tentacles towards them. Gero throws one of the stones with the Elder Sign and the liquid turns to stone. At the same moment, the house starts to shake and something scratches at the walls.

A closer look at the doll house shows dark shadows that prowl outside the white room, trying to get in. Next to the room is a cross between an office and an operation theatre, the most modern Schwarz has ever seen. Gero knock on the wall in the doll house and they hear a knocking on the real wall. He then pick up some books from on of the shelves in the operating theatre and puts them into the model of their room. With a thump, the books appear behind them, in real size.

After some discussion, Gero uses a pen knife to make a door into the wall and puts some of the bookshelves in the way of the shadows. Everything happens in the real house as well. Schwarz uses the new hole in the wall to go into the operating theatre and it works just fine. Gero places the doll house inside the doll house in the operating theatre and it appears there. Since he also sees a miniature tricycle, belonging to the child whom they were warned would betray them, Gero puts the tricycle into a room and a bookshelf in front of the door. He then puts the miniature house into the entrance hall and leaves the white room himself.

Pursued by more of the black liquid, they run to reach the only room they haven't seen on the ground floor and notice that it's much smaller than it should be. The wall on one side sounds hollow, but they have no tools to break it down. So they once more use the doll house and simply break down the wall there. They find another room that contains a big elevator platform and use it.

In the basement, they find a tunnel, well-built and with electric light. They follow it to the cistern they were told to find and there, they see a sort of lectern with a huge book on it and a big well that emits a strange white glow. Both can be reached by following a footbridge across the cistern. The book contains a ritual that gives eternal life and all that is needed for its completion are two living sacrifices. Armin, the dead boy who ran into Schwarz when he tried to escape the orphanage, apears from the well and warns them: Doctor Haensler and the nurses are on their way. They come towards the cistern, the nurses burned and crippled, Haensler with black liquid dripping from his mouth and nose.

Gero attacks Haensler with the mace and misses, but causes a gruesome wound nonetheless. Emilie appears once again and urges Schwarz to complete the ritual, to give the required blood to Haensler. The doctor does as he is told, reading aloud from the book in a language he doesn't speak and yet understands. When he's finished, he cuts his hand on the lectern and splashes Haensler with his blood. Haensler once more is completely alive, while the nurses catch fire and fall into the cistern, where they dissolve.

Schwarz and Gero attack Haensler, who is not only alive but mortal again. Schwarz cuts his throat and Haensler dies. At the same moment, the walls of the well crumble and they find themselves surrounded by the ghosts of the children and Emilie. Schwarz is given the picture that was hung in the entrace wall, but it has changed and now shows happy children in front of a brightly painted, friendly house. As a last favour, Emilie open another tunnel that leads Schwarz and Gero away from the collapsing nursery. They come out into the park surrounding the nursery and see that it is once more the burned ruin it should be.

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what happens next

The doll house was an incredibly powerful object and once we had figured out that we could change the real house with it, things took a turn towards the surreal. We usually don't do much metagaming and really, we didn't do it here either. There was metagaming, but it was all done in character.

The GM admitted that he had painted himself into a corner with that story. He simply couldn't stand to see us mess up and doom the children and would have given an unusual amount of help. But we managed fairly well on our own. In any case, it was a story that got to us all and when we had finished, we took a while to just sit and talk about it. Not that we don't do that anyway, but this time we need it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Graphic Novel Challenge: Gilbert & Sullivan

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The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert & Sullivan by Laura Howell

I came across this comic on Tumblr and it pushed all my buttons: Victorian Age, Gilbert & Sullivan and what promised to be some really weird stories. And it held all its promises. I am not going to tell you where the sudden infatuation of G&S with Oscar Wilde comes from

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or why they have to fight sea creatures that would make even H.P. Lovecraft tremble with terror - I see your Dagon and raise you a Cockney Anemone!
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You will have to spend the outrageous sum of 1GBP and find out for yourself. You'll get adorable chibi Gilbert and Sullivan starring in four whimsical stories, defending the Empire against all manner of threats!

11th book for the Graphic Novel Challenge
reviews 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

7th Sea: Family

For cast of characters and background information, see our campaign homepage on Obsidian Portal.

last time...

Dear Isabel,

the journey to Castille went smoothly enough. Well. Esmeralda had decided to follow us and we finally decided to take her with us because the only way we could have gotten her to go back probably would have been unconscious or in chains. When we reached the river, Logan persuaded a Vodacce captain to take us to Castille and we landed a few miles west of Altamira.

But if I had ever really thought that this would be the simple there and back again jaunt the others had tried to convince me it would be, I was quickly brought back to reality when Esmeralda froze in her tracks on the small hilltop she had just climbed. Moments later a group of about thirty horsemen appeared, many of them well-armed with muskets, and led by Don Gabriel.

Click for family problems


I cannot say I was exactly surprised to see him. He has always had this knack of being where you least want him to be. The sight of Juan next to him, wearing an Inquisitor's robes, was a much nastier shock, I felt like my breath had been knocked out of me. You had told me that he had become more and more fanatical, but this I did not expect. I ignored him, concentrating on Gabriel - because Gabriel clearly was the leader in this ambush and because I honestly had no idea what to say to Juan. Not that we found it easy to talk to each other at the best of times, but now? What do I say to my son who apparently hates me so much that he wants to see me dead?

But the Inquisition is nothing if not methodical so we were lock up in cages and taken away, further west. Gabriel took a few men and, as he told me, went to pay his compliments to you. At least, I told myself, he had not captured you yet. It did not do much to put my mind at rest. Juan and his men stayed with us. Locked up with us was Lucani, posing as a Vodacce sailor and Logan's personal servant (to Logan's delight) - he has his own agenda in this. No-one but Logan knew exactly who he was at the time and I certainly was not paying much attention. Juan had ridden close enough to speak to me and he said that he intended to end the curse that I had brought over the family with my crimes. A curse that had already claimed his wife and son, who had died in a fire. I was shocked to hear this, I had had no idea Constanza and Juanito were dead. But before I could say anything, a shot rang out and the horse drawing the wagon Lucia and Esmeralda were transported on collapsed - as did several of the guards.

All this the work of none other than El Vago who fled, pursued by Juan and his men. Or rather who lured them away. Alain had used the confusion to open the lock of our cage and we made quick work of the guards that were left. El Vago's men took us with them, to their hiding place in a small, well-hidden canyon. It seems to be a permanent camp and a place where people can stay who have need to disappear for a while. And here I had the next surprise of this long night: Marisol. I would have rather expected to see her cheering Juan on, but apparently she has had a change of heart. I had not thought that I would ever see her again, much less hold her while she cried and apologised. I had my own apologies to make and and was some time until we felt we could let go of each other.

I got to meet her daughters - the last time I had seen Carmen, she was still a baby and Elisa I only knew from your letters. Marisol and I talked long into the night. When I asked her about you and about Constanza, she said I should wait for El Vago to return. Which I did, with less than my usual patience.

When El Vago returned, Logan had joined us, the others had gone to bed to get at least a few hours of sleep. As it turned out, this incarnation of El Vago was Constanza. At the time, I felt a it too overwhelmed by everything that had happened to muster any real surprise at this. Constanza has always been a headstrong woman who did what she wanted, so the role of El Vago fits her well.

Juan had alienated her with his fanaticism, up to a point where she feared for her live and for that of Juanito. So she had faked her own death to escape - I cannot say I blame her, although this seems to be what has pushed Juan finally into the arms of the Inquisition. But I think he would have ended there in any case.

No-one knew where you and Alba had gone, so I made a guess: the old Numian tower where we used to meet when we needed time away from our families and did not want anyone to find us. So that is where we went, accompanied by Esmeralda and Lucani. Constanza and the rest of Los Vagos had their own matters to attend to.
I did guess right, but we were a few hours too late. Logan could tell me as much by the time we had climb halfway up the hill to the tower by the tracks he found on the ground: hooves and the tracks of people forced to walk against their will. I ran the rest of the way, hoping that Logan was wrong, but all I found in the tower were signs of a fight and a huge bloodstain on the floor.

I felt like someone had stabbed me as well, my knees gave way and I had to fight just to breathe. Logan roughly reminded me that if I gave up hope now, you were certainly lost and he was right, of course. But in that moment, it simply went over my strength to keep believing that I would find you and Alba. Logan's observation that the bloodstain was right at the entrance, where someone defending themselves would meet an attacker, did a lot to get me back on my feet again. You always had a way with knives.
So we left the tower, joined our friends again and set out to hunt.

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

This was surprisingly hard to write. For one, I have no idea if Isabel will actually survive all this, but Marcello knows of course by the time he finds leisure to write this letter. And apart from that, it was an emotional tour de force when we played it. It took me a while to get enough distance to write it all down and a couple of failed attempts: open Blogger, click new post, close tab ten minutes later with nothing written.

Juan - I really don't know what to do about Juan. Marcello could have forgiven or at least understood anything else, but the fact that Juan was perfectly willing to see Isabel hurt or killed, that he cannot forgive.

I am never going to play a Castillian again, at least not one with such a lot of family that come up as NPCs. The names are killing me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sculpey Elder Sign

So the always entertaining Propnomicon blog linked to a how to-guide for making polymer moulds and coins the other day.

I had just bought some Sculpey and decided to try my hand at some Elder Sign coins that crop up again and again in our Cthulhu games, as tokens our characters get from the Society of Leopold or just as protection against evil things. I often look at those DIY stuff and then I'm discouraged by the amount of tools you need to make it, but this is pretty basic.

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Here the original coin I made. It took about ten versions until I had figured out how to draw both the Elder Sign and the L, I kept messing up one or the other. Practising with a pen on a piece of paper helped. I used a needle with a round head to draw in the clay, that worked pretty well.

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the mould

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from left to right: the first coin I made with the mould - the lines are not really deep enough to be clearly seen, even after I painted the coin with Perfect Pearls pewter powder. One coin of the second batch, unpainted. Here, I worked the Elder Sign over with the needle after casting the coin, that did the trick. And another coin from the second batch, painted with pewter powder.

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the coins after varnishing them - that made the coat of pewter powder appear much darker, with was the effect I was after. I didn't want the coins to be all that shiny.

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pewter powder compared to copper - I don't like the copper tone for this, though

mind the temperature when you bake the Sculpey or it will turn into a Shoggoth
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So that was a fun little project to make my first steps in working with Sculpey. I learned a lot about handling the stuff, what not to do, what works and what doesn't. I think I spent about 15 Euros on the materials and of course I have plenty left over. The coins are a bit wonky, but I'm fine with that, I didn't want them to look perfect (if you want that, I recommend buying the round cutters you see in the original tutorial).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Smiling Chimps

Cultured Primate puts into eloquent words everything that has ever bothered me about the 'cute' photos of smiling chimps. If you are under the impression that you are seeing a genuine smile, please go and read that short article.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a radio show featuring news, community announcements, guides to tell apart local secret police and government agency helicopters, weather reports, glowing lights in the night sky and other local events.



This is one of the most strange things I have ever heard. It's like the lovechild of Twin Peaks, X-Files and Lovecraft, all delivered with the soothing voice of a professional DJ (The Fog, anyone?). You should listen to it. The podcast has a twice-monthly schedule and you can download or listen to all the old episodes here

logo was taken from their website

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar: Libraries and Theatres

last time

Time: 1921
Place: Berlin

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

3rd May 1921, Tuesday

After the warning from the little girl, Schwarz and Gero decide against exploring the office and continue along one of the corridors. They follow the noise of running water to a shower room where every shower and tap is running. Just when they have shut off the water, Gero sees writing appear on the wall: do not move. He warns Schwarz and they both keep still while footsteps can be heard coming closer. A claw-like hand appears through the crack in the door and pulls it shut.

The noise of the footsteps grows quieter in the distance and the men get to meet the one who wrote the warning: a girl named Franziska, quite clearly dead and with long black hair that hides a burned face. She tells them that the hand belongs to one of the nurses, a man called Rudolf.

click to explore the house some more


Gero and Schwarz decide to go upstairs, but find that the stairs are gone. They decide that maybe they have lost their way and return to the lobby, where they see a tricycle driving in circles by itself. Just before they set foot into the lobby, a hand closes around their wrists and they are pulled back by a woman in her thirties. She introduces herself as Emilie and warns them that Lukas, the boy on the tricycle, would betray them to the Doctor. She also tells them to look for the library and says that the children and herself are willing to help them, but they cannot appear for very long and they can only give hints. Then she disappears.

Once again Gero and Schwarz set off into the house. After a short while, they hear the tricycle behind them and flee into the next unlocked room, where they wait with bated breath for Lukas to pass. A movement behind them makes them turn around and they see a child who is struggling to get out from under the covers, but to no avail. He is pulled into the bed and both bed and child dissolve into a black mass. Franziska has appeared again and explains that the boy was suffocated by Doctor Haensler and has been repeating his death in that manner ever since. She also tells them that the library can be reached through the office and that she will distract Doctor Haensler for them.

In the library, they find a great many books on the occult. The Encyclopedia of the Occult lies open on a lectern, but they cannot read English. Schwarz leafs through An Encyclopedia of Demons and finds a description of some ancient weapon, a mace, that is supposed to destroy ghosts and strange symbols that protect against them. He doesn't believe a word of what he is reading.
Gero on the other hand find a book written by a rabbi, The Lithic Light, where a ritual to acquire eternal life is described. Water is an essential part of the ritual, as is essence of life, the younger the victim the better. Gero takes notes and he begins to understand what has happened here.

The room turns cold and once again, they see letters form themselves on the wall: find us, quick!. In the next moment, the Encyclopedia of the Occult starts turning it pages by itself and falls open at the drawing of a man with a burned face. Gero and Schwarz run when the drawing starts to rise out of the book. They hide again in one of the rooms and hear footsteps, followed by the screams of a girl. Schwarz almost runs out of the room to help her, but Gero grabs and holds him back.

Emilie appears and sends them to the theatre, further down the hall. The room, unlike the rest of the house, is dark and Gero uses a torch light to better find their way. The stage is hidden by a curtain and another door leads towards what is probably the prop room. Gero hears sounds from the stage, like someone is dragging their feet, and keeps Schwarz from opening the curtain. But he isn't quick enough to do it quietly and they hear footsteps coming towards them.

Luckily, the door to the prop room isn't locked and they hide there, slamming the door shut just in time to keep whatever is following them outside. Whatever it is, it hammers against the door and Schwarz does his best to keep it shut. Blood starts to run from under the door.

Gero takes a closer look at a big chest and once again uses his lockpicks, to Schwarz's consternation, to open the padlock. He sees the pentagram on the lock at the same time the lock falls into his hand and at first he's sure that he has messed up, but then he realises that the lock was there to protect the contents of the chest from ghosts and that they are on the right track. Unfortunately, the chest is empty.

The hammering on the door has stopped for now and both Schwarz and Gero examine the chest that, as they see after a while, is bolted to the wall. A bit of fumbling reveals a secret mechanism and Gero finally gets it to work while Schwarz pushes the door shut when the hammering starts up again.

A hidden door opens in the wall the chest is bolted to and an enormous pile of small bones tumble into the room. It's all Gero can do to jump back to prevent the bones from burying him. They stare at the mass of bones and slowly understand that they have found the children. Gero discovers a small casket that contains the mace described in the book Schwarz read and a couple of stones inscribed with the protection symbol. He takes both.

Schwarz is still leaning against the door and he can feel his sanity slipping away. To Gero's alarm, he starts talking to himself or rather to someone Gero cannot see. It takes a while until Gero can shake the Doctor out of his delusion and make it clear that they have to leave. He hands him some of the stones, although Schwarz doesn't really seem to realise or believe that the symbol may be their only protection against the ghosts of Haensler and his helpers. They step through another door, hidden behind a closet, into a brightly lit room, floor and walls covered with white tiles.


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what happens next

I stepped out of the room for a minute and when I came back, Schwarz's player and the GM had started to build the monologue Schwarz is holding from a throwaway remark. It made for one of the creepiest moments in the game and it wasn't planned at all.

I really, really want to kill that tricycle with fire. Toys and cute things can be incredibly frightening when they are taken out of their innocent context and that thing has made us run for our lives.
So far, we haven't seen anything at all of the villains/monsters, except the hand of one of the nurses. It's very effective and much more eerie than any clearly visible monster can ever be.

So far, Schwarz has been the one who held this little expedition together. without him, Gero would have simply turned and run many times. But now it seems that Gero will be the one responsible for getting them out alive and it's probably too late to run away. That is not a comfortable thought at all and he's not sure he's up to the task.