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.

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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.