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

Zones6a700_zpsfa8da9b9

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.