Monday, February 17, 2014

Next Town Over

Next Town Over is a Weird West (web)comic and a gorgeous one. It has been on hiatus for quite a while, but now it's updating again and I highly recommend it. Vane Black is a woman on a mission: hunt down John Henry Hunter, a wanted man for way too many things and a sorcerer to boot. It's not as simple as it sounds, though - six books into the comic, I am still not sure who, if anyone, is the villain in this story. The art is absolutely brilliant. A lot of attention to detail and a good eye for action sequences that would translate easily into a movie. The bold colours and use of light make for great eye-candy and I enjoy the way the comic plays with perspective and poses to help tell the story.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Deadlands: Campfire Story

You sure you wanna hear this? It doesn't make such a good bedtime story.
Right. So Alan and Sister Elizabeth and me had lived with the Apsaalooke for, what, a couple of months? And we were just getting ready to move, hunker down for the winter. Time for the last great hunt and that was where we were going when we ran into him. First I didn't recognize him, what with the hat pulled down into his face and, you know, him being dead and all. Not like I expected to ever see him again. But I recognized the voice alright. Seems the grave cannot hold a Texas Ranger, at least not this one.

I really thought about shooting him down right then and there. Nothing good ever comes from speaking to demons, they just spin a tale until they have what they want. And I'm not sure that this isn't exactly what happened. Talk we did - we wanted to know how come he was walking around again and Etienne said no, we don't wanna know that. Whatever he's carrying around inside him, it's not something that means well. But he's our friend and he's alive again, can't really argue with that. But I'm not going to turn my back on him any time soon.
He brought bad news. Seems we're wanted men. A hundred dollars on Alan's head, fifty on Sister Elizabeth's and ten on mine. Doesn't take much of an education to read a wanted poster. And doesn't take much guessing that even though I'm only wanted for questioning, that's not going to end too well. Folks don't take too kindly to a negro wanted for anything and often find that they have some more crimes that need solving.

And not enough with that, there's someone on a murder spree again in Gloom City, like the one we stopped in Dodge. So in exchange for taking care of the bounty on our head, we help Etienne with that. And so we were headed for Dodge again the next day. I hated leaving the Apsaalooke. I've been just roaming the country all my life and it had been nice to settle down for a change. I want to go back when this business is done. Not least because of Biiwihitche. I sure would like to see her again.

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next time

After our 7th Sea group suffered from sudden GM-lessness and moved to being played by forum, a spot opened in our weekly group and we decided to continue our Deadlands game. I've been looking forward to that for a long time now - it's one of my favourite systems and I really like the characters. We have: a half-Crow scout, a nun, a professional poker player, a female doctor and a black cowboy (who will be telling the story here). The fact that we were going to encounter the Texas Ranger whom the group buried and mourned months ago made that evening ... interesting. But after some tense negotiations, the characters reached a sort of consent, but things are far from happy or easy for everyone involved.
Meanwhile, in Dodge, the other part of the group has already encountered some grisly murders and we cut just when the good doctor opened a door and found herself staring at the corpse of a man she had just declared dead hours before, munching on the much fresher corpse of her colleague.

Friday, February 14, 2014

NORA



I really like the design of the NORA robots and the way they move. It's a bit creepy and alien, but that's precisely why I like it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Shadowrun: Sink the Gustloff

Five people arrive at Gotenhafen on January 30th 1945: two SS men (one of them a British agent), a Jew who managed to escape from a death march, a Red Army deserter and a Polish resistance fighter.. The Red Army is only kilometers away and people swarm into town because it's the only way out. There are four ships in the harbour and one of them will leave for Kiel and hopefully safety later that day, the Wilhelm Gustloff. All five people need to get on board as well. The Jew and the Russian just want to get out, the other three are concerned with a weapon the Gustloff will transport. The loyal SS man has orders to protect it at all costs, the other two want it destroyed.

One way or another, they get on board. All of them see a SS doctor, accompanied by a group of children, wearing the out-dated but still fear-inspiring black uniform. In fact, the man inspires a bit more than fear in them - it's all they can do not to panic when he approaches. Adam Richter, the German traitor, sweats his way through a short conversation with the doctor, but is let off the hook. They are the only ones who react that way and this gives them something to talk about, with the exception of von Falkenberg who goes to inspect the weapon hidden at the ship's gym and find it's a Reichsflugscheibe. He suddenly remembers that he knows a lot about it, whereever those memories come from. A little later he has another flashback and hears voices of his friends - he remembers that it's 2071 and he's living at the Rat's Nest. When the flash back is over, he is once more convinced that he's Johan von Falkenberg, but he has doubts.

Meanwhile, the others have decided to investigate the ship further and have split up. The ship suddenly shudders with two huge explosions - the Gustloff has been hit by torpedoes. They converge again on the point they have first met just to be pounced on by the SS doctor who herds them into the gym - they are too afraid to resist. In there, the doctor tries to make von Falkenberg fly the Flugscheibe, to save himself and the children who are still following the doctor around - but von Falkenberg realises that he would have to sacrifice the other four and he has this nagging feeling that he knows them. In the end, everyone attacks the doctor all at once and he jumps von Falkenberg. His coat opens and they realise that there is nothing but blackness beneath. All of them are swallowed by the blackness.

Zach, the Rat's Nest resident technomancer, comes around much later at the Nest's clinic. He discovers that he had been drawn into an UV host and only just escaped with his life.

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I had a lot of fun GMing this story. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is fascinating and offered a background in front of which the story almost told itself. Since no-one was playing their normal characters anyway, we decided to do a little experiment and played Dread instead. Dread is a free storytelling game that uses a Jenga tower instead of dice. Whenever a character want to do something not easily accomplished, the player draws a block from the Jenga tower. The first couple of draws were easy, but after a while my players grew remarkably afraid of having to draw. The Dread rulebook mentions that, but I didn't actually believe it would be so effective. The decision agony and the shaking hands are among my favourite memories from that evening, sadistic GM that I am.

A UV host is virtual reality that is much, much better than real life. This particular one is run by an AI that is at the same time imprisoned there, but is slowly slipping the grip of its handlers and the location is a metaphor for that: the collapse of the Third Reich. The SS doctor is the security program and was immensely interested in the characters: a technomancer would be quite a catch. The other characters were parts of a proto-AI the technomancer is friends with, who has been in contact with the AI for some time now. If Zach had cooperated with the doctor, he would have been caught on the UV host with no chance to escape. To win this game, he had to lose. Dying was the only way out.

I didn't tell the players what was happening. They got the questionnaires Dread uses for character creation and a bit background information on what was happening around Gotenhafen and I let them chose between a couple of character concept (with the exception of Zach's player who had to be a nazi). I did tell them before we started that we were still playing Shadowrun and that things happening here would have consequences. There were a couple of details that I introduced to add to the confusion, like the flag the Gustloff was flying, the fact that the SS doctor didn't have a face (the characters found that normal...the players less so) and the fact that they they all spoke the same language - the character's mothertongue, depending on who was the one listening. The players made some good guesses, but didn't waste too much time trying to figure it out, throwing themselves into their characters with gusto instead. I think the experiment was a success.

The Rat's Nest campaign is on Obsidian Portal.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Endland: Book Hunting

The campaign is on Obsidian Portal

Characters:
Eldur - Elementarist, has lived in Tavor for years
Nvidia - adventurer, always in search for the next profitable thing
Diesel  - down on his luck, mechanic and new in town

Diesel has had a rough day: after searching for work all day without any results, he spends some of the money he has left on a sausage in a bun. He takes the cheaper kind, with unnamed meat, and it doesn't agree with him. He stumbles into an alley to get rid of it and it promptly attacked by a mugger. When he's got his breath back, he notices a body lying in a dark doorway. The man is still alive and Diesel goes to find one of the city guards.
The impromptu street theatre draws a lot of spectators from the nearby King's Head pub, Nvidia among them. She recognises the victim as Leonid, a friend of hers and in typical Nvidia-fashion, goes to chase the idea that the attacker has escaped over the city walls. Diesel and the guard chase the idea with her, but all three stop short on top of the city wall, looking out over Tarvor's slum. It's not a bright idea to go there at night. Eldur, drawn by the commotion, catches up with them there. They decide to accompany Leonid to the hospital and ask him what happened when he comes around.

While they wait, Nvidia asks the doctor about her pregnancy and gets a pregnancy test by frog. To her surprise, she is not pregnant at all. The doctor tells her that it's not uncommon for women to lose their child that early in pregnancy and Nvidia doesn't really know how to feel about it. She wasn't really eager to be a mother, but now that it's not going to happen, she suddenly feels a loss.
Leonid (who may or may not have been the father) wakes up in the morning and tells them that he bought a book from a shady dealer at the market. Eldur has had a talk with Finara from the Citadel and knows that they are searching for a book that is very valuable to them.

They trace the dealer, Misha, to the slum and find out that while he is a thief and crook, he probably had no idea what he was selling. Dressed up or rather down to avoid attracting attention, they venture into the slum. Eldur is appalled by the poverty he sees - he has never had any business in the slum and for some reason, the city council hasn't addressed the problem in any way. Maybe because the slum is relatively knew. In any case, they bride a street kid to take them to Misha. At first, they try to pass themselves off as interested in buying the book, but Misha is nervous and doesn't really take the bait. He also has brought backup, which makes negotiations suddenly tense. But Eldur manages to talk Misha down and he tells them that he might have heard that the book was in the hands of Geser, a much bigger fish in Tavor's criminal underground. Geser can be found at the Cock and Bull, a pub none of them have ever been to and from the sound of it, wouldn't want to be seen anyway. But they decide anyway to go there.

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Five hours before we played, I had nothing. Not the slightest idea, let alone a good story. I was close to cancelling for lack of inspiration. But there is something to be said for the right mood and that mood is last minute panic. I had wanted to introduce the seedy underbelly of Tavor for a while now. The city is well organised and a good place to live, but not for everyone. And I wanted to get the characters into contact with the Citadel, a cult/organisation that is powerful and always in search of human-made artefacts, for reasons of their own.

The pregnancy test by frog is real. It's not instantaneous in reality, but it's wonderfully weird and sounded like something I just made up.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tam Lin


Two versions of Tam Lin. Neither keeps to the text collected in the Child Ballads, but the story stays the same anyway. The versions are very different, but I can't and don't want to decide which is my favourite, so here you go:


Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer


Anne Briggs

Sunday, February 2, 2014

7th Sea: On the Road

last time

cast of characters:
Aidan - member of the Exporer's Society
Gregor - fighter and bodyguard and maybe something more
Marinus - son of a rich vendel merchant family, travelling after completing his journeyman's piece

2. Octavus 1668, two days from Atemlos

We left Atemlos with some vague hints where the brothers wanted to go and followed the only road that lead in the right direction, at first in the company of traders and other travellers, but soon we were alone. The first night we spent at a charburner's settlement in the woods, they allowed us to stay in their barn for the night. We decided against standing guard, but I still woke up when someone tried to sneak onto the hayloft where we had set up our camp. I made a blind grab for the intruder and ended up holding a small girl with very sharp fingernails. She jumped to the ground as soon as I let her go and she and her siblings ran home. I do not know if they wanted to steal or if they just wanted a closer look, in any case they did not return.

The next morning, Aiden offered their mother a couple of pfennige to give to the girl in reward for her braveness and almost ended up buying the child. Not that he wanted to, but it took him a bit to clear up the misunderstanding. Gregor and I watched with negotiations with some trepidation - people do not always react very friendly when some strangers offers money for their children. The woman, I believe, actually would have sold her daughter. Not for such a small sum, but times are bad in Eisen.

We continued to follow the road and we found the first trace of the brothers: one of their horses. The animal looked a bit untended and has probably been tethered for a while without anyone taking care of it. It broke its reins to free itself and seemed to be on its way back to Atemlos. I bribed it with some dried apples and it suffered itself to be touched. There were no further hints we could find so we send the horse on its way again, but added a letter to Knef with some explanation.

The horse had just left our sight when I heard the sound of a sling and ducked, just in time. We found ourselves attacked by several bandits who might have thought that they sheer number would intimidate us. Gregor reduced that number by three with one stroke of his axe - an impressive feat I am in no hurry to see again. I killed two men and I still can see their faces. It is not the first time I have been attacked on my travels, but the first time I killed and I wish I did not have to. I doubt they would have shown us mercy, so it is not like there was much of a choice. But still. It is not something I wish to make a habit of.

In the later afternoon, we stopped at a small brook to wash. There, we met an old woman named Susa who agreed to let us stay at her house for the night. She seemed glad of the company and of our help with carrying water and chopping wood. We shared a meal and she told us many stories - from what she said she does not see people often and her husband and children are long gone. She mentioned in passing that the sons of the Eisenfürst had visited her and agreed to show us the path they had taken. Susa, I believe, is a bit more than a woman who lives alone in the woods. I am not sure if she read my palm or has some other means of seeing, but she knew very well that I for one could well understand the wish of the boys to get away from their family for a time. I do not know what else she saw, but whatever it was, it did not seem to trouble her.

This time, we did stand guard. I will have to ask the others in the morning, but I heard Susa tell me something. She had already left to go to bed by then and I did not see anyone or anything who it could have been. I might have just imagined it, but I do not think so. What I heard was: Your path will lead into darkness. Light is deceiving, darkness is benedictory and I am at a loss as to what to make of this.

next time

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Visit the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History has a self-guided virtual tour. I get lost a lot, but it doesn't really matter because everything I discover is very cool. The Smithsonian has been on my bucket list every since I read Silence of the Lambs, I'd love to go there for real one day.