Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Devil in the Flesh

The Devil in the Flesh is the debut of Raymond Radiguet, set in France during World War I and tells the story of a 15 year old boy who falls in love and begins an affair with an older woman married to a soldier. It was quite the scandal at the time, particularly since people suspected from the start that it was autobiographical.

The love affair quickly becomes something resembling an amour fou more than anything. There's no way it can last or will ever be accepted by society, although the protagonist's father at least seems very accepting of almost everything his son does. They have unconditional faith in their love, even with all the problems, like nothing can hurt them.

I'm less than fond of the way the female characters are portrayed. Marthe comes back to Francois whatever he does and however badly he treats her. Sometimes this borders on an abusive relationship. She's content with letting him plan everything, starting with letting him chose the furniture for the flat she and her husband will live in.

There's also a scene where Francois meets with a young woman who is a friend of Marthe's. He tried to seduce her and while she's willing at first, she tries to make him stop when things get serious. He does stop eventually, but he also holds her down while she struggles and kisses her. If that isn't abuse, then I don't know what is. It also cemented my view of Francois as a complete and utter asshole. The fact that he's young is a lame excuse at best. What is strange to me is that no review I have read of this book acknowledges this. Does everyone else find this perfectly acceptable?

It still is a book worth reading, but I would wish for less gushing about Radiguet's talent (and yes, he had plenty) and some more attention to and maybe critical comment on the actual story.

Reviews 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strange Beasts: Glowworms

We had entered a tunnel system and had spend some time exploring it when we suddenly found ourselves under starry skies. It was a beautiful sight and we were glad for the breath of fresh air...waaait a moment, it was morning when we entered the tunnels and we've only been here a couple of hours. Oh, I think it's raining, did anyone else feel that?
Um, guys, I think I have a problem here, I'm stuck to some...whoa!

Aaaand that's when the intrepid explorer is hoisted up into the air, having touched one of the beautiful lights by accident (or maybe on purpose).

photo by ccheviron

Cave Glowworms (Arachnocampa luminosa) are native to New Zealand and live in, you guessed it, caves. They are the larvae of four different fungus gnat species. The larvae cling to the ceiling and produce a sticky lure, like pearls on a string. The glow is produced in the worm itself by a chemical reaction, the wonderfully named Luciferin is involved.

Glow Worm Strands in Cave Ceiling
photo by murdocke23

One single larvae will produce between thirty and seventy lures and when something gets caught up in them, it will pull up the lure quickly. A lure can reach a length of forty centimetres and it takes the larvae only three minutes to completely pull it up. Here's a photo of the actual larva. They prey on insects who will fly towards the light of the lure and on pretty much anything else that becomes entangled and is small enough to manage.

So let's make them a bit bigger and quicker. They are sensitive to light, I'd say that bringing torches near them would scare them away. The lures are really sticky and a struggling adventurer can easily become entangled in several of them. Even when nothing happens, finding out that the shiny lights are something dangerous could be great for setting the mood.

Here's a video from BBC's Planet Earth series, David Attenborough narrating.

One of these days I might make a Strange Beast post without featuring Attenborough, but he has filmed it all and his stuff is simply brilliant.

Sources and further reading:
The Artful Amoeba
Soilbugs (scroll down for the glowworms)

Strange Beasts List

Monday, May 28, 2012

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Fleurs du Mal

Life at the Rat's Nest continues and did we really think it would calm down? Silly little us.
Part 1 and Part 2.

Frankly, I have no real idea what is happening here. We're having fun telling AR and reality apart. Or not, there were a few fails. Actually, one of those is responsible for the whole thing: Splash wanted to keep EVO from growing in front of her security camera (which cannot see AR of course) and planted a few seeds she thought she has sterilized there. Those seeds produced the black flowers and vines we're having trouble with.

The little boy is this little boy or at least looks like him. Splash has no idea, she doesn't know the first thing about the uprising at the Warsaw Ghetto. She has seen that boy before, though, during the raid on the Nest when the mage pretended to pick the Awakened people out of the crowd (the players did comment on this being rather similar to a Selektion at the time).

Neil's pretty pissed at Liz at the moment. Private things aside, her Doctor Feelgood mode is something he cannot tolerate. He knows fully well how dangerous even so-called harmless drugs are, he had been addicted to stimulants for years until his life came crashing down. Simply handing out drugs without checking patient files or asking a few questions is not something he does and he doesn't want anyone he works with to do it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Here's a video of Deepstaria by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Deepstaria has been making the rounds online and people have been guessing at what it exactly is (whale placenta was apparently a favourite). It was fairly quickly identified as a jellyfish and the MBARI video has gorgeous shots of it and of other deep sea jellyfish.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Deliberations

Cast of Characters:
Thomas Roquefort, American, archaeologist and adventurer, recently arrived in London after an expedition to Egypt
Richard George Thomas Lumley, second son of the Earl of Scarbrough
Jasper Burnside, physician and in the last two years something of a hermit. It's common knowledge that he has lost someone close and there are rumours aplenty for those willing to listen (he's my character)

last time

At the Yard, the group meets with Jeffrey Hull, Dr Laydon and Commander Lesley Devine, who is not at all amused by the theories about cults and ritual murders they have come up with. He's even less amused by the fact that there has been another murder practically right under the nose of Inspector Fox. Fox looks decidedly unhappy when he has to present his case and it's not wholly clear whether he's more worried about losing his job or about not being able to protect Lady Kincaid.Both, probably.  At least he wasn't the one who took her to the East End, that was Jasper's idea and Jasper drily remarks that Lady Kincaid knows her way around there better than anyone in the room

click for Cthulhu

Laydon, with permission, admits that the Duke of Clarence is addicted to laudanum and has been for quite a while. Jasper asks for a sample of the laudanum, to find out if there are any other substances mixed with it.

When the group leaves, Richard asks Sir Jeffrey for a private conversation and invites Thomas and Jasper as well. He says that he was taking a walk yesterday evening when he saw a black coach with a team of black horses arrive at Laydon's house, just like the one Jasper and Cat saw right after the last murder. Richard couldn't see the person who got out of the coach, but it may well have been Laydon. The group has already been wondering about the good doctor - for example, why has he only been knocked unconscious during the kidnapping of Thomas Kincaid? It's clear that the men responsible don't think twice about killing. Richard volunteers to keep an eye on Doctor Laydon.

Thomas has some additional information as well: he has come across reports that the bodies of five Napoleonic soldiers were found at the entrance to the ruins of Hermopolis, with no clues as to what killed them or what they were doing there. The cult of Toth may be trying to gain access to the Fire of Ra, an immensely powerful weapon or force.

Jasper takes a look at the latest victim, but gains no new informations. Richards goes to have breakfast at his club where an aquaintance of his, Sir Theodore Huntington, takes it upon him to warn Richard about the company he keeps. Richard thinks he means Thomas, but Huntington clarifies that he's more concerned about Jasper. He has been told by reliable sources that Jasper not only killed his wife, but also his newborn child. Or that he at least was criminally negligent and allowed them to die. Richard, to his credit, doesn't take that at face value, especially since the reliable sources are servants no longer in Jasper's employ. But he is shaken and he does wonder about Jasper, who after all had simply disappeared for the last two years.

Thomas goes to talk to his friend Neil, who freaks when he hears about the Fire of Ra and insistently warns Thomas to be careful or, even better, to simply stay away from the whole business. Jasper and Thomas meet at the club and make a visit to Cat, who is still at the doctor's house near the East End where Jasper had her brought. While she insist that she's much better already, Jasper decides that she'd better stay there for at least another day. When Thomas asks about what happened, Cat cannot tell them much, the attack came from behind and she's a little high on laudanum anyway.

The group will meet again this afternoon at the premises of the Eygptian League, Sir Jeffrey has managed to get them an invitation.


It seems Sir Richard is not completely useless after all. And he doesn't put much faith in gossip. Let's see if he asks Jasper about what has happened, that will be an interesting conversation. Jasper of course knows that there are rumours about what has happened and that much of it is quite vicious, but there's not much he can do about that. So even though he will find it very hard to talk about it, he would appreciate being asked.

Doctor Laydon is a clear favourite of the players as a murder suspect. We're a bit hazy on motive, but we all think he has something to do with it, even if he shouldn't be the killer.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

7th Sea: El Gato

characters are here

last time...

Forced into the fight by de Chevalier's rash but understandable reaction, we made quick and bloody work of the mercenaries. I wish we had avoided that, but we couldn't risk any of them escaping. There was one woman among them and she attacked Don Ramon who had already killed three opponents. I threw my knife and hit her in the neck, killing her, much to Don Ramon's chagrin. But the way I see it, if we are fighting to reach a goal there's no shame in ending the fight as quickly as possibly. I wouldn't dream of interfering in a duel or such, but this was different.

click for adventure

When El Gato, who fought with Logan, saw his companions dead, he turned and ran. Logan shot him in the back and he fell down the stairs into the water. Since Logan thought that we had earlier dispatched of all the sirens, he jumped in to save him from drowning. He learned his error when even more sirens attacked. I have never seen anyone jump out of water that quickly.

De Chevalier and Lucia went to free the Comte who was held in a room further up the stairs. One of the mercenaries was still alive and I tried to dress his wounds, but the man died under my hands. I wish I knew more about medicine, none of us really do and we will need it, I'm sure.

There were three young women, who we assumed had been taken to the island for the mercenaries' entertainment. Logan tried to put them at their ease, to get some more information from them. They seemed reluctant to talk and it became clear why when one of them slipped Logan's dagger from his boot and held it to his throat. She was one of the mercenaries, very possibly their leader.

With Logan as a hostage, she made her way out of the hut, only to encounter de Chevalier who had returned with his father. He shot the knife from her hand and Logan started to brawl with her. He had a nasty surprise when suddenly knives appeared in her hand and she aimed one of them right between his legs. The other were thrown at de Chevalier and at Ramon, who had stepped out of the hut. I've encountered this before, a Voddace school of fighting and the woman clearly was highly accomplished.

Nevertheless, she had a hard time against Logan who had superior strength and quite simply outweighed her. She turned to run, but Logan caught her. One of his blows killed her, although he did not intend for that to happen. I've never seen him so distraught before.

A quick search of the huts and the bodies turned up a book written in code. I managed to get the gist of it fairly quickly and it seems that El Gato is not a single man, but rather an organisation and that every member can wear the mask of El Gato (which we found among the belongings of the mercenaries). I fear we have made a powerful enemy.

Since we could not bury the bodies, we decided to throw them into the water where they would be eaten by the sirens. Better than leaving them to rot. After we were done, we returned to the mainland. With a little more time, I deciphered the whole book and found out that El Gato was involved in quite a few things in the area. De Chevalier's brother had instructed them with keeping his father captive and had also pointed them in the direction of the cave under the lighthouse.

With the Comte safe, we can now free de Chevalier's mother and since there's not much sense in waiting around, we will do that tomorrow night.  I'll do my very best to keep as safe as possible and I'll write to you again when we get back.


Something Marcello did not see: Lucia had searched the belonging of the two women and among other things she found a silver ring with a big red gemstone on the finger of the woman Logan killed. She tried to slip it off, but it wouldn't budge. Neither spit nor oil helped and it quickly became clear that the only way to get the ring was to cut off the finger. Lucia's player balked at that, but de Vestini's player said he'd do it, but only if no-one saw him. 

No, said the GM, there are way too many people in the cave, someone WILL see you. That should have been the end of it, but there actually was a discussion about it that quickly began to turn in circles. Ramon's player lost his temper, he's usually the last one to do that, and forcefully reminded everyone that we were supposed to play heroes. Bad enough that we had caused a bloodbath, but looting the bodies in such a way was not something we should even think about. The GM agreed, de Vestini's player did not and for a moment it seemed the group would have one of its meltdowns, but luckily de Chevalier's player simply carried on and we kind of glossed over the situation.

Endless discussions with the GM are a pet peeve of mine. I'm not saying that the GM is always right, but he does have the final say and it should be accepted. And this is not Shadowrun or D&D were our characters can kill without a second thought and then go on to snatch up the treasure left behind by the monsters. But at least no-one walked out on the group (yes, this had happened before).

Monday, May 7, 2012


Gigapan has huge panoramic images of all sorts of stuff: the space shuttle, cities, landscapes, maps, machines, insects and who knows what else.

The images are stitched together form a huge number (thousands in many cases) and the clarity even when you zoom in is amazing. Something to play with and something useful for research, if you want to get a good look at a place you've never been.

Via an old article at Not Exactly Rocket Science. If you're not already reading that blog, you should.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shadowun Rat's Nest: Home Again

Finally. We're back at the Rat's Nest.

I wasn't at all sure we'd manage it and it was dangerous, characters could easily have died here. We used toy drones as a decoy to trick the Picas into thinking we were attacking. That is one scene I would have really liked to see as a movie or animation. The players chose a garden gnome holding a potted petunia (oh no, not again), a Duracell bunny and a Hello Kitty as their drones, but we also had teddy bears, all sorts of cute plushies and those dog that bark, walk and do somersaults. Imagine an army of that coming out of a mountain of garbage and marching towards the container village. And then exploding, after squeaking something like "Hug me!" or "Play with me!".

The Nest's in ruins and we will have our hands full to rebuild it. The Picas have left a number of unpleasant surprises for us, not only booby traps but also victims of rape and abuse among the people who stayed behind when the Nest was evacuated, plus a couple of dead bodies, their organs harvested.

We'll be needing a lot of money to rebuilt and that means doing runs. And so the story continues.