Sunday, September 30, 2012


There's a new Submachine, the latest in a series of point and click adventures created by Mateusz Skutnik. You wake up in an unknown location with no memory of how you got there and of course you have to get out.

a screenshot from the game's beginning

I usually have little patience with browser games, but Submachine is brilliant. The storyline is just vague enough to invite speculation and theories, the mood is nice and creepy and the artwork is unique and instantly recognisable.

And since I'm talking about Skutnik's games, I highly recommend Daymare Town where you have to get out of a town. It's completely surreal and the puzzles are hard, but not impossible. The whole thing has a feeling of Kafka to it. Also, there's a librarian, always a plus for me. Unlike Submachine, the artwork is a series of sketches, which just adds to the surreal feeling.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Richard Feynman talks about atoms. And about rubber bands:

Also, he plays bongos

If you want science explained to you, Feynman on Youtube is a great place to start. He has the same infectious enthusiasm Carl Sagan had, combined with an anarchist streak a mile wide.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Warsaw

Finally. We're done (for now) with the Warsaw UV host. I've rarely been so glad to leave a place in a game. Due to lack of time and conflicting schedules, I was the only player in the final session and while I enjoy solo gaming, this was a lot of stress. But in a good way.

Here's what happened.

Leonard Cohen saved my life. My first roll to get the others to join in when Neil sang to EVO was mediocre. But then I remembered that I had decided that Neil likes Leonard Cohen and I told the GM Neil was going to sing Who By Fire, a song that mirrors the words of a Jewish Prayer and that earned me some extra dice that finally convinced people to join in. And that made EVO grow and grow and grow. I loved that scene.

It's only a couple of days until Christmas at the Nest and we'll be doing some fluff for a change. Neil usually doesn't celebrate Christmas, but this year he will.

The Rat's Nest campaign is now on Obsidian Portal

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

7th Sea: Bar Brawl

Dear Isabel,

please pass the enclosed letter on to Alba, I haven't written to her for much too long. I don't know how much longer we will stay here, but it's probably better to continue to send any letters to this address, I can always send for them after I have left.

The cat I mentioned in my last letter belongs to Lucia now and it carried a message from El Gato. I said that I was afraid we had made an enemy and it seems I was right. The kitten carried a ring with a valuable stone on its collar and Lucia told us she recognised the ring from the fight in the pirate cave where she had planned to take it with her. The ring was stuck on the finger of the woman Logan had killed by accident, though, and so she left it. This ring may or may not be the same one, in any case it was accompanied by a note that said "Since you have been so interested in this..."

click for brawl

And speaking of interested, I noticed that we were being followed when we walked back home from the party. There are always the people of the thieves' guild who watch us, but this time there was someone else. I almost missed him, he was highly skilled at staying in the shadows and moving quietly. But I did spot him eventually. Logan and I decided to ignore him, this was what we had intended after all. So I have attracted attention, it remains to be seen of what kind exactly.

We were busy planning our next step when a servant brought a letter from Robert who asked to meet us this evening at a tavern a small distance outside the town. De Chevalier went first, followed by Ramon and I, pretending to go for a ride, and Logan and Lucia who left town on foot and in disguise. The tavern was filled with local farmers and workers, so we did attract some atention, but not too much.

When Robert arrived, he spotted de Chevalier first and joined him, asking why we had asked for a meeting? De Chevalier immediately realised that we has walked into a trap and tried to get out, only to close the door again quickly when he came face to face with even more men, including the insufferable Charles René Flaubert du Doré. The men inside turned out to be under du Doré's command as well.

The trap was more for Robert than for us, as du Doré called to him from outside, gleefully remarking that he had finally captured Robert. But the man was counting his chickens before they had hatched. Ramon and I had chosen our seats upstairs, so I couldn not see what Logan and Lucia were doing, but from the sound it it Logan avoided being hit by a shotgun, pushed someone through a window and continued to brawl with the men. De Chevalier and Robert fought with rapier and dagger, but no less successfully.

Upstairs, eight men took a shot at us with muskets, but failed to hit anything of significance. Ramon made quick work of four of them and then left me to dispatch the others since he had a engagement with a woman who had left her calling card in form of a knife in his shoulder.

I was too busy for a while with one of du Doré's better trained henchmen, who learned that a rapier is not much use when trying to defend oneself against thrown knives unless your adversary lets you come close enough, which I didn't do. The rest of the men were knocked unconscious with a well-placed table and I had time to see what the others were up to.

Ramon had been nailed to the wall by the woman with a couple of knives, but she had either missed or had deliberately tried to render him helpless without hurting him. In any case, when she saw that the fight was lost for her side, she threw a last knife at the man who was threatening Lucia, killing him, and then fled. As did du Doré, much to Ramon's chagrin. I really hope Ramon won't go into battle with du Doré lightly when the time comes - but come it will, I'm sure of that.

The woman belonged to El Gato. We're not sure if she killed her companion to get rid of any witnesses or if she did it to help Lucia or both.

I had hoped we would get out of this town without too much violence. Naive of me, probably, even more so in view of the fact that we're not nearly done here. I promise I will take care, as much as I can.


Yes,I know. Throwing knives for serious damage = mostly bullshit. Incidentally, Shortymonster has a very interesting post on long swords and the comments discuss knife and other weapon myths. But anyway, while I'm playing 7th Sea, I'm totally fine with less realism and more heroism.

We used a map of the tavern and game markers to plot the fight. When the GM started to fish the black markers out of the box and just didn't stop until he had two hands full, someone asked with a definite sense of doom: "Are you going to use ALL of those?"

But of course he was:



We've all been playing our characters for a long time now and it was a nice illustration just how powerful they are. We didn't have all that much trouble in the fight. But I still wouldn't like to come up against du Doré with Marcello. Ramon's player on the other hand is eager for the challenge and I, like Marcello, have the feeling he will get to try his duelling skills.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Endland - Your Day Will Come

Last Friday, we started our Endland campaign and I finally got to test my GMing abilities. I didn't need my paper bag after all - I was nervous, but not too much and it quickly became clear to me that the setting worked.

I was worried that the players were bored because the characters have not yet met, but two players took care of that on their own, introduced their characters to each other and started to have a lively in-character discussion while I was busy with the third player. That was the moment when I stopped worrying.

I have no idea where I got the idea from (Reality Refracted maybe), but I decided to start with a scene for each character that put the players immediately into the story and then ask them why and how they got into that situation. The Ikarim (a winged species and the only member of the species in town) for example stood on the market place with a bawling child under his arm. Why?

After some quick thinking, every player ran with the situation and I can really recommend this way of jump-starting your story. Maybe not for first-time roleplayers or people who have a problem with being creative on demand, but why not challenge your players? You can always hep them along if it doesn't work out.

The actual story can be found at Obsidian portal, along with a Wiki that introduces the setting a bit.

In any case, I'm very much looking forward to continue this campaign and I already have a couple of ideas for more stories.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Endland in 3..2..1


Thing I will need for my Endland campaign that starts tonight:

- a couple of d10
- pens and paper
- a list of random names
- the rulebook
- a vibration speaker hooked up to my laptop with hours of gaming music. Seriously, that little speaker is the coolest thing ever if you play in a location that doesn't have a decent sound system. It's small, but turns a table or whatever into a loudspeaker and it has a lot of oomph.
- my notes, with some maps and NPCs
- a paper bag to huff into in case of stage fright

not pictured:
- three players who will hopefully enjoy themselves
- me being absolutely psyched about GMing for the first time

Endland - Your Day Will Come on Obsidian Portal

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The XKCD today is a piece of art. Check it out and explore. Click and drag. Watch out for the giant jellyfish in the sky. Don't fall into the caves (I'm not sure there is a bottom). Have fun.

Friday, September 14, 2012

RPG Blog Carnival: Established Settings

The RPG Blog Carnival of September, hosted by Dice Monkey asks: why do we play in established settings?

It strongly depends on the setting for me. There are some settings that just don't leave you all that much to play with. Harry Potter for example or Doctor Who come to mind, although I'm a huge fan of both. In order to make it HP or DW, you need to stay close to a certain set of things and I don't like that idea. Although if someone wants to prove me wrong, I'm game for that!

Other settings lend themselves to roleplaying naturally, especially when the setting is huge and well thought out. Discworld for example has a life of its own even when Terry Pratchett is not around. A player in my weekly group is thinking about playing Game of Thrones and I'm eager to try that. I would love to GM in the setting of Metro 2033 (the book) or Neverwhere.

All those are settings that are just ripe with little stories that happen while the main characters are not around. You find yourself wondering what happens to characters mentioned only in passing. And as a roleplayer, the natural reaction is to take over and find out. I've always wanted to visit the Floating Market for example, whereever it might be. I think it's this desire to not let the story end that drives me to established settings in roleplaying.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Obsidian Portal

Why did it take me so long to use Obsidian Portal? It's brilliant and it's not as if I hadn't known about it.

Anyway, here's the Rat's Nest Shadowrun campaign and my own Endland campaign over there. I'll still have updates and play reports here on this blog, but for character management alone Obsidian Portal is priceless.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Strange Beasts: Larva and Worm

Record of the first expedition to HD 85512 b, candidate for human colonisation.

The helmet camera of the recording team member shows the explorers walking across a plain overgrown by mosslike plants. To the left of the team are boulders, more than manhigh, strewn across the plain, possibly remnants of glacial activity. The camera and the rest of the explorers turn when a flock of sixlegged creatures, resembling miniature tapirs with stubby wings, amble past, taking no notice of the humans.

There is some rustling and a muffled sound, like someone getting bodychecked and the camera turns back. One of the team is missing, Dr. Geoffrey Simmons, exobiologist, simply gone in the three seconds the camera was aimed away. The explorers turn, call out Dr Simmons name and start to spread out, more confused than afraid, some obviously thinking the doctor is playing a prank. It seems he was something of a practical joker.

If you care to zoom in between the boulders, you'll see movement in the leaf litter. That's where it was hidden. It took two more of our people before anyone had realised what was happening.

The Jaws await...
photo by Coastlander

Tiger beetle larvae are, like the adult beetle, extremely fast predators. They hide in burrows they dig themselves or in tree trunks and wait there for prey to wander by. Then they strike. Watch:

The larva is anchored to the walls of the burrow with spikes on its back and so has enough grip to pull in prey as big as itself. I'm sure those huge jaws help. A bigger version, if we assume that it's just as fast, could absolutely take a hapless explorer in the blink of an eye.

Take a look at the adult beetles - they are no less deadly, but absolutely beautiful.

And speaking of deadly and beautiful, here's another creature capable of snatching prey with astonishing speed, while being completely invisible before and after. The bobbit worm.
image from Wikipedia

Those brownish things beneath the antennae? Those are its jaws and they are perfectly capable of cutting a fish in half.

Bobbit worms are nocturnal creatures and occassionally they find their way into aquariums, where they can wreak havoc undetected for quite a while

Both are great for shaking the group up a bit. There needs to be at least one redshirt NPC there who gets to be the sacrifice, but I think it would work if the group is travelling with a caravan, is part of a bigger explorer team or whatever floats your boat. The sudden disappearance of a travel companion can be solved quickly or it can take a while when the players don't spot the burrow of the beast. Then it can be very creepy because who knows what happened and who is next.

Strange Beasts List

Friday, September 7, 2012

7th Sea: Dangerous Liaisons

Dear Isabel,

I'm sorry to say that Don Gabriel is very much alive at the moment. And depending on who you ask, he is a Castille spy, an arsonist and murderer or someone with a taste for children.

click for letter

The latter rumour has come up with the help of de Chevalier and believe me, I am not happy about this. There are things I'm not willing to have people say about me or rather Don Gabriel and this is certainly one of them. De Chevalier did not even do me the honour of telling me the truth when I asked who had spread that particular rumour, he lied about it. I'm not sure why this surprises me so much, I've known for a long time that de Chevalier is not someone to tell the truth when he can get away with a good lie. But I think I would have deserved the truth.

In any case, this has made my situation a good measure more dangerous, with children now involved, who knows how people will react. But what's done is done and I am going to see this affair to its end. I just wish de Chevalier had for once thought before acting.

We all were invited to a party the dean of the local university was giving this evening. I had been their guest before and their oldest daughter, Josephine, has taken an interest in me. This is not a chance Don Gabriel would pass up, so I spent the evening making her parents worry by being there ever time they turned around, watching. Her mother at least had read the papers and was making some connections. I toed the line of proper behaviour and I have no intention of taking this any further, but I would have been very worried indeed if anyone had behaved like this around Alba or Marisol.

The Dean's wife had managed to secure the services of an Eisen composer for the evening, one Matthaeus Strom, and while I find the music of Eisen usually not very easy to listen to, he was exceptional. The concert would have been more of a success if it hadn't been for an uninvited guest: Charles René Flaubert du Doré, who arrived with two tavern slatterns. He made no effort to hide his boredom and continued his provocative behaviour until a Montaigne major finally took offence. Which was exactly what du Doré had wanted all along, a duel. It was over quickly, the major had no chance against du Doré who killed him with one single, well-placed strike. I would not relish the prospect of coming up against him in a fight, especially since he so clearly enjoys killing.

I will continue this letter at a later time. Right now there's a black kitten spread out across half the paper and it doesn't seem to like the idea of me turning over the page. I'm going to find out who let it in here.

The kitten is Lucia's. More or less. She found it in her bedroom, carrying a collar with the ring Lucia wanted to get her hands on when we fought El Gato and a letter: "Since you seemed so interested in this..." Uh oh.

Marcello channelled the spirit of the Vicomte de Valmont that evening. He never crossed the line where Josephine's parents would have had reason or better the chance to confront him, but I bet they are plenty worried now.

He beats around the bush in his letter a bit (a lot...), naturally, so for once here's what happened from my perspective:

Things started when the family of the dean greeted their guests. Marcello spent just a little too long with Josephine, including dropped handkerchiefs and touching fingertips. It went on to meaningful glances during the concert. He didn't speak to her after that, but whenever she turned around, he was there, watching her from across the room. This of course didn't escape her parents and her mother in particular was getting worried, she had obviously read the papers. That man was stalking her daughter, not to put too fine a point on it.

While everyone was concerned with the duel preparations, Marcello took his chance for another talk with Josephine and her mother didn't notice for a good ten minutes. When she did notice, she hurried towards the group, only to see Marcello leave with a impudent smile for her. She got another one of those smiles, even more brazen, when the guests left, telling her just how sure Marcello/Don Gabriel is of his conquest and how little she can do about it.

By the way, if you have never seen Dangerous Liaisons, you really should. The costumes are gorgeous, I don't know any other period movie that has done its research so well. Glenn Close and John Malkovich have fun being despicable and perfidious. It's simply brilliant.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Canaries

So we're still playing the kiddie party. We did some fluff or as we call it flower picking via chat, played face to face for the action and are now back to flower picking in Skype.

A list of characters is here

Glitzy offered a small run to Maggie, Ray and Rusty: a pirate transmitter is broadcasting information about people going into comas while using the Matrix, similar to what happened during the Matrix Crash 2.0 and the mission is to silence those pirates, by any means neccessary. Glitzy has her own agenda, she wants to talk to them to find out where they get their information and she wants to keep them alive.

aaand action!

The kids are of course up to the challenge, they are confident they can handle this. So they do a bit of planning and Glitzy gets ready to find the location of the pirates. She thinks she'll be able to pinpoint it to a radius of about fifty metres and it's then the job of the kids to find the van or from whereever the pirates are broadcasting. Since they move around and change locations every fifteen minutes without downtime, there are probably at least two people involved.

It's also Maggie's birthday and she gets a cake and AR contact lenses from Glitzy. Ray has a golden, sticky substance called Desert Dew for her, but challenges her to a game of three cups and a pea first, which she wins. She hasn't yet found out what exactly it is she has won.

Rusty takes his chance to finally talk to Liana when she comes into the pub - without her friends for a change. She works at the garbage plant, sorting through the trash and so he asks her if she can get him electronic scraps they can torch to make it look like they destroyed the pirates' equipment. To his own suprise he also asks her out to dinner. Equally surprised, she agrees to both questions.

Ray gets together some stuff to build a fake bomb, with play dough as a stand-in for C4. Rusty goes to collect the scraps Liana agreed to get for him and also builds a Molotov cocktail. Maggie plays with her contact lenses and when the programming crashes, she's left temporarily blinded. To Ray's and Rusty's amusement, this happens on the street and she walks right into a pole, knocking herself down into the mud. Rusty finally comes to her aid and after she fixed the lenses, they are off.

On their way to Touristville, where they plan to wait for Glitzy's first fix on the pirates, they soon find they are being followed by a kid dressed all in yellow. Maggie knows him, he's one of the Picas. Ray and Rusty would probably be able to shake him if they were on their own, they drive motorbikes that are at least equal to what the kid is driving, but Maggie only has a scooter. So Rusty stays with her while Ray tries to draw the Pica off.

That works, but soon they have not one, but five Picas, all dressed in yellow, following them and cannot shake them. They have arrived in Touristville and there, in the side streets, a battle on motorcycles takes places. After it's over, one of the Picas is as good as dead and the rest all are hurt, with their bikes trashed, mainly because Ray rammed two of them and Rusty shot one who wasn't really hurt, but still fell, crashing into his friends. The Picas, as hinted at by their clothes, are no longer the Picas, but the Canaries, but they still are out to get Maggie.

Ray, Maggie and Rusty drive on for a bit to get away from the scene and are now waiting for Glitzy's call at a noodle shop. Rusty has made further plans to meet with Liana tomorrow evening and has carelessly left the choice of the restaurant to her. He nearly swallows his cup of noodles whole when he reads what she has chosen...he can just hope the food is good there because he won't be able to afford anything else for the rest of the month.


The Picas are now the Canaries. And if that bring up the picture of mine canaries, you are exactly right. Not that the characters except Maggie know that and I as a player have no idea who is sending them out. But in any case our characters did fairly well against them, although we were lucky. And we haven't seen the end of this, not for a long time.

One of our players comes in via Google+ and so far it has worked great, without much lag or total blackouts. I can only recommend this if you have a player who moves away but still wants to game or if you have problems finding players locally. You just need a good microphone, especially when you have several people in one room and not everyone in front of their own computer.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Project Unbreakable was created in October of 2011 by Grace Brown. Grace works with survivors of sexual assault, photographing them holding a poster with a quote from their attacker.

I don't know what's worse. The hate in some of those quotes or the quotes saying how the attacker loves his/her victim and cares for them. Maybe even believing it to be true.

It will not make for happy reading, but do take a look. The people brave enough to participate in this project deserve at least this much.