Saturday, 1 August 2020

Books & Stuff (NS, N0 4): Reading in July 2020

So what did I read in July?  Furlough for me ended on 23 June, and I practically been pulling six-day weeks since then, so reading time has cut-back.  Nevertheless...

J D  Davies, The Blast that Tears the Skies

The third in the Matthew Quinton series about the Restoration Navy.  It's 1665: the year of the plague and the Battle of Lowestoft.  How can it not be exciting?

In this one Quinton is given command of a large but ancient ship and tasked with the dealing with the (historical) rumour that twenty captains from the old Parliamentary Navy will defect during the first battle with the Dutch.  There's also various politicking within his family.

Jen Campbell, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

A moderately amusing collection of odd and annoying things people have said to booksellers.  It will appeal to anyone who has worked in a shop and ever thought that life would be a lot easier without customers.

Currently Reading

Stanley Ellin, The Speciality of the House

I'm carrying on with this great collection of short stories.  I find that if I read too many short stories one after another I loose the effect, so I'm treating this as a book I'm dipping into.  As it's a rather large collection, it'll be a while before I get to the end.

Simon Harris, The Other Norfolk Admirals: Myngs, Narbrough and Shovell

Biography of the aforesaid admiral.  Another study of the Restoration navy.

Bayt al Azif: A Magazine for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games, Issue 2 (Aug 2019)

Number 2 of this magazine, which keeps up the high standard of No 1 (which I read back in June).  I keep thinking I should do a proper review of both issues.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Gaming in Jun 2020

  • 5 Jun - Dark Sun (Online)
  • 15 Jun - ODD Sci-Fi (Online)
  • 19 Jun - Dark Sun (Online)
  • 28 Jun - ODD Sci-Fi (Online)

Call of Cthulhu: Forget-Me-Not

Episode 5 of this game - Armed and Dangerous -  is now on-line.  Our merry band gain access to weapons and cocaine, and of course end up killing a hobo.  This is one of the sessions from March which I couldn't make and therefore doesn't include my character.

Andy Goodman, the Keeper, discusses the experience of running the game here.

Dark Sun/Dying Star

5 Jun - The One With (Legalised) Highway Robbery and Frayne's Undead Army.  Written-up here.

The second part of our journey to the city of Tyr carrying a secret message of the upmost importance.  We encountered extortionate elves and an army of the undead.

19 Jun - The One With Politicians, Stabby the Retainer and Sacks with Legs.  Written-up here.

We deliver our message to the Tyr rebels (who turn out not to be Men of the People) and discover that people aren't to be trusted.

ODD Sci-Fi

14 Jun - A Quick Meet-and-Greet Job (Part 2).  Written-up here.

This saw the completion of our crew's first job, with a confrontation with the forces of law and order on the final frontier.  Two of our other crewmates joined us (only for one to be killed).

28 Jun - Into the bowels of Christopher Hemsworth

In which we do a quick smash-and-grab on an ancient colony ship only to find space-cannibals and a crazed-AI.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Books and Stuff (NS, No 3): Reading in June 2020

So what did I read in June?

HRF Keating, Mrs Craggs: Crimes Cleaned Up

As I recall it, I read a book by Keating (probably The Perfect Murder) when I was in Sixth Form and trying out all sorts of things to see where my tastes lay*.  I remember not being very impressed and wondering why people rated him.  This book hasn't done anything to change that opinion.  Back when I was 17 I would have felt honour-bound to finish a book I'd started (this is only about 200 pages); but now I know better, and I gave up on it after the first two stories.

If your tastes run to comedy Cockneys and char-lady-puts-The-Establishment-in-its-place, this might be the book for you.  It's not for me.

*As it happened, a few years later I was given a masterclass in appreciating C20th crime fiction by my eventual wife.

Peter Le Fevre and Richard Harding (edd), Precursers of Nelson: British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century

I've really enjoyed reading this, despite some of the fifteen chapters (fifteen subjects and fifteen authors) being distinctly dry.  Over the years I've read a lot of naval history, and it was good to return to a subject I've neglected of late.

In addition, most of my reading has been from the Revolutionary/Napolenic Wars onwards (the studies in this book start with the Restoration Navy and the 'Glorious Revolution'), so it was instructive to read about an earlier period.  That, of course, was the avowed purpose of the volume, which was published during the 'Nelson decade' (ie, beteweeen the bicentenaries of the Battles of the Nile and of Trafalgar).

Given this, and the JD Davies fiction I've been reading lately, don't be surprised if I go on a C17th and C18th naval binge (as far as my home library will allow)!

Deborah Cadbury, The Dinosaur Hunters

This is a well-writen and readable account of the dawn of geology and paleontology as sciences in early C19th Britain (the word 'scientist' is a neologism of 1834 arising from popular discussion of these debates).

If I may be allowed some more autobiography*, this book invoked some pleasant memories.  Back in 1980-something when I was wondering what to study university I briefly considered History of Science (blame James Burke's 'Connections', Carl Sagen and Saturday mornings watching Open University programmes before the Westerns came on) before settling on Theology.  A course on The Church in the Modern World included a section on (Geology and) the Victorian Crisis of Faith, and installed in me a fascination with C19th Church History.  Various things followed, and one of the places I ended up working in had walls that look like this...

All very obscure, I know: but that's 'connections' for you.

*And this is my blog: so yes, I will be.

Bayt al Azif: A Magazine for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games, Issue1 (Oct 2018)

There's a detailed review here which says more about the magazine that I could here: though I wouldn't be so hard on the production values, which I didn't have a problem with.

For me the stand-out articles are the Reveiw of 2017, the scenario by Jared Smith set in C8th Damascus and a scenario by Rich McKee set during the Vietnam War (with added pointers to a world-wide DELTA GREEN type campaign).

If money was no object I'd be buying more on Cthulhu Mythos RPGs, but it isn't and most of the stuff out there is too expensive for me.  The eternal truths will have to remain shrouded from my prying eyes...

Currently Reading

Stanley Ellin, The Speciality of the House

A collection of short stories in the Crime Masterworks series by an author I'd not heard of before.  These really are well-crafted little gems - most dryly humorous.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Dark Sun #4: The One With (Legalised) Highway Robbery and Frayne's Undead Army

Dark Sun, 5 Jun 2020 (online session)

Fifth session of an on-going campaign. 

Game Master

Wandering Mul Druid (Lv.2)

Human Templar (Lv.2)

Follower: Rajal (II)
Half-Giant Ranger (Lv.2)

Follower: Vacancy
Halfling Psionicist slave (Lv.2)

Thri-Kreen Druid Trader (Lv.2)

Follower:  Seemingly Fribb!

Halfling Assasin (Lv.2)
Follower: Unnamed Elf slave.

The Story So Far...

Following our rescue of the Rebel Princess retrieval of the radicalised heiress we have learnt that she is part of a wide-spread network aiming to overthrow the Sorcerer-Kings of Athas.  She has information that leads her to believe that it is essential that her counterparts in Tyr – The Veiled Alliance – postpone their revolt.  With the promise of rich rewards, we have agreed to convey this message from Urik to Tyr.

Our last session ended just as we had defeated psychic attacks from a Gaj.

On The Road

Sweet, eh?
Despite our lack of rest, as the unforgiving sun set we determined to press on and make as much headway as possible in the cool of the night.  As if an omen (for ill or good?) one of Gre’kkt’s cargo of silkwyms hatched.

As we headed west to Tyr, Unayra speculated about the nature of the dragon we had seen attack Ulrik, and even suggested that we turn around and make the long journey back to the city in order to investigate. 

After two hours of listening to her prattle on, Geo spotted lights on the road ahead.  We had reached the crossroad oasis of Silver Springs.  Gre’kkt, a seasoned traveller in these parts, advised us that the oasis was owned by the Elves of the Silver Hand, who charged a levy for entry into the walled-settlement and ran a disreputable bazaar.  True enough, as we got closer we saw that the road ran through a toll-gate guarded by two elves.  The suggestion that we go and investigate the bazaar was greeted by an annoyed chittering from Gre’kkt, who withdrew with her kanks and insisted that she would skirt around and meet the rest of the party on the other side.  Fribb followed his new mistress, and after some consideration, Geo joined them.

Therefore it was Frayne, Garrok and Uranyra who approached the gate.  They were somewhat taken aback by the size of the toll, which Frayne managed to pay.  When the guards made a further charge for the beast of burden, it was only met by Garrok offering one of the casks of brandy he had stolen while hiding in Kurlak’s cellars.  This was so warmly received that one of the guards advised them that “if they wanted a cushty deal” they should seek out his cousin Bravelthook.

The bazaar was hectic.  As soon as the travellers entered the narrow, crowded streets they were set upon by carpet sellers, food vendors and beggars.  Even Unayra was unable to intimidate the urchins, and in the end was forced to part good coin for an obsidian dagger (though she was secretly delighted with its dragon-motif).

Bravelthook proved to be the dodgiest of dodgy traders.  Having ensured that they were not observed, he whipped back a carpet to reveal six leather sacks.  These, he claimed, contained the finest unprocessed iron ore – worth a fortune.  Garrok quickly ate one of his enchanted fruit – in this case a pear endowed with the power of Divination.  Much to his surprise, this confirmed the elf’s story.  Negotiating was quickly settled: Garrok exchanged three of the casks of brandy for three sacks, while Frayne bought the other three with more conventional payment, Unraya, having spent her worldly wealth on the dragon dagger, watched on.  As soon as the deal was done, Bravelthook packed up his belongings and disappeared into the throng.

Meanwhile, as Gre’kkt, Fribb and Geo circumnavigated the walls, they noticed a storm in the far distance heading towards us.  They hastened to the Western Gate, only to find the rest of the party astonished at being charged to leave the oasis!  Gre’kkt could barely hide her amusement.

The party continued on its westward journey, keeping a wary eye on the approaching storm.  Geo’s weather-sense was that there was something un-natural about it.  Gre’kkt took out her auger stones and performed one of the druidic rituals of her kind.  “Does the storm have hostile intent?” she asked, “Yes” came the answer.  After travelling for a further half-hour, it was clear that we couldn’t outrun the storm and we prepared camp to hunker down.

As the storm enveloped the camp, blotting out what little light there was, the party heard the sound of many marching feet and were terrified to see an army of ancient, desiccated corpses approaching them.
"Part the Dead, see!"

Gre’kkt cast Turn Undead, but merely managed to make a slight parting in the oncoming wave of zombies.  It was here that Frayne’s true power as a Templar of Hamanu, Sorcerer-King of Urik, Lion of the Desert, became apparent.  As he blew his battle horn and cast Turn Undead, they obeyed his commands!  Over the next few hours, Frayne managed to Turn around 70 of the zombies, who formed a protective barrier between the party and the rest of the horde.  At dawn the storm dissipated and the zombies sank back into the sand: all except a company of 31 – the survivors of Frayne’s Undead Army. 

These zombies continued to obey Frayne’s orders, and accompanied the party onwards towards Tyr.  Before we reached the city outskirts, Frayne ordered them to hide themselves in the dunes in the hope of retrieving them later.

Reaching the city was a blessed relief to the travellers, who had not rested for some time.   After being questioned by the Templars at the gates, who were told they were traders from Urik, they found a tavern and retired to the common room for glasses of fermented Kank Liqueur (for the Ladies) and pints of Tyr Brown Ale.

100 Days

No, not that 100 Days...

It's been 100 days since my last drink.

Cynics (and I know who I'm looking at) will read that and point out that it's coincided with the pubs being closed.  Well, so what?  And anyway, if Lockdown's taught us anything it's that you don't need pubs to get a drink.  My social media feeds have been crowded with ads offering to deliver hard liquor to my doorstep (I've been more tempted by potential deliveries of fine cheeses and coffee).  But yes, the pubs being shut has helped.

So how do you celebrate 100 days without a drink?  I don't know.  Perhaps I'll post tomorrow and tell you what happened.

If you Google 100 days sober you get two things.  First, a lot of motivational bullshit.  I'm afraid anything motivational leaves me cold: it just always has (so don't feel oblidged to add a motivational comment to this post!).  I have my own reasons for not drinking at the moment, and they don't coincide with a lot of what I read.  Second, you are told how much better your health is.  I don't know about that.  I've not been weighing myself or taking my blood pressure, so I'm willing to concede that there might have been some changes there.  I'm told I should be sleeping better.  I'm not: my sleep patterns are terrible at the moment.  I'm not any less depressed that I was a couple of months ago (but at least I'm not drepressed and drunk, which has been a very dangerous combination for me).

What for the future?  I'll try to carry on with this.  What will happen when I walk past a pub at 5pm on a sunny summer's day and everyone's sitting out drinking?  I don't know.  I'm probably going to walk home a different way for a while.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

ODD Sci-Fi #2: A Quick Meet-and-Greet Job (Part 2)

ODD Sci-Fi played 15 Jun 2020 (online session)

Second session of an on-going campaign.  Jason (Pvt Hudson) couldn’t attend.  RFED and Barney joined: character creation happened (which takes about two minutes in this lovely, simple system).

Game Master

Scamp Padmore
Captain of the Bastion.

Chauncey de Vere
Swindled tycoon/ former politician/con-woman.

Crimson Stain
Reformed assassin.


Mutant muscle. 
Captain ‘Patch’

Disgraced starship captain.

La Toya

The escaped convict formerly known as ‘Wacko’.
Chuck Jerrit
Miner with a friendly face and prosthetic limb.

The Crew of the Freighter Bastion

Clockwise from top left: Scamp, Hudson, Chauncey
La Toya, Patch, Crimson and Hock
  • Scamp Padmore – A former test-pilot. Genetically and mechanically engineered from animal stock (mostly mouse in Scamp’s case) and treated as expendable. He is captain and owner (having stolen it) of the Bastion.
  • Chauncey de Vere – Con-woman and the crew’s ‘Face’. Her greatest con was to be elected President of a remote colony - which made her immensely rich until she had to leave in a hurry.
  • Crimson Stain – Reformed assassin. His last, uncompleted job was to kill Chauncey: he often expresses regret for not carrying it out.
  • Hockjoint – Mutant muscle. Many Mutes can pass for Norms: Hock can’t. A standard mook from the knees up, he can’t do anything to hide his massive chicken feet. Partly to draw attention from this (and partly because he likes the heft when he grips it) he carries an unfeasibly large weapon.
  • Captain ‘Patch’ – disgraced starship captain. He is haunted by the fact that his ship, its crew and his eye were all destroyed by a large space-dwelling xenomorph due to his negligence. No-one knows his real name.
  • La Toya – a former monkey-smuggler who escaped from a desolate prison colony using a stolen body. Only has a passing acquaintance with reality. 

The crew has a debt of 10,000 credits to Jacob’s Ladder, a Mercenary/Security Group.

The crew has accepted a contract from a collector of alien artefacts.  He is willing to pay 2,000 credits if they bring him a linga – a two-foot high crystal carved with alien glyphs – recently discovered on the mining colony of Morbus Fracastorii.  Their contact is Chuck Jerrit a miner and small-time smuggler.

On arrival, the crew find that Chuck is missing: it turns out he’s been arrested.  While trying to track him down they encounter their great rival, Barnett Kale, who has the jump on them and seems to be in cahoots with the Sheriff’s office.  After evading the deputies and battling local wildlife, they discover that the best chance of completing their job is to find Chuck’s partners, who they track to Elliott’s Cantina.  As Chauncey makes contact and deputies move in to intercept her, Hock started a brawl as a distraction.

At Elliott’s Cantina

Having finished battening down the ship [which prevented them from attending the last session – obviously], Patch and La Toya arrived at Elliott’s Cantina just as a large man was thrown through the plate windows and the brawl spilled out onto the street. 

Patch and La Toya quickly took in the situation.  Hock’s diversion seemed to have worked: Chauncey (still wearing Scamp in his fur stole disguise) was able to leave with the smuggler Tommy Booth.  Crimson was busy polishing off as many neglected drinks as he could and keeping above the affray, but Hock was in the midst of it.  La Toya joined Chauncey and Scamp, and Patch went to Hock’s aid, drawing his ceremonial officer’s sword to ensure that this remained a mêlée and not a fire-fight.  Nevertheless, Hock was knocked out cold as an assailant smashed a bottle over his head.  With the undercover deputies now flashing their badges and guns, the brawl dissolved as quickly as it began.  Hock was dragged over to one side and handcuffed.  Patch stayed at the bar to see what he could do to help.

Crimson joined the others at the monorail station, where more members of the Wendigo Security Division were arriving.  La Toya attempted to delay the departure of the train, first by telling the driver that there were creatures on the line and that she – as an animal ambassador – had to protect them.  When neither this nor her attempt at seduction were successful, the driver raised the alarm and summoned the deputies.  Ironically, by being taken into custody La Toya achieved the necessary delay.  Tommy now urged Chauncey, Scamp and Crimson to join him in a dash down the monorail tube before the next train and they succeeded in reaching Shaft 1, the next stop.

In Custody

"No man left behind.
Not again!"
Hock had now been brought onto the train, where he was put in a carriage with La Toya (by now also ‘cuffed).  Patch followed and protested their innocence as innocent victims.  The deputies seemed to know better than that, and questioned them about their connections with Chuck Jerrit, Tommy Booth and Cornelius Heal.  Despite their denials, they were told they were being taken down the line to the Sheriff’s Office.  As Patch again protested, two deputies moved in on him.

Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that Booth thought that the crew were on Morbus Fracastorii as part of a Luciferium smuggling ring.  He insisted that the best course of action was to go through the mineshafts and over the surface to Morbustown, where they would be able to go to Jerrit’s apartment and retrieve the goods.  He was unaware that we had already lifted them when searching the apartment.  Crimson insisted that they needed to deal with Jerrit.  Booth couldn’t understand why (because of the on-going ‘arrangement’ they had with the Sheriff Dalton) but Jerrit has been arrested and taken in for questioning.  He was adamant that everything would be sorted out soon and return to normal; however, he flatly refused to go anywhere other than the safety of Morbustown.  Crimson, Chauncey and Scamp determined that the best thing was to somehow get inside the Sheriff’s Office.

As this discussion was happening, events on the train were about to get hairy.  Seeing that Patch was about to be arrested, Hock decided to make his move and attempted to deploy a frag grenade.  Hampered by his handcuffs, he fumbled this and only managed to blow a hole in the floor of the carriage.  In the ensuing fracas Patch was able to barge one of the deputies out of the hole to his death, and knock another out.  But both Hock and La Toya were also knocked out of action.  As the train pulled into the Sherriff’s Office station, Patch jumped down and tried to hide under it, but unsuccessfully.  Although now armed, he was completely outnumbered, and raised his hands in surrender.

Smug bastard

To make matters worse, just as Patch was being subdued and the wounded La Toya and Hock dragged onto the platform, their rival Barnet Kale stepped out of the Sheriff’s Office with two of his crew.  From the very large package he was carrying and his smug expression as he got on the train, it was clear that he had achieved his goal and obtained the alien artefact.  The sneer was only wiped off his face as he realised that the departing train was for Morbustown and that he’d have to get the return service to reach Gallicus Spaceport.

"I'm the law around these parts!"
The prisoners were then treated to some rough justice and a monologue from Sheriff Dalton.  After a token beating, Dalton told them that he was in a very good mood, having just completed a profitable deal (his four deputies smirked at each other).  He wasn’t going to kill them on the spot: instead he was going to ship them off-world to so they could be tried for smuggling and the murder of a deputy.  Going by-the-book for once would gain him some kudos at Wendigo Corp HQ.  Throughout this encounter, Dalton periodically licked a liverish-looking piece of meat which seemed to have some narcotic effect on him.  The three were then taken to join Chuck Jerrit in the lock-up.

Showdown at the Sheriff’s Station

The world is not yet
Scamp, Chauncey and Crimson had now arrived at the Sheriff’s Station.  Crimson used the last of the pilfered Luciferium to fashion an explosive device, rigged to go off when the next train from Mobustown arrived.  Chauncey (with Scamp’s able assistance) now proceeded to perform a remarkably exotic dance.  When she had finished she had three credits in the hat at her feet and everyone in the Sheriff’s Office (apart from the Sheriff himself and the two guards downstairs in the lock-up) had retired to their bunks.

Mad as a box of frogs, right
 to the end
They then made a frontal assault on the Office.  Hearing this, La Toya, Patch and Hock made their move.  La Toya distracted and knocked out one of the two guards, but was killed in the attempt.  Patch grabbed his dropped key-card and Hock his shotgun.  Between them they overpowered the other guard and freed themselves and Chuck Jerrit.  [At this point Chuck was promoted from NPC and Barney began to play him.]  Upstairs, Crimson had killed the Sheriff and the crew had defeated Wendigo Security’s planetary operation.

Looting the Office turned up 1,200 credits (obviously what Kale had paid for the artefact) and a box of fine cigars.  In addition, Chuck was able to identify Dalton’s narcotic meat as a valuable Terranomorph gland and the crew recognised his Star Badge as alien tech.

At that moment Crimson’s booby-trap went off, disabling the monorail system.  Chauncey took an emergency vehicle and headed to the spaceport to retrieve the Bastion. The others went out for a face-off with Kale.  Given that the crew had had the pick of the Sheriff’s Office armoury, the ensuing gunfight was short and brutal.  With moments, Kale and his lackeys were lying dead in the dust, his dude duds soaked in blood.  Scamp retrieved the alien artefact and Hock took Kale’s pair of pearl-handled pistols as trophies.  Within minutes Chauncey arrived in the Bastion, crashing through the dome to land in the town square. 


The crew were split as to how long to stay on Morbus Fracastorii.  With local security neutralised it was possible to strip the warehouses of everything of value; but this was bound to incur the lasting enmity of the Wendigo Corp and a high bounty on their heads.  In the end Scamp cast the deciding vote, and we left with the considerable rewards already gained.

The new recruit
Chuck was recruited as a replacement for La Toya:  as we raised ship he asked “What about my wife and child?”

Loot and Debt
  • 2,000 credits for the completed contract
  • 1,200 credits from the Sheriff’s Office 
  • The Terranomorph gland – a Xenomorphic Oddity (Effect: when licked gives +8 to strength, but -3 to DEX and CHA.  One lick remaining). 
  • The Star Badge – an Alien Tech Oddity (Effect: unknown) 
  • Pair of Pearl-Handled Pistols – a Warped Item Oddity (Effect: when used normally deals d6 damage, but when the wielder sings a song singling out a particular target it deals d10 damage against that target for the rest of the session)
The crew had a starting debt of 10,000 credits to Jacob’s Ladder; the death of La Toya raised that to 11,000 credits.  From their rewards, they paid off 1,100 credits, leaving an outstanding debt of 9,900 credits.

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