Sunday, 31 May 2020

Books and Stuff (NS, No 2): Reading In May 2020 (Part 2)

You can see the post about the splurge of reading I did in the first part of the month here.  Since then I've settled down a little (basically, I'm sleeping better, so not reading into the early hours, which is obviously a good thing).  As the reception of that post was positve, I am reviving the series where I look at what I've been reading (probably on a monthly business).

Read

J D Davies, The Mountain of Gold

The second of the Matthew Quinton series about a captain in the Restoration Navy.  In this one he get's involved with Robert Holmes and a version of one of his River Gambia expeditions.  About half the book is involved with Quinton's domestic problems, but I don't mind that.

This book held up to the promise of the first, and I shall carry on with the series.  Holmes has just started the Second Anglo-Dutch War, so things will be livening up a little!


Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Unease

I mentioned this on my earlier post.  As I've said, I'm a fan of Conan Doyle and his, under-rated non-Holmes stories.

These tales of the supernatural rate nicely with the RW Chambers ones I read earlier in the month, and although they don't reach the peak of MR James, are very good.  Being Doyle, many of them touch on Spiritualism and many or the heroes are medical men, but there are two very good mummy stories, a satirical story about the electric chair (!!) and even a story (from 1913) about the perils of aviation.  Well worth digging out if your interested in pre-Hollywood horror and ghost stories.



Currently Reading

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

And I've continued with the series of biographical articles on Admirals of the long-C18th.  I've now got up to Vernon and Hawke, so am on a little firmer ground that I was with the earlier ones.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

BBIB: Single Ship Action

Following my attempt to do a Fleet Action using Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls (BBIB) the other week last night on impulse I cleared the decks (well, the kitchen table) to try a single-ship action.  I want to master these relatively simple rules beofe moving on to anything more complicated.


Accordingly, French and British 38-gun frigates faced up against each other.  The results were to prove surprisingly one-sided...

The first two turns consisted of manoeuvering, neither side taking the chance of a long-range shot ('cause I hadn't read the rules properly!)  The French had the advantage of the wind and this proved decisive.

Each turn consist of the following phases, the sequence determined by lot:-
  • French move
  • French fire
  • French repair
  • British move
  • British fire
  • British repair

Turn 3
saw the action begin.  

Turn 3
Fr Repair
Fr Sail
Fr Fire
Br Repair
Br Sail
Br Fire

The French were able to open fire at medium range, scoring two hits (as 38s, each ship started with 3d6: as medium range they need to roll 4 or above to hit).  These caused damage to the masts but also, more significantly, to the steerage gear.

Although this attack was followed by a British repair phase, attempts to repair the steering gear was unsuccessful.  The British were therefore unable to turn: as a result they were couldn't make any headway into the wind, or to bring their guns to bear.

Turn 4
Br repair
Turn 4 - first phase
Fr repair
Fr fire
Fr sail
Br fire
Br sail

The British were lucky in starting with a repair phase, most of the effort was put into the steerage gear, which was fixed.  Repairs to the masts and sails were ineffectual.  (Repair die are allocate on the basis of effective crew.  In this case, two of the three die were allocated to repair the 1 point of damage to the steerage, and the other to the sails.  There was one success in the two die allocated to the steerage gear.).

However, the French were able to fire another broadside.  There was only one hit, but this was sufficient to bring the damaged mast down!

The French ship now placed itself in position for a perfect raking bow shot.  It was forutnate for the British that she had already fired her broadside!  The British were again unable to bring their guns to bear, but were at least now able to manoeuver.

Turn 5
End of Turn 5

Fr fire
Fr sail
Br fire
Br repair
Fr repair
Br sail

In turn 5 neither side could bring their guns to bear, nor had any repairable damage.  The British movements were, of course, hampered by only having two of her three masts.


Turn 6
Turn 6
Fr fire
Fr sail
Br sail
Fr fire
Br repair
Fr repair

Although the French were able to fire during Turn 6, all their shots missed. 

Turn 7

Turn 7
Br sail
Fr repair
Fr sail
Fr fire
Br repair
Br fire
The French ship again placed itself in position for a raking bow shot, and on this occasion was able to take it.  Although there was only one hit, it was decisive, taking out a second of the British masts.

Turn 8

"I did my best!"
Turn 8 started with a French firing phase.  Still in position to make a raking shot, this broadside was devastating.  Four fires were started and the third and last British mast was damaged, as was the steerage gear.  With over two-thirds of his effective crew out of action, the British captain had no choice but to strike his colours, without having fired a shot.  A court-martial beckoned if he ever returned to England.
A triumph of French seamanship and gunnery.


Monday, 25 May 2020

Dark Sun #3: The One Where We Got Kanks All Round and Another Mission


Dark Sun, 22 May 2020 (online session)

Fourth session of an on-going campaign. 

Dave
Game Master

Edwin
Garrok
Wandering Mul Druid (Lv.2)


Tom
Frayne
Human Templar (Lv.2)

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

Follower: Vacancy
Ian
Fribb
Halfling Psionicist slave (Lv.2)


Aengel
Gre’kkt
Thri-Kreen Druid Trader (Lv.2)

Follower:  Vacancy

Seph
Unayra
Halfling Assasin (Lv.1)
Follower: Unnamed Elf slave.


The Story So Far...


Sirdar Kurlak of House Kurlak
Our party had been hired by Sidar Jai Kurlak, head of one of the merchant houses of Urik, to recover his daughter Aspis, who had apparently been kidnapped by a group of escaping slaves.   When we caught up with them, it turned out that Aspis was a willing victim and was aiming to start an uprising that would destroy her father and the basis of the Urik economy.  We declined to assist her, knocked her out and got her back across the desert.

Once we returned to Urik, we found the city under attack from a dragon and in chaos.  Kurlak was preparing to escape to his country estate and was unwilling to pause to pay us.  We reluctantly agreed to act as guards for him and his party.  While travelling across the city, we were ambushed by a party of elves.  Aspis originally helped them, but once she saw her father seriously injured changed her mind.  We defeated the elves and, as the dragon had gone, returned to the Kurlak Mansion.

Aspis Dumps Some Plot

Back at the mansion, Jai Kurlak rested and took refreshments, allowing his daughter to deal with our business (he had received healing from Frayne and Garrok). 

The rebel princess
Aspis found an excuse to send Frayne away.  

She made a half-hearted apology for her actions and explained that she now realised that we were people to be taken seriously.  If we would listen, she could offer us a mission that would not only be of the utmost importance, but would be worth our while to undertake.  

She had excluded Frayne because, as a Templar of Hamanu the Sorcerer-King, she did not know if he was to be trusted.  She explained that she is a leader in a conspiracy to overthrow the king and that the slave revolt was to be the first step in this.  

A similar revolt is to take place in the city of Tyr to overthrow their own tyrant.  Aspis is in contact with the rebels there – a group of mages known as the Veiled Alliance.

A crystal of the
purest green
However, now that the dragon had appeared her plans have changed.  It was known that Hamanu planned to send an army attack Tyr.  She believes that the dragon’s arrival will only hasten this attack.  If the Tyr uprising takes place, that city will be weakened and fall to Hamanu: if that happens, he will be in such a strong position that any attempt to overthrow him will fail.  Both cities will remain under his rule.

She therefore asks that we take a message to her opposite number – Agis of House Astricles – asking him to postpone the Alliance’s plans.  She gave us an olivine crystal as a token to present to him (and with a hint that it may be of other use to us).

Rewards are Dished Out

At this point, Gre’kkt and Garrok pointed out that we had been of much service to House Kurlak already.  We had fulfilled our contract to retrieve Aspis, and had saved the life of the Sirdar himself.  During these actions, several of our retainers had been killed.  We had not yet received payment.

Kurlak immediately saw the point.  With the city in turmoil, he could not give us cash, he said, but he did have several family heirlooms of great value.  He promised that if we undertook Aspis’ mission, upon which the future of his House depended, much more would follow.

First, he wished to compensate Gre’kkt for the death of her nephew, who had been killed during the fight in the marketplace.  He presented her with the slave Fribb.  Fribb “was not very intelligent, nor particularly appealing”, but he was loyal; he had done much reliable service to House Kurlak.  Gre’kkt also received a bladder of the finest brandy and a promise to further her trading ambitions.

Frayne, who had now returned, received a suit of armour and a shield; Geo, a bronze amulet of strange design; Unayra, an iron dagger; and Garrok a bowl of fruit each blessed with miraculous powers.  In addition, and to hasten our passage to Tyr, Kurlak presented with us three mounts with tents and letters of passage as agents of House Kurlak.

Gre’kkt additionally, negotiated for equipment to incubate her silkwyrm eggs and left her broken metal sword with him for repair.   

The Feds Arrive, and Frayne Makes a Choice

As this point, a slave rushed in and announced that a Templar was at the gate, demanding admission.  Kai and Aspis urged the party to retreat to the wine cellar.  Frayne offered to remain, in order to soothe things over, and Unayra hid in a nearby pot.
 
Antephos and his assistants
The Templar, who was accompanied by four half-giants, turned out to be Antephos – an old rival of Frayne’s late master and his nemesis.  He demanded that Aspis accompany him and face questioning regarding her recent activities.  Frayne’s attempts to talk him out of this were unsuccessful and things looked bleak.  Aspis again took matters into her own hands, casting a spell which destroyed two of the giants in a gout of flame.  In the ensuing fight, Antephos and his giants were killed.  The party concluded that it was time to get out of Urik, and left Kurlak with the task of disposing of the bodies.  It was hoped that the Sorcerer-King never learned of Fraynes part in this.

As we left, Aspis told Frayne that she was grateful for his attempts to protect her: she now looked upon him in a new light...

On the Road

The party took the main road south to Tyr.  In leaving the city, we again noticed the devastation wrought by the dragon: ruined buildings and desiccated bodies. 

We camped through the day, and travelled at night.  We met a slave caravan heading north and, exchanged news with them.  They advised us that they were probably the last caravan to come out of Tyr as King Kalak had commandeered all slaves to work on a mad project to complete his giant ziggurat.  Indeed, they warned, as we travelled south we should be on the lookout for Kalak’s forces rounding up more labourers.

We did indeed see such a pressgang on the road and, forewarned, was able to avoid it.  From then on we travelled off the main highway.  We made camp in the stony barrens.

Several of us had strange dreams, reflecting our worse fears.  Fribb woke to find himself abandoned, his new mistress a diminishing dot on the horizon; Garrok found himself forced into combat with Gre’kkt; Unayra found herself in a cage, captured by the pressgang.  Gre’kkt – who of course, needs no sleep – was on watch and puzzled that Fribb and Garrok were each calling her name in their sleep.  She attempted to wake Garrok, only for him to attack her.  She shrugged him off, and went to rouse the others.


It turned out that a Gaj had made its way into Fribb’s tent and was making a psionic attack.  Both Garrok and Gre’kkt were paralysed with overwhelming fear. Unayra was able to make some hits, and finally Geo was again able to put his trusty impaler to good use.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Books and Stuff (NS, No 1)

Last night I was taking on the phone to my Kindest Critic and the subject of blogging came up.  She reminded me that back in the day (when I used to blog more frequently) I used to have a regular round-up of what I'd been reading.  These used to be quite popular posts.  And looking back at some of them this morning made interesting reading for me.

What with the lockdown, insomnia and what-have-you, I've been a) reading more, and b) thinking about reviving the blog a little.  I'm not going to do the weekly 'Books and Stuff' posts that were a feature of the early years of the blog, but I may start posting a little more often and record my thoughts on my reading.

So Far in May 2020...

Goodreads.com tells me that I've completed 25 books so far this year.  These are the ones I read in May.

Michael Bond, More About Paddington

How can you not like the little chap?  This is the second book in the Paddington series, and he's already very much at home in the Brown household.

There's not really much to be said about this.  The stories are lovely.  1959 attitudes to the sale and  handling of fireworks are something of an eye-opener to some-one who was brought up on 1970's public information films though! 

I can't help hearing Sir Michael Hordern's voice when I read the stories (which always makes it a little odd when I watch The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or Where Eagles Dare - oddly enough it never bothers me when I listen to his Gandalf).

Joan Druett, In The Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon

This is a book by my old friend, New Zealand author Joan Druett.  Here she looks at the events around the 1841-42 Pacific cruise of the whaler Sharon of Fairhaven, MA, which saw Polyneasian crewmen mutiny and murder the captain.  This was of course a great scandal at the time but the causes were covered-up.  Joan examines the financial presures on the captain and his brutality and racism which lead to the mutiny (the turning of a blind eye to such things telling us a lot about the American merchant fleet of the time).

A really excellent read, well-worth looking into even if you're not particularly interested in maritime history.

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Pulizer Prize-winning novel which tells a story of two Jewish cousins who battle Nazis by creating a comicbook hero.  A great depiction of New York in the early war years that manages to tell us a lot about the Golden Age of comics and their creators.  

My description doesn't do it justice.  It's a great read: I literally sat up all night reading this one!




Michael Bond, Paddington Helps Out

What can I say?  After mutiny, murder, mayhem and Nazis I needed another helping of the kindest bear you'll ever meet.









Robert W Chambers, The King in Yellow

The 1895 collection of short stories that had a huge influence on the Lovecraft Mythos.

The stand-out of the collection is the first story, 'The Repairer of Reputations', a story of madness and a truly unreliable narrator.  The others are a mixed bunch - perhaps the next best is "The Street of the First Shell", a tale of American artists living through the 1870 Seige of Paris.  The stories about Paris perhaps get a bum deal from those who go to the book expecting weird literature (only the first four of the ten stories - with the 'King in Yellow' and 'Yellow Sign' motifs - fall into that category).

Boria Sax, Crow

A study of the cultural impact of corvids.  An interesting little book, even if it did sometime make me a little cross with its generalisations and assumptions.








J D Davies, Gentlemen Captain

First book in the Matthew Quinton series of novels about an officer in the Restoration Navy and the (not insignificant) conflicts therein.  This one is set in 1662 and is concerned with treason in Scottish waters.

It sounds pretentious to say that I was aware of Davies' non-fiction and academic works on the period, but I hadn't tried the fiction.  Well, now I have and I enjoyed it a lot.  I've already ordered a cheap copy of the second book in the series.


Alan Abbey, Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls: Naval Wargame Rules for the Age of Sail

All this maritime reading prompted me to dig out and re-read BBIB.  The immediate results can be read here, more will no doubt follow.







Currently Reading

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

Published in 1999 - right in the middle of what publishers of naval history were touting as 'Nelson Decade', ie between the bicentenaries of the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar - this is a study of British naval leadership in the Long C18th (so from Torrington to Keith).  With over a dozen authors, there's a mix of stuff here.  Solid work though.  Neither a light nor quick read.




Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Unease

As the editor says in his introduction (the editions I read of both this book and the King in Yellow were by Wordsworth with introductions by David Stuart Davies), Doyle's work can be overlooked both because of the overwhelming presence of Sherlock Holmes and because of the sheer quantily and variety of stuff he wrote.  His longer works can be a bit thin, but he is the master of the short story though.  

If he'd only written these ghost stories they'd be worth remembering.  They're not as good as MR James, but they compare well with the RW Chambers.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls

It's been an age since I've done any wargaming, so I was pleased when I finally got my act in order to get some solo naval wargaming done (a very long-term goal of mine!).

I pulled out Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls, which is an age of sail (really Napoleonic) set of rules.  Way back in 2014 I took part in a play-by-post game, which I enjoyed (there's some eye-candy in the blog archives if you want to look at it - Clint, the host had some rather nice models he set up for us).

Wanting to do a fleet action, but wanting to keep it manageble, I played using the order of battle for the Battle of San Domingo.  In a reversal of Real Life, this turned out to be a French victory.  My inexperience in ship handling meant that Admiral Louis' division wasn't engaged until very near the end of the four hours that I devoted to the battle, which significantly tipped the balance in favour of the French.  But there are enough variables to give some replayability, so I may set up the scenario again and see how it goes.


BBIB plays well as a solo game.  I think it handles the randomising of turns nicely, as it does damage (which can have quite an effect on the game).  I think that before I play again, I will sit down and write my own crib-sheet: the quick-reference sheet in the book is OK, but it didn't stop me from doing quite a bit of back-and-forth in the book.  I also need to get my head around the rules for boarding.  And next time I'll play on a table rather than the floor - it didn't require as much space as I expected, and by the end of four hours, my back and knees were complaining!

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Dark Sun #2: The One Where We Fought Elves, With a Dragon as Background


Dark Sun May 2020 (online session)

Third session of an on-going campaign.  Seph joined. 

Dave
Game Master

Edwin
Garrok
Wandering Mul Druid (Lv.1)


Tom
Frayne
Human Templar (Lv.1)

Follower: Rajal.
Spencer
Geo
Half-Giant Ranger (Lv.1)


Ian
Fribb
Halfling Psionicist slave (Lv.2)


Aengel
Gre’kkt
Thri-Kreen Druid Trader (Lv.2)

Follower:  Kreekit, her nephew.

Seph
Unayra
Halfling Assasin (Lv.1)
Follower: Unnamed Elf slave.


The Story So Far...

The reward better be worth it...

Our party has been hired by Sidar Kurlak, head of one of the merchant houses of Urik, to recover his daughter Aspis, who had apparently been kidnapped by a group of escaping slaves.  These elves were tracked across the Alluvian Tablelands, where we eventually found that they had been captured by the dwarves of Kled.  After some horse-trading, the daughter and elves were handed over to our group.

It then turned out that this was not as simple a rescue operation as it had appeared.  Aspis demanded that she and the elves be released and that we go to an elven stronghold where she would be able to garner support for an uprising that would free all the slaves in Urik.

We decided to have no truck with this, paralysed her and bundled her onto the back of our beast of burden.

The Return to Urik

The return leg is the south and east
(Ian's map)
We started encamped outside Kled.  Fearing that elves may attempt to rescue Aspis, we had decided to rest before what might be a forced march back to Urik.  We also decided that it would be safer (and hopefully quicker) not to return the way we had come, but to head eastward until we hit the road running north to Urik. 

While still at the camp, the party was rejoined by Frayne, the Urik Templar, who had remained behind healing-up following the encounter with giant hornets, and by Uanyra a Halfling, who he had met on the way, along with her slave.


 A long night-time trek through the sandy wastes proved largely uneventful.  However, even by the light of the twin moons it was clear almost at once that we were being stalked by some large, flying creature.  As daylight broke we made camp and the beast – it turned out to be a silk-wyrm - made its attack.  It first struck the water-carrying kank, giving the camp the chance to awaken.  Gre’kkt’s psionic ability to banish the wyrm gave us the chance to take up positions to despatch it as soon as it reappeared.  Various body-parts were harvested and Gre’kkt recovered a clutch of six eggs.

Two hours after breaking camp, we finally found the Urik road and were from then able to make better time, only pausing to exchange news with a trading caravan heading south.  Before the day was over, we were in sight of Urik.

A Disappointing Reception


Entering the cultivated areas around Urik was a relief.  We took time to pause and refresh ourselves following our long journey through the sandy wastes.   However, as soon as the city came into sight we encountered a mass of fleeing citizens and saw that it was under attack from a huge dragon. 

Both Fribb and Frayne were subject to some form of psionic backwash, each having visions relating to the dragon – Fribb seeing it being surrounded by the spirits of the dead, and Frayne seeing himself plunging a metal spear through its hide.  Our destination was on the far side of the city from the dragon’s attack, so we decided to avoid it and press on in order to relieve ourselves of our burden and collect our reward. 

Our employer
Fribb (who is one of Sirdar Kurlak’s household slaves) lead us straight to his mansion and an immediate audience.  However, we saw that Kurlak wasn’t immune to the quite reasonable air of panic in the city: an evacuation of the mansion was underway.  Kurlak was delighted to see his daughter again, but in no mood to deal with us.  He promised that we would receive our reward on his return to the city, but his immediate concern was to get out of Urik as soon as possible.  He conceded that if the party wished to join him, his household could do with the extra bodyguards on the route up-country to his summer lodgings.  This earned a rebuke from Frayne, who saw the abandonment of Urik as an act of disloyalty to the Sorcerer-King.  Kurlak wasn’t inclined to argue, and the rest of the party recognised that joining his caravan was their best chance of getting paid.  Rajal, Frayne’s retainer made the decision that his master (who was fairly rattled on seeing the dragon attacking his city) wasn’t going to do what was good for him, and knocked him out.

It soon proved that Kurlak was indeed in need of extra bodyguards.  As we pressed through the throng in the marketplace, we were surrounded by a group of eight elves.  The caravan guards were of no assistance whatsoever during the skirmish, during which Aspis used her arcane powers against us.  With Fribb and Geo put to Sleep, things were touch-and-go, and Kurlak was seriously injured (as which point Aspis seemed to realise that assisting the elves had been a step too far).  Gre’kkt and Garrok rallied around the fallen merchant (and his wallet), and Unayra was able to make some telling hits from her hiding-place.  Frayne resumed consciousness and was able to use his authority as a Templer of the Sorcerer-King to get assistance from on-lookers.  However, his loyal and useful retainer Rajal was killed, as was Gre'kkt's nephew and apprentice, Kreekit.

The elves defeated and the dragon having moved on, the caravan returned to Kurlak’s mansion (Aspis in a much subdued frame of mind).  Kurlak was too seriously injured to address the party’s questions, but promised answers (and hopefully payment) soon...

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