Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 28) - Reading in Apr 2022

Books Finished

Andrzej Sapkowski, The Last Wish

Stories about Geralt the Witcher, the character who 'inspired the cult videogame' and subsequent tv series.  As I've never played the game and haven't watched the programme, I came into this one cold.

I enjoyed it.  It's good fantasy.  As everyone probably knows, Sapkowski (a Pole) draws heavily on Central European folklore (but with some cunning nods to people like me, who only know it through the filters of the Brothers Grimm and Disney), which is refreshing.  I also detect the influence of Fritz Leiber in some of the sly humour.

Jane Austen, Persuasion

Like most people I'm pretty familiar with Austen's works because of the many tv and film adaptaions of them.  Until now, however, I've never read any.  I started therefore with one of my favorites (and one of the shortest).

Austen writes comedies of manners, and this is another book with some sly humour.

Persuasion is the story of Ann Eliott, who several years before the book started, was persuaded that she shouldn't accept the proposal of a young naval officer.  The book follows their re-acquaintance and the persuasion of mutual love.

I find what Wordsworth was doing with the cover ironic - they're using the science of persuasion and following the old advertising adage: "Sex Sells!" in a rather silly and pointless way.

T H White, Mistress Masham's Repose

A childrens' story in which the orphaned and oppressed scion of a ducal family finds a colony of Lilliputians living in the grounds.

There's quite a lot of talk about political economy and self-determination, but when T H White riffs on an idea by Jonathan Swift, what can one expect?
Susan Hill, Howards End is on the Landing

The conceit of this book is that Hill was looking for a book (presumably Howards End) on her shelves, but instead found so many others that she wanted to read, that she decided to have a year in which she only read books that she already owned.  Of course, this being Susan Hill, she had a couple of hundred thousand to choose from...

And it isn't really about the books, but the memories that they prompt.  Given that Hill has met every major British writer from E M Forster and the Sitwells onwards, threre's a lot of memories to fit in the 'slim volume'.  

It's quite engaging though, and I'm tempted to seek out some of Hill's own fiction.

Jim Wilson, Launch Pad UK: Britain and the Cuban Missile Crisis

A change of pace here.  

I'll link to a full reveiw of this book in a few days.


Saturday, 9 April 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 27) - Apollo Astronauts

 While out scouting for books the other week, I came across the following: - 

A selection of biographies of people connected with the Apollo Programme.  Quite a haul.  I may have an 'Apollo reading month' soon.

The only problem is that I don't have any room for them on the shelves devoted to space exploration.  Some juggling is going to be required.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Gaming in Mar 2022

 A less crazy month than February!

  • 4 Mar - Wasters (Cyberpunk OSE), Elite Version - on-line
  • 6 Mar - Wasters, Norm Version - on-line
  • 17 Mar - The Beast of Errinsford (OSE) - on-line
  • 18 Mar - Board Games - face-to-face
  • 18 Mar - Wasters, Elite Version
  • 27 Mar - Wasters, Norm Vesion
  • 29 Mar - The Beast of Errinsford

Wasters (Elite Version)

  • 4 Mar
A continuation of our mission from 25 Feb in which we were tasked with kidnapping a Corpo Exec.  We'd reached the Corporate Outpost and had taken up position where we could surveil the building out target was in.  Hacking into the building's network gave us access to security cameras and locks, which proved useful, but let us know that there was no way we were going to be able to do this job stealthily.

We were lucky to have a piece of tech that neutralised a mecha patrol, and broke into the building.  There we were engaged in a series of firefights with coporate security - heavies, bots and a cyborg.  Having cleared the floor, we paused to bring the van around and fill it with as much loot as possible (including the mecha's autocannon).
  • 18 Mar
The third, and final, session on this mission.  We fought our way upstairs, collared the Exec, tranquilised him, bundled him into the van and got the hell out of there before reinforcements arrived.

Home for tea, payment and a $90,000 medical bill for one of our retainers.

Wasters (Norms' Version)

  • 6 Mar
There are few polite ways to describe want an absolute disaster this session was!

Our crew took on a job to go to a Corporate Outpost and cause mischief.  We spent quite a lot of time in prep, including getting a minigun turret mounted on Pink Wheels, our new van.  And off we went!

On the ways we made a small detour to sell a datastick to the cops.  This proved to be a big pay-out.  So big, in fact that as soon as the Lieutenant left, the other cops tried to shake us down for a even bigger bribe than we'd already arranged.  This didn't end well.  Our new minigun made short work of them, but we had to scarper fast (and were marked down as cop-killers).

On reaching the Corporate Outpost, we trusted to our usual plan of having a couple of snipers in a good position, and then doing some drive-bys.  This didn't work, as we were completely outclassed by the corporate security.  I think we finally realised that we weren't going to get out of there alive when two Cyborgs walked up to our van and tipped it onto its side.

End result: TPK.
  • 27 Mar

After the TPK, our newly-fledged characters decided to avoid the jobs that were advertised in the outpost and instead went out to explore some new blocks (in theory low-risk ones, as being close the the Safe Zone).  The first two we avoided because of gang activity, and we finally settled on one that was only occupied by wild animals.

We almost immediately stumbled onto (literally - they got a Surprise Round) a nest of eight rattlesnakes.  It turns out that rattlesnakes are tough SOBs!  And, unfortunately, one of the first to fall was the only character carrying a anti-toxic hypo.

This one wasn't quite a TPK, but we lost two PCs and three NPCs - seven went out, two returned! 

The Beast of Errinsford

The Old School Essentials game I'm GM-ing, loosely based on the module The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford by Chance Dudinack.   I'm giving up writing my own AAR reports for these sessions: Andreas' are always more consise and much more amusing.
  • 17 Mar

Session 4.  Having been informed by the village priest that there were magical weapons in the tombs of the party that killed the orignal Beast; and by the witch, that another tomb contained a cauldron that would be useful in addressing the curse, our party headed out to the Barrows.

On the way, the found a mule (a survivor of the missing caravan - A Klew!), had an enchanting encounter with a Dryad, and were attacked by wolves (a PC being killed in this fight).  Before they camped for the night, they met a couple of more travellers (a replacement PC and an handy NPC).

Session 5.  The party made it to the Barrow Mounds, only to find that someone had beaten them to the tomb of Errin and his Companions.  They explored, finally started finding some loot and made an unexpected friend.

Board Games

The store library at The Games Table

Back to our Friendly Local Games Store and its library of over 400 games.

Links below are to the games' pages on BoardGameGeek.
  • 18 Mar
We had our long-planned but postponed (because of the apparent complexity of the rules) game of Terraforming Mars.  Once we'd got our heads around it (including watching a YouTube video at the table), it didn't prove too difficult.  One for future exploration when we have another spare four hours.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 26) - Reading in Mar 2022

 Books Finished

HP Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Other Stories

A collection of seven (not six, as it says on the back cover!) stories by Lovecraft, including the title story and 'The Colour Out of Space'.

Introductions to modern Lovecraft anthologies have to go out of their way to admit that he was a horrid racist, but that one can separate his works from the man.  In this 1971 collection, the introduction gives an almost avuncular description of him!

Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide

I decided to re-read Winter Tide, the first of 'The Innsmouth Legacy' books, in which Emrys subverts Lovecraft by taking the side of 'the other'.  Her heroes are the two Hybrid survivors of the concentration camps (being released alongside the Japanese internees at the end of the war).

They are recruited by an outcast FBI agent to research into secrets hidden in Miskatonic University Library, with the promise that they might also be able to recover some of their stolen heritage.  It's not only the Soviets who are watching Miskatonic though...

I originally read this in Oct 2019 and found it a little contrived (it did make my Best of 2019 list though).  This time, I came away with a better impression, and therefore read the next in the series.

Ruthanna Emrys, Deep Roots

Aphra Marsh's quest to resettle Innsmouth leads her to New York in search of lost relatives.  Instead, she finds a settlement of Mi-go who are divided among themselves as to how interventionist to be in human affairs, given the threat of atomic war.

Natasha Pulley, The Bedlam Stacks

A bit of magical realism set in C19th Peru as a British expedition is sent out to steal cuttings of the cinchona plant (the source of quinine).

Robert Harris, The Second Sleep

Something a little unusual for Harris, best known for his historical thrillers.  This one is set in a post-apocalyptic future, hovvering on the end of a new medieval age.  But as competent a tale as you'd expect from Harris.
Andy Weir, The Martian

Every so often I re-read Weir's tale of an marooned astronaut's refusal to give up in the face of everwhealming odds.  It's a bit of a comfort read for me (especially when I'm giving up).

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Kickstarter Watch: Gig Economy

I've just backed Gig Economy, a zine which provides 200 retainers and hirelings suitable for Old School RPGs.

It hits a lot of buttons for me,  Rather nicely, it runs from no-hopers to almost Level 1s - let's see which survive!  

It's very modestly priced (and is 2,800% funded with a week to go), but one of the things that appeals to me - a luddite who likes hard copies - is that the Canadian-based creators has arranged for printing and distribution from the UK as well as Canada. 

Monday, 28 February 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 25) - Reading in Feb 2022

 Finished Books

JRR Tolkien & Christopher Tolkien, The Children of Hurin

I finished this.  As I said before, it's is a much easier read in the prose version presented here than what we get in The Lost Tales.  

But when Tolkien says that this is a story of a family cursed, he sure means it!  Fate and doom drip from each page.  This is a tale of woe and hubris. I need some light relief.

Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

This is on of my favorite of Pratchett's books.  He takes the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn and considers what it might be like from the rats' point of view (and what if it was all a big con arranged by them).

And in getting Maurice off the shelf, I realised that I'd never read this one...

Terry Pratchett, Dodger

I hadn't actually realised that this wasn't a Discworld novel, but a 'straight' (ie, no fantasy) one based in C19th London.  It owes a lot to the work of Henry Mayhew, and is therefore dedicated to him.

Dodger is a tosher (a scavenger in the sewers).  An encounter with thugs brutalising an orphan brings him into contact with Mayhew, Charles Dickens, Sweeny Todd and others.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Gaming in Feb 2022

I've decided to abandon the backlog of these posts (Oct 2021 to Jan 2022) and to pick up on a very busy month gaming, which saw my return to face-to-face sessions (if you ignore a Hallowe'en one-shot).  

I'm amazed to see that I averaged a session every other day!

  • 1 Feb - "The Beast of Errinsford" (OSE) - on-line
  • 5 Feb - "Wasters" - Elite Level - (Cyberpunk OSE) - on-line
  • 10 Feb - Board Games - face-to-face
  • 11 Feb - "Wasters" - Elite Level - on-line
  • 12 Feb - "Amazing Aliens" - (Stars Without Number) - on-line
  • 13 Feb - "Wasters" - Normal Level - on-line
  • 15 Feb - "The Beast of Errinsford" - on-line
  • 16 Feb - Board Games - face-to-face
  • 18 Feb - "Wasters" - Elite Level  - on-line
  • 20 Feb - "Wasters" - Normal Level - on-line
  • 21 Feb - Board Games - face-to-face
  • 25 Feb - "Wasters" - Elite Level - on-line
  • 26 Feb - "Amazing Aliens" - on-line
  • 27 Feb - "Wasters" - Normal Level - on-line

The Beast of Errinsford
This is an Old School Essentials game I'm GM-ing, loosely based on the module The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford by Chance Dudinack.   
  • 1 Feb
The second session - a full report is here.  

In this session the party continued to question the townsfolk about the Beast, gaining some useful information both about its current activites and its past incarnation.  They had a hiring session at the local inn and ventured out into the countryside in search of the lost caravan.
  • 15 Feb
The third session.

The party took their first long trip into the wild forest (though arranging it so that they were back in the village before nightfall).  The purpose of this was to go and see the Wise Woman who lived there. (Everyone in the village told them she was a witch, but did they believe it?  No.)  On the way, they came across mysterious standing stones and a dead elf which was being feasted upon by giant centipedes.  The creepy-crawlies despatched, a minor dispute arose over what to do with the body (our necromancer wanted to take it home and boil it down to a skeleton) before they buried it.

Finally getting to Vivian's grove (where she cheerfully admitted that she was a witch), they learnt lots from her about the nature of the Beast, including its probably origins and a couple more ways they could gain an advantage for when they eventually confront it.

Wasters (Elite)

The playtest of Wasters contunies, here at 'Elite' levels (ie, Level 9 or 10 PCs).

  • 5 Feb
Our mission to raid a police outpost and recover data drives continued from the cliff-hanger where we'd left it.  

Ripps, my Sneak, had infiltrated the outpost while the rest of the party staged a distraction out in the street.  He had recovered one of the three computer drives and cornered a group of techs who told him that the others were on the floor above.  Unfortunately, after he ushered them up the ladder and through a trapdoor, they slammed it shut behind them and locked it...

The gunfight in the streets oustside had reached epic proportions, the police being reinforced by a mecha and a SWAT team.  However, Ripps was in deep trouble.  He had managed to get on the top floor, only to encounter a group of security bots - he barely got back through the trapdoor with his life.  All question of sublety gone, he called for back-up, asking the rest of the team to storm the building.  Fortunately, by then they had gained the upper hand (and even managed to hack one of the police sentry bots).  The disks were recovered and the job was completed, but it was a messy one!
  • 11 Feb
A new job for our elite players.  This time to disrupt a block occupied by haywire bots (seemingly so a gang could take over, but we don't ask questions, we just takes the money).  

Most of the session was taken up by our careful progress to the remote block, carefully avoiding any signes of trouble.  However, almost as soon as we got there, we encountered a group of four nano-clouds.  These were particuarly nasty.  We were very luck to knock one out in our first round and disable another, but after that it turned against us.  Only our tech users and the half of the crew with energy weapons had any effect on them.  Eventually, we overcame them, but we were knocked about very badly and still have a mission to complete...

Nanoclouds are the cyberpunk equivilent of the fantasy Shades.  Their main attack is level-drain, which we decided is a bitch!  My two PCs dropped from Levels 9 and 10 to Levels 7 and 8, and another PC went from Level 10 to Level 6!
  • 18 Feb
Our mission to distrupt this block of Haywire Bots continued.  Luckily for us, we'd already encountered the worst the block had to offer, but we still had a hard go of it.  At the last minute, we decided to press on 'for one more room', only to encounter a swarm of nanites (the little ones are the worse!), which managed to consume some of my more treasured tech.  All in all, a nasty mission, and we were glad to make it back (mostly) alive.
  • 25 Feb

These Elite missions are deep into the Wastes, and last session we had to leave behind some very nice gear behind (including combat bots we could have salvaged), so to cut down on travel time and increase our loot capacity, our Elite Crew have invested in a van (immediately christened 'The Mystery Machine').  This allowed for some testing of the vehicle rules.

Our new job was to kidnap a Corporate Executive.  This meant travelling deeper into the Wastes that we'd ever been before (something we wouldn't have managed without the van).  It also meant going into some pretty nasty territory, both environmentally (we experienced the Radiation Zone for the first time!) and because of the nature of Corporate outposts and compounds.  Even with the van, it took almost the whole session to get to the target block, where we immediately ran into heavy security.

Wasters ('Norms')

  • 13 Feb

At a less rarified level, our crew of 'Normal' Wasters reluctantly signed on again for the job that had cost so many of their colleagues' lives - to clear out the mutant test subjects infesting a corporate lab.  There reasoning was that the job was now easier as the techs had been rescued and many of the mutes had been killed on previous visits.  More importantly, the reward for the job had been boosted and this time, they were going to be accompanied by a powerful AI (who had her own agenda, of course).

The crew were familiar with most of the layout of the lab complex by now, and efficiently went through, dealing with the mutants as they found them.  These were still tough opponents though.

The session ended with us preparing the enter the underwater spawning labs - unexplored territory for us.
  • 20 Feb

We'd been hacking away at this job for some months now on-and-off, and it felt good to finally complete the mission.  As the GM said, there was so little opposition left and such a good pay-out, it would have been criminal to leave it unfinished.
  • 27 Feb
Away from the Frog Lab, we thought we'd go for a nice simple job: drive out to a block and cause some mayhem.  Unfortunately, the mayham made us - in our first encounter (with wild dogs) three of our retainers were killed and a bot destroyed.  After that, we went more carefully, even chatting and sharing a smoke with a patrol of police officers we met (a sizable weed stash left with them).  But in the end we caused the appropriate level of damage without any more causulties, and went home for tea.

Amazing Aliens

This has been a campaign that has fallen into the black hole of my blogging backlog.  It's a Stars Without Number campaign (link is to the free rules), with the twist being that we're not playing humans, but aliens created using a species generator that our GM has created: as a result there were some pretty weird characters.

We'd been stuck on a space station for some time, trying to cope with the plotting of various factions and crews, all the time waiting for tectonic activity on the planet below to reveal prospects of fining ancient tech.
  • 12 Feb
We'd finally got off the station and down to The Remnant.  There we had a less than friendly stand-off with one of the other crews we'd been dealing with, before we both encountered an even bigger threat.  

It ended with us grabbing the loot and barely escaping the planet with our lives (our badly injured pilot giving the security officer instructions on how to launch from his sick-cot!).
  • 26 Feb
A very short session, in which we decided to sell the artifacts we'd receovered to a rival prospector.  This gave us enough money to repair our ship and be ready for future adventures.

Amazing Aliens Conclusion

And there we left Amazing Aliens, mainly because our GM had far too much on his plate.  I think we all agreed that Stars Without Number is an interesting system with potential, and that we'd like to continue with it as some point.  The problem we had was that the modules we'd been using (written for High Space) were pretty shonky and under-written: the investigation on the space station was a little tedious and never really came to much (now that we've finished, I've read the module), and that on the Remnant (although a nice concept) apparently required a lot of work from the GM to make it playable.

Board Games
The store library at The Games Table

A friend and I finally got around to a long-postponed ('cos of plague) plan to have regular sessions at our Friendly Local Games Store, which has a library of over 400 games.

Links below are to the games' pages on BoardGameGeek.
  • 10 Feb
We played three games :-
  • Azul.  The game of collecting tiles to create Alhambra-style patterns.  I don't think I've played this to its full potential - we've always concentrated on finishing a row rather than on getting a high score.
  • Star Wars: Jabba's Palace.  This card game was a new one to both of us (in fact it is a new release, that had only arrived in-store that day).  I wasn't overly impressed.  However, there were two issues that affected play: first, that there were only two of us; and, second, that we were playing (as recommended for first-time players) to the most basic goal - to end up with the highest score in our hands.  This meant that, in effect, we were just player to knock the other player out.  With three or more players (and the other achievement goals), this game would be more strategic.  It's a quick game, one that I can imanage playing on a train journey.  My opponent was happy enough with it to buy a copy.
  • Pandemic.  A perennial favorite, always reliable.  We managed two games of this, one in which were we overwhelmed and another in which we were sucessful.
  • 16 Feb
We only played two games this afternoon, but that's because we ran out of the will to live on Mars.
  • Pandemic.  This was a long session, but we eventually got there!
  • Terraforming Mars.  A game that we had both wanted to try.  We spent some time reading the rules (which could have been better written), but eventually ran out of energy.  We left it, each resolving to watch a YouTube video before we next met up (which neither of us did!).
  • Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.  It's the nature of the way that I write these posts that a fortnight has passed since I did the paragraph above on Azul.  When we played the original (2017) game, I thought that we weren't doing so to it's full potential: the mechanisms of this (2018) version means that one is required to play in the way that I was envisioning.  It's a great improvement on an already enjoyable game.  We managed to get a couple of games in.
  • 22 Feb
Despite our intention of trying something new each time we visited the store, we stuck with three favorites, Pandemic, Azul: Stained Glass (these two have rapidly become our go-to games at the moment) and Ticket to Ride.

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