Thursday 6 July 2023

Reading in June 2023

My deep-dive into The Hobbit continued.

John D Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit

JRR Tolkien; Douglas A Anderson, The Annotated Hobbit

Bryan Perrett, The Hunters and the Hunted: The Elimination of German Surface Warships Around the World, 1914-15

At about 150 pages with no notes or indication of sources, this is something of a whistle-stop tour and lacks context.  This means that some of the chapters raise more questions than they answer (which is fine - a prompt for further reading).  Nevertheless, it's a decent read for sitting out in the garden now the summer's here.

Neil Gaiman & Collen Doran, Troll Bridge

A graphic novel adaption of Gaiman's coming-of-age story that I picked up in a charity shop.

Elmore Leonard, Out of Sight

More summer reading, this from the master of the wise-cracking thriller.  I think I'm right in saying that they made a George Clooney film out of this one.

Even typing this, I'm temped to grab another Leonard off the shelf and go and read it!

Giles Foden, Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle for Lake Tanganyika

Foden's account of the Naval African Expedition - the transportation overland of two motor boats in order to wrest control of Lake Tanganyiki from the Germans in World War I ("It is bother the duty and the tradition of the Royal Navy to engage the enemy wherever there is water to float a ship" as the First Sea Lord put it).  Improbably enought, it was a mostly successful endeavour.  

The book makes much of the antics of the eccentric commander of the expedition, Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.  When it came out, this was something of a sensation and best-seller.  It's a very good read.

V E Tarrant, Battlecruiser Invincible: The History of the First Battlecruiser, 1909-1916

Another short read (how could be be otherwise?), but this is much better than The Hunters and the Hunted.  It starts with a scathing examination of the design criteria that lead to Invincible's destruction contrasting Fisher's misconception that 'speed is the best protection' and 'hitting is the thing' (at a time when the Germans were building faster ships and when Invincible's turrets didn't work properly and she was supplied with dud shells) with von Tirpitz's view that a ship 'must, what ever else, be able to remain afloat and stay in action'.  There follows excellent accounts of the battles of the Falklands and Jutland as well as the rest of Invincible's short carrier, drawing heavily on diaries and eye-witness accounts.  Of particular note are the 14 pages of maps (out of a total of 1558pp), which must be the envy of longer, more 'authorative' works.

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Gaming in March-May 2023

 A very belated update, partly because I'm finding Illmire heavy-going.

  • 1 March - The Evils of Illmire (OSE)
  • 15 March - The Evils of Illmire (OSE)
  • 21 March - Sundays in the Shire (Under Hill, By Water)
  • 29 March - The Evils of Illmire (OSE)
  • 18 Apr - Sundays in the Shire (Under Hill, By Water)
  • 10 May - The Evils of Illmire (OSE)
  • 31 May - The Evils of Illmire (OSE)

The Evils of Illmire

The face-to-face group ('The B-Table') I GM for are currently playing The Evils of Illmire.
  • 1 March - Session 5: Never Be Rude to Old Women in Fantasy RPGs
As the Party was recovering from the last session's slaughter they were joined by Yancy, twin of the now-deceased half-orc Clancy.  He'd escorted two new PCs and a hirling to catch up with them (Convenient that, eh?  We also had a flashback to the hiring fair).  After introductions - the new PCs were Dalk, a Ranger, and Collum Phobetora, an Illusionist - and while debating what to do next, they had an encounter with another group of cultists.  After a very effective use of the Sleep spell, they tied the cultists up and left them to die of thirst and starvation.  

Then they went to investigate the Misty Lake and Fishfolk (they'd previously been given this quest by the lumberjacks).  Dalk was unnecessarily rude to a old woman who they found living in a cave - he actually said that he wouldn't talk to anyone who hid their face to someone who turned out to be a Medusa!  He paid the obvious penalty.

Fortunately, Connie the Barbarian had earlier had some positive dealings with another Medusa, which included learning their language.  (Both that and this apperance of a Medusa were the result of random tables, nicely tying together.)  This placated her and she gave them some info on the Racoon Tribe/Fishfolk that they'd missed picking up on last session.  She also told them that the secret of getting to the Fishfolks' underwater dwellings was to befriend the Froglings, who had gadgets for breathing underwater.  Eventually, she even de-petrified Dalk.

Another trek led to the Froglings' village in the forest canopy.  An audience with the Matriarch let the party know that she was happy to help on condition that they first rescued some younglings, who had been captured by the dastardly Mantismen (Illmire is a little railroady).   Cue training montage, while the party spent a couple of days in Frogville.  (In retrospect, I realised that I could have had the younglings kidnapped while the the party was learning to use the breathing aparatus - thus removing the obvious quid pro quo and letting the party decide whether to rescue the infants or not.)

They set out into the swamps with a couple of Frogling warriors, and soon had their first encounter with a Mantis ambush.  Through interrogation of a captive they determined that Mantismen have no redeeming qualities and that the children were probably still alive ("they have to be starved for a week to make their flesh worth eating").

We left them as they discovered the Mantis-mound.
  • 15 March - Session 6: Hostage Rescue

Reinforced by another couple of Froglings (the Matriarch having had a vision of "much death" if the they went into the Mound by themselves), the Party moved in to rescue the Frogling children.  

With close-quarter, chamber-to-chamber fighting there was indeed "much death".  Before the final confrontation with the Queen, two PCs and a Frogling ally had been killed (one of the PCs by the Mantis' nifty decapitation action) and 21 Mantis we dead.  After that, the Queen was a pushover and the survivors managed to rescue the children (and two replacement PCs).

Back to Frogville, where there was much rejoicing.  They stayed there for a week, training in the Froglings' underwater breathing apparatus and whips.

  • 29 March - Session 7 : "Much Death"
Another session with a dispiriting amount of bloodshed.  The Party made an abortive attempt on the underwater entrance to the Fishmen's caves.  Having met Giant Caimen and Electric Eels on the way, they weren't in the best of conditions when they reached there.  A tussle with guards left one PC and an NPC dead without even getting into the caves.  They sensibly withdrew.

There bad luck with random encounters continued.  Having fallen asleep on watch, they were attacked by Vampire Bats, again with fatal results.  They made it to the loggers camp where they picked up their mule [and new PCs].

On the was back to the village the party encountered three wolves.  Having killed one and driven the others off, they found that they had been protecting a litter of cubs.  The imediate reaction was "Yah! We have wolf cubs!".  But as they tried to removed them the vanquished wolves returned and wouldn't give up until they were killed.  The reaction now was "We've killed all these wolves, the cubs can't survive, we can't care for them.  We'll have to kill them!".  In the end [after a lot of debate] they took them to the loggers' camp to be raised their.

  • 10 March - Session 8: Back to the Plot, or Not?

Heading back to Illmire Village, the party encountered a Lizardman, who turned out to be a servant of the Medusa ("My Missstresss calls me...   Ssstephen").  He offered them a side quest - to recover a Blue Jewel from a wizard's tower.  His Mistress would offer a suitable reward.

Arriving at the village, they went to the house of an associate, which they found empty.  And stayed their for the night.  The next morning they went to the mill/bakery, where they learned that things hadn't improved in the days they'd been away.  The associate they had wanted to visit had died of the Illness, and his son was now staying with the miller and his wife - but she had also come down with the illness.

Our Ranger determined that it was time to consume some mushrooms in order to determine just what was going on.  After some false leads, he finally discovered that the water from the village well was poisoned [at which stage the Druid pointed out that she could have told them that...].  While the Ranger still had the ability to discern magic, they went back to the abandoned druid's hut and gave it a good turning-over.  The Ranger, who had the munchies, raided the vegitable patch.

Then it was time to talk to less friendly villagers [most of whom were confused as only one of the party survived from their last visit to the village].  After selling loot to the jeweller, they met the tanner's wife, who asked them to search for her missing husband - they had to tell her that they'd found his body in the mantis-mound.  In her distraught state, she let slip some clues about his cultist activities.

Back to the inn, where they had surprisingly little difficulty picking up the post for their dead predecessors.   They decided to have a good look in the cellars so, later that night...

...They went down and found that the inn was kidnapping lone travellers.

  • 31 May - Session 10: Burning Bridges
[The rescued travellers were convenient, as we had a new player and were able to introduce her PC.]  As well as the prisioners, there was extensive evidence of Cultist activity, include the dreaded mindphage worms [which are quite squidgy and easy to kill] and a rather convenient letter that proved the the Cultists were on the Party's trail.  To nobody's surprise the inn's cellarman turned out to be a cultist.  To Dalk's (fatal) surprise he had access to a suply of potions.  The gaff being up, the Party sent a message to their allies, letting them know that they should leave the village and meet them at the loggers' camp.

A few days were spent at the camp, making plans and nursing wounds.  It was decided to take up Stephen's offer of a side-quest.  The first attempt to get to the tower was stymied by an encounter with a [familiar-looking] Ghoul and another withdrawal to the loggers.  Having finally got to the tower, they found a bear's lair [fortunately empty], stirges and animated furniture.  Two of the party had the indignity of being killed by a table [one by falling into its burn wreckage while drenched in oil].

Sundays In The Shire

  • 21 March - The Great Raddish-Nobbling Scandal

  • 18 April - The Great Goblin Battle Re-Enactment
Despite side-plots concerning the Friends' rivalry with the drinkers from the Bear & King and Ebs finding that his nemisis and rival tax-collector has unjustly seized a cow (filed away for further use), the session was mostly concerned with the anniversary of the Great Goblin Battle.  

Let Justice Be Done!

This aniversary was to be marked with a re-enactment organised by Capt Bigglesthwaite of the Little Wincing platoon of the Knights of the Old Road (assisted by the long-suffering Sgt Oldbarrow). 

Naturally, everyone wanted to take part, and auditions were held.  Three-quarters of the village turned out dresses as Doughty Misstress Oldbottom, who had helf off the Golblin Horde by throwing well-aimed turnips until relieved by the Brave Lads.  Sadly, none of the party got the star part, being evenly split between Brave Lads and Goblin Horde.  The re-enactment went well, despite the contingent from the Bear & King unjustly targeting the Friends.

The Friends had gathered together the makings of a Great Feast, which they held after the celebrations.  There was a rather sordid side-plot to catch Beryla Hogspen (the rival tax-collector) and Capt Bigglethwaithe in a compromising position, but (fortunately) this came to naught.

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Norwich Games Convention 2023

I don't imagine that many of my readers (especially the hundreds a day that I've been getting from Singapore in the last month or so!) will be in Norwich in August, but if you are in the east of England you might like to know that the First Norwich Games Convention will be taking place on Saturday 26 August.

This event started as a regular meet-up over a long week-end by a group of friends to play RPGs and boardgames  It's snowballed to such an extent that this year it's become a fully-fleged mini-con open to the public in Norwich's medieval St Andrew's Hall (and crypt).

Making best use of the venue...

It all looks very promising, and I'm looking forward to it.  Details of what's on are here.  Tickets are available through Ticket Fairy here (note this last link is an affliate one - I get a discount on my own ticket for each one sold via it).

The RPG tables open

Wednesday 31 May 2023

Reading in May 2023

Currently Reading

I've continued my deep-dive into Tolkien, moving onto The Hobbit.

John D Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit

JRR Tolkien; Douglas A Anderson, The Annotated Hobbit

Finished Reading

Jodi Taylor, Hard Time

A comic story about Time Police.  It turned out better than I expected in the end, and I may even keep an eye out for more in the same series.

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

One of those books I've been meaning to read for a long time.  Well worth the wait.  I'm interested to see whether, as the Rawlings stories move out of the 1940s and into the 60s, they continue in this Chandleresque vein, or whether Mosley uses a different flavour.

Sunday 30 April 2023

Reading in April 2023

Finished Reading

JRR Tolkien, The Father Christmas Letters

A series of delightful stories (delightfully illustrated) which come from letters written over a 20-year period by Tolkien to his children.

Apparently latter editions (published as Letters from Father Christmas) contain material not included in this one, and I'll certainly seek a copy out.

Paul Gannon, Inside Room 40

In this interesting and well-written book, Gannon looks at British codebreaking in World War I.  In doing so, he dispells some of the myths (deliberately planted he suggests) about the foundation and operation of Room 40.

As well as the Admiralty's Room 40 he looks at what little is known of the War Office's equivilent MI 1(a).  Work between the two wasn't co-ordinated and there was little co-operation before 1916, but broadly Room 40 (or ID 25 as it was properly known later in the war) concentrated on wireless intercepts, whereas MI 1(a) worked on cable intercepts.  As well as providing naval and military intelligence they each worked on political (ie, diplomatic) intelligence, with important results - most famously the interception and publishing of the Zimmermann Telegram.

JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Carrying on from last month, I continued reading The Silmarillion in conjunction with episodes of The Prancing Pony Podcast, which considers a chapter in each episode.  That proved a very profitable was of doing it.  It was something of a time committment though - the podcast spent over 60 hours of audio discussing the book!

Kim Newman, Something More Than Night

Raymond Chandler and Boris Karloff team up to fight horrors in 30s Hollywood, written in Newman's inimical style.  Fun stuff.

Larry Niven, Ringworld

One of those books that I could never remember whether I'd read or not.  I'm nown pretty sure I hadn't.

Friday 31 March 2023

Reading in March 2023


Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

With all the Oscar hype, I thought I better read this classic, which for some inexplicable reason I hadn't read before (possible because I'd seen at least two of the adaptations on tv).  In my mind it was a big, thick book but in fact it's quite slim.

Its reputation is, of course, justified.

Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves

According to the blurb on the front, this is Asimov's finest creation.  It's far from that.  But, as novels about entropy go, it's a decent read.

Fred Hoyle, Ossian's Ride

I surprised myself by quite enjoying the Hoyle book I read back in 2021, so I thought I'd give this one a go.  

The problem I had was that Hoyle isn't known for his sublty, so I went in dreading the kind of shaggy dog story an Englishman writing about Ireland in 1959 would put together.  When it developed into a silly spy plot, I gave up on it.  There might be something clever at the heart of the Industrial Corporation of Eire but, if so, I didn't get to it.

Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle, Rockets in Ursa Major

I felt guilty about not finishing Ossian's Ride, so decided to give Hoyle another chance with this book which I picked up at the same time.

Apparently it's based on 'a play what he wrote'.  That might explain why it's terse, but not why every so often we get irrelevant details about lifts or things like air traffic control between London and Cambridge (I would rather have seen more effort given to the characters).  It's just not very good, so I didn't finish this one either.

Arthur C Clarke, Childhood's End

So I thought I'd go back to a classic (even if it's aged rather oddly).  One of Clarke's best.

Kevin Crossley-Holland, Between Worlds: Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland

For reasons, I've decided to read up on folklore of the British Isles.  Crossley-Holland is an excellent story-teller, so seemed a good on to start with.

JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion

I've started listening to The Prancing Pony Podcast (which I heartily recommend).  Each episode covers a chapter of Tolkien's writings starting with the Silmarillion.

So I've decided to re-read this famously difficult book (I read it 30-old years ago and found it hard going) with their guidance.  That's paying off (or it might be that I've acquired the wisdom of years).  No doubt it will take some time...

Friday 24 March 2023

Tolkien Reading Day

Aparently, in a series of events organised by the Tolkien Society since 2003, March 25th* has been celebrated as Tolkien Reading Day.  The idea is to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of JRR Tolkien by reading favourite passages. 

*Which as we all know is the aniversary of the Fall of Barad-dûr.

This year's theme is 'Travel and Adventure'.  Quite a lot of Tolkien's writings are about Travel in one way or another, but for me one that is mainly about Adventure is The Hobbit.  I say this because, for Bilbo at least, this is a journey taken for it's own sake and not because of duty or fulfilment of a quest.

So, this Saturday 25 March I shall be sitting down and reading the opening chapters of The Hobbit, in which - much to his own surprise - Master Bilbo Baggins is swept along into An Adventure.

One needs a good map for effective travel

Sundays in the Shire #4: Cozy Encounters

Many of you who play fantasy RPGs are, I hope, familiar with James Holloway's podcast 'Monster Man' in which he reads his way through gaming books and looks at the monsters and creatures therein.  If not, I highly recommend it - a month or so ago (after about five years of broadcasting!) he created a Start Here episode.

I'm a Patreon backer and, as such, occasionally get to suggest the theme for a Special Episode.  Most often than not I'm quite at a loss when my turn comes up, but recently with 'Under Hill, By Water' on my mind I suggested an episode about encounters where the resolution isn't kill-and-loot.

He released the resul today and, if you have been interested by my recent posts about 'Under Hill, By Water' it's a must-hear.  He gets the tone of the game down to a tee.

Apart from anything else, it was worth it for James' coining of the word Nobbits for "Little Folk, similar too but legally distinct from Hobbits" (Not Hobbits).