Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 31) - Reading in Aug 2022


Gene Kranz, Failure is Not an Option

Kranz's autobiographical account as his time as flight director at NASA Mission Control Center during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes.

A very good and readable narative.

Matt Pritchett, The Best of Matt 2020

Perhaps it's cheating to include this on the list, but I don't care.  I'm a big fan of Matt, and here he tackles 2020 - a year that needed and damn big injection of humour.
Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches

I picked this up on a whim, quite prepared to hate it after the first chapter, but was swept along.  Witch falls in love with vampire while researching at the Bodleian (I know, I know...).

First book in the All Souls trilogy.

Monday, 29 August 2022

Gaming in August 2022

 After a few month's break, I plunged back into gaming.

  • 1 Aug - Classic Traveller - face-to-face RPG
  • 3 Aug - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming
  • 5 Aug - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming
  • 6 Aug - Barrowmaze (OSE) - face-to-face RPG
  • 8 Aug - Classic Traveller - face-to-face RPG
  • 13 Aug - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming
  • 15 Aug - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming
  • 21 Aug - Barrowmaze (OSE) - face-to-face RPG

Classic Traveller
  • 1 Aug
  • 8 Aug

My first face-to-face RPG session since a Hallowe'en one-off game of 'Chill' last year.

This session was an experiment by the GM to see if there was any interest in running Classic Traveller as an open table.  Not only did he have the table-full above, but also others waiting.  As is his Old School way, everything was player-led and randomly generated.

In classic Traveller style we had five deaths in character creation (not me!) - much to the amusement of the staff at The Games Table.  

We then spent a lot of time trying to find trading opportunities, before hitching our star to a local smuggler.  During our week in hyperdrive, a great deal of speculation took place on whether our inexperienced gang of newbies could over-power the heavily-armed and experienced crew.  In the end, we went along quietly, and made a small profit on our trade goods.

Almost immediately ater hitting planetside we got hired as assasins in a corporate war.  A fortnight was spent on survellance and planning before we carried out an old-school mafia hit, gunning the exec and his bodyguards down in the street as he visited his mistress's appartment.

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls

It's that time of year again!  With International Naval Wargaming Day (INWarD 2022) on 6 August, my mind turned to playing some solo games.  I wanted to sit down for an afternoon and do a fleet action, but first I needed to familiarise myself with my ruleset of choice - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls.  

I've decided that I quite like BBIB.  It may be too simplistic for some, but it suits my needs nicely at the moment.
  • 3 Aug
In a single-ship action, Sir Henry Fearless of HMS Possum (74) faced-off against a Frenchman, with predictably disastrous results.

  • 5 Aug
This session was based on an engagement in which two British frigates engaged a French 74 on a lee shore.  

About an hour in, I realised that I was forgetting an important rule.  This had the effect of reducing the British firepower by 57%, but the French by only 22%.  I played on under those conditions, but perhaps unsurprisingly, both frigates had struck their colours by Round 7.
  • 13 Aug
Same as above, but now with added marines!

In the end, only one ship's marines got to fire (once), and they missed.  This was because the frigates failed to engage the 74 at close range.  After a game of long-bowls, the French managed to withdraw and complete their victory conditions.  Nevertheless, I've made a record everyone's positions and damage, and may play it as the start of a chase-engagement (a bit of a forlorn hope for the British, but we'll see).
  • 15 Aug

And I finally got the fleet action I'd planned for INWarD, courtesy of a big table at my FLGS.  Write-up here.

My version of the Battle of San Domingo, 1806, played solo over four and a half hours (refreshments were on hand!).  On this occasion, the French won.  Highlights included the collision of two British ships and the French piling fire into the confusion.

Having a big set-up at The Games Table worked very well, I will do it again.

  • 6 Aug
Regular readers will know that this is a long-term, open-table game at my FLGS.  With lockdown and me now working on Sundays, I've not been to a session since March 2020.

Six years has passed in game-time, during which time my character has been wandering the earth, preaching the Word of Solis and, in particular, telling of the Solstice Miracle that took place in our stronghold.  Unfortunately, he didn't survive this delve, but his legacy lives on.
  • 21 Aug
My new cleric turned up at the stronghold expecting to start his training, only to find his mentor dead and they weight of his responsibilities thrown on his shoulders.

We took our new boats for a spin and got lost in the marshes, ending up near what looked suspiciously like a dragon's lair and a temple occupied by a Medusa.  We beat a retreat back to the barrows we knew!

Going to the entrance we'd planned to start in, we had a successful delve, defeating a Black Pudding and finding what we hope is the key to a locked door that's been holding us up.  We then fell foul of "one more room" and had an encounter with a couple of Mummies, which left one PC dead and another comatose with Mummy Rot (we abandoned him).  

Apparently smashing the capotic jars doesn't destroy Mummies. 
*smash* *smash* *stamp* *stamp*
"Any effect on the mummy?"
"He's absolutely furious."

Friday, 19 August 2022

BBIB - The Battle of San Domingo

 Almost week late, but I finally got my big game in for International Naval Wargaming Day (INWarD '22).  

It was a solo game over four hours, using the Blood, Bilges and Iron Balls ruleset.  I don't have a convenient table at home, so put my little cardboard ships into a bag and headed down to The Games Table, who provided a mat, scenery, refreshments and BlueTac to repair damage received by the fleet in transit.

The Scenario

The scenario was a simplification of the Battle of San Domingo of 1806.  I won't give a blow-by-blow account, just some pics.

The set-up.  The French are at anchor, with some officers "conducting their business" ashore.  The British approach in two divisions.

Unsurprisingly, Brave and HMS Superb took the brunt of the damage, but the British second division headed to cut off the French retreat to the West and targetted Alexandre and Imperial in the van.  This proved a wise decision - damage to Imperial's comand chain early on, which she was unable to repair, meant that she was never able to bring the full weight of her 120 guns into action.

Superb, badly damaged, allows Northumberland to come forward and take some of the heat.

As the French van moves around the shallows, it and the westward division (now the British van)  are in close range.

A calamity!  The badly damaged Superb was unable to turn and thus collided with HMS Atlas, the two ships being entangled for a turn.  The French took advantage of this, and concetrated fire on the mess, eventually forcing Superb to strike.

Meanwhile, HMS Agamemnon finally comes within range and can join the action, further battering Brave in the French rear.  Both Brave and HMS Donegal are forced to strike their colours.

Sensing an opportunity, Alexandre turns to board Canopus!

The boarding is successful, and Canopus is captured.  Sensing that the British attack has lost its momentum, the French withdraw to the West.  

While the eventual fate of Alexandre and Canopus remains undertermind, Imperial and Diomede certainly escape, which - with the damage inflicted on the surviving British ships - is enough for me to declare a French victory.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Sir Henry Does it Again! Possum and Carcajou

Sir Henry Fearless, RN

Following the disastrous engagement in which he lost his ship without firing a shot, it seemed likely that Sir Henry Fearless would spend the rest of his career drilling Fencibles in one of the soggier corners of Lincolnshire.  However, two things stood in his favour: first, his cousin, Lord Sandicote, controlled four rotten boroughs and, secondly, Lady Sandicote was sleeping with the First Lord of the Admiralty.  Consequently, when Sir Henry's court martial convened, he was not only exonorated before lunch but also received a commendation for his action.

Nevertheless, both the Navy and his family agreed that the best place for Sir Henry was "As far away as possible!"  He was accordingly given command of the aged HMS Possum (74) with orders to sail to New South Wales and remind the Lobsters running the Colony that they were dependent on the Navy's good will.

However, it's a long way from Portsmouth to Australia, and even Sir Henry can't avoid every encounter...

It's that time of year again!  With International Naval Wargaming day on Saturday, my mind has turned to playing some solo games.  Ideally, I want to sit down for an afternoon and do a fleet action, but first I need to familiarise myself with my ruleset of choice, Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls after a break of over two years, so am going to start with some simpler actions.


Using a 30x47inch table, wind direction, the position of both ships and their headings were determined randomly.

It resulted in a very interesting situation, which promised a short, sharp and bloody encounter!

As dawn broke and the early morning mist lifted, Lt Hapless, the officer of the watch, had a nasty shock.  A French 74 had positioned itself into close range and was in position to rake Possum!  If the lookout survived the day, Hapless would have the skin off his back!

Immediately, he gave the order to beat to quarters and sent a marine to summon a bleary-eyed Capt Fearless.

I notice that in between the initial set-up and taking the second photo, I inadvertently reversed the direction of the wind.  It stayed in that direction for the rest of the engagement.

Round One

  • British Fire
  • French Sailing
  • British Repair
  • French Repair
  • French Fire
  • British Sailing
Fearless was unable to bring any guns to bear on the Frenchman - he could clearly make out the ship's name as Carcajou.  Fortunately, the enemy seemed to have been taken by surprise by the fog's lifting and missed the chance to rake Possum.  Nevertheless, at this range, the belated broadside was devastating.  In addition to hull and steerage damage, a fire immediately resulted in a major explosion, causing an inferno that incapacited most of the starboard gun crews.

I could have brought Carcajou to a full stop during the French sailing phase, which would have allowed for a raking shot, but there was no guarantee that the French would be able to fire before the British sailing phase, and I didn't want to loose manoeuverability.  

The French broadside scored major damage - six out of seven die scored hits.  Damage cards included the red joker (an explosion), which meant that a further five cards were drawn.  These included the black joker (an inferno).  In total, three crew stars were wiped out (from a total of seven), the hull was damaged and five of the seven gun positions on the starboard side were lost.  Significantly, the steerage gear was also damaged, restricting Possum's manoeuverability.

Damage was allocated randomly between port and starboard guns - as would have been the case with a raking shot - with five points to starboard and one to port.  Looking at the above photo now, I wonder if it shouldn't have been allocated to the port guns, which would have made a significant difference to the rest of the encounter.

Ruling out an attempt to circle so he could engage to port, Fearless brought the ship around to bring what was left of the starboard guns to bear.

It wasn't until the next round that I realised that until repairs were made to the steerage gear, Possum shouldn't have been able to turn at all.  But this is why I need a refresher!

Round Two
  • French Repair
  • French Fire
  • British Repair
  • British Fire
  • French Sailing
  • British Sailing
After such a devastating opening broadside, Fearless' only chance was to conduct some swift repairs and get into position to open fire before the French followed-up.  He according sent Lt Hapless to muster repair crews.  Before they could start work, Carcajou unleased another volley of fire, and Hapless looked around hopelessly as his repair crew were mown down by grape-shot.  With the few remaining men, his attempts at fire-fighting were futile.

The French scored another six hits out of seven, wiping out another crew star, two more guns and further damaging the steering gear.  With only one crew star left, Hapless could only muster a single repair crew.

After his pervious experince, Fearless was determined that it shouldn't be said that he'd given up without a fight, and urged the depleted starboard batteries to open fire.  If all else failed, he would ram the Frenchman!

With the damage to starboard guns, Possum only had the roll of a single d6 - and got a Natural One!

Round Three
  • British Repair
  • British Sailing
  • French Repair
  • French Sailing
  • British Fire
  • French Fire

Realising that the French were attempting to position themselves for a raking attack and desparate for manoeuverability, Fearless ordered Hapless to ignore the fires and attempt to repair the steerage gear.  Even with the assistance of Mr Bates, the Sailing Master, Hapless's crew we unable to make any progress.

Unable to achieve the raking position, Carcajou closed range and trusted in the superior weight of shot that it could bring to bear.

This was a gamble, as even Possum's gunners couldn't miss at this range.  A hit caused hull damage, but more significant was the fire from the section of Marines in the guntops, targeted on the Gunner's crew.

The decrease in range wasn't significant - but Possum finally scored a hit with its one dice.  It was at this stage that I reaslised that as we'd been in Close Range for the whole engagement, the Marines could have been doing their thing from the begining.  Another lesson learnt! 

But weight of shot counts in the end, and Carcajou was able to fire a full broadside, causing more hull damage and bringing down a mast.

Carcajou is rolling seven dice as compared to Possum's one.  In this firing phase it scored four hits.

Round Four
  • French Sailing
  • British Sailing
  • French Fire
Another broadside from the French caused massive damage.  Fearless looked around him: - there were massive crew losses, one mast was down, half the guns were out of action (with none at all able to bear on the Frenchman).  He had no choice but to strike his colours.

The Lincolnshire Fencibles were out of the question now.  He'd be cashiered and have to retire to Norfolk and politics.

Even without his guns knocked out, Fearless had to strike - his final crew star had been wiped out, Possum was lost.

Historical Note

Midshipman Poop-Decker and friend

Possum vs Carcajou is a minor engagement, and would be (gratefully) forgotten by most naval historians were it not for the fact that serving on HMS Possum was a midshipman (soon to be appointed Acting Lieutenant) in his first action.  This was Albert Poop-Decker, later to be famous (as Rear Adm Sir Albert Poop-Decker) as one of the first (and, to date, the oldest) recipients of the Victoria Cross for his actions before the guns of Sevastopol.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Books and Stuff (NS, No 30) - Reading in Jun-Jul 2022

 A two-month survey this time, because I ran out of blogging and reading steam...

Nicholas Monsarrat, The Kappillan of Malta

Does anyone still read Monsarrat?  I suspect very few, which is a shame, as he tells a good story.  Even I, who thought I was fairly aware of his work, hadn't realised just how much he'd written (I'd never heard of this book until I came across it recently in a charity shop).

This is one of his later works and is a love-story to the island and people of Malta (and Gozo, where Monsarrat lived).  It tells the story of a priest living through the World War II siege, and the inspiration he draws (and shares) from its history.  A very good read.

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

An epic book (I started by writing "big lump of a book") from Gaiman, his imagaining of how the gods transplanted to America through different waves of imigration might survive into the modern world and be challenged by our modern obsessions.

Every so often I feel that I should read Gaiman, and that it'd be my sort of thing.  I enjoyed this book, but I'm not convinced to go out and get the rest of his work.

Jeremy Mercer, Books, Baguettes and Badbugs

In 2000, Canadian journalist Jeremy Mercer became of of the gang of aspiring writers, drifters and drop-outs who lived and worked in the (second incarnation of) the legendary Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Co.

Sadly, I didn't find Mercer and his fellows particularly engaging, and so gave up on the book halfway through.

Mary Roach, Packing for Mars - For Kids

Obviously, I'm not the target audience for this book, but I won it in a competition, and it was a quick read, so I gave it a go.

It's not about going to Mars, but instead the practical challenges of visiting and living in space.  It consists of annedotes from the Apollo Programme and low earth orbit exploration.  As suits its pre-teen audience, a good third of the book is about going to the toilet.

Mark Gatiss, The Vesuvius Club

Gatiss's light-hearted take on an Edwardian James Bond.  

Given Gatiss's track-record I'd expected something a lot cleverer and witty than this turned out to be.  I had the second Lucifer Box book lined up to read after this but, disappointed, didn't bother.

Charlotte Higgins, Under Another Sky

Higgins undertakes a tour of Britian, looking for Roman remains,  She gives us not only a history of them, but reflections on the history of archeology and their interpretation.

This one I enjoyed, it will almost certainly be one of my picks of the year.

Jack London, Five Great Short Stories

It's decades since I read any Jack London, and I'd forgotton what a good storyteller he is.  I'll be reading some more soon.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

International Moon Day 2022

Today - 20 July 2022 - is the is the 53rd anniversary of the first crewed landing on the moon - official touchdown time was 20:17:39 UTC.

NASA LRO / Jatan Mehta photo

Last year the United Nations declared that 20 July would be recognised as International Moon Day.  To be honest, Moon Day hasn't made much of an impact - even Wikipedia doesn't have an entry for it.

The Apollo Programme was a huge undertaking, from it's inception in 1960 (during the Eisenhower administration), it took only nine years to reach to goal of landing a person on the moon - mainly due, of course, to its adoption by President Kennedy as his flagship programme to demonstrate US technological superiority over the Soviet Union.  Starting with Apollo 7 in 1968 and culminating with Apollo 17 in 1972, NASA launched 33 astronauts on 11 Apollo missions. Twelve humans walked on the Moon.  That the programme petered out there, was due to the fact that this was overall a political and not a scientific endeavour and that once the 'flags and footprints' were done, that political interest deminished.

My namesake, Buzz Aldrin, on the Moon
NASA photo

Sadly, the massive effort to get Apollo done created an areospace-industry complex that saw NASA as a milk cow.  The efforts of this industry and its tools in Congress have blighted space exploration ever since, and continue to do so.  Nevertheless, lunar exploration continues.

Lunar rover Yutu-2
Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) and
 Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) photo

For anyone interested in the history of the programme, I'll point to a post I made back in March of last year, in which I highlighted two podcasts - the BBC's 13 Minutes to the Moon and the Planetary Society's A Political History of Apollo.  Both are excellent and informative listening.

How will I celebrate Moon Day?  Other than writing one of my increasingly rare blog posts, I don't know.  I'll wander out tonight and look up at the sky - I fondly remember lying on the grass on a warm summers day in 1989 marking the 20th anniversary of the landing, and being struck by the sheer beauty of the moon.

I still have that pile of books I bought in April to read, but quite frankly, I find the biographies of astronauts to the the least interesting aspect of the Apollo Programme.  I'm off to listen the the Political History podcast linked to above, which has some insightful thinks to say.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Gaming in Apr 2022

Looking at my Drafts folder, I realised that I hadn't posted this one.  Basically, that's because during a session of the Beast of Errinsford I was GM-ing I threw the board across the table.  After that, I decided that I should take a break from social media and gaming (which is why there won't be a post for Gaming in May - it remains to be seen if there will be one for June).

  • 3 Apr - Wasters (Normal level) - cyberpunk OSE - on-line
  • 5 Apr - The Beast of Errinsford - OSE - on-line
  • 6 Apr - Board Games - face-to-face
  • 8 Apr - Wasters (Elite level) - on-line
  • 10 Apr - Wasters (Normals) - on-line
  • 26 Apr - The Beast of Errinsford - on-line

Wasters (Norms' Version)

The play-test of this hack of OSE continues.  It'll be coming to Kickstarter soon!

  • 3 Apr

Due to Stuff Happens, most of our crew are weak and pathetic Level 1 characters, so we decided to stay close the Safe Zone and clear out a block (in effect, extending the Zone and claiming it for ourselves).  This started off alright - we had a couple of minor clashes with Gang Wanabees and a Haywire Bot.

Then we got to the only building of note in the block - a derilict department store.  We carefully scouted it, identified and neutralised the Cultists who were in it.  

Great!  Time to go home?  No, there's a void on the building plan - there must be a hidden room.  Sure enough, there was.  That had a number of bots inside, which attacked us - a tough fight, but managable.   But all the noise attracted a patrol of eight Cops.  This close to the Zafe Zone, that about as dangerous an encounter as we could attact.  Things were made worse by the fact that they came into range of our Sentry Gun Bot before we noticed them, which opened fire.  Gone was any chance of negotiation or bribery.  In the end, we ran, abandoning the Sentry Gun and, sadly, all the loot we'd found.
  • 10 Apr
Boosted by a new member of the crew (new player Ben brought along an Engineer call Sliderule), we returned to the block, to find things surprisingly quiet.  Remarkably, the sentry gun was still there and repairable.  Even more surprisingly, most of the loot we had dropped was still there as well (one pile was booby-trapped, which cost the life of a retainer).  

The hover-bots proved less hostile and those that could flew off.  We managed to salvage one of the ones that remained.  There then followed a lengthly excursion into cyberspace, to explore the building's network (much more remains to be done on that front).

The two other things of note were that our Face - Emanuel - continues to show worrying signs of becomming a cult-leader and, secondly, we recovered an Electric Cow (christened Bvtt3rcvp).

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.  

  • 5 Apr

The exploration of the barrow mound continued.  Encounters were had, a secret passage found (bypassing a lot of stuff), and rather a lot of loot recovered.
  • 26 Apr
More fun in the lower level of the barrow.  Rats!

Board Games

The store library at The Games Table

Back to our Friendly Local Games Store and its library of over 400 games.  They've now introduced an off-peak reduction in table fees from £6.00 to £3.00.  With my discount as a Kickstarter backer, that means I now get a whole afternoon's of play for a ridiculous £1.50.  I may never leave.

Links below are to the games' pages on BoardGameGeek.
  • 6 Apr
We started off trying to play Ticket to Ride, only to find the instructions were missing.  We thought we could muddle through, but found it a little too stressful trying to remember some of the mechanisms (frankly, neither of us could be bothered with things being more complicated than they needed to be).  So,
  • Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra - one of our go-to games now.
  • Jaipur - a new game to us.  A trading/resource game.  Recommended if you want something that you can play in about 30mins almost anywhere (I can imagine playing it on a train, I've seen people playing it in the pub).
  • Patchwork - also a new game.  This one needs a bit more space (so not train-friendly!), but also fits in the 30min game catagory.
All three are simple, fun games (also suitable for younger players - Jaipur says 12+, the others 8+), and I'd recommend them.

Wasters (Elite Level)

  • 8 Apr
Our Elite crew took on a job to rescue a group of cultists who were lost deep, deep in the Wastes.  On the way, we delivered some valuable data to one of the Corporations, who deemed it a "great service" and offered us future favours.  We immediately took them up, re-couping our costs (I'm sure we could have got a lot more) and borrowing the services of a flyer and a squad of goons to get us to our desitination, thereby avoiding some really nasty blocks.
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