Monday, 6 February 2023

Kickstarter Watch: Carapace and In the Heart of Oz

It's Zinequest time, so Kickstarter is going to be full of interesting small RPG projects for a while.  

This post is just to point to one of them.  M Blake (otherwise known as Goblin's Henchman) is doing two zines, both based on his Hex Flower Game Engine.

The first is to Carapace, which "offers the horrors of procedurally exploring a labyrinthine giant ant colony in search of the giant ant Queen".  This I can personally recommend, as I've played a couple of games in which the DM has slotted an earlier version of it into a bigger campaign.  The second is "a gonzo sandbox setting, based in the Land of the Wizard of Oz".

Hex Flowers aren't everyone's cup of tea - they're abstract and procedural, so need a little work.  I didn't take to Carapace the first time we tried it, but it grew on me (so much that I had it prepped just in case the group I was running Errinsford for heading into the deep forrest).  I can certainly recommend Henchman's products (he also wrote the Grimbo Chrimbo that I've run a couple of times and which on both occasions were a great hit with players).

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Gaming in Jan 2023

  • 12 Jan - The Evils of Illmire (OSE) - face-to-face
  • 26 Jan - The Evils of Illmire (OSE) - face-to-face

The Evils of Illmire

New year, new campaign.  My regular group has embarked on The Evils of Illmire - and there's a lot in it!

  • 12 Jan - Session 1

A couple of random tables for what happened on a caravan journey worked well (I will certainly steal them in future for other campaigns), and we ended up with a nice little montage. Rumours were picked up; inevitably, some larceny took place; one member met a mysterious, shrouded fellow-traveller who taught her to speak Medusa; and (might this lead to something else?) another was invited to join a cult.

They then had a jolly time at the circus. Ignatius won a pie-eating contest (and - completely unrelatedly - got food poisoning) and the others got various stuffed toys from rigged booths. They went to see the fortune-teller and the big-top show, where they attempted to sabotage the big-cat show.

Then to the village. They went to the inn where they got a medium-sized info-dump from the barmaid and did some nocturnal snooping in the kitchens (they’ve decided not to eat there anymore!). The next morning, they met the new priest at the temple (who didn’t make a good impression) and attempted to interview the mayor (who’s too ill to see them). All in all, a very good session.
  • 26 Jan - Session 2
On the second day in town, the party continued to meet new people including a nice couple who'd been told that Illmire was a good place to open a boulangerie, a youngster with a sick Da and various tradesmen.  They explored the missing druid's cottage and had an evening in the tavern, where they meet the elusive landlady ("Who's not feeling herself") and chatted to the Old Boys in their corner.  There was more nocternal exploration (this time onto the roof).

Next morning they attended a revival meeting before heading out towards the logging camp.

Unfortunately for them, on the way they were identified as a likely snack by some giant falcons.  Judicious use of a Ring of Animal Control meant that they got away, but not unscathed - Darius our thief was killed.

Monday, 30 January 2023

Reading in Jan 2023

 The first two are books left over from December.

CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The book that introduced me to Narnia over 45 years ago.   I wrote about it last month.

Peter Moore, Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World

I really enjoyed this splendid biography of Capt Cook's ship, covering  1764-1778.  As the author says, these years  “form a mini-epoch in the development of Western society”, and he was able to use the ship to explore that.  

I knew Endeavour ended up in the American War of Independence, but it was news to me that she was instrumental in the early British settlement of the Falkland Islands. 

CS Lewis, The Silver Chair

Things start to get a bit darker in Narnia.  

This and Dawn Treader were always my favorite of the Chronicles.  Quite possibly because Eustace Scrubb is a lot less annoying than his cousins and I always liked Puddleglum.

Bayt al Azif: A Magazine for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying, No 3

An interesting read, as always.  I must have had this on my to-read pile for over a year, as I see that No 4 is already out.

The main articles were the round-up of mythos gaming publications in 2019, a look at why Call of Cthulhu is the leader in the Japanese TTRPG scene, and an article on using Sanity loss.  There were three scenarios, which all looked interesting, but you never know until you play them.

Paul StJohn Mackintosh, Casting the Runes: Occult Investigation in the World of M R James

A guide to running RPGs in the world of MR James and other horror writers of the 1900s-1920s.  It's a setting that I'm interested in (I consider myself a fan of James), and I will certainly steal the premise if I ever get around to running a horror game.  The reservation I have it that it's written for games using the GUMSHOE system, which I don't know.  Quite frankly, I don't want to go down the rabbit-hole of a new system, when I haven't really got my head fully around Call of Cthulhu: if I was to run a game it would be using CoC or Pulp Cthulhu.

CS Lewis, The Last Battle

Narnian eschatology.

Everyone's least favourite book in the Chronicles.  Partly because of the subject matter, partly because Lewis allegory (and some would say, racist elements) are the most heavy-handed here.

And I really should mention Neil Gaiman's short story 'The Problem of Susan', which deals with Susan's exclusion from Narnia and paradise for liking nylons and lipstick too much.  It can be read here (but isn't suitable for youngsters).

Various, Murder Under the Christmas Tree

Another from the anthology series I read back in December.

Publishing this sort of thing must be money for old rope when people are desparate for Christmas presents!  But it was a good mix of stories.

Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora

This is the first in the 'Gentleman Bastards' series about a group of conmen and theives.  I was re-reading it because, although I've read the first two books in the trilogy (and typically, I see that there is a "second trilogy" planned), I've only just acquired the third.

In this instalment we're introduced to the Locke Lamora and the Gentlemen Bastards, a gang of conmen posing as petty theives.  While secretly doing one of thier Big Jobs, they get entangled in a bloody underworld succession battle.

I'd remembered this as a masterclass in world-building, and the opening pages confirmed this.  It's really an excellent piece of work.  Whether reading three 600-odd page books after another is sustainable remains to be seen.

Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies

Locke and Jean flee their home city and plot a casino heist.  But old enemies follow...

And there are pirates!

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Gaming in Dec 2022

COVID at the start of the month and other illness in the second half of it put paid to any gaming in Nov 2022, but I got back into the saddle for December.

  • 11 Dec - The Beast of Errinsford (OSE) - face-to-face RPG
  • 20 Dec - Grimbo Chrimbo (OSE) - face-to-face RPG
  • 29 Dec - The Beast of Errinsford (OSE) - face-to-face RPG
  • 31 Dec - Stonehell (OSE) - face-to-face RPG

The Beast of Errinsford

The group at our LFGS that I DM for are currently playing The Beast of Errinsford, loosely based on the module The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford by Chance Dudinack. 
  • 11 Dec - Session 3
Having successfully looted the barrows for the magical weapons necassary to defeat the Beast, I thought I would throw in a little something extra to show that there are consequences to PCs' actions.

Since the beginning of the campaign, the party has had several tussles with Goatmen, and have had a habit of stealing their kit (fair enough) and desecrating their bodies (one of the party in particular has chosen to start a collection of teeth).  As a result, I had the Goatmen do a raid on the villages, beat up some favorite NPCs (who had difficulty telling the story with no teeth of their own) and taking hostages.  The Authorities (Constable "Beefy" Ward) expected the party to sort this out and, with a NPC knowing a secret way into Goatman HQ, we were all set up for a 'Die Hard' rescue.

Then the party decided to go in through the front door and negotiate!  (Due to natural wastage of PCs, only two of them could be linked to the massacres, and they stayed in hiding.)  Reaction rolls were remarkably high but, even so, the Leader insisted that "blood called for blood" and demanded the perpetrators be delivered within 48 hours.

And now the party got creative.  They decided they could deliver bodies and claim to have meted out justice.  But where to find a dead dwarf and 14-year-old girl?  Let's just say ...that they managed it.
  • 29 Dec - Session 4
Now there was nothing stopping them going out, defeating the beast, collecting the reward and finishing the campaign.

Kitted up with magical weapons, a salve that gave some protection against breath weapons, and a newly-formed alliance with the Goatmen, they set out (hastened only by the declaration by one PC that he was only a few days from retirement).  A well thought out ambush was laid out, back-stabbing attacks and potions were used to good effect, and the beast was vanquished.

Home for tea and medals.  Next stop, Illmire!

Christmas One-Off - Grimbo Grotto

  • 20 Dec
As a seasonal treat, I GM-ed the "Christmas farcial horror adventure" Grimbo Grotto by Goblin's Henchman.  I'd run it for my Discord group back in Dec 2020, but never for a face-to-face session.  It was a blast!

Attempting to rescue a kidnapped Ent, the Party battled Diddy-Men, Candy Golems, the Giant Putrid Gravy-Spewing Undead Turkey, Mimics and Cloakers, and (last but certainly not least), an evil cult of Werereindeer.

  • 30 Dec

To round off the year, I got to sit on the players' end of the table for a session in which we entered the Stonehill mega-dungeon (a campaign that scheduling doesn't normally allow me to attend).  No loot was recovered, but some decent mapping done.  And my Gnome proved himself adept at hiding in giant mushroom forests while others did the fighting.

Monday, 2 January 2023

Reading in Dec 2022

Having been bogged down recently in some turgid anthologies, I decided to aim for lighter fare and had a bit of a December splurge...

Isaac Asimov, Earth is Room Enough

A collection of Asimov's short stories, all based on earth.  It being Asimov, there is a proportion of silliness and a couple of groaners, but on the whole good stuff.

Cecily Gayford (ed), Murder on a Winter's Night: Ten Classic Crime Stories for Christmas

The sub-title says it all, really.

Cecily Gayford (ed), A Very Murderous Christmas: Ten Classic Crime Stories for the Festive Season

More of the same...

Both of these books took me back 30 years to a period in which my future wife was introducing me to the glories of green Penguins.  Some good memories there.

I really must read some Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers soon.

Natalie Haynes,  A Thousand Ships

Haynes is well-known as a stand-up comic and classicist - I strongly recommend that you look online and find some of her work (in the UK, you should be able to listen here).

But there aren't many laughs in this marvellous re-telling of the women (and nymphs and goddesses) entangled in the Trojan War.  Epic tradegy, but highly recommended.

Brian Sibley, The Land of Narnia

A brief look at how the Chronicles of Narnia came to be written.  Aimed at younger readers and a large part is taken up with a summary of the books, but Sibley knows his stuff, of course (I imagine he could have done this in his sleep).

C S Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

It makes me feel very old to say that it's over 45 years since I first read this.  There are images in this book that still colour my approach to fantasy - nevertheless, one can still find new sides to old favorites.

C S Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Being a contrary child, I never read this along with the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia.  I'm pretty sure that this is the first time I've read it at all!

Jonathan Tucker, The Troublesome Priest: Harold Davidson, Rector of Stiffkey

Biography of the Rector of Stiffkey - famously defrocked for immoral relations with prostitutes he was 'rescuing' and pestering shopgirls - who later became a sideshow performer and was killed by a circus lion in Skegness.

Tucker's verdict that Davidson was a fool, but not immoral, might have been alright in 1932 or 2004 (when he was writing), but makes unconvincing reading in 2020.  The man was obviously both a fool and a sex-pest.

CS Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

Lewis takes beyond the borders of Narnia into his Arabian analogue for this tale of runaway orphans, princesses and horses.

CS Lewis, Prince Caspian

The Pesvenie children make their second visit to Narnia, and help legitimise a dynasty.

Currently Reading

Peter Moore, Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World

A splendid biography of Capt Cook's ship.  

For a little while I lived in a house of an age and location to have overlooked the yard in which Endeavour was being built, so the early chapters were of particular interest to me.

CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The book that introduced me to Narnia over 45 years ago.  Reading it now, it makes me long for those island-hoping holidays we had in the Western Isles when I was a boy.

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Reading in Nov 2022


Robert Harris, Munich

Unusually for Harris, no so much a thriller as a straight historical novel.  Possibly because the events around the Munich Conference and the nascent contacts between the German opposition to Hitler and the British don't need much embellishing.  But probably also because the conference has been a long-term interest of Harris' (he made a documentary about it for the 50th anniversary in 1988), and he feels that he needs it to be written about to rescue it from being a byword for craven capitulation.

Derek Wilson, A Brief History of the Circumnavigators

I enjoyed this overview of circumnavigation from Magellan to the solo yatchsmen.  I wonder why he missed out Darwin/FitzRoy?

It reminded me that I have Dampier's account of his journeys half-read by my bed and shelves of exploration books I haven't touched in years.

Mike Ashley (ed), Born of the Sun: Adventures in Our Solar System

Another in the British Library's series of works of classic science-fiction.  This one is an anthology, providing a story for each significant location in the solar system (excluding the Earth/Moon).

Like others in the series, I found that it dragged, and I couldn't help but wonder if some of the authors were neglected for good reason.  Having read the books in the series that I'd bought, I don't think I'll go back for any more.

Occult Investigation in the World of CS Lewis

Suffering another bout of insomnia, I've decided on a whim to re-read CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew.

I've only got to the opening chapters, but it being 3.30am, I've realised that Uncle Andrew, his experiments and Atlantean researches wouldn't be out of place in Lovecraftian fiction - or more properly in MR James' occult world.  I wonder if Lewis had James' 'Lost Hearts' somewhere in mind in Andrew's dealings with Polly and Digory?

Of course, Lewis will shy away from the occult, but I wonder what we could make of it?

And, of course, it's Christmas.  Time for us all to sit down and think of Monty James and all his works.

All of which, makes me think that I should dig out Casting the Runes, the RPG set in James' world.  I bought it back in February of last year, put it on a pile to read and review, and let it collect dust.

Just one of those little projects we set ourselves in the pre-dawn which go nowhere...

Monday, 31 October 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 33) - Reading in Oct 2022


Ken Liu (ed & trans), Broken Stars

I finished this anthology of Chinese science fiction from last month.

Mike Ashley, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures

Another anthology from the British Library series of classic Sci-Fi.  Frankly, this was a disappointing read.  Many of the stories were plain dull, and those that weren't, I'd read before.

Currently Reading

Derek Wilson, A Brief History of the Circumnavigators

A very readable overview from Magellan to modern-day adventurers.

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