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.

Monday, 24 October 2022

Gaming in Oct 2022

  • 16 Oct - The Beast of Errinsford (OSE) - face-to-face
  • 21 Oct - Trafalgar Day game - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming

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. 

  • 16 Oct
A depleted party carried on with their side-mission of looting collecting magical weapons from the tomb of Sir Errin and his companions.  They had a brief encounter in the marshes with Bullywugs Gullygugs, but managed to pay a toll with a mirror and a toy clay pig.

They got to the barrow, met the sole survivor of another group of looters explorers who (surprisingly, seeing that he was a Goatman, they didn't kill and defile on the spot).  There then followed a surprisingly careful and efficient sweep of the barrow, in which they defeated miscellaneous pests (fricassee of rat) and mollified the undead souls of the ancient heroes.  One of the party - Gimli the Elf - was killed by a giant spider.  There only being two surviving PCs, an unfeasible amount of XP was awarded for the masses of treasure they recovered.

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls

  • 21 Oct - Trafalgar Day

As it was Trafalgar Day, I had of course to have a go at the battle itself.  I used Collingwood's leeward column as the set-up for a solo game using the BBIB rules.

Inevitably, the British fleet suffered heavily on the approach to the Combined line.  It didn't break the line, as the Combined Fleet decided to break and move into melee sooner rather than later (not having to worry about the bigger picture of the battle).  It soon became rather messy and, when I called it after almost four hours of play, It was a British defeat.  

I still have a lot to learn about age of sail tactics and placing ships where they can be most effective.

BBIB has served well for what I wanted it for - an intro to naval wargaming.  It lacks nuance though, and I'm wondering whether to move on to something with a bit more granularity - possibly the Two Fat Lardies Kiss Me Hardy.

Saturday, 22 October 2022

Trafalgar Day 2022 Game

'HMS Royal Sovereign First Through The Line'
by Richard Grenville

 As part of my on-going attempts at solo naval wargaming, I had to mark Trafalgar Day by having a go at part of the battle.  I accordingly booked a suitably-sized table at my local friendly gaming store and broke out Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls again.

Only being human, I couldn't manage the whole battle, but instead played out the attack by Admiral Collingwood's leeward line.  Fortunately, the scenario has been laid out in a free download from Warlord Games.  

In reality, the line wasn't this neat, and
instead was in effect a line of bearing

Turn One

Of course, things started out as in the real engagement.  Collingwood's line, headed by HMS Royal Sovereign, the flagship, raced towards the centre of the Franco-Spanish line.  During this time, they suffered from the combined fire of the line-of-battle.

I made the mistake of not having the British approach under full sail - that would have allowed them to engage sooner and left Bellerophon and Colossus under-utilised in the rear.  In each of these games I learn something new: today's lesson was on effective deployment.

Turn Two

I'd decided to ignore the rest of the battle, so had no compulsion in having the Combined Fleet decide to break the larger formation.  Initially, I thought they would turn in succession at the flagship's position (San Ana in the van)  and run (into the wind!) parallel to the British attack.

In the first departure from history, Royal Sovereign and Belleisle attempted to break the line between Fougueux and Pluton instead of going for San Ana.  The rest of line headed for the gap between Pluton and Algesiras.  By accident, this meant that the Spanish Monarco was in position to rake Royal Sovereign's bows.  

I now realised that turning the Combined line in succession would take too much time (Cape St Vincent anyone?), and instead chose to tack together.  This had the effect of breaking formation and losing the effect of over-lapping fire that line-of-battle is designed to give.

At this stage the British hadn't yet opened fire, but had already suffered 33 hits, including the raking of Royal Sovereign.  It was now in position to fight back, but Royal Sovereign and Belleisle (in the van) were constrained by the command-and-control damage they had suffered (though Royal Sovereign was still able to engage on both sides).  Nevertheless, the single hit on Pluton from Royal Sovereign caused an inferno.

Turn 3

Things got very messy from here on.  The van of the Combined line attempted to wear round and reverse direction, the rest of their line was now heading into the wind.

Bahama suffered major damage (having drawn both jokers among its damage card).  Algesiras rammed Belleisle with the intent to board, but the boarding party was repulsed.  Bellisle turned the tables and moved to board Algesiras.

Turn 4

This now turned into a slugging match.  Ships from both sides found that the interlocked Algesiras/Belleisle their only viable target and decided that the damage to foe was worth damage to friend.  That, and Bellisle's boarding action was enough to force Algesiras to strike.  However, Belleisle was in left a very critical state.

Turn 5

Despite their lack of maneuverability, the Combined fleet remained in a better firing position (I'd allowed the British ships to get into a situation where several were blocking line-of-sight.)  Both Belleisle and Royal Sovereign, Collingwood's flagship, were forced to strike.

In the meantime, Colossus and Bellerophon had made a Bahama sandwich.

Mars and Tonnant both had damaged steerage gear and were therefore forced out of the engagement (Mars was able to make repairs quickly, but Tonnant was last seen heading over the horizon towards the Spanish coast).

Turn 6

The battering continued.  Bahama was unable to control the raging fires on board, which lead to a catastrophic explosion.

Four hours in, I decided to call it a day.

The butcher's bill was high.  The British had received just under twice as many hits as the Combined Fleet: - two ships (including the flagship) had struck and one was forced to leave the field of battle.  In contrast, a French ship had been successfully boarded and captured, and a Spanish ship was sinking.  I determined it to be a victory for the Combined Fleet.


A toast was made to the Immortal Memory
and to the other 4,852 lives lost in the battle

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls has served well for what I wanted it for - an intro to naval wargaming that allows me to work out the tactics without getting too bogged down in detail.  It lacks nuance though, and I'm wondering whether to move on to something with a bit more granularity - possibly the Two Fat Lardies Kiss Me Hardy.

On 4 Nov 1805 the final action of the Trafalgar Campaign took place when Strachan's squadron caught up with Admiral Dumanoir and defeated him at the Battle of Cape Ortegal.  Perhaps by the anniversary, I will have familiarised myself with a new ruleset.  I shall have certainly have read more of Mark Adkin's excellent Trafalgar Companion - which covers far more than the title suggests.  I still have a lot to learn about age of sail tactics and placing ships where they can be most effective.

Friday, 14 October 2022

Gaming in Sep 2022


  • 4 Sep - The Beast of Errinsford (OSE) - face-to-face
  • 7 Sep - Traveller
  • 18 Sep - The Beast of Errinsford (OSE) - face-to-face
  • 27 Sep - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming
  • 30 Sep - Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls - solo wargaming

The Beast of Errinsford

The open table OSE game at our FLGS is becoming so popular again that we've made arrangements for a second table for when too many people turn up.  I volunteered to GM it and, given less than a week's notice, decide to dig out the campaign I ran online earlier in the year.  This is The Beast of Errinsford, loosely based on the module The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford by Chance Dudinack. 

Of course, in the first session the party went off in a direction that the other players never reached...  Player agency!
  • 4 Sep
Constable Ward -
my favorite NPC

The party had an ice-breaking encounter with a wild boar, entered the town of Errinsford, where they met several of the leading inhabitants (upon some of which they made a better impression than others).  There was a big info-dump (with more to come!), before an afternoon's stroll in search of the delayed caravan ended with a leathal encounter with goatmen and the desecration of bodies.  Then home for tea and XP!
  • 18 Sep
Joined by an old friend, the party continued its interviews with the townsfolk, getting madeleines and Maderia wine (and some lore) from Fr Willem the priest before deciding to head out to see Vivienne, the witch that lives in the forest.  On the way, they came across the body of an elf being devoured by giant centipedes, which managed to poison Winston the dwarf.  Vivienne got their trust by curing him and, over tea, told them about the curse that had created the original beast.  Yet another tussle with goatmen - this time they didn't desecrate the bodies, but instead fed them to the wolves.

On Day 3 of their stay in Errinsford, Derek the thief cased out the abandoned General Store, while the rest went to spoke to Riffin, the traumatised hunter who is the only known survivor of an encounter with the beast.  After picking up their packed lunch, they then headed out of the village, with the aim of getting to Sir Errin's tomb to reciover magic weapons.  They renewed their acquaintance with the local bridge-troll, who gave them directions, and had a night in the woods.  Sprites were plied with spirits.

Day 4 saw them come to the border of the marshes.  There they came across a strange shrine, which they debated robbing, but instead made offerings and petitions.  This led then the the missing Friar Dirk, who had spent the last few days in a pit after unsuccessfully trying to loot it.  Over elevenses, Dirk told his story.

Classic Traveller
  • 7 Sep

Our band of Free Traders did a bit of arms smuggling, almost immediately returning to the site of our last crime.  Contracting the Corporate goons who'd previously employed us as assasins, we were offered a black-bag job.  We very efficiently managed to exfiltrate a turn-coat scientist with minimal casualties.

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls
  • 27 Sep
  • 30 Sep

My solo play of a version back in August of the Battle of San Domingo, 1806 at The Games Table worked out well, so I thought I would give it another go.  At the end of the first session, the rear of the French line had been forced to strike, but more damage had been done to the British van.  There was enough to call it as a French victory, with a good chance of them successfully withdrawing.  However, I thought I'd carry through on the scenario and and see if the approach of the rest of the British squadron made any difference.

In the end it didn't, the French were able to concentrate their fire as the British came into range, and ended up winning the day.

The Games Table...

Although I obviously didn't need much scenery for the BBIB game, I thought I'd share a couple of pictures of that on the neighbouring tables.  This is one of the reasons The Games Table is an excellent place to play a game.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Books & Stuff (NS, No 32) - Reading in Sep 2022

Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country

Another book that has been made into a tv series that I haven't seen.  

This set of connected stories concerns an extended family/community of Back Americans living in 1950s Chicago.  For reasons of ancestry, they find themselves entangled in a power-struggle within an esoteric cult.  However, the skills learned to survive racist 1950s America are well-suited to dealing with Lovecraft's unfeeling, uncaring universe, and they more than hold their own.

I enjoyed this and the dry humour in it.  I'll keep my eye out for more of Ruff's work.

Shaun Bythell, Remainders of the Day

This is the third volume of Bythell's diaries of running the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, and covers 2016.  He cultivates a grumpy, "all-customers-are-idiots" persona that is reminiscent of Bernard Black.

For some reason (possibily because he's being lest cutting) I found this one less funny.  But it appeals to me on many levels.

Mike Ashley (ed), Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet

The British Library publishing arm has been issuing a series of reprints of classic works of science fiction (they also did the same for crime fiction).

This one is an anthology of ten short stories relating to Mars from Wells in 1897 to Ballard in 1963.  Interesting and enjoyable reading, and I'll pick up more from the series (my local remaindered book store has a whole run of them).

Currently Reading

Ken Liu (ed & trans), Broken Stars

Another Sci-Fi anthology - the blurb on the cover says it all - "Sixteen Stories from the New Frontiers of Chinese Science Fiction".

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.

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