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).

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Sundays in the Shire #3: The Great Radish-Nobbling Scandal

As I recently posted, I've had a hankering to play 'Under Hill, Over Water' a game I played  once during lockdown but not again since.  My regular group agreed to give it a go, and we had our first session this week.

The Village 

Hayton-Below-Rime a town of the Eastmarch, perhaps not as renowned as some places, but then again, We don’t go around crowing about ourselves like Some People do.  Everybody has to admit that we’re solid, respectable folk in these parts. 

The Players 

  • Thornberry Tunneler (Dorcas).  A locksmith with a dream to investigate the ruins Beyond the Hedge 
  • Branon Oldbairn (Matt). A beekeeper who wants to open his own Mathom-House. 
  • Ebinezeer ‘Ebs’ Rumblo (Jo).  A tax-collector who wants to meet an Elf and learn one of their songs. 
  • Awena Sandwallow.  A wainwright who is keen to be included in her Aunt’s will. 
  • Bit Gaggler.  A comley shepherd who wants to publish a volume of genealogy. 

Spring 1246 CA - Set-Up

A Worrisome Thing 

Janna Diggle’s garden has been pilfered in the night. Is the culprit a hare or a young radish-stealing rascal?  She offers a substantial reward to resolve the situation. 

Current Event 

The Spring Faire is coming! 

The Word is that... 

The beer at the Lion & Troll in Bramble Gate is actually quite good this season. It might be worth a nip over to taste it, if your local landlord doesn’t find out about your treachery. 

Personal Complications

I forgot to roll complications for the Players!

Our Session 

The Players started with a few post-work drinks and dinner in The Wooden Baby.  They half-heartily debated trekking all the way to Bramble Gate to try the beer at the Lion & Troll, but that seemed like rather hard work when everyone knew that The Baby had the finest ale in the Commonwealth (which prompted another round of Baby’s Best). 

Instead, they decided to do something to help Janna Diggle solve her radish problem.   They had a few ulterior motives here.  First, Janna was a member of the Matronly Order of Good Manners and friend of Awena’s Aunt Dora.  Secondly, she and Bit were in the middle of a neighbours’ dispute which he wanted resolved (Bit had complained about her smoke drifting over their fence, and Janna had told the Matronly Order that he was behaving in an uncouth and un-Halflinglike manner by disparaging the traditional art of pipe-smoking).  Thirdly, Janna was the servant of Berylla Hogspen, a tax-collector with whom Ebs had a less-than-professional rivalry. 

So they headed over the river to Janna’s hole, first taking the precaution of buying some mints from Rigsby the landlord in an attempt to hide their beery breath and sending Bit back to his own hole, where he could observe the garden from his back parlour.   Janna was initially put-out by their appearance at such a late hour, but Branon persuaded her that as the interference was taking place at night, it was necessary for them to bend the rules of social intercourse.  His gallantry impressed her (quite a lot it turned out!), and she accepted his offer to stake out the radish-patch and catch the thief. 

Janna had her own ideas about the Dreadful Crime.  She felt that this sort of hullaballoo was indicative of the decline in good manners amongst Young Halflings and needed to be stamped out (the Matronly Order had raised this with the Shirrif, but no action had been taken!).  In particular, she blamed her new neighbour, a rough sort of fellow with no feeling for the Old Ways.  In fact, she was able to point him out to Branon as he was lurking in a dark room spying on them at that very moment!  Branon, Ebs and Awena all agreed that he seemed a shady character, worth investigating.  Ebs and Awena, in particular, praised the good work of the Matronly Order. 

Ebs, Awena and Thornberry withdrew to Awena’s hole for a late snack and a night of pipe-smoking and plotting while Branon prepared for his lonely vigil.  [One nice mechanism of the game is that if players provide a suitable song or poem at the table, they can give a fellow an advantage on a role – Jo and Dorcas sang an eating song.]  It turned out not to be too lonely though, as Jenna soon appeared bearing a blanket and tray of coco and crumpets.  Branon then demonstrated his Knack, which allow him to light a wand that throws a light that only he could see.  [At this point, members at the table collapsed amidst comments about Branon’s “knack with wood”.]  Branon was perhaps a little too relaxed following Janna’s visit and lit his pipe.  Unfortunately, this rather highlighted his position to all-and-sundry.  The Radish Bandit made no appearance that night. 

Next morning the Players decided to see what the word on the streets was.  Talk of the matter had flown around Hayton.  There were three theories going the rounds.  Some (mainly members of the Matronly Order) agreed with Janna that this was mindless vandalism, and indicative that the Commonwealth was going the Heck in a Handbasket.  Others pointed out that the Spring Faire was coming up, and that Jenna had won the Prodigious Produce (Root Vegetables) Competition for the last two years with her prize radishes.  [Cue another collapse amidst mutterings about the length and girth of Jenna’s radishes.] They preferred to think of sabotage rather than vandalism.  The third group didn’t care and thought that Janna was an interfering old biddy who deserved everything that she got coming to her.  They pointed out that, despite all her crowing, she’d only won the radish competition twice, unlike Hamson Cubber, who’d had a 10-year record of success. 

While talking to the townsfolk, Bit was able to gather a few anecdotes about his family. 

Awena and Thornberry concentrated their efforts on Awena’s Aunt, Dora Sandwallow.  Like Awenda, she'd become estranged from the family for not joining the prestigious family firm of Sandwallow, Bevin, Greene, Bevin & Co.  She was pleased that they were helping Jenna, who was a fellow member of the Matronly Order (it turns out that Dora was a Past-President of the Order).  Like Jenna, Dora was a prize-winner at the Faire - frequently winning the Meetest Meal (Preserves Division) competition.  Awena immediately offered to help Dora however she could: Dora suggested that any rare ingredients for her cooking (perhaps a hogshead of fine ale - “For the kitchen, of course!”) or for weaving (natural dyes and “as much horse urine as you can get”) would help. 

Branon, Bit and Ebs visited the Mathom-House.  There a group of Keepers were enjoying a pipe and a glass of wine while looking at their latest acquisition.  The Head Keeper, Morris Keighly, was particularly impressed with Branon’s appreciation of a prize numismatic specimen – a gold piece.  Now in a generous mood, Mr Keighly was happy to show off his knowledge of Elves to Ebs and tell Bit about a member of his family who had been a Keeper and deposited the family archives in the Mathom-House. 

Re-grouping in the Wooden Baby and exchanging news, the Players felt that they had achieved a good day’s work.  Thornberry allowed the wild, Alwin side of his nature to emerge and decided that the way to get rare ingredients for Aunt Dora was to stage a raid on Farmer Cotton’s fields!  Other, more sober [sic] heads pointed out that he was notorious in dealing with poachers, and perhaps they should just ask him if he would trade.  

Plans were made for catching the Radish Bandit.  These ranged from alarms to pit-traps to covering the radishes with a coloured dye.  In the end, the dye path was adopted. 

Next day they visited Farmer Cotton.  Although known as a friendly fellow, this only extended to non-mushroom matters.  He distrusted the Players on sight and called his dogs Pouncy, Gripper and Bitey.  He had no need of Awena’s offer of free wagonage (“What kind of farmer doesn’t have his own cart?”) or Thornberry’s offer of labour (“I knows all about these pick-your-own tricks!”), but his eyes lit up when Ebs suggest that he might get a tax rebate.  He relaxed enough to stand the dogs down and show them Ol’ Bess his blunderbuss.  In addition, it turned out that Bit’s grandfather had taught him all he knew about dealing with mushroom-poachers!  He was able to provide a few mushrooms and Awena and Ebs found some red berries on the way back to the village. 

After high tea, the Players went back to Bit’s hole.  As a shepherd, he was well-versed in making a dye that would stain any radish thief.  They presented the plan to Janna, who appreciated the fact that Bit had made the dye (and was rather more impressed to realise who his relatives were – she was able to tell him about an ancestor who married the daughter of a Thain).  The trap was laid. 

Early next morning there were signs of tampering in the radish-beds.  More importantly, there were red Halfling footprints – the plan had worked!  Branon volunteered to stay behind and tidy up the mess while the others followed the trail.  They crossed the bridge and went up the hill.  The tracks led into the Bear & King and another, more winding, trail led out.  Eventually, they came to a hole they knew to be Hamson Cubbins’.  Their banging on the door was answered by an elderly Halfling who had just sat down to first breakfast.  He protested but had clearly been caught red-footed!  

The spectacle of an old gaffer being unceremoniously dragged through the town in his dressing gown was only heightened when his pig Missy decided to join the procession.   When they got to Janna’s, her door was answered by Branon in a dressing gown (she insisted that it was because he’d got dye on his clothes while cleaning up...).   Hamson eventually confessed to sabotaging the radishes in order to regain the championship. 


Jenna's radishes won the competition.  She was was pleased with the work the Players had done in solving the Great Radish-Nobbling Scandal and rewarded them with a silver piece each.  Impressed with Bit’s family connections, she dismissed their dispute and a miscommunication.  She seconded Aunt Dora’s nomination of Awena as the newest member of the Matronly Order.  She owes Thornberry and Ebs undetermined favours.  Finally, she invited Branon to tend to her garden whether he wanted [ultimate collapse of table into sniggers]. 

Hamson Cubbin, who had been totally humiliated in full sight of the whole town and received a lifetime ban from the Faire swore to “get even with those pesky kids!”. 

The Keepers of the Mathom-House were impressed with Branon’s astute eye and welcomed him as a member (subject to him paying his subscription).  They were also pleased with Bit placing his family’s famous watch on Permanent Loan at the Mathom-House and allowed him access to their archives.  This allowed him to get the final information necessary for him to Complete his Dream of publishing his book of genealogy.

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Sundays in the Shire #2: A Quiet Start

Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn, 
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Back during Lockdown, was lucky to discover Discord as a method of online role-play gaming.  It was quite a fertile time for trying new games and systems and - before I burnt out - I was playing up to four sessions a week (go back to the 2020/21 entries on this blog for the details).

One of the games which definitely fell into the "played it once, want to play it again' was 'Under Hill, Over Water' a game based upon respectable Hobbits living nice, quiet lives (certainly not adventuring!).  I talk about the one, very enjoyable, session we had here.

A couple of weeks ago I floated to my current face-to-face group ('The B-Table') the possibility of trying it out.  As I suspected, the idea was greeted with enthusiasm.

For at least the first session, I suspect that we will be happy to pooter around the town of Hayton Below Rime, but what will happen then?  I need inspiration.

Now don't get me wrong, I do have some source materials...

My Tolkien shelf

...but most of them deal with adventures and adventuring Hobbits.  

What is there for Hobbits that stay at home?  I'm sure there are tales of English small town or rural life that could be mined - the more comic elements of Cranford spring to mind.  If they stay in the village dealing with aunts and pigs, that's fine,  PG Wodehouse has that covered.

For Hobbits that go a-wandering (certainly not adventuring!) within the bounds of the Shire, I'm tempted to go to the folklore of the British Isles to find out what happens to ordinary people who stray away from the path and bump into Odd Folk.

This is all Work In Progress - stay tuned to see what happens.  There's the distinct posibility that I'm overthinking things: 'Under Hiil' is after all a very light game.

A WIP Wednesday!

It is literally years since I last posted an upate on my paint-table and I have barely picked up brushes since then.  If fact, several of those minis in the pictures from Dec 2019 are still collecting dust in a part-painted state.

Quite a lot has happened since then, one of which is that I moved house and no longer have the space and lovely natural light I had in that house.  But this week I actually sat down and did some painting.

They were nothing special or elaborate - just a group of froglings from Lucid Eye, but I needed then for our ongoing 'Evils of Illmire' game that I've been GM-ing.  I finished them this afternoon and this evening they were in play!

The Party and their Frogling allies penitrate
the Mantis Mound

As you'll see from the photos, I've been mainly using cardboard standees in games.

It seems a little thing to post about, but it's significant to get back on the painting horse.

Saturday, 4 March 2023

Fruit of the Kickstarter: BX Advanced Bestiary

This rather nice book arrived this week.

Todd Leback, BX Advanced Bestiary: Vol 1 - Monsters A-D, Third Party Games (2022), 134pp, many illus.

A nicely produced hardback by Third Kingdom Games, the pdf of which is now available on DriveThruRPG.  It's a companion to their Populated Hexes series and Old School-Essentials.  This volume covers Ape, White (three variants) to Driver Ant* (six vari-ants).  

*Though I don't know why this isn't 'Ant, Driver'.

The stated aims are, firstly to take the monsters in the OSE Basic book and expand them with varients and options and, secondly to add some new ones with the same flavour.  Typically, an entry gives optional special qualities to add a little spice and then variations on the monster, each with their own stat-block and entries.  Perfect for those jaded parties who groan at meeting Wild Boar again!*  Because this is supplement to exisiting bestiaries, it doesn't give or repeat the stats or details of the Common or Standard Beast, meaning that you'd have to have both volumes open, so it's probably not best for running encounters on the spur of the moment.

*There are four variants of Boar, and special qualities like 'Hard to Kill' and 'Terrifying Charge'.

Friday, 3 March 2023

Reading in February 2023


Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves

I continued reading the Gentleman Bastards sequence from last month.  In this installment, Locke and Jean are employed by their worse enemies to rig a city election.  To stir things up a little, their opponents' campaign is being run by a long-lost friend.  A side-plot told in flashback is the story of the young Bastards' first forray - blagging their way in the company of actors.

A very enjoyable and fun read.

Richard Osman, The Bullet That Missed

Another outing for the Thursday Murder Club, this time looking into a cold-case involving the disappearance of a reporter.

Neil Gaiman, Stardust

A tale about a young man venturing into Faerie to fulfill a quest for his Lady Love.

Everything a modern fairy story should be.  Quite sublime.

Bayt al Azif, No 4

Another issue of the annual(ish) journal for Cthulhu mythos roleplaying.  It has all the features we've come to expect - high quality production, an over-veiw of publications (in this case for 2020), three scenarios, interviews (here including Mike Mason) and articles.

Brian Lumley, Return of the Deep Ones and Other Mythos Tales

This I'd picked up on a whim because it was heading to the bin.  It was much better than I expected - I thought it was going to be 1980s schlock-horror.  One tale dragged on rather, but the title story was pretty good.

Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy

I couldn't resist this beautiful hardback edition by Everyman Press collecting the original Foundation books.  It must be over 40 years since I last read them, but I thought they held up rather well.

I dipped into Trillion Year Spree, and Grumpy Old Brian Aldiss tells me not to bother with the very belated sequels, so I won't!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...