31 December 2005

December's Reading

Well, I've managed to keep this up for a year. So has Make Tea Not War. Yay us!

Books read this month: 8
Total for the year: 146

Long Haul by Antony Johnston and Eduardo Barreto. Western heist comic, okay but leaves you wanting more character development and something more gripping in the resolution.

Longitude by Dava Sobel. Okay, not too great. She pushes certain themes beyond what seems to be supported by actual records.

Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk. Interesting miscellany of archaic terms. I would have liked to see more of them, and more really obscure choices, though.

The Big Splat
by Dana Mackenzie. A really good book about how the moon came to be. Includes a thorough and interesting history of pretty much every development in Lunar science.

Counting Heads by David Marusek. A strange beast. It's a fascinating piece of imagined future, but a disappointing novel. Marusek uses far too many neologisms (virtually all of them unnecessary) and the story sprawls all over the place - to the extent that you can't tell what it's actually about until the end. Worth reading if you want to explore some nifty ideas about a world filled with hostile nanotech and cloning. Personally, I think there are the seeds of about three really good novels in there, none of which are developed in this one.

Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb. Really good fantasy. Toys with some cliched concepts but never quite gets to the point it annoyed me. Very much a 'first book of trilogy, it doesn't manage more than establishing the characters and setting up the hero's story. And it's long - definitely could have done with some extraneous descriptions being cut down. Still, all that stuff is really just minor flaws in a great book.

Under The Black Flag by David Cordingly. Second time for this book, an excellent history of pirates. The focus is on European pirates of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, but with some discussion of others. He also spends a lot of time talking about pirates in fiction and popular culture. Excellent. If you are interested in pirates at all, you should read this.

The Call Of The Weird by Louis Theroux. Theroux revisits several people he had previously interviewed for various documentaries. Interesting stuff, as he tries to understand why these people believe the absolutely crazy stuff that they believe and tries to work out why he himself is fascinated by them. Thoughtful, funny, and well worth the read.

20 December 2005

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Session Three

Here's the summary of session three.

Main win: they didn't kill any innocent people.
Main system note: Luke's simplified critical rules worked just fine.

What happened was that our heroes had been behaving rather suspiciously, so were being watched by some evil chaos cultists. After seeing them murder that guy in an alley, the cultists decided that our heroes were potential recruits rather than a danger. So they ask them to join. Thomas and Orzad head off with the guy to the temple of Khorne the Blood God and just as the high priest gets ready to magically oathbind them into Khorne's service, they run for it.

Larelin (sp?) had been shadowing them and was waiting outside. Thomas made it out the door before being attacked and Larelin started shooting at the cultists leaving the building. Orzad was caught in the middle and used his Entertain: Clowning to caper around some of the bad guys. Thomas was unfortunately brutally almost killed (fate point spent to save him). The other two managed to prevail by the skin of their teeth, killing almost all the cultists (some ran off).

They then went back to the Cosmopolitan club and told Rudiger of their discovery. He brought in some uninjured muscle to finish the cultists off. The sorcerors, however, were gone. On the up side, they had sumomned some blood demons to meet the witch hunters. The demons were slain and the building burnt to the ground.

Our heroes then went back to their original task, being told that this group wasn't the main one. They worked out that Ivan, one of the membership committee, was a chaos agent and found some incriminating evidence at his lodgings. Now they just need to work out what to do about it...

Oh, and find Ulric. His player was away, so I decided he had scarpered. We'll find out what has happened to him next time.

Lots of fun, overall.

12 December 2005

Badass Space Marines: I Need Reader Input

I think there's a good game here, and one part that I really like is the idea that the scenario gets built up as the game is played using a worksheet sort of thing.

The intention is to have a single session, no preparation-required game.

So I intend to include predefined squads of space marines and a sheet with 'what's going on' that starts off blank (or blank in the most important parts). All players will have a spendable resource that they can use to make a theory or comment about what's going on into the real fact of the matter.

Mission Phase Zero:
The first scenes are played as the marines approach the destination and discuss the mission parameters (i.e. the wake-up scene in Aliens). Mysterious elements will initially be invented here.

Mission Phase One:
The marines arrive at the destination and begin investigating. The gamemaster presents clues and the players make up explanations about what happened. Player characters will not be attacked at this time, but non-player characters might be killed - especially if they wander off alone.

Mission Phase Two:
The aliens (or whatever) begin attacking the marines openly. This is when the action really kicks off and the 'what happened' question will be answered. The capacities of the aliens/opposition will also be nailed down here.

Mission Phase Three: (probably initiated when all extra characters are dead)
The aliens may now be defeated (or the remaining marines might escape). Establishing how to do either of these things will be all that's left to be determined.

That's the plan.

I plan to set up either templated worksheets that present basic scenarios with some important blanks to be filled in and/or a bunch of tables to give you facts (with blanks) that can be completed. Probably a bunch of mysteries for the gamemaster to use as well. However, I find myself pretty uninspired with this sort of idea... I appeal to my readers to help me out here...

I'm looking for ideas in this kind of form:
Phase Zero:
- There's a civilian observer along, an expert on _________.
- The destination is _________.
- Squad member _________ is newly transferred in, and hasn't earned anyone's trust yet.
- Squad member _________ has a secret problem: _________.

Phase One:
- The colonists (or their bodies) are all discovered to be in _________.
- A survivor is discovered, who reveals that _________.
- It appears that the colonists had time to _________ before the end.
- It appears that whatever did this could _________.

Phase Two:
- The opposition are _________.
- They are superior to humans in _________.
- They are resistant to _________.
- They want to _________ people.

Phase Three:
- We can kill them if we take off and _________ the site from orbit.
- We can escape if we _________ before _________.
- They are especially susceptible to _________.
- They have already reached _________.

Any ideas appreciated (and will be credited in the final version, if any).

08 December 2005

A cool game idea: Badass Space Marines

Over at the forge I have written up the (very) basics of another game. I really like this idea, so expect to see more in the near future. Comments welcome, either here or on that thread

06 December 2005

More Warhammer Actual Play

I am planning to put an actual play post up for each game session in future. Partly to explore things that happened, partly to keep track of events. Last night we played another session of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

The session began with Rudiger the witch hunter telling our heroes to infiltrate the Middenheim Cosmopolitan Club, a front for a chaos cult (apparently). Our heroes elected to simply wander up and try to join. We played out some scenes where the membership commitee (played by three of them) interviewed the character of the fourth. This was a lot of fun and led to just two of them being accepted into the club.

They spent the evening trying to discover clues, with some small success.
  • Orzad the dwarf discovered that his missing brother had been a member of the club and was now a member of the youth gang "the Krapz".
  • Thomas the halfling attempted to gain the trust of a group of intellectuals and was hampered by his illiteracy and total lack of formal education. He ended the evening by almost being mugged.
  • Ulric found a friendly clique of persons with alternative personal lifestyle choices.
  • Larelorn (or whatever) the elf spent the evening with a lady from Tilea who joined the club because she likes elves.
The next day, Thomas and Ulric got thrown out of the club (they were the ones who failed to get membership) and the group realised that they had made little real progress in discovering the chaos cult. To remedy this, they assaulted a Estalian poet (one of the bohemian intellectuals) in a nearby alley. He turned out to be a decent swordsman rather than a weedy pushover and... well, things arise.

Sessions: 2. Innocent people killed: 2. Chaos cultists apprehended: 1.

I'll keep that score going, I think.

Overall, we had great fun. Still need to do something about the critical system, though.

01 December 2005

November's Reading

Here goes another month... 8 books read, year's total 138.

See also Make Tea Not War's month.

Recursion by Tony Ballantyne. Strange book. Some awesomely interesting ideas about post-singularity humanity (with advanced artificial intelligence and self-replicating machines) that is let down by strangely missing plot. Ballantyne's characters basically have stuff happen to them and explained to them about the stuff that is going on. The failure of the characters to really do anything means that the book felt totally unsatisfying. The story told should have been the first few chapters of a novel that then had the characters actually step up and deal with the issues posed. Great if you want a bunch of exposition about an imaginary future society. Bad if you would like the characters to explore the consequences of that society. This would be a much more negative review except for the fact that the future he imagines is extremely cool.

Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow. A very very strange book. Kind of like what you might get if Nail Gaiman and Bruce Sterling collaborated on a novel, but that might be unfair to Doctorow. Let's call it 'bizzaro modern magic stuff'. Cool.

The Next Fifty Years edited by John Brockman. A collection of essays from prominent scientists, each discussing what they expect from their discipline in the next fifty years (from 2002 that is). With a few exceptions they were all interesting and well written. Even the exceptions weren't really bad, just not as good as the others. Worth a read.

The Mists of Everness by John C Wright. Continuing on after The Last Guardian of Everness, we have the main characters trying to recover from pretty much losing the whole world in the first book. Good.

The Oceans by Ellen Prager and Syliva Earle. An excellent layman's overview of the state of the art in ocean science. Also, did you know tuna could grow to three meters long? That's a big fish.

Concrete: Think Like A Mountain by Paul Chadwick. Just as good as the other Concrete stories I have read. Looks at the ethics of direct action to protect the environment. Read this.

Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Swashbuckling, Dumas-style conspiracy in seventeenth century Madrid. Lots of fun. The main characters are all neat. The only downside is that it's basically just an introduction to the characters. Apparently there are four or five other novels in the series, soon to be translated into English. Huzzah!

Iron Coffins by Herbert Werner. Memoir of a U-boat captain in the second world war. Scary, fascinating stuff.