31 December 2007

In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Strange novel about... well, responses to world war two, I guess, in the context of people trying to improve humanity so that it doesn't happen again.

Some things bothered me, like some pretty blah stuff about consciousness and quantum (a personal bugbear of mine). However, as a meditation on the human condition and how to prevent wars, it's a good one.

In The Garden Of Iden by Kage Baker

Finally, I read the very first of the Company books. It's also one of the best, following the immortal cyborg Mendoza in her early years, mainly her first mission. Has everything that the series is great for - humour, pondering the place of the cyborgs, sinister Dr Zeus plans, etc.


28 December 2007

Red Box Hack - Temple of the Dragon Priests

I played a game of this last night with a pick up group at hix's house con. Overall, we had a blast.

Character generation was a highlight, with everyone enjoying the classes and talent picks. We then had a small changeover as a pre-planned game began, and two players left, passing their characters to other people. Both characters appealed to the new players, luckily, so that was fine.

We had time to go through about half the dungeon I had planned - this involved the 'find out stuff in town' scenes, getting there, fighting a monster that was hunting from the dungeon, and then taking out a goblin tribe in the old temple.

The first fight was with a tough wolf-beast, and the four characters only just survived (two were taken out). This was partly that I made it too tough, and partly that one particular power was overpowered. However, a burst of cunning tactics by the remaining two players had them defeat it okay.

Then they scouted out the old temple, got spotted by goblin guards. The scouting pcs took out the guards, then there was a big battle versus the goblin warlord with 12 more goblins. The warlord had a neat power that allowed him to redirect damage onto his mooks, which was a lot of fun for all. This guy also had the first treasure they were after.

Then the sneaky snake character got into the goblin area and scouted it out inside, and another battle began to take out the goblin shaman (monster). The shaman had the stun power, and this was another close fought battle, with people still down hp after the first one. They won, and everyone levelled up.

That brought us to the end of our time, so we finished up there (leaving the dragon priest cult untouched in the lower levels, maybe they'll get theirs another time).

We discussed what worked, and everyone liked the simple system and combat, and the fact there were a few tactical options in there.

Seems like the system is basically solid, though. I think it really just needs the GM planning section sorted out and a few more tweaks.

It had a lot of the cool tactical feel of Agon, but with the emphasis on teamwork instead of individual glory, and a more light-hearted attitude. Great stuff.

26 December 2007

Endless Universe by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok

This is some cosmology for laypeople. Specifically, the authors are introducing a new theory of cyclic universes as an alternative to the big bang with inflation model that is currently the received view. They're obviously excited by the research (which they appear to be leading champions of) but also cautious about a theory that so far is observationally indistinguishable from the competition.

It's a fairly easy read, with no mathematics and a fairly slow buildup of jargon. The theory is fascinating too, and I can understand the feeling that it is more elegant than inflation (at least, as they presented it here). It's the idea that the universe is a n-dimensional membrane that is paired with another across a microscopic extra dimension. I've come across this before, as an explanation for dark matter (in this case, the dark matter is in the companion space-time: undetectable by radiation but gravitationally interacting). They focus more on the way that this generates a model for the existence of the cosmic background radiation, expanding space and a variety of that sort of cosmological mystery. Essentially, it comes down to the two membranes crashing into each other periodically, then bouncing back for a trillion years or so before they collide again - which smashes everything into an immensely hot soup of basic particles before cooling down into stars and so forth again.

It's also rare to read popular science that is so cutting edge - normally it is about stuff that is much more settled than this.


Nine Worlds by Matt Snyder

I've already played this one, so I pretty much knew what I was getting into. The book's a very nice one, with some nice Art Nouveau page decorations that contribute a lot to the feel (especially when you make it most of the way through and discover that the setting is full of that style).

The mechanics have a few more subtleties that didn't come up in a one-shot, such as the choice of using Arete (skill) versus Hubris (magic) in every conflict is also a statement about whether you accept the rule of the Primarchs (i.e. the Olympians and Titans) or are rejecting it. There are also a lot of nifty options in the results that we didn't use all of.

Conflict resolution is by cards. You draw a number of cards based on your Arete or Hubris plus any relevant Muses (character goals). You are looking for a number of cards in one suit, which you then add to the ability associated with that suit to get your total. The ability chosen also determines how you deal with the conflict - if you pick clubs for your total, then you used Chaos (destruction) to achieve your end. After the totals are revealed, there is a point scoring phase, in which you may take points from opponents that you beat. Face cards, aces and jokers score points, and you then may use those you won plus your own to temporarily rearrange the stats of anyone involved in the conflict. Exactly how depends on the suit played, but options include moving points from one character to another, increasing or decreasing them, or locking the current scores for a while. My feeling is that this will get really interesting once the group gets a good handle on the rules, allowing a lot of fun tactics. In the game I played, we really just scratched the surface of this stuff.

Once again, a shout out goes to Muses, the coolest thing in the game. These are player-authored character goals. Once you resolve it one way or another, the current rating gives you points towards character development. These can be of two different types, depending on whether you had more Arete or Hubris successes for the goal.

The setting is both really cool and extremely evocative. Snyder provides a huge, epic, history to build on. Then he presents a page on each of the nine worlds that describes a few key conflicts going on there right now, together with some statted up NPCs for that world (usually deeply involved in the conflicts just mentioned). The color is pulled from Greek myth, with the Olympians and Titans currently in a cold war type of situation after a couple of wars that raged through all the worlds. It seems prefectly matched for the intention of allowing each group to pick a couple of their favorite places to build the story from, and then just go from there. I also really like that it's set up so that you can build your character up to change the world - there's a sort of endgame where you become a champion for a Primarch (ruler of a world) or instead usurp a Primarch's position.

Good stuff, recommended!

24 December 2007

A Prairie Home Companion

I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed this Robert Altman film. It's about the very last show of a Grand Old Opry style radio evening. It pretty much just shows you all the people involved and lets them do their thing. In feel, very much like The Big Lebowski (albeit without quite as much darkness as is usual for the Coens).

69 A.D. : The Year of Four Emperors by Gwyn Morgan

Fairly dense history of the civil war that the title implies. Morgan is attempting to take the few but disparate sources and work out what was most likely to have actually happened. The paucity of material means that a lot of this is fairly speculative (or relies on just one original author). On top of this, the number of people and legions involved means that just keeping track of those is hard work in itself.

22 December 2007


A strange film about a teenager who still sucks his thumb. It's in the quirky family comedy-drama genre, a bit like Little Miss Sunshine or Rushmore. I liked it for not having anything really terrible - no awful secrets, just people dealing with odd problems.

The main thing that I loved, though, was Keanu Reeves. He is the main guy's orthodontist, and plays the guy as a new age spiritual mentor. It's fantastic, and the film is worth seeing just for that.

19 December 2007

Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder

This novel follows on from Sun of Suns. Like the first, it has a big weird setting that serves as a backdrop to a great adventure story.

In this one, a character who I remember as one of the villains from the first novel is the focus. She finds herself stranded in a bizarre corner of the world, and sets herself the task of getting home. This involves taking on a whole group of insular, crazy nations in the habitat.

Good stuff.

18 December 2007

Reign: The County of Grockelfin

We played a one-shot using Reign. My idea was to have everyone roll random characters, see what we got and then either point-build or roll a company for them. After that, I'd grab some of the companies I made up, pick some as antagonists and let it all roll, driven by the players' plans for their company.

This overall structure worked well. We had a variety of down on their luck but previously important characters, and they rolled a small coastal area as their company. One-roll character generation was a success in this context, creating some interesting characters that gave everyone some unusual elements to build on - perhaps the coolest was the bastard who was stranded and raised by animals as a child. We decided that they had been shuffled out of the way by the king for various reasons, and put in charge of this impoverished border county.

After some initial discussions, they decided to go after the rebels in the hills, mainly as a way to build up the county - their first raid was intended to loot all the rebels' goods. After some misadventures in the early stages, this became personal and over the course of the evening they conquered the rebels utterly. We also had some other side-plots, with a religious sect, some mercenaries and one PC's (doomed) attempt to take the company's influence rating above zero (so that he could be the spymaster that he claimed to be).

We had to abbreviate a lot to fit in the company action, leaving most of the PC missions down to a single scene or two. Given longer term play, these would be much more of a focus (and thus much more fun). On the other hand, we gave the company rules a decent workout and had a lot of fun.

Positives: The company stuff worked well, and gives you some easy goals in play. The world has some cool features, that added some good colour (although I was fairly cautious about infodumps, I did a couple on major points - geography and ghosts as I recall).

Negatives: The magic system and esoteric disciplines are pretty over the top for a one shot - there's a lot to take in. Almost certainly this is a non-issue for medium or long term play.

16 December 2007

The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker

Goodness, the final novel in the Company stories. It's an epic conclusion, perhaps somewhat rushed as Baker ties up all the loose ends from the series. There's also an element of deus ex machina at the very end. That's not to say it's annoying - in fact the over the top elements there are in many ways sidelines to what's actually happening, rather than a way to avoid concluding it properly (it might be that it was required to prevent the book being twice as long).

The ending is a good one, too. She answers or addresses all the interesting questions about immortality, time travel, and so forth that she has brought up through the series. Satisfactory!

Now I just have to read the first one...

The Letter of Marque by Patrick O'Brian

This novel basically continues the story from The Reverse of the Medal. Here, Aubrey has been struck off the navy list and is commanding a privateer. The story deals with his use of this to get himself reinstated and how he deals with all his dreams and plans being destroyed. Although there is no shortage of action in this story, it's another that shows different sides of Aubrey and Maturin, as they deal with their various problems.

14 December 2007

The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian

This book is fairly unusual in the series in that little of it takes place at sea. The plot concerns legal entanglements and spying in England, mainly, and so it's a change of pace from most of the series. However, this gives us a different perspective on Aubrey and Maturin.

10 December 2007

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian

Another re-read. I was once again reminded of how utterly different the source novel is to the film adaptation (not in a bad way - I think it was about the best a single film could do with O'Brian's novels). The main themes of the film are almost unrelated to those in the book, and the naval action is too. Odd.

Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian

Another re-read. This is one of the books that gets deepest into Maturin's work as a secret agent, and this gives it overall a very tense story (especially as we the readers know of a traitor that he does not). It is also the first time we really get to know Reverend Martin, and his unfortunate habit of being bitten, stung or otherwise abused by random creatures.

03 December 2007

Magicians of the Depression (Mortal Coil)

Tonight we embarked on a short period of trying out one-shots of various games that I have not yet managed to play. First up was Mortal Coil.

Our setup was that we were in a small town in the dustbowl. The characters were some magicians who were all miners (although the mine had shut down). It seemed that they spent their days at the union hall, fighting the mayor and presumably any other people who threatened the status quo. Interestingly, they resisted things that might have directly helped them (i.e. a railroad line to the town).

Setup and character generation was fun, and provided a good basis for the world. However, it felt pushed to do it quickly enough to fit some play into the same session. An entire evening building the world with play the next time would have worked better.

The conflict system works, although there's a lot to keep track of. Possibly more than I can manage as a GM (especially when multiple NPCs get involved). The total lack of randomizers is also kind of odd... just mentally different and subtly odd.

Everyone really enjoyed the ability to define magic as we went. That part was great fun.

Good game, but looks like it really needs continued play to get to the game's strengths.

02 December 2007

Hadrian's Wall by William Dietrich

A good adventure story, perhaps tending a little towards over-romantic (although I prefer authors to err in this direction than cynical misanthropy).

The story is framed by an investigation into some terrible event that occurred at a fort on Hadrian's wall in 367 AD. It's only gradually revealed what occurred, but we follow a patrician woman, sent from Rome to marry the new prefect as part of their two families' political alliances. She gets involved in some Celtic barbarian raids and rivalries and tension between the Roman officers.

This isn't really a time and place generally associated with stories about Rome, and I think that Dietrich enjoyed that aspect of the story. The legions (and indeed Romans) that he writes about here are very different from those we generally think of (e.g. in the time of Julius Caesar and Augustus).

Spione by Ron Edwards

This book is part general history of spying in the Cold War (particularly in Berlin) and discussion of the popular culture associated with it. It's also a game to replicate personal spy stories - basically stories like Le Carre's.

The history part is very good. It's concise, and packed with interesting facts. As well as that, it follows neither an academic historical format nor that of a typical history aimed at laypeople. It's somewhere in between, but not on a direct line. Perhaps it's just that it seems to reflect Edwards' own research and discoveries (and his excitement while doing that).

The game is quite specific and closed. You tell the story of two spies in Berlin during the Cold War. Characters are pre-generated and included in the book. However, the personal history and role as a spy are separate. Character generation is basically picking one person and one spy sheet, and sticking them together.

The other element to character generation is one that I find somewhat out of my comfort zone. Every player is required to write down two 'trangressions' - morally wrong things that they or someone they know has done. The player for each of the two characters each pick one of these at random and this act becomes part of the character's history. This feels like it's getting into a kind of psychodrama that I have no real interest in exploring. On the other hand, these spy stories generally include flawed characters and this method seems well picked to have a plausible and relevant flaw included.

The other players, by the way, share the responsibility for playing all other characters in the game.

Play proceeds by building up scenes, each player taking turns to add elements. The scenes generally are about one or the other spy, but everyone gets a turn to add to them. When the scenes reach a flashpoint (that's the game term - essentially a critical conflict) then you go into a card game to resolve that. Each player has a particular card associated, and a certain number (based on the character) are laid out. Then you play a few rounds of a game that allows you to maneuver your cards around. This allows you to influence the order of narration (each player narrates as their cards are placed in the line) and how much authority you have (e.g. if you lay a card on another player's, they narrate one thing and then you add to that; only if you have two matching cards may you narrate a character's death; etc).

Play continues through building up scenes to flashpoints until a spy's friends and companions are all removed from play - then the character comes in from the cold, one way or another. Once both spy's stories are over, the game is finished.

29 November 2007

The Scourge of God by William Dietrich

Good historical adventure, about a Roman who gets involved in the machinations in the final big war with Attila the Hun.

28 November 2007

Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley

This book is a discussion of theatrical improvisation techniques and how they can be applied to roleplaying games.

It's a fairly short book, but densely packed with techniques and tips.

It feels like I will need a bit of time to digest the advice, and probably many months of trying it out before I can tell how useful they are. On the other hand, everything reads like it ought to improve play.

So, provisionally it is very good, and I'll try and post again later with an update on how well the advice helps in play.

27 November 2007

Actual Play: Duty and Honour

Last night we played a playtest of Neil Gow's Duty and Honour (aka "the Sharpe roleplaying game"). It was good. Discussion is happening 0n the Collective Endeavour.

26 November 2007

The Whale Road by Robert Low

A very strong debut novel (although from the author blurb, Low had a career as a journalist) in the historical adventure genre.

The story follows Orm Ruriksson, a young Norseman who has to flee his foster home and join his father on a viking ship. It turns out that the leader has a plan to hunt down a fabled treasure horde. This takes the band a long way and through various stresses, betrayals and fights.

The characters are strong - Low paints very effective pictures of their personalities with few words. Orm narrates, and remembers being essentially carried on a flood for most of the story. It pretty much is a coming of age story for him, framed as a great quest for the treasure.

24 November 2007

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

An odd, but interesting novel. It's about a 14th century village in Germany who have some aliens crash land nearby. The events occur on the eve of the plague ravaging that part of the world, which is how Flynn fits in events that might otherwise have had massive effects on history.

There's a framing story about a couple in the present piecing together the story of what happened there, but this is largely irrelevant (it appears that he built the novel from a shorter work in which this was the main story).

The core of the novel is the way that the village priest - previously a scholarly monk and heretic rebel - deals with the aliens and observes the rest of the village dealing with them. Flynn has made a real effort to get into the medieval mindsets (and there are several distinct mindsets you meet) and fill the story with the day to day things that did (or would have) occurred. There's also a great deal of ethical and theological speculation, as this is one of the priest's concerns about the visitors. One slightly annoying side note is that Flynn has this character almost instantly grasp concepts that the aliens explain to him, often in modern terms and making up the modern terms for them (or close analogs). That doesn't affect the story, but it did seem kind of silly to me.

A good novel, but really mostly as an exploration of some ideas about modernity and religion in the context of the situation. The plot - in terms of things that happen - is really just setting to hang the rest on.

20 November 2007

Island of Exiles by I J Parker

A new Sugarwara Akitada novel! It is good.

I was initially skeptical, as the setup is that he has to disguise himself as a convict to infiltrate an island penal colony and solve a mystery there. Now, Parker hasn't written enough books that she has any justification to be running out of ideas. Also, it's hard to see why any of the characters thought it was a good idea. On the one hand, the mystery involves some important political exiles. On the other hand, disguised as a convict, Akitada has exactly none of his authority as an official and is forced into unlikely sneaking around.

In any case, once things get properly underway, the story is as good as any of the others.

17 November 2007

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian

A re-read. This is not one of the highlights of the Aubrey/Maturin books, but it still has plenty of good stuff (O'Brian's worst is better than most authors).

No Quarter by Broos Campbell

Another naval adventure series, this one about an American. This novel is set in 1799/1800 and has Mr Graves as a midshipman, dealing with pirates and French plots in the Caribbean. Good. Seeing the events of the Napoleonic wars from a different perspective than the usual British one is interesting.

13 November 2007

Hero's Banner: Freedom for Uran!

We kicked off our second generation last night. The characters were generally lower powered - a bastard son of one previous character, the other two not even blood relations of their heroes.

The game began slower. This was partly because the characters' scope of action was smaller, and partly because it took me a little while as GM to begin hammering on the influences.

That said, about halfway in it took off and we got some great play out of the game this time too. We had armies raised and a the capital of Uran was burnt to the ground by anti-Tuceascan rebels (the kingdom remained occupied after the previous game).

The epilogues were interesting too. We had one character run off with his lover to an idyllic life as a woodsman. Another chose to look after his two (now blind) adopted daughters as a beggar (he was also blind by this point). And the third character, twisted by the things that had happened to him, decided to reject a happy ending and take up the reins of the spy network his hero had set up (after killing that hero).

I am having more fun with this game than anything I have played for a long while.

11 November 2007

Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

Fourth in the Alfred the Great series, this one continues as you might expect. Very good stuff.

The Generals by Simon Scarrow

This novel continues Scarrow's fictionalized version of the lives of Napoleon and Wellington. It follows Napoleon's time as a general in Italy and Egypt and his rise to become first Consul. For Wellington, it covers his time in India. The book is more military focussed than the first.

One odd feature is that the story covers ground here that has been in the Sharpe novels. A couple of scenes felt slightly out, because I "know" that this was the place that Sharpe first met Wellington, or that he was present at that event, and so on.

The Indian Mutiny by Saul David

A good history of the events. It suffers a little from being predominantly from the British point of view, but I got the feeling that this was due to few Indian accounts existing.

03 November 2007

Dark Rain by Conor Corderoy

This felt kind of like the film Children of Men, except this was good. A similar setup - with endless rain in Britain, the rich live in luxurious domes and the poor out in the rain and mud - but in this case it turns out that the conspiracies exist for a reason, not just because the story requires it.

The hero is a cop who stumbles onto something he shouldn't, and he's a classic action movie hero. Specifically, he's from the 'take continual beatings and keep going' mold (e.g. John McClane).

01 November 2007

An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker

A history of our understanding of the atmosphere. It's told from the ground up, with a chapter on each major discovery and the people involved. Plenty of good anecdotes, on top of the science.

29 October 2007

Hero's Banner - Brutal Politics

We played a game of Hero's Banner just now. It was really fucking good. Reading the text did not really convey how the influence and passion rules bring everything together.

The characters were: Stelion, a duke's son from Uran; Horea, the dispossessed prince of Tucaescu and Prince Gregore, son of the man who usurped the Tucaescuan throne.

Things started pretty strong with war between those kingdoms. In the Tucaescan army, Gregore's older brother was assassinated (by Gregore) at a dinner. Stelion, attempting to reach the army to murder his blood-enemy General Valentin, realised that he needed to return to the border garrisons to warn them of the size of the army. He failed, and his futile attempt to disrupt their advance left his squadron dead.

There was a threat that Horea, incognito in the army, might have his true name revealed. The informer was shot before she could do so.

Then Stelion was instructed to lead the Uranian army in defense. His battle plan failed, and the defending army was slaughtered to a man. In the formal meeting to admit defeat he attempted to murder General Valentin, and for this Gregore branded his forehead in punishment for his dishonour, before releasing him.

A few other scenes had some smaller scale back and forth, with some rivals murdered and various choices made about the influences.

Then we got kicking again with a royal wedding between Prodan and Ryeic. In the mansions of the Church, Stelion led 70 knights into the Tucaescan apartments and slaughtered them. Horea had disguised himself as one of them and joined in - mainly so he could kill the usurper personally. Gregore escaped with his fiance and some servants, only to be headed off by Stelion. The branding was repaid but only after Gregore saw his companions dead.

Horea rushed back to Tucaescu to claim the throne, and decided (at the advice of his dukes) to once again invade Uran while they were weak. Suffering a breakdown at this point, he led the army with a curtain of frost that slew the defenders in their path. Then the invasion was pulled back, as Gregore made a play for the throne in Horea's absence.

Stelion left his wife, soon after the wedding, to pursue General Valentin, who led the retreating army. Fighting on the same field as they had previously, they killed each other in the thick of the fighting.

Gregore made his final effort to take the throne back, and failed while reaching 100 passion. He instead elected to become a hidden master of spies and assassins, working to returning his family to power in later generations.

Finally, Horea reached 100 passion too, and ruled Tucaescu as a wise king for the rest of his days. That lasted until he was poisoned at his legitimate son's fifth birthday celebration.

Now, that was some meaty stuff for a one-off, with no preparation (the expected game was canceled due to an illness), and with a group who normally plays more for humour than this savage blood opera would lead you to expect.

Just sitting there after the epilogues, I can just see how well it will play as a campaign, too. Taking that terrible mess and crafting characters who look back on some of those we generated as their hero influences for the next episode will create a powerful, organic history of the kingdoms. I am really looking forward to playing more of this game.

Actual Play: The Infected

At the Fright Night convention, I ran another game of The Infected. It ran very well - still a few rough edges - but it certainly worked in the convention setting (which is what is intended for).

An actual play report is up at the Forge.

28 October 2007

Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker

This is the third of the Company stories. I hope to get to number one soon.
In any case, this one is really good. Mainly, not a lot happens. The bulk of the book is about a few of the Company cyborgs working in 1862 in what will later become Hollywood (thus the title). They are mainly there to collect specimens of things that will soon be extinct. We follow them as they do their jobs, try to avoid boredom, and get into difficult situations with mortals. Mendoza is a good point of view character, as she's fairly misanthropic but also a keen observer of the people around her.

Recommended. Also, you should probably read it in order, unlike me.

25 October 2007

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

Another story centering on Moist von Lipwig (from Going Postal). In this one he is required to sort out the mint and central bank. The characters are fun, but overall the story lacks the bite of Pratchett's best recent novels (I'm thinking of Going Postal and Thud!, in particular). It feels like the ideas didn't quite come together as they were intended to, or something.

Still, there is plenty to enjoy along the way.

22 October 2007

Shark Island by Joan Druett

This is the second of the Wiki Coffin stories, and the best of them that I've read so far. A good mystery, and some really good characters. Highly recommended.

20 October 2007

The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

Good space opera, following a couple of crew on a large starship who get involved in sinister dealings. The characters are good, and the mystery is fairly compelling.

An interesting detail is that interstellar colonization is dominated by Australians and New Zealanders. It's implied that this might be due to climate change rendering much of the northern hemisphere almost uninhabitable, but never really explained.

18 October 2007

Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher

Third in the Alera series, this one continues in much the same vein as the first two. It's better than the first two, with the story hitting its stride in this novel.

15 October 2007

Anger Management

Just ran a playtest of The Infected. Good stuff, the newer rules changes are a definite improvement. Another run (with the same setup) will be at the Fright Night convention on the 27th (if you are playing in that, the report is spoiler free).

14 October 2007

Run Afoul by Joan Druett

The third Wiki Coffin mystery, this one takes place while the fleet is in Rio de Janiero. The main death is regarded as accidental for most of the story, which diverts attention to the other things the characters are doing.

11 October 2007

Halting State by Charles Stross

Really good. The book is set in 2017, and explores what might occur as phones turn into serious computing platforms and MMOs take over the world. It's also good reading stories about hacking computer games by someone who actually understands how this would work.

There's a really odd point-of-view thing, where Stross describes what the characters are thinking with a structure like "So you do this and that." I'm not really sure what he was aiming for with it, but it jarred for me (especially as there are three different point of view characters).

08 October 2007

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I was expecting an autobiography, but I think this was really the same as his travel writing. It's just that in this case, it was about growing up in Des Moines in the 1950s. It is quite funny.

Hero's Banner by Tim C Koppang

It's hard to say much about this game based on reading and no play. It's designed so that you play the most important episodes in the lives of epic heroes, and when they're done, you move on to their successors.

It seems like it will do a good job of the multi-generational fantasy saga, something that I haven't seen really work before.

When you build a character, the key is defining three goals for them. Each is set within a specific domain, and they are intended to be in conflict (at least potentially). One is something personal that the character wants. One is something to do with your family. The final one is a hero, someone that the character respects or wishes to follow in the footsteps of.

The hero influence is the way that generations are connected - after the first episode, the characters from previous episodes will return as hero influences for the new characters.

Game play is described with aggressive scene-framing, with the GM setting up each scene so that it pushes towards a choice between the three influences for at least one character. When it comes to conflict, the player must choose which one the character goes with, and rolls against the corresponding influence score.

Passions change when a character fails and calls for a re-roll. Re-rolls are always allowed, but they cause the character's passions to become more extreme. The three influence scores always add up to 100, and each re-roll has you add to one (and thus subtract from the others). However, you may reorganize the scores after any change. So you can adjust what your character feels in a fairly extreme manner as play goes on - maybe the hero abandons their quest to regain the throne in a desire for glory in battle, for example.

This all stops when you reach 100 in one of the influences (and so 0 in the others). At this point, the character's story is done, and you get to describe how their life went, with the (now permanent) choice made.

So it seems like the game is about passionate, epic stories of larger than life characters making larger than life choices about how to live. Each episode is short (that is, you are expected to play through each generation in a session or two). I get a real feeling that the game will come into its own as you play through many generations and build up a history of the nations that have been guided by your heroes.

Play reports I've read seem to confirm that the individual stories work as I expect, but I don't recall seeing any that have gone over the generations.

07 October 2007

Mortal Coil by Brennan Taylor

This game seems aimed firmly at modern, urban fantasy stories (with Tim Powers and Neil Gaiman at the top of the list of inspirations).

The setting is built at the beginning of play, with the group putting together a list of key themes, things in the world and so on. There's a good chapter on building this up, and it seems well conceived to get a setting which everyone is invested in (much like Shock:). The character generation works in a similar way, defining a few more things about the world as you go, most likely.

Character generation is fairly straightforward otherwise, with a couple of things that stand out. First is that characters can pick one of four power levels, from novice or veteran (mortals with less or more experience), ancient (e.g. long-lived magicians or vampires) or ageless (e.g. gods and other immortals). Each step starts with more resources but has a little less flexibility (both in character generation and in game play). Second, players pick passions, driving motivations for the character. Interestingly, these must always add up to five points - if one increases, a point must be removed from another. In addition, if you use a particular passion more than once per session you must increase it, so there's a pull for characters to become obsessive if they use these resources in play. There's also an advantage to having as many passions in play as possible, so balancing having more (allowing you to use a bonus more times) versus less (each bonus is worth more) becomes something to consider in play.

Conflict is resolved without dice, instead relying on a resource bidding system. All resources are pools of points (with different uses). For each character, their player secretly allocates points to various action types and these are revealed simultaneously. Totals are based on points allocated plus various bonuses for situation, abilities, passions etc. It looks straightforward enough, although I don't have enough experience with systems like this to really be able to judge how it will play. Most pools can also have points sacrificed permanently for extra advantage - there are quite a few variations and specifics depending on what is happening and how it is being done.

The GM has to manage resources for all NPCs as well, just like the player characters. There is a key difference in that the GM's magic and power (a sort of uber-pool, also used for character development) are common over all NPCs.

The magic system is the main thing the system gets mentioned for, and it's pretty neat. During the setting creation steps, magic is defined in general terms. However, you are explicitly prohibited from naming any specifics at that point - they only come in during play. When a character uses any magic, the player spends a magic point and describes the effect desired. Another player then describes the price that a character must pay for that effect. This is then written into the setting details and is now part of how magic works in the world. Subsequently, any character may simply spend the magic point (and pay the in-game price) to get that effect.

E.g. A player who has a wizard character might say "Wizards can summon demonic helpers who can spy for them." The price is set at "And you need to provide a host body for the demon." From that point on, any wizard can do this in your game.

This seems like it will provide a good, organic magic system for your game that develops along with the story.

Also, the book looks really good. It has very evocative art from Jennifer Rodgers (although mainly showing the more horrific side of this genre).

Cold City Companion by Malcolm Craig

A short, but very useful compilation of extras to help with Cold City. This is a game I still haven't run, but I still want to. The Companion sounded like it would be helpful in this, and reading it did give me a few more handles on the game.

The first chapter is game advice, with some options about how to handle secrets and narrative authority and so good extra advice on building the characters and situation.

Next is a couple of optional rules, both of which seem to me like they belong in every game. The first is to play a scene about how the character became aware of twisted technology and/or how they were recruited into the RPA. The second is an alternative way to deal with negative traits, and looks much better than the original rule.

The rest is material to use in games - how other organisations (like the CIA, GRU and others) fit into Cold City's Berlin; some places of interest in the rest of the world; more sources of inspiration.

I can't imagine this not being a useful book for anyone playing the game.

04 October 2007

The Demon and the City by Liz Williams

Good but kind of odd fantasy/crime novel set in a near-future Singapore in a world where all the traditional gods and monsters have returned.

The crime novel part is mainly colour, with the novel playing out basically as a fantasy story. The characters are generally engaging, although there are just a few too many points of view (including some random 'interlude' chapters with completely new people that break up the climactic last few chapters).

A cautious recommendation for this.

Nine Worlds: The Dark Side of the Sun

Last weekend I played in a very fun one-off game of Nine Worlds. Read about it here.

26 September 2007

Big Trouble In Little China

Another old favorite rewatched, this film has lost none of it's charm over the years. The jokes, action and even the special effects hold up very well indeed.

This copy also had a commentary track with Carpenter and Russell, which was very funny. They said a fair amount about the film, but it seemed that primarily they were enjoying watching it again and catching up. Russell seemed to spend half the film laughing at whatever just happened, and they even digressed into asking about each others' kids at one point. Despite all this, it was good to listen to, because the amount of fun they had making the film really shines through. Worth a listen for fans, maybe not so much for others.

Shanghaied to the Moon by Michael Daley

A fun novel about a thirteen year old who wants to be a rocket pilot. Feels similar to Heinlein's novels for young adults in style. However, this one has a little more going on than those did. It turns out to be a little more grim than I expected, with the protagonist dealing with his mother's death in the course of his adventure (she was also a pilot, and died in a shuttle crash).

23 September 2007


It's hard to say much about a film you have watched this many times (this must have been the fifth or sixth). I'm going to bullet point the key things.
  • Some really good lines there ("He shoulda armed himself if he's gonna decorate his saloon with my friend").
  • Boy howdy is it a cynical picture of humanity. Or maybe just how humans get when there's no rule of law, to put the most positive spin on it that I can. Plus, the people killed, beaten and injured get theirs almost wholly irrespective of how much they deserve it - luck is the rule here.
  • Sure is some pretty cinematography.
  • Eastwood, Freeman, and Hackman are fantastic here.
  • Certainly one of the great westerns.

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

This is the second in the Alera series, after Furies of Calderon. It's notably better. The book starts a little slow, with several new characters as well as the existing ones mainly being in new situations. Once it gets going, however, it's exciting and hard to put down.

It still suffers from an excess of description, a common problem in fantasy novels. Butcher also splits the narrative a little too much. There are three main point of view characters, each with their own story, and a few others get a chapter here and there. I think I would have found the story more compelling if it just followed the main protagonist, Tavi, and we found out about the other events from his point of view or in shorter subplots. There's also a lot of made up words (well, use of Latin for a feel of Roman antiquity, I guess) which is something I no longer enjoy having to work through.

One thing that I really do like about this is that Tavi is really not a chosen one. He's negatively special, in that he's unique in his country for not being able to do magic. So he makes up for it by working really hard and aiming to out-think his opponents (who are used to relying on magic to do anything difficult). This theme was present in the first book as well, but wasn't really developed fully.

20 September 2007

Spook Country by William Gibson

Really great.

It's in the same style as Pattern Recognition (indeed, it shares some characters), and again deals with possible alternative uses of existing technology. It seems to me that Gibson's writing is getting more subtle each book, and this one is almost sparse. There aren't many wasted words.

It follows three different characters, all tied into a mystery, and they get chapters in turn. I've read some other books in this style recently, and this one shows how it should be done. Gibson's chapters are short and punchy, so you never have to think about what was happening to a character last time you were with them. A positive contrast to multi-character stories that seem to use this as a way to essentially fit multiple novels into one book.

17 September 2007

Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe

Wolfe's books Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete are amongst my favorites of his work, so I was pleased to see that he's written a third volume.

The stories follow Latro, a Roman mercenary, who suffered a head injury that makes him forget everything after a day or so. He also gained the ability to see gods and monsters. The conceit of the books is that he wrote down the events of each day to remember them, and that Wolfe is merely translating the found scrolls.

The first two books deal with his travels in Greece during the Persian War, as he seeks both a cure and his home.

This one deals with another journey he made, after finding his home but still not able to remember from day to day. He has come to Egypt to attempt to find a cure there, and he gets involved in a journey up the Nile.

In style, the story is much as the others, with Latro perhaps the ultimate in unreliable narrators. The depiction of ancient Egypt complete with the supernatural beings as believed in at the time is fantastic.

16 September 2007

Neon Genesis Evangelion

I started watching this mainly because it keeps getting mentioned in relation to Bliss Stage, which I'm pretty interested in right now. Last night I watched the last few episodes.

It's kind of hard to look back on, due to the fact that the different parts of the series have very different styles. The middle part, in which the action is pretty much constant and the characters are most well developed, is fantastic. Before then, it starts a little slowly. Finally, at the end, it goes into full-blown crazy psychological stuff that is fairly unclear.

Anyhow, it's a cool study of some fucked up people given terrible things that (they believe) are necessary to save humanity. The protagonist's entire story is about having the courage to do what he has to versus his desire to run away and have a normal life again. His father, a remote and hostile figure in control of the EVA robot program, has pretty much decided what needs to be done and resists any deviation from his plan (which later turns out to be diverging somewhat from the plan his bosses intend him to carry out). The other characters generally seem to include variations on these sort of stories, too.

The animation quality varies somewhat - at it's best, there are some very good sequences, but sometimes it's pretty lazy (stills montages, characters talking while their mouths are covered to save on animation, shots that just plain aren't animated that well).

It's a good one to watch, but doesn't challenge Cowboy Bebop as my favorite animated series.

The Pirates in an Adventure with Communists by Gideon Defoe

Probably the funniest pirates book yet. In this episode, the Pirate Captain ends up helping save Karl Marx and indeed the entire Communist movement. There are some hiccups along the way, such as when the Pirate Captain suspects Marx's beard might me more luxuriant than his own.

10 September 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

Fine action movie here. The plot seems to have been edited down to a point where there are holes bigger than what remains, but this doesn't prevent it holding together the three key action sequences that are what the film's really about.

This is as good as the first two films in the series, maybe better.

Nova Swing by M John Harrison

A bizarre science fiction novel. It's kind of a hard-boiled detective story, set in a city which has some kind of rift to a dangerous, dreamlike place. The story focuses on a guy who escorts people into this area, and a detective investigating anomalies coming out. There's a background of crazy advanced technology, too, which means even some of the stuff that's normal to the characters is strange to the reader.

It ends up being a meditation on humanity, I suppose, but without the lack of story that would often imply.

07 September 2007

If Chins Could Kill by Bruce Campbell

This autobiography is both very funny and has a lot of interesting bits and pieces about his career.

06 September 2007

Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

Exciting space opera in a badass human rebels throw off the evil alien empire mold.

The author makes a few cuts from the action to wholly new characters and plots, which I found disconcerting. I think this kind of multi-threaded plot works better if you introduce all of them at the beginning, rather than staggered through the novel. Especially as this means that you get moved from character A doing some exciting stuff to a new character D who is just starting their story arc (i.e. not doing anything exciting just yet). I think there's an underappreciation of just telling a story from beginning to end these days. But that's not really a big deal.

05 September 2007

Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich

A fairly straightforward and fun adventure story about an American who ends up accompanying Napoleon's expedition to Egypt. Of course, he ends up involved with ancient Egyptian cults, evil Freemasons and various other bad sorts along the way.

One interesting point (mild spoiler) is that, for all the religious mysteries and hints of ancient alchemical knowledge (and so on), nothing magical actually happens. Plenty of unlikely coincidences, of course, but heroism gets out man and his companions out of those.

04 September 2007

Mother Aegypt by Kage Baker

This is a collection of short stories. The first three deal with characters and places from The Anvil of the World and are just as good as the novel. The others are of varying quality, with a few gems in there.

03 September 2007

Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

A very good fantasy novel. In fact this might be hard fantasy, in that there are some (admittedly fairly weird) physics behind the fantasy world, and not really any magic.

It's set in the future, and the main character is a starship pilot. He lost his ship, and later turned up somewhere far removed claiming he and his wife and daughter had been in another world. Once further evidence of this world appears, his old employers get him to go back and explore for them.

The world was fascinating, and I really enjoyed finding out all the little bits about it as the book went on, despite generally being bored to tears by fantasy novelists showing off their world. I think the main difference here is that the world is actually quite original and interesting (with not an elf, dwarf or wizard to be see).

On top of that, the main characters are all interesting. In particular, Quinn the pilot, who is perhaps the most bitter person imaginable after all that has happened to him, and who agrees to the company's mission as a way to get back and find his family.

Good stuff, I look forward to the second one in the series

02 September 2007

Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden

This is the first of a series about Genghis Khan. It is just as exciting as his books about Julius Caesar, but I found it more interesting purely due to knowing less about Mongolian history.

It's clear that the story is based on the myths of the life as much as the history (and, from the sounds of it, the only extant history is pretty much the same).

31 August 2007

Excite Truck

This is a simple, ludicrously over the top racing game. The very straightforward controls are it's biggest draw (hold wiimote sideways, tilt to turn, 1 is brake, 2 accelerator and d-pad turbo boost). It combines this with silly tracks including powerups that can deform the terrain and a physics model that is... forgiving, shall we say (these 4 wheel drive trucks can jump any distance with no ill effects, for example).

Lots of fun.

SSX: Blur

After reviewing Resident Evil, I guess I'd better shout out for the other games I have for Wii.

SSX:Blur is the current one I'm playing most, a skiing/snowboarding game that is mainly about winning races and doing the craziest tricks. It's fun for the general just cruising down the slopes part of the game, and the races are fun too. It's been criticized for overly complex controls, and this is a fair call - the special ubertricks are really hard to pull off. But the basic controls are fine.

The game is pretty much all about doing things to unlock more stuff - pretty much every aspect of the game has extras that you only get after completing races etc.

Fun, but not fantastic (I didn't buy it full price, but picked it up when it was on sale after renting it to try out).

30 August 2007

Titans of Chaos by John C Wright

Exciting but ultimately unsatisfying fantasy. It's brought down by insanely overcomplicated politics and plots, plus a disturbing exploitative attitude to the the two teenage girls in the group of heroes.

27 August 2007

Shock: Actual Play - Everything Is Social Networking

On Saturday, me and Make Tea Not War played a game of Shock:. Our Shock was picked to be life-logging, inspired by this piece by Charles Stross. The issues were "Games = Work" (the idea that leisure and work activities all used the same technologies and were often indistinguishable) and Privacy.

The characters where:
  • Lucy Doe, an orphan who was behind a '43 things' style organisation movement. Her antagonist was her roommate in a Big Brother style house (and later, the whole media network behind that show). This was Tea's character.
  • Aedo Shogo was a blogger and conspiracy theorist. His antagonist was a mysterious stalker. This was my character.
Both characters had links to, in essence, their blog followers (although as they both pretty much broadcast their whole lives, this was somewhat more than we are used to).

Lucy's story was about her desire to find her family - something that is obviously somewhat mysterious in a world where basically everything is recorded. Her story dealt with her annoying roommate and then the executives behind the broadcast, as the whole thing turned up to be a setup (including her being an orphan - this turned out to be untrue).

Shogo's story was about his attempts to uncover "the" conspiracy. His stalker began interrupting his monologues - and he couldn't work out how he was being hacked. Following hir hints, Shogo broke a coverup over the Mars landings (this subsequently turned out to be fabricated) before going "off the grid" into hiding to escape the stalker. This failed, and he had to deal with the stalker then convincing him to sit on his evidence. In the process he risked and changed both links twice.

Now, at the time we felt somewhat uninspired. The shock we picked wasn't wild and crazy or anything, but I've found myself thinking back on some of the stuff we dealt with a few times. We discussed a little, and concluded that in some ways we know each other too well for there to be many surprises in a game like this. However, we both pulled a twist on each other about the antagonists that was out of the blue.

In my case, this was the revelation that Lucy's parents essentially sold her to reality TV. In Tea's it was that Shogo's stalker was a fan who was in love with him (and thus all the creepy hacking and fake conspiracy was designed to be what he wanted most). And, after thinking about it, those are both really quite cool (and creepy).

We played with the 1.0 book but 1.1 handouts and the pdf on a laptop for reference. The 1.1 changes helped make things run a little smoother, but that's the limit of what I noticed about it. The main thing I like is that antagonist credits are checkboxes - much easier to track!

26 August 2007

Shaolin Soccer

This kung-fu/sport movie by Stephen Chow is gloriously ludicrous.

Man of War by Allan Mallinson

Another novel in the Hervey series, this one was good but felt a little unfocused. Partly this was due to the fact that all the action happens to someone else (his friend, the Navy Captain Peto). Hervey himself deals with various regimental, legal and relationship issues but doesn't get anywhere near a shot fired in anger. For all that, the reflective side of these novels has always been one of the highlights. And it's still good.

22 August 2007

The Graveyard Game by Kage Baker

Another good episode in the Company books, this one is mainly about Lewis and Joseph. This is one of the earlier books, and there is definitely a change in emphases in the stories as they go on. Interesting.

21 August 2007

Agon play update

Played another episode of Agon last night. We finished our first island, with a few normal contests followed by an epic battle with Gorgos the giant. I felt that all of us have got a better handle on the tactics required, and the battle was notably harder fought all round.

The game has maintained the fun, although it's still primarily tactical in focus. I.e. we tend to omit scene-setting and in-character chat and move on to the next battle/contest/interlude quickly. I did try to increase focus on the colour this session, because I'm concerned it could turn into just a tactical game, which is not what I'm after. My efforts were only marginally successful, however. This may imply that we don't really need to change anything, I guess. It's possible I should just save up my creativity in this area for the next game (which I'm thinking will be Reign or maybe Cold City)

Lessons learned this week:
  • Track divine favour, wounds and glory with counters next time! Also provide some new character sheets to replace the ones destroyed by continual changes to these values.
  • The Antagonist gets Strife for all kinds of things, not just interlude scenes. Who knew? Mental note: read through the rules again.

Eagle vs Shark

I watched this on Saturday. I was a bit disappointed, because I went in expecting a comedy, but it was more a blackly comic character study of dysfunctional weirdos. As that, it's a perfectly good film, but it wasn't exactly what I was in the mood for.

19 August 2007

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker

Another Company novel (the second, in fact). From the perspective of someone who has read the later books, this feels like setup and character building, but of course it is a good story in itself. It's about Joseph, who has the job of posing as the god Sky Coyote in order to convince a village of doomed Chumash to come along with him and be preserved in a Company facility. This leads to various hijinks (this book is lighter than most of them).

Resident Evil 4 (Wii edition)

I just finished this last night. It's a great game, and the Wii edition doesn't really show it's age (I guess the graphics seem a little unpolished, but not enough to matter).

The story is pretty good (i.e. for a computer game), with some bosses who are really annoying and thus very satisfying when you get to kill them. Overall the atmosphere is creepy with bursts of action, as you clear out the village full of people possessed by Lovecraftian parasitic monsters. It is goddamn gory, though - sprays of blood all over, heads explode when you shoot them and some of the 'You died' animations... ick.

The Wii control scheme works really well. The implementation of aim and shoot is very natural and a lot of fun (and includes the often terrifying feature that you cannot move and shoot at the same time). There's a bunch of the puzzles that I associate with console games, but not too many, and none of them are really hard or perversely obscure. Oh, yeah, save points. That's another annoying console thing, but they're frequent and generally well placed.

Biggest recommendation for the game. After finishing it at 11.30pm I almost started a new game at the next difficultly level straight away (mainly because you unlock another outfit for the main dude, and I wanted to see it).

15 August 2007

The Execution Channel by Ken Macleod

A really good novel from MacLeod, this one harks back to The Star Fraction in style. In this case, the story is an alternate near future (rather than a less near future that is consistent with our history). In this world, the war on terror has gone further and is on the verge of triggering a third world war, and the story follows a few characters as they react to this.

12 August 2007

The Machine's Child by Kage Baker

This Company story carries on from The Life of the World to Come and pretty much is the final chapter that I wanted in that book. I guess it makes sense to split it if it took a whole extra novel to do this, but the previous one still felt truncated.

In any case, generally good stuff in the vein of the other novels. Some parts seem a bit bogged down in left over plot threads from the previous books (this effect is accentuated by the time travel). And the endgame isn't quite ready yet, although it feels like Baker's getting pretty close to giving us the story of the Company's fate after 2355 (the year after which they have no information).

09 August 2007

Reign by Greg Stolze

Stolze's new game is a fantasy take on the One Roll Engine (ORE) that he developed for Godlike (and has seen further work in Wild Talents and Nemesis). The version in Reign is a little cleaner, with a few tweaks, but essentially the same as the previous versions.

The biggest addition - and the focus of the game - are the rules for companies. These are groups that the player characters are members (or leaders) of. The rules allow companies to be given stats, and contain rules for how companies can do things. These include how character actions can affect the company (e.g. you might do some individual mission that gives your company an advantage) and vice versa. These rules all fit in well to the existing ORE, and seem like a natural extension of it. Companies can be any organisation - a small street gang or merchant cooperative through mercenary band or spy network right up to an entire kingdom or empire.

The second biggest addition is the one-roll character generation system. There's a plain point buy option, but the random method is much more fun. You roll 11d10, and each set ends up being a job the character has done at some point in their life. Unmatched dice add random events to the character's history. Each job or event adds a few skills, special abilities, or a stat increase. Then you think about what you have and come up with the story behind it all.

These stories can be quite cool ones too. Here's one: disinherited as a child, he grew up as a beggar before becoming an infantryman. Then he got picked by a noble officer as a personal servant (complete with some education) before giving that up as a bad lot and running away to sea.

The setting Stolze provides is pretty cool, too. The game is clearly intended to be easily adaptable to settings of your choice, but the packaged one is strongly tied to all the esoteric techniques, martial arts and magical schools. The world is one in which the continents are the bodies of the gods - so that one country actually goes completely around an arm, for example (this is really neat but it makes imagining the geography really hard). There are four cultures detailed, giving a variety of places to start and plenty of ideas for characters and companies. The material is all evocative and seems well thought out, but I wasn't immediately grabbed by it. There is plenty of room to make it your own by filling in details and gaps left in the text, which suits me fine. The world is also very determinedly different to our own (far beyond the weird landscape), in a way that is kind of compelling.

The advice on running the game seems good, aimed at a traditional style game with a strong character focus. The expected mode is that the players create a company between them, then a character each who is part of it. Then the story will be about the company and what happens to it. Individual characters might die or retire, but the player can simply create a new one and carry on with the company's story.

As it's a traditional style game, there's a lot of crunch for combat there, but this is largely optional addons to the ORE (e.g. special combat maneuvers). Some of these are fantastic - like the 'Display kill', in which you gruesomely finish off a foe in an attempt to scare their comrades.

Stolze is supporting the game via supplements for ransom - after he writes each supplement, he requests a certain value in donations. When this amount is reached, the supplement is made freely available from his website. So far there are two available, both with some good extra bits (new magic schools, martial arts and the one-roll company generator stand out). The rulebook also inexplicably is missing a character sheet, but this too can be downloaded off Stolze's website.

Good presentation (it would count as fantastic if the print-on-demand process did full justice to the art, but it seems to lack some definition internally). The red, Daniel Solis, cover is beautiful and the hardcover seems very well constructed.

Overall: reads like a solid, dependable fantasy system with some good new ideas. Still basically traditional gaming style.

08 August 2007

New Doctor Who, series two.

Another good series, basically the same as the first one in style (80% jokes, 15% horror, 5% drama). I liked Tennant more as the Doctor than Eccleston, but they bring a similar attitude to the role. Evil aliens continue to be blown up at the end of each episode.

One thing that did bother me a little - so many of the plots are Frankenstein plots. I feel like the show's writers have an unhealthy attitude to progress. In the show, any attempt to improve things using science ends up (1) perverted by aliens so that it threatens to destroy the world, (2) gets out of control and threatens to destroy the world, (3) leads to the people trying it turning into inhuman monsters who threaten to destroy the world. I realise that it is not a deep show, but as a bit of a transhumanist, I do find this all rather distastefully Romantic. And I have heard far too many speeches from the Doctor about how wonderful humans are as they are now (i.e. pure noble nature) and how any attempt to change this (e.g. cure disease, extend lifespan, place the brain into a robot warrior body) will inevitably destroy everything good about us. Bah!

One For The Morning Glory by John Barnes

A fantastic light-hearted fantasy novel. The humour is strange - shades of Jack Vance - but very funny indeed. A particularly nice touch is a constant replacing of words... the people talk of hunting gazebo, shooting with their omnibuses, riding on a horse-drawn tumulus, and suchlike.

The story is a heroic fairy tale, and the Prince and his companions are quite aware of this and often decide what to do based on whether it would fit into the narrative or not. These moments are not too often, and are not overdone.

07 August 2007

More Agon: Isle of Gold 3

We worked through another quest and a half. Still a lot of fun, and our increasing knowledge of how the rules work made this game a bit more tactically satisfying (I even managed to defeat one of the heroes, using a 'everyone gang up on this one guy' strategy).

06 August 2007

The Life of the World to Come by Kage Baker

Another Company novel, this one is the most traditionally novel-like of the ones I've read so far (as most are made of connected short stories, rather than a single plot). It clears up a bunch of the questions about the world that she's set up in previous books. I was, however, disappointed that it seemed to be missing the final chapter (in that something big and exciting is just about to happen when the book ends). I suspect that this might be because the final chapter bloomed into a whole book or something? In any case, literally anticlimactic.

She also throws in some odd laser-sharking near the end. Things are pretty weird to start with, but then a whole other weird event occurs which pretty much made me go "wtf?" I can see why she might have put it in thematically (in order to show certain aspects of the story), but I think things would have been better without it. Of course, Baker has had psychic stuff here and there throughout the series, so I guess more weird bits like this are to be expected. I'm still a strong believer in the rule "No magic in science fiction stories!" If people want psychic powers and so on, they should either explain them in a plausible manner or write a fantasy story instead. And just giving the psychic powers a pseudoscientific name doesn't count as explaining it.

All that ranting aside, it's a good book. Exciting, and a lot of exploration of her fun ultra-safe, ultra-puritanical future.

04 August 2007

ConFusion Report

Well, report on 2/3 of it anyhow. I didn't feel up to a third session, and skipped out after playing one game and running another.

First was Machine Tractor Station [some Russian word]-37, a Call of Cthulhu scenario. This was great fun, mainly because the characters and mystery are so well constructed. We ran over time and had to have the part at the end where we all died happen fairly abstractly. Still, good stuff. Anyone going to Fright Night will have a chance to play it, which I recommend.

Then I ran my FATE 3/Traveller scenario again. This went well with lots of use of Aspects for increased fun, plus the changes I had made increased the danger of combat to about the level that Traveller demands. The caper played out somewhat differently to the first run through, although key betrayals and revelations all came up.

02 August 2007

New Doctor Who, series one.

After only two years, finally got around to watching this. It's good stuff - jokey stories with a dark edge to them, and some good acting from the leads. The actual stories vary a lot in tone, some being purely for laughs and others being genuinely creepy.

It's reminiscent of the Doctor Who I recall watching as a kid and teenager, but not exactly the same. For one thing, this one has some decent special effects. The stories seem to hold together a little more than I remember the Tom Baker/Peter Davison ones doing, although they still generally rely on the Doctor saving everyone via an unlikely trick at the end.

I guess it's the characters (and thus actors) who make it enjoyable... they certainly do seem to be having fun making the show. Now for season two!

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

This new Thursday Next novel is fun, and filled with as many puns and literature in-jokes as you should expect. The story isn't quite as compelling as the previous ones, and suffers a little from too much focus on the details of Next's world.

01 August 2007

The Story Games Names Project

This was put together by a bunch of people on the Story Games forum. It's a huge collection of lists of twenty names (and some other random stuff) to use in your gaming. I can't speak for actual play yet, but it looks like it will be a fantastic resource to spur ideas and fill in names in play.

It's divided into particular cultures/settings, so you should be able to keep it open on a relevant page and roll names as required. It's 278 pages, with 2-4 name lists per page. There's a good selection of modern cultures and historical real names. There's also a section for fantasy setting names, and humorous ones too.

Some highlights to illustrate the range:
  • Ridiculous Hobos
  • Space Cowboys
  • Forensic Techniques
  • Catalan
  • Inuit
  • Roman (with two pages of instructions on how they named each other).
It can be bought, at cost price, from lulu.com: Names. For any GM who struggles to think up good names as much as I do, it's a must-buy.

29 July 2007

How To Cook Your Life

A documentary about a (presumably well known) Zen chef from California. It turned out to mainly be about him and his take on Buddhism, relating mostly to food. But not much about actually cooking things, in the sense of recipes.

He was a humane guy and had a good take on Buddhism. I'm basically sympathetic to Buddhism as long as you leave out the supernatural/superstitious bits, and that is how it was presented in this documentary.

Thought-provoking, and left me with a firm desire to just care a little more about cooking (and, by extension, doing all the everyday things).

The Children of the Company by Kage Baker

Another interesting Company novel.

This one raises some issues of causality that really made the series stand out. The rules of the world are set up for this, which is that time travel is possible but only backwards. So the Company's operatives know the history of the world up to 2350 or so, when they were sent back. The Company, to preserve causality, has set in stone the rule that nothing can be done that contradicts the historical record. In this novel, we see the operatives begin making things happen (often terrible things, e.g. engineered viruses) just to fit the observed facts. This provokes some thought about historical determinism (or not) which I found pretty good.

28 July 2007


Another documentary, this one about the Helvetica typeface and it's role in design and society. Comprised mainly of interviews with designers (especially type designers), interspersed with constant shots of things set in Helvetica.

The opinions on why it is ubiquitous and the good and bad points of the font were really interesting. The basic idea seems to be that it was seen in the sixties as the quintessential modern(ist) typeface, and it's rejection in more recent times being due to a rejection of many of the modernist ideas of those times (and a preference for messier, more emotionally charged styles).

All the people they interviewed were really fascinating too. All smart, with good reasons for their like, dislike, or indifference to Helvetica. And a lot of interesting speculation about why and how it became such a success.

All In This Tea

A Les Blank (and collaborators) documentary about tea, telling its story by following around a Californian boutique tea importer (mainly as he searches the Chinese hinterlands for the best teas).

The history and facts about tea were interesting, although that wasn't really a focus of the documentary.

The guy they were following was an absolutely fascinating character, and the film ended up being about him as much as tea.

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

The second novel in Stross' Lovecraft/spy/computer hacking series. Where The Atrocity Archives was his take on Len Deighton, this one goes after Ian Fleming and James Bond.

It's a better novel than the first one, too. Really funny and fairly exciting stuff. It also has a high amount of geek-stuff, references to this or that bit of pop culture, Lovecraftian lore, and so forth.

It comes with an extra short story at the end (about the dangers of online gaming and also HR departments) and a fun little essay about Fleming and Bond.

23 July 2007

Down and Out in the Far Future (preview/playtest run)

I played a test run of my FATE 3.0 old school Traveller adventure tonight. I went perfectly. The system ran very smoothly, although I had set the lethality very low (this will be adjusted for the ConFusion version next week).

The lack of stunts made the characters easier to get a handle on for the players, and we went crazy with compels for some awesome moments in play (including an intra-party gunfight at a very bad moment). In fact, the bulk of the game was spent in combat, but it never got to be boring. The use of compels and aspects kept things fresh all the time - one fight had three separate compels cause three characters to flee, leaving their comrade to the six bad guys left in there.

I was pleased to find that I had written more scene ideas than I required, and that all the enemies from characters' pasts could be fit into the time given.

Overall, my respect for the FATE 3.0 system (and, of course, its authors) has been increased... it really works very well indeed, especially for people too busy (or lazy) to do exhaustive preparation (which definitely includes me).

22 July 2007

Black Projects, White Knights by Kage Baker

Another volume of Baker's stories about the immortal agents of The Company. Some very good ones in here.

21 July 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

This modern, brutal fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro is really good. The magical parts are have captured something normally missing from fantasy films - a sense of meaning that you can't fathom, a reluctance to just use the same old tropes. The story mixes real-world and fantasy elements - the protagonist is a girl with a cruel (fascist officer) stepfather, who is given tasks to do that will reunite her with her true father, the king of the underworld. She carries these out against the background of a fascist camp hunting down a troop of rebels in a forest.

The special effects are good, too. There are some wonderful transformation effects, and the fairies are pretty cool (although they in particular have that 'obvious cg' look).

Great film, although not for the faint-hearted... there are some nasty scenes when the fascists are hunting down rebels, and the rebels are much the same in return.

18 July 2007

A Watery Grave by Joan Druett

A good naval-themed mystery novel. The protagonist is Wiki Coffin, a half-Maori, half-American taking part in the big 1838 US Navy scientific expedition. This first novel has him investigating a murder that happens just as the ships set off, and some events that occur on the ships in the aftermath of that crime.

The book starts a little slow, with a bunch of exposition about where Wiki came from and so forth, but once the story gets going it's compelling.

15 July 2007

Life On Mars (series one)

Just watched this over the weekend. Good show.

It's about a Manchester cop who gets hit by a car, and wakes up to find himself in 1973. He has a detective's job there too (apparently he just transferred there). Basically we have a cop show about the guy who doesn't fit in, as he tries to cope with the sexist, violent, corrupt cops he has to work with there. There's also the question of what is going on, told via moments when he seems to hear things going on around him (if he's in a coma or something).

There's great acting all round, good scripts, and generally a good cop-show feel. The cases aren't always very convincing - they seem tailored to be more about our hero's issues than anything else.

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian

This continues directly on from Desolation Island, and covers further misfortunes on that mission - a ship fire, capture by enemies and a time in Boston as prisoners of war for Aubrey and Maturin. Although the story overall feels like a epilogue to the previous novel, there are some very strong individual scenes in there.

14 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)

This was one of the better films in the series so far, and notably more focused than I remember the book being. The actors are very good all round, and the magic was significantly more magical than the other films.

12 July 2007

10 July 2007

Attn: Wellington Gamers - Fright Night Horror Convention

If you will be in Wellington in late October, Dale Elvy is running a small, one evening horror convention the Saturday before Halloween. Link.

I'll be running a game of The Infected there, and the others all look good. All round great GMs running these games, so if you are at all into horror gaming, you should go.

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian

Another good re-read. I had regarded this as one of the weaker novels in the series, but appreciated it more this time around. Perhaps the focus on Aubrey dealing with other captains and Maturin's activities as a provocateur are more interesting after knowing their characters better?

The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker

A good comic fantasy novel. Fairly subtle in general, but some extremely funny elements. My favorite is probably that the traditional fantasy dark evil lord has married the avatar of goodness, and she has been steadily influencing him to be a better person. This comes into the novel when some of their children get involved in the main story. Their family has some issues.

04 July 2007

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian

Still very good indeed.


This film delivered exactly what I hoped and expected: lots of really cool scenes of giant robots fighting (sometimes each other, sometimes people). The effects were fantastic and the fights awesome.

The plot and human bits of the story mostly served as a pacing mechanism, and could be largely ignored (except for another attempt at the dumbest movie treatment of hacking and computer security). A lot of the jokes were unexpectedly good too.

01 July 2007

Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

A collection of stories from Baker's "Company" series. I haven't read any of these books before but the basic gist seems to be that the Company has a kind of time travel that allows them to send agents into the past, but not much else. The stories concern agents engineered to be immortal super guys, who are expected to help arrange things so that the Company can make profits in the future.

This is an interesting idea, but the characterization of the agents is what brings the stories to life. The stories feel like they're exploring aspects of favorite characters. Good stuff.

30 June 2007

White Night by Jim Butcher

The latest Dresden Files book may be the best yet. The action starts pretty much right away and keeps going. A few new bits of Dresden's world are introduced, and several loose ends from previous novels return (mainly to get further loosened, although a few are resolved instead).

It's also got me more excited for the upcoming Dresden Files game, as this novel suggests a few things about the wider world. This isn't so much that this is explicitly mentioned, more that there is some stuff implied that sparked game-style ideas.

25 June 2007

The Sun Over Breda by Arturo Perez-Reverte

This is the third of the Adventures of Captain Alatriste.

This novel concerns Alatriste and Inigo's experiences in the war in Flanders in 1625. It doesn't really have the swashbuckling style of the first two, instead focusing on the brutality of that era's warfare and how this effects Inigo. His own experiences, and Alatriste's example, are clearly forming the man he is to be. The novel feels like it's an interlude in the overall story of Alatriste, which will continue when they return to Spain.

The action is exciting, and works despite the lack of a villain to blame it all on (although the evil Italian assassin gets mentioned in a letter from Madrid). It's interesting to read a purely military adventure novel, without the romanticized escapades that I'm used to in Cornwell's Sharpe books, for example.

More Agon: Isle of Gold 2

We played another game of Agon. With a better handle on the rules (in fact, we have pretty much got them sorted now), it was a lot quicker paced. A few little things contributed to this, like a realization that divine favor is really useful and easy to recover. Use of armor this session made a big difference too!

Perhaps too quick - I skipped quickly through roleplaying in a lot of scenes, where maybe we should have played them out a bit longer before going to dice/battle.

On the other hand, the battles were fantastic. They fought ten scorpion minions and then the Obsidian Scorpion in a fairly epic end to the first quest. One of the heroes took a 5 wound in one of these fights, which was a nice warning to the players - everyone was a little more wary after that.

Then they finished that up, sacrificed the scorpion head to Hera as promised, and got the other two quests for this island. They have to keep the Diamond Spear until one of the bandit kings becomes king of all the bandits, and track down a statue stolen from Hera's shrine in the farming village.

The heroes set off to find some bandits and soon did so. The bandits (a number of minions) demanded the Spear and resisted an attempt at reasoning. They were then slaughtered, except for a final three who surrendered.

That took us to the end of the evening's play, so we'll finish those two up next time.

Again, everyone had a good time. Playing a more tactical game seems to be a good change for us.
I think we'll need to focus some more on ujst playing things out next time, though.

23 June 2007

The Dragon Scroll by I J Parker

This is another volume in the Sugawara Akitada detective stories. This is set early in his career - prior to all the episodes I have read so far. He has been sent to a remote province to check the accounts of the outgoing governor. This job is complicated by the fact that the last three annual tax caravans to the capital have all gone missing.

Needless to say, Akitada makes an effort to work out what happened to them, as well as solving some other murders that occur while he's in town.

This story also tells of his initial meeting with his retainer Tora, which is a good story in itself.

The characters are good, and the mystery is interesting. There's also plenty of action at the end, as is usual in this series.

22 June 2007

Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brian

This was a pleasure to re-read. Even in this, first of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, the characterization and dialog are fantastic.

O'Brian really nailed the exact balance of a naval adventure novel, too. The action is still there, and exciting, but the novels are always about how the people deal with it. The focus on his characters' reactions, personalities and relationships usually ends up being more tense than the threats to life and limb.

17 June 2007


Watched this documentary about Akira Kurosawa's life and films. Not the greatest documentary, but extremely interesting nevertheless. I didn't know anything beyond his films, really.

The perspective of his whole life was interesting, I hadn't realised either how full his life was or quite how central he was to Japanese cinema. It also illustrated the development of his ideas through the films.

Well worth seeing if you are a fan.

Dogs in the Vineyard Play Report

I just played a first game of Dogs with my wife. It worked well, even though I (and her too I think) were a little unsure how well it would go.

She made up a fierce, repressed Dog who had an unhealthy obsession with sinful sex.

Her first job was the town of Canaan, where her cousin happened to have got into some trouble over being courted by an unbeliever. The situation was pretty messy, but she managed to find a solution to the situation that suited everyone (the man converted, the cousin agreed to obey her parents in future, they are to be married). This was despite the fact that her character, Sister Hester, had been prepared to shoot her cousin in cold blood for fornication when she first heard what was going on. And she managed to get this done the day before the man and his friends were going to 'rescue' the woman from her family, which would have been sure to end badly.

Reflecting on the situation was interesting too. Sister Hester is already beginning to soften already, taking an increase in Heart (i.e. compassion, sociability) from the minimum of 2 and improving her (crappy) coat with a gift from her cousins.

Everfree by Nick Sagan

I really enjoyed the first two of Sagan's books in this series (Idlewild and Edenborn) but the conclusion is even better.

The series is about (spoilers for Idlewild follow) a world in which a terrible plague killed all humans. The first book begins as the protagonists find this out - they're a group of engineered posthumans who were created to find a cure to the disease and cure those 'survivors' who got into cryonic suspension before they died.

This book has the posthumans beginning to waken and cure these people, and deals with the problems of getting society working again with only a few thousand people (almost all from the extremely rich or politically powerful classes).

It's a fairly cynical book, but there are victories as well as defeats. Sagan also does a good job of exploring his posthumans' reactions to the situations. He also differs from almost every other similar story I have read in not pushing any overt political message here. It seems to be more of a pessimistic humanism pervading the story - definitely a particular philosophy, but not a suggestion that one political arrangement will sort everything out (especially as it seems like the suggested system is usually some kind of libertarian arrangement).

It also seems like it would read well as a stand-alone novel - I certainly had forgotten most of the details of the first two books, and that didn't really matter. The previous novels inform the motivations and relationships between the posthumans, but as this story is about their relationships with the survivors, that's not really so important.

Overall, great novel.

15 June 2007

Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Technically this is science fiction. Really it's just a great adventure novel that happens to be set in the future. It even includes some naval stuff, as it's set in a giant life-supporting bubble. So the various countries have navies of ships/aircraft that fly through the zer0-gravity air.

Good stuff, I look forward to the rest of the series.

Openland by Michael Liddy

Another book I abandoned. It was actually kind of promising, until the author hit me with something totally unbelievable.

In this case, about half way through, he has his protagonists discover that humans are not native to Earth but are extraterrestrials who have only been here about 40,000 years. With no other explanation at all. And the characters, an archaeologist and a geologist, just accept this with a "Oh so that is it." He even mentions that this makes us totally unrelated to all other life on Earth, but makes no attempt to justify it at all.

I mean, really. You might as well claim that everyone is made of plastic and nobody happened to notice. It's not even that you couldn't tell a story in which humans didn't evolve on Earth - but you need to at least address the fact!

11 June 2007

Agon Play: The Isle of Gold

We played a game of Agon today, and it went very well. I'd spent my lunchtime hunting down some miniatures, which added significantly to the feel (good work cheap plastic Greek spearmen).

Character generation went fairly fast and gave a solid, brief idea of each character. There's not much to differentiate the starting heroes, but what there is seems important. The achievements section at the end really helped here, as well as giving a quick intro to the conflict system.

Then I dropped them on the beaches of the Isle of Gold, and Hera informed them that they needed to go slay the Obsidian Scorpion for her. I had a couple of other quests sketched, but figured one would be enough for our first session. This one had three objectives - find out where it lairs and travel there being the first two, and the ones that we managed to play through this session.

In any case, our heroes initially split up, one looking for scorpion trails and the others off to talk to local farmers. The hunter turned up some tracks heading towards the mountainous interior of the island. The others found out that the local king had died and a funeral was being arranged. They convinced the town bard to tell them where the scorpion lairs in return for a promise of it's head as a funeral sacrifice for Hera.

The next morning they headed off to cross the mountains to the other side of the island to find the Scorpion. They met a couple of bandits who tried to charge them a toll. We played this as our first combat - they were pretty crappy minions of one of the island's bandit kings, and were rapidly dispatched. Dorothea the Amazon made a point of paying their toll afterwards - putting four copper coins over their dead eyes.

We had an interlude next, mainly so people could see how it worked. Some impairment was removed, and sacrifices were made.

Then we had a challenge to cross the bandit territory - I made this a basic obstacle challenge with a chance of harm. The bandits did some damage to our heroes on the way.

Then they reached the mountains, where a nasty ghost lived. She attempted to ambush them but was defeated - the heroes ambushed her instead. This fight was a lot tougher, and a lot of fun. Two of the heroes took some nasty damage before she was slain with a round of good results and a bunch of divine favour spent to imbue a spear with power to destroy her.

We were getting close to our session end time, so we had a final interlude and finished up. This interlude stood out for the first real use of oaths - one hero compelled another to heal him, and then the victim compelled him right back to be healed.

The combat was a really good level of tactics. There is plenty to do - much we didn't bother with due to it being the first game (like armour, which was totally forgotten for both penalties and resisting damage... so, retroactively, you were all in just chitons and sandals, guys). Everyone got quite into the positioning part of combat (I'm really looking forward to the next fight with loads of scorpions, for more of that action).

As a GM, it's fun to stat out and play the bad guys exactly as the heroes get run.

Lastly, at the end we totaled up legend and deeds for the session and immediately I saw that the competition between players will work well.

Good stuff - Agon absolutely delivered on the promises in the text. We're looking forward to the next one, and once they kill or are defeated by the Scorpion, I'll be interested to see how they deal with the more complex quests that follow it up.

10 June 2007

The Blood Knight by Greg Keyes

Bad. I didn't finish it - maybe I would have pushed ahead if we weren't visiting the library today, but I'd rather return it than keep at it.

To all fantasy authors: adding more descriptive text does not make your novel better.

09 June 2007

Three Days To Never by Tim Powers

A new Powers novel is always a treat. This one is a little unusual, in that it seems a little less punchy than usual. That's not to say it's bad - in fact, this style may be better than usual. Partly this is due to being told from the point of view of fewer characters (and none who are evil, as in some of his novels). In fact, even the bad guys aren't as horrible as some of his other villains.

The plot itself involves psychic powers and a time machine, and various plots and conspiracies to get hold of the machine. The main characters are the people who are inadvertently in possession of the device as the story begins. I'm generally pretty skeptical of time travel as a story element (especially now, after watching Heroes) but this is an interesting take on it.

The story also feels compatible with the world of Last Call, Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather. There aren't any actual crossovers (at least, none I noticed) but I wouldn't be surprised to see some in the future.

04 June 2007

Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story

Watched this video the other night. This is one of the funniest films I've seen for a while. It's hard to know exactly what made it work - the humour is in several areas that I regarded as basically played out (e.g. jokes about making the movie itself).

Between the actual story of Tristram Shandy and the freshness and fun of the cast, it really worked.

I guess I need to go and read the novel now, to see how it fits in. I suspect that it has almost no relation to the film, except maybe in an absurdist attitude to itself and everything else in the world.

The Diamond Warriors by David Zindell

This fourth volume concludes the story of Valashu Elahad. The final battles that he must fight are not so harrowing as some he has been through, although some grim events still occur. When Morjin is finally defeated, the ending is moving and thrilling - partially just because of all that the heroes have suffered through in order to get there.

A fantastic end to the series, I am strongly motivated to immediately read them all again. Zindell is, in my opinion, one of our top science fiction/fantasy authors. He's also strangely obscure - I've met few who have read his books, and it's hard to find them amongst the hundreds of inferior novels that abound.

I've also thought that in some ways the Neverness stories are an updating of Dune. In the same way, the Ea books can be seen as a modernized Lord of the Rings (or Arthur cycle). In both cases, the themes in Zindell's books are different to Herbert or Tolkien's, but the concern with things that actually matter is there.

I also love that Zindell is an almost terrifyingly humane writer, and his characters all have a great love of life, and peace, that I respect. He does, in the course of his stories, pressure them to breaking point but this just makes their victories that much more poignant. The finale of The Diamond Warrior is one of his most glorious of these, a much more positive end than poor Danlo the Wild had at the conclusion of War In Heaven (the final of the Neverness books).

31 May 2007

Conan: The God in the Bowl by Kurt Busiek & Cary Nord

This is the second of Busiek's adaptations of Conan as a graphic novel. It didn't have the pacing of the first volume, but the second half was a damn good story. The first half sets it up, but isn't so punchy.

B. P. R. D. - The Universal Machine by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davs

Probably my favorite of the BPRD books so far, this one is light on the occult action and heavy on studying what makes the characters tick.

Dictionary of Mu by Judd Karlman

This is a supplement for Ron Edwards' Sorceror.

It's a blood-soaked, post-apocalyptic fantasy setting in which the demons can be anything that has died or been forgotten. The bulk of the supplement is a dictionary of words that are important in the world, with a short rules section at the end. The rules cover what humanity is in the setting, some special rules for certain situations (e.g. falling in love, vendettas) which seem like they would add a little extra structure to the character interactions in the game, a bit more zing too.

Another element that I like is that if a player spends experience points or summons a demon, they must write up a new definition about it and add this to the dictionary. The supplement is really just a framework to build your game from.

The book is really evocative, with strange fonts, scrawled marginalia and strange doodles on the edges of the pages.

One of the problems I have with Sorceror is that it leaves pretty much all the setting creation to you. These days, I don't really have the time to prepare a setting from scratch, so I've only played it once, for a short run game. After reading Dictionary of Mu I am once again inspired - this seems to give me enough to build off, without being very restrictive.