26 February 2008

Red Box Hack - Troll Trouble

We played a fun game of Red Box Hack. Unlike the other two games I have run, this one had a lot more general roleplaying and hijinks and was less a straight run of monster fights.

The story was that the town of Jade Lake was having more problems than usual with the nearby troll tribes, due to the trolls having a new king. Our 'heroes' all came to town in order to collect the reward and then got themselves thrown in 'the hole' for starting a bar brawl. We started play at this point.

The characters were a Longrunner (returning character from my first game, so level 2 - Birdfeet & Chalk door), a Bear (Heart song) and a Magus (Illusions).

So they first escaped from 'the hole' via a chalk door (into the town sewer). They made their way to a hole, and the longrunner ran up the walls and then acquired a rope to get the others out (with a town watch close encounter on the way). Then they all went and had some drinks and a bath. In the morning, they were preparing to go see the Count about the adventure when a town crier wandered by, announcing (amongst other news) the dangerous escaped convicts. They quickly 'silenced' the poor guy. Then they went to see the Count. After some waiting while he adjudicated a problem to do with a goat, they were told the details and shown the Medal of Glory that the Count was going to give to the people who brought him the troll king head.

They headed out of town for troll central, coming upon a caravan that had been largely destroyed by a huge group of trolls. They bravely attacked but were all defeated. They did some pretty awesome narration of their show off moves, though. The group kind of turned into a air guitar metal crew, so show offs included a lot of air guitar riffing, and similar.

They awoke in another cell, in the troll fortress. The bear healed them (heart song - Queen's 'It's a Kind of Magic'), then they exited via a chalk door. The two troll guards were rapidly slain, and they attempted to rescue other prisoners - until they found one that was some kind of hideous monster. That one got left in the cell. They also acquired a girl who was looking for her parents and also let slip that the caravan was transporting the legendary Golden Statue of the Monkey King.

They began making their way towards what they thought would be the troll king's chambers. They fought some other trolls on the way, which knocked the bear and magus out (they hadn't taken the time to fully heal after the heart song). The longrunner managed to elude pursuit and wake them up, and after another heart song and some troll liquor they were good as new.

Then they made a chalk door on the ceiling where they guessed the troll king's bed was - successfully!

The troll king's bed and his two consorts were angry, and the fight was quick and brutal. Due to a round of epic show off moves, they absolutely nailed the troll king before he got a chance to hit them (he had 5 awesome tokens at this point too).

Then they located the girl's parents and the statue. Both were surrounded by trolls. They realised that they had an ace in the hole, and the magus illusion disguised himself as the troll king. He ordered all the trolls to go attack someone to the north of the fortress, also successfully.

The team grabbed the statue and family and headed back to town. They simply ignored the entreaty to take the statue to the temple it was going to, grabbed the medal of glory from the Count and there was levelling up and rejoicing all round! Huzzah!

Great fun, but a couple of issues that made play a little less fun:
  • It's still very easy for anyone to just get nailed in a fight before they had much chance to do anything.
  • I'm not convinced that we need two different types of roll - I'd prefer if they were all d12 or all 2d10.

23 February 2008

Centurion by Simon Scarrow

This new episode in the Cato/Macro series is the best so far. The two are in charge of auxiliaries in Syria, under the command of the Longinus (who hates them). They get involved in the affairs of Palmyra, a kingdom between Roman Syria and Parthia. There's a lot of action, and some good twists and turns as things escalate.

I also liked that Cato and Macro are back (almost) to their natural place. The last book (or two, maybe) in which they are required to act as spies primarily felt a bit less punchy.

21 February 2008

The War of Knives by Broos Campbell

The second Matty Graves novel - about a young officer in the US Navy in Napoleonic times - this one has Graves entangled in the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti). The story is exciting, bloody and generally a little more rough around the edges compared to stories about the Royal Navy. That seems fitting given my knowledge of the US Navy of the times. There's plenty of intrigue in amongst it too, with spies and conspiracies involved in the action.

18 February 2008

Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher

In this book, I think Butcher has really hit his stride in this series. The characters are developing well, and there's more focus to it. Also, it's a good story, and I like the way that Tavi is going.

17 February 2008

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

This is the third book about Perry (after Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades). It finishes off his story in great style - I think it's the best novel of the three. There's little of the humour of the first novel left, as Perry is given governorship of a new colony world and finds himself in a huge pile of trouble (hostile wildlife, human politics, interstellar war, etc).

The only thing that really troubled me is that a major subplot on the colony world is dropped as soon as the bigger picture issues come into play. I realise that the characters might be preoccupied, but there's a point where several months are skipped and I was expecting that how things played out would at least be mentioned. Oh well, a minor point really.

Read this. After you read the first two.

The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith

A short, strange novel. The story is halfway between Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman, with a kid dealing with various family issues and some mysterious (and later fantastic) things going on in the house he moved to. Interesting.

14 February 2008

The Sky People by S M Stirling

A strange beast, this is planetary romance style adventure (e.g. Burroughs' Mars stories) with a hard science background. So we have some heroic people adventuring across a Venus that is filled with jungles, dinosaurs and primitive human tribes, but a plausible alternate history behind it all.

Good stuff. A solid adventure story, lots of neat bits in it along the way.

12 February 2008

Nine Worlds: Slaves of Saturn

We played a one-shot Nine Worlds game last night. It was fun, but didn't quite meet my expectations. The main reasons for this were that the characters muses were not quite as good as they could have been, and that we got bogged down in the conflict rules. The muses lacked a bit due to me rushing through character generation a bit (to get through an adventure by the end of the evening) combined with the fact that they're a new idea for the players - everyone had got the idea by the end of the game, but not so much at first.

The conflicts were a problem mainly because I hadn't reminded myself how they worked (Nine Worlds was a last minute pick when one player couldn't make it). This meant that a lot of the subtleties were forgotten the first time through, or not explained well, and so on. We also went into follow-up conflicts too many times... this was just because we hadn't set stakes well, and because of a desire to (e.g.) take advantage of temporary point gains.

In any case, we still had a pretty good time, with the players starting as heroic pirates off to rescue some enslaved relatives from Saturn. Their nemesis, another pirate, tried to trap them at first and this led to a big fight between the two aetherships. Due to some bad luck, their foe got an early advantage and pushed it as far as he could, ultimately killing the PC ship captain while the other two scuttled their ship and escaped in the other. They made their way to Saturn and begun looking for the slaves.

While they did that, the player who had lost his character quickly made up a new one - a slave, hoping to escape, who was also designed to stretch (or break) the mechanics (with 6 or 7 in Metamorphosis and other similarly extreme stats).

We then played out the slave rebellion combined with rescue attempt, which succeeded and had the two pirates team up with the ex-slave (and one reunited with his sister). They went to find the other chap they were going to rescue, but by now we were running low on time.

To finish up, I had a chimera track them down, for one final conflict (with the assumption that if they won they would free the other guy and escape Saturn). This fight was more fun, as we had the mechanics down better by this point, and went back and forward a few times before they finally took the chimera down.

Conclusions: I'm a little more cautious about running this now (not less keen, but I'll be better prepared next time). Also, not well suited to a one-shot - looking back at the one I played in a few months ago, I suddenly respect Steve's ability to keep it exciting and on track even more (I can even pick a few techniques of his that I'm regretting not using last night). Running a longer game, with no rushing over character and group generation, to get muses right is pretty much required. Plus, the fact that you would get much better at the conflict mechanics (it feels to me like 2-3 sessions of play would be enough that it would be fully taken on board).

The River Horses by Allen Steele

This is a short novel in the Coyote sequence. It falls in between two of the novels, and feels like one of the episodes that make the main novels up. The story suffers a little because of this - there isn't the same context as the novels, which means that I couldn't really remember anything about some of the characters (and there isn't much time spent in that sort of backstory). Still, it's a good story.

Gold Unicorn by Tanith Lee

This follows on from Black Unicorn, and continues in generally the same vein. It's a little darker, however, and not quite as fresh as the first book.

10 February 2008

Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee

I read this due to the things Vincent Baker said about Lee inspiring much of In A Wicked Age. This isn't one of the specific ones he mentioned, but it was what the library had.

It's fun. Light, funny fantasy about the daughter of a sorceress who inadvertently resurrects a unicorn in her room and the events that follow. It's reminiscent of Jack Vance (especially the Lyonesse books), but without the bizarre vocabulary and with generally more gentle events.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Like The Subtle Knife, I found this better the second time through. Still the weakest of the three, but a necessary ending to the story.

09 February 2008

The Good Shepherd


This is a fictionalised version of the early days of the CIA, from the point of view of Matt Damon's counter-intelligence expert. I'm not an expert on the history, but the impression I got was that the main characters were all loosely based on real people and likewise with the events in the film.

It's pretty slow, and Damon plays his guy so cold that it takes a while to find people in the film to empathize with. As everything starts to slot together, it becomes more compelling.

I'm not sure yet what message to take away from it, which at least suggests it's somewhat deeper than most films. Well worth a look.

07 February 2008

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

I enjoyed this more the second time. I think that the knowledge of where Will and Lyra's stories are going helped (the first time, the story felt like it was going off the tracks implied by The Golden Compass).

05 February 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I decided to re-read this instead of seeing the film (which by most accounts is terrible). The book remains good, and coming out of it I can't really see how film-makers could have screwed it up. So much of it seems amenable to filming, with a moderately good writer.

01 February 2008

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton

This is a really good read. It's an analysis of what makes houses and buildings good. I came to it via the TV series he made based on it (The Perfect Home), which is also good but has less to it.

In any case, this book gives you a lot to think about and has some really interesting stuff about the history of architecture. It also made me rather dissatisfied with my own house, but at the moment there is no way I can do anything about that.