Saturday, December 13, 2014

Deadlands: A Rain Will Come

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

last time

That night, nothing much happened. We all got some sleep and when it got light, Alan, Kenneth and me left to follow the tracks Alan had found. They led straight to the scientist's barn. No-one seemed to be around, so Kenneth climb through the window into the man's bedroom and opened the door to the main room. He ducked just in time to avoid having his head shot off his shoulders and he was kept down by something we took for a Gatling. Alan and me went around to the front of the barn, pulled open the door and looked down the barrel of another huge gun. Alan managed to hit the machine that fired the Gatling, so Kenneth could get out and we turned to run because the whole machinery inside looked like it was going to blow up any minute.

Which is exactly what it did, flattening the whole barn. And whatever that guy was working on, the stuff that had killed the miners, it was spreading in a cloud that drifted towards the village. We had just about enough time to warn everyone and to get our stuff. We took as many people as we could, I loaded a couple of kids on Sal with me and we got out of the village to high ground. The cloud was eating away everything in its path, leaving black and shrivelled grass and trees behind. The people who couldn't run fast enough took cover in the church and Sister Elisabeth stayed with them. The woman has guts, I give her that. Not a whole lotta brains, but guts. And a lot of trust in her god.

We watched from the top of a hill as the cloud spread over the village. I was pretty sure that we'd seen the last of the people in the church, but just in time, there was a rainstorm. And a mighty strange one, I've never seen one brew up so fast. And only over the village. I didn't know Sister Elisabeth could pray down rain, but I guess in such a situation you learn fast. It washed away the cloud of gas, leaving the village almost destroyed, the houses eaten away by the acid, trees crippled like they had tried to run away. A few people had been caught outside, there were only heaps of black ashes now.

The ground there won't be fertile for a long while now and the people knew it. They packed up their things and set out to find a new home. We didn't stay around either and continued westwards.

next time

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bothy Band



I'm a sucker for a cembalo in any case, but together with Irish folk it's perfect. And I wish the Bothy Band had made more than just three albums.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Memoir 44

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I am not a fan of strategy games and war games because I simply don't have the patience for it. So I was more than a bit sceptical when Mr Bookscorpion suggested we play Memoir 44. It's a war game about the Normandy Campaign and Ardennes offensive/Battle of the Bulge, with one player taking over the Allied forces and the other one the Germans.


The gameplay is surprisingly simple in itself and doesn't take much time to learn. You need some luck with your dice and with your action cards, but without strategic play, all of your luck won't help you. For me, that's just the right mix and I'm having a lot of fun playing this. One session is quickly played, in under one hour, although later missions are more complex and may take longer.

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The minis are pretty cool and I have a serious urge to take up mini painting every time we play. So if you are looking for a lightweight strategy game to play with people who usually don't like such games, this is a great choice. There are a ton of extensions you can buy as well. It's a Days of Wonder game and for me, this is becoming a recommendation in itself, they make great games, so far I've liked every one of them I've played.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shadowrun: Rat's Nest Campaign of the Month

op

The Shadowrun Rat's Nest campaign is Campaign of the Month over at Obsidian Portal! I am so freaking proud of this. We put such a lot of work into that campaign, both into preparing the actual sessions and into the wiki, the adventure logs and the NPCs. I don't even want to think about how many hours I have spent writing all those wiki articles, looking for good NPC photos and keeping everything well linked and tagged. We even got to talk about it in an interview.

If you're unfamiliar with it, Obsidian Portal is a website geared towards gamemasters and their groups, no matter the system. It offers you an easy way to keep track of your characters, host maps and character sheets online, you can create your own wiki and write adventure logs. And if you're looking for inspiration, check out the mass of campaigns hosted there, with lovingly created sites and a lot of great content. The community there is very friendly and helpful.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Deadlands: Prison Break

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

last time

I spent the day in prison with Elisabeth, playing cards and I even got her to read to me from a book other than the Bible. Alan spelled me in the evening and I got a couple of hours of sleep before we were out on the streets again, waiting for the murderer. This time with Doctor Gray as the intended victim.

It was quiet for much of the night, but then we heard shots from the prison and I was close enough to hear Elisabeth scream. Didn't take the time to knock on the door, just kicked it down and landed hard against the bars of the empty cell. The sheriff was in the other cell and doing his best to murder Elisabeth. Alan shot at him and he walked right through the bars as if they weren't even there. I saw that bullets didn't do nothing to hurt the sheriff and clobbered him with my gun. Didn't hurt him either but he seemed to have enough and just walked out through the locked door into his office. Through me. If no-one ever does that to me again, it will be too soon.

I shot open the door to Elisabeth's cell and got the doctor to help her, she was bleeding badly. I've seen people die from less, but the doctor saved her, unless the wounds get infected. The sheriff's gone, although Alan thinks he might have found tracks. But there's no sense in walking all over those in the middle of the night, so we'll all got some more sleep, to see what we can see in the morning.

next time

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Castle Blackbird: A Forest

I completely forgot to write about this, but we finished our Castle Blackbird game a while ago with a third session. The characters decided to flee through the forest and find shelter at a small village. The village was deserted and when they opened the door to the inn, they were greeted by the sight of the Baron's soldiers. Quick reflexes saved them from getting shot, but not form the confrontation with the Baron. Not a man to be trifled with, he used all his powers to capture Konstanze again and those powers included dark magic. It took the combined effort of the group to kill him - and when he died, his troops vanished with him.

The group decided to go back to Amselburg. But when they turned back, the city was gone and there was no trace of it, like it had never been there.

I quite liked the ending of the whole story. After everyone thought that they had saved the day with killing the baron, that came as a bit of a shock. It also leaves a good hook if we ever want to play in the setting again.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Deadlands: Suspicions

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

last time

We waited in our hiding places, with Elisabeth walking up and down the street. Nothing much happened until we heared screams from somewhere behind the houses. We found a woman yelling her head off and a man with his throat cut. He died, there was nothing the doc could do. Elisabeth tried to save him, but only closed the wound. Of course no-one had seen anything. Kenneth, Alan and I tried to follow the tracks of the murderer. That brought us to a field a short way out of town, with only a scarecrow. These things always give me the willies, can't help myself. Wouldn't have been surprised one bit it if started walking, but it was just straw and some old clothes. The tracks stopped right behind it and we couldn't make heads or tails of them.

The town's resident scientist is experimenting with some kind of missile. At least we saw one go overhead, but when we went to look at the place it came down, we didn't find much of a crater. Just some burned grass and a dent in the earth. Same thing we found behind the scarecrow. When we returned to town, Elisa had been arrested by the good folks of Drywater Creek. Someone had produced a note that names her as the murderer and people found bloody clothes and a bloody knife in her room. Not much use in explaining to them that the clothes were bloody because she had tried to help the murdered man and that we had our eyes on her the whole time.

The sheriff wasn't to be found or maybe he just sleepy soundly. In any case, Elisa got locked into a barn. Not that she noticed because she had been drinking with Etienne and I don't think that's a competition any of us could win. I guarded her because I've seen people decide to take the law into their own hands more than once. This could get ugly mighty fast, people were already talking about witchcraft and how she was the whore of the whole gang who's supposed to commit these murders. In the morning, the sheriff brought her into prison and I stayed with her. He even left us alone and I thought about getting her out and making a run for it. But I don't know this land, we wouldn't have had a chance in hell to get away. We stayed put and we waited.

next time



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Zaduszki



November 1st at Warsaw's Powązki cemetery. The song is a ballad by Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, sung to music by Adam Strug. People use the day to make visits to cemeteries, putting candles on graves of relatives and wandering around. This is related to, but not exactly, All Soul's Day (it's a lot of older traditions merged with the catholic holiday) and it's called Zaduszki.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fallen London

I have trouble sleeping, nightmares haunt me. My days are spent dining with devils and scrounging for secrets. Also, rats have infested my lodgings and want to settle the dispute with a game of cricket.


Fallen London
is a free text-based browser game in the style of chose your own adventure-books. You must make a living in a city that has been brought underground and is now populated by all kinds of monsters, freaks and desperate people. If you always want to know for sure what is going on, then this is not your game. But if you relish a good mystery, unexplained events and atmospheric worldbuilding, then by all means give Fallen London a try. It's a mix of steampunk, Victorian London and Lovecraft, with some Gaiman thrown in (Neverwhere in particular).
Bildschirmfoto vom 2014-10-28 10:31:21
Bildschirmfoto vom 2014-10-28 10:30:41

Gameplay is very easy and nicely done. The world is huge, over 3000 storylets to follow, and I really applaud all the creativity that went into this. It's addicting, I can promise you that. But you only have twenty actions and when those are used up, you have to wait for them to refresh (ten minutes/action). That keeps the amount of time spent on the game in check, a feature I'm thankful for or I wouldn't come back to the world above at all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Fun and Games

My players are on their way to smuggle a truckload of chocolate from Seattle to Boston. After a tornado damaged their RV, they had a bit of downtime and decided to visit an amusement park. Okay, two players decided and the rest groaned and went along.

I had this throwaway idea of a fortune teller who'd give them a cliché reading and then later would be seen leaving the park in a hurry. This worked absolutely beautifully. The characters had found out that the fortune teller was the real deal or at least had actual magical talent. If you are doing something illegal, maybe it's not such a brilliant idea to let someone like this read your past and future, no? Cue major freak out of the players.

I thought they were going to rugby-tackle the poor woman when I describes her heading for the park exit. But the characters were content with some bullshit explanation and the advice to one of them to keep away from the white-water ride. For some added paranoia, they placed an RFID tag in the lady's backpack and where does she seem to be headed? To the town where they left the truck full of chocolate.

The rest of the day didn't go exactly smoothly (there was a guy who might or might not be a vampire and they attracted his attention AND a spirit took over a drug addict and ran amok), but the fortune teller was my personal favourite. I wanted them to feel a bit unsure, but I had not thought that I would cause this amount of panic. And we are not done with Madame Esme because part of the group wants to find her and ask her what in hell all this actually was about?

We are on Obsidian Portal

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cook Scorpion: Midnight Soup

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I have no idea where the name comes from. But whenever you eat it, this is a great recipe if you have to feed a lot of people quickly. You can also cook it the day before and it will only get better by sitting for a day. It's a staple for my roleplaying rounds. If you need a vegetarian recipe, I'm fairly sure that you can easily replace the minced meat with tofu.

You will need:

500 gr minced meat (doesn't matter if pork or beef or a half-half)
2-3 onions
some olive/sunflower oil
1.5 litres hot water
1 litre of tomato juice
1 bottle of ketchup (250ml I guess)
400 gr rice
salt, pepper and paprika/chili to taste

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Sear minced meat and onions in the oil. When the meat is brown-ish, add the water, the tomato juice and the ketchup and bring to a boil. Add the rice and let it cook gently for 20 minutes (you can more or less switch off the stove after 10 minutes). Season to taste. You're done.
If you let the soup sit for a day, the rice will soak up all the water, but that doesn't change the taste at all. If you want to, add some more tomato juice/water when you re-heat it. Take care it doesn't burn. Goes well with fresh bread. Will feed six gamers with big appetites.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Humans & Households



The new The Gamers miniseries: Humans & Households. Episode one is the set up and it's all fun and games, but episode two is where the real mayhem starts. I will never look at mailboxes the same way again.
If you want to support them, you can buy the series here for 10$ or more.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cook Scorpion: Banana Rolls



Banana Rolls - I came across the recipe here and I had time and almost all the ingredients, so I made them. The recipe is vegan, my rolls certainly are not, I replaced the almond milk with cow's milk and used normal butter. I also didn't have walnuts, but I did have chocolate sprinkles and I don't think you can go wrong with those.

The rolls are best served warm and if you can't do that, at least nuke them in the microwave for a bit. I brought them to my Shadowrun session and almost none of us could eat more than one - and usually roleplayers devour enormous amounts of food, so be warned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Victorian Fashion



For anyone interested in fashion, this video is a gem. You don't just get a close look at the dresses, it also allows you to see what was worn underneath and how it all combined.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lexapros and Cons

"In the past year, I masturbated exactly 468 times." Chuck knows this for the same reason he has to make absolutely sure the stove is turned off by checking it multiple times a day or why he has to wash his hand when he touched...pretty much anything. He has OCD. He's also seventeen years old and not exactly popular at this high school - together with the OCD, that will make impressing the new girl at school, Amy, a lot harder.

If you're put off by that first sentence, than Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo probably is not for you. But come on, teenagers think about sex all the time and no sugarcoating is going to change that. Chuck is a very believable teenager, from his crush on Amy to his problems with navigating school and life in general. His OCD is not just a gimmick, it's not played for cheap laughs and it's not magically cured by the end of the book. I don't have OCD, so I cannot judge reliably, but I thought that the book did a good job of describing what life with OCD is like.

I laughed out at the first sentence and the dry humour of the book was very much my thing. I thought that the ending was a bit too perfect all around, but on the other hand - why not. It wasn't too perfect to become unbelievable and it makes a nice change from a trend in YA literature where nothing is ever okay.

It's an easy read, with short chapters, and I think a good choice for a reading project. Parents mind balk at the language, but I don't think teenagers will mind.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Deadlands: Drywater Creek

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.
last time

We travelled to Drywater Creek, Eitenne had been ordered to go there. With no good knowledge of the land and no maps, that proved more difficult than we had thought. But we kept in what we thought was the right direction and finally we found someone who knew the place. That's a story worth telling, whom we found and how.

A dog kept barking at us and running around until we followed it and came to a crevice. A boy had fallen into it and we pulled him out. The dog was nowhere to be seen once we had gotten the boy out - he told us that it had died a couple of years earlier. Yeah, well, I've seen stranger things than a good dog keeping its eye out for his master even when its dead. We took the boy to his parents, he had broken his leg and couldn't walk. They were friendly enough, we got a good meal and a night in their home and directions to Drywater Creek.

In the morning, Elisabeth got it into her head to heal the boy. I can't really blame her for that, a broken leg is no small thing for a family who has to take care of a farm. It would have been better if she hadn't done it in secret, without telling the parents. The next thing they know, their boy is running around the house, all healed up. And they thought witchcraft, of course. Asked us to leave and backed up the asking with a shotgun.

So we were on our way, came to Drywater Creek not long after that. The first thing we saw was the dead body hung to rot on a tree, with a sign round his neck: murderer. The sheriff told Etienne the story: the guy had been making trouble for a while. He didn't live in town, he was part of a local gang of scum who are camping out somewhere. One day, he got into a fight and killed someone. The townspeople arrested him, waited for the judge and then hanged him. Since then, there has been a murder every night. People are scared and the sheriff is too much of a paper pusher to do something about it. He was glad to accept our help and we decided to stake out main street, with Elisabeth as a target for the murderer. Since no-one else is going outside at night for fear of being murdered, she should make a nice decoy.

The people here are not overly found of anyone who isn't white. They are not that bothered by me, but Alan gets treated like shit. If Etienne hadn't thrown his weight around, he wouldn't even have gotten a room at the saloon. Doesn't make me all that eager to help them out, truth be told.


---------------------


Yes, Lassie wanted to tell us little Timmy has fallen into the well.

And the characters were so pissed at Elisabeth for healing him. Somehow we always end up in trouble when she does that. Okay, not always. But try travelling around a country where the people are at the same time religious and superstitious with someone who works miracles left and right and whose people skills suck. She has a knack of poleaxeing people and only very few of them enjoy being preached at at the drop of a hat.

next time

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Secret World Chronicle

The world is used to metahumans. They have been around since World War II and, employed by ECHO (an organisation run by Nikola Tesla's grand nephew), take care of the world, fighting crime. But when the Thule Society resurfaces and brings along giant war machines, it seems ECHO and the metas have met their match.

I downloaded the Secret World Chronicle by Mercedes Lackey as part of a Humble Bundle and I had no idea what to expect. The first few pages in, I had a gigantic Avengers deja vu - it is set in a world of super heroes and there are some similarities. But in the end, the series finds its own feet and it stands quite well on them. I am a sucker for Nazi villains and the series hit just the right pulpy tone to make it work. There are a LOT of characters and the book shifts in its point of views from chapter to chapter, that may take some getting used to. But the characters leave an impression and quickly come alive.

If you like superheroes, then do give the Secret World Chronicle a try. It's a fast, fun ride and I loved the various superpowers the authors came up with. The most charming is Doctor Doom, who turns everything and everyone in his vicinity into part of a 1940s hard boiled novel. I really want to find a way to steal this for one of my roleplaying games. The series is based on a pocast, by the way, and you can listen to that here

There is just one thing: the German in the book is simply awful. There is a typo or grammatical error in pretty much every sentence (even when it's only two or three words...) and sometimes it's just plain wrong. My absolute favourite made me laugh aloud on the subway. One of the Nazi troopers has three black gangers in his sight and shouts: Würfel, schwarze Hunde. And yes, Würfel does mean die. But as in six-sided cubes or wood or plastic, not as in stop living. That was completely hilarious and an excellent example of why it's better to ask a native speaker, use a good dictionary or at least translate your sentences back if you must use online translators.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Rain Check

Instead of GMing Shadowrun, I'm sitting in bed, smelling like an eucalyptus tree and drinking copious amounts of tea in the hope that my cold doesn't turn into something worse. I was lookong forward to today's session. The players have made it out of the NAN and are planning on visiting an amusement park. Well, the two youngest characters want it and the others roll their eyes and go along.

If you happen to be a player in this campaign, I'd rather you not read on, please.

How often do you get the chance for an amusement park setting in Shadowrun? This is a gift. The players are already paranoid about all the horrible things that can happen and I do my best to keep them that way, casually dropping hints about how I've been reading up on accidents in amusement parks or how roller coasters are built. I actually did learn a lot of stuff about amusement park rides - roleplaying has always taught me the most abstruse things. My players have their money on real ghosts in the haunted house, a mascot running amok or a roller coaster coming off the tracks.

I had been fancying the haunted house and I might do it. I have a handful of minor stuff that can/will go wrong and one very big thing. But at first, I will sit back and wait to see if the characters manage to get themselves into trouble. So far, they have been very good at this. This is something I've come to rely on as a GM - most of the time, your players will do something, either really stupid or really inspired, and you just need to run with it.

One thing I am going to do for sure is the fortune teller. Who will take one look at a character's hand, go white as a sheet and give a cliché reading about a dark, handsome stranger and all that. And then she will close up her booth in a hurry and will be seen powerwalking towards the park's entrance not much later. I'm sure that this will ramp up player paranoia no end.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Castle Blackbird: Whitewater

We continue our Castle Blackbird game and to no-one's particular surprise, we still didn't finish. We could have, I could have rushed the story to an end, but given the choice, my players opted for a third session (we just need to convince the absent player).

By now, the characters are out Amselburg, by taking a boat down the river. And Konstanze has started to have visions in which she takes the form of a raven, one of the many who report back to the Baron. She has no idea where this is going, but the visions are real and she can even make the raven do things. Some rapids destroyed the boat and now the characters are in a dark forest, with the Baron closing in on them. At least he is on the wrong side of the river.

I'm still flying by the seat of my pants here as a GM. I have a rough idea where this is going to end and I have figured out why the Baron needs to have Konstanze back by midnight, but everything else is improvised. Luckily, I have players who do a lot of the heavy lifting by coming up with idea and scenes for themselves. Now I just need to get over the panicky feeling that people are bored when they are really not. I am incredibly bad at judging my own stories and if people are having fun playing in them. I think every GM is probably too critical of themselves (every good GM anyway), but part of this is really reading cues wrong, even from people I have played with for more than a decade. I'm not sure how to deal with this, but being told that oh yes, they want a third session helps a lot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bear in a Boat

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A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. It's excactly what is says on the cover. A boy walks up to a bear in a boat and asks him to take him across the sea. The bear starts rowing and still is when the boy wakes up the next day. The boy quickly finds out that the bear has no clue where they are going...

Don't read this book if you expect a clear-cut story. I felt like I was reading Waiting for Godot with bears. That being said, I liked it a lot. The illustrations are charming and the story lends itself to all kinds of interpretations. You could for example easily read it as a Bildungsroman, with the boy taking over more and more responsibility.

Or you just take it at face value and read a story about the boy who goes on a trip with a quirky bear (who loves anchovy-vanilla sandwiches and drinks tea every afternoon). Neither of them are all that easy to get along with, but in a boat you don't have much choice.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Castle Blackbird

We're still covering for our absent GM at our fortnightly (is that a word?) Deadlands round and we're playing Castel Blackbird. It's a Lady Blackbird hack. Lady Blackbird is very rules-light game with pregenerated characters in a steampunk setting. It's great for running at a con or if you have only one session to play. It's free to download and there are a ton of hacks for it, here are some

Castle Blackbird gives you six characters and a gaslight setting, with a lot of rumours about eldritch monsters and conspiracy theories. The rules are a bit more expansive, with another type of dice added for example. I decided to take the setting and go with the normal Lady Blackbird rules, with some minor changes.

There are four players, who all have some experience with freeform games that require both players and GM to improvise. I GM and I found it mentally exhausting because apart from some big picture story ideas, I couldn't really prepare. You get a starting scene, with the characters having to escape from the soldiers surrounding them and after that, the players decide on the direction things are going to take. So far, they have escaped through the sewers, found their way into the hospital/asylum and out again and are now trying to reach a pub they know of where they hope to find a boat to escape the town via the river for good. We'll finish (I hope) next week, we only had three hours to play last time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Every Day by David Levithan

Here be spoilers.

A wakes up every day in a different body. Ze gets the memories of the person ze is for that day and has to live like that as best as ze can. Usually, ze tries to disturb the life of the person as little as possible. But when ze wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon, ze breaks that rule.

And if you think that this goes on to be some soppy teenage love story, you would be wrong. It's not and it doesn't take the easy way out. The ending is hopefull, but not happy. And while A and Rhiannon are busy trying to figure out their feelings and how to make it all work, the books gets to explore quite a number of interesting things. How we perceive each other and how important appearance is, for one thing. How much can change in just one day.

By far the most interesting thing about Every Day for me was the fact that the people A lives in are not all heterosexual. Some are, others are gay or bi or trans and it's never treated as anything but normal. A hirself doesn't have a gender. Ze calls zirself Andrew sometimes, but ze sees hirself as neither or maybe both male and female. There is little enough queer represetation in young adult books and this is a very good example. The characters are not defined by their gender or sexuality, but it's there.

Levithan manages to introduce us to a new character in every chapter and to give them personality with just a couple of sentences. I found myself caring about every single one of them...something other authors don't manage with their protagonists. I read the German translation and I found the language a bit too adult for a 16 year old, but that may have well been the fault of the translation. And A is not really the typical teenager.

I'm very thankful that this is not the first part of a trilogy. The potential is there, but I hate the trilogy trend with the strength of a thousand suns and the book is much better ending where it does. Authors don't need to explain or explore every little thing about their characters.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar



Oooooh, that looks so good. I have pretty much given up on the official reboot and turned to all the Trek stuff people are doing with crowdfunding. I think crowdfunding is ideal for Star Trek because of the huge fanbase and because of how creative those fans are. They have a long tradition of creating their own content. And between this and Star Trek Renegades, my hopes are up for watching well-written Trek again, made by people who love it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Honey

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Here are my bees. The photos were taken two weeks ago when I wanted to harvest honey and found out that they didn’t have nearly enough to get them over the winter, let alone any to spare. The year was a bad one for honey all around and many beekeepers had the same problem.

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I don’t mind, I just hope they will make it. They are getting sugar water now so they can build up their reserves. The comb lying on the bottom, that was my fault. It still has brood in it, so I leave it there until its empty, then I’ll take it out. You can see in the next photo that the honey combs are empty and really light in colour, compared to the reddish yellow of the brood comb.

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In the two weeks since I took those photos, they have built more honey combs and have started filling them with honey made from the sugar water I give them.

I don’t know if I mentioned it, the swarm is named Ygramul. I am amazed every time I look at the hive, all those tiny animals working together, neatly building their home. Just look at those honeycombs, it’s just so perfect.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I did on my holiday

I got myself some spectacular bruises all over my body by doing my not very best at letting other people not hit me with a wooden sword.

Medusa
Medusa from Ludus Nemesis, a gladiator reenactment group I joined a couple of months ago. The archeological museum in Meppen does a reenactors festival every year and the group is a regular there. We do show fights (as in: no blood, but the fights themselves are not staged) and gladiator training for kids:
junior gladiator
junior gladiators

The festival spanned a time from 2nd century CE to the 18th century.
Legionnaires
Legionnaires

spinning with a newel
Vada, our slave - she's spinning wool with a newel here

blacksmith at work
blacksmith at work

IMG_8428
another showfight

hunting party, 18th century
and the 18th century hunting party

I got to shoot a crossbow and this musket, a Brown Bess (not a replica, by the way), and I am so going to get a licence that allows me to own, load and fire a musket (the law is that anyone can shoot, but loading requires a licence)
IMG_8450
firing a musket

and then this guy walked into the Roman camp (after hours, with the visitors gone)

Obelix

Websites for some of the groups:
Barockjagd
Vex Vet Leg XIX
Primagenia
Ludus Nemesis

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Shadowrun: Ravens of Doom

My group is currently on a roadtrip through the NAN/UCAS (the US in 2071) from Seattle to Boston, driving a ton of chocolate for the Irish mob. They are pretty much all street kids and none of them have spent any significant time outside Seattle. So they are not sure what to expect, but they have heard stories of the trouble outsiders have in the Native American Nations and about awakened (magical) animals and plants.

In real life, one of my players is an old hand at Shadowrun and he has been verbosely paranoid about all the bad things that can happen when you mess with Nature in the NAN. Normally, dark hints would have been my job as the GM, but all I had to do was let him talk.

The group decided to make camp at the side of the road somewhere and hunted down a porcupine (plus its three babies) for dinner. Three of the characters were busy in the woods and two were left in the camp, making a porcupine BBQ. The sight attracted two ravens - they were big birds and they just sat there, watching. The characters start to get nervous and throw them some meat, in the hope that they will go away.

That cunning plan failed, you will be surprised to hear. More ravens appeared, just sitting there, behind the characters. Who grabbed the big porcupine and ran to their truck, locking themselves in, waiting for enforcements. The ravens were left to enjoy their meal more or less in peace and to crap all over the campsite. Oh, and they stole the cookset.

I had originally planned to confront them with Stormcrows, the awakened raven species. These are even more intelligent and can influence the weather. But I quickly realised that this would have been a total waste, my players were absolutely freaking out about a couple of ravens. Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud. It was a lesson in keeping things simple for me and in relying on the fact that characters, given the opportunity, will get themselves into trouble. That's no reason to get lazy with the session planning, but it doesn't always need to be the big monster.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nobody Expects Plants

I got my hands on a really evil Shadowrun sourcebook: Parabotany. Yes, it's all plants, mutated, awakened/magical and fairly normal ones. And no-one ever expects plants to be anything else than scenery. Most of the plants are fairly harmless or even useful, especially for an awakened character. But some can get characters in serious trouble. Most plants I have seen used by GMs (mostly in fantasy games) are half-sentient and I'm not a fan of this.

Plants are quite awesome the way they are, not intelligent but well-prepared for survival with a bag of tricks we ignore at our own risk. Plants communicate. Plants fight and plants move. So you pick some salad for a meal and suddenly the rest of the salad turns poisonous because the first plants gives off a chemical signal 'I'm being attacked!'? Plants that use you as an unwilling seed carrier, maybe by lodging sharp seeds in your skin, all the plants in the area at once? Plants that can call animals that protect them when they are being picked or trampled? Plants do all that. Now let's ramp it up, add some magic to the mix and the lush meadow your character is walking through suddenly is a battlefield.

I have some favourites from the Parabotany and State of the Art sourcebooks, like the giant tumbleweed and the perfectly harmless looking grass with seeds that will shatter on contact, capable of sandblasting a car or person. My players are already a bit paranoid about the animals they encounter during their roadtrip. By the time they reach Boston, they will probably twitch nervously at the sight of a tuft of grass.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Something Went Wrong

We were a GM short for our last Deadlands session and so we played Something Went Wrong instead. It's a short, fast game, very light on rules: a group of experienced adventurers go on a last dungeon crawl to set themselves up for life. They have seen and done it all, so what could go wrong?

Character creations is done after assigning a class, an alignment and four stats. Oh, and a piece of loot, like the Jet-Black Dagger of Masterful Stabbing our group favoured. The GM sets up the encounter with the help of a random table and after one round of combat, passes the job of GM off to the player on her left. And just when everything is going really well, the GM has access to some more random tables with creative mishaps for everyone.

Our groupd had characters like Lootina the Thief, Cohen the Barbarian and the Great Fumblerado and fought against four dragons, four koalas and four tiny giants. People were roasted, tiny giants crawled up pants legs, koalas were clubbed to death with other koalas and a dwarf appearing out of nowhere served beer for everyone in an unexpected interlude. Somehow, everyone but two characters survived. One was killed, revived and then killed again when Cohen's axe slipped. Sorry about that.

If you're ever in need of a game for one evening that doesn't take a lot of explaining, is playable by a large group (we were six) and doesn't take itself seriously at all, check out Something Went Wrong. You can download it for free (or pay what you want) at Drive Thru RPG or at archive.org.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Deadlands: Ghouls

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

last time

You'd think that we would have been getting the hell out of Dodge after last time, but Etienne had new orders and those were to clean up the mess Miss Graves made. In an open fight we didn't stand a chance and we came up with some sort of plan: burn them out.

Why don't I just mind my own business and let someone else deal with this crap? Hm. I'm not sure I rightly know. I've spent a good deal of my life keeping my head down and listening to other people tell stories around the campfire, only half believing it. I've seen a thing or two myself, no-one gets as old as I around here and doesn't, not when you spend most of your time outside, far from any town. There's some weird stuff and it's everywhere. For the longest time it was enough that I made it through, didn't give much thought to other people. Most of them didn't give a damn about me, after all. But now - I've come to care about these people, I won't abandon them. And seeing to it that those monsters are taken care of, it's a purpose. And it's a damn sight better than being told that I'm too old and no more use to anyone.

Right. Burn them out. We bought up three huge barrels of petroleum and all the sticks of dynamite and bottles of nitroglycerin the town had to offer. And we packed our stuff and got the horses because there was no way this was going to be quiet and we better be ready to get away quickly. I don't know how, but Etienne even got the doctor to come along. We found the entrance to the ghouls' lair and they had tunnels all over the place. I got right up to their, I don't know what to call it, a big hall where they were all together, talking about how they were going to stay. Or rather getting told by their...king? The biggest and strongest of them all in any case, I wouldn't have liked to get on his wrong side.

We put some smaller barrels of petroleum in the tunnels. I had seen a crack in the ceiling of the hall that they used as a chimney and Elisabeth and me went to look for it topside, took a big barrel and some dynamite with us. Etienne, Kenneth and Alan stayed below to clean up any ghouls that might survive. It took some searching, but we found the crack. The soil was loose and if we had tried to get too close with the huge barrel, it probably would have collapsed. So we took a bundle of dynamite, lit the fuse and lowered it on a piece of rope, then dropped it when it was clear of soil and roots and ran like hell.

The explosion threw us even further, dropped what felt like a whole tree on me, but it rolled off then the soil started to slide beneath us. Somehow, we got a hold of some roots and pulled out of the hole. I could hear screaming and yelling from below - not all the ghouls were dead, but it didn't sound like they were going to make trouble any longer.

When we got back to the hole, we could see black smoke coming from it and the doctor said she could hear shots. I didn't hear much but the ringing in my ears. Kenneth was already topside, a bit singed around the edges. Alan and Etienne had been busy cleaning up the rest of the mess, but by the time we got to them, they were all done. Alan had been clawed and bitten and he blacked out while the doc was treating him. Etienne was, well, Etienne. I think he'd probably shrug it off if someone took an arm or leg. Elisabeth offered to heal Alan and me. He agreed and with a prayer, she healed all his wounds. I give her that, her faith can do good things. I still didn't want it, I would have felt like a liar if I did.

The good people of Dodge were already on their way to see what had happened and we made ourselves scarce. Etienne still had something to do in town, so we met up a few miles west. Over breakfast, we talked and Elisabeth made a joke to Etienne about laying on hands. He asked if she maybe wanted to lose her hand and made a grab for her. He didn't mean nothing by it, but I still flinched, almost punching him because I wasn't sure who was doing the grabbing, Etienne or the other guy. Etienne took me aside later and said that I would notice if the other guy took over, but I'm not going to rely on that. I've seen what can happen and I'm won't do any guessing and maybe guess wrong. I told him as much and he took it as the warning I meant it to be.

We're going West now. Etienne has been ordered to California and we're going with him. It's going to be quite a trek, especially this late in the year. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm not used to staying in one place too long and I'm restless after the months spend with the tribe, although I felt right at home there.

next time

Monday, July 7, 2014

Deadlands: Berserk

last time

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

We decided to check on Miss Graves and her compaion, but met only Mr Frakes who asked us to come back later and we didn't press the issue. On our way back to the saloon, I spotted footprints walking through an alley. Just footprints, not a person in sight. Etienne didn't see anything and when we took a closer look, there was just a cat. But the footprints were still there, small ones, form someone who didn't weigh all that much. My money was on Miss Graves, just a suspicion. It didn't get any better when we caught up with her later at the hotel and she lied every time she opened her mouth.

Elisabeht talked with Anna Morgan, the wife of the minister, who was somehow involved in the whole story around Garret, a Northener spy Graves and Frakes had been trying to catch. Anna admitted to being a spy for the South, right before she was dragged into a hole opening in her own kitchen floor by a monster. We were too slow to help her, especially since the tunnel caved in. So we took to knocking on doors and asking people to let us check their cellar and we did find a trace, followed it to the US Signal office. There, Kenneth and me walked into the cellar with just a candle and I couldn't blame you if you called us stupid.

The floor broke away under Kenneth and something grabbed him. I dropped the candle, held onto him, pulled him back and we stumbled out of the cellar, Kenneth bleeding from deep wounds, just in time to run into Frakes. Who just turns on his heel when he noticed the smell coming from the open door, like something long dead frying in the sun, and says he has to go. Alan and me followed him back to the hotel and pushed out way into his room, demanding answers. Yeah, this wasn't the day for clever decisions.

By now it was pretty clear that Graves was behind this, that the monster was probably Garret and things didn't get any better when Frajes had his guns trained on us. I could hear Badger growling, he wasn't happy about the idea of just letting Frakes push us around and probably putting a bullet in our heads. I turned and attacked, not what Frakes expected and I got my hands on his gun. I also got a bullet in my leg and that was when I lost it. I can't really remember what happened. No. That's a lie. I can remember it, it's just that...I never was a violent man. I can hold my own in a fight, but I never fought like this, fought to kill. And kill I did, I beat Frakes to death with his own gun. Alan later told me that he didn't dare get into my way and I guess that was a wise decision. There's a price I pay for the help Badger gives me.

We tried to grab Miss Graves, but she attacked us with some kind of spell, a blue ball of fire that went clean through the wall. And she turned invisible, didn't I say she could? So she escaped us and when we were alone, I finally calmed down. Frakes had managed to put some more bullets in me and with the fury gone, the pain hit me. I collapsed and I woke up only a day later. In jail, together with Alan because the law doesn't look kindly on people who murder citizens in good standing.

While I was out, Etienne went to Boot Hill with Kenneth and Elisabeth and there, they found Miss Graves, doing some kind of spell to raise the dead. Elisabeth blinded her and she lost control of the ghuls who killed her. Etienne came face to face with Garret who told him that he had to the count of ten to get as far away as possible. Of course Etienne just walked away slowly, if there's one thing he never did even when he was alive it was run away. Garret attacked and got killed by Etienne and Kenneth, who had brought Masterton and his deputies along.

We were in luck - since Frakes and Graves were spies, the judge didn't see the need to do more than recommend that we leave Dodge City as soon as possible. We didn't need telling, to be honest.

next time

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Steal this Selkie

Cast of characters:
Glitzy - fixer
Fog - scavenger and unwilling leader of the group
Zoé - street girl
Stanley - street doc
Jet - professional thief
Rusty - pilot and data courier

The campaign is on Obsidian Portal

Last time, I introduced a couple of selkies (seal-human shapeshifters) kept in the New England Aquarium as a bit of flavour. Of course my players decided to free them. In a manner very untypical for Shadowrun, they talked about their plan for all of, I don't know, thirty minutes and then just went ahead. If you don't play Shadowrun: entire sessions can be spent planning a good run and it's entirely possible for the run to last much shorter than the planning phase.

This time, they are flying by the seat of their pants. There isn't much of a plan except: talk to the selkies, ask if they want out, walk out with them. And basically, that's how it went down because I'm not going to throw much of a security force at them in an aquarium. The hard part of the plan comes now because the selkies, in their human form, are extremely attractive and really stand out. People will remember seeing them. Also, everyone in the group's thinking about sex, just at the back of their mind, but the thought and the desire is there. A couple of drunk guys on the subway were distracted by Zoé, who now has to deal with them. On a dimly-lit parking place next to the hotel where the group is bringing the selkies. And by deal with them I mean that the plan is to knock them all out with the help of Fog.

And then they either drive the selkies a hundred miles or so up or down the coast or, and I really love this, they fly them to Seattle. Get them an illegal SIN (passport) and just smuggle them out of the country and then back in again (the middle of the US is now the Native American Nations). This would be asking for trouble even if Rusty wasn't in trouble with some other runners who want the data he's carrying around in his head and who might just think this is important enough to try and catch them at the first stopover in the NAN.

Players, and I include myself here, do such wonderfully stupid things. Just because they can or because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The selkie run is incredibly stupid, but it's brilliant roleplaying, very much in character. I'm enjoying myself very much and I think my players do, too.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bees!

IMG_7966

This is my hive, it's a top bar hive I built using instructions from The Barefoot Beekeeper. It's basically a big box on stilts, with bars covering it and a roof. The bars are for the bees to hang their combs from and give me easy access without disturbing the bees too much.

Some of the bees
bee2

this, I believe, is a drone, a male bee - it's not visible here, but his eyes were enormous
bee1

and here's the whole swarm, two days after moving in
swarm

I got the swarm from another beekeeper and I was very excited and a bit afraid they'd all fly off. I did spray them with water to keep them from flying, but I had never done this before. But they were very well behaved. I only got stung three times, all at once, I think I must have pinched those bees by accident.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of holding a hand full of live bees. That I learned on this day.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Selkies

I took over as GM for the Shadowrun Rat's Nest group for a while. The group stole a ton of chocolate at a run in Seattle and now they're trying to sell it to the Irish mob in Boston. I planned to give the characters a day in Boston to get their bearings (and to give the mb time to examine the chocolate...wich is fake and not made form cocoa, a fact the players would rather keep secret).

So they do a bit of sightseeing and I mention the Boston Aquarium. They go there and since one sourcebooks says that there are merepeople there, I mention that as well. Merrows, but I couldn't remember and went with Selkies. They are sentinent beings, but their former home, the Boston harbour, has been polluted and they have been spending the last twenty years in that aquarium.

You probably see where this is going. The characters are already planning a run on the aquarium to free the Selkies and, here come the part I really love, want to take them to Seattle to set them free there. Through several airport security checks - at least they do have their own plane - and with hundreds of miles of perfectly good coastline just outside Boston. But I'm not going to spoil the fun and say anything.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

7th Sea: Wanted Men

last time

cast of characters:
Aidan - member of the Exporer's Society
Gregor - fighter and bodyguard and maybe something more
Marinus - son of a rich vendel merchant family, travelling after completing his journeyman's piece

15. Octavus 1668, on a ship to Vodacce

We found the princes. And that is where things started to go very wrong. No. In truth, it had begun much earlier than that, when we noticed that we were no longer able to find out way back although it should have been easy. We were lost, with only a day or so worth of lamp oil and food and water for only a bit longer. But soon, this did no longer concern us because we all had the feling that we simply knew the way. We followed lights and voices on the cusp of our hearing to a cave overgrown with crystals and we felt welcome there, among friends.

click for spelunking


I snapped out of it just in time to keep Gregor from touching the crystals by punching him. Aidan had already touched the wall and the crystals immediately started to grow into his flesh, he pulled back just in time. We realised that we were even more lost than before and in even greater danger than we thought. There were two vaguely human-shaped crystal pillars and each had a sword made from Dracheneisen by its side. We pulled the swords loose and found that the crystals receded when touched by the weapons. Under them, we found the princes, clearly long dead.

Disheartened, we left the cave to look for a way out, taking the swords with us. The crystals no longer seemed to want to keep us in the cave and we all felt hostility towards us. I canot explain it any better. We found the underground river we had heard earlier and followed it, wading and sometimes swimming. After a while, we heard voices and saw a light through an opening above. Our calls for help were answered by a group of game wardens who pulled us up and were astounded to find us.

The weather was too bad to make our way to Atemlos that day and we spent the night in the mine with the wardens. We wondered about them because they wore no sigil and it was quite a coincidence that they were there just in time to find us. But maybe we were too distrustful.

Unfortunately, our suspicions were only too well-founded. The leader of the wardens left that night and I overheard him telling his men that he would go to Atemlos for instructions and we were not to be left out of sight. We decided to try and leave the next morning anyway, fighting them if need be. Aidan had slept through it all, he has been growing weaker for days now, for no apparent reason. They let us go, but we soon noticed that they followed us.

We made our way to Susa and I wish we had not. She already knew what had happened and said that we were in danger and must not go to Atemlos. Before we could decide what to do, there were voices outside and Susa rushed out, trying to buy us time. The men simply shot her. We killed or wounded all but one of them, the man who had shot Susa and I would really have liked to get my hands on him. But he escaped. Susa was still alive when everything was over, but I did not need any surgeon to tell me that she was mortally wounded. She healed Aidan of whatever it was that was weakening him, with her last breath.

We had two prisoners who told us that they had been searching for us and the princes. But not to bring us back, but to kill the princes and to either kill us or take us back to Atemlos as scapegoats. It seems that Knef is planning to take over Hainzl. For a moment, we were angry enough to think about going back to Atemlos, to get our things, just out of spite. But we thought better of it and now we are wanted men in Hainzl. We are on our way to Vodacce. I have not been there before and I hope it will be a friendlier place than Hainzl for us. I have written to the League and I can expect my belongings, including the Syrneth artifacts, and my mule to arrive in a few weeks.

We kept the swords. But we will send one back to Knef, with a message that its twin will find him when he least expects it.

--------------------------------------------


We have been having quite a few talks about this whole adventure because a couple of unusual things happened. The mood was very dark for 7th Sea and while that was fun for one adventure, we asked that it doesn't continue that way because that's not what we play 7th Sea for. Same with the fact that we could have died easily, just by bad dice luck. If I want that, I play Cthulhu. 7th Sea, for me,is a swashbuckling game where I can do or at least attempt things that were impossible or unwise in other games and I don't have to be afraid to die immediately because of one single roll or one decision. Give me consequences, sure, but I want to be encouraged to be heroic, to attempt things no ordinary character would even dream about. What I love about 7th Sea is the freedom to say: hey, let's do this! If you have to wonder whether a single roll can kill you, that style of play is not possible.

Also, we had no way of solving the mission given to us. The princes were dead already and there was no way we could have avoided being branded as murderes. Again, this is okay for one adventure. But it takes agency away from the players and that's not a very good feeling. As a GM, you can totally do that, but it's something you have to be very careful about and don't overdo it. Having the characters betrayed by an NPC like that is a cool thing and I suspect we may get a story or two out of that later in the campaign, but it should be rare. If you let your players play stories too often that result in them coming out of at the end with nothing, no goals reached, nothing they wanted accomplished, that becomes frustrating incredibly quickly.

That being said, I did enjoy the adventure a lot. The cave was fucking creepy and the dead princes a well-placed punch to the gut. Our characters are pissed at being betrayed and we were that close to actually going back to Atemlos. For revenge, a mule and two wooden ducks! (Gregor bought those for his nephews and stored them at the castle). But we decided against it, especially after realising that Marinus had his stuff stored at the League's branch and can get it all back with a letter. But we really want to see Knef again just one more time.

The GM used Ambient Mixer for background noises and that was brilliant. It's such a simple thing, but it really helps create the right mood. Even if it's only the sound of a thunderstorm outside. Go check it out, it's a great tool for GMs.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ambient Music for RGPs

I came across Ambient Mixer a while ago and let me tell you, this is a brilliant tool for all your ambient noise needs. There's a variety of mixes people made, all ready for you to download under a CC license. Or you can just play them online and change them to your liking, mute a channel, chance the randomness of a certain noise ect. If you don't find what you're looking for, make an account and mix your own. The site has a database of noises for you to choose from and a very easy interface to make your own mix with up to eight channels. You can also upload sound files from your own computer. There's a number of websites that offer free sounds, for example Free Sound.

It's a simple and very effective way of creating the right mood for your game, whether the characters are in a Tavern, on a ship or exploring a deserted spaceship.

And speaking of spaceships, if you are looking for some really creepy background noise for such a setting, look up 'NASA Sounds of Space' on Youtube. The Voyager probes recorded electromagnetic vibrations from the planets and their moons and it makes for a very eerie atmosphere, but it's not too loud or too intrusive. Here for example is Io:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Tribe

The Tribe by Valerie Bloom tells the story of the Taino, one of the indigenous people of the Bahames and Antilles who were among the first people Columbus and his men encountered on their voyage. The focus is on the young girl Maruka, the daughter of the Cacique, the chieftain, of her tribe and the book takes a lot of time to explore her culture and way of life. By the time the Spaniards arrive, the reader feels at home among the Taino and the shock of how they are treated is even greater. They are a peaceful people and at first think the Spaniards spirits and do much to keep them happy. But they cannot do enough and in particular they cannot give them enough gold.

This is Valerie Bloom's second children's novel and I think it's very much worth reading. Maruka is easy to identidy with for both girls and boys. I'm not a great friend of the 'I'm not like other girls'-character, but even though Maruka strongly feels that way, she doesn't despise other women and girls who live like tradition demands it. It's just not her way. I can live with that because it doesn't create the impression that women are somehow better when they live like men.

The book uses a lot of words from the Taino language. There's a glossary at the end but I didn't really need it, the meaning of most words is evident from context. I got a vivid picture of Taino culture and traditions and I took the time to read some more about them online because I wanted to know what had become of them - the book leaves that open. The Taino are usually thought to be extinct, but there are quite a number of people who do consider themselves Taino, not necessarily by blood but by tradition and heritage.

If you want to learn about the encounter between the Spaniards and the native people, this is a good place to start and it takes a different point of view. Usually, we learn about this through the eyes of the conquerors. Bloom used the records of the priests who accompanied the expedition as a source for her book, there is no other written source. She did a lot of research for the book and it's noticeable, there is something very satisfying abut a historical novel that gets the details right.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Warsaw Uprising



This is a trailer for an upcoming movie about the Warsaw Uprising. But what you see are not actors and sets, these are actual scenes recorded by two members of the Polish Home Army. They have been coloured with great attention to detail and historical accuracy and have been given an audio track. The trailer alone is amazing to look at and with colour and sound, it becomes more real, more immediate than silent black and white can ever be. I really hope this movie will see wide distribution or will at least be available with English subs, it's a fascinating project.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Deadlands: Boot Hill

last time

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a camp fire on the prairie.

You probably think we called it a night after that. Well, we didn't - we decided to pay a visit to the graveyard to check on the grave of the man killed first. Alan called me mad when I told him, but the most dangerous thing around was walking right beside me and didn't seem too keen on killing me. Or rather walking in front of me because maybe I'm mad, but I'm not careless.

There was so much fog that we couldn't see more than a couple of steps ahead, even with the full moon and a lamp and the fog swallowed all sounds. We did see the light of another lamp up on Boothill and we saw to it that they didn't see us when we got closer. A man and a woman, searching for something on the ground. Etienne stepped out into the light and called out to them. The man drew his gun, mightily quick. Not someone to wear those guns for show, that one. They calmed down when Etienne told them who he was and since the folks were Southeners, I didn't count much.

The woman, Charlotte Graves, said that she had lost a family heirloom when she attended the burial of her valued business partner Kelly and that she couldn't stand the thought of not searching for it right away when she noticed. Sure. My guess, the only true thing is that she knew Kelly. Her partner, Justin Frakes, didn't say much, though I wouldn't be too quick to think that he's just the muscles of this outfit. They left, saying that daylight makes for a better search. We did our own search, but there was nothing except a few scratches next to an old grave, maybe from a coyote or wolf.

We waited a bit longer, it had just struck midnight and it takes a bit of time to get out of a coffin and grave, even when it's just a cheap pine box. Nothing happened. We were just turning back when I heard some rustling in the grass, something big. Wolf maybe or worse, a man. I told Etienne and he ran after it. Didn't catch it, so whatever it was it had been fast. I didn't even try to follow, but we tried and tracked it. Found huge tracks, either from something with hellish big feet or it looked that way because a man was running all out, barefoot. Couldn't tell for sure, we would have needed Alan for that.

The others had already come back to the saloon and we told each other the news. Seems the law hasn't much of a clue or even interest in solving this. Gaines though, the man we had just killed the second time, had been a spy for the Confederates. Elisabeth had found a notebook filled with random letters and numbers among his things and Etienne knew the code. No idea how that might work, but in the end we came up with a couple of names or good guesses at who was meant. The woman we had just met and her companion had been trying to catch a Union spy with the help of Gaines.

While the others were busy with their letters, Alan and me headed out to the town border where Alan called in a favor from his spirit guide. I only got a glimpse at the biggest owl I have ever seen and the beast took Alan's spirit along with it. I had nothing to do but wait and take care that no-one messes with his body - don't know if he'd wake up in time if something was wrong. He didn't see much more once he got the owl to take a look at the graves and even when we went back in the morning, there was nothing. I used the way back to tell Alan what I had seen of Etienne - there were a few things we'd kept to ourselves. Like the claws or how he's eating his meat raw now. I did because people weren't going to believe it anyway and Etienne - the less he has to talk about this, the happier he seems. Which is not all that happy. Alan did believe me and he's about as worried as I am.

Elisabeth almost caused a riot the next morning because she couldn't leave it alone that she's not allowed to vote here. Leaving alone has never changed anything and I know how she feels. There's nothing worse than people treating you like shit just for the way you are, saying you're not worth as much and can never be. Taking a swing at the nearest guy who does isn't going to change much, except maybe ending your life if it's the wrong guy. But sometimes you just have swallowed all you can and then you don't care. I know how that feels, too.

next time

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Next Town Over: The Book

After reading through the complete Next Town Over in a couple of days, I decided to buy the book. It contains the first four chapters of the webcomic. I got the hardcover edition and it's gorgeous:
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The slipcase is thick and sturdy and both it and the book are bound in black flocked paper. The book has stitched binding and opens up well everywhere - there's nothing worth than a book or particularly a comic that doesn't open completely in the middle. The artwork looks fantastic on paper, even better than online. It's a limited and signed edition and it's a steal at 24,99$. There are still some left, so if you like the comic, go here and get one.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pumzi



Pumzi is a Kenyan short movie by Wanuri Kahiu, set in a world where there is no water and the few survivors live underground because the surface is radiated and no longer safe. Made with a budget of only 35,000$, the movie looks striking precisely because there are no flashy effects and it does a lot of world building in only twenty minutes. There are a lot of details that make me curious about this world and I'd love to watch a longer film set there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

7th Sea: Underground

last time

cast of characters:
Aidan - member of the Exporer's Society
Gregor - fighter and bodyguard and maybe something more
Marinus - son of a rich vendel merchant family, travelling after completing his journeyman's piece

5. Octavus 1668
Susa showed us where the two boys has gone and we followed the same route. There were not side roads, so we were confident that they were somewhere ahead of us and indeed did Gregor spot some tracks in the afternoon, going up the first branch in the road we came upon.
At the end of it, we found a tunnel or mineshaft, hidden behind some boards. But someone had already broken down enough of the boards to make a comfortable entrance. Aidan also noticed torn reins loped around a tree, similar to the bridle the horse we found had been wearing. We decided to walk a short distance into the tunnel to see if we could find anything more, but to leave all further exploration until the next morning.

There were some marks on the tunnel walls, clearly someone had been here recently. We stopped when we came to a junction and returned outside, scaring a huge swarm of bats along the way. After a fairly restful night, we packed food and water to last us a couple of days, our lamps, some tools and set out into the mine once more. Whoever had been here, had taken the tunnel on the right and we followed. After quite a long while, Gregor claimed that he could see light. He went ahead alone and the lights moved or vanished. Apart from the quiet sound of rushing water, nothing was to be heard. We went on together and the light appeared again. I moved my lamp and one of the lights followed my movement - we had found a mirror.

Not a mirror, as it turned out, but an enormous slab of extremely smooth quartz that barred our way further into the tunnel.A small opening lead down into a cavern and that's where the sound of water came from. While investigating the quartz, I found that it moved when I pushed it and we could open it like a door with out combined strength. Unfortunately, we could not open it again from the other side, although it did move and it was just our lack of strength. It is not a pleasant feeling to be shut in deep under the earth. We decided to explore further and see if we could find another way out or maybe even the boys.

A few hours of climbing through naturally grown tunnels that were a good deal narrower and lower than the mineshaft turned up nothing of consequence. Except a well-made empty water skin and a variety of precious stones that would fetch a fair price on any market. We guessed that it must already be evening and settled down in a small cavern to spend the night before going back and trying our luck once more with the quartz door.

next time

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Deadlands: Dead Man Walking

last time

Cast of Characters:
Alan Trehorn: Half-Apsalooke/Crow scout who might be taken for a greenhorn, but at your own risk.
Etienne DuMont: Texas Ranger. He used to be dead, but he got better.
Kenneth Lake: Professional poker player and reluctant participant in these events.
Dr. Frances Gray: Doctor and a strong believer in science and natural explanations.
Sister Elisabeth: A nun of maybe questionable past, but unquestionable faith.
Eliah Davis: Black cowboy who has seen some weird shit in his life. He spins this tale for you, somewhere at a campfire on the prairie.

We made it to Dodge without problems, probably because all the problems were waiting for us there. Last time we were there, we caught a murderer and we found out that he had been possessed by some kind of spirit. He had a cursed knife and it turned him evil, it used him. We killed the man and we tried to destroy the knife, but it didn't work and then we lost the knife along the way. It simply was gone, maybe the spirit took it back.

Anyhow, might be this is the same thing happening all over again. Someone kills people and takes parts of their bodies. We heard all about it by the time we got to the Occident Saloon and we also heard that Frances Gray was in town, the lady doc we had met a couple of months ago. She had almost been killed by a dead man, if it hadn't been for the help of this card sharp, Kenneth Lake.

The deputy marshal doesn't seem too eager to even talk about the case, so we did some digging of our own. Etienne and me went to see the undertaker, to get a look at the latest victim. We got the man to show us the corpse alright and then Etienne started to act real strange, jeering and taunting the dead man to get up. When he did, Etienne looked about as flabbergasted as I did. I don't think he remembers a thing he did. I won't forget in a hurry, though, and I won't forget the sight of the claws Etienne sudenly grew, like he was a mountain lion. Shit, no animal I know has claws like that. Didn't hurt the corpse all that much, neither did my knife. In the end, Etienne simply ordered him to be dead again and he was. And stayed it. I cut off his head to make sure, put it face down into the coffin like you do with vampires. No idea if that helps, but it sure doesn't do any harm.

We fed the undertaker some wild story and he didn't believe it, but he'll keep quiet, if only to make sure we don't come back. When I asked Etienne about his little trick, he said that it will happen again and that we should just leave him alone then. Yeah. Didn't need him to tell me that. Didn't make me feel any better about his company, neither. He's my friend and all, but he scares me worse than almost anything else I've seen. And that's sayin' something.

next time

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Strandbeest

The Dutch artist Theo Jansen creates huge mechanisms from PVC tubes and lets them roam freely on the beaches. He calls them Strandbeests and they really are a sight to behold.

Compilation from Strandbeest on Vimeo.


Some of them have stomachs to store wind so they can walk even when there's no wind and some can even tell when they are walking into the water. I would love to see one in real life. Until then, I'm the proud owner of a mini-Strandbeest. You can buy those kits off Ebay or from Jansen's own site I linked above and even for someone with as little patience as myself, they are easy to assemble.

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Just don't be intimidated by the number of parts. It's basically just six steps, repeated a lot of times.

Part of the legs:
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The two main parts of the beest:
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The finished beest:
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It walks really well. You can just blow on the wind wheel, you can crank shaft by hand, you can of course put it outside or you can use a hair dryer, like I did here:




It even manages small obstacles. The tray slides a bit on the floor or the beest would have just walked over it without the slightest problem, but even so it walks on and off.



The construction is really simple, but ingenious. I'm probably going to get myself the second kit Jansen sells as well and I wish he'd sell his others beasts in miniature form as well.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sharp Note: Soar Away



Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The tradition is called Shape Note


Friday, March 7, 2014

Places: Paternoster

There still are a number of paternoster lifts in the city. I'm not going to tell you which one in particular I'm talking about. The time doesn't matter, but wait until someone gets on the lift in the cabin before you. A young man preferably, but any human will do. Get on the lift, cut yourself and use your blood to draw that S-shape everyone drew as a kid. It has to be your own blood and it has to be fresh.

Ignore the screams. Ignore any blood that may run down the walls. It's probably an illusion anyway. Yeah. An illusion. Don't touch it to make sure. You can get off then and you'll find yourself on a tropical island with very friendly people who will make you their king. Should they offer you any meat that night, it might be better not to eat it.

Make sure to mark the place where you first set foot on the island. Stay as long as you want. If you want to leave, return to the exact place you arrived and you'll be taken back. You cannot return.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Scorpionfly

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It's, I believe, a male scorpionfly, Panorpa spec. They are so called because of the sting-like tip of the male's abdomen (it's his genitals) - it's even more pronounced and scorpion-like in other species. But they are harmless creatures, for humans at least. Two more interesting things in the photo: the lovely feathery antennae (another sign that it's a male) and the tiny knobbed appendages behind the wings. Most flies have those - they are called halteres and they are the second pair of wings, modified into gyroscopes to tell the animal how its body is orientated during flight.

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A while ago Mr Bookscorpion dumped his ficus tree into water because it had dried out and three huge larvae crawled to the surface to keep from drowning. We had no idea what they were, but this week, two scorpionflies buzzed or rather crawled around our kitchen, a female and two days later this male. So now we know.

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The reddish-black colouring is striking and so is their face with the long 'snout'. But they are the most ungainly animals I have ever seen as soon as they move. They throw their six legs in twelve different directions and seem to move forward more by accident than anything else. I get the feeling that they only survive because their flight is just as unpredictable, making them hard to catch.
If anyone can identify the exact species, let me know please!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Next Town Over

Next Town Over is a Weird West (web)comic and a gorgeous one. It has been on hiatus for quite a while, but now it's updating again and I highly recommend it. Vane Black is a woman on a mission: hunt down John Henry Hunter, a wanted man for way too many things and a sorcerer to boot. It's not as simple as it sounds, though - six books into the comic, I am still not sure who, if anyone, is the villain in this story. The art is absolutely brilliant. A lot of attention to detail and a good eye for action sequences that would translate easily into a movie. The bold colours and use of light make for great eye-candy and I enjoy the way the comic plays with perspective and poses to help tell the story.